Guys And Dolls – February 2017

Experience: 8/10

Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows

Based on the writing of Damon Runyon

Company: Guildford School of Acting

Directed by Samuel Wood

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: 23rd February 2017

It was lovely to attend a performance of Guys And Dolls again, and this performance by the talented students of the Guildford School of Acting was great fun and brilliantly performed. We sat front and centre (row C – to make room for the band) and enjoyed ourselves enormously, and we were not alone.

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The Merry Wives – May 2016

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare (slightly adapted)

Directed by Barry Rutter

Company: Northern Broadsides

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud

Date: Wednesday 11th May 2016

We like Northern Broadsides’ no-nonsense approach to Shakespeare’s texts, so we weren’t bothered to find that this version of Merry Wives was no longer set in Windsor, but had been relocated to a country club a few miles outside Harrogate (information courtesy of a post-show chat with the cast). The costumes located the play in the 1920s (with some variations) and the set created a stylish yet simple space for all of the action, with little need to trundle lots of furniture on and off. There was a replica of a 1920s treadmill and three lovely examples of period bicycles, including a tandem, to add to the fun, and the few alterations to the text included the “old woman of Ilkley”, a perfectly acceptable substitution. Apart from that, the dialogue was as expected, and the performance fairly zinged along, with some lovely business to keep us entertained. A shame there were so few of us to enjoy the fun – the auditorium was about a third full – but hopefully they will get better attendances later in the week.

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Dear Lupin – May 2015

Experience: 7/10

By Roger Mortimer and Charlie Mortimer

Directed by Philip Franks

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 18th May 2015

This was a sweet, humorous and occasionally moving story about the relationship between a real-life father and son. The son, Charles, was so wayward from an early age that his father Roger named him Lupin after the errant son in Diary Of A Nobody, though from this version of events it’s doubtful whether the original Lupin would have been able to keep up with Charles as he drank, smoked and snorted his way through his schooldays and beyond.

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And Then There Were None – April 2015

Experience: 7/10

By Agatha Christie

Directed by Joe Harmston

Agatha Christie Theatre Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Wednesday 1st April 2015

An excellent day to be seeing this thriller again, given the early suggestion that someone was playing a practical joke on the assembled guests at the isolated island retreat of Mr and Mrs U N Owen (unknown). Despite our familiarity with the plot, we rated this performance higher than the previous time we saw it – don’t know why that was – and with the same set and staging there’s little to comment on in terms of the production, but I will make a few notes just the same.

There was some stormy music playing quietly when we entered the auditorium, accompanied by the sound of waves crashing against rocks. When the curtain rose, a large chandelier was sitting centre stage, covered with a large cloth; the butler’s first task when he came on was to remove the cloth and use a push button on the left side wall to raise the chandelier up. This was the same control panel that the murderer uses at the end to lower the noose.

The ‘guests’ began arriving almost immediately. Marston, the arrogant boy racer, was very affected, whilst Davis, the apparent South African who turned into an English copper, was bluff and hearty. The judge said “when” before the soda siphon had even reached his whisky, which got a laugh, and I noticed this time that nobody could remember Davis’s name. The back of the secretary’s evening dress was very low-cut, and this infuriated Emily Brent, a self-righteous individual who took great delight in the divine punishment of people she didn’t like. The bitchiness between her and Vera Claythorne – the secretary – was very well done, as were the snide remarks by the housekeeper.

Some of the murderer’s actions were less clear this time round, but just as effective in reducing the population of the island, while the soldiers were being removed by whichever member of the cast was in the vicinity. Ben Nealon, a stalwart of this company, was making sure he could be heard in the back row, but as we were sitting right at the front, he was a bit too loud for my liking. I did spot some passing references to Christie’s other work, such as the doctor suggesting that another character may be an impostor, and again I was aware of how well this play has been put together. The auditorium was fairly full, and we gave them a good response at the end of the evening as well as providing lots of gasps and suchlike during the performance.

