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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 ...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

My One and Only (BBC Radio 4)

I have always been a big fan of the radio, right back to those days in our house when we called it the wireless. It’s the only reason I don’t rage against the BBC licence fee. I could live without television if I had to, much as I would miss the horseracing and weather forecast, but not the blessed radio. I have seven in my house. Only the lavatory escapes and I am working on that. And as I have aged, ears coping better than eyes, it becomes even more important. Being a theatre buff I avidly search for drama. We don’t get as much as we used to, apart from Shakespeare and the odd classic, and little these days that is relevant to the stage. The oiks who control output, much like their TV equivalent, see little need for a regurgitation of old Rattigans, Priestleys, and Ibsens. They used to, years ago, even throwing in an Ayckbourn, a Pinter, or an Arthur Miller. Search now and, generally, you search in vain. Most drama these days on the wireless, the radio, tends to be Radio 4’s afternoon slot, plays commissioned and especially written for the medium. Not for the stage. It saddens but it is better than nothing and, occasionally, just occasionally one turns up which grips you in a vice like hold that does not let go. You stop everything, cease those other activities, and avidly listen. When over, exhausted, you say ‘that was good, no, more than that, it was bloody brilliant.’ And you also recognise, reluctantly and grudgingly, it could only have been done on the radio. The wireless. Not the stage. My One and Only was one such play.

Written by Dawn King it concerns a complex triangular relationship in which the main character, a highly emotional Layla expertly played by Katherine Parkinson, is desperately seeking to continue an affair with self centred medic Ben whilst simultaneously trying to extract herself from one she never intended, the freaky and spooky Noah. What makes this little drama special, menace unnervingly ratcheting up with every prosaic ring of a variety of telephone noises, is that all conversations take place courtesy of Alexander Graham Bell’s little invention. Characters never, except in one nerve racking scene, meet. All angst, emotion, anger, fear, is conducted down telephone wires. On landlines, on mobiles, in home and office. Layla is unnervingly stalked by one night stand Noah and, obliquely, she in desperation and despair seemingly stalks Ben. A man she still desires. And in her desperation she ups the ante and gets Noah to stalk Ben’s wife. Her own sister. I tell you, it had my head reeling. Never did the ring of a phone contain so much venomous poison; never did a familiar homely object ooze such threats. Whatever I was doing, it went on hold for forty five heady minutes.

Director Jessica Dromgoole did a super job with all those special effects of the everyday and in Katherine Parkinson, Carl Prekopp (Noah), Simon Bubb (Ben), and Victoria Inez Hardy (Amy) she had actors’ voices which both complemented and enhanced this dramatic piece. Carl Prekopp was particularly compelling as the overtly nice Noah, gentleness laced with stalker’s menace, and the phone call between Layla and Amy was dramatic writing at its radio best. The despairing Layla could at that moment, I ungraciously thought, strangle both Ben’s cooing wife and the unseen baby being thrust down the phone as token of both fidelity and love. No wonder she put Noah onto her. My One and Only, beautifully written and directed, beautifully acted, unnervingly realistic, was radio theatre at its best. Out of the blue on a midweek afternoon. More like this and I will put an eighth radio, or wireless, in the lavatory. Roy Hall



Broadcast 2-15pm Radio 4 Monday 13th October 2014 – available until 12th November (30 days or thereabouts) on BBCiplayer

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Fiddler on the Roof (DAOS) - Guest Review

Grove Theatre-October 2014 - Review by Frances Hall

‘Tradition’ proclaims Tevye. ‘Tradition, Tradition.....Tradition!’ replies the hearty chorus. And so we are off into the downtrodden lives of the lowly milkman and his family in the Russian-Jewish community of Anatevka 1905, just before the Russian revolution.
I know this show well, I was in it many years ago, and it is like meeting old friends as each of the well-loved songs and set pieces are re-lived. And Tradition is so much a part of the first act: the Matchmaker, the Sabbath, the Wedding, the Bottle Dance, all serving to define the lives of these simple people and highlight the enormity of the changes to come. Our guide, of course, is Tevye, played with immense skill and sensitivity by Alan Clarke. Taking on a role made so famous by the great Topol is a feat in itself, but within seconds comparisons were superfluous. Everything about the character seemed so right: costume, beard, gravelly voice, wry humour, the weight of a hard life and the love of God, family and home. The reluctant acceptance of inevitable change as little bits of tradition are chipped away with each daughter’s choice of husband, until the heartbreaking decision to disown Chava who has chosen outside the faith. The most poignant moment of this production being Tevye’s quiet lament ‘Chavaleh’ sung with such depth of love and loss.

