Reviewed – 3rd October
“a gloriously silly evening”
When all around is strife and uncertainty, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned plate of… farce. Thirty-seven years after its debut performance at the Lyric Hammersmith, Michael Frayn’s play of backstage antics bleeding into on stage catastrophe is as thigh-slappingly funny as ever.
For West End audiences used to the meta-theatricality of Mischief Theatre’s ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ will find themselves on familiar territory here – Mischief’s hugely successful show it essentially a full-length take on Frayn’s final act. What this production allows however is a look behind the scenes, seeing the love triangles, squabbles and gossip that take places in corners the audience normally cannot see. Act One introduces the array of wonderfully exuberant characters in rehearsal, Act Two takes us literally behind the scenes to show how love breaks this particularly touring company apart, and Act Three takes us further along the tour when the actor’s exasperation causes absolute chaos onstage.
The joy is seeing all the jokes set up in Act One come to fruition in Act Three. Jeremy Herrin’s production keeps the energy high and the pace quick. His ensemble leap to the challenge. Sarah Hadland is gossipy dame using balletic posture and glued on grins to see the show through. Richard Henders plays an excellent Frederick Fellowes, epitomising the actor seeking meaning for every move he makes. Simon Rouse plays a drunken octogenarian with aplomb and Lloyd Owen is a suitably sarcastic and exasperated director. Meera Syal, as Dotty Otley, lives up to her name, unable to remember when to bring sardines on and when to bring them off.
Max Jones’ set is nicely modern, and the costumes fit into the present day well. This is pastiche of a genre that will always please. The audience tonight was guffawing in the stalls. My only reservation is in the casting – it could have been a little more inventive. That aside, this is a gloriously silly evening of comedy that will leave anyone with sore cheeks and good spirits. Fans of Mischief Theatre would be advised to check this out, along with anyone else interested in the theatricality of theatre and what madcap relationships go on behind the scenes. It might leave you wondering why anyone would get involved in the game of theatre. But it’s the precariousness of live theatre itself that will always be the most entertaining thing on stage.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Helen Maybanks
Garrick Theatre until 4th January
Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Tower Theatre
Reviewed – 8th November 2018
“The company succeeds in conveying the narrative with a clear voice and creating emphatic and well-fitting roles”
Previously a place of worship, subsequently a female only gym, the broad octagonal expanse of Tower Theatre’s new home in Stoke Newington has plenty of potential for a set designer, especially one tasked with creating the numbing sense of distance demanded by The Seagull. For this production of Chekhov’s bleak comedy of imperfect relationships and mediocre talents stranded in the middle of nowhere, Rob Hebblethwaite creates a wide, painted landscape across the back of the hall, to set up an opening scene in which Konstantin (Dominic Chambers) stages a play outdoors with the sweet, young Nina (Rachael Harrison) hoping for the approval of his self-centred mother and her entourage.
After a strong opening, aided by Michael Frayn’s accessible translation and more particularly by Chamber’s excellently natural and rounded performance, this production starts to wane a little, but the amateur nature of the company is not without strengths. Chekhov’s characters are often better inhabited rather than performed and Tower Theatre’s long experience and large pool of members allows for some precise portrayals. As Sharayev, Richard Pederson is enjoyably boorish; Sorin is all too aware of his life’s inconsequentiality while perversely proud of his modest achievements, and Jonathan Norris manages this piteous balance effortlessly well. Even the tiny part of Yakov is entirely occupied by Alistair Maydon, stomping around like a man unaware of being on a stage. The more expressive central roles of Arkadina (Lucy Moss) and the successful writer Trigoran (David Hankinson) are harder ones in which to create the eerie naturalism that Chekhov’s dialogue allows. Both characters feel forced to start with, but they eventually settle down to deliver some compelling scenes; Moss and Chambers work together beautifully as the mother tends the son’s wounds and the way Hankinson as Trigoran succumbs knowingly to his own vanity and into Arkadina’s clutches, is engrossing.
Though this is Julia Collier’s directing debut at the company, her experience in pantomime brings unlikely benefits. There is no sense of holding back on costumes (Lynda Twidale) or movement (Lindsay Royan) and the clarity of characters and storyline is refreshing. Her approach does the audience the favour of making the dialogue and therefore the relationships (or lack of them) easy to follow. The show could improve; the play’s delicately told but heart-rending story of Medvedenko and Masha, for example, seems to be missing in plain sight, but if the combination of am-dram and Chekhov gives you the chills, this production could give you a fresh perspective of both. The company succeeds in conveying the narrative with a clear voice and creating emphatic and well-fitting roles.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Ruth Anthony
The Tower Theatre until 17th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: