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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.

Mar 31st

When the Dove Returns at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Captain Ned (James Little) and the survivors 

I'm going to live!

Following their debut Bibs, Boats, Borders & B*stards about the refugee crisis in 2016, which opened to good notices, Backpack Theatre now present a devised piece about the long-term effects of climate change.

The survivors of an apocalyptic flood combined with poisonous smog have fled to a ship - "The Dove". After reluctantly saving their lives, the Captain enforces a strict regime, limiting food rations to the bare minimum to ensure the survival of the fittest. After 30 days on board the small ship, coping with storms, hunger, and unbearable living conditions, the refugees are ready to revolt - but Ned is the only one who knows the coordinates to reach land.

The performance begins with audio clips on the greenhouse effect, setting the tone for the production. An ominous shadow appears on the wall before the flood survivors arrive on a simple set by Brittany Stillwell representing the deck of a ship - a slightly raised platform covered with plastic, a bucket, and a few black bin bags. The cast splash around in stagnant water which adds to the atmosphere, along with sound effects of waves crashing against the boat and constant rain. Music by Ella Bellsz and pop songs are used for the lighter moments.

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Joshua (Duncan Rendall)

Alice Lavender's intense production focuses on the effects of hunger and extreme living conditions on a group of people. Are they able to keep their humanity or will their baser instincts take over to ensure their own survival?

The song "Tick, Tock" represents the passing of time on the boat as the flood survivors, convincingly played by the dedicated cast, become weak with hunger and frustrated by Ned's strict rules. The lack of privacy is demonstrated by the frequent use of a toilet bucket, an action that is repeated once or twice too often. Yet there are also funny moments such as the enthuasiastic welcome when the survivors arrive aboard the ship and a techno dance later in the performance.

Director Alice Lavender plays Victoria, a young mother who left her newborn baby behind. Along with James Little as Ned, Lavender's touching character has the strongest impact in this production.

A valid commentary on the social and envionmental consequences of climate change.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 1st April 2017 at the Blue Elephant Theatre

Running time: 60 minutes without an interval.

Contains some nudity. Recommended for ages 16+.

Tickets and further info: http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/when-dove-returns

Images by Brittany Stillwell.

Mar 26th

Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre - UK Tour from 8 April - 23 September 2017

By Carolin Kopplin

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Sally Cookson's imaginative new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's beloved novel Jane Eyre will tour the UK from April to September 2017. Nadia Clifford will take over the central role of Jane Eyre and Tim Delap will play Rochester.

Before the beginning of the tour, the National Theatre invited regional press and representatives of regional theatres to a second-week rehearsal with the opportunity to interview director Sally Cookson and members of the cast. 

A collaboration between the Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre, the production was originally presented in two parts in Bristol. Rufus Norris, Artistic Director of the National Theatre, asked to have it cut down to one part before it transferred to the NT. Director Sally Cookson agreed and got rid of the "not so good bits" which made the production "even more epic". The UK Tour will feature the third version of Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre.

After directing Peter Pan at the Bristol Old Vic, Sally Cookson was asked what she would like to do next and she immediately decided on an adaptation of Jane Eyre. Cookson had seen Orson Welles' film as a child and had been fascinated by the images and Bernard Hermann's music. When she eventually got to read the book, she realised that Jane Eyre was not a mere love story but a cry for equal rights of women, focusing on the importance of individual human rights and what is needed to thrive as a human: "Jane Eyre understands this from an early age and strives for it". Sally Cookson wanted to tell Jane Eyre's life-story, not a romantic costume drama with a love story at its centre.

Sally Cookson's imaginative production captures the spirit of the novel but is geared towards a modern audience. Cookson felt that costumes and a historical set limited the story. The Victorian period is referenced but the main purpose of Michael Vale's set is to reflect Jane's struggle. An obstacle course consisting of various platforms and ladders demands physical strength and fitness from the cast. Sally Cookson confirmed that the actors ran about 5 miles during every performance.