There were some rather wonderful performances around him too. Wife Golda played by Susan Young had warmth often missing from other versions, but combined with all the feisty strength of the Jewish mother this was a fully rounded character. I would have preferred her to be busier and more dismissive in the duet ‘Do You Love Me’ but I think that was perhaps a directorial choice. The three elder daughters all had their moments and worked well together. Katie Ross’s Hodel was a little under projected in her acting scenes but sang ‘Far From The Home I Love’ with real emotion. Of the suitors, Sam Rowland’s Perchick was a suitably charming rebel but James Halling’s Fyedka, the Russian soldier with a heart, was again under projected against the feisty Chava of Ellie Reay. However, Simon Rollings as Motel brought all his experience and stage presence to the meek, mild-mannered tailor. Another beautifully crafted performance. With eldest daughter Tzeitel (Kim Albone) they made a perfect match.  And there was a touch of brilliance too from live Fiddler Lynette Driver who said not a word but spoke volumes with her bow and movement.

Of the rest, it will come as no surprise to those who have seen them before that Angela Goss and Barbara Morton were spot on as the busybody Matchmaker Yente and the raging Ghost Fruma Sarah. And a quirky but likeable Rabbi (Luigi Muscella) and his smug son Mendel (Alex Wheeler) lent some much needed character to the townsfolk. MD Chris Young worked his magic on the company and was rewarded by some excellent singing, particularly in the full company numbers.

The Grove is a big stage with a lot of height and, not for the first time, I felt that in some scenes the sparse set and open lighting, though beautiful, rather dwarfed the actors. I couldn’t understand why the cottage, which I assume was hired in at considerable cost, was trucked on and off stage instead of being a focal point throughout. I’m sure Director Alan Goss had his reasons and usually his set designs are magnificent but you can only react to what you see and for me sometimes the effect was a lack of atmosphere. Usually the haunting ‘Anatevka’ brings me to tears and from then on I’m a soggy mess till the end. However with this production, beautiful and perfect as the singing was, the scene didn’t really move me. But overall this was a good tight show with a magnificent central performance from Alan Clarke, lovely music and a fittingly enjoyable 50th Anniversary production. And a real Fiddler to bring good fortune for the next 50 years. Frances Hall

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Table Manners (Full review)

Little Theatre,
Dunstable Rep,
October 2014

Just for a change I have decided to do something different with this blog. Can’t face Table Manners, the Rep’s latest offering, with my usual shafts of coruscating critical wit and dripping pearls of exquisite wisdom. Or whatever rubbish I normally post that passes for theatrical comment and opinion. Wouldn’t be fair. Not because I know this play so well, I know so many plays well. Have two Pinters, one Ibsen, and Collins pocket dictionaries of Shakespeare and Aphra Benn on my library shelves. Oh all right, I made the last one up. But I am not making up my reluctance to review John O’Leary’s commendable production of the dining room slant on Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquest Trilogy. Have only recently directed this one myself and, very soon, will be moving on to the next one, Living Together, which unsurprisingly takes place in the living room. The third in the trilogy is called Round and Round the Garden and I shall shortly be releasing my first theatre blog competition with a prize for the first entrant who successfully guesses where this takes place. All three plays, cleverly mixed, are  over the same fraught family weekend and in Table Manners we see the action in the dining room.

