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Apr 17th

Writer Douglas Day Stewart talks about An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical on the eve of its national UK tour

By Clare Brotherwood

One of the highest grossing films of all time, ever since An Officer and a Gentleman hit our big screens in 1982, this multi-Oscar-winning movie has, says its creator Douglas Day Stewart, changed lives and, according to the US Navy, was the greatest thing that had ever happened to them. Now Day Stewart has written An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical, which premiered at the Curve Leicester earlier this month and is now touring the UK. At a press conference at the Edinburgh Playhouse this week, he talked about the film, the musical and how Edinburgh is playing a part in their future.

Before he arrived at the press conference at the Edinburgh Playhouse, Douglas Day Stewart had been in his hotel room, finishing the final touches to the screenplay for a sequel to his original film of An Officer and a Gentleman. “It’s a bit of a secret,” he added. “I’ve been working on it for three years and I’ll be taking it to Warner Brothers in the next couple of weeks.”

At 78, Day Stewart shows no sign of letting up. He is as enthusiastic about An Officer and a Gentleman now as he was when he first wrote it back in the Eighties and it won three Oscars - for Best Supporting Actor (Louis Gossett Jr), Best Music and Best Original Song (Up Where We Belong, which also won a BAFTA).

“I’ve seen it about 100 times. I like it,” he laughed. “Once I start I can’t stop watching it.”

An Officer and a Gentleman tells the story of Zack Mayo who is training to become a US Navy pilot, has a tough time from his drill sergeant and falls in love with a local girl, and Day Stewart based the story on his own experiences in the US Navy. “I was an artist, an actor, and one day I was visiting my parents’ house still in make-up where I met an officer who told me we were about to go to war, though people didn’t really know anything about it yet. He said I could join the Army where I’d probably die on some muddy battlefield or join the Navy and live through the whole thing. I wanted to live so I went to Newport Rhode Island (Naval War College) for 12 weeks.”

Day Stewart went on to base ‘the officer and a gentleman’ on himself, though he ‘roughed him up a bit’ to make him more interesting. “I was in the military for three-and-a-half years and there is something about it you never get out of your blood. It’s a very unique experience and it made me a stronger person. Hollywood people are pretty tough but not as tough as a drill sergeant. That school was the toughest thing anyone could imagine and that’s what I tried to portray in the film.”

In order to keep it authentic, Day Stewart insisted on being one of the producers so he could ‘protect it all the way’. He hired military experts and had a big say in the casting.

John Travolta had starred in Day Stewart’s ‘highest rated TV film at the time’, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, so he was first choice, but when he chose not to do it the part went to Richard. “He is a consummate professional,” Day Stewart explained. “His Buddhist beliefs are very real. He does a lot for a lot of people. He is genuine, a real human being. For the film he taught himself to do the real martial arts. Everything he does he does with that dedication.

“Louis (the first African American to win an Oscar) is another man, like Richard Gere, who believes in things other than his own fame.”

But we are here to talk about An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical, and Day Stewart says he’s excited and thrilled about it.

“It’s pleasing to me to see this story which is so personal being reincarnated. It’s not hard to maintain an enthusiasm for it. So many people’s lives have been touched by it. Time Magazine said we took the negativity of the military out of the Vietnam War and I am proud of this.

“It’s an experience. It’s not like anything you have seen. It’s not like any other kind of musical. It’s so uplifting and emotionally powerful. It will make people fall in love again and retake their vows. It is as much for young people as their parents. It’s a story the young generation needs.

“It’s not quite as raw as the movie. It is respectful that you are watching live entertainers, but we still maintain the raw edge of excitement, sensuality and action. It’s a roller coaster ride.”

As well as including the hit song from the film Up Where We Belong, it also features Eighties classics such as Don’t Cry Out Loud, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Toy Soldiers and Material Girl.

The musical is directed by Nikolai Foster, artistic director at the Curve, who recently directed the West End productions of Annie and Calamity Jane and is, says Day Stewart, ‘going to emerge as one of the UK’s artistic lights’.

“He moves at the speed of light. Every scene moves into the next with such fluidity.”

