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Jan 31st

Not Dead Enough at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter

30th January 2017

poster Not Dead Enough

This stage production of the third of Peter James’ ‘Roy Grace’ series is set to follow the huge success of previous productions and is sure not to be the last. James has been acclaimed as ‘one of the most fiendishly clever crime fiction plotters’ (Daily Mail) and his Roy Grace novels have been published in 37 languages and sold over 18 million copies worldwide. He is a hugely popular novelist and his collaboration here with producer Joshua Andrews, Olivier award winning director Ian Talbot, and award winning playwright Shaun McKenna is a winning combination.

Not Dead Enough Mark Douet

photo by Mark Douet

Intriguing from the start and with a great sense of atmosphere - a result of the very effective stage design (Michael Holt) and lighting (Jason Taylor) - this is an ultimately chilling tale but with very amusing moments throughout to give it light and shade. 

Not Dead Enough Mark Douet

photo by Mark Douet

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (Shane Ritchie) opens an investigation into the murder of Katie Bishop whose husband Brian (Stephen Billington) vehemently claims his innocence and continues to do so even as the evidence mounts against him and Grace's conviction wavers. The story becomes progressively more complex with links to past murders and maybe even to the mysterious disappearance of Grace’s wife ten years previously; the pace and suspense build effectively as the story unfolds. There are moments when the anticipation is tangible and the audience collectively holds its breath.

Not Dead Enough Mark Douet

photo by Mark Douet

There is some fine work by the cast but it is Ritchie who drives this production, rarely off stage and a supremely confident and commanding presence. Laura Whitmore as Cleo Morey is very good here in her professional debut and this is just the beginning of what promises to be a great stage career. Stephen Billington has wide ranging stage, television and film experience and takes the complex part of Brian Bishop in his stride. Support from Michael Quartey as Glenn Branson and Gemma Atkins as Sophie Harrington give this production a confident cast.

This is an enjoyable yarn with a good twist which intrigues until the last scene. 

Not Dead Enough is at MK Theatre until Saturday 4th February 
Box Office:                0844 871 7652 (bkg fee)* 
Groups Hotline:       01908 547609 
Access Booking:       0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)* 
Online Booking:       www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes  (bkg fee) 

 

 

 

Jan 30th

The One Festival at The Space - Progamme E

By Carolin Kopplin

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What reconciles me to my own death more than anything else is the image of a place: a place where your bones and mine are buried, thrown, uncovered, together. They are strewn there pell-mell. One of your ribs leans against my skull. A metacarpal of my left hand lies inside your pelvis. (Against my broken ribs your breast like a flower.) (John Berger)

The Space is an exciting venue on the Isle of Dogs featuring mainly new writing but also offering daring new productions of the classics. The One Festival, now in its fifth year, accommodates five programmes over three weeks, entailing a variety of stories that have  one thing in common - they are performed by only one actor.

Programme E includes one 50 minute play and three short plays with a running time of 15 minutes each. Searching Shadows, written and performed by Emily Orley, is structured like a scientific lecture. Emily Orley combines the biography of her grandfather, a radiologist from Bialystok who moved to a variety of European countries and the US before eventually emigrating to Britain, with the history of radiology and the reception of this new science.

Directed by Christopher Heighes, this multi-media show employs a slide projector to display x-ray photographs and photographs of Orley's grandfather and family to illustrate her narrative, an ancient record player and a tape recorder to provide various sound effects, particularly whenever Emily Orley is quoting from her grandfather's journal and letters.

This is an intriguing performance, providing a plethora of information about society's fascination with radiology 100 years ago as well as retelling Dr Orley's story. The show is a bit slow-paced at times and somewhat repetitive, the John Berger quote is used three times, but it remains a fascinating piece of work.

After the interval, the programme continued with three shorter plays. If the Shoe Fits, written and performed by Cheryl Walker and directed by Simone Watson is a delightful play about a young Londoner with a Jamaican background who travels to Jamaica for the first time to celebrate her great-grandfather's 100th birthday and ends up learning much about herself.   

