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May 3rd

Everything Between Us at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Dysfunctional siblings: Teeni (Katrina McKeever) and Sandra (Lynsey-Anne Moffat)

It horrifies me to be a human being.

David Ireland's dark comedy actually premiered in Washington DC before it went on to Belfast and Scotland in 2010. Produced by Solas Nua and Tinderbox Theatre, it won the Stewart Parker Trust Award, BBC Radio Drama Award and the Meyer Whitworth Award for Best New Play. It now receives its London premiere at the Finborough Theatre.

Just as Sandra Richardson prepares to take her seat on the newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Northern Ireland at Stormont, her long-lost sister Teeni storms in and punches the South African chairwoman in the face whilst hurling racial abuse at her. Sandra manages to drag Teenie into an empty, windowless room to calm her down. - Obviously this is not a realistic play or else Teenie would have been arrested by security and detained long before she could even come close enough to the chairwoman to attack her.

Sandra is a respected politician and the Protestant representative on the Commission at a crucial time in Northern Ireland whilst Teeni has just returned from Stavanger, Norway, where she lived in isolation, building ships. The two sisters have not seen each other in eleven years and it soon becomes clear that there is no love lost between them. As they fight and argue through years of unresolved conflicts, their relationship resembles the situation in their own country - or any country where fanatics try to torpedo any effort of peace and reconcilliation.

The two-hander focuses on the volatile Teeni (a tour-de-force performance by Katrina McKeever), who gets far more time to display her outrageous personality than her sister Sandra - shifting from stand-up comedy to pitiable loneliness before she erupts into another tirade of racial hatred. Sandra (an impressive Lynsey-Anne Moffat), who seems to have the patience of a saint, mainly listens but her character is not limited to being a goody-two-shoes. Although Sandra believes in reconciliation, she has dark thoughts and unresolved issues of her own, but Sandra is in control whereas Teeni is completely unpredictable.

The confrontation between the two sisters shows the difficulty of putting your past behind you. Both grew up as Irish Protestants, their father an Ulster Defence Association fighter who was murdered when they were children. Yet whereas Sandra is trying to overcome her prejudices and their violent history, Teeni's hatred remains unchanged: "Finians aren't people."

David Ireland seems to be an expert in using black comedy to dissect the irrationality of fanatics. His play Cypress Avenue, last year at the Royal Court, featured an Ulster loyalist who wanted to take revenge on his 5-week old granddaughter because he thought she looked like Gerry Adams.

Everything Between Us is not quite as shocking as Cypress Avenue, and Teenie's stand-up comedy act goes on longer than it needs to, but it is still a compelling play, sensitively directed by Neil Bull.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 16th May 2017

Finborough Theatre

Box office: 0844 847 1652

Running time: 70 minutes, no interval

Photograph by Tristram Kenton.

May 2nd

Twelfth Night at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

If music be the food of love, play on.

The theatre company Original Impact draws upon performance art, popular culture and current affairs to create original work and is now presenting a modern, musical production of one of William Shakespeare's most popular plays. 

Sam Dunstan energetic production turns Illyria into a party island, defined by the words "To beer or not to beer (that is the question)" sprayed on the backwall. Duke Orsino (Andi Jashari), confident ruler of Illyria, is lusting after Olivia (Eve Niker), whose melancholy mood after her brother's death could not feel more out of place. Thankfully, she can count on her steward Malvolio (Timothy Weston) to calm her senses with his sombreness in this sunny paradise.

Sir Toby Belch (Joshua Jewkes) resembles a western tourist who has partied too long on Mallorca, complete with beer gut, sunglasses and white socks, whilst Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Dinos Psychogios) is turned into a rather hopeless DJ. Maria (Alexandria Anfield) is a self-confident bar maid and adored by Sir Toby for her wit. 

After an impressive storm scene that sees Katie Turner's Viola stranded on Illyria, Viola dresses up as the cheeky rapper Cesario, but she still looks very much like a girl. However, her scenes with Eve Niker's Olivia work very nicely as there is real chemistry between the two actors.