Knowing every line and every move, almost by heart, it is inevitable that one makes comparisons. Doubly so in my case as the original 1977 Thames Television production, a stellar cast including Penelope Keith and Richard Briers, is also indelibly printed on my mind. They did such things on TV in those days, but don’t get me started on that. But I brought so much baggage with me into the Rep’s splendid Little Theatre with this one it is a wonder that there was room for anyone else. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening and Mr O’Learys excellent cast hardly hit a false note, but I ain’t going to review it. One needs to distance oneself from the stage and the actors for that. Entertain me, engage me, draw me in, surprise me, you say. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But at least they, initially, hold all the theatrical cards. With Table Manners I was up there with them, anticipating every move, every line, every subtle nuance. So no review which, seeing as this is a blogging review site, leaves me in a pickle. Perhaps I should talk about horses and what may, or may not, win the Newmarket Cesarewitch.

I did have the splendid idea, well it seemed splendid at the time, of having an imaginary discussion with director John O’Leary on the various characters in Ayckbourn’s East Grinstead shenanigans. But as that wandered into the respective merits of the legs of his Sarah (Jenny MacDonald) and the famous Penelope Keith I wisely decided it was best abandoned. Legs apart, if you know what I mean, I thought Miss MacDonald did a super job. She was very feisty as bossy snob sister-in-law Sarah, her of civilised dinner parties and tantrums, and the guilty way she envisaged sexual trysts was spot on. She made a nice foil for the laidback persona of husband Reg (lovely portrayal from Matt Flitton, rich with the dirtiest laugh in Dunstable) and you seriously questioned how this ill matched pair ever got together. But that applies to all in The Norman Conquests. Reg’s sister Annie, homely and suffering, is stuck with hapless and dull vet Tom and dysfunctional librarian Norman, the bringer of emotional chaos to all he touches, is married to the insufferably upwardly mobile Ruth. A cow of any description. How they all cope with Norman’s intended conquest of Annie is what passes for a weekend plot. But that matters little in Ayckbourn. It is all about how his richly drawn characters react, both to each other and the situation.

Mr O’Leary’s interpretation had a gentle and subtle feel to it; commendably neither he nor his actors were intent on any unseemly manic rushing. If the chaotic third scene dinner party lost a little impetus as a result, this was my only regret. Elsewhere nuances were well fleshed out by all. Kate Johnson etched a pleasant and helpless Annie, lacking only in projection of her nicely observed character, and Anthony Bird was a keenly crafted Tom. I like this actor, he is rich in variety of tone and subtlety, and never more than when he delivered an aggressive threat to Norman. Pigeon arms akimbo, or something like that, his expelling air spoke volumes for its difficulty. Sometimes you don’t need words, just an actor clever enough to flesh out the nuances. This Tom was miles out of his emotional depth and in that one instance he encapsulated it. And in Norman’s wife Ruth, sister of Reg and Annie, Liz Harvey gave us that cow of consummate depth and artistry. She gave the dinner party scene considerable venomous zest and it was a joy to see this accomplished actress back on the Dunstable stage. And what of Norman, lumbering dysfunctional and engaging Norman, creator of emotional chaos and priapismic longings. In this interpretation he didn’t so much seize the moments as gently wrap them in his shambling likeable persona. I rather took to him, he both flagged and underlined Mr O’Leary’s concept of the piece, and left the theatre thinking that Alex Brewer had given his best performance yet for the Rep.

So a pretty gentle and pleasant evening, nicely staged and nicely lit, of a very familiar piece. It could have been turgid for me. That it wasn’t owes much to Mr O’Leary’s intelligent direction and his highly skilled cast. But, as I said, I ain’t going to review it. I shall leave that to others. Roy Hall








Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Table Manners (Dunstable Rep)

Alan Ayckbourn’s Table Manners is a lot of fun for both actors and audience. Part of the famous Norman Conquest trilogy it tells the tale of clandestine trysts with clarity and a large dollop of acutely observed humour. Director John O’Leary did a fine job for the Rep and a classy cast headed by Alex Brewer’s engagingly dysfunctional Norman made for a pleasant evening, easy on both eye and ear. With a play so familiar to me I could easily tear it apart if false notes registered. None did. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And so I suspect will you. Roy Hall

Runs to Saturday 4th October 2014  - 7.45pm

Little Theatre, High Street South, Dunstable.

Tickets £9 - £13