Tag Archives: Stephen Fall

A Modest Little Man

★★★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

A Modest Little Man

A Modest Little Man

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 9th October 2019

★★★★

 

“Where the show excels is in its mild but insightful wit”

 

Leader of the Labour Party during World War II, Clement Attlee was elected as UK Prime Minister in 1945 and went on to create the welfare state. Directed by Owain Rose, this gently comic character study tells the story of an unassuming man who ended up playing a pivotal role in shaping post-war Britain.

As the title makes clear, Attlee was not an outlandish figure. Entirely at odds with Winston Churchill’s flamboyant manner (and indeed the kinds of world leaders we see today), his seemingly cautious approach steered clear of personality-based politics and was driven by firm ideological beliefs.

His understated nature presents a challenge for writer Francis Beckett and lead actor Roger Rose, who place this ‘little mouse’ at the centre of the narrative. It’s a testament to their success that a man of so few words (except when discussing cricket) begins to emerge as quietly fascinating.

Portrayed brilliantly by Lynne O’Sullivan, Clement’s devoted wife Violet is far less reticent than her husband and partially narrates the play. The rest of the small cast prove to be hugely versatile, too. Churchill is memorably evoked by Silas Hawkins, one of three actors each tasked with handling multiple parts. The clever writing slowly reveals Attlee through the affection, respect and frustration felt by those around him, rather than through his own actions.

The simple set – an office desk and chairs – is suitably minimal and restrained, in keeping with the PM’s self-contained, low-key introversion.

At times the pacing feels a little slow, but perhaps this is merely a reflection of the more formal modes of discourse employed in the 1940s. The end of the first half seems oddly timed, too, with no one in the audience realising that it was the interval. It might have made more sense to suspend the action at a more distinctive moment, but this is necessarily a subtle narrative without instances of high drama. That’s not a criticism, either: what it lacks in terms of big gestures, it more than makes up for with charm.

Where the show excels is in its mild but insightful wit. The scene in which the Attlees meet King George VI (Clive Greenwood) is masterful in its articulation of social awkwardness. And while A Modest Little Man works as an effective history lesson, it’s also highly informative about the world we live in now. There are shrewd observations with obvious resonance in contemporary politics, such as a nod to the foolishness of holding a referendum. Plus, there’s plenty of scheming, as you’d expect, with key members of the Cabinet debating the suitability of the leader while attempting to further their own careers. Some things, it seems, never change.

 

Reviewed by Stephen Fall

Photography by Mark Thomas

 


A Modest Little Man

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 12th October

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Return to the Forbidden Planet | ★★★ | May 2018
Kafka’s Dick | ★★★★ | June 2018
Nice Work if You Can Get It | ★★★★ | December 2018
Bad Girls The Musical | ★★★ | February 2019
Strike Up The Band | ★★★★ | March 2019
The Marvelous Wonderettes | ★★★★ | April 2019
Flat Out | ★★★★ | June 2019
Agent 14 | | August 2019
Pericles, Prince Of Tyre | ★★★ | August 2019
Working | ★★★★ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Working

★★★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Working

Working

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 12th September 2019

★★★★

 

“brilliant direction by Amanda Noar”

 

Studs Terkel (1912–2008) was a highly respected American writer and broadcaster who published several collections of oral histories. His conversations with ‘ordinary people’ revealed profound social, economic and personal truths about the times. Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, this show brings to life the author’s 1974 book, Working, with spoken narratives and songs that illuminate gritty accounts of trying to earn a living in the USA.

The cast of eight actor/singers play multiple parts across professions as diverse as truck driver, nanny, hedge fund manager, prostitute, stone mason and flight attendant. Their narratives range from funny or quirky (a UPS delivery man startling attractive women for his own entertainment) to desperately sad (a woman enduring mind-numbing monotony on a factory assembly line). Cleverly, the script both documents a lost way of life and – bravely building upon Terkel’s source material – offers subtle updates to more recent working scenarios by utilising innovations such as e-mail and mobile phones. At the centre of these varied tales are the same recurring questions. How much should your job define you? What does it mean to spend so much of your existence in employment? And do we have a right to expect our work to be satisfactory and meaningful?

The stage set is an ingenious split-level scaffold structure resembling part of a construction site. This is compartmentalised to allow each actor their own designated area within it. The brilliant direction by Amanda Noar allows for these spaces to be suddenly spotlit or thrown into darkness, emphasising parallels or curious juxtapositions between workers as their confessions and experiences begin to dovetail.

A four-piece band led by musical director Jamie Noar embrace a diverse range of styles and moods, from big, brassy anthems to restrained, low-key heartbreakers. The stand-out moments are numerous, but the most memorable include ‘Just a Housewife’ sung by Lara Beth-Sas and ‘It’s an Art’ performed by Hannah Cheetham as a proud waitress determined to recognise the value in her role.

In parts, it’s hugely emotional – particularly when the full ensemble unite to complement each other’s stories and songs. You really feel you’ve had an insight into other people’s lives. Terkel’s gift was to show sufficient empathy for his interview subjects to bring out the very best in them. It’s a great credit to this production that it does the same.

 

Reviewed by Stephen Fall

Photography by Colin Allen 

 


Working

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 22nd September

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
After the Ball | ★★★ | March 2018
Return to the Forbidden Planet | ★★★ | May 2018
Kafka’s Dick | ★★★★ | June 2018
Nice Work if You Can Get It | ★★★★ | December 2018
Bad Girls The Musical | ★★★ | February 2019
Strike Up The Band | ★★★★ | March 2019
The Marvelous Wonderettes | ★★★★ | April 2019
Flat Out | ★★★★ | June 2019
Agent 14 | | August 2019
Pericles, Prince Of Tyre | ★★★ | August 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews