Tag Archives: David Woodward

The Importance of Being Earnest
★★★★

Watermill Theatre

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 27th May 2019

★★★★

 

“an inventive new take on an old favourite”

 

Should we care about ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’? Oscar Wilde’s best-known play about misplaced identities was written at the height of his fame. His brilliant wit shines in every scene and the piece features that line about a piece of left luggage that is probably as much quoted as ‘to be or not to be’.

The Watermill’s new production partly attempts to prove its relevance by setting the play in a contemporary apartment, which is all dull grey minimalism, and in the opening scene, decorated with a road traffic cone. It’s the kind of achingly trendy place that’s all concealed doors and cupboards, with a big Morris wallpaper feature wall, which in Sally Ferguson’s lighting design is cleverly lit to match the mood. At the start of the play the set seemed simply incongruous, lacking the glitz that might be expected of a London socialite’s pad. Weirdly, the cups are paper and the plates foil, a kind of knowing send-up that seemed just odd in the first half, but made perfect sense in the second when the play takes a surreal turn. The almost empty apartment does however come complete with a fully-liveried butler, played with glassy-eyed determination by the impressive Morgan Philpott. He begins and ends the show, as well as sustaining a crowd-pleasingly clever running gag throughout it that calls for the most impeccable timing.

So the scene is set for an inventive new take on an old favourite, as much beloved of amateur productions as it is of countless high profile cinema and stage versions. The lead, Algernon, is played by a splendidly gangling Peter Bray (RSC and the Globe). Wilde seems to have put most of himself into this ‘Bunburying’ young fop who gets some of the best lines. Bray more than rises to the challenge. As Jack, Benedict Salter is also excellent. In a splendid piece of direction by the very inventive Kate Budgen, Bray and Salter perform a kind of mad pas-de-deux to a Liszt piano concerto in a scene about muffins. ‘I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them’. Much has been written about the gay sub-text, in a play which was written when to be ‘earnest’ was to be gay. What with the Bunburying and cucumbers for ready money, it certainly doesn’t lack in innuendo, and this was nicely handled in this production.

Both young men and their female opposite numbers, Gwendolen (Claudia Jolly) and Cecily (Charlotte Beaumont), are splendidly dressed in period costumes. Wilde’s young women may be trapped in a suffocating Victorian system where a woman’s marriage is more about money than love, but his characters shine in these interpretations. Charlotte Beaumont in particular has a kind of winningly mad insistence, that in the second half almost took the play into Lewis Carroll territory.

And what of Lady Bracknell’s ‘handbag’ line, so famously delivered with ringing disdain by Edith Evans, then whispered by Maggie Smith in a role also played by Judi Dench and even David Suchet? Connie Walker certainly brings the ‘gorgon’ to life in her commanding interpretation. Wendy Nottingham makes a suitably dowdy Miss Prism, and Jim Creighton is a satisfying Dr Chasuble.

‘To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of modern life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution’. Just for lines like this, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is more than worth the price of a ticket. This fresh and inventive new production at the Watermill makes it more than doubly so.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Philip Tull

 


The Importance of Being Earnest

The Watermill Theatre until 29th June

 

 

The Watermill Theatre – winner of our 2018 Awards – Best Regional Theatre

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Rivals | ★★★★★ | March 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | April 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★★ | May 2018
Jerusalem | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Trial by Laughter | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jane Eyre | ★★★★ | October 2018
Robin Hood | ★★★★ | December 2018
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | February 2019
Macbeth | ★★★ | March 2019
Amélie | ★★★★★ | April 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Amélie
★★★★★

Watermill Theatre & UK Tour

Amélie

Amélie

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 17th April 2019

★★★★★

 

“There were audible gasps of admiration from the audience at the moment one aspect of the set was revealed”

 

From book to film, book to stage or stage to film, literary works often make successful transitions to new media, but a theatrical interpretation of a film is one of the most difficult to pull off. How to cram all of the colour and spectacle of a much-loved feature on to a few square metres of bare boards? And how to make it work as a musical?

Amélie was an award-winning, quirky and nostalgic French romantic comedy released in 2001. Anyone who has seen it will have strong memories of its unique look and of the charismatic performance of Audrey Tautou as the shy waitress Amélie Poulain.

The Watermill Theatre is staging its own winning production of a musical adaptation of the film, written by Craig Lucas with lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé, who also wrote the music. Originally premiered in the US in 2017, this new version has been re-worked for a British audience. According to Director Mike Fentiman, ‘Amélie is a musical that seeks connections… [with a] strange, foreign, melancholic, philosophical, gentle, elusive world’.

Watching this celebration of Parisian life after the disastrous fire at Notre Dame was a particularly poignant experience. Almost the entire story of the film is told on stage in a series of twenty five musical episodes that amongst others reference Sondheim, Lloyd Webber and gospel music. Amélie is brought up in the seventies by remote parents that protect her from the real world and from real feelings. She works as a waitress in a Paris café populated by lonely eccentrics who she determines to try to help, until she finally finds love herself.

The writing is witty and satisfyingly avoids the obvious. The first number contains a lovely theme that recurs throughout the show, performed by the entire cast playing, amongst others piano, flute, percussion strings and an accordion. This is a multi-talented group of performers, led by the charismatic and ‘mignon’ French-Canadian Audrey Brisson, with Chris Jared as Nino Quincampoix, the photo-booth obsessive, with whom she quickly becomes fascinated. His singing voice is a delightfully mellow contrast to her brighter sound.

Since the story is set in Paris in the 1990s, there is even a rollicking pastiche by a brilliantly swaggering Caolan McCarthy of Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’, which was performed in 1997 at the funeral of Princess Diana. When much of the rest of the show is so animated, Johnson Willis brought a pleasingly quiet poignancy to his portrayal of Dufayel, the ‘glass man’. There were other delightful moments from the entire cast, not least Samuel Morgan-Grahame as Joseph and Fluffy, who managed to make a simple telephone call hilarious.

The design, by prize-winning Madeleine Girling, is simply a marvel. The stage at the Watermill is tiny, and enormous creativity has gone into providing spaces in which to represent the film’s many scenes. There were audible gasps of admiration from the audience at the moment one aspect of the set was revealed, with some wonderful detailing that beautifully captured the spirit of the film.

Somehow two pianos (with some unexpected surprises within), a dozen performers acting and singing whilst playing violins, cellos, double bass, flute and accordion and a photo-booth on wheels all manage to simultaneously bring the small space to delightful life thanks to the immaculate direction of Michael Fentiman. Movement direction by Tom Jackson Greaves deserves a special mention.

This is a fast-moving, feel-good and heartily recommended show.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by  Pamela Raith 

 


Amélie

Watermill Theatre until 18th May then UK Tour commences

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Teddy | ★★★★★ | January 2018
The Rivals | ★★★★★ | March 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | April 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★★ | May 2018
Jerusalem | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Trial by Laughter | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jane Eyre | ★★★★ | October 2018
Robin Hood | ★★★★ | December 2018
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | February 2019
Macbeth | ★★★ | March 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com