This is a very physical show with live music and a lot of slapstick. The songs have all been updated with Sian Eleanor Green's Feste emulating Whitney Houston and Andi Jashari's voice booming across the auditorium. There is no room for Elizabethan harmonies among selfies and mobile phones.

The cast speak Shakespeare's verse beautifully and the performance is entertaining, including many funny ideas. However, I felt that Sam Dunstan could have brought more to the production, there is little depth although Shakespeare's play offers so much to explore.

A fun night out.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 6th May 2017 at the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell

Running time: 2 hours plus a 15-minute interval

May 1st

The Cardinal at the Southwark Playhouse

By Carolin Kopplin

Opponents: The Cardinal (Stephen Boxer) and Duchess Rosaura (Natalie Simpson)

Do not I walk upon the teeth of serpents?

The Cardinal was one of the last plays performed before Oliver Cromwell shut down the theatres. Considered one of James Shirley's finest dramas, this satirical revenge tragedy features two strong and witty opponents - the Cardinal (Stephen Boxer) and Duchess Rosaura (Natalie Simpson), who are equally weighted. The play pays reverence to some of the best-known revenge tragedies, most of all The Duchess of Malfi.

The Cardinal uses his influence on the King of Navarre (Ashley Cook) to arrange a marriage between the Duchess and his nephew Don Columbo (Jay Saighal), a fierce warrior who is presently fighting a war against Arragon. The Duchess, however, prefers the more refined and honorable Count D'Alvarez (Marcus Griffiths), and has no intention of marrying a brute. She writes to Columbo, asking to be released from the marriage contract. In his fury, Columbo almost kills the messenger - Antonio (Timothy Speyer) - but in his exaggerated self-esteem comes to think that the Duchess is just taunting him because she misses him so much. Antonio returns with the required release and the Duchess marries Count D'Alvarez. But Columbo returns on their wedding night and murders the Count, swearing that he will kill any future husband of Rosaura's, just as he killed D'Alvarez. Thanks to his war record and his influential uncle, Columbo remains unpunished. The Duchess becomes the ward of the Cardinal and is presumed to have gone mad. Meanwhile Colonel Hernando (Phil Cheadle), who has been publicly humiliated by Columbo, also seeks revenge against the Cardinal and his nephew.

Justin Audibert's production emphasises the satire in Shirley's text and the cast make the most of the dark humour in the play, creating a great rapport with the audience, who are frequently addressed in crowd scenes. The performance begins with a monologue by the Cardinal, played with smooth malevolence by Stephen Boxer. Natalie Simpson's Duchess Rosaura matches the Cardinal in wit and cunning. Phil Cheadle's Hernando is seething with restrained hatred which is finally released in his duel with Columbo, played as a rough brute by Jay Saighal. Timothy Speyer is a joy as Rosaura's amiable secretary Antonio.

The audience is welcomed by the smell of incense as they enter the auditorium. The stage is bare, yet resembles a grand hall or a cathedral (design by Anna Reid), also thanks to the sound design by Max Pappenheim, who composed the atmospheric music. The actors are wearing period costumes with matching weaponry, also beautifully designed by Anna Reid.  

Despite its length, Justin Audibert's atmospheric production is fast-paced and entertaining throughout, including a breathtaking sword fight (devised by Bret Yount) and a stunning masque, choreographed by Natasha Harrison. 

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 27th May 2017

Southwark Playhouse

Running time: 140 minutes including one interval

Photo by Mitzi de Margary

Apr 30th

Late Company at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Todd Boyce, Lucy Robinson, Lisa Stevenson, David Leopold, Alex Lowe

You don't want an apology. You want blood.

Written by 28-year old Canadian Jordan Tannahill, this play deals with the suicide of a gay teenager who was bullied by other high school students in small-town Canada where homosexuality is still something that should be kept a secret. 