He also has praise for choreographer Kate Price, ‘another great bright light in the UK’. “She’s fresh and she has a certain style which makes it fun, but the routines feel integral.”

An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical will be touring the UK until September. Meanwhile, Day Stewart, whose past credits include the ground-breaking 1980 film Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields, is enthusing about the sequel to the film.

“It’s a trailblazer. It’s about female empowerment. I’ve taken the daughter of Zack who wants to be a jet pilot, but who knows her dark secrets? And there’s also a gay love story in there.”

Future projects include ‘other deeply personal stuff’. “It seems the only way you can succeed in the film industry today is to get a comic book character, but stay with what you know. Don’t try to tailor yourself for the market,” he said.

An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical is at the Edinburgh Playhouse from July 2-7 www.atgtickets.com/edinburgh  0844 871 3014

Until April 21: Curve Leicester

April 24-28: Leeds Grand Theatre

May 1-5: Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

May 7-12: Wycombe Swan

May 15-19: Birmingham Hippodrome

May 21-26: Liverpool Empire

May 28-June 2: Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin

June 4-9: Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

June 18-23: Theatre Royal Newcastle

June 25-30: Wales Millennium Centre

July 9-14: Milton Keynes Theatre

July 23-28: Theatre Royal, Nottingham

July 30-Aug 4: Bristol Hippodrome

Aug 6-11: the Marlow Theatre, Canterbury

Aug 13-18: Manchester Opera House

Aug 20-25: Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Aug 27- Sept 1: Regent Theatre, Ipswich

Sept 3-8: The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

Sept 10-15: Glasgow King’s Theatre

 

Apr 11th

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh

By Clare Brotherwood

I felt an air of excitement as I made my way to the King’s Theatre, knowing that the original version of its latest production was written by Edinburgher Robert Louis Stevenson, who is said to have based his story on Deacon Brodie, by day a respected businessman and councillor, but by night a housebreaker - and who lived not a mile from the theatre.

That excitement never left me. Adaptor David Edgar, famous for his award-winning reworking of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby for the Royal Shakespeare Company, has teamed up with Jenny KIng’s Touring Consortium Theatre Company, Olivier Winner for Best Entertainment for its production of The Railways Children at the Waterloo Station Theatre, for this latest version of the classic Gothic horror.

And good, all-round entertainment it is.

Simon Higlett’s two-tiered set depicts, on the upper level, a foggy London street, while below, despite modest props, various scenes change seamlessly and effectively to provide an atmospheric backdrop, helped enormously by Richard Hammarton’s chilling music and sound effects and Mark Jonathan’s creepy lighting.

But Edgar’s version of this dark tale has an unexpected lighter side. He introduces to the story a sister for Jekyll, a fun-loving mother of two played with much warmth and humour by Polly Frame, while Phil Daniels, playing both title roles, becomes an almost Vaudevillian villain as Mr Hyde, mostly making us laugh more than shrink back in horror - although a couple of scenes are frighteningly graphic and had me worrying for the lives of the actors involved! It was also amusing to hear Daniels sporting a soft Edinburgh accent as Dr Jekyll while as Mr Hyde he is the epitomy of a Glaswegian drunk, and sounding not unlike Billy Connolly. It’s a brave act indeed for a Londoner to play Scots in Scotland, and I wonder, had he been playing these roles in Glasgow, if he’d have given Hyde the Edinburgh accent!

Adding to the more chilling aspect is Rosie Abraham who not only plays Jekyll’s niece and a maid but will remain in my memory as ‘the singer’, an enigmatic figure who bridges the scenes and whose plaintive strains sent shivers down my spine. Grace Hogg-Robinson, as Annie, also gives an emotion-driven performance, in contrast to Sam Cox as Poole, every inch the restrained butler.

As I said, this is good, all-round entertainment with some nice little touches from director Kate Saxon.

 

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Tues 10 – Sat 14 April 2018

Box Office

0131 529 6000

Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

Tues 17 – Saturday 21 April 2018

Box Office

01274 432000

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Tues 1 – Saturday 5 May 2018

Box Office

01902 429 212

Cambridge Arts Theatre

Tues 8 – Sat 12 May 2018

Box Office

01223 503 333

Darlington Hippodrome

Tues 15 – Saturday 19 May 2018

Box Office

 

01325 405 405

 

Apr 4th

A Play, A Pie and A Pint

By Clare Brotherwood

I moved to Edinburgh for the theatre.

There are five main ones, all within half an hour of my harbourside home, and each has something different to offer.

The Traverse is the flagship for new creative talent but, not surprisingly since it was founded to extend the spirit of the Edinburgh festivals, it offers something I’ve not come across anywhere else, though it is now world famous - a lunchtime theatre experience where your ticket includes a play, a pie and a drink, all for £13.50.

Apparently, it was first conceived in 2004 by the late David MacLennon (he of 7:84 fame), at the Oran Mor in Glasgow, as a platform for new Scottish plays. Now theatres in Cardiff, Bristol and Aberdeen also present PPP, while the Traverse has been collaborating with Oran Mor to present a varied programme from established names and new first time playwrights since 2009.

Its two five-week seasons are, from what I hear among the locals, eagerly awaited, so it’s best to book early for a seat in the 115-capacity Traverse 2 studio theatre.

The programme covers all sorts of themes, characters and stories. The latest season features new works by actor, director and playwright Rob Drummond, crime writer Val McDermid, screen writer Ann Marie di Mambro, and actress Meghan Tyler. But it started this week with an exciting and very enjoyable new approach to an historical figure in Gary McNair’s McGonagall’s Chronicles.

McNair’s dialogue is in the true style of Scotland’s best worst poet, and as the Victorian bard his delivery is spot on; his timing is better than any stand-up comedian’s and yet the story he relates of McGonagall’s quest for fame, is at times as moving as it is hilarious.

McNair is ably abetted by Brian James O’Sullivan, not only on keyboard and accordion but in various other guises, and musician Simon Liddell.

This play, together with a tasty haggis pie and - er, a coffee (I was to be driving later and in Scotland drinking is totally out if you’re going to get behind the wheel) is a great way to spend your lunch hour, have an excuse to meet up with friends or, at just 50-minutes long, an ideal introduction to the theatre for newcomers.

I’ll definitely be back!

McGonagall’s Chronicles runs until April 7 at 1pm with a 7pm performance on Apr 6.

April 10-17-21: Margaret Saves Scotland by Val McDermid

April 24-28: Eulogy by Rob Drummond

May 1-5: The Persians by Meghan Tyler

www.traverse.co.uk

 

0131 228 1404

Mar 27th

The Case of the Frightened Lady at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh

By Clare Brotherwood

After 30 years of reviewing productions at the Theatre Royal Windsor for various publications, on-stage regulars, not to mention Bill Kenwright, may have wondered where I have been for the past year.

The answer is… Edinburgh! With five theatres on my doorstep, various other venues and a plethora of festivals, what better place to indulge my love of performance and performers, and I have come to Scotland’s capital city not only as a reviewer but as a theatrical landlady.

As fabulous as this city is, there are of course times when I feel a little homesick and crave for the familiar, so I was delighted to discover that my first press outing to the King’s would be to see a production by The Classic Thriller Theatre Company, the successor to Bill Kenwright’s The Agatha Christie Theatre Company which, for the last 10 years, has mounted new productions at Windsor before going on tour.

It was like coming home seeing familiar faces such as Rula Lenska, Denis Lill and Ben Nealon, though I missed being able to chat with the lovely Roy Marsden who, as director, was always to be found around the theatre at Windsor.

Productions like these are not ground breakers but they are certainly crowd pleasers. Everyone likes a good mystery, and this play by ‘the king of the detective thriller’ Edgar Wallace, adapted by Antony Lampard, doesn’t disappoint on that score.

Julie Godfrey’s imposing stately home sets the scene for an evening of murder and mayhem as Lady Lebanon does everything in her power to continue her family’s lineage.

Rula Lenska is to the manner born as the lady of the house. In real life a member of the Polish nobility, she is a class act, elegant and aloof. In vast contrast, Ben Nealon fizzes with nervous energy as her spoilt son, while April Pearson as long lost relative Isla is a quivering jelly as a frightened lady - but is she the one in the title?

One murder down and Chief Supt Tanner from Scotland Yard makes an entrance, played by an authoritative Gray O’Brien, assisted by Charlie Clements as Sgt Totti, who doesn’t seem to know who he is at times. There’s a nice understated performance from Philip Lowrie as the butler, and Denis Lill always makes a huge impact, this time as a rather sinister, conniving family ‘friend’. He’s not the only menacing character. Footmen Gilder (Glenn Carter) and Brook (Callum Coates), in particular, are downright creepy, but we could do with some shadows for them to lurk in!

Writing of lighting, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between the scenes. There is a lack of atmosphere, which lighting designer Chris Davey could have created. Sudden claps of thunder, until nearing the end of the evening without any sound of rain, and disembodied screams, are also obviously for effect and are not believable, as are the scenes where the jodphered and booted Lord Lebanon walks through the house with a horse whip and a saddle to emphasise he has been out in the stables!

But this production is set in 1932 and is a period piece, somewhat stylised and melodramatic. And they say the old ones are the best!

The Case of the Frightened Lady is at The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until March 31. Booking

01315 296000

The tour then continues:

April 3-7: New Victoria Theatre, Woking 08448 717645

May 21-26: Milton Keynes Theatre 08448 717652

June 11-16: Belgrade Theatre, Coventry 024 7655 3055

June 18-23: Palace Theatre, Southend 01702 351135

July 2-8: Grand Theatre, Swansea 01792 475715

July 23-28: Grand Theatre, Leeds, 08448 482700

Jul 30-Aug 4: Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, 01284 769505

Oct 2-6: Theatre Royal, Glasgow 08448 717647

 

Oct 27th

Our Fathers at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

By Clare Brotherwood

 

Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bone need divine intervention!

Growing up as atheists in religious households has left them both in a quandary. Loving their fathers but unable to talk to them about their lack of faith has had them questioning all aspects of their lives, and particularly the relationship between fathers and sons.

It all began when Bone’s father, a bishop in the Church of England, referred him to a book by a preacher’s son who gradually lost his faith in God.

Now the two friends have got together to write and perform a play based on Father & Son by Victorian poet, writer and critic Edmund Gosse.

In Our Fathers, Drummond, whose dad is a Church of Scotland minister, and Bone re-enact Gosse’s story of his growing up in a strict Plymouth Brethren household.

But it is far from just an account of Gosse’s life. Both actors dip in and out of the story to interact about their own lives, often on a very personal level as they argue and debate, even to the point of Drummond leaving the stage on one occasion to leave Bone to ‘get on with it’.

It’s a little contrived but adds another level to this 75-minute performance which is not only thought-provoking but also at times highly entertaining as well as moving.

Drummond particularly connects with the audience, beginning before the play begins by asking members for the 10 Commandments so he can write them up on a chalk board. But both deliver as if talking to a group of friends.

Our Fathers is the first collaboration between the Traverse Theatre and Bone’s Magnetic North theatre company, and certainly gives its audience food for thought.

 

Our Fathers is at the Traverse Theatre until Oct 28.

www.traverse.co.uk

0131 228 1404

It then commences touring:

Nov 1-4: Tron Theatre Glasgow

Nov 8: Eden Court Inverness

Nov 9: The Barn Banchory

Nov 10: The Lemon Tree Aberdeen

Nov 11: The Beacon Arts Centre Greenock

Nov 15: Platform Glasgow

Nov 16-17: Byre Theatre St Andrews

 

Nov 18: Eastgate Theatre Peebles

 

Oct 5th

Sunset Boulevard at the Edinburgh Playhouse

By Clare Brotherwood

With all the glamour and melodrama of a bygone age, Sunset Boulevard played to impromptu cheers and a standing ovation from an ecstatic Edinburgh audience on opening night.

And in the centre of it all was Ria Jones, who memorably took over from Glenn Close in London’s West End production and has now made the role of tragic Norma Desmond all her own.

