Tag Archives: Peter McKintosh

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

★★

Trafalgar Studios

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 3rd October 2019

★★

 

“This production of Joe Egg is one that refuses to truly grapple with the depths of the text, failing to deliver or connect as a result”

 

In the wake of Peter Nichols’ death just under a month ago, it shines a different kind of light on the somewhat autobiographical play that propelled him to fame as a writer – a poignant retrospective on the legacy he leaves behind. It’s a shame then that this production doesn’t seem to quite live up to that legacy.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg centres on schoolteacher Bri (Toby Stephens) and his am-dram fanatic wife Sheila (Claire Skinner) in an average day of their lives coping with the strains and stresses that caring for their highly disabled daughter Joe (Storme Toolis, marking the first time in West End history a disabled actor has taken the role) impose on their relationship and psyches. It is a testament to Nichols that the subject matter of this story still feels hugely relevant today, despite the play’s premiere being over half a century ago, and the way the characters use dark humour as a coping mechanism rings very truthfully. Nichols also employs the breaking of the fourth wall to make the telling of the story more intimate, making the audience almost feel more like psychiatrists as Bri and Sheila confess their darkest and innermost feelings of guilt and perseverance.

However, the direct address is also one of Joe Egg’s shortfalls. Forgoing the famous rule of ‘show, don’t tell’, the first act is comprised mostly of Bri and Sheila jumping down from Peter McKintosh’s beautifully rendered living room set onto the bare front of the stage to explain every detail about Joe to the audience, as though they were frantically trying to justify her inclusion in the play. It’s appreciated that when Joe Egg was first produced this was probably quite a necessary feature of the script, but unfortunately here it drags, and the staging especially feels like a misstep from director Simon Evans.

The treacly pacing isn’t helped by a tonal flatline throughout almost the entire piece. Aside from some peaks and troughs in the second act thanks to the introduction of new characters, everything feels like it’s running on one level. We’re told that Bri uses humour to deflect pain and is emotionally manipulative but Stephen’s portrayal never takes us beneath the surface. We’re told that Sheila had a sultry past but we only ever see Skinner being worried for most of the runtime. And the self-awareness these characters have that they are in a play leads to a self-assuredness in everything they say, conveying the feeling nothing really matters and nothing is at stake. Which does not make for engaging theatre.

Bri’s mother Grace (Patricia Hodge) and middle class couple Freddie and Pam (Clarence Smith and Lucy Eaton respectively) provide a greater sense of emotional momentum in the second half, forcing Bri and Sheila to reckon with themselves in a far more exciting way but at that point it’s almost too little too late. This production of Joe Egg is one that refuses to truly grapple with the depths of the text, failing to deliver or connect as a result, and misses the opportunity to do justice to some of the first steps Nichols took over fifty years ago in the representation of disability in the arts, and the doors his work has since opened.

 

Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by Marc Brenner

 


A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Trafalgar Studios until 30th November

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Black Is The Color Of My Voice | ★★★ | February 2019
Soul Sessions | ★★★★ | February 2019
A Hundred Words For Snow | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Admissions | ★★★ | March 2019
Scary Bikers | ★★★★ | April 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | May 2019
Dark Sublime | ★★★ | June 2019
Equus | ★★★★★ | July 2019
Actually | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Fishermen | ★★★½ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Review of The Wind in the Willows – 5 Stars

Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows

London Palladium

Opening Night – 29th June 2017

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

“My-oh-my, a summertime hit, Poop Poop!”

 

Taking a novel that’s been much loved for more than a century and turning it into a stage musical isn’t ever going to be an easy task. Stray too much from the original (Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’) or tamper too much with the characters and you risk alienating generations of fans. Make it too safe and you end up leaving theatre goers disappointed.

Thankfully, this is a production that should delight everyone whether they’ve read the novel or not. With Julian Fellowes (book) paired with multi award winning Stiles & Drewe (music and lyrics), this was almost guaranteed to be a hit. Wind in the Willows is the third Fellowes penned musical now in the West End, alongside Half a Sixpence (also featuring the work of Stiles & Drewe)  and School of Rock. This man is frustrating talented!

The staging at first looks quite simple. An opening set that seems to be just a series of concentric semi-circles; yet these make you focus immediately centre stage and there’s clearly a point to this. The sets throughout are designed almost symmetrically around the centre of the stage, key elements of the show (you’ll get to see everything from a horse drawn caravan to a canal barge) are strategically placed so your eye doesn’t wander. So although simple at first glance, Peter McKintosh has created one of the neatest set designs I’ve seen in a long time.

McKintosh is also responsible for costume and with it the specific challenges of the anthropomorphism of the characters. Again this has been achieved in quite a pleasantly simple, yet delightful way. There are thankfully few complete ‘animal costumes’ on show; the foxes garbed bizarrely as fox hunters are the nearest you get to this. The rest of the show’s fauna is mostly created through a range of subtle touches such as colouring or a tail or ears. An exception to this is the elaborate Gaultier-like spines of the scout uniform attired hedgehog family.

The plot adheres mostly to Grahame’s original with a little bit of artistic license thrown in (an online spat recently took place about Mr Otter and Portly now becoming Mrs Otter and Portia). It’s very easy to follow what’s going on so can easily be enjoyed by all the family. The action ranges from gentle meandering in boats to in-auditorium surprises.

Casting is near perfect; Rufus Hound as the pompous and impulsive Toad is outstanding throughout, Gary Wilmot as the slightly curmudgeonly Badger brings a dignified air to the show and Neil McDermott’s spiv like Chief Weasel (with curiously long tongue) was just a delight to watch (Weazelz rule!). The only character who didn’t really excite was Denise Welch’s Otter that just felt a little flat.

Stand out performance of the show goes to the double act of Mole (Craig Mather) and Ratty (Simon Lipkin). The pair worked perfectly together and deservedly got one of the biggest rounds of applause. Craig Mather, already having starred in Les Miserables is surely set to become one of our best musical theatre actors.

The songs are all enjoyable enough as you’d expect from Stiles & Drewe. The Wassailing Mice sung by the field mice on Mole’s house is charming and The Hedgehog’s Nightmare is a nice little comedy number; the other songs range from the gentle heart warming numbers such as A Friend is Still a Friend to the rousing likes of We’re Taking Over the Hall.

Further mentions must go to director Rachel Kavanaugh whose direction is top class and of course to the talented orchestra led by Toby Higgins. Finally, the other members of the cast for being weasally distinguished weasels, stotally different stoats alongside a myriad of other creatures.

Great songs, some sharp one liners, a few surprises here and there (generally from Mr Toad) and a plot that is easily followed by all (take note Bat Out of Hell) will make The Wind in the Willows appeal to all ages.

 

Reviewed by David A Hughes

Production Photography by Darren Bell

 

Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows

is at the London Palladium until 9th September

 

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