Debora (Lucy Robinson) and Michael Shaun-Hastings (Todd Boyce) are expecting guests for dinner. The table is beautifully set, with a bowl of flowers as its centrepiece, but Debora is not satisfied. Pacing around the table, she eventually disposes of the napkin rings because they might be too formal for the occasion. One year after the suicide of their 16-year old son Joel, the Shaun-Hastings have decided to meet with the high school bully, who was responsible for Joel's death, and his parents to find closure. Michael, a conservative politician, is not enthusiastic about this meeting but Debora, an artist who works in metal, tries to clear the negativity: "We're receiving and bestowing, Michael." But their guests are already forty minutes late.

When they finally arrive, Bill Dermot (Alex Lowe) explains that they are late due to an argument with his wife Tamara (Lisa Stevenson) - he shares Michael's skepticism regarding this meeting and did not want to go. Tamara, however, is eager to come together to achieve harmony and "put things behind them". She has been exchanging e-mails with Debora for some time and feels there can be reconciliation with Debora. Unfortunately, Tamara forgot to mention that her son Curtis (David Leopold) is allergic to shellfish so Curtis has to do with a sandwich and a few grapes whilst the rest of the dinner guests are having shellfish pasta.

Although Debora and Michael are trying to remain civil, the atmosphere is fraught with tension. Tamara soon switches from water to wine.

Curtis (David Leopold) reading his apology to Debora (Lucy Robinson)

Zahra Mansouri's beautiful set extends into the auditorium, placing the audience inside the dining room with the cast. As soon as the Dermots arrive, there is palpable tension. Debora seems calm and composed but there is bitterness and fury under her thin layer of civility. Tamara is longing for forgiveness and reconciliation. Michael, always the politician, is trying for the middle path whereas Bill proves to be even more of a bully than his son Curtis, who remains rather quiet during much of the evening, but is actually the most intriguing character.

Michael Yale's sensitive production about grief, forgiveness and reconciliation is almost painful to watch as two families are trying to find closure after a terrible tragedy. The play, which features an outstanding cast, shows that bigotry and intolerance also run in the family and dissects the relationship between sons and constantly absent fathers.

A gripping production that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 20th May 2016

Finborough Theatre

Box office: 0844 8471652

Running time: 70 minutes without an interval

Photo credit: Charlie Round-Turner

Apr 16th

The Crucible at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Is the accuser always holy now?

Written by Arthur Miller in 1953 as a response to the communist witch-hunt, The Crucible is seen as a metaphor for McCarthyism as there were obvious parallels between the witch-trials in 17th century Salem and what witnesses were subjected to in hearings conducted by the House Unamerican Activities Community (HUAC). The cause was later hijacked by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who needed a patriotic platform that would generate enough publicity to guarantee his re-election. The play has never been more relevant than today when one can easily detect the strong parallels between the community of Salem - a society in the midst of great change and anxious about the future - and the political climate in the US and the UK. 

In the Puritan New England town of Salem, Massachusetts, a group of girls is detected dancing in the forest by the local minister, Reverend Parris. Parris’s daughter Betty, has since fallen into a catatonic state. There is talk of witchcraft and Reverend Hale, a specialist in this field, has been asked to come and investigate. Parris doesn't believe in unnatural causes but he is scared that his enemies might harm him over his daughter's improper behaviour. Abigail Williams, who led the dancing party in the woods, convinces the girls not to admit anything. Abigail had a secret affair with John Proctor, a respected local farmer, whilst being engaged in his home. She was consequently fired by Proctor's wife Elizabeth. Abigail still desires Proctor but he regrets his adulterous behaviour and fends her off.  