Cornet Solo by Ben Francis and performed by Silas John Hawkins deals with the owner of an ice cream van. Business has been slow and this is one the last hot days of the year. Yet on this particular day the queue at Ianto's van is never ending. His customers are enjoying a special spectacle - a potential suicide who is standing at the ledge of a high building. Hawkins inhabits his role as the seasoned ice cream seller as the story reaches an unexpected climax.

The final play of the evening is Among the Missing, written and directed by Niamh de Valera, Artistic Director of the Blue Elephant Theatre, and performed by Jess Neale. A recent graduate is taking a "gap year" working as a barrista in a coffee shop when she meets the perfect student, obviously on the road to success. Immaculately styled and enjoying her exciting internship at a local gallery, Jess Neale's frequent customer is an object of envy for the hapless barrista. But one day her customer disappears and it turns out that her situation was quite different - "appearances can be deceptive". An intriguing play with a surprise ending that makes one think. 

These very different plays are well acted, well written and provide a thought-provoking experience and an entertaining evening.

By Carolin Kopplin

Running time: 2 hours including one interval

The run has now ended.

Jan 29th

A Lesson from Auschwitz

By Carolin Kopplin

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Will you allow it to happen again?

I still remember seeing images of Rudolf Höss (not to be confused with Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess) and his staff celebrating the successful murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews - the so-called "Ungarn-Aktion". They were part of the "Höcker-Album", a collection of photographs collected by SS officer Karl-Friedrich Höcker, illustrating the lives and living conditions of the officers and administrators who ran the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex and an important document of the Holocaust. Höss was the longest-serving commandant of Auschwitz and is shown in many of Höcker's photos, often together with Josef Mengele. Höss was the most successful commandant of Auschwitz and the man who introduced Zyklon B to murder Europe's Jews more efficiently and in far greater numbers.

James Hyland is trying to shed light on the mentality of this mass murderer and the other perpetrators in his disturbing play that focusses on a secret meeting of Höss and his SS personnel in 1941. Purpose of the meeting was the introduction of Zyklon B, a more efficient method than mass shootings.

As the play begins, Abraham Könisberg (Michael Shon) a Jewish prisoner, who has been badly beaten, is standing on stage, wearing a blackboard with the words "Ich bin zurück" (I am back) around his neck. Höss treats him with condescension from the start and interrogates him personally about his escape, using him as an object to prove his inhuman theories whilst spreading the typical anti-semitic slander. The prisoner tries to keep his dignity despite the terrible abuse and humiliation he is subjected to.

Höss marches across the stage, clicking his heels before addressing his personnel, meaning to intimidate and demonstrate who is in charge. He also proves a master of rhetoric and manipulation. From the start, he makes them complicit: "There is no turning back now, gentlemen." Coaxing and threatening the soldiers in equal measure, he tries to turn them into effective killing tools who will obey all orders unquestioningly and abandon any human emotions such as mercy as this "weakness" helped the prisoner escape. Höss makes it quite clear that there is no room for weaklings.

James Hyland's portrayal of Höss is frightening - a sadist and a manipulative bully who seems capable of any atrocity. His rhetoric style reminds me of Roland Freisler, a Nazi judge who completely perverted his office. Michael Shon impresses as Abraham Könisberg, a man who tries to keep his dignity in this hell.

Directed, written and produced by James Hyland, this production should be seen by all - especially in the light of recent events.

By Carolin Kopplin

Running time: 60 minutes with no interval.

Recommended for ages 14+

Next performance:

FEB 25 @ 7.30pm

KETTERING - KETTERING ARTS CENTRE

St Andrew's Vicarage, Lindsay St, Kettering NN16 8RG

01536 513 858 www.ketteringartscentre.com

The play is dedicated to all victims of the Holocaust: those who were murdered and those who survived.

