Category Archives: arts

Marriage: As Equals or Unequals? -Just to Get Married (Theatre Review)

5 STARS

PLAYWRIGHT Cicely Hamilton was a remarkable woman of her time. Brought up by foster parents in the late nineteenth century – an experience she hated – she became a radical feminist and active suffragette.

It is no surprise therefore that her views were powerfully reflected in some of the plays she wrote – none more so than How The Vote Was Won (1909) and A Pageant of Great Women (1909).

They also provide the backdrop to Just to Get Married, a splendid Hamilton play currently showing at the remarkable Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea.

As the title suggests, the play looks at the role of women in society in early twentieth century Britain. A role that meant their overriding duty was to get find a suitor and get married. Marriage, says Hamilton, is forced upon women because they are not looked upon as equals. Men hold all the power and have all the money. It is a theme Hamilton also explored in an earlier play, Marriage As A Trade.

The play’s central character is Georgiana Vicary (Philippa Quinn) who is being brought up by aunt Lady Catherine Grayle (a splendid Nicola Blackman) and husband Sir Theodore Grayle (a dithering, stuttering and delightful pipe smoking Simon Rhodes).

The Grayles are desperate to offload Georgiana (after all, she is 29) and they believe they have found her the perfect marriage partner in Adam Lankester (Jonny McPherson), a somewhat reserved individual who has spent a decade or so in Canada. Good looking but dull is the general consensus of Georgiana’s friends Julia Macartney (Joanne Ferguson) and Frances Melliship (Tania Amsel).

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Georgiana does not beg to differ, stating that Lankester says nothing that matters. Her verdict?: ‘When you’re a pauper, you have to take what comes along.’ Hamilton at her most strident.

Will the reserved Lankester propose before he heads back to London? Or will he remain almost mute? Or will Georgiana go off with Frances and live with her in London? It is  something Frances is keen to organise (she is obviously besotted – even in love – with Georgiana).

Is the marriage on or off? There are many twists along the way, some of which stick in the craw a little (the ending in particular). But that should not detract from what is a remarkable play and a top drawer production, expertly directed by Melissa Dunne.

The nine-strong cast are faultless although the four standouts are Quinn, Blackman, Rhodes and McPherson.

Quinn, tall and elegant, brings out all of Georgiana’s frustrations at her plight. She also perfectly captures Georgina’s cruel side. ‘Leave me alone, I’ve never loved you,’  she barks at Lankester. ‘Don’t look at me as if I am a wingless angel.’

Blackman is probably the star of the show, saying as much with her stares, eyes and posture as she does with her mouth. Her Lady Grayle rules the household with an iron rod and dominates her husband, which probably explains his stutter. A stunning performance.

Rhodes plays the somewhat hen pecked Sir Grayle to perfection while McPherson ensures Lankester develops like a chrysalis. By the time the play ends, a man of few words and head permanently bowed has turned into a fluttering butterfly (along the way subjecting Georgiana to mouthfuls of vitriol  and affection). A chameleon as well as a butterfly.

Just to Get Married is on until Saturday August 19. I highly recommend it. A ground-breaking play when it was written and one that still packs a powerful punch. Another triumph for the Finborough Theatre – remarkable given the fact it resides over a pub in Chelsea with just about enough room for Lady Grayle to swing a cat (if she had been minded to do so).

For more info on Just to Get Married and the Finborough Theatre

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Just Get Married – 4/5

Frances Melliship – Tania Amsel

Lady Catherine Grayle – Nicola Blackman

Mrs Macartney – Joanne Ferguson

Bertha Grayle – Lauren Fitzpatrick

Adam Lankester – Jonny McPherson

Footman/Dobbins – Stuart Nunn

Georgiana Vicary – Philippa Quinn

Sir Theodore Grayle – Simon Rhodes

Tod Grayle – Joshua Riley

Director – Melissa Dunne

Set designer – Katharine Davies Herbst

Continuity – A Craicing Irish Play from Moynihan’s Pen

5 STARS

PAUL Kennedy should be given the freedom of Ireland for his portrayal of Padraig Devlin in Continuity, a play receiving its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre (a seedbed of thespian and directorial  talent) in London’s Chelsea.

It is as commanding and riveting a performance as you will see all summer on the stage, West End or fringe. Indeed, the freedom of The Shamrock Isle would be a fitting reward for Kennedy given his character’s determination to see a united Ireland – 32 counties all as one.