Every inch as charismatic as any big Hollywood star, this Welsh songstress movingly brings to life the faded silent screen actress who returns to Paramount Pictures, where she was once ‘queen of the lot’, with horrific consequences.

It’s a performance which holds me spellbound, from her first glamorous entrance down a sweeping staircase to her cackling descent into madness. It is something of a shock when Jones takes her curtain calls for she seems so young and small compared to the character she plays. In one of the scenes when someone says, ‘You used to be big’, Norma Desmond retorts, ‘I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.’ Well, what with her stage presence and soaring voice, everything around Ria Jones seems small by comparison. It’s not just with one look that this production is a triumph. But she is not alone in making it so.

When Adam Pearce, as Max, her stiff, expressionless butler, comes on the scene, he reminds me of Lurch in the Addams Family movie, but his singing voice is extraordinary; rich and deep for the most part but with such an incredible range it leaves me open-mouthed.

Sunset Boulevard is very much like an opera, with performances worthy of any opera house… though you don’t get many opera singers with the matinee idol looks of Danny Mac (who, incidentally, gets to demonstrate his Strictly Come Dancing skills) as the object of Norma Desmond’s desires.

Some of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s numbers bring me in mind of The Phantom of the Opera – in fact, the stories aren’t that dissimilar. Both have damaged leading characters who haunt performances spaces – in Sunset Boulevard, Paramount Pictures’  Stage 18 is an interesting montage of vintage spotlights and cameras against a backdrop of old black and white movies, courtesy of Colin Richmond, who also designed the sumptuous costumes.

But there are some really upbeat numbers which shout ‘musical’, such as New Year Tango, and, of course, such well known songs as The Greatest Star of All and The Perfect Year. On my way home a young girl passed me in the street singing them…

Sunset Boulevard is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Oct 7.

www.atgtickets.com/edinburgh

 

Box office: 0844 871 3014

Sep 20th

Cilla the Musical at the Edinburgh Playhouse

By Clare Brotherwood

Cilla the Musical already has an impressive pedigree.

Penned by Jeff Pope and based on his award-winning TV mini-series Cilla, it is produced by those masters of feel-good, semi-bio music shows about past icons and eras, Laurie Mansfield and Bill Kenwright - who also directed the show.

Even so, Cilla the Musical is in a different stratosphere - thanks to Kara Lily Hayworth in the title role.

I reckon I am well qualified to judge. As a young teenager I hung on Cilla’s every lyric and even travelled down from Carlisle to see her at the London Palladium. I still remember her mannerisms and how she delivered her songs so, for me, anyone playing her has to be spot on. And Kara Lily Hayworth is!

When she makes her first entrance, apparently giving an interview to Kathy (Kathy McGowen, I presume. She’s not introduced!), I am disappointed - she doesn’t look like Cilla for a start. But as the show progresses she quickly grows into the role, both physically and vocally. Hayworth may come from Buckinghamshire but she’d pass for a Scouser any day, and it’s not hard to see why she also has a career as a singer. She’s a real little belter! At times, I really think Cilla Black is there on stage, performing all her old hits such as Anyone Who Had a Heart, You’re My World, and It’s For You. It makes for an emotional evening, and is deserving of the standing ovation.

This fast-paced, vibrant show isn’t all down to her, however. Pope’s script contains more than a sprinkling of the humour Liverpool is so famous for (no doubt with contributions from Liverpudlian Kenwright - and as chairman of Everton FC did the reference to that team come from him?). Cilla’s son Robert Willis is executive producer, so with his seal of approval you know the story is authentic, and the cast really does bring to life the star’s early days.

As Bobby, Carl Au plays the role of Cilla’s soul mate with conviction, starting out as a swaggering youth with not much confidence but with a belief in Cilla’s talent which knows no bounds. Likewise, Andrew Lancel is a totally believable Brian Epstein, manager of both Cilla and The Beatles. In this role he is a million miles from Corrie villain Frank Foster, cutting a tragic figure as a man whose private life was a mess and who died from an overdose. His reprise of You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away comes as a total, pleasurable, though moving, surprise.

