Tag Archives: Beth Burrows

How to Build a Better Tulip

How to Build a Better Tulip

★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

HOW TO BUILD A BETTER TULIP at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse

★★

How to Build a Better Tulip

Only the performance by Beth Burrows holds the whole thing together

 

To set the theme for the evening, the song Tulips from Amsterdam provides the somewhat tongue-in-cheek auditorium entry music, followed by other songs evoking buttercups and roses. Perhaps there is no available pop song concerning petunias as that would have been the other relevant flowery reference for this amiable comedy written and directed by Mark R Giesser.

A minimalist drab-coloured set (Designer Mollie Cheek) predominantly represents a greenhouse at the University of South Holland (Lincolnshire) where plant genetics are being researched. Faded tulip designs on delft tiles give a hint of historic Dutchness. A broadsheet notice on the wall informs us that a monetary prize of ten thousand guilders should be awarded to any person who succeeds in the breeding of a perfect Black Tulip. And therein lies the basis of the plot, loosely based on Alexandre Dumas’s novel The Black Tulip, and making reference to the historical tulipomania of seventeenth century Holland.

Splashes of colour appear as university researcher Audrey Braddock (Jill Greenacre) in red corduroys and amanuensis Sheila Crouch (Bryony Tebbutt) with yellow bobblehat, frenetically enter. Tebbutt displays youthful exuberance in a deliberate and delightfully quirky manner. Greenacre’s speedy and breathy delivery means some dialogue is sadly lost in this opening scene. We are introduced to Braddock’s daughter Perci (Beth Burrows) whose latest boyfriend is petunia researcher Adrian Vanderpol (Christopher Killik) and then things turn strange. Alone in her room, Braddock begins to talk to a voice in her head – Carolus Hoofdorn (Richard Lynson) a seventeenth century Dutch tulip enthusiast. Vanderpol too communicates with the voice in his head – Cornelia Vanderpol (Tebbutt again). And when everyone appears on stage together, the two Dutch puritans are able to talk to each other too. Nice period costumes here (Giulia Scrimieri) for the historical Dutch, less convincing accents.

As it appears, Braddock and Vanderpol – driven by the two ghosts in their heads – are covertly endeavouring to create the elusive black tulip, espionage is undertaken, Perci is involved with the FBI and honey-research, Carolus sporadically breaks out into folksong, Cornelia inexplicably cannot abide the songs of Elvis, Vanderpol is arrested for environmental terrorism and tulip bulbs are identified as the next potential WMD. It’s all rather a muddle.

The character of Sergeant Ellsworth, managed stolidly enough by Lynson, sums up the difficulty of the play; he is given neither the insight of a probing detective nor the comedic possibilities of a bumbling village Plod. Only the performance by Beth Burrows holds the whole thing together. With energy and fine expression she appears to understand and believe in all the shenanigans and provides a central performance to savour.


Perci tells us at one point, “It all sounds more complicated than it needs to be” and I could almost hear the audience reply, “hear hear”.

 

Reviewed on 8th November 2022

by Philip Money

Photography by Flavia Fraser-Cannon

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | June 2021

 

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Luck be a Lady

Luck be a Lady

★★★

White Bear Theatre

Luck be a Lady

Luck be a Lady

White Bear Theatre

Reviewed – 30th June 2021

★★★

 

“Burrows’ strength is her voice in this show, and it’s a pleasure to listen”

 

Beth Burrows’ Luck Be A Lady is her second solo show—a follow up to Sirens of the Silver Screen which looked at the lives of Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Luck Be A Lady takes the same formula to put Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra under the spotlight—and it’s not a flattering picture. Actor, singer and writer Burrows takes a decidedly feminist approach in her critique of these male idols of the silver screen. Luck Be A Lady provides a setting for the stories, and the songs and dances à la Astaire, Kelly and Sinatra (with a dressmaker’s mannequin for an assist). But in Burrows’ version, it’s the women in these men’s lives that both made them and gave them their big breaks. Burrows does perform some of the women in her narrative, such as Ava Gardner (Sinatra’s second wife—and an epic union between the two that did not end well.) But it’s the men who are the main focus of Luck Be A Lady. From the mothers who raised them, to the sisters and partners who were initially the bigger stars (and harder workers), to the young and inexperienced women that had to put up with them both on and off the stage, it’s a pretty stark portrayal of all three men—and undoubtedly closer to the truth than the Hollywood publicity machines would have their adoring fans believe.

The biggest weakness of Luck Be A Lady is the script. It’s part anecdote, part documentary, and part a recreation of Astaire’s, Kelly’s and Sinatra’s performances. Burrows treats us to film clips projected onto a screen when she isn’t performing herself. But this is problematic for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it reminds the audience that Astaire, Kelly and Sinatra were stars for a reason (putting aside, for a moment, the creepy behaviour behind the scenes). Secondly, the clips draw attention to the fact that we are watching a solo show, and not a Broadway musical.

Burrows’ strength is her voice in this show, and it’s a pleasure to listen to her versions of well known favorites such as Top Hat, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Singin’ In The Rain and, of course, Luck Be A Lady. Burrows moves with confidence across the tiny stage at the White Bear Theatre although the space has its fair share of challenges for a dancer. (The mannequin doesn’t so much assist Burrows as remind one of Donald O’Connor’s brilliant demonstration of how it can be done in Singin’ In The Rain). Social distancing (still with us) also gets in the way of building a good connection with the audience. But Burrows is well supported with Guilia Scrimieri’s elegant costumes and Sam Owen’s lighting. Musical Director Ashley Harvey (on keyboards) and Doug Grannell on bass were pleasant on the ears, and had an easy rapport on stage with Burrows that was good to see. Kudos to director Mark Giesser for managing to find room for the musicians on stage.

Luck Be A Lady is an intimate show, and it works best when Burrows is treating us to her particular brand of singing and dancing (and charm) in the equally intimate setting at the White Bear Theatre.

 

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Yev Kazannik

 


Luck be a Lady

White Bear Theatre until 3rd July

 

Reviews this year by Dominica:
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit Hq | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021

 

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