Featured post

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 ...

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Dunstable Rep - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof


As there are a lot of confessions and revelations in the Rep’s latest production, speechifying my late mother would have called it, perhaps I should throw in a couple of my own. I have never seen Cat on Hot Tin Roof on the stage. Come to that I have never seen Streetcar or The Glass Menagerie either. I reckon it was all those Tennessee Williams’ films of the 50’s and 60’s that put me off. There were a lot around at the time and I saw or slept through most of them. The Night of the Iguana was this ungrateful teenager’s low point. So when I became a serious theatregoer Mr Williams would always come a long way below Rattigan and Chekhov in the fight for my precious pound. If Liz Taylor and Vivien Leigh can’t tick my boxes what hope is there for the rest of them.

I think you can guess what is coming. The Rep wheeled this one out as the third in their 2011/12 film season and not only was this ambitious choice enjoyable it was, by some way, the best so far. Plaza Suite had a couple of acting gems and A Christmas Carol stunning invention, but neither had the shape or coherence that director Chris Lavin brought to this one. The Mississippi Plantation family are a rum lot and you wouldn’t want to spend Christmas with them. Half an hour on a picnic outing and they would be at each other’s throats. The back story is megabucks Big Daddy dying of cancer but only he and his Big Mama wife don’t know this, but the main thrust is the squabbling family desperate to share or grab the spoils when he goes. And the focus of that thrust is younger son Brick, crippled in an accident, and his sexually frustrated wife Maggie.

The action all takes place in Brick and Maggie’s bedroom and it is designed in such a way that it becomes a thoroughfare for all the various characters. Clapham Junction was never so busy. The colourful backdrop was pleasing but the imaginary door and windows stretched ones theatrical imagination. Only the porch area where Brick, poignantly, talked to the moon truly worked. But that bedroom was crucial. Nobody had sex but they talked about it an awful lot. It’s that speechifying that mother used to go on about. Maggie (Liz Caswell superb as always), desperately desires to rekindle a sexual flame in her Brick. As she says, she could live with his rejection if he was a flabby slob of a husband, but the manifest presence of his flesh both frustrates and attracts. Brick (a magnificent portrayal from Dave Corbett) seeks solace in alcohol. He detests his wife but he detests himself more. The only state he can cope with is the oblivion of whisky.

The relationship of Maggie and Brick are crucial to this play. If she is the Cat then he is the Hot Tin Roof. All the other characters, important as they are, are mere satellites. The chemistry between them has to both gel and sear. Especially as there is an elephant in their bedroom in the shape of the unseen, long dead, Skipper. I hope the audience got this because, by God, he is important. Killed himself because of his attraction to Brick. Or so it seems. I was gripped. The fading sexual powers of this Maggie and the brooding, monosyllabic, presence of Brick were writ large in this production. Miss  Caswell and Mr Corbett truly clicked and I take my theatrical hat off to both of them.

But in all good productions there is always a lot more going on than you think. A major plus for me was the easy and natural style in which Mr Lavin created his surrounding pictures of plantation family life. Characters, children and adults, crossed the set in realistic style and the life beyond the bedroom of Brick and Maggie was an ever present and crucial picture. It is merely a detail but get it right, as Mr Lavin did, and it adds so much to an evening. Charles Plester gave solid support as a Big Daddy consumed by his own perceived importance, Anne Davis, Big Mama in a pretty party dress, beautifully evoked the love that was missing in most of the other characters and Ben Jaggers was a believable older brother. I like him best when he took off his jacket but, being a lawyer with an eye to a fortune, that is hardly surprising. But other than the two bedroom inhabitants the performances that squeezed every inch from their turns were Jenna Ryder-Oliver’s sister in law Mae and Richard Garrett’s Reverend Tooker. Miss Ryder-Oliver shed kids like shelling peas, three very good ones on stage, and as a weapon with which to beat the barren Maggie they were formidable and vicious. The Rev Tooker found this family life all a bit too much and his uncomfortable character exited beautifully.

But in truth there was not a weak performance in a play in which I suspect most of the Rep actors have not been further into the deepest south than Cornwall. Richard Foster’s clouds pleased more than Graham Elliott’s late thunderstorm but that is probably because I am an expert on the latter. I loathe storms and know every nuance of their creation. This one did not convince. But practically everything else in Mr Lavin’s production did. An ambitious production, thoroughly enjoyable, and much better than Iguana and those other films of my teenage years. I clearly used to sleep through speechifying. Last week, the Rep kept me awake.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Dunstable Rep

I enjoyed this production. I am long enough in the tooth to know that taking on the deep south of Tennessee Williams ain't easy. Chekhov with cowboy boots. But overall they pulled it off. Dave Corbett topped anything he has ever done as the complex Brick, and Liz Caswell's Maggie was as watchable as ever. Strong support throughout and director Chris Lavin painted some nice dramatic pictures of a family in turmoil. I shall nit pick on some staging bits, it's my blog, but overall I give this Cat on a Hot Tin Roof four stars. Ten quid well spent.