For 75 minutes, Kennedy mesmerises the audience as Padraig sings, falls in love with a Spanish girl, drinks himself silly, does some dastardly deeds and deals with his two awkward nationalist comrades in arms – a nasty Eamonn and Jo, as devoted to the cause as nationalists come.

It is a one man virtuoso show with Kennedy accompanied on stage by no more than two red chairs for props and an occasional bit of music (Madonna’s Into the Groove gets an airing). He hardly has time to draw breath as he mimics Eamonn’s stutter and takes us on a journey that has no happy ending.

It is an Irish tour de force. Unmissable theatre. A play where the viewer is required to visualise what Padraig is saying. It is all the more powerful for the experience. Theatre stripped down to the bone.

The play, written by Gerry Moynihan and directed by Shane Dempsey, is set in Derry in 2017. Padraig, Jo and Eamonn are determined to see the Brits driven out of Ireland. Through a series of set pieces, we witness them (through Padraig) hand out vicious punishment to a petty criminal found guilty of drug dealing and stealing cars. We also  learn of their attempts to murder those who have betrayed the cause by joining the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland).

In one scene Jo dresses up in a black beret and dark glasses and proclaims that the struggle (more than 100 years of struggle since the Easter Rising of 1916) will never go away. No peace, no compromise until Ireland is one. He then pulls out a gun.  ‘Jo should be Taoiseach of Ireland’ proclaims Eamonn.

The three, however, are an accident waiting to happen. Padraig is distracted by the arrival of Gorka, a young lady (‘hippy chick’) from Barcelona who is working at the university for a year. It is an affair that Eamonn disapproves of and uses to suggest that Padraig is going soft and is no longer committed to the cause. A botched bombing fuels Eamonn’s suspicions.

Yet there is big history between the two which involves their fathers. A history which eventually ends in a savage retribution taken out on Padraig’s family – and ultimately leads to a distraught and revengeful Padraig taking drastic action himself.

It is powerful powder keg material from the pen of Moynihan. It is a play that looks at the constant conflict between political and personal motives – ‘nothing personal, it’s political,’ says Jo at one stage. Padraig begs to differ as the final words of the play confirm.

It also equates the nationalist struggle to that of the ouroboros – constantly having to eat itself in order to survive. It is a message that the play makes loud and clear.

Continuity may appear heavy duty material after a hard day’s work. But there is enough humour (craic) and glimpses of compassion in the play to ward off any feelings of depression. The moment Padraig gives Gorka a Claddagh ring just as she is about to head back to Barcelona is a moving one. How will she wear it (heart up or down)? What will it symbolise? Free and available or in a relationship?

If you like your theatre raw, Continuity is for you. Judging by the reaction of the audience to Kennedy’s epic performance on Press night, a visit to the Finborough Theatre to see this play will not be a wasted one. Another feather in the cap for Finborough Theatre and artistic director Neil McPherson. A fringe theatre that continues to punch far above its weight.

 Continuity runs until August 15.

http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

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 Playwright: Gerry Moynihan

Director: Shane Dempsey

Padraig Devlin: Paul Kennedy

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill – Staggeringly Wonderful (Theatre Review)

5 STARS

THERE can be few more commanding and dynamic performances in the West End than that currently being delivered by Audra McDonald.

From the moment she weaves (staggers) on to the stage at Wyndham’s Theatre, she captivates and enthrals the audience as Eleanora Fagan, better known as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

It is a gut-wrenching, heart breaking performance that will leave you breathless and marvel at the talent that pours from every pore of McDonald. Acting that won her a Tony Award on Broadway in 2014 and surely will win her more trophies and accolades in the months ahead.

She plays a tipsy (drugged up) Holiday as if she herself  has been drinking back stage. She staggers and swaggers her way through the 90 minutes, delivering an array of Holiday hits with aplomb while recalling chunks of the singer’s tragic life story. It is as if Holiday, who died from heart and liver failure at the tender age of 44, has been reincarnated for the evening. Breath-taking. Extraordinary. Unmissable.

The play is written by Lanie Robertson and is based on a tale told to him by a friend who saw Holiday perform in a dive in North Philadelphia some three months before her death. She drank her way through the performance, introducing her pet Chihuahua Pepi to an audience of just seven, before staggering off.