© 2015 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Twelve Angry Men – March 2015

Experience: 8/10

By Reginald Rose

Directed by Christopher Haydon

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 13th March 2015

It’s almost exactly a year since we saw this production in London, and tonight was just as enjoyable an experience. Most of the cast had changed, but the set and staging were all the same, although they didn’t play the city noises before the start. Being in the front row meant that we were closer to the action and I certainly heard much more of the excellent dialogue tonight. The audience were nicely responsive, and the conflicts between the characters came across very clearly, while the tension of the unfolding story built nicely as well, especially through the second half. The revolve worked well, shifting the position of the table so subtly that I didn’t notice it, but I was more aware of the many trips to the water cooler made by most of the characters. All the performances were good, and Steve even thought that Tom Conti just shaded Martin Shaw as juror 8. (I had them neck and neck.)

One thing I was more aware of this time round was that the jurors had had to absorb a great deal of evidence over three days, so they hadn’t been able to spot the discrepancies till juror 8 made them spend some time considering their verdict. We did get a look at the floor plan of the flat this time; it was big enough to see, at least from the front rows. The quality of this play is such that we could watch it time and again and still find it enjoyable and gripping, so hopefully it will come back around in the future.

© 2015 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Trials Of Galileo – January 2015

Experience: 7/10

Written and directed by Nic Jones

Icarus Theatre Collective

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Tuesday 13th January 2015

This is the sort of play we would normally expect to see in the Mill Studio next door. While the main house wasn’t completely full, there was a good turnout, and it’s nice to see something like this being given a chance in front of a larger audience.

The stage was open and relatively bare. In the centre stood a table which was covered with a dark red cloth. A green runner went front to back, there was a seat behind and some books or papers on the table, although I couldn’t see much detail from our front row seats. Back left was a smaller table with various items which were also indistinguishable in the pre-show gloom – I guessed more books, a flask and some glasses, which turned out to be correct – and front right was a small telescope on a stand. I say small, perhaps four feet long? Various sheets of paper were scattered around, front left and right and in a few other places. When we looked at the ones near us we could see astronomical observations, such as the famous moons of Jupiter sketch with four crosses for the moons. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, I spotted a stool back right. That seemed to be the lot.

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Dangerous Corner – October 2014

Experience: 7/10

By J B Priestley

Directed by Michael Attenborough

A Bill Kenwright Production

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 17th October 2014

This is one of my favourite Priestley plays, so it doesn’t take much for me to have a good time, but this was still a decent production. The performances were fine, and the set was a lovely 1930s style drawing room; Art Deco dripped from every item. A large circular rug in the middle of the stage had a diamond inlay pattern – at first, in the pre-performance gloom, we suspected it was part of the wooden floor – with a sofa on the right and two comfy chairs on the left. The fireplace on the far left had a square wooden mantelpiece and a brightly painted folding screen stood beside it. The double doors at the centre back were flanked by tall bookcases; their glass doors had wooden diamond-shaped inserts which were echoed by the panes of the two tall windows far right. Various tables, chairs and other furnishings completed the picture of a well-to-do family drawing room of the period, and the mood was enhanced by the contemporary music played before the start.

There was no messing with the play either, not that it’s possible to do that when the structure is so perfect and so important. The audience was supportive as well, gasping a little at the revelation just before the interval, as well as laughing heartily at the humour of the restart. We were in the front row, and so close to the action we felt we were practically in the same room, fortunately without being interrogated ourselves. The reprise was nicely done, and when Gordon found the dance music on the radio, the discrepancy regarding the cigarette box was easily smoothed over. They then mimed for a bit before taking their bows – Charles Stanton asked the various ladies for a dance and was refused by Betty and Freda, while Olwen chose to drift past him and dance with Robert instead. They sashayed for a while to the music, moving towards the front of stage while the rest of the cast stayed out of their way, and then they all came forward for their bows. Since it’s charity week at the theatre (although this is the first time we were propositioned, surprisingly) Michael Praed stopped the applause – an unusual thing for an actor to do as he acknowledged – and gave us the necessary information as to why buckets would be rattling at us as we made our way out. One final burst of clapping and we were done. A good end to the playgoing week.

© 2014 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me