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

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.

The Siren Call of The Grotesque

My acting ambitions have changed somewhat since I first set my sights on treading the boards. Since I was young I have admired the graceful, feminine icons of the silver screen: Audrey Hepburn, Tippi Hedren ,Grace Kelly. The flawless, fashionable glamour was the height of sophistication; if I could pull off that aura, if I could be eloquent and graceful through anything, I would be untouchable.

Since then I’ve read a few plays. I’ve heard stories about characters that are damaged, desperate, marginalised, fascinating. I’ve acquired a taste for the grotesque.

One of my university lecturers, Harold, who passed away a couple of years ago, introduced me to Jean Genet. He impressed upon us the essence of Genet. The homeless man in town with a bleeding head. The pair of old women who always walked side by side wearing identical clothes.

I began searching for a kind of tragic truth in everything I read and wrote. Detail, pain, wildness.

Around the time of his death, I got the opportunity to act in my first Genet production; The Maids. A friend of mine runs a theatre company and shares a Harold-inspired love for Genet’s works, and we found ourselves very much on the same page. Our maids were feral women in lapdogs’ clothing. They were wild, hurt, angry, fired.

Perhaps there’s something of my old ambitions living in the hearts of Claire and Solange. The desire to be glamorous, fashionable, loved, untouchable. Despite their hatred of the bourgeoisie, while they’re chewing it up, they suck up all the juice. Why not take for yourself the best of both worlds?

Claire and Solange are ugly, twisted, animalistic rebels whose pain and frustrations might just resonate a little loudly with the public of today.

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Photograph courtesy of www.hedgepigtheatre.com

Theatre Review: Pericles, Prince of Tyre by York Shakespeare Company

21st April 2016, Upstage, York

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York Shakespeare Project go from strength to strength in celebrating the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death with their 29th play, this truly heart-warming rendition of one of the bard’s lesser (co-written) plays. The digressive text has been abridged to a lean 90 minute run time and a cast of 9. The immersive, welcoming production serves almost as a layman’s summary version; refreshing and not at all heathen.

We enter The Gower Pub; a wholesome, earthy eighteenth-century seaside ale house full of merry regulars who come together to stage a play within a play, embracing each other and the audience with the utmost feeling of inclusion and nurturing. Watching the show feels rather like making a new group of friends and taking part in an improvisation workshop with them. Musical Director John Robin Morgan has arranged a rousing playlist of a capella sea shanties performed as punctuation between chapters by the cast and crew, all in period costume and milling about the encroached traverse stage with supportive smiles.

The play is truly moving, and hinges on the tight family trio of Pericles, (Andrew Isherwood), Thaisa (Claire Morley) and Marina (Emily Thane). Isherwood is gentle, genuine and natural, elevating an ambling character to a heartfelt hero, whose later despair is utterly palpable. Morley is in turn charmingly coy and vulnerable as a young Thaisa, and later lurching and threatening as the Bawd. The meet-cute between Isherwood and Morley is on a par with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet. Rory Oliver and Jimmy Johnson stand out in charismatic, tender performances, each in multiple roles, and George Stagnell gives a solid performance as the wise Helicanus.

Thane is the sweetheart of the production. Her measured, graceful performance of the straight-woman whose appearance, following the loss of her mother, marks the turn of a light-hearted adventure story into a darker, more painful tale, is what really makes the show soar. While the ensemble have perfect comedic synchronicity, Thane carries the most transcendent lines and notes beautifully, not to mention multiple convincing fight scenes. The reunion of Marina and Pericles is desperately sincere, the audience sharing their acutely hopeful anticipation. If it was professional to cry and review, I’d have been sobbing. This is a beguiling show, well worth seeing.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is showing at Upstage Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York at 7:30pm nightly and at 2:30pm on Saturday until 23rd April. Tickets are available at: https://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/event/pericles_prince_of_tyre.php#.VvMVzOKLTIU

TV Review: ‘Homeland’ Season 1

Homeland is a series that will consume your every spare hour, and do not let that put you off. With the fourth season coming up in a few weeks and the first two now being available on Netflix, I decided to give this political thriller series a go. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Claire Danes in anything new, and I’m a fan of hers, and I hadn’t seen much of Damian Lewis before but really enjoyed him in the Much Ado About Nothing adaptation from the BBC series ShakespeaRe-Told in 2005. Watching the National Theatre’s live broadcast of Medea (well worth a watch, by the way) recently put me in mind of him, given his link with Helen McCrory, and so I was reminded that I had some homework to catch up on.

