Tag Archives: Sheila Burnett

Absurd Person Singular

Absurd Person Singular

★★★

Cambridge Arts Theatre | UK Tour

Absurd Person Singular

Absurd Person Singular

Cambridge Arts Theatre

Reviewed – 7th September 2021

★★★

 

“As the comedy takes a darker turn, Helen Keeley gives the performance of the night”

 

Alan Ayckbourn’s classic comedy is fast approaching its fiftieth anniversary and in this touring production by London Classic Theatre, directed by Michael Cabot, it is aging well.

Three acts are set in three different kitchens on three consecutive 1970s Christmas Eves – enigmatically described as last year, this year, and next year – and in Simon Scullion’s clever set design we see the necessary changes in windows, doors, and decor to distinguish the three different households.

The first kitchen we see is in the home of Jane and Sidney Hopcroft. Sidney (Paul Sandys) is an up-and-coming businessman using a party to further his relationship with bank manager Ronald Brewster-Wright (Graham O’Mara) and established architect Geoffrey Jackson (John Dorney). Sidney’s wife Jane (Felicity Houlbrooke) has cleaned their home to a spotless condition but is nervous of doing anything that could be conceived embarrassing. With frantic energy the couple go through their party preparations, their frenzied activity reminiscent of many a TV sitcom.

Ayckbourn is a master of placing central events offstage so that we have a sense of being behind the scenes. Here, the party is in full swing in the living room, behind the kitchen door, so an entrance on stage is an exit from the party. Full marks to Sound Designer Chris Drohan for the convincing snatches of offstage conversation and laughter, and the excellent effect of heavy rain falling in the garden. Courageous direction reinforces this action elsewhere by leaving the stage empty and the audience waiting for something to happen, perhaps on some occasions for too long.

Eventually, all the guests appear in the kitchen – except, amusingly, the lively Dick and Lottie Potter who are only ever talked about and never appear. One laddish conversation between the three men with near-misogynistic attitudes helps us understand an element of Geoffrey’s womanising nature but otherwise, in our age of #MeToo, feels inappropriate rather than comedic.

We are also introduced in this scene to Marion Brewster-Wright (Rosanna Miles) who shows excellent changes in vocal quality from a highly exuberant party voice to a low threatening growl when admonishing her husband; and Eva Jackson (Helen Keeley) who is the first character to hint at something more serious than the shallow party talk of the other two couples.

Act Two moves into the Dorney’s more well-appointed apartment kitchen. As the comedy takes a darker turn, Helen Keeley gives the performance of the night, expressing her inner turmoil and scribbling desperate notes, without speaking a word. Around her, the others continue their antics oblivious to her plight and the company induces our laughter despite Eva’s pain.

The final kitchen is in the home of the Brewster-Wrights, the largest residence of our three couples, but there has clearly been a downturn in their luck and with that of Geoff Dorney whose only hope for future success appears to lie with Sydney. When the Hopcrofts arrive unannounced, we see that it is Sydney alone who has had a successful year, but for the other two couples he will always be the little man.

An Ayckbourn trait is that his stories, snapshots of imagined lives, never really end. And so the curtain falls on the rising Sidney leading the others in a not-so-merry dance. Whilst we laugh.

 

 

Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Sheila Burnett

 


Absurd Person Singular

Cambridge Arts Theatre until 11th September then UK Tour continues

 

Previously reviewed at this venue this year:
Copenhagen | ★★★★ | July 2021

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After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life
★★★★

Finborough Theatre

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 20th June 2019

★★★★

 

“once you get your ear into a penny dreadful frame of mind, it becomes engrossing and plain fun”

 

If you’d told me that a Thursday evening in Brexit Britain following the latest instalment of a soulless slog towards finding the new Tory Prime Minister would have seen me grinning along to a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia, complete with Union Jacks, I’d have laughed in your face. But perhaps the play is right; all the best things do happen After Dark.

Written by Dion Boucicault (who based it on Les Oiseaux de Proie by Eugène Grangé and Adolphe d’Ennery), the work, subtitled A Drama of London Life, was an 1868 box office hit. London life is right; we find ourselves at the nexus of some key moments in our city’s past. Robert Peel’s bobbies patrol the streets, the new Metropolitan line (cleverly rendered) plays a starring role and (gulp) empire is held above all. Despite adjustments for modern audiences (director Phil Willmott rightly removed anti-Semitic characterisation), this remains every inch the melodrama, with ham in spades. The music hall is still alive at the Finborough, with the saucy ditties to prove it, and some depictions border on panto. Toby Wynn-Davies as sly lawyer Chandos Bellingham, for example, is only ever a signature song away from Fagin – but once you get your ear into a penny dreadful frame of mind, it becomes engrossing and just good plain fun. Wynn-Davies in particular brings real menace, especially in a beautifully-choreographed scene making the most of the clever sliding set and a terrific thunderclap sound effect.

In fact sound (Julian Starr) and lighting (Zak Macro) are, uniformly, first class. Rousing Victorian brass sets the scene and the live music too is of exceptionally high quality; Gabi King, Rosa Lennox (who is also musical director) and Helen Potter deliver a genuinely affecting rendition of Abide With Me, amongst other more ribald pieces. Hannah Postlethwaite’s adroit staging, establishing all of London from treacherous Rotherhithe to a smart hat shop, combined with liberal quantities of dry ice, make the small space feel genuinely atmospheric. It doesn’t take long to believe we’re in the murky streets of old; fans of Sherlock Holmes will find plenty here to enjoy.

Those of us who have had a sticky tube journey here might be heard snorting at the underground described as a ‘glorious pathway of shining light’, and certainly there are other moments that date the piece even uncomfortably (the uneasily stereotypical Russian dance troupe springs to mind). But approach the night with tongue firmly in cheek, anticipating an ending of Shakespearean levels of silliness, and you can’t go too far wrong.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Sheila Burnett

 


 After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

Finborough Theatre until 6th July

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Square Rounds | ★★★ | September 2018
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018
Bury the Dead | ★★★★ | November 2018
Exodus | ★★★★ | November 2018
Jeannie | ★★★★ | November 2018
Beast on the Moon | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019
A Lesson From Aloes | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Maggie May     | ★★★★ | March 2019
Blueprint Medea | ★★★ | May 2019

 

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