 

A separate argument between Proctor, Parris, Giles Corey, and the wealthy landowner Thomas Putnam soon ensues. This dispute regards land deeds and money with Putnam trying to grab Corey's land and to dictate the terms in Salem because of his wealth whilst Proctor argues that it is up to the community to make decisions. As the men argue, Reverend Hale arrives and examines Betty. Hale then demands to speak to Tituba. After Parris and Hale interrogate her, the panicky Tituba confesses to communing with the devil, and she hysterically accuses various townsfolk of consorting with the devil. Suddenly, Abigail joins her, confessing to having seen the devil conspiring and cavorting with other townspeople. Betty joins them in naming witches.

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Reverend Hale (Charlie Condou) having a friendly talk with John and Elizabeth Proctor (Eoin Slattery and Victoria Yeates) 

A week later, 14 people are locked up in prison because they were "seen with the devil" by the hysterical girls. At first only vagrants and eccentric old women are denounced as witches. John Proctor is reluctant to go to court and inform the judges about Abigail's character when Mary Warren, their servant arrives, and informs them that Elizabeth had been accused of witchcraft but the court did not pursue the accusation. Shortly thereafter, Giles Corey and Francis Nurse come to the Proctor home with news that their wives have been arrested. Officers of the court suddenly arrive and arrest Elizabeth. After they have taken her, Proctor browbeats Mary, insisting that she must go to Salem and expose Abigail and the other girls as frauds. 

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Betty Parris (Leona Allen) and Abigail Williams (Lucy Keirl) having a vision

Douglas Rintoul's production is very fast-paced, which sometimes works against the tension of the play. Occasional stage directions, such as "The curtain falls" and "He conceives himself much as a young doctor on his first call" (regarding Reverend Hale), that are projected onto the wall can be amusing but I found them rather distracting.

Victoria Yeates gives a touching performance as Elizabeth Proctor but is rather subdued, which is especially noticeable in the important final scene between Elizabeth and her husband. Charlie Condou is very good as Reverend Hale who comes to regret his hasty judgment. Lucy Keirl convinces as Abigail Williams and Jonathan Tatler is excellent as Judge Danforth as he manipulates naive witnesses so their statements suit his agenda. Diana Yekinni impresses as Tituba, helpless in her low status as a slave and afraid for her life, and Augustina Seymour is very good as both Mary Warren and the dignified Rebecca Nurse.

The minimalist stage design by Anouk Schiltz consists of a panelled wall and a number of trees which works well for this play. However, the costumes seem to derive from various periods over the past few centuries without any consistency whatsoever. Unfortunately, this is also true for the accents. It is doubtful that a small Puritan community would entail accents from Ireland, Cornwall and Buckinghamshire. Yet is is possible that these minor points show the universality of the play.

An impressive production of a powerful play. 

By Carolin Kopplin 

The next stop of the tour will be Brighton from 24th April.

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson/aspx28

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval

Photo Credit: Alessia Chinazzo

Apr 10th

Write of Spring - a New Writing Showcase

By Carolin Kopplin

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Network Theatre is a community theatre space in the underground railway arches of London Waterloo station. Run by the volunteers of the resident Network Theatre Company, an amateur theatre group, the venue offers productions of contemporary theatre and provide a rather unique location for visiting theatre companies and events.

The festival Write of Spring, which took place on just one day, 19th March, was a celebration of new writing, featuring six short plays that focus on beginnings - the start of a new life or a new discovery.

The first play One in Four, written and directed by Kate Pettigrew, takes place on a sheep farm. It is lambing time and Sally (Andrea Mentlikowski) is having a difficult birth. When the lambs are finally born, they are up to all kinds of nonsense, playing and rolling around in the stable, and they listen with big eyes as Sally tells them stories about green fields. Will they ever get to see them? Farmer Steve (Owain Jones) and his wife Jess (Kat Holland) have a rather fraught relationship ever since Jess had a miscarriage for which she blames herself. A delightful play with dark undertones.

Braincell by Shaun Smith, directed by Rebecca Mason, begins as the clock strikes twelve on New Year's Eve. Regret (Nigel Williams), Reluctance (Amy Andrews), Reminiscence (Edmée Sierts), and Recognition (Tekle Baroti) reflect on loss in this pinteresque play that consists mainly of monologues. Nigel Williams was particularly impressive as he expressed his grief about his recent loss.