Image from artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com

Image from artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com

If you haven’t seen any Homeland, you’re missing out. It’s an addictive drama following intelligence officer Carrie Mathison (Danes) through her investigation into a returning P.O.W. marine (Lewis). The story is fairly simple; our protagonist is the only person who’s joined the dots the way she has, and everyone around her sees two and two making five, while to the audience it’s painfully obvious that we are working with four. Her voice within the C.I.A. is clearly a respected authority up to a point; convenient negations include (if you’re looking for it) womanhood and all its inextricable vulnerability, a Big Mistake somewhere in her working past, and a constricting mental illness that rears its ugly head as the series goes on. While the tropes are as frustrating as they are designed to be, the story is incredibly well-paced, making for compelling viewing. There are some predictable turns – no one really believes America’s most important bits are going to be ended in season one, do they? And there are reasons to be on edge about the acting before you’ve seen it – any actor attempting to live in a character for a whole series with an accent that isn’t their own is in danger of being too distracted by their vocal task to do a good job of convincing us of who they are. A white, red-haired, British actor who is so perfectly suited to the camp role of Benedick for instance, is now playing an almost thuggish, passive-aggressive, scarily unpredictable soldier with controversial motives. Throughout the series I felt incredibly uneasy around Sergeant Nicholas Brody, and I thought it might be for these reasons alone. But having finished the season and left it alone for a few days I’m now inclined to think that Lewis is pretty damn good, and that the awkwardness is simply down to how detestable and threatening his character is, albeit one you can somehow empathise with. After all, a surprising development in Mathison’s relationship with him that I initially declared unbelievable does seem to have struck a chord with me, on reflection. And, like Mathison, whatever I think of him, I’m hooked on watching him. I like to think the team would be pretty pleased with that kind of response.

Image from popgoesthearts.blogspot.com

Image from popgoesthearts.blogspot.com

Danes has a much clearer run at delivering an impressive character profile, with so many – successfully achieved – opportunities for really spreading her legs as an actor. I won’t go into any more detail there, it’s not needed. Her character and her acting are both really worth your time.

Many Patinkin (The Princess Bride) serves as a father-figure to Mathison and is as good as always. Her boss (David Harewood) is sadly completely uninteresting, but then, so are real people, sometimes. It just adds an unwanted layer to the frustration factor because we’ve heard so many stories these days that obstinately unquestioning and apathetic characters like these seem like an unnecessary detour from the real story being revealed; almost a cheat to get out of having to execute the impressive climax that the beginning really sets us up for here. But hey, what do I know, the pacing really worked and by the climax of series one I was practically panting, so maybe that stuff is an inextricable value of good storytelling.

I do feel a tad uncomfortable with some of the portrayal of bipolar disorder. I don’t know the illness very well, but the action didn’t seem completely compatible with what facts I have been taught, so they’re possibly taking a damaging step backwards in the minds of mental health awareness experts. But they’re not the first, and they seemed to have an amount of research and good intentions in there somewhere.

The production values are typically smooth for the high quality TV we’re used to in 2014; it’s a solidly attractive show. The sets and people look good, and the jazz-addled soundtrack – written and performed originally, I believe, by Sean Callery – is hauntingly unsettling and alien yet fitting, setting the tone for Mathison’s internal struggle perfectly.

I think what keeps me watching is mainly the actors – every one is compelling, and they’re allowed to be by the editing team, which is actually quite rare. I’m looking forward to delving into this story again. I’ll meet you at season four.

Season 1 trailer