Theatre Review – Moby Dick by Theatre Mill

Adapted by Nick Lane and John Godber, directed by Gareth Tudor Price
York Guildhall, Wednesday 26th October, 2016

Clay-faced sailors advise us of our journey’s weekly cost before ushering us into a driftwood arena complete with mobile bar. Captain’s barrel tables dot the stage, ladders and oars leaning against the majestic historical pillars of the Guildhall. Graham Kirk’s design is a sight to behold, making up for the lack of [spoiler alert] any actual appearance of the mythical whale from the novel.

Strings of lanterns and soft lightbulbs line the heights of the great hall, dropping a nostalgic veil over the decks of the Pequod for this adaptation of the tale of bloody-minded revenge.

While visually stunning, the text falls short of delivering the right build of tension – characters remain on a level throughout the story, without an initial sense of camaraderie to serve the payoff of Ahab’s fatal determination, or any real character development. Ahab is gnarled and feared from the first; the crew wary, the storytelling a little too knowing of its fate.

The framework is a relocation to a deserted Hull pub – a setting which seems to suit the home comforts of the company more than the adventurous thrill of the story. An entirely new set of characters from another era relate their own stories tenuously linked to the main arc, which leaves those unfamiliar with it a bit adrift. The sense of grandeur and adventure are missing and the climax low-key, despite the lofty surroundings and Joshua Goodman’s beautiful soundtrack. Actors hop from one character and locale to another adeptly, although rarely engaging with convincing emotion as they’re too busy telling the story.

There are however some touching moments, such as the breaking of Pip’s spirit, all greatly augmented with live music played by the lead storyteller, and Queequeg is endearing throughout. It must also be noted that the choreography capably avoids the in-the-round curse of forgotten angles, and does rather swim.

Moby Dick is showing at York Guildhall at 7:30pm nightly until 3rd November. Tickets are available here: https://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/event/moby_dick.php#.WBX8m-CLTIU

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Theatre Review – Lady  Chatterley’s Lover by Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre

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Mellors (Jonah Russell) and Constance Chatterley (Hedydd Dylan), Photograph by Mark Douet

Phillip Breen’s adaptation honours D. H. Lawrence’s overriding reach for tenderness in the love story that scandalised the western world after thirty-two years whispering under the sheets of Italian, French and Australian publishers.

Constance (Hedydd Dylan) and Clifford (Eugene O’Hare) Chatterley are a connected couple. They match, they make sense, they communicate. From the first appearance, Constance’s marital duty weighs visibly on her. She is resigned, dignified and practical. Despite their fresh physical hurdles, her intimacy with Clifford is established immediately through the tender and knowing handling of daily ablutions and conversation; this is not a marriage one would foresee breaking down. Clifford is ostensibly progressive and accepting, raising the suggestion himself that Constance should take a lover, or indeed do whatever is necessary to maintain her own emotional wellbeing in order that their marriage survive.

Inevitably there are unspoken stipulations attached to the contract, not unlike modern arguments surrounding situational abortion rights – a woman has the right to [blank], unless/only if it involves [blank] – which are the undoing of Clifford both for himself and for the audience.

Away then from the restrictions and disclaimers of the Chatterleys’ household and into the freedom of their grounds – a borderless Eden in which Constance and groundskeeper Mellors (Jonah Russell) share everything as innocents – at first a stuttering physical connection, later their full hearts and promises.

Laura Hopkins’ design complements the emotional subtlety of the tale beautifully; flowers, water and projection are used to magical effect. The play opens with Constance moving among neglected furniture covered with dustsheets, fronting darker depths of the stage reigned off with a simple white curtain that is later drawn open to reveal more private quarters of Mellors’ home and heart. David Osmond’s piano playing also enhances the delicacy of the piece. Natasha Chivers’ golden-hour lighting provides a perfectly stifling yet hopeful atmosphere for this story of impossible love overwhelmed by societal pressures and spiritual expectations. The looming shadow behind Constance’s first moment of nudity serves to heighten the complex blend of vulnerability and responsibility, while streams of running water like glittering thread melt any sense of wrong-doing in the lovers’ domain.

The working-vs-upper-classes thread is the weaker link, with fight sequences proving too cautious to pack any punch, although the power of the divide is felt sorely in sympathy for Constance’s dreams of her future with Mellors. There is a small sense of trouble to come in the prowess of Mellors’ arrival, although his presence lacks weight after this point with the dynamic being carried by Dylan.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is playing at York Theatre Royal until Saturday 29th October and is well worth your time. You can see it at 2pm/7pm tomorrow or 2:30pm/7:30pm on Saturday. Tickets are available here: https://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/tickets.php?id=1019.

You may like this if you enjoyed American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, or Testament of Youth.

Theatre Review – Gates of Gold by Wildgoose Theatre 

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Conrad (Paul Baxter). Portrait by Emily Denison, photograph by Michael Oakes.

Director Andy Love’s production of Frank McGuiness’s naturalistic play is a peaceful, tender examination of the beautiful, painful complexities of familial and romantic love under strain. The boundaries of devotion are tested in the handling of physical and mental prisons. It is also a love letter to the theatre; an ode to the lives of Irish theatre founders Micheál MacLíammóir and Hilton Edwards.

As Gabriel (Richard Easterbrook) becomes fragile with age and illness, he and his partner Conrad (Paul Baxter) invite nurse Alma (Rosy Rowley) into their home to take care of him. Their small family dynamic shifts to absorb her, and her presence proves both necessary and trying. As Love himself states, “a laugh is never far away to punch a circle of light into the canopy of darkness.”

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Alma (Rosy Rowley) and Gabriel (Richard Easterbrook). Photograph by Michael Oakes.

Gabriel and Conrad’s modern, minimalistic apartment is divided into Gabriel’s cold, clinical blue bedroom and a bright red lounge in which the able-bodied can reside without him. Gabriel’s domain holds a twilight feeling of otherwordliness, and bears witness to some of the most touching, exposing dialogue of the play, where the lounge serves more as a battling ground for more barbed moments. Emily Denison’s portrait in shades of grey is a perfect gesture to that of MacLíammóir which is said to hang in the home of McGuinness, completing a compassionate, metatheatrical circle.

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Conrad (Paul Baxter) and Kassie (Jeanette Hunter). Photograph by Michael Oakes.

Easterbrook brings his usual dignity to the role while conveying a vulnerable, loving, feisty soul. Rowley carries Alma’s lilting Irish tones and rousing songs beautifully. Kassie (Jeanette Hunter) and Ryan (Stu Freestone) provide a more self-centred, co-dependent branch of the family tree, although both have moments of tender connection with Gabriel and Conrad. Baxter’s Conrad is caring and compelling, and his final moments with Gabriel are utterly heartbreaking.

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Gabriel (Richard Easterbrook), Alma (Rosy Rowley) and Ryan (Stu Freestone). Photograph by Michael Oakes

This moving relationship drama is a welcome return for Wildgoose Theatre, who produce little-known gems of heartfelt humanity. You can catch the show today at 2:30pm and 7:30pm at 41 Monkgate, York or at 7:30pm on 16th November at Seven Arts, Leeds. Tickets are available from: http://www.wildgoosetheatre.com/current-production.