Tag Archives: Lizzie Muncey

The Understudy

★★★★

Online

The Understudy

The Understudy

Online via www.theunderstudyplay.com

Reviewed – 20th May 2020

★★★★

 

“Recorded in isolation, it is propelled by a cast that comprises the cream of the crop”

 

Of all his novels, David Nicholls has said that “The Understudy” is the one he most yearns to rewrite. Those familiar with the book would possibly balk at this show of modesty. It is true that it has been unfairly overlooked in the shadow of his better-known works, but it deserves more of the spotlight. The gentle, self-deprecating humour, laced with a sharp and cutting wit that can only come from experience, casts an astute eye over the ‘theatrical life’; taking us backstage and beyond.

For eight years Nicholls trod the boards himself. He was a failed actor, he admits, his career on a steep downward path. We somehow get the feeling he’s being too hard on himself, but his natural skills as a writer turned that failure into success and, with luck, his story can take centre stage now with its revival as a streamed, online radio play. Released in two parts, it is adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett in response to Covid-19 thwarting the fully staged production. With director Giles Croft at the helm it is a wonderful homage to an industry under threat and reaffirmation that it has no alternative but to survive. (Consequently, all proceeds from the play go to theatre charities).

The story revolves around actor Stephen McQueen (no, not ‘that’ Steve McQueen); divorced, down on his luck and waiting in the wings for that big break. His ex-wife has given up waiting long ago, while his daughter wonders when he will get a proper job. McQueen’s luck looks set to change when he lands a job understudying the vane but talentless film star, Josh Harper, in the West End. He covets the leading man’s job, but unfortunately, he covets his wife too. When he sees an opportunity to steal both, things can only go horribly wrong.

Recorded in isolation, it is propelled by a cast that comprises the cream of the crop. You can almost ‘hear’ the twinkle in Stephen Fry’s eye as his affectionately sardonic narration weaves through the action; while Russell Tovey epitomises the hapless McQueen. Sarah Hadland, as ex-wife Alison, floors him with her sarcastic punches, but with her skilled shifts of tone can pick him up again with real affection. Josh Harper is suitably arrogant and wonderfully observed in Jake Ferretti’s portrayal. With Emily Atack as his love interest (on and off stage) and Sheila Atim as his intellectually and morally superior wife, they are all supplemented by a fine supporting cast.

The in jokes that litter the script will appeal beyond the theatre profession. Although those on the inside will be familiar with the mantra ‘Acting is Reacting’. It is hard to know whether the foreknowledge that each actor was recording their lines alone in their own homes affects our listening, but we are often all too aware of the isolation. There is a sense of detachment within the flow of dialogue and, inevitably, there will be a lack of chemistry. Nevertheless, with the editing skills and the addition of sound and music from Alexandra Faye Braithwaite, Annie May Fletcher and Sophie Galpin the show stands out as an excellent radio play in its own right. Even though it whets the appetite for the (hopefully) eventual fully staged production, it doesn’t seek to replace the live experience. This rendition of “The Understudy” succeeds in its own right and can, at least for now, step out to steal its own few moments in the spotlight.

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 


The Understudy

Part One available from 20th May Part Two from 27th May with both parts available for a month

Online via www.theunderstudyplay.com

 

 

Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Message In A Bottle | ★★★★ | Peacock Theatre | February 2020
Musik | ★★★★ | Leicester Square Theatre | February 2020
Nearly Human | ★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Tell It Slant | ★★★ | Hope Theatre | February 2020
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | February 2020
Closed Lands | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester | ★★★★★ | Cadogan Hall | March 2020
The Kite Runner | ★★★★ | Richmond Theatre | March 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | March 2020
A Separate Peace | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Toast
★★★

The Other Palace

Toast

Toast

The Other Palace

Reviewed – 9th April 2019

★★★

 

“Mrs Potter’s lemon meringue garnered a round of applause all of its own. As Bake Off’s success testifies, the Brits do love a cake.”

 

Nigel Slater’s autobiography was published to critical acclaim in 2003, and quickly went on to become a best-seller, further cementing Slater’s place in the nation’s heart. It was adapted into a film, shown on the BBC in 2010 before its cinema release a year later, and The Lowry last year commissioned this stage adaptation, which has landed at The Other Palace after a successful Edinburgh run at the 2018 festival. For those not already familiar with the events of Slater’s childhood – for it is this that Toast takes as its subject – he grew up in 60s suburban England, with a loving mother and a distant father. His mother died of asthma when he was still at school; his father remarried, to a woman who he didn’t like, and died a few years later, finally freeing him up to move to London and pursue the love of food and cooking that had always been with him, from his very earliest years.

The first thing to say about Toast is that it looks gorgeous. Scrumptious even. Good enough to eat. Libby Watson’s production design hits the perfect nostalgic notes, and Zoe Spurr’s ever-excellent lighting design is a superb demonstration of what lighting can do to lift and enhance the action on stage, and act as a subtle emotional guide for the audience. It was also a nice touch to enter with the smell of burnt toast in the air. And it felt right to see the young Nigel finally do some proper cooking at the end, wielding his knife like a pro, as the gorgeous smell of garlic in olive oil wafted out into the audience. The moments in which trays of sweet treats were handed out to the audience were less successful however, and an example of a device which might well have worked in a festival atmosphere but seemed forced and stilted in a London theatre. The cakes on stage were a different story though. Mrs Potter’s lemon meringue garnered a round of applause all of its own. As Bake Off’s success testifies, the Brits do love a cake.

We also love a bit of nostalgia. And this show unashamedly taps into that desire. There are some slickly choreographed movement sequences to enjoy, as you would expect given director Jonnie Riordan’s Frantic Assembly background, but they are essentially fillers, padding out a very straightforward A-Z linear structure, which is almost wholly driven by the young Nigel’s narration. Giles Cooper was clearly suffering from Press Night nerves last night, and will almost certainly warm into his performance as the run continues, but he has a hard task nonetheless, as he is basically the neutral narrative anchor around which the theatrical action pivots. Lizzie Muncey (Mum), Stephen Ventura (Dad), Marie Lawrence (Joan) and Jake Ferretti (Josh) all give polished, professional performances, but the show as a whole fails to get beneath the skin. There are laughs aplenty, particularly for those audience members of a certain age, for whom Nigel’s memories particularly resonate, but the more soulful moments are lost in the saccharine confection of the whole. There is an awful lot of sugar in this show; if you don’t have a sweet tooth, it’s probably not for you.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Simon Annand

 


Toast

The Other Palace until 3rd August

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Eugenius! | ★★★★ | February 2018
Suicide | ★★★½ | May 2018
Bromance: The Dudesical | ★★★★ | October 2018
Murder for Two | ★★★★ | December 2018
The Messiah | ★★★★ | December 2018

 

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