Proceeds will be donated to charity

 
 
Jan 28th

Thoroughly Modern Millie at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 

Review by Alison Smith

There are two great stars in this production of Thoroughly Modern Milly. The first of course is the leading lady, the multi-talented Joanne Clifton, well known for her excellent dancing, she must now be recognised as a true musical star with her impressive singing voice and perfect comic timing. The second accolade goes to Graham MacDuff, who played the part of Mr Trevor Graydon; his love-at-first-sight scene with the Miss Dorothy was captivating in its ridiculousness, his drunk scene was reminiscent of the antics of Charlie Chaplin and Dudley Moore and in the finale his kicks and flicks nearly surpassed those of Milly. Of course this is not to say that the other actors did not perform well, for example Sam Barrett as Jimmy Smith and Jenny Fitzpatrick as Muzzy. I was disappointed, however, by Michelle Collins. Her stereotypical performance as Mrs Meers  was too much like a pantomime witch; her appearance was vaguely amusing – chopsticks and  yellow hue, but her cackling, lisping language made her hard to understand.

 What is Mrs Meers role? She is the landlady of the boarding house where Milly lives. The scene is New York in the 1920s, the era of ‘modern’ women, such as Milly, who leave for the big city to live life to the full. Milly is modern in the sense that she wants to be independent, but only to a certain degree – her aim is to marry her boss, the owner of Sincere Trust Insurance Company.  Of course there would be no show if she achieved that aim. Her boss, (Graydon) falls in love with Milly’s best friend, Miss Dorothy (Katherine Glover – superb voice) who falls in love with Ching Ho, who saves her from Mrs Meers’ dastardly white slave trade to China. (Is this change from the original plot, where Dorothy and Graydon fall in love, a nod to political correctness in 2017 or just a way to evoke laughter?)  Milly, despite her determination to marry well, falls head over heels in love with Jimmy Smith , who is pretending to be a poor paper-clip salesman (I am in steel) so a girl will love him for himself not for his money, when he is, in fact ,the brother of Miss  Dorothy. It turns out that they are the step children of Muzzy Van Hossmere, an eccentric, widowed millionairess. (Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan)

 The fact that the musical is based in the 20s, famous for prohibition and flappers is a great opportunity for exciting music, great choreography and wonderful costumes. The band  of 7 led by Christopher Peak is outstanding, playing with verve and flair numbers such as Forget about the Boy,  I Turned the Corner and most notably Thoroughly Modern Millie.(New music by Jeanine Tesori).The choreography (Racky Plews) is sometimes exciting, especially the tap dancing typists, the ensemble’s Charleston, the Speed Test and Milly’s solos. As for the Roaring Twenties costumes – cloches, sequins, fringes, bar-shoes - they are present in abundance. The stage set is Art Deco - think the Chrysler building in New York - and practical;  I did like the modernist lift and lights and the moveable boarding house. And yet there are moments of dullness when the stage seems empty and this gives the impression that the musical is overly long. This could be overcome by having a bigger ensemble – guys dressed as flapper girls, although amusing for a moment, add little to the 1920s atmosphere – and more excitement is needed; it was the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, The Age of the Red Hot Mamas, Annees Folles, - we were not given enough of this.

Thoroughly Modern Millie is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 28th January and then on tour.

www.atgtickets.com

08448717652

Booking Fee Applies

 

 

 

Jan 26th

Dreamboats and Petticoats at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Ain’t life strange! After three days of wallowing in family photos, mainly from the Fifties and Sixties, as I prepare to move house, last night I was pitched into another journey down memory lane. It felt like I’d never left home - except I don’t have live music on tap where I live!

And what music! It would have certainly awakened the neighbours! There really was dancing in the aisles as this feel-good celebration of pop songs circa 1960 exploded onto the Windsor stage at the start of yet another mammoth Bill Kenwright tour.