Robertson uses this recollection as a vehicle for McDonald to reel off a string of Holiday hits – opening with I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone, pinnacling with a spellbinding rendition of protest song Strange Fruit and ending with Deep Song. She also sings Baby Doll by Bessie Smith, someone Holiday  worshipped and whose voice she first heard as a teenager while in a brothel where her mother worked as a prostitute.

But winningly Robertson also uses the dive’s setting for McDonald to take us through Holiday’s tumultuous life – a life that explains why she turned to the bottle and drugs and ultimately self-destructed (for Holiday, read Edith Piaf, Whitney Houston, George Michael, Amy Whitehouse et al). It makes you angry and mad as her life story unfurls.

Mother Sadie was a teenager when she gave birth to Holiday and brought her up on her own (Holiday’s father Clarence Holiday was a jazz musician).

Holiday was raped at the age of 10, was introduced to opium by her first husband James Monroe (she was already a borderline alcoholic at that stage) and jailed for possession of narcotics in the late 1940s. She made her final appearance in New York in late May 1959, dying less than two months later.

The show also highlights the racism that Holiday faced throughout her life – for example being refused the use of a hotel bathroom because of her colour, a moment that meant she had to urinate on the floor and over the shoes of a waitress.

McDonald is unquestionably the star of this show. She puts her heart and soul into every moment and song – and leaves the audience exhausted and exhilarated. How she will keep going until 9 September I do not know. An exemplary voice. Close your eyes and you will think you are listening to a Holiday record. Maybe you could argue that you would wish to hear ‘Holiday’ without the slurring but that is to miss the point of the musical (a phalanx of Holiday CDs are available on Amazon for those who like Holiday pure).

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Yet McDonald is helped by great support. On stage by Shelton Becton  who plays Jimmy Powers, a pianist who Holiday flirts with throughout. Without saying more than a dozen words, Jimmy tries to coax Holiday through her performance despite the creeping effect on her of the cocktail of booze and drugs that she is absorbing. It is an understated role that Becton delivers expertly. He also leads the band (Frankie Tontoh on drums and Neville Malcolm on bass) with a quiet effectiveness.

The musical is also imaginatively staged with members of the audience on stage to give the feel of a dive. It allows McDonald to (amusingly) interact with them although the proliferation of jeans and suits hardly perpetuates the feel of a 1950’s Philadelphian dive.

Last but not least, Tilly is impeccably behaved as Pepi the Chihuahua who is fleetingly brought on stage by McDonald’s Holiday after flouncing off to mainline some heroin.

Tickets for this show do not come cheap, especially if you want to sit around a table on stage and be on parade (I can’t think of anything worse to do while watching live theatre).

But if you can grab one (Time Out occasionally do special deals for those like me who are happy to sit up in the Gods), you will not be disappointed.

McDonald is a sensation, a fact I am sure Holiday would acknowledge if she were in a position to judge.

For info on LadyDay and the Wyndham’s Theatre

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Lady Day – 5/5

Director: Lonny Price

Billie Holiday: Audra McDonald

Jimmy Powers: Shelton Becton

Pepi: Tilly

A Pointless War With No Winners – Spoils (Book Review)

5 STARS

ALTHOUGH the onset of the Iraqi war may be 14 years gone, it is never far from our minds.

Only in the last few days has Sir John Chilcot raised his head above the parapet again to criticise (in his gentle way) Tony Blair for his willingness to back President Bush  and blindly go to war in order to topple Saddam Hussein.

A dispassionate account of the war (and a fictionalised one at that) has just been penned by Brian Van Reet. ‘Spoils’ is a cracking read as befits someone who saw service in Iraq and won a Bronze Star for valour – and who pursued an academic career both before doing service and afterwards. The book is a mix of technical know how and in places beautiful prose (especially when talking as Abu al-Hool).

There is no side to Van Reet’s work (good for him) other than to capture the industrialisation of America’s war machine and the prejudices (through both ignorance and reinforcement) that many American soldiers took into the war.

The book is based on the accounts of three individuals.

There is 19 year old ‘specialist’ Cassandra Wigheard, on her first deployment since joining the US army two years ago.

She spends most of her time as a machine gunner with a Humvee crew, not fending off bullets or mortars but dealing with the misogynist that is Private Crump. Her boss Sergeant McGinnis is an altogether gentler soul. Matters are somewhat complicated by the fact that Cassandra is a lesbian.

