Theatre Review: Wait Until Dark

Wait Until Dark - Karina Jones Jack Ellis 2 (c) Manuel Harlan edit

Karina Jones and Jack Ellis, photograph by Manuel Harlan

Presented by Original Theatre at York Theatre Royal, Tuesday 21st November 2017

Director Alastair Whatley delivers a slick, smart production of this classic thriller, bringing us a well overdue inclusive cast with blind actress Karina Jones at the helm. The performances are tight and the dynamics interesting, with touching progressive arcs. Jack Ellis’s Mike is conflicted, affectionate, and finds where his limits lie. Tim Treloar is truly chilling as Roat, encompassing in turn both the stereotypical rocking madman and a monster whose real horror is in his unpredictability.

David Woodhead’s design translates the tension of proximity throughout this Hitchcockian choreography of perfectly tuned sound and light. Every change is palpable, breathless.

The exposition is rapid-fire, enough to skip the recap for those familiar with this well-known story but perhaps a little too presumptuous for a newborn audience.

What follows is the thrilling experience of the three crooks essentially performing a duplicitous audio drama for the sole benefit of Susy; their initial fastidiousness no less captivating than their inevitable carelessness.

From the moment the tables are turned, the pace and energy snowball right through to the electrifying finale, which is played with finesse. There are moments where the action seems to skip a beat, but the rhythm thrums through all the same. Pervasive is the sense of violation, of unease and exploitation. Any triumph is slightly overshadowed by the blackness of the deeds undone in Susy’s apartment.

Wait Until Dark is playing until Saturday 25th November; tickets available from York Theatre Royal.

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Theatre Review: Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Presented by Out of Joint, Octagon Theatre Bolton and Royal Court Theatre at York Theatre Royal, Tuesday 14th November 2017

Reviving this nineteen-eighties coming-of-age tale surrounding an underage affair is an interesting choice in the wake of the #MeToo campaign. Writer Andrea Dunbar’s “refusal to moralise” on what we currently know as statutory rape makes this a complex theatrical experience.

The production values are slick. The set is an impressive section of flats book-ending a distant view of a town including rolling hills and estates, complete with lights and sky. The music is fitting and evocative, used in interludes to deepen our understanding of each character’s internal situation. The acting is consistently fantastic.

Photo Credit : The Other Richard

James Atherton, Taj Atwal & Gemma Dobson. Photo by Richard Davenport.

James Atherton’s Bob is playfully predatory, carefully testing the waters before developing his advances. Taj Atwal plays Rita as naive and grumpily childlike with brief moments in which she feels comfortable appealing to Sue for serious conversation, making her conclusion all the more lonely and upsetting. Gemma Dobson stands out as Sue, giggly and easygoing with deep undercurrents of awareness and self-care.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Photo by Richard Davenport

We are aptly transported to Rita, Sue and Bob’s small world view. What divides the auditorium is the script.

More and more, we exist in the black and white. Political, personal and international events drive people further apart toward hyperbolic loyalty to one side or another. Dunbar’s observational, semi-autobiographical drama drags us back to the grey area. It is a stark reminder of the complexities that make up any narrative; of duplicitous truth. It spends quiet moments acknowledging lust and romantic ideation as an important feature in a victim’s experience; prominent emotions that are often silenced lest they support the wrong narrative. The women in this play describe the men as inevitable cheaters, while blaming each other for driving the unfortunate events, enhancing the long-accepted rendering that women are in control of their abuse and men are simply predictable, sex-crazed neanderthals guided by them.

Photo by Richard Davenport

The sex that fills the story is in turn played for comedy and for a feeling of longing and connection, just bare enough to drive some audience members from the room while the rest erupt in laughter, uncomfortable in some places and raucous in others. What permeates is a sense of three immature souls desperate for something, clutching at anything, with a tragically foreseeable conclusion and complete lack of just consequence. Young women shoulder the blame, burden and hurt of a careless affair while the abuser seemingly avoids any retribution and loses one family only to replace them with another, giving the impression that the cycle will go on. And of course we know it does.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Photo by Richard Davenport

Theatre Review: The Winter’s Tale by York Shakespeare Project

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“A sad tale’s best for winter:”

Director Natalie-Rose Quatermass transports us to two contrasting worlds in this charming, moving tragicomedy. The cold, stark modern business dress of Sicilia stands proud and stiff among winter-lit castle walls, while the other three seasons combine their warmest vibes to set the scene for Bohemia; a tumbling, skipping, rose-peach scene of music, freedom and feasts. A direct address to the audience implicates us in the potent messages of this ever-relevant script.

Live music and score by Flora Greysteel sets the tone perfectly throughout, adding a layer of richness to Shakespeare’s words that is lacking in so much live theatre today. Ben Prusiner’s delightful set design creates the perfect accompanying visuals; a frigid indoor court for the oppressed Sicilia waiting to out its demons, and the uninhibited comfort of a sunny backyard Bohemia. Keep your eye out for some resourceful bunting. Florence Poskitt’s costume design is also beautifully, subtly complementary to the nuances of the story, with Hermione’s blue velvet night-sky look a particular highlight.

Lovers Florizel (Tom Jennings) and Perdita (Jess Murray) are as heartwarming as Shepherd (Roger Farrington) and Clown (Elizabeth Lockwood) are ridiculous, while Leontes (Paul French) and Polixenes (Nick Jones) form a very sedate, steady pair of grown boyhood friends. French delivers an alarmingly recognisable Leontes; softly-spoken, taut, controlled, with flashes of spitting violence. The cowering anticipation of all around him is tangible. Claire Morley is excellent as always in her clowning conman role of a Britpunk Autolycus, singing and improvising to the audience on an intimate level during the interval, before we see Time’s desperate chorus of a cluttered collective consciousness in turmoil.

In defence of ‘rural latches’

Three characters stood out in this tale of three halves to form a trio of attractive feminist teachers for our modern age. We build from doting wife Hermione (Juliet Waters), who refuses to denounce her love in friendship for a man despite her husband’s palpably violent jealousy, to Camilla (originally Camillo, played by Elizabeth Elsworth) – the committed noblewoman who remains true to her own morals despite her volatile position between a rock and a hard place – to the magnetic Paulina (Maggie Smales),  smashing the patriarchy with elegance and eloquence from her first entrance. Her pleasure on hearing that Hermione’s child is a daughter, alongside Antingonus’s (Tony Froud) devotion to her, is a restorative draft to fill anyone’s cup. And then there is her speech on witchcraft, which… until emoji in reviews are a thing, let me simply suggest here that Smales lights several fires in this scene.

This mature cast delivers the kind of nuance to these characters which elucidates avenues we don’t often explore in Shakespeare’s works, and which makes one excited to age as an actor.

Takeaways:
More men need to listen to women.
You don’t need more than sound for effective representation of daunting stage directions (let’s be honest, Shakespeare was just trolling us with “Exit, pursued by a bear“), and it is right to focus on the emotions, rather than the gimmicks, in this story.
Women who stand up for themselves, and their true allies, stand to lose something substantial.
“It is an heretic that makes the fire, Not she which burns in’t.”

Catch the show tonight at 7:30pm at John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York. Tickets available on the door or from York Theatre Royal.

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Dangerous Beauty

On Celia

 

This Monday sees the opening of Re:Verse Theatre’s production of Volpone, in which I am lucky enough to be playing Celia. In doing my homework on the play and the character, I found there to be much more to Celia than meets the eye (or ear), and she is not often discussed in much depth, so I wanted to share my thoughts and findings here.

Celia’s name (pronounced ‘chay-lee-uh’ in our version) means ‘heavenly one’; she fits Jonson’s scheme of not-so-subtle character names in Volpone where everyone is ‘as it says on the tin’ – the wiley fox, the scrounging birds of prey, the usurping parasite. Our production involves larger-than-life animal masks for all save Celia and Bonaria, who provide the only sense of moral conscience in the play and thus remain human amongst the corrupt bestial beings.

Celia provides a moral pillar for the tale without being very present or very vocal. She emulates qualities held in high regard for women of the era; piety, modesty, loyalty, obedience. Interestingly, in our cut Celia has no counterpart – Lady Would-be is no longer, so we have no reverse seduction scene with which to compare Celia’s response to Volpone. I’m not sure what this does to Celia’s representation other than thrust it further central with harsher focus.

The seduction scene is placed as the climax of the play in that it is the turning point for Volpone, when he loses control of himself and thus his con, making Celia the catalyst for his ruin (herself having self-control in abundance). It is also essentially a battle between good and evil, morality and corruption, the ‘heavenly’ Celia and the ‘satanic’ fox. Good triumphs purely in a lack of damage done, when the cavalry arrives in the form of Bonaria. Neither party has persuaded the other of their cause, it is worth noting.

You can play Celia with as much fire as you like; she remains a damsel in distress no matter the reading, but is at least rescued by a woman in this show, allowing her some breathing room to go full damsel without the trope feeling too archaic. I think it would be a mistake regardless to make her entirely sarcastic just to experiment with radical modern feminism or to avoid the traditional victimhood. Her plight gives her layers and integrity.

She can read as insipid or naive, (she has been called “anaemic”, “completely and intentionally null”) but that’s a dull interpretation. I like to think our Celia is more insightful, in line with Jonson’s intention that she be considered the embodiment of wisdom.

She has feelings she resists, making it clear that goodness comes in how you act, not how you feel, which gives us a tremendous sense of ownership and agency, ever more needed in our current political climate. She is very oppressed in the play, but never by herself – she is what she chooses to be. Her lines do suggest that she blames what happens to her on herself and her beauty, and we (intend to) hint at comment on that in the reading. This for some calls her wisdom and strength into question, a reaction I would argue is misogynistic – it ignores the potency of living with self-doubt (and 100% external coercion) and still somehow staying true to one’s core principles to the point of forsaking life itself.

As audiences we’re not usually interested in watching characters be good and upstanding – we want chaos within the safe space of the auditorium. But this production is happening out in the wild, right in your faces, making it very immediate, and I think now of all times we need to see principles and integrity triumph somewhere.

Jonson’s prose is harder to learn than Shakespeare’s verse, my only level comparator; the rhythm isn’t quite as catchy, but it’s so rich and rewarding to study and spend time with, and I’m glad I’ve gotten to know Celia.

Ben’s direction refreshingly acknowledges the mixture of good/bad, funny/foreboding, light/dark that any one given moment is, so what could be played quite flat is very much 3D, breathing and alive. I hope you can make it, and can find something in Celia that speaks to you as she does now to me.

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Theatre Review – Rent The Musical

Jonathan Larson‘s hit musical, presented by Rent 20th Anniversary Production Ltd
York Theatre Royal, Tuesday 18th April 2017

Photograph courtesy of Rent 20th Anniversary Production Ltd

Rent is an imperfect musical about imperfect people, produced originally in 1996 and countless times since (and before – it’s a modern adaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème.) It’s easy to see why we keep coming back to this tale comprised of author Jonathan Larson’s heart and soul. A landmark turn in musical theatre, Larson’s unusual, rocking score captures the lives of the marginalised citizens of mid-90’s East Village.

Dancer Mimi (Philippa Stefani), drag queen Angel (Layton Williams) and boyfriend Tom Collins (Ryan O’Gorman), performance artist Maureen (Christina Modestou), and singer-songwriter Roger (Ross Hunter) are among the strugglers and stragglers. Aspiring film-maker Mark (Billy Cullum) frames the piece as a disposable white male narrator; his own troubles unrousing but his lines painfully relevant:

How do you document real life
When real life’s getting more like fiction each day?”

Photograph courtesy of Rent 20th Anniversary Production Ltd

Despite the obvious incredible talent of the cast, the atmosphere and chemistry fall slightly short. There is something missing in the room; only occasional moments hitting the mark and sending home the sentiment that should be firing a crowd in any decade. Lee Proud’s choreography is in turns over-ambitious and bafflingly meaningless and dull. The use of gritty industrial scaffold set from Theatr Clwyd mostly as a backdrop is a missed opportunity, and the music levels vary from too loud to be intelligible, to too quiet to have any impact. The love matches aren’t quite convincing either, though this is not the fault of the cast; the script simply doesn’t allow the breathing room to relax into their spark.

Highlights are Stefani’s sexy, emotional and empowered Out Tonight, Modestou‘s masterfully observed Over The Moon and Santa Fe, performed with knowing compassion by O’Gorman, Cullum, and the impressive Williams, whom you fall hopelessly in love with at first sight. Thanks both to his sublime voice and Williams’ colourful performance, O’Gorman’s reprise of I’ll Cover You is simply beautiful.

Photograph courtesy of Rent 20th Anniversary Production Ltd

As always, full-scale high-end musical theatre about the marginalised presented to paying middle-class audiences raises the question of who this is speaking to, and what its message really is.