After working on the story with a dramaturg to achieve a basic structure, the play was developed by Cookson and the cast during an 8-week process through collaboration and improvisation, using dialogue from the novel as well as creating new dialogue. All songs in the production were written by Benji Bower and emerged during the rehearsal period, with the exception of "Mad About the Boy" and "Crazy". There is an orchestra on stage, creating an impressive soundscape. The production is miked to make sure that the actors can be heard over the orchestra and sound effects which include many percussive elements.

The actors performed some parts of the production that had already been rehearsed beginning with Jane's birth and her struggle with her aunt Mrs Reed after she is orphaned. The conflict is exacerbated by the death of Jane's kindly uncle and Cookson's production clearly shows Jane Eyre, now played by the charismatic Nadia Clifford, as a strong and determined character. It was also important to the director to do justice to Bertha who gets a bit of a raw deal in the novel. Bertha is always present at Fairfield Hall and finishes with a melancholy but very lyrical song.

This compelling and highly creative production can now be seen in many regional theatres after a sell-out run at the National Theatre.

By Carolin Kopplin

Running time: 3 hours with one interval

Tour dates: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/jane-eyre-on-tour

First stop Salford from 8th April 2017

Mar 20th

Rounds at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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I'm supposed to be a doctor and all I've done today is hurt people and file paperwork.

Although junior doctors have not been in the news lately, their situation has remained unchanged whilst the NHS continues to be in crisis. Resuscitate Theatre have conducted interviews and collected anecdotes to tell the story of six junior doctors in a physical and theatrical way.

The performance begins with a news clip on the plight of junior doctors as one junior doctor has fallen asleep on her desk. As the others arrive, they are swiftly going through a variety of tasks - hurrying to cubicles, opening and closing curtains, writing reports. It is obvious that they are dealing with a workload that is hardly manageable.

Grace (Alex Hinson) learns that her mentor has resigned after the death of a patient which could have been prevented by timely treatment but the doctor simply could not find the time. Lucy (Penelope Rodie) has an introductory meeting with management and is thoroughly questioned about the gap in her CV. Meanwhile Tom (Adam Deane) deals with the workload by being careless but Tom knows how to work the system to stay on top of the game. Kal (Nicolas Pimpare), a brilliant doctor who keeps on studying throughout his spare time, sees his competency questioned by patients who demand to be treated by an English doctor. Dom (Iain Gibbons) tries to be hospitable but his colleagues are just too tired to care for dinner. Felicity (Christina Carty) keeps going on alcohol and cigarettes.

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The beginning of Anna Marshall's production feels a bit rushed as the cast use movement to reflect the hustle and bustle of a busy hospital, which is somewhat hard to follow. Yet after the fast-paced beginning, Rounds becomes more engaging and succeeds in making valid points on the stressful and frustrating situation junior doctors continue to find themselves in. The stress is taking its toll as relationships crumble, some doctors turn to alcohol and other stimulants, and others suffer from increasing anxiety attacks.

Apart from the huge number of patients, inequality and racism add to the stress. When the overwhelming workload leads to mistakes, two junior doctors face disciplinary consequences. The public school boy is let off with a slap on the wrist and is still transferred to the most popular ward whilst the female doctor is severely disciplined and consequently sent to a ward that is not even among the top 50 on her list. Another female doctor with a clean sheet is sent to the other end of the country. Although Kal is an excellent doctor, he is replaced with a "proper English doctor" when a racist patient demands it.

This highly relevant play reflects the situation of not only junior doctors but the health service in general as more and more tasks and responsibilities are shouldered by fewer and fewer doctors, nurses, and carers. The NHS is one sector that does not benefit from any more cuts.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 25th March 2016

Blue Elephant Theatre

Running time: 60 minutes with no interval

Recommended for ages 12+

Post show discussion on Friday 24th March

Panel will include: Resuscitate Theatre, Doctors Support Network, Creative Dissent and Docs not Cops.

Images by Stephen Poole.

Mar 20th

The Bad Seed at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Rhoda (Rebecca Rayne)

People tell lies all the time.

