Wednesday, 17 December 2014

P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense at The Hexagon, Reading, 29th October 2014

There is no doubting the popularity of P G Wodehouse’s characters, appearing on our screens as far back as Dennis Price and Ian Carmichael’s Jeeves and Wooster to the later pairing of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. However, it appears that last year Perfect Nonsense became the first theatrical outing for Wodehouse’s prevailing couple.

In this touring production, James Lance plays our guide and narrator, Wooster. Gordon Sinclair as Jeeves and, the play’s cowriter, Robert Goodale as Seppings make up the trio. The latter take on several comic roles including Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Sir Watkin Bassett, Dahlia Travers, Roderick Spode and Constable Oates. Some achievement and, as you can guess, it often goes deliberately and hilariously wrong.

Adapted, quite loosely from The Code of the Woosters, it is a play within a play. The often-incoherent plot is immaterial; it serves only as a hook upon which to hang a series of witty exchanges and engaging sight gags. Nevertheless, some brief explanation may be in order. Bertie has been encouraged to a one-man show relating an adventure of mayhem and misadventure at Totleigh Towers, the home of the imperious Sir Watkin Bassett. From the outset, it becomes clear to the ‘mentally negligible’ Bertie that he cannot go it alone but needs both Jeeves and fellow butler, Seppings, if he is to succeed in telling his tale.

I was immediately drawn to the Goodale’s characters especially his Roderick Spode, a ‘Big chap with a small moustache and the sort of eye that can open an oyster at sixty paces’. However, I felt Gordon Sinclair, in the latter half, came to dominate as the striking and hugely farcical Watkin Bassett.
I have always found Wodehouse a bit of a strain. My allegiance lies with his contemporary Evelyn Waugh. However, in the context of this production such an affectation is meaningless. The play stands on its own. Wodehouse’s characters stand only as props for skilled playwrights Robert and David Goodale to expand and build upon. In this, they were supremely successful.

Initially it seemed as it was going to be an evening of knowing smiles not riotously funny farce.  The audience seemed reticent. Although, I have to say, one nearby audience member was often in paroxysms of laughter. However, by the second half, I am happy to say, were the rest of the audience. 

This review first appeared in the Newbury Weekly News, 13th November 2014

Monday, 1 September 2014

Macbeth. Creation Theatre. 1st August -13th September 2014, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

From the outset, it should be made clear that Creation Theatre’s Macbeth, adapted and directed by Jonathan Holloway, is not a ‘literal rendering’ of the text. In the programme notes, it specifically states that the production ‘re-imagines the play’ and crosses the line ‘between reality and imagination’.

The ‘stage’ is Lady Margaret Hall and its grounds. It is without doubt a striking backdrop. On the other hand, it occasionally overwhelmed. As such a large ‘space’, it took a while to concentrate the senses.

From my position, as a guest at the banquet, with other audience members, I found myself looking centre stage, towards the sound, only to turn right and see Laura Murray’s Lady Macbeth at a first floor window of the college. It was quite unsettling at first.

Nevertheless, as dusk fell, this no longer became an issue as the lighting directed us to the action. It achieved the sinister and ghostly elements that were lacking in the earlier scenes. With the production running until September, and the nights closing in, future audiences will be amply rewarded.

If there is to be a ‘star’ of the show, it has to be Ashley Bale’s seductive and ethereal lighting design. It both intensified and complemented the drama, sometimes touching, sometimes disturbing.

Finally, if you are going, do not expect to see ‘weird sisters, hand in hand’, cackling over a bubbling cauldron but something more theatrically and creatively inspired and more importantly, accessible. To some it may be disquieting, to others, exciting and innovative. 

This review was first published on The Flaneur website.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer presented by Creative Cow, at The Haymarket, Basingstoke.

A classic comedy of manners, Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer has played audiences for over two centuries. The play is a boisterous tale about two young ‘blades’ , Charles Marlow and George Hastings and their attempts to woo  Kate Hardcastle and her friend Constance Neville.

However, as one would expect from a comedy it’s never going to be that easy if the two pending marriages are to conclude happily. What follows is what one would expect: an evening of devious plot twists, dissembling, comedy, and confusion. It keeps its 18th century setting yet brings naturalism and artifice to the stage. A nodding wink there, an aside there contributes to the fun.

Moreover, if it all gets too much, the programme has a synopsis for the faint hearted. The company were in fine form and although at times I found Hastings and Marlow wearying, it was not the case with the parents of Kate Hardcastle.