As in this type of show, the supporting cast are extremely versatile, acting, singing, dancing and playing various instruments. The Beatles are especially good, particularly Michael Hawkins’ cheeky portrayal of John Lennon, and Alan Howell, though looking nothing like him, sounds just like Gerry Marsden.

Cilla’s career spanned 50 years, and this is a fitting tribute to her, especially in the expressive hands of Kara Lily Hayworth - who is also making the transition to stardom.

 

Cilla The Musical continues at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Sept 23.

Box office: 0844 871 3014

www.atgtickets.com/edinburgh

It will then continue touring:

Sept 26-30: Milton Keynes Theatre

Oct 10-14: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Nov 7-11: New Wimbledon Theatre

Nov 14-18: Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

Nov 21-15: Palace Theatre, Manchester

Jan 23-27: Grand Opera House, York

Jan 30-Feb 3: King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Feb 13-17; New Theatre, Oxford

Mar 13-17: Bristol Hippodrome Theatre

 

Mar 20-24: New Victoria Theatre, Woking

 

Aug 5th

Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Puppetry

By Clare Brotherwood

Boris & Sergey's One Man Extravaganza at the Omnitorium, Assembly George Square Theatre

A Heart at Sea at the Pleasance Courtyard: Below

 

Ever since War Horse, puppetry has been recognised as so much more than a simple entertainment for children. And among this year’s offerings in Edinburgh are two very different shows with adults in mind.

Flabbergast Theatre is a London company which features Bunraku puppetry in a riotous tale of Balkan bad guys Boris and Sergey and their rise to and fall from fame.

Although these little fellows are made of leather and have featureless heads which resemble cricket balls, at the hands of six skilled puppeteers they quickly come alive in a spirited show of black humour, brutality and bullying, but which had its opening night audience in stitches.

Bunraku puppetry originates from Japan and involves three people working one puppet which, in the confines of the Omnitorium (at the back of the George Square Theatre), only emphasises the physical skill and concentration of those taking part, especially in the scenes involving a dance routine and a sword fight.

This show is imaginative and entertaining with some audience participation, but some of its adult content may not be for everyone.

Half a String’s A Heart at Sea is, however, suitable for seven-year-olds upwards and while children will be enchanted by puppeteer Peter Morton’s creations, adults will no doubt gasp with admiration at his exquisitely crafted wooden chest which opens up to become every scene needed for this bittersweet story of a boy who, having bottled up his heart and thrown it into the sea, then goes in search of it.

Described as an ‘epic musical folk tale told on a miniature scale’, Peter, who also plays drum and harmonica, is complemented by the captivating performance of Avi Simmons, who composed the songs and accompanies them on guitar as well as providing a myriad of sound effects.

It’s no surprise that this ingenious show was 18 months in the making.

 

Boris & Sergey’s One Man Extravaganza is at the Omnitorium at Assembly George Square Theatre EH8 9LH daily at 9.25pm. www.edfringe.com/event/2017BORISSE_AYY

 

A Heart at Sea is at the Pleasance Courtyard: Below EH8 9TJ (venue 33) daily at 11.50am.

 

Box office: 0131 556 6550 www.pleasance.co.uk

 

 

Mar 21st

Northanger Abbey at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

The Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds’ production of Jane Austen’s late 18th century novel may only have three backlit panels and a couple of benches to set the scene, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the performances of a young and vibrant company.

I was completely enthralled by the story of the teenage Catherine, who thinks life is like one of the Gothic novels she so loves to read. But through her adventures while taking the waters in Bath and her subsequent visit to Northanger Abbey, we see her develop and grow into an admirable young lady who, of course, looks set to live happily ever after.

It’s a wonderful part for a young actress, for though Catherine and her friends are somewhat immature and vacuous, she goes through so many changes, and Eva Feiler plays her so well, beginning as an awkward child and becoming a loving and lovable companion.

Eva not only has Jane Austen to thank for her role, but also accomplished writer Tim Luscombe, who has already adapted two of Jane Austen’s novels and manages to condense a classic with 30 characters into a play with only eight actors.

