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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 FROGS: House on the Hill Productions/Jermyn Street Theatre

By Elaine Pinkus

A comedy written in 405 BC by ARISTOPHANES freely adapted for today by BURT SHEVELOVE and even more freely adapted by NATHAN LANE. Music and lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM. Original orchestration by Jonathan Tunick

Michael Matus and George Rae

Michael Matus (Dionysos) and George Rae (Xanthias)

Let me preface this piece by sharing with you that I am an absolute fan of Sondheim. So, it was with genuine excitement that I was given the opportunity to review Grace Wessel’s (House on the Hill) production of The Frogs and what a treat! Played with enthusiasm and energy by this company, The Frogs did not let me down.   

 Way back in 405 BC The Frogs (Artistophanes) played to audiences at the Leonaia Festival in Ancient Greece. Fast forward to 1974 when Burt Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim, the well known partnership behind A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, combined forces and adapted this play. Fast forward once again to 2017 to Nathan Lane’s ‘even more freely adapted’ Broadway version of The Frogs, whose message in these times of political mayhem resonates profoundly in the intimate surround of the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Against the exciting accompaniment of the accomplished quartet, led by Musical Director, Tim Sutton, The Frogs opens with the excellent ‘Invocation and Instructions to the Audience’ – a sure fire hit with the gathering. This is a song that should be played at all productions, reminding us of the etiquette that should be adhered to, with lines like - So please, don't fart --There's very little air and this is art which certainly was true of the small basement space of this lovingly cared for fringe theatre.

So, the story!  The Frogs, playfully explores the great challenges of human existence: confronting our fears, understanding life and death, and challenging the distractions that can prevent us from achieving our goals. We accompany Dionysos, Greek god of wine and drama (Michael Matus), and his slave Xanthias (George Rae) on a journey to Hades to collect renowned critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw so that he may enlighten the easily misled and misguided masses of Earth. Along the way there is mayhem and we are treated to the larger than life characters of Herakles (Chris McGuigan), Charon (Jonathan Wadey), Pluto (Emma Ralston) and, a chorus of giant frogs (Li-Tong Hsu, Martin Dickinson, Nigel Pilkington and Bernadette Bangura). There is the battle of words and wit with Shaw against Shakespeare in the challenge of receiving the honour of becoming reincarnated and bringing  sense to the world. But will it be through prose or poetry?

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Shakespeare (Nigel Pilkington) challenges Shaw (Martin Dickinson)

Supported by an excellent chorus, congratulations must be given to Michael Matus and George Rae who appeared to be having great fun in their roles.  Songs were performed excitingly by all and, although there was restricted movement in the confined space, the production never felt static.

The Cast of House on the Hill Productions

Michael Matus, George Rae and Chorus

This delightful show sold out on line before its press night but on the day I reviewed it, I noted that the Jermyn Street Theatre does offer stand-by tickets and on that occasion the five or six people waiting eagerly for the chance to see this adaptation were delighted to gain seats, so it is well worth a try.

Photography: David Ovenden

THE FROGS: Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST

Box Office: 020 7287 2875   www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk

Tuesday March 14 - Saturday April 8

Performances: Tuesday - Saturday at 7.30pm,Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm,

Additional matinees: Thursday March 23 at 3.00pm Thursday April 6 at 3.00pm

Mar 19th

The Miser at the Garrick Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

L-to-R-Ryan-Gage-and-Griff-Rhys-Jones-in-The-Miser.-Credit-Helen-Maybanks.-1-1000x600.jpgCléante (Ryan Gage) and his father Harpagon (Griff Rhys Jones)

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.

Mar 17th

Brimfull of bawdiness - Nell Gwynn at Malvern Festival Theatre

By G.D. Mills

When Nell Gwynn, legs akimbo and fan swinging in lieu of a certain appendage, melodiously invites us to stroke her ‘cock...cock...cockerspaniel’ , we know what kind of night we are in for.  

Brimfull of bawdiness, and peopled with figures from 17th century theatrical London, Jessica Swale’s metaplay takes for its material the bare details of Nell Gwynn’s life, a Cheapside prostitute and orange seller who ended up, via King Charles II’s bed, one of the most celebrated comedy actresses of her age. Most of the action occurs in and around the theatre as Nell, closely watched by her kingly suitor, prepares for performance.  

A whole range of 21st century themes (feminism, celebrity, European politics) gatecrash our attention under the guise of Restoration comedy. For starters, we are presented with one of the first women to grace the English stage, and one who manages, for a while at least, to subjugate the most powerful man in Britain, while the exchanges between Charles II and his advisor drip with dramatic irony: Charles cavalierly suggests England detach itself from the politics of Europe, in response to which his advisor as good as calls him an idiot.  

The stage and costume is ablaze with gold, and the occasional musical numbers, replete with comic choreography, further dynamize an already bustling stage.  

