Sleep No More (Dunstable Rep)
Alistair Brown was on top form with his trademark packaging of this tale of theatrical ghosts but for all his presentational skills he could not disguise the paucity of the piece he was cleverly wrapping. Sleep No More is a pedestrian play weighed down with clunky dialogue and tortuous exposition. The lashings of atmosphere, haunting music and sombre lighting, required much stronger acting than we got here to even half lift the limp plot away from the page. Paul Rogers brought little believability to his part of the harassed theatre director stirring up unwanted ghosts and Jenna Kay and Alex Brewer, both capable of better, mainly walked a script that clearly defeated them. Only Tracey Chatterley’s statuesquely theatrical Jenny and Jodie O’Loughlin’s hauntingly creepy child ghost Eva seriously impressed. The cast curtain call, a merciful release, was magnificent for its imaginative theatricality. Sadly it was all too late.
The Thirty Nine Steps (Wheathampstead DS)
Patrick Barlow’s madcap adaptation of The Thirty Nine Steps is, obliquely, reverential homage to Hitchcock’s definitive 1939 film. Comic twists on that masterful narrative of John Buchan’s novel make Mr Barlow’s idiosyncratic creation a joyful giggle from beginning to end. Wheathampstead succeeded with skilled characterisation from a cast only partially let down by lack of quicksilver pace and an over fussy set. Less is definitely more when staging this theatrical piece of classy hokum and a detailed backdrop and a superfluous female performer, no men in drag here, diluted comic opportunities. But an enjoyable evening nonetheless with outstanding performances from Sarah Brindley’s collection of females, her handcuffed Pamela was beautiful for its quintessential thirties style, and Jonathan Field’s infinite variety of eccentric characters. Robin Langer and the superfluous but excellent Julie Field gave commendable support and Steve Leadbetter, just a smidgeon of nonchalance, was an impressive pipe smoking Richard Hannay. Malcolm Hobbs directed and if the hand was slightly too literal at times it created some good team playing from a surefooted cast. Jonathan Field’s regurgitation of Mr Memory’s scientific formula was worth half a red star on its own.
Round and Round the Garden (Company of Ten)
There is always a classy feel when you go to a Company of Ten production and their Round and Round the Garden was no exception. Director Alan Bobroff’s slant on this piece of Alan Ayckbourn’s famous Norman Conquest trilogy may have been a little too straight for my tastes but Denis O’Connell Baker’s staging, including impressive glimpse of house and balcony, was first class packaging. I reckon that Table Manners and Living Together have more comic opportunities than the garden aspect of the East Grinstead shenanigans and consequently actors have to work that much harder to make it totally succeed as an isolated piece. Much of the emotional baggage takes place in the other, better, plays. So it says much that I warmed more and more as the play progressed to the philandering and dysfunctional Norman (Russell Vincent), a lapdog librarian with his brain in his trousers, and the excellent performances from the irritatingly obsessive Reg (Iain Pritchard) and the hapless vet Tom (David Houston). All three men created flawed and idiosyncratic characters of total believability. Rona Cracknell (Sarah) and Claire Clegg (Annie) both turned in strong performances but a little more underlying domestic stress in the former and a lighter, less gauche, touch from the latter would have enhanced their scenes. But overall the sextet, including the commendable emergency stand in Ruth (Rosemary Goodman), combined to make a rare journey to the Abbey Theatre a pleasant Sunday afternoon diversion. I may have wanted more bite but English country gardens on summer days do not, generally, induce naked and savage drama. Even of the middle class variety.
Three reviews, all a bit po-faced by my very low standards. Rest assured normal, inconsequential, blogging service will be resumed shortly. But come on, three in a week and York races and the Masterchef finals on the telly. Give me a break - Roy Hall