Dreamboats and Petticoats has been on the road before but this latest version celebrates the 10th anniversary of the million selling album of the same name.

It starts with Bobby reminiscing to his granddaughter about the good old days when, as a gauche 17-year-old at his local youth club, he first encountered love, and fame as a song writer.

The action, of course, goes back to those days when we see the young, enthusiastic Bobby ousted by an know-it-all by the name of Norman, played by a swaggering Alastair Hill, who steals his place as lead singer with a band (oops, sorry, group), and his girl. It’s no surprise that it all works out, but until that happens we are treated to a feast of rock ‘n’ roll, served up by a company of versatile and talented musicians who also double up as dancers and actors. There are no less than 46 songs in the show, each of which links together the story of Bobby, Laura and their friends at St Mungo’s Youth Club at a time when songwriters really knew how to write. I especially like To Know Him Is To Love Him, poignantly sung by Elizabeth Carter as Laura, a 15-year-old geek with pigtails and national health specs. It is hard to imagine she is anything but a little girl until she blossoms into a 16-year-old, and Carter’s voice proves she is no child.

Alistair Higgins also puts in a good performance as Bobby - his duet with Carter of Let It Be Me brought tears to my eyes - while Jimmy Johnston adds gravitas as Bobby’s father and the older Bobby.

The music isn’t the only good thing about this show, however. It really is very funny in places. Look out for Mike Lloyd as the Southend Slugger and a scene in slow motion. Brilliant! And then there are the references to all sorts of things that were popular around 1960 - much appreciated by members of the audience who are of a certain age! But it’s not only for people who were around back in the day. If you like a good night out, exciting music and are into retro fashions, this is the show for you.

Dreamboats and Petticoats is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Feb 4.

Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

It then tours:

Feb 6-11: Southsea Kings Theatre

Feb 13-18: Cardiff New Theatre

Feb 20-25: Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Feb 27-Mar 4: Manchester Palace Theatre

Mar 13-18: Billingham Forum Theatre

Mar 20-25: Southport Theatre

Mar 27-Apr 1: Chesterfield Winding Wheel Theatre

Apr 3-8: Everyman Cheltenham

Apr 10-15: Stoke Regent Theatre

Apr 18-22: York Grand Opera House

Apr24-29: Blackpool Winter Gardens

May 2-6: Birmingham Alexandra Theatre

May 8-13: Edinburgh Playhouse

June 12-17: Glasgow Kings Theatre

June 19-24: Sunderland Empire Theatre

June 26-Jul 1: Sheffield Lyceum Theatre

Jul 3-8: Milton Keynes Theatre

Jul 10-15: Leeds Grand Theatre

Jul 17-22: Torquay Princess Theatre

Jul 24-29: Bristol Hippodrome Theatre

Jul 31-Aug 5: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Aug 7-12: Norwich Theatre Royal

Aug 22-26: Mayflower Southampton

Aug 29-Sept 2: Southend Cliffs Pavilion

Jan 23rd

Richard III at the Rosemary Branch Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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This is the winter of our discontent...

When the late great Ian Richardson played Francis Urquhart in the original "House of Cards" in the 1990s, he based his character on Richard III, speaking directly to the camera, seducing the audience and making them complicit. Years later, a U.S. remake starring Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood hit Netflix and found a new audience. Inspired by the U.S. remake, Theatre company GODOT's WATCH returns to the original Richard, presenting an energetic modern dress production including smartphones, references to videogames, and cocaine.

Sam Coulson's Richard is not deformed except for a dark red birthmark covering the left side of his face, which would probably be enough to keep him in obscurity in a world where young children already worry about their looks and normal people have cosmetic surgery to look like filmstars. But if Richard does not have the looks, he certainly has the drive to become King of England. Charming and deceitful in equal measure, he surpasses his obstacles, and if they don't yield, they will lose life and limb.