Ben Righton presents us with a charming if roguish king, one more dedicated to the pleasures of the bedchamber than to the pedantry of politics, while Michael Cochrane’s Arlington, Charles II’s right hand man, is both lordly and lecturing, offering a rare note of moral censure in a world otherwise dripping with licentiousness. 

Edward Kynaston (Esh Alladi) is outrageously catty as the company’s ousted player of female parts while Laura Pitt-Pulford handles a challenging lead role with wit, charm and precision: she is a hard bargaining, yet likeable, sexual provocateur who shrewdly negotiates the terrain between backstreet bordello and regal bedchamber.  

This high-energy, swiftly moving play has so much comedy and caricature in it that there is little room left over for character depth or development, a small minus perhaps in an otherwise masterful production. Acclaimed in London when A-lister Gemma Arterton played Nell, this slightly revamped version is now touring the provinces.  

Catch it now, visit

http://www.ett.org.uk/whats-on/nell-gwynn/dates-tickets

 

 

 

Mar 17th

Spring-Summer Season at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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The new season at the Finborough features six premieres and another rediscovery from Scottish dramatist James Bridie, with the first London production since 1950 of Mr Gillie. Already well known for presenting Canadian work in the UK, the Finborough celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday with the UK premiere of Late Company by Jordan Tannahill; a rediscovery of Footprints On the Moon by Maureen Hunter; and a late night cabaret of the songs of Cree-Canadian Tomson Highway in Songs in the Key of Cree. Other premieres include Everything Between Us which won playwright David Ireland the Stewart Parker Trust Award, BBC Radio Drama Award and the Meyer Whitworth Award for Best New Play; Jam, the world premiere of a first full length play from new writer Matt Parvin; and the new Australian play Food by Steve Rodgers.

The season opens with the European premiere of Late Company by Jordan Tannahill, playing for a four week season from 25 April-20 May 2017. It runs concurrently with the English premiere of David Ireland’s Everything Between Us, playing Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees between 30 April-16 May 2017.

The world premiere of first play Jam by Matt Parvin, plays from 23 May-17 June 2017, alongside the rediscovery of Footprints On the Moon by Maureen Hunter, playing Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees between 28 May-13 June 2017. Multi-award-winning Cree-Canadian writer, composer and musician Tomson Highway appears in a one-off late night performance of his music – Songs in the Key of Cree– on Saturday, 6 May.

The season ends with the first production outside Australia of Food by Australian playwright Steve Rodgers, playing for a four week limited season from 20 June-15 July 2017, running alongside the first London production in over 60 years of James Bridie’s Mr Gillie on Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees between 25 June-11 July 2017.

The hard-hitting production My Eyes Went Dark which received its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre in 2015 will transfer Off-Broadway this summer, while Neil McPherson’s impressive play It Is Easy To Be Dead – presented at the Finborough Theatre in June 2016 prior to its transfer to Trafalgar Studios – has just been nominated for an Olivier Award.

More info: Finborough Theatre

Image by Charlie Round-Turner.

Mar 17th

Delightfully kitsch - The Wedding Singer at the Bristol Hippodrome

By G.D. Mills

 

 I arrived uncharacteristically early for this show and for twenty minutes or so, as I sat in the auditorium, projected trailers from classic 80s films (E.T. ,The Goonies, Desperately Seeking Susan) transported me back to my childhood. It was an oddly nostalgic experience and put me in exactly the right frame of mood for the 80s fest that was to follow. The musical reprises the outrageously kitch 1998 film version which, starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, grossed over one hundred and twenty three dollars worldwide.  

The story is simple: a wedding singer is jilted at the altar, hits the rocks, but is slowly drawn out of the doldrums by a waitress already betrothed to a shallow yuppie. I’m sure you can complete the narrative circle.

The music is pure 80s pastiche, and the backing dancers jolt frenetically to the synthesized beat with alarming savagery. The performances are exceptionally professional, seamless even, but like a perfectly iced wedding cake one longs to pierce the surface.

Jon Robyns as Robbie is amusing as the forlorn, broken figure living in his grandmother’s basement, thrashing out angry chords like a beleaguered teenager, while Cassie Compton plays an endearingly perky waitress with a delightful jounce in her step.

There is something mesmerising about the persistent backdrop: total blackness like deep space, dotted with stars. For all this, however, the storyline is drawn out and after a while each musical number begins to sound suspiciously like the last.

Overall, great fun while it lasts but instantly forgettable.  Catch it on tour now. Visit

http://theweddingsingermusical.co.uk/tour-dates

Mar 17th

Improbable Fiction

By Clare Brotherwood

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

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

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

It’s a stroke of genius.

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

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

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

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

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

Box office: 0118 969 8000

 

www.millatsonning.com

Mar 15th

Not Dead Enough at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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 You hurt someone by killing what he loves.

Following the success of The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple, another adaptation of a Peter James crime novel is being brought to the stage. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, played by Shane Richie, returns to investigate a mysterious murder case and Laura Whitmore, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, is his love interest Cleo Morey. 