Finishes tonight - full review to follow

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Lost Salford Sioux - Radio Three

Sunday 15th January (8.30pm)

There aren’t many better things to do on a cold Sunday evening than to curl up in front of the fire, glass in hand, and listen to Radio Three’s Sunday drama. The one this week, The Lost Salford Sioux by Anjum Malik, had unsurprisingly slipped under my theatrical radar so I switched on in total ignorance. I settle down well prepared for a Pinter or a Stoppard, but Salford and long dead Indians have never been on my reading list. They ought to be because once I had attuned my ear and garnered the plot, the play totally absorbed.

That plot is pretty important. Apparently, and the folks of Salford know this, a performer with Buffalo Bill’s Circus died during the troupes visit to this country in 1887 and is buried somewhere in the town. Probably a car park, although this may be dramatic licence. He went by the delightful name of Surrounded by the Enemy, super ghostly portrayal by Anthony Forrest, and the drama’s main thrust is his desire to have his bones resettled and his spirit released. The young woman he chooses for his haunting task is well selected. Alison is doing a PhD in death rituals around the world and her and her Nan seem obsessed with untimely and early demise. Coming to terms with loss, and Alison lost her mother when she was a baby, is a strong theme throughout the ninety minutes. Both Lorraine Cheshire and Sue Jenkins turned in easy on the ear and completely believable performances. The way Ms Jenkins described the relationship and sudden loss of her young husband, Alison’s granddad, was simple and effective. For good measure the haunted and troubled heroine gets a job with the local undertakers. I told you this play was about death. The dialogue here was particularly sharp and spare and, at times, also funny. Death may be distressing but it is also a business and Darren Kuppan (Charlie) and Roger Morlidge (Stanley) had their feet firmly on the ground. They believed in death, not sure they believed in ghosts, especially when Alison starts digging up the car park.

At the beginning I was totally confused, lots of sound effects and evocative music, but by the end I was totally gripped. When Surrounded by the Enemy’s long buried bones were released into the local river I could see all the pictures and feel all the conflicting emotions. This lost soul, literally, would finally find peace. In death that is all most of us, those taken and those left behind, can hope for. Beautifully directed by Polly Thomas this play was curiously uplifting. We are all going to die. Sitting by the fire, whisky glass in hand, The Lost Salford Sioux made that fact almost pleasurable. Takes Radio Three and its Sunday night dramas to do that.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

January Blues


I hate January. The days are short and dull, and the cold nights crank up the gas bills. The media is obsessed by looking back to the past or, even worse, studying the navel of the many things to come. And 2012 gives them a plethora of opportunities. On top of the usual prediction circus we now get endless hypes for our Olympic or Diamond Jubilee year. I can just about cope with Mo Farrah or Miss Adlington but any more in depth studies on our cyclists and rowers and I shall throw a few whisky glasses at the radio. As for Liz, I shall enjoy her celebrations but I am getting fed up with them being rammed down my throat. Worst of all, Christmas being wrapped and stored for another year, my beloved horseracing stars put their equine feet up.
It’s all the fault of Cheltenham. That four days in March in the Cotswolds is our annual Olympics and any jumping gee gee with half a chance on the sacred turf of Prestbury Park is swathed in cotton wool and pampered better then any pop star. You can’t blame the connections. Most of the twenty odd races would headline a normal Saturday afternoon. And the best, Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Arkle, Queen Mother, World Hurdle, are the stuff of dreams. You can keep the Derby and the Arc. Cheltenham in March is what it is all about. So for the likes of Kauto Star, Big Bucks, Masterminded, Long Run, Hurricane Fly and others it is endless days at Champneys or wherever they keep them. We get a brief flurry on Trials Day at the end of the month but for most of January racing is the bread and butter affair of the Market Rasens and Huntingdons. Snobs that they are most nags rated 150 or better wouldn’t be seen dead at such racecourses.
I am therefore relying on local theatrical stars to give the next few weeks a bit of a lift. I don’t do Gang Shows so will give Harpenden’s sixty third a swerve and if I am missing a treat I apologise. Welwyn’s Barn Theatre and St Alban’s Company of Ten rarely figure on my radar so I have no idea what they are doing. I should get out more as on my occasional sorties in their direction I have usually been impressed. Looking forward to Wheathampstead’s ‘Time of My Life’, an Ayckbourn I have never seen, but that is in the remote mists of Mid February so hardly qualifies as an antidote to January blues. Nevertheless I hope it is good because at their best they seriously entertain. And they are overdue a good crit from me. Might even get me on their web page.
But to get the juices going I am having to rely on my old friends at Dunstable Rep. Their third production this season is Tennessee Williams ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’. Once you have attuned your ear to the southern drawl, and I don’t mean Watford, his plays can be compelling. Chris Lavin directs and I hope he does it justice. Following that Luton Light guest at the same theatre for Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music’. As my favourite theatre evening of all time was the National’s version of this with Judi Dench, Sian Phillips, and Patrica Hodge they are under no pressure. Unlike Kauto, Big Bucks, and Long Run. Last seen fanning themselves on some exotic and distant beach.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Dunstable Little Theatre Fri 20th to Saturday 28th January. No performance Wed 25th. 7.45pm Tickets £12 and £10
A Little Night Music – Dunstable Little Theatre Tues 31st January to Saturday 4th February. 7.45pm. (Sat matinee – 3.00pm) Tickets £12
Time of My Life – Wheathampstead Memorial Hall 16th to 18th February 8.00pm Tickets £8.
Cheltenham NH Festival – Tues 13th to Friday 16th March (Channel Four) Tickets priceless.