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Sidmouth Manor Pavilion Theatre - An Inspector Calls (with James Pellow)

Folks who know me very well often say, kindly I think, that I should get out more. I’m a grumpy old sod at the best of times and in the ...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Wheathampstead Players - Broken Glass

Broken Glass
Wheathampstead Dramatic Society
October 2011

I quite like that lot at Wheathampstead. For a start they are only just down the road and, more importantly, they regularly churn out my sort of theatre. And they do them very well. Taking Steps didn’t earn them too many of my brownie points but you could say that was as much to do with Ayckbourn as the company.  But with The Winslow Boy, London Cuckolds, Proof, and The Cemetery Club they displayed some cracking performers. The Cemetery Club, with  a trio of well crafted widows, knocked spots off a Dunstable Rep production on at the same time. And that one up the road was not bad by any measure.

So I was really looking forward to their production of Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass. Miller’s best years were considered well behind him when he turned this one out so it came as a surprise when it easily ranked with some of his major works from earlier times. I say some as, seeing it for the first time, it ain’t any All My Sons or Death of a Salesman. How good it is remains to be seen because, although an interesting evening, Wheathampstead’s interpretation rarely progressed beyond a faithful reading.

It wasn’t bad. Sarah Brindley turned in a splendid performance as the traumatised wife, haunted and paralysed by happenings in pre-war Germany, and Irene Morris was so classy as her sympathetic sister that I wished Miller had given her more to do. But the stereotypical mannerisms from Peter Jeffreys' troubled husband and Steve Leadbetter’s enigmatic doctor hindered depth and characterisation in the numerous disturbing scenes. Middle class Brooklyn Jews affected by the events of Kristallnacht – hence the title – should create a dramatic vortex of distorted lives. This didn’t. I listened intently but my emotions were only intermittently engaged.

I shouldn’t be too hard. Broken Glass strikes me as a hellishly difficult play and Wheathampstead should be applauded for giving it a go. But in spite of director Malcolm Hobbs' powerful initial imagery of Nazi atrocities and Miss Brindley’s intelligent portrayal, the heart of this late Miller was a little pedestrian. They are back to Ayckbourn in February with Time of My Life. He searches souls with a comedic pen as incisive as any Miller can turn up. And much more accessible.

Roy Hall

Monday, 10 October 2011

Plaza Suite - Dunstable Rep


I knew I would start getting myself into trouble when I set up this blog. Must be the nature of the beast. When things get too cosy stir it up by sticking your oar in. Did it times when filling gaps on the Luton News theatrical pages. I set out on the premise that not everything deserves unstinted praise, ain’t fair on the brilliant, and packed it in when the stinting got up too many noses. But as the alcoholic said to the whisky bottle, I knew I’d be back. But this time will be different. This time I will do my own thing. Turn in a turkey and you won’t even get in my oven. Seen it, blanked it, will be the new reviewing fashion. Besides I am a coward, five star and twenty four carat, and I love my computer. Can’t risk a brick being thrown at it.

So where does this leave the Rep? I have vowed to review all six of their film season plays and shall turn up to each one praying forgiveness if they make me break my, now written, rule. Their turkeys shall be as faithfully recorded as their triumphs. But I shall console myself with the thought that bricks, like everything else these days, are getting bloody expensive.

I needn’t have worried. The Rep’s first offering is unlikely to be their season’s best but it was mercifully bereft of anything remotely resembling poultry and, in a dazzling late spurt, gave us a couple of personal triumphs. The set is room 719 of the Plaza Hotel, New York and on it three couples in three separate acts gave us a small slice of American middle class life. Or life with the Neil Simon quirky slant. For those not paying attention he wrote it. All of the plays had something going for them, even if in the first it was only a desire for brevity. But whatever your view the decor was easy on the eye and expertly changed. I admired all the differing curtains and the subtle updating of phones.

The Visitor from Mamaroneck gave us a fifty something obsessive Sam Nash (Richard Combes) desperate for extra marital sex and a perfect waistline and an equally desperate and fragile housewife (Julie Hanns) seeking a late rekindling of a seemingly romantic past. The set up is rich with possibilities for both humour and pathos but in truth the couple rarely gelled. Mr Combes, an actor with a long and distinguished history at the Rep, did his best as the insensitive husband and was always watchable but Miss Hanns, pleasing as she was, did not totally give off the sparks necessary to engage us in their private drama. She has come a long way since her uneasy debut in Absurd Person Singular but such challenging roles need a greater variety of tone and pace than she can currently supply.

The Visitor from Hollywood took things up a notch and for this we must thank Clare Tozer-Rhoot’s portrayal of the awkward housewife Muriel Tate. She occasionally under-projected but you nevertheless got the feeling that you were watching an actress rich in intelligence. A bit too frumpy to kindle real desire in her Hollywood director, Dave Corbett playing with the straightest of straight bats, but immensely enjoyable in its clever heightening of the absurdist comedy of the situation. I never really got the feeling that the likeable Mr Corbett had progressed from high school beau to big Hollywood wheel but, thanks to Miss Tozer-Rhoot, I was beginning to enjoy the evening.

The Visitor from Forest Hills delivered that promise in spades. Simply put this was class of the highest order. In fairness to the actors in the other plays who may feel they have got short shrift, Mr Simon pulled out all the comic stops on this one. An unseen bride locked in a bathroom and her up market parents frantically trying to get her out for a pending wedding. And boy was this wedding pending. A rich picture was created of the offstage, expensive, thousands waiting for the desired ‘I do’. And that rich picture was matched by two beautiful performances. Angela Goss as the anxious and self centred wife and mother was absolutely superb. Her performance, in execution and timing, was faultless. You could not help thinking that she should do master classes for the Rep. As a bonus Joe Butcher’s calculating husband matched her to the inch. There is no better player of comedy at the Rep than Mr Butcher and give him a good script and a Miss Goss to play against and he displays all his flair. Hugely enjoyable and, along with my companions, I went home laughing.

So all in all it was not a bad evening. Director Julie Foster (Forest Hills) gets more theatrical points than Barbara Morton (Mamaroneck and Hollywood) but she had the best piece and two actors who could wring every ounce from it. I left with three totally disparate thoughts. Miss Hanns (Mamaroneck) needs to think outside the box and how to deal with phones, Miss Tozer-Rhoot (Hollywood) could be a major actor at the Rep, and Miss Goss (Forest Hills) has become an institution and we should erect a plaque to her. Clearly I am an undesirable. Obsessed by women. Bricks, thrown by actors, will be coming my way.

Roy Hall

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Plaza Suite - Dunstable Rep

Interesting evening at the Rep as Neil Simon's dramatic triptych gets the boys and girls of Dunstable off to a mixed but, ultimately, heady start. Richard Combes and Clare Tozer-Rhoot gave solid and watchable performances in the first two plays, but in true theatre tradition the best was saved til last. In room 719 of the Plaza Hotel, New York, both Angela Goss and Joe Butcher turned on the consummate comic style as fretful parents of a reluctant bride. I get no prizes for saying they had the lion's share of Mr Simon's comic writing but this classy pair wrung every last inch out of it. It takes a while but visit this Plaza Suite and you will come out laughing.

Plaza Suite
Dunstable Rep Little Theatre.
runs to Saturday 8th October - full review to follow