Catch the show and decide for yourself, tonight and tomorrow at York Theatre Royal. Tickets are available online or on 01904 623568.

Theatre Review – Turcaret

Theatre Review TFTV presents Turcaret by Alain-René Lesage
Translation by John Norman, directed by Alex Urquhart, Amy Noriko Ward and Sam Duffy

Swooning & swindling is the name of the game in Lesage’s critical eighteenth-century class farce. Oafish, dissolute financier Turcaret (Nick Newman) lavishes his affections on the coquettish Baronne (Annabel Redgate), who coyly berates him for his flood of gifts before happily bestowing them upon her own lover, the knavish Chevalier (George Doughty), who of course is also in it for the goods alone. But the goods don’t stop there; this is a game of pass the parcel that, of course, the help will ultimately win.

As carefully noted by the trio of directors, the downfall of the rich and the triumph of the subjugated is a tale we will always have time for, though the script does undo itself slightly in its own dripping working-class snobbery. The language remains rooted in the pas, while the action is framed with modern costume and a fresh, angular set. The jury is out on the sensibilities.

Newman is fantastic in the titular role, playfully saluting both Turcaret’s innuendos and more tender moments of genuine expression. Chris Casbon plays a snake-like, scheming Frontin, confiding in the audience with soliloquies to send up the frivolity of the upper echelons that he is ripping off. Harry Elletson gives excellent performances both as the ruthless Rafle and the deceptive Furet, though the real star of the show is Samantha Finlay, whose delightfully sarcastic Marine serves as a mere hors d’oeuvre to her superb Comtesse, who delivers the physicality of a saturated weeble and the comic timing of a grenade.

The other female roles are slightly thankless, as straight-women confined to either plain exposition or sardonic remarks and eye-rolling, though Redgate plays her part with wry grace, and Kat Spencer’s Lisette is enjoyable to watch as an outsider with the advantage of a moment to smell the roses and consider her true emotional response to the situation.

Casbon delivers the final twists with urgency and aplomb, and you can’t help but applaud his duplicitous heist.

Theatre Review: The Witches by York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre

Maddie Drury as Boy credit James Drury

Photograph by James Drury

Those who grew up with Roald Dahl’s classic tale of terror, or indeed the 1990 film adaptation, will feel right at home with this production. Incidentally, so will audiences of Sherlock Holmes, as the action plays out among the same gothic pillared halls and life-size portrait frames. You can expect the usual pantomime tricks in the form of witches mingling with the audience before and during the show, as well as audience assistance with Boy’s great mouse circus.

Louise Oliver as Tatiana credit James Drury

Photograph by James Drury

York Theatre Royal’s Youth Theatre cast deliver David Wood’s 1992 script with perfectly chilling ensemble work, drawing out the well-loved story’s dark humour and nightmare fodder alike. There are stand-out performances from a tender Grandmother (Rebekah Burland) with a storytelling knack ripe for audiobooks, a vivacious and earnest Boy (Maddie Drury) who will win and break your heart, a Grand High Witch (Molly Levitt) to rival Anjelica Huston – not to mention her delightfully peevish right-hand witch Edwina (Edward Hooper) – and the haughty but somehow likeable Jenkinses (Dominic Sorrell, Charlotte Wood and Stan Gaskell). 

Rebekah Burland as Grandmother Maddie Drury as Boy credit James Drury

Photograph by James Drury

The witches’ assembly and The Plan reveal are particularly terrifying; the stage amock with chasing, chanting, cackling, scratching monsters in hunt mode. 

The Grand High Witch and the Witches of England credit James Drury

Photograph by James Drury

Gem Greaves’ design arranges a deliciously hideous menagerie of witches in garish 1980s jackets, tights and heels, while Becky May’s mouse puppets swim seamlessly through the action like any other cast member. Alexandra Stafford’s lighting also brings to life some poignant moments in startlingly creative ways. 

Dominic Sorrell as Mouse Bruno and Maddie Drury as Mouse Boy credit James Drury

Photograph by James Drury

The Witches is playing at York Theatre Royal now until 3rd September, 2:30pm & 7pm daily. Tickets available here. Miss it and risk transformation into mice.

You may remove your vigs! credit James Drury

Photograph by James Drury