Tag Archives: Richard Lynson

How to Build a Better Tulip

How to Build a Better Tulip

★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

HOW TO BUILD A BETTER TULIP at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse

★★

How to Build a Better Tulip

Only the performance by Beth Burrows holds the whole thing together

 

To set the theme for the evening, the song Tulips from Amsterdam provides the somewhat tongue-in-cheek auditorium entry music, followed by other songs evoking buttercups and roses. Perhaps there is no available pop song concerning petunias as that would have been the other relevant flowery reference for this amiable comedy written and directed by Mark R Giesser.

A minimalist drab-coloured set (Designer Mollie Cheek) predominantly represents a greenhouse at the University of South Holland (Lincolnshire) where plant genetics are being researched. Faded tulip designs on delft tiles give a hint of historic Dutchness. A broadsheet notice on the wall informs us that a monetary prize of ten thousand guilders should be awarded to any person who succeeds in the breeding of a perfect Black Tulip. And therein lies the basis of the plot, loosely based on Alexandre Dumas’s novel The Black Tulip, and making reference to the historical tulipomania of seventeenth century Holland.

Splashes of colour appear as university researcher Audrey Braddock (Jill Greenacre) in red corduroys and amanuensis Sheila Crouch (Bryony Tebbutt) with yellow bobblehat, frenetically enter. Tebbutt displays youthful exuberance in a deliberate and delightfully quirky manner. Greenacre’s speedy and breathy delivery means some dialogue is sadly lost in this opening scene. We are introduced to Braddock’s daughter Perci (Beth Burrows) whose latest boyfriend is petunia researcher Adrian Vanderpol (Christopher Killik) and then things turn strange. Alone in her room, Braddock begins to talk to a voice in her head – Carolus Hoofdorn (Richard Lynson) a seventeenth century Dutch tulip enthusiast. Vanderpol too communicates with the voice in his head – Cornelia Vanderpol (Tebbutt again). And when everyone appears on stage together, the two Dutch puritans are able to talk to each other too. Nice period costumes here (Giulia Scrimieri) for the historical Dutch, less convincing accents.

As it appears, Braddock and Vanderpol – driven by the two ghosts in their heads – are covertly endeavouring to create the elusive black tulip, espionage is undertaken, Perci is involved with the FBI and honey-research, Carolus sporadically breaks out into folksong, Cornelia inexplicably cannot abide the songs of Elvis, Vanderpol is arrested for environmental terrorism and tulip bulbs are identified as the next potential WMD. It’s all rather a muddle.

The character of Sergeant Ellsworth, managed stolidly enough by Lynson, sums up the difficulty of the play; he is given neither the insight of a probing detective nor the comedic possibilities of a bumbling village Plod. Only the performance by Beth Burrows holds the whole thing together. With energy and fine expression she appears to understand and believe in all the shenanigans and provides a central performance to savour.


Perci tells us at one point, “It all sounds more complicated than it needs to be” and I could almost hear the audience reply, “hear hear”.

 

Reviewed on 8th November 2022

by Philip Money

Photography by Flavia Fraser-Cannon

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | June 2021

 

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The Lady With a Dog – 4 Stars

Lady

The Lady With a Dog

Tabard Theatre

Reviewed – 20th March 2018

★★★★

“definite shades of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr from the fifties romance ‘An Affair to Remember’”

 

It has often been said that good books make bad plays and vice versa. A generalisation I know, yet examples are rare of adaptations that stand as pieces of work in their own right – and interestingly these usually occur when the playwright takes liberties with the source material. Writer and director Mark Giesser’s adaptation of “The Lady with a Dog” is one of those rare examples. He has modernised Chekhov’s endearing classic short story about infidelity, obsession and secrecy, planting it into 1920s England, without losing any of the fine moral conundrums inherent in the original.

Damian Granville (Richard Lynson) is a banker on holiday, without his wife, on the Scottish coast who becomes intrigued with a young woman (Beth Burrows) and her small Pomeranian dog. He uses the dog to strike up a conversation, learns that she is called Anne Dennis, and that she is married but also on holiday without her husband. Over the days, Damian and Anne see a lot of each other and grow close. Lynson gives a fine performance as the older man intrigued by the exuberant naïveté of another potential ‘conquest’. In Chekhov’s original the character initially comes off as quite unlikeable: a serial philanderer who regards women as the ‘lower race’, but thankfully Lynson dispels any sense of misogyny with his fine-tuned portrayal, while Burrows delightfully betrays a sharpness beneath Anne’s innocence as she teases and flirts with him. There are definite shades of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr from the fifties romance ‘An Affair to Remember’ and the two actors here share the same sizzling chemistry.

Played out on Oscar Selfridge’s striking art deco set, the intensity of the affair is given added poignancy with the introduction of the respective spouses. A brilliantly clever device; they appear as figments of the imagination, meandering between conscience and flashback, before solidifying into real protagonists. Laura Glover, as Elaine Granville, is a master of the ‘put-down’ and she fills the space with a performance that manages to strike a perfect balance between scorn and resigned affection for her husband. Duncan MacInnes is magnificent, too, as the cuckolded husband to Anne. Far from being Chekov’s wet-blanket, MacInnes shows an inner strength that somehow makes Anne’s infidelity less demeaning.

There are great moments of comedy too, particularly during a delightful scene in a cinema where Damian mischievously places himself next to Anne and her husband, and another later scene where the two couples confront each other. These are extraneous to Chekhov’s story, and it is moments such as these that give real flesh to the bare bones of the story. I did wonder how such a slim tale could be padded out into a two-hour drama, but this production succeeds. Full of bittersweet charm it captures the spirit of the age while exploring the ageless mystery of love and commitment.

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Andreas Grieger

 

Lady

The Lady With a Dog

Tabard Theatre until 7th April

 

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