Peter James is one of the most popular crime fiction writers, his novels have sold over 17 million copies worldwide, and he is the 2016 recipient of the Diamond Dagger, the most highly esteemed award for crime writers. The third novel of his Roy Grace series sees the troubled detective hunt a serial killer.

Popular philanthropist Katie Bishop is found strangled, wearing a gas mask. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace suspects the victim's husband - Brian Bishop - although Bishop claims to have been sixty miles away from his home in Brighton when the murder was committed. Bishop appears to be devastated by his wife's death but Roy Grace does not trust Bishop's overwrought emoting. Apart from being overcome with grief he is jumpy and nervous. Grace's suspicions seem to be confirmed when it turns out that Bishop cheated on his wife.

Meanwhile Cleo Morey (Laura Whitmore), Roy Grace's attractive girlfriend in forensics, is expecting a bit more commitment from the hesitant detective, who is still struggling with the disappearance of his wife Sandy ten years ago. Her colleague Sophie Harington (Gemma Atkins) seems more fortunate with her dashing paramour. 

Not-Dead-Enough.-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-_31B9393-1024x683.jpgRoy Grace (Shane Richie) and Glenn Branson (Michael Quartey) are grilling Brian Bishop (Stephen Billington) 

Directed by Ian Talbot, there is some rather dark humour in this suspenseful production which offers one or two surprises that will make you jump. Yet the first half of Shaun McKenna's adaptation is a big sluggish. There is too much small talk slowing down the action whilst the characters pace between the forensics lab upstage and the police office downstage, both held in a drab grey. Yet the action picks up considerably in the second half when Roy Grace finds himself hunting a serial killer who is also responsible for a number of unsolved crimes.

Shane Richie convinces as the investigator who is tormented by the disappearance of his wife and Stephen Billington manages the right balance of charm and menace as the suspect. Michael Quartey delivers some of the best jokes as Grace's colleague and friend Glenn Branson. However, the female characters are rather clichéd and mainly serve as romantic props, except for Bella Moy, played by Gemma Stroyan with cool efficiency. Laura Whitmore and Gemma Atkins are doing their best with characters so overcome by emotion that they are unable to think straight and therefore put themselves - and others - in harm's way. 

Still there is much to enjoy in this solid thriller which offers more than one twist. 

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 18th March 2017 at the Richmond Theatre, then continuing its UK tour.

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

Photograph by Mark Douet.

Mar 14th

The Play That Goes Wrong - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter 13th March 2017

 TPTG Helen Murray

Image copyright Helen Murray

This very silly, very exhausting, highly physical play from the "Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society" is a result of their attempt at putting on of a 1920's whodunnit 'Murder at Haversham Manor'.

As the audience takes their seats, stagehands Trevor and Annie are pottering about trying to fix parts of the set and with things already going wrong a member of the audience is dragged up to 'help out'. Gradually becoming aware of the antics on stage, the audience starts laughing away and it is clear what sort of daft events and are going to unfold. Even before the play-within-a-play has started the stage is well and truly set for disaster!

TPTGW Helen Murray 

image copyright Helen Murray

Once the pompous director of Cornley Poly, playing lead Inspector Carter has formally introduced the play, gaining plenty of laughs along the way, we hit the ground running so to speak; this play starts as it means to go on and everything that can go wrong does so from the outset. There's no lead into the chaos of the show gradually falling apart, but instead it doees so from the first minute: forgotton lines, missed cues, collapsing scenery, misplaced or broken props, injured actors and so on. There is not a moment's pause and starting at such a high point means that by the end it is positively manic.  From the start it is bedlam and whilst some of the audience loved this descent into slapstick and disaster from the start, barely able to breathe through their guffawing hysterics, others seemed to regard it as all a bit too much too soon. If highly farcical comedies such as Fawlty Towers are considered (and director Bean incorporates some of Basil's traits and responses), or Noises Off for example, the extreme physicality and damage done to characters along with the ridiculousness of some of the scenes was made more so by the subtlety and 'normality' of other aspects. This balance seems to be lacking here. Regardless of individual taste this is a very enjoyable multi-award winning show! 

TPTGW Helen Murray

image copyright Helen Murray

Harry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shield wrote this play when they were all working in uninspiring, poorly paid employment and then performing at night. A dedicated trio who hit the jackpot with this and such is its appeal to a wide audience I can't see that it will ever going to stop touring. Milton Keynes is dealing with a sell-out show here and literally had only a couple of seats left so you may have to go out of town to see it.

I have never heard an audience laugh so much and with such abandon. Members of the cast cannot be singled out for praise. This is an ensemble piece, they are all incredible in their commitment and their energy. All deserve the highest accolades, I hope they are on danger money such is the potential for ‘real’ injuries!

The Play That Goes Wrong is at MK Theatre until Saturday 18th March

Box Office: 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee)

Groups Hotline: 01908 547609

Access Booking: 0844 872 7677

Online Booking: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes (bkg fee)