The last play before the interval was Life Boat by Lisa Pancucci, directed by Kate Pettigrew. Middle-aged Martin (Nick Rutherford) visits Helda (Lisa Pancucci), his dominatrix, who is already annoyed by his delay: "Mistress Fury waits for no one." Delightful punishment awaits - but this time Martin would like to try a completely different direction. A bittersweet comedy with a surprise ending.

The Dark before Dawn by Amy Andrews deals with a couple that couldn't be more different. Ivy (Edmée Sierts) is the eternal optimist who loves to sing and enjoy life whereas Eben (Peter Kershaw), a pessimist, feels worn down by Ivy's seemingly carefree attitude: "Doesn't anything ever bother you?" A light-hearted play asking some serious questions about how one should live one's life.

Ryan M. Bultrowicz's play Shower Thoughts deals with writer's block. Robert (Nigel Williams) has taken umpteenth showers to restart his brain but he still cannot think of an ending to his book. His girlfriend Kate (Andrea Mentlikowski) prevents Robert from taking yet another shower with a different suggestion. The play is a bit too short for character development and Robert's change happens a bit out of the blue but the premise is interesting.

The evening concluded with Cuckoo by Shamini Bundell, directed by Kristen Farebrother. Miles (Owain Jones), a PhD student in archaelogy, is invited to an army base to investigate a mysterious object. The object is top secret and must not be moved. Miles is excited because he usually does not get the opportunity of shining with his expert knowledge as his professor is taking all the credit for his hard work. Will Miles dare to be bold this one time?

An entertaining evening with some promising work by new writers.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Network Theatre - London's Secret Community Theatre

246A LOWER ROAD, WATERLOO, LONDON, SE1 8SJ

More information on Network Theatre: https://networktheatre.org/

The next show will be Collaborators by John Hodge, from 21 June - 24 June 2017

Apr 7th

Out of Order at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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George Pigden (Shaun Williamson) & Richard Willey (Andrew Hall) 

She's not my bride, she's Jeremy Corbyn's secretary!

Ray Cooney, the Master of Farce, will be celebrating his 85th birthday this year. Whilst other people his age are happy to enjoy their hard-earned retirement, the energetic Ray Cooney, whose career now spans 70 years, presents a new version of his 1980 play Whose Wife Is It Anyway, which he also directs.

Out of Order is a fast-paced farce about a philandering Tory politician who sees his tête-à-tête with a Labour secretary rudely interrupted and spends the rest of the evening trying to save his hide. The play has been updated to include jokes about the current political situation and well-known polticians.

Junior Minister Richard Willey (Andrew Hall) has booked a room in the Westminster Hotel with a direct view of the the Houses of Parliament. He is expecting to spend the night with stunning secretary Jane Worthington (Susie Amy) whilst he led his wife Pamela (Sue Holderness) to believe that he is attending the debate in the House of Commons. He expects to sneak out for a bit to do his duty with the PM before returning into the arms of his stunning lover. With a bucket of champagne and a few dozen oysters, nothing should go wrong. But when Willey enters his room, there is a man caught in the window - he appears to be dead. After hiding the corpse in the wardrobe, Willey quickly calls his assistant George Pigden (Shaun Williamson) to take care of the mess.

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Ronnie Worthington (Jules Brown), Richard Willey (Andrew Hall), The Waiter (James Holmes) & The Manager (Arthur Bostrom).jpg

After a somewhat sluggish first half, complete chaos ensues and the jokes come one laugh a minute. The show includes a lot of physical comedy, often featuring a rather volatile window, and more than one pair of dropped trousers.