Directed by Sean Aydon, this high voltage production is fast-paced and intense. Sometimes the speed is almost too fast and certain aspects of the play are only touched upon, and the ending is somewhat abrupt. The emphasis of this cut down production is on the scenes between Richard and the female charaters, notably Lady Anne and Queen Elizabeth. The cast of eight is predominantly female with some of the actors playing two or three parts. Sam Coulson is an energetic and demonic Richard and Elena Clements is his intriguing counterpart as the cold and calculating Buckingham. Sophie Ormond impresses as the young Prince Edward and his murderer Tyrell, which is clever casting indeed. The cast is very young and although I enjoy the cross-gender casting I wish there had been some room for older actors as well.

The stage is dominated by a massive golden throne, source of envy and constant reminder of what Richard strives for. The punchy sound design by Daniel Harmer including a variety of musical styles and the trendy neon lights in different colours (lighting design by Jack Channer) add to the contemporary setting of the production.

An exciting production with some daring casting choices.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 29th January 2017

Rosemary Branch Theatre

Box office: 020 7704 6665

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval. 

 

Jan 22nd

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road at the White Bear Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Flip (Michael Wade), Mitch (Robert Moloney) and J.D. (Keith Stevenson)

Noam Chomsky is the Jerry Lewis from West Virginia.

This was my first visit to the White Bear Pub and Theatre in Kennington after it had been refurbished and redecorated. It seemed far more spacious and brighter than before and made patrons feel welcome. The theatre is now upstairs and remains an intimate stage, about the size of a living room, which especially benefits this production, the European premiere of Keith Stevenson's hilarious comedy.

Set in a shabby motel room on Fried Meat Ridge Rd. in West Virginia, the play focuses on the hapless Mitch (Robert Moloney) from Maine who, after moving down South, has lost his job, his girlfriend, and his apartment. Now he cannot even sleep in his car because it was torched in front of a Girls' Reform School. Desperate for shelter, he answers an ad for a roommate and finds himself walking all the way to a backwoods motel on Fried Meat Ridge Road. His future roommate turns out to be the amicable hillbilly JD (Keith Stevenson) who surprisingly knows Latin but has never heard of Maine. Before Mitch even has time to digest this upsetting news. Mitch's neighbours begin invading the small room - bigotted motel owner Flip (Michael Wade), the meth-head artiste Marlene (Melanie Gray), and her volatile poet lover Tommy (Dan Hildebrand).

Robert Moloney's Mitch is a neurotic character, very much like one of Woody Allen's creations, who throws up whenever he is upset and suffers from an unusual condition that cost him his job. The laid-back JD, portrayed by playwright Keith Stevenson, is your picture book hillbilly who turns out to be the hub of the motel community, being the go-to guy for everybody in need of help. Yet this should not be too surprising, considering his parentage. Melanie Gray's Marlene and her hot-headed boyfriend Tommy straight out of New Jersey, played with the unpredictablity of a loose-cannon by Dan Hildebrand, are the perfect ill-fitted couple who react to each other "like fire and gasoline". Michael Wade lends credibility to the gruff redneck Flip who has a treasure trove of insults for almost any ethnicity.

The approximately one-hour long play, directed by Harry Burton, is very much like a TV comedy show featuring a host of outrageous characters. After it opened in L.A. in 2012, it soon became a cult hit and two sequels followed.

This is a highly entertaining show with a good cast and a surprise ending.

A fun night out.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 4th February 2017

White Bear Theatre

Running time: 65 minutes

Photograph by Gavin Watson.

Jan 20th

Dead Simple at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood

 

It’s taken me a while to get down to writing this review because, there are so many elements to The Mill’s latest production, I don’t know where to start.

I wish I could just stay with… it’s outrageously entertaining. Words fail me (which isn’t a good thing for a writer!). It’s a storyline which is so jam-packed full of completely unexpected surprises, all I can say is, how one man can think up such a plot is beyond my wildest imagination. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in a lifetime of theatregoing, and gave me huge enjoyment. I don’t think I’ve ever reacted so much. It left me open mouthed, gasping with surprise and incredulity and, at one point, I was even stuffing my fist into my mouth. Best-selling author Peter James, whose book Shaun McKenna’s stage version is based on, is a genius!