OutFox Productions return to the Jack with a psychological thriller by Pulitzer Prize winner Maxwell Anderson. Written in 1954, The Bad Seed became one of Broadway's most outstanding hits and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The play is set in a small Southern town in the 1950s. Kenneth and Christine Penmark live an idyllic life with their seemingly perfect 8-year old daughter Rhoda. The girl is sweet, charming and full of old-fashioned graces, loved by her parents and admired by most of her elders. However, Rhoda is not liked by other children and Miss Fern, the school principal, does not consider Rhoda a good fit for her school. When one of Rhoda's schoolmates is mysteriously drowned at a school picnic, Rhoda's mother becomes alarmed by the growing number of fatal accidents that happen when her daughter is around.

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A present from Daddy - Rhoda (Rebecca Rayne) and her mother Christine (Beth Eyre)

The performance begins as Kenneth Penmark (Andrew Futaishi) has to say goodbye to his family. He is going on a prolonged business trip. Landlady Monica Breedlove (Jessica Hawksley) and her brother Emory Wages (Daniel Osgerby) stop by for a chat and it is clear that everyone adores the little princess Rhoda (Rebecca Rayne) - except for Miss Fern (Jessica Gilhooley) who disapproves of Rhoda's reaction to not winning the penmanship medal, and handyman Leroy (Brian Merry).

This afternoon Christine and her neighbours expect a visit from famed criminologist Reginald Tasker (Aneirin George) whilst Rhoda is on a school trip. "Reggie" indulges in telling murder stories. Christine is becomes upset and Monica, an amateur psychologist, immediately tries to dig into Christine's psyche. The party is broken up by the news that a terrible accident has happened at Rhoda's school picnic. Rhoda returns unfazed, not showing the slightest bit of remorse for Claude Daigle, the drowned boy, who won the penmanship medal.

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Leroy (Brian Merry) is suspicious

John Fricker's sensitive and exciting production of Maxwell Anderson's psychological thriller keeps the audience in suspense throughout the performance. There are delightful performances by the whole cast but Rebecca Rayne is exceptionally good as Rhoda, giving a convincing portrayal of an 8-year old girl, and Beth Eyre is very good as her tortured mother Christine. Jessica Hawksley adds some badly needed comic relief as the good-hearted amateur psychologist Monica Breedlove.

The entire play takes place in the living room of the Penmarks, designed in 1950s style by Mary Sankey, and features a rousing original score by Philip Matejtschuk.

Another hit for OutFox Productions and great entertainment for your evening out. 

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 1st April 2017

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval.

Images by David Monteith-Hodge.

Mar 19th

The Miser at the Garrick Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Money gives me everything I want and more.

Writer-director Sean Foley considers most productions of Molière's comedies "far too respectful". Therefore, Foley and Phil Porter have created an irreverent adaptation of The Miser to bring it up to 2017 standards. Does it work? In parts.

A variety of tunes played on a spinet takes the audience back in time before the cast enter in period costumes. The play is set in a stately home, now in a state of dilapidation (costumes and set design by Alice Power) - there are cracks in the walls, broken windows and the plasterwork keeps falling down. Candles line the front of the stage, adding to the period feel.

Valère (Matthew Horne), the steward of Harpagon’s house, is in love with his employer’s daughter, Élise (Katy Wix). Valère is sure that he is of a good family but he knows that Harpagon loves nothing but money and will never accept a poor stewart as his son-in-law. Instead he demands that Elise marry a rich man who is old enough to be her father. Harpagon’s son, Cléante (Ryan Gage), is in love with Marianne (Ellie White), a poor girl who lives with her widowed mother. Since Marianne has no money, Cléante keeps his love for the girl from his father. What he does not know is that his father has seen Mariane and wants her for himself. Cléante is to marry Marianne's mother. Harpagon has employed matchmaker Frosine (Andi Osho) to prepare Marianne for the desired marriage.

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Maître Jacques (Lee Mack), Harpagon (Griff Rhys Jones) and Valère (Matthew Horne) 

Sean Foley's production is broad farce and dispenses of the fourth wall almost immediately. There is plenty of slapstick and physical comedy, which often entails falling plasterwork or rickety furniture, and the cast has to act a breakneck speed to keep up with Molière's plot. The updated jokes do not work too well. Most of them are not terribly funny and distract from the story. Stand-up comedian Lee Mack, however, is having a ball as his Baldrick-like character Maître Jacques, quipping jokes whilst filling almost every position in the house because the stingy Harpagon keeps on firing his staff. 