Shaun Williamson has the plum role as Willey's aide Pigdem whose problem-solving skills are challenged to the max. Andrew Hall is very convincing as the slick politician, who seems able to weasel his way out of any situation. Susie Amy does her best with a role that is very slight - she mostly shocks the other characters by popping up in her underwear when least expected. Arthur Bostrom is hilarious as the mortified hotel manager and James Holmes gives a comical tour de force as an incompetent but sly waiter. Jules Brown is hysterically funny as Jane Worthington's husband Ronnie who is raging with jealousy. Sue Holderness provides some humour as the inebriated Mrs Willey and Elizabeth Elvin has quite an entrance as the forceful Nurse Foster. David Warwick makes his mark as the rather animated "body". 

The set design by Rebecca Brower includes a defective window that develops a life of its own and deservedly gets a round of applause when it is taking its bow together with the cast.  

Although some of the jokes and situations seem a bit old-fashioned, this is a highly entertaining production.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 8 April 2017 at the Richmond Theatre

The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 1QJ

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson/aspx28

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval

Photos by Darren Bell.

Apr 5th

Caste at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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George D'Alroy (Duncan Moore) and his beloved Esther (Isabella Marshall)

Kind hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith than Norman blood.

First produced in 1867, Caste was one of a series of plays in the naturalistic style by theatrical revolutionary T. W. Robertson. Robertson was the first playwright who dared to show comtemporary British people in realistic settings and directed his own work. He was a great influence on Arthur Wing Pinero, who based the character of Tom Wrench in Trelawny of the Wells on Robertson, and on W.S. Gilbert, who admired his theatrical innovations, stating that Robertson "pointed the way for a whole new movement". Caste, widely considered to be Robertson's masterpiece. focuses on the distinction of class and rank in Victorian Britain.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of T. W. Robertson's comedy, the Finborough Theatre presents the first UK production of Caste in over 20 years.

London 1867. George D'Alroy (Duncan Moore), a soldier and the son of a French nobleman, asks his friend Captain Hawtree (Ben Starr) for advice. He has fallen in love with Esther Eccles (Isabella Marshall), a beautiful ballet dancer from a poor family. Esther's father (Paul Bradley) is a drunkard and her sister Polly (Rebecca Collingwood), also a performer, is engaged to a plumber with the unflattering name Sam Gerridge (Neil Chinneck). Hawtree warns his friend that he should never marry beneath him, although he himself has aspirations of marrying an aristocrat far above his station. However, George does not listen to his friend's advice. When Esther tells him about a dancing opportunity in Manchester, George proposes to her to keep his beloved in London.

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The Marquise de St. Maur is not amused - Susan Penhaligon and Paul Bradley

Six months later, George is called to arms and his mother, the Marquise de St. Maur (Susan Penhaligon) arrives to say her goodbyes. She is mortified when she learns of his marriage to a common girl but there are more important matters at stake. Family honour forces George to go and fight in India, leaving his wife behind to confront the class prejudices of e Marquise, whilst coping witthh her drunken father at the same time.

Charlotte Peters directs a charming production of Robertson's comedy drama, which naturally does not appear as revolutionary today as it did 150 years ago, but still has much to offer - some very witty lines and colourful characters. Duncan Moore and Isabella Marshall are lovely as the ill-fated couple, believing that love can conquer all. Susan Penhaligon's arrogant aristocrat evokes Edith Evans in her prime, and Paul Bradley's unscrupulous and workshy scrounger Eccles seems a lost brother to Eliza Dolittle's father in Pygmalion. Rebecca Collingwood impresses as Esther's flirtatious and self-assertive younger sister Polly who loves theatrics but makes the right choice with Neil Chinneck's hard-working plumber Sam. Ben Starr convinces as Captain Hawtree who also learns a thing or two about "caste".   

A rare revival of a delightful play that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 18th April 2017

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes including one interval. 

Photos by Greg Veit.

Apr 2nd

Gabriel by Moira Buffini at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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There is no justice left, only war.

Although Britain was never occupied by Nazi Germany, the Channel Islands were left without protection as they were considered strategically unimportant and quickly taken over by the Germans. Moira Buffini's first play, premiering in the Soho Theatre in 1997, takes place on Guernsey in 1943 when the tide was turning for the German invaders.