It begins with the run-up to Michael Harrison’s wedding. His business partner is arranging a stag night but when armed men turn up at his flat, kidnap him, bury him alive in a coffin in the middle of a forest and then go off and get killed in a head-on crash, the question on everyone’s lips is, will he get out alive?

That remains unanswered for most of the play, but in the meantime all sorts of sub-plots keep us literally on the edge of our seats, as psychopaths and even the supernatural abound.

It’s a hugely complicated and technical production for all actors involved, and my huge thanks to them and to director Keith Myers for presenting us with such thrilling entertainment. I don’t really want to single out anyone as I can’t say why without giving some of the game away, but Louise Stewart as Michael’s fiancée; Martyn Stanbridge as her gloriously camp uncle; Lewis Collier, who has to go through physical torture as Michael, and Matt Milburn as Michael’s emotional business partner, are the protagonists, together with a seriously disturbed young man, magnificently portrayed by Daniel Buckley.

If you like a cracking good story that is likely to scare the hell out of you, this is a must-see!

Dead Simple is at The Mill at Sonning until March 11

Box Office: 0118 969 8000

 

www.millatsonning.com

Jan 19th

Gaslight @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

Click for more details and to book tickets for Gaslight at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

Written by Patrick Hamilton in 1938, Gaslight is one of the greatest thrillers of all time.  Frequently performed by amateur groups, the play can sometimes be turned into melodrama.  Set in fog-bound London in 1880 in the upper middle class home of Jack Manningham and his wife Bella, the scene opens late afternoon being the time ‘before the feeble dawn of gaslight and tea’ as Hamilton wrote in his notes.

Bella has recently moved to a new house with her husband Jack, but she has started to misplace objects and is worried that she may be losing her mind as her mother did.  Jack leaves her alone every evening as he visits the town, but mysterious footsteps are heard overhead and a ghostly flickering of the living room gaslight makes Bella believe she may be going mad. Does the terror exist in her imagination or are dark secrets living in her home? The surprise arrival of retired Detective Rough leads to a shocking discovery that will shake her respectable Victorian marriage to its core.

The play was turned into a British film in 1940 with Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard and Frank Pettingel.  Encouraged by the success of the play and film, MGM bought the remake rights, but with a clause insisting that all existing prints of Dickinson's version be destroyed, even to the point of trying to destroy the negative, so that it would not compete with their more highly publicised 1944 remake  starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten. It was also released under the title Angel Street.

Having seen the films and the play on stage many years ago, I was curious to see how it would be staged in this new touring production.  This suspensful thriller can easily be turned into a Victorian melodrama, but this production keeps it truthful with controlling husband Jack playing on Bella’s vulnerabilities and insecurities.

Acclaimed TV and stage actress Kara Tointon has a natural radiance and warmth that makes her very watchable in everything she does and as Bella begins to lose her grip on reality, Kara gives a compelling , multi-layered performance. BBC 1 ‘s ‘Merlin’ star  Rupert Young joins Kara as husband Jack Manningham and in the second act we see more of his sinister, menacing traits. Bringing some light comedy to this darkly twisted thriller, is multi-talented Keith Allen as Detective Rough.

The production has an authenticity that draws you in and the first half raced along.  Even though we’re kept in the picture throughout, the play still has the ability to surprise. It also provides an interesting observation of human frailties and the dynamics of an abusive relationship.