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Matchmaker Frosine (Andi Osho) and the beautiful Marianne (Ellie White)

Griff Rhys Jones plays Harpagon somewhat straight as he stumbles around in tattered clothes to appear as poor as possible, convinced that everyone is after his treasure. Ryan Gage is hilarious as his son Cléante, a fashionista as colourful as a tropical bird, who spends his money as fast as gets it - and more. Matthew Horne is very good as the efficient Valère who believes that being as sycophantic as possible will help him obtain Harpagon's consent to marrying Élise, played by the lovely Katy Wix with a funny speech impediment. 

Despite the failed updates, this show is still good entertainment value featuring a lovely cast.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 3rd June 2016 at the Garrick Theatre

Tickets: https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/garrick-theatre/the_miser/

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval

Images by Helen Maybanks.

Mar 17th

Syndicated Interview with Paul McGann about UK Tour of Moira Buffini's Gabriel

By Carolin Kopplin

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It’s 30 years since Paul McGann made a name for himself in the classic cult film Withnail & I. Now he’s about to embark on his first UK theatre tour playing German Major Von Pfunz in Gabriel. Kate Gould catches up with him for a chat. 

Paul McGann needs no introduction. He’s the man whose portrayal of the eponymous I in the cult classic Withnail & I propelled him to stardom. That was 30 years ago and in the years since his career has gone from strength to strength and he’s become a household name in the process. Indeed his CV is as impressive as it gets showing his versatility as an actor with performances on both stage and screen including in Hornblower and Luther and of course playing the eighth incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who

But he’s never done a UK theatre tour - that is until now. For next month the 57-year-old actor is to pack his bags for an eight-week stint in Moira Buffini’s acclaimed play Gabriel which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.  

Set in 1943 German occupied Guernsey, it tells the story of widow and mother Jeanne who does whatever it takes to keep her adolescent daughter Estelle and daughter-in-law Lily safe on an island filled with danger and fear. However she meets her toughest test in the form of the terrifying Commander Von Pfunz whose romantic advances are dangerous to say the least but which may be the only way to keep her family alive. The tension racks up further when a mysterious young man is washed ashore with no memory of who he is. It transpires he’s fluent in German and English, so the question is, is he an RAF pilot, an SS interrogator, a local boy with amnesia or a saviour sent from heaven? 

Kicking off in Richmond on March 28, the production will cross the country visiting theatres in Greenwich, Liverpool, Windsor, Guildford, Eastbourne and Clwyd, something Paul tells me he’s looking forward to.  

We meet in a private members’ club in central London where Paul is spending the day chatting to various journalists about the production before he gets stuck into the rigours of rehearsals. And if he’s understandably growing a bit weary of all the attention and the barrage of questions by the time I arrive, he doesn’t show it. In fact he is as relaxed as they come with an easy going manner, affable charm and a warm sense of humour. 

So keen is he about the production, and being part of it, that he wastes no time in telling me all about it and about the research he did into the occupation of the island. 

“It’s a fascinating piece,” he says. “It’s dark and intense, although it’s not all doom and gloom of course, but it’s a real thriller, exciting and incredibly gripping. 

“It’s set in Guernsey in the middle of the Second World War, and it’s a great place to set a story. It was a strange time for the islanders as in many respects, life continued as normal. 

“On the face of it, it was a peaceful occupation. There was no armed resistance nor any uprisings. However food was scarce, there was a thriving black market, and plenty of wheeling and dealing going on. Indeed some people made a fortune. And while some worked the land, most of the men of fighting age were away so it was mainly women left on the island. 

“So to have the central character in this play a woman is entirely fitting. Jeanne is widowed and has a daughter with whom she lives and a son who is in the forces. Her house is requisitioned by the German so she has to be careful. There are hints that she had a relationship with a German officer who has now been sent away and by all accounts they got on well - and again if you read the history books, this was what happened in many cases.” 