The widowed Jeanne Becquet (Belinda Lang) and her former housekeeper Margaret Lake (Jules Melvin) are running a black market operation to keep their home together and to overcome food shortages. Jeanne had become very friendly with Reichart, the former German commanding officer of the island, to protect her family - her adolescent daughter Estelle (Venice Van Someren) and her Jewish daughter-in-law Lily (Sarah Schoenbeck). Reichart has now been replaced and Jeanne has gone to meet the new German commander.

As the performance begins, Estelle, Jeanne's young daughter, is holding a candle and drawing "a square of power" to conjure up help against the Nazis. Mrs Lake is skeptical as usually a circle is required if this magical nonsense is to work at all when Lily comes storming in, asking for help - a man has washed up on the shore who looks like her missing husband Miles. It is impossible to tell who he is or where he came from as he is not wearing any clothes. Mrs Lake is reluctant to help the stranger, who might be an enemy, but Estelle leaves with Lily to help and they take the unconscious man to the attic.

Meanwhile Jeanne Becquet returns, accompanied by the new German commander Von Pfunz (Paul McGann). While Von Pfunz is residing in Jeanne's Hermitage, she has to live in a run-down shack. Assuming that the German officer has only a rudimentary knowledge of English, Jeanne insults him at will. Of course Von Pfunz understands every word Jeanne says but instead of reproaching her he appreciates her honesty: "To hear the truth is a privilege." The stunning red dress Jeanne is wearing, might help.

Jeanne is none to pleased when she finds out about the stranger in her attic, whom Estelle has named Gabriel, hoping that he is the "angel" who has come to their rescue. When Gabriel (Robin Morrissey) regains consciousness, he suffers from amnesia and appears to be fluent in both German and English. Is he an RAF pilot, an SS man who was sent to the island as an interrogator, a local boy or the angel that Estelle imagines?

Although the title of the play is "Gabriel", Moira Buffini's play focuses on the women in her story and their hardship during the war as they are left to fend for themselves whilst their fathers and husbands are off to fight. Belinda Lang is very good as the aristocratic Jeanne, whose family history goes back to the Norman conquerors, but who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her family. Paul McGann is charming in a rather reptilian way as would-be poet Von Pfunz who condones Estelle's pranks because he is attracted to her mother. But his charm turns to ice when he tells the willful Estelle that she might be in error if she believes she cannot be killed because she is only a child, “My dear, there’s something you have not yet comprehended about war.” The chemistry between Von Pfunz and the aristocratic Jeanne is working very well as Jeanne finds herself attracted to the German officer despite herself. Venice Van Someren convinces as the quixotic Estelle and Sarah Schoenbeck is lovely as the angelic Lily who misses her husband and yearns for a friend, which she hopes to find in the attractively innocent Gabriel, a charming and boyish Robin Morrissey. Jules Melvin is pragmatic and loyal as Margaret Lake, much more a comrade in arms than a housekeeper. 

The atmospheric set by Carla Goodman is composed of a wooden shack with an unfinished look entailing a kitchen and an attic room that could be interpreted as heaven as Gabriel resides there, whilst the unseen German tunnels underneath the house are certainly hell. A permanently overcast sky in the background adds to the melancholy mood.

A compelling melodrama offering some comical relief.

By Carolin Kopplin

Starting off at Richmond Theatre, the next stop of the tour will be the Liverpool Playhouse on 4th April. 

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval 

Adult themes and content. Contains strong language and scenes of a violent nature.

Recommended age 11+

Tour dates and tickets: http://www.gabrieltheplay.co.uk/tickets

Apr 1st

Incident at Vichy at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Daniel Dowling and Edward Killingback

The important thing is not to look like a victim.

