Tag Archives: Isabella van Braeckel

The Dog Walker

The Dog Walker

★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

The Dog Walker

The Dog Walker

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 14th February 2020

★★

 

“despite flashes of real humanity, clever staging and spirited performances, we risk feeling underwhelmed by a narrative that feels easy to predict”

 

The Dog Walker brings us two characters at sea in the lonely but oppressive expanse of New York. We meet our pair during a heatwave, but by the end, the storm has broken – in more ways than one.

Victoria Yeates is Keri; bitter, drunk, raging. Herbert Doakes (Andrew Dennis) is the unsuspecting dog walker who comes to collect her Pekingese, Wolfgang. Wolfgang is, it transpires, an ex-Pekingese. So begins a torrid ride, as we see these lost souls navigate around and towards one another.

Writer Paul Minx is focusing on the brokenness of so many people and so much of city life, and the flows of the power dynamics between – and grief of – Keri and Herbert are cleverly handled, ebbing tidally through the production. Minx tells us that the character of Keri is based on someone he recalls from his time living in New York in the 90s, a woman who ‘lived in a sleeping bag under the stairs leading up to my local Chinese laundry… Every morning she’d get up, fold her sleeping bag, and begin her day’s screaming’. This perhaps explains some of the complexity of Keri’s character, and the challenges too; we see her behaving erratically but the play misses a chance to really scrutinise mental illness, grief and loneliness in lieu of a female character who lacks shades of grey until the closing scenes.

Keri shouts – a lot. She cusses and rages at Doakes, who, at first at least, accepts her treatment with an implacability born of his devout faith. Both characters, who are hard to like at the start albeit for very different reasons, melt into softness and vulnerability; without a doubt, the final act is the most affecting. This is helped by a twist or two, where it becomes clear that neither party has been telling the whole truth. The verve of these revelations animates the production and would benefit from being paced a little earlier, to avoid what can feel like a hollow shouting match in the first half.

The performances are strong, with a real sense of these actors claiming the characters in this new writing as their own. Dennis’ Jamaican accent is excellent when he hits his stride, evening out through the performance after risking being distractingly wobbly at first. And, as ever at the Jermyn, despite the compact space the set design (Isabella Van Braeckel) is evocative and the sound and lighting (Fergus O’Hare and Tom Turner) are exceptional. The effect of hearing people calling up to Keri from the street level ‘below’ is especially clever, as are the flickering lights when we shift into the almost supernatural closing scene.

The ending, though, feels a little too pat, with a fragile promise of redemption that comes unconvincingly hot on the heels of a trauma in the closing moments. Ultimately, The Dog Walker’s odd couple narrative is not a new one; there are plenty of precedents of city oddballs finding each other in theatre, tv and film. As such it’s hard for this world premiere to carve out much that’s new, and, despite flashes of real humanity, clever staging and spirited performances, we risk feeling underwhelmed by a narrative that feels easy to predict.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Robert Workman

 


The Dog Walker

Jermyn Street Theatre until 7th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Miss Julie | ★★★ | April 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019
For Services Rendered | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Ice Cream Boys | ★★★★ | October 2019
All’s Well That Ends Well | ★★★★ | November 2019
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain | ★★★ | December 2019
Beckett Triple Bill | ★★★★★ | January 2020

 

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame

★★★★

St Paul’s Church Covent Garden

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

St Paul’s Church Covent Garden

Reviewed – 7th August 2019

★★★★

 

“carries the audience along on a tide of smiles, while keeping enough of the darkness of the original story to balance the madcap hilarity”

 

This production fizzes with life as the cast of six talented actor musicians lead the audience through the streets of Paris, transforming the garden and interior of St Paul’s Church into Notre Dame Cathedral, dangerous slums, the site of gallows, pillories and court rooms, as they weave the tale of Quasimodo and Esmeralda. Be prepared to move from place to place, becoming the Parisian crowd and taking sides as the story unfolds. Don’t worry though, there are plentiful seats at each destination. There is a lot of audience participation, and engagement with the actors, all done with such jovial good humour that even the most timid audience member wouldn’t shy away.

It can’t be easy to write a show based on a book that has already had so many incarnations on film and stage, but Benjamin Polya has written a version of this well known story that is vibrant and alive. He has given the actors well rounded characters to play with, and they rise to the occasion with gusto. When we first meet the cast they introduce themselves as a troupe of players who will be putting on a show. They make their appearance in the bar area of the garden, and shepherd the audience into the first scene, already primed to enjoy the evening, grinning from the intro.

It’s a real ensemble piece, and each actor plays multiple roles. Katie Tranter has a genius for comedy, and an ability to really get the audience on her side. Her rather inept and earnest Pierre is one of the standout performances of the evening; hilarious, sweet and endearing. Ed Bruggemeyer is a powerful Frollo, bringing menace and darkness into the mix with his obsession for Izzy Jones’ charming and mercurial Esmeralda. Darrie Gardner is by turns a rousing ringmaster and a mother still grieving the loss of her baby, twenty years ago, bringing her anguish to balance the fun. Max Alexander-Taylor goes from king to lover to magistrate at the drop of a hat, and Robert Rhodes is an excellent Quasimodo, vulnerable, brave and, at times, heartbreaking. But it is the way that all the actors work and play together that make this such a good show.

Michael Malone’s songs and music mesh with the set and costume design, by Isabella Van Braeckel and Cieranne Kennedy-Bell to create an enticing and fascinating world. The fight scenes, choreographed by fight director Esme Cooper, are exciting, and director Bertie Watkins pulls everything together beautifully, creating a play that carries the audience along on a tide of smiles, while keeping enough of the darkness of the original story to balance the madcap hilarity.

This version of Hunchback is a real treat, full of laughter and drama. A magical summer evening in a garden, a high energy show full of humour and compassion. And there’s even a magical goat.

 

Reviewed by Katre

Photography courtesy Iris Theatre

 


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

St Paul’s Church Covent Garden until 1st September

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Tempest | ★★★★ | June 2018
The Three Musketeers | ★★★ | August 2018
Anna Karenina | ★★★ | November 2018
Parenthood | ★★★ | May 2019

 

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