The Ruffian on the Stair
Reviewed – 31st January 2019
“Orton’s words are still able to provoke the same levels of intrigue, laughter, and sympathy today that they did fifty years ago”
The Ruffian on the Stair gave notorious playwright, author, and library book defacer Joe Orton his first success. Today, it is rarely performed and somewhat obscured by his later work. And, whilst the play may be very much of its time, The Hope Theatre’s new production shows that his unique style of black comedy is as funny today as it was fifty years ago.
Mike (Gary Webster) was a promising young boxer – but what he does now is shrouded in mystery. All we know is that it involves a van and the attendance of meetings that will help him get “jobs”. His wife, Joyce (Lucy Benjamin), is a former prostitute who spends all day at home in the couple’s London flat. Their solitary existence is disrupted by the sudden arrival of Wilson (Adam Buchanan), a young man whose quest to rent a room devolves into a sinister plot to undermine their safety and exact a bizarre kind of revenge.
None of this sounds especially funny. But Orton’s singular style allows him to conjure a vaguely absurd version of real life that is both comic and tragic. For the most part, director Paul Clayton is able to draw out the many layers of irony to great effect. There are occasional moments where this feels heavy-handed, but it doesn’t seriously impact our investment in the story. It helps that the set (designed by Rachael Ryan) has an intimate, claustrophobic feel, with some audience members practically sitting in Mike and Joyce’s kitchen. Such close proximity keeps us engaged even when the pace slows down.
The three actors create multidimensional, sympathetic characters. Lucy Benjamin’s Joyce is both comically naïve and desperately afraid. Her excitement at the fact that her husband is meeting someone in an ‘exciting place’ like a toilet at King’s Cross station is balanced by her frustration at his refusal to acknowledge her anxiety. Gary Webster brings depth to thuggish Mike, balancing his cold-heartedness with a distinct sense of vulnerability. Webster and Benjamin have great chemistry: their performances suggest a couple whose love for each other has been corrupted by fear. Of the three, Adam Buchanan’s performance as Wilson is the most striking. He has the perfect mix of deceptive innocence and mild antagonism, and is able to switch from deadpan irony to sinister psychosis in seconds.
Whilst it is unlikely that The Ruffian on the Stair will ever be as popular as Loot or What the Butler Saw, The Hope Theatre’s production proves its worth as a piece of theatre. Orton’s words are still able to provoke the same levels of intrigue, laughter, and sympathy today that they did fifty years ago.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by Anthony Orme
The Ruffian on the Stair
Hope Theatre until 16th February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 11th December 2018
“This production is funny and touching, with a delightful simplicity”
This is a charming production, based on JM Barrie’s original text, and occasionally updated with contemporary references. Peter Pan is a story that many of us have grown up with. We wait for Captain Hook’s villainy, clap to save Tinkerbell, and look on in wonder as Peter flies. This production manages to create the atmosphere of those childhood encounters with the story, without the full on nature of pantomime, or the facilities of a large West End theatre.
Several of the cast play multiple roles. Alfie Webster plays two pirates and a dog, and Harveen Mann successfully managing to convince with her five characters! We are aware that it’s the same actor, and that’s part of the joke, particularly when she transforms from Jukes to Cecco. There are plenty of laughs to be had and some outstanding performances, particularly from Nickcolia King-N’Da as Peter Pan and Alexander Vlahos as Hook. King N’Da’s Peter is an innocent, cocky and immensely likeable boy. It’s a lovely moment when he first flies in, peddling through the air with a huge grin. He is a kid we could meet on the streets of Finsbury Park, ballsy, joyful, vulnerable and stubborn, but with added magic. His encounters with Hook are nicely done, and Hook’s use of a leaf blower as a weapon is inspired. Vlahos is a different kind of Hook. He is full of himself, overconfident, and hilariously terrified of the crocodile. He struts and preens with more than a little camp thrown in, ably and enthusiastically aided by Smee, played by Natalie Grady, who also plays Mrs Darling.
The two Darling boys are convincing as kids, Adam Buchanan plays Michael as a very believable little boy with a giant teddy, and Jason Kajdi is John, his older brother. Rosemary Boyle plays Wendy, and beautifully portrays the difficulties of a young girl becoming a woman. She is attracted to Peter, very much wanting a kiss. Wanting him to be her ‘husband’ rather than her ‘son.’ But, of course, he doesn’t get it. She finds it hard to be a mother to the lost boys too. I’ve never understood Wendy so well before, and it adds another level to the emotional strata of the story.
This production is funny and touching, with a delightful simplicity. In a space such as the Park Two Hundred it is good to see such a well designed and flexible set. Gregor Donnelly has done a great job with it, allowing the cast to easily transform the space from the Darling’s home to Neverland, to a pirate ship and back. When the sound and lighting, by Adrienne Quartly and Nic Farman are added, the stage is set for magic to happen. The only thing that I didn’t like was the puppet of Nana, the dog. In contrast to the naturalistic, yet fantastical feeing of the rest of the production, Nana looked like an autumnal sea monster that, despite Alfie Webster’s able puppetry, failed to convince. Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction is assured, and he has enabled his actors to shine and enjoy themselves hugely in this lovely show.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Chris Gardner
Park Theatre until 5th January
Previously reviewed at this venue: