After the Dance – It’s Over

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Well another production is over – I’ve had the (very) small part of Lawrence in The Miller Centre Theatre Company’s production of the Rattigan masterpiece After the Dance.

I’m a HUGE Rattigan fan, so it was great to finally be in one of his plays. After the Dance is one of my favourite plays of all time as well. The more I watched it and observed the audience’s reactions to it, the more I learned about what a master of playwriting Rattigan was.

Small lines and pieces of stagecraft that on page looked quite inconsequential had major influences on the audience and piece. He really knew how to craft drama like few others.  For me it is an emotional play and there is specific moment that “gets me every time” – when Joan bursts into tears as she realises her marriage is over. It always brings a tear to my eye and lump to my throat.

Rattigan - no other writer's works speak to me like his do.

Rattigan – no other writer’s works speak to me like his do.

It’s always sad to come to the end of a production (I dubbed it “Post Production Depression”  previously) new friends have been made, much hilarity ensured over the course of the run and there was an air of sadness as we parted ways. I’m sure our paths will cross again. I’ve not got long to wallow in melancholy, as I’ve a read through and meeting regarding a production I’ll be producing in 2014 tomorrow, alas it’s not a Rattigan play however my time to direct/produce one of his plays will come!

 

 

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The Act – Ovalhouse – Review

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Matthew Baldwin stars in The Act

Matthew Baldwin stars in The Act

One of the defining societal shifts over the last few generations has been the change in attitudes to homosexuality. The Act takes us from the present day, back to the 1950/60’s where this shift started. However this is no dry play pushing its own agenda. At heart we are treated to a love story. That is why I found it a captivating piece of theatre.

It’s a one man show, and Matthew Baldwin ( who co-wrote it with Director Thomas Hescott), gives portrayals to all sorts  from the 50/60’s homosexual underground through to the Lord who passionately petitions the House of Lords to change the law. He also tops and tails the piece as a modern-day gay man, with his own struggles and questions.

He intersperses the play with songs, in which familiar tunes have their lyrics wittily changed and these provide a perfect counterpoint to the other scenes. For me the backbone of the piece are the verbatim sections of the Wolfended report and Lord presenting them to the House of Lords. These frame the play superbly. It is also an astonishing fact that the Church of England and other churches were so positive for the Wolfenden Reports recommendation on the decriminalising of homosexuality. something I was unaware of until last night.

It does on occasions feel a bit disjointed, however towards the end as it moves to a tragic side of the love story it settles down beautifully.

There was gay slang aplenty being used, and I’m sure a few of the jokes went over my head. At no point did I feel this was an inaccessible play for me though. On the contrary, it provided a glimpse into someone else’s world and reaffirmed my belief that we all regardless of our sexual orientation share a common bond in the love we feel for others.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ (and a half)

A Tale of Two Cities – King’s Head Theatre – Review

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I made my way to my inaugural visit to The King’s Head Theatre not in my best frame of mind to be honest. A crazily busy week at work had meant I was pretty shattered. However I was keen to see this production and to say hello to some of my Terence Rattigan Society friends who were attending this on Thursday night. I’m so glad I did make the effort as this evening at the theatre refreshed and rewarded me.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher certainly gets my award for most engaging and passionate artistic director I’ve met.  He introduced the evening and certainly piqued my interest to see what comes on at this theatre in the future.

When telling a friend earlier this week I was going to go and see this, their reply was “how on earth can they condense the text and perform it in such a small theatre??”  Well they do it splendidly. I admit I’ve not read the original novel and I’m sure it’ll not please some Dickens’ aficionado. From an audience member’s view though, Rattigan and Gieldgud have distilled the essence and I found it riveting. This is a great authors novel adapted for the stage by a great playwright, and it shows.

Stewart Agnew - a great professional debut.

Stewart Agnew – a great professional debut.

I was impressed by the cast. The eight actors present thirty characters in the course of the play! A testament to their skills that each character comes alive and you feel you are watching someone else. Stewart Agnew as Sydney Carton is an incredible performance. This was the part John Gielgud was going to play, huge boots to fill, but he does it ably and with great panache.  It’s hard to believe, but on reading the program Stewart Agnew has only just graduated from East 15 Acting School. Few recent graduates would have the depth and maturity he shows here.

Jennie Gruner gives a fragile edge to Lucie Manette and Nicholas Bishop as love interest Darnay excels. However it is Shelley Lang who is the greatest chameleon of them all. Her performance as Stryver was one of the best parts of the production for me.

Jennie Gruner and Nicholas Bishop as the lovers caught in the web Dickens has woven.

Jennie Gruner and Nicholas Bishop as the lovers caught in the web Dickens has woven.

So you’ve read thus far and must be expecting there to be five stars below. Alas no. There is one area I think didn’t quite work and one I thought was unnecessary. The choice by director Adam Spreadbury-Maher to set it in modern dress I can understand, but the black leather look of the cast just didn’t work for me. Also the use of modern songs blaring out between scenes just jarred with the world of the play. It didn’t make it feel modern or relevant. The story is strong enough to not warrant such cheap devices to try to make it accessible. (See my review of Great Expectations to see how being in period dress can still make a piece seem relevant and set a perfect atmosphere.)

The part I thought unnecessary was an admittedly brief but gratuitous scene with the Marquis and his man-servant. I felt this was being done to make it appear a “raw/gritty” play, but it’s just not necessary (and it’s not actually in the script).The subtlety of the scene was lost for the cheap thrill of the gratuitous.

The above are minor quibbles and in no way diminish my recommendation that this is certainly the play to catch in London at the moment. An invigorating and entertaining night at the theatre.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

All My Sons – Manchester Royal Exchange – Review

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I was up in Manchester with business this week and a chance encounter with another theatre critic brought to my attention that it was press night for all My Sons at the Royal Exchange.  Revelling in the chance to have a bit of a break from work I made my way to the splendid theatre that the Royal Exchange is.

A great theatre space is no good unless what’s going on there is also equally engaging.  So what did I make of it? Well it’s a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. Act 1 and 2 really didn’t feel “performance ready”, it still felt like it was previewing with some actors waiting for their cues and not feeling fully assured of their parts. Act 3 made up for this as they really were firing on all cylinders by then, but perhaps it was a bit too little too late. I think director Michael Buffong knew that this climatic act needed special focus but perhaps he’s done that at the expense of the first two acts.

Don Warrington is the “big name” actor playing Joe Keller and unfortunately he is the weakest link in this cast. He has perhaps one of the worst American accents I’ve heard since Keeley Hawes in Rocket to the Moon and on occasions he wasn’t projecting so his lines were lost.  It felt like he’d been cast without actually seeing if he could deliver on this demanding role.

Chike Okonkwo as Chris Keller and Kemi-Bo Jacobs as Ann Deever  were the strongest part of the production.  Their solid and intense performances as the lovers caught in the mess of their respective parents was wonderful to see.

The play itself is a classic, and its themes of forgiveness, family loyalty and love are as pertinent as ever. The anti –hero of Joe Keller is a complex character and Arthur Miller keeps the audience on the back foot with the twists and turns he’s woven into this story. Alas Joe’s ending is telegraphed early on in the play and so his fate comes as no surprise but appeared to shock many of the audience the night I was there.

This is a good play but let down by the casting. It felt more of a preview than a press night. I’m sure by a week or so into the run it’ll be up to speed and slicker. I was however disappointed by the lack of polish in Acts 1 and 2.

Stars : ★ ★ ★