 In Katherine Senior’s Mrs Hardcastle, we had a vain and seemingly corrupt social climber bored by the country. In contrast, her husband, Mr Hardcastle (David Summer) who has matrimonial plans for his daughter is content in his rural ways. Although incensed by the behaviour of the two young men who mistake him for an innkeeper he holds it together amongst this gallery of misfits and caricatures.
Joe Bateman as the schemer, and not so dumb, Lumpkin provided the bawdy in response to the supposedly genteel household.

The set was simple and innovative and suiting the play and Creative Cow’s stated aims, to be simple, direct, and entertaining. They pride themselves on being able to present their work anywhere, adapting to ‘any space’. The set on this occasion consisted of four large gold picture frames, along with some minimal furniture. It subtly complemented the action, never distracting from the fertile language.

Sadly, if I had to find fault I would point out that it appears to be a rather lengthy production. Mistaken identities etc. can only be theatrically rewarding for so long. However, we are not looking through eighteenth eyes and it could the case that we overlook the finer subtleties and nuances of the play and only witness the farcical elements.Despite these reservations, it was still a rewarding and pleasing performance and a credit to the company.

This review first appeared in the Newbury Weekly News.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Spirit. A new album by Deborah Bonham on Spectra Records.

This I believe is Bonham’s fourth album and marks her move to US label, Spectra Records. Recorded in Chichester, England and Nashville, USA, mixed by Mike Poole, and co-produced by Glenn Skinner, it features twelve tracks. They vary in vocal and musical style but most definitely veer towards a late sixties, early seventies West Coast aesthetic.

The album opens with ‘Fly’, featuring mandolin, cello and soaring vocals. However, I felt some unease with this opener and questioned whether it should have been the introduction to the album. However, despite this, track two, ‘Painbirds’ blew me away. An outstanding track and one that must be brilliant live. For the remainder of the album one senses Debbie’s influences. The Eagles inform on ‘Take me Down’, with its distinct ‘Take it Easy’ vibe and The Byrds possibly inspire ‘I Won’t Let You Down’.

 Of the others, ‘ Stop Now’ with its superb guitar playing perfectly complements Bonham’s soulful voice and ‘Killing Fields’ with its  strong rhythm and a rumbling bass line further strengthens the album. ‘What it Feels’ sees special guest Robert Plant throwing in a fine piece of blues harp and ‘I Need Love’ displaying Bonham’s soulful voice at its best whilst the blues of ‘Good Times’ has some great haunting slide guitar. Final track ‘Lay Me Down’ shows the Nashville influence and is quite distinct from the earlier rockers yet it’s a fine ending to the album.

 Overall, an impressive album but I have to admit that it took a lot of listening to reach that point. Apart from ‘Painbirds’ nothing really struck me on the first few listens. I felt it patchy and lacking. However, in the end, she won me over and I now look forward to seeing her live.

This review was published on The Flaneur website 
Deborah Bonham's Official Website for news and tour dates.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap 60th Anniversary Tour reviewed @The Hexagon, Reading, 10th February, 2014.

The Mousetrap is the world’s longest running play according to The Guinness Book of Records. It opened in London in 1952. It is both a country house mystery and a drawing room drama set in the post-war world.

Mollie (Joanna Croll) and Giles Ralston (Henry Luxemburg) have turned their home Monkswell Manor into a guesthouse. Various bizarre guests arrive, trailing their baggage – both literally and metaphorically. It was a slow start and during the first two acts, I found myself admiring the set, a brilliant period wood panelled lounge, with roaring fire, warm lighting, and snow falling gently against leaded windows.

It is only with the arrival of the uninvited ‘Sergeant’ Trotter, that we get to the heart of the drama, with its twists and turns, and of course its red herrings. Classic Christie. Potter, played by Jonathan Woolf, unravels the lives of this disparate bunch of guests, uncovering their secrets and rattling their nerves. It leads, as one would expect, to the identity of the killer.

At the end, the audience is asked to keep the murderer’s identity a secret and it would be morally wrong for me to expose the ending. A crime in fact. Agatha Christie said of her play: ‘It’s not really frightening. It’s not really horrible. It’s not really a farce.’ Well, that’s certainly true and maybe why it’s starting to show its age. It lacks pace and the comedy is lacklustre. It’s not even as if it’s one of Christie’s best plays.

Despite my reservations, the audience loved it. Drawn I expect from Christie’s reputation and curious to know why this old warhorse has endured. Even Christie herself predicted it would only ‘last eight months.’ Nevertheless, here we are, more than sixty years on and it is still going. A mystery?  Certainly.

This review was first published on The Flaneur website.