Into her life comes Von Pfunz, played by Paul, an army officer who has served in Poland but has now been sent to Guernsey and finds himself captivated by Jeanne. “He’s not a nice man, in fact he’s horrible, and he comes on to Jeanne much to her disgust,” he grimaces. 

“She is repulsed by him and is quite fearful of him, but there is a courage about her that he finds thrilling and intoxicating. It throws her completely.  

“Her dilemma is how to get on with the Germans, keep her family safe and survive without submitting to something she doesn’t want, where a mistake could be fatal. 

“The tension is ratcheted up even further when a young man appears, washed up on a nearby beach. The girls save him and bring him to Jeanne’s house where he’s hidden. He claims not to know who he is, and when Von Pfunz later discovers him there the boy is able to speak with him in perfect German.” 

It was, Paul says, a play he was instantly drawn to not least by the writing which he describes as “superb”. “The writing is key and is what really attracted me to playing this role,” he says. 

“Von Pfunz is like nobody I’ve played before but it’s the way Moira beautifully weaves these situations and tensions together that is so good. It’s brilliantly told and when you get a really good story as an actor you can’t wait to tell it.” 

However, keen not to give away any spoilers Paul simply says the audience will be on the edge of their seats to find out what happens. 

“Jeanne is constantly in danger, the tension builds to a crescendo and she ends up in a really tight corner,” he says eyes twinkling. 

It’s clear throughout our chat that Paul still gets a buzz out of being on stage and he says he's excited to be making his debut theatre tour in such a “fantastic play”. 

“I’ve found over the years that the old actor clichè is true that live is best,” he smiles. 

“Doing TV and film is great, and I’ve been jammy enough over the years to do a lot of it, but when you go out on stage and feel the atmosphere and get that instant feedback from the audience, you just can’t beat it. 

“It is also a way of working that teaches you the most.”

So why has it taken so long to get out on the road? It seems it’s mainly down to logistics and finding the right vehicle for his talents. This particular role and the fact his two sons are grown up has allowed him the flexibility to take on the challenge of a tour.  

“Many touring shows are musicals and there are few straight dramatic plays. I’ve  been offered tours in the past, some of which were tempting, but they tended to last for months so were difficult to commit to.” 

“This one stood out though as it’s so thrilling so I was really up for it. Also I’ll get a chance to discover and visit all these theatres that I’ve never performed in before as well as the different characters of the audiences, which I’m really looking forward to. It’s a new experience for me. 

“It’ll be a bit like running away to the circus!” 

Paul is endearingly modest about his career and the word “jammy” to describe it crops up often. Indeed it is a surprise when he insists he never wanted to be an actor, instead harboured dreams of being a track and field sportsman. He was eventually persuaded to give acting a shot when he was 17 by one of his teachers. Somewhat alarmingly he also tells me he very nearly didn’t go to the RADA audition that had been organised for him as he was so unsure about whether it was the right thing to do. Fortunately for his legions of fans he didn’t walk past the door but went through it and got in on his first audition. He spent the next few years there “very happy” alongside such notables as Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance and says he has no regrets. 

“I was a 70s kid growing up in Liverpool, left school at 17, not qualified in anything and never thought about being an actor,” he remembers smiling.  

“However, my teacher saw something in me and helped me prepare my audition to RADA. It was pretty embarrassing and I felt it went terribly. But I got in, and I loved it. 

“I remember there were plenty of working class kids at RADA then. I think most of us had just fancied being movie stars. Of course that was all pie in the sky as there was no guarantee you’d even get into Equity. I was pretty jammy to get Withnail & I after just five years out. I loved working on it. We were pretty innocent and, in truth, didn’t really know what we were doing. We certainly had no idea how cool it would become.” 

“Theatre has always been my favourite though - it’s what many actors will tell you - and the older I get the more I prefer it although I still get very nervous. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to play some incredible roles over the years and I'm proud to add Commander Von Pfunz to that list.”  

Paul McGann plays Commander Von Pfunz in Moira Buffini’s Gabriel, directed by Kate McGregor. Visit www.gabrieltheplay.co.uk for full listings.

Review will follow.