Arthur Miller is one of our greatest playwrights but although The Crucible, A View from a Bridge, and Death of a Salesman, as well as some of his lesser known plays are regularly performed, Incident at Vichy has been largely forgotten. The play opened on Broadway in December 1964, directed by Harold Clurman, and received excellent notices. Howard Taubman of the New York Times called it: "One of the most important plays of our time." However, it has not been seen in a professional production in London since 1966. More than 50 years later, Incident at Vichy is presented by the Finborough Theatre, under the direction of Phil Willmott.

The play is set in a detention room of a Vichy police station in 1942, before the full horror of the Holocaust was known. Eight men have been picked up, supposedly to verify their identification papers, but in reality to reveal Jews and other unwanted elements and send them to concentration camps. 

The performance begins with a violinist on stage, faced by the entire cast. Sounds of an orchestra tuning their instruments can be heard before the lights go out. As the lights come up again, eight men from different social and economic backgrounds are seated on a long white bench, facing the audience. Lebeau (Lawrence Boothman), a starving painter, can't stop talking. Why have they been picked up? Is it a routine identity check? Marchand (Will Bryant), a businessman, is not worried: "I don't see anything to fear if your papers are all right." The electrician Bayard (Brendan O'Rourke) is not optimistic as Germany is now ruled by concerns and the ruling class is less than sympathetic towards the working man. Marchand and the Waiter (Michael Skellern) suspect that the Gypsy (Andro Crespo) is certainly in trouble as his sort are thieves and beggars. The French Police Captain (James Boyd) ignores any questions and requests but when the Waiter detects the German Major (Henry Wyrley-Birch), who is a regular patron in his cafe, he feels safer. The Major, a line officer with an injured leg, is not comfortable with his assignment, a task usually performed by the SS. 

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Lawrence Boothman, Michael Skellern, and Brendan O'Rourke

Bayard, who is working at the railyard, knows about transports of Jews to concentration camps and warns the others. Yet the idea of sending people to their deaths seems so outrageous that the other detainees won't believe him. The actor Monceau (PK Taylor) will try to outreason anybody. After all he was still playing Cyrano in Paris until a short time ago, despite having the word "Jew" stamped in his passport. Von Berg (Edward Killingback), an Austrian prince, is more pessimistic as he was forced to see his favourite violinists arrested and taken away because they were Jewish. As the businessman is let go, the other detainees become more hopeful although Professor Hoffman (Timothy Harker) of the race institute is involved in the questioning. Monceau believes that self-confidence will be enough to convince the interrogators of his innocence. Leduc (Gethin Alderman), a Jewish doctor, believes that the only way to survive is to escape from the detention room but only the Boy (Daniel Dowling) is willing to help.

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Gethin Alderman, Edward Killingback, Jeremy Gagan, James Boyd

Phil Willmott's production is set in a sterile white room (design by Georgia de Grey) with the detainees being seated on a long white bench, as advised in Arthur Miller's stage directions. As more men are brought in, the room begins to feel more and more claustophobic.  

Although the characters appear somewhat like mouthpieces for different world views at times, the cast succeed in bringing them to life. Edward Killingback is very touching as the Prince, a sensitive aesthete, who detests the Nazis for their vulgarity and brutality. Von Berg does not believe in Bayard's glorification of the working man as Hitler's supporters appear to be overwhelmingly working class, which is not quite true. PK Taylor remains the eternal optimist as Monceau, certain that he will survive, despite Leduc's valid arguments. Henry Wyrley-Birch convinces as the German Major, who seems less than enthusiastic about his role in the investigation but reveals his despicable anti-semitism in his confrontation with Leduc, one of the most intense moments in the performance. As Leduc, Gethin Alderman eloquently deals with his abundance of philosophical and sociological speeches. Although Jeremy Gagan's role as the Old Jew is almost wordless, his presence on the stage is unsettling. Remaining alone in a crowded room, he shows dignity despite his humiliation.

An impressive and timely revival of a classic play.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 22nd April 2017

Finborough Theatre 

Running time: 90 minutes without an interval. 

Photographs by Scott Rylander.