There is then Sleed, part of a tank crew who are more interested in collecting war memorabilia – or taking pictures of frazzled Iraqi troops – than fighting a war. Sleed is a sensitive individual which can hardly be said of his compatriots Galvan and Fitzpatrick. Glory hunters.

Completing the jigsaw is Abu al-Hool, a jihadist since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He is a complex character. On the one hand, educated and well travelled (in the west). On the other, a long-standing jihadist who fought in  Chechnya and lost his son (a relationship key to the story).

But Abu al-Hool’s commitment is wavering, not helped by the challenge within his group of Doctor Walid, a self-publicist who wants to make his mark on the world through the use of video (and ultimately savagery).

The book zig zags (effectively) in time but the three main characters are drawn together as Cassandra, Crump and McGinnis are captured by Abu al-Hool and his mujahideen brotherhood. Sleed is involved in trying to find the three prisoners.

It is all a little gruesome. There is rape – and a beheading captured on video by Doctor Walid. But the hopelessness of Cassandra’s plight (and that of her two colleagues) is occasionally assuaged by  the kindness  of some of her captors (especially a young bright and clever Hafs who sees a life beyond the mujahideen).

There is no happy ending to this book. But it is about Iraq so it should not have one.

Van Reet tells a good tale. He is also mightily effective in transmitting the awful poverty that most Iraqis lived in while Hussain and his family amassed their obscene wealth – a poverty that many Iraqis (the young especially) endured with remarkable good cheer.

Not just poverty mind you. Iraq is a country where birth deformities – because of pollution – were (are) widespread. Haider is a gem of a side character in Van Reet’s story.

Spoils is a super read. I consumed it voraciously within 24 hours. Great holiday reading. Blair should pack it away in  his luggage before he heads off to some paradise island for the summer.

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Also read: Searing East End Cinema – Butterfly Kisses and Insyriated (Film Review)

Risk Producer Brenda Coughlin talks Assange, Censorship and Criticism

The American Dream in the Dark – Nightcrawler (Film Review)

Glorious Gloria – A Killer of a Play (Theatre Review)

5 STARS

GLORIA. Glorious Gloria.

There is no other way to describe this marvellous play from the hugely talented Branden Jacob-Jenkins that is showcasing at the Hampstead Theatre in North London. It runs until July 29. I urge you to go and see it. You will not be disappointed.

Jacob-Jenkins is in a rich vein of London form. His wonderful play, An Octoroon, has just ended an incredibly successful run at The Orange Theatre in Richmond where Ken Nwosu – quite rightly – received rave reviews for his portrayal of the playwright and the play’s two main characters, George and the evil M’Closky.

Having immensely enjoyed An Octoroon four evenings earlier, I never thought for one moment that Gloria could match it. But it did.

At its heart are key issues – ageism, career burnout, the fracturing of journalism as we know it and self-aggrandisement uber alles.

The play is a slow burn, seemingly ambling along in amusing fashion as a series of characters who work for a magazine display their frailties and egos. They are an eclectic bunch of young individuals, constantly sniping at each other. Verbal sparring par excellence.

There is the hard drinking, wannabe author and socialising Dean, the self-centred and free spending Kendra, put-upon intern Miles and inquisitive Ani.

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Add in stressed fact-checker Lorin who detests noise and complains all the time and Nan (the boss) who we initially do not see  apart from a bag of her vomit – and the jigsaw is complete, apart from Gloria. A moody Gloria who the night before had held a party which only Dean from among the office had bothered to turn up to (he got horribly drunk, explaining his tardiness that morning).

The office exchanges are fierce. ‘How do you get away with this?’ asks Dean as Kendra offers to  go out on a Starbucks coffee run. ‘Get away with what?’ she snarls. ‘Doing no work. You just got here an hour late, called China or something, monologued about baby boomers for fifteen minutes, and now you’re leaving on a coffee break.’

This verbal punch up continues with Kendra stating that their industry is dominated by privileged straight white men. Dean’s response is deliciously spiky. ‘Kendra, you’re a rich Asian girl from Pasadena with a degree from Harvard. That is essentially a privileged straight white man.’ Killer words.

What happens next  is unexpected and shocking. But as the play’s title suggests, Gloria is at its epicentre.

The