The play tours to Woking, York, Brighton and Richmond and tickets can be booked at:

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/gaslight

 

Reviewed by:

Yvonne Delahaye

16.1.17

 

@yvonnedelahaye

Jan 18th

Burt Bacharach's PROMISES PROMISES at London's Southwark Playhouse

By Elaine Pinkus

The first London production in 20 years of the hit Burt Bacharach/Hal David/Neil Simon Broadway musical Promises, Promises, based on the Billy Wilder film The Apartment is now playing at the Southwark Playhouse, London. Added to the original score are those timeless and still popular Bacharach favourites  ‘A house is not a home’, ‘I say a little prayer’ and ‘I’ll never fall in love again’ which cannot fail to tear at the heartstrings and which serve as highlights of the evening.

Chuck in his office

Chuck Baxter (Gabriel Vick)

Set in 1962 in the offices of a male dominated, chauvinistic executive hierarchical structure we meet Chuck Baxter, an aspiring junior accountant and proud tenant of an apartment on the second floor of a block on West 67 Street, New York. Keen to be promoted to executive level, he naively falls prey to the promises of the middle aged higher echelon who cheat on their wives and bed young secretaries and receptionists in this misogynistic working world. In return for allowing them to use his apartment, Chuck will be promoted to a more senior level. ‘Where can you take a girl?’ sung fiercely by these cheating executives is presented with energy and humour and makes clear their exploitation of  this young innocent.

Executives with Chuck

Chuck and executives (Lee Ormby, Martin Dickinson and Craig Armstrong)

From the start Chuck shares his confidences with the audience. An endearing character, played with charm and a strong likeability factor by Gabriel Vick, we empathise with his low self esteem wishing only the best for what might otherwise be a loser in this corporate world. He is used and abused by those around him; not only the paunchy executive level and the manipulative CEO Sheldrake, played by Paul Robinson, but also by the one girl that he would love to know more, Fran (Daisy Maywood). ‘Our Little Secret’ sung by Chuck and Sheldrake makes the 2017 audience squirm but we must remember we are in the 1960s and the score and staging reflects the typicality of this period.

Chuck and Sheldrake

Chuck and Sheldrake (Paul Robinson)

This is a story of dreams, of disillusionment and empty promises. Supported by an energetic and enthusiastic cast, there are moments of humour which raise the occasional stillness. With numbers such as ‘Turkey Lurkey Time’ and ‘Christmas Day’ the pace quickens and there is a relief injected into the rather long and sometimes tedious moments. Certainly the included numbers mentioned earlier are performed with passion by our two leads, Chuck and Fran and we know that we will work towards a ‘promising’ closure.

Act 2 opens with a bang and we are treated to a wonderful interlude with Marge (excellently performed by Alex Young) and Chuck. Wearing her owl coat (yes that is not a typo) and sounding the final ‘p’ consonant with tight control, there are laugh out loud moments. Furthermore, Dr Dreyfuss (John Guerraso) in his quasi Woody Allen portrayal gives us Neil Simon at his funniest moments. This Act certainly has pace and energy.

Chuck and Marge

Chuck and Marge (Alex Young)

I hate talking about production lengths but in this case I do feel that the three hours (give or take a few minutes) was extravagantly long with an especially lengthy Act 1. However, the intimate staging in the round, the somewhat basic scene changes, the strong support of the band and the costumes and choreography typical of the 60s offered charm and nostalgia. Bronagh Lagan’s revival at the Southwark Theatre offers an enjoyable evening and, for those admirers of Bacharach, David and Neil Simon, is a worthy entertainment.

Chuck and Fran

Chuck and Fran (Daisy Maywood)

Photographs: Claire Bilyard

Aria Entertainment & Senbla
present

PROMISES, PROMISES

Book by Neil Simon

Based on the Screenplay The Apartment by Billy Wilder
and I.A.L Diamond

Music by Burt Bacharach
& Lyrics by Hal David

Friday 13 January -
Saturday 18 February

SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE
77-85 Newington Causeway
London
SE1 6BD

Box office: 020 7407 0234
www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk


Start Time 7.30pm
Matinee Starts 3pm
Running Time 160 mins including interval
Price £25 | £20 concessions | £14 previews