While retaining the essence of the book, he presents it as a lively, theatrical and often funny entertainment which has intrigued me enough to want to read the original. The characters walk, talk and act as if in the 1700s but they appear fresh and can easily be identified with young people today.

Joe Parker gets my vote as the most obnoxious, swaggering, selfish youth John Thorpe who lies through his teeth to get what he wants. Annabelle Terry lights up the stage with her vitality as Isabella but this so-called friend of Catherine’s soon shows her true colours as manipulative and selfish and I loved her petulant outbursts.

In complete contrast, Henry Tilney, the object of Catherine’s affections, and his sister Eleanor, are blonde, beautiful and sweet-tempered, and Harry Livingstone and Emma Ballantine play them to perfection. Quite the opposite is their father General Tilney, and Jonathan Hansler’s portrayal as a gruff, mean and selfish man would make him at home in any story of monsters.

Talking of monsters, the play sometimes reverts to scenes from Catherine’s favourite book, The Mysteries of Udolpho, as her imagination runs away with her, and this gives director Karen Simpson carte blanche to have a bit of fun. Melodrama rules as thunder bellows, lightning flashes, and strange, bent, hooded figures scurry around the stage wielding daggers.

Credit must also go to Mark Dymock who is kept pretty busy as lighting designer, and though I feel there is a little too much dancing, movement director Julie Cave certainly puts the members of the cast through their paces with authentic-looking dances of the day.

Northanger Abbey continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until March 25

Box Office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

The tour then continues:

April 3-6: Northcott Theatre, Exeter

April 1-13: Derby Theatre

May 2-6: New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

 

May 9-13: The Dukes, Lancaster

Mar 17th

Improbable Fiction

By Clare Brotherwood

Well, this production certainly isn’t run of the mill (excuse the pun). In fact, the best way to describe it is that it is weird and wonderful.

Alan Ayckbourn’s observational skills are legendary and turn mundane domestic lives into celebrated comedies. But his 69th play, first performed in 2005, couldn’t be wackier.

I really don’t want to give too much of the plot away as the element of surprise is electrifying. But it involves a writing group and the stories they are writing or the ideas they are having, however well or badly these are and however well or badly they are developing the characters.

It’s a stroke of genius.

I had looked upon the first act as an introduction to a group of rather mismatched, sad characters who all have crosses to bear.

Arnold, who is hosting the meeting while having his bedridden mother banging on the floor every so often, tries his best to keep everyone happy, but he’s got his work cut out, what with cynical Jess (Julie Teal), insecure Grace (Angela Sims), creepy Clem (Ben Porter), and volatile Brevis (Laurence Kennedy). Only vivacious Vivvi (Sarah Lawrie) and sweet Ilsa (Rhiannon Handy) lighten the proceedings. But it was as if they were all treading water and I knew it couldn’t continue. As the interval approached I wrote in my notebook ‘I have no idea what is to come’. And what does happen you could never imagine!

It’s a complicated piece for every member of this sterling cast. Only Andrew Bone remains the likeable but somewhat confused Arnold who, nevertheless, has to deal with events beyond anyone but Alan Ayckbourn’s imagination. Everyone has to work so hard in so many different areas, from playing different characters from different time zones, which means adopting different mannerisms and ways of speaking, to the quickest costume changes I’ve ever encountered. There isn’t even any respite for Matthew Biss on lighting.

I don’t know how long I’ve been reviewing at The Mill but it’s got to be around 15 years, so before I move to Edinburgh to continue reviewing and to be a theatrical landlady I had hoped my last visit would be particularly memorable. And thanks to Ayckbourn veteran, director Robin Herford and his amazing cast, it was. But then, the Mill’s productions usually are. People come from miles around (the couple sitting next to me had travelled 46 miles from Bicester) to experience the dinner theatre’s award-winning hospitality, and I wholeheartedly thank artistic director Sally Hughes, marketing and administration officer Vanessa Hicks and the rest of the staff for so many years of unadulterated pleasure.

Improbable Fiction is at The Mill at Sonning until May 6.

Box office: 0118 969 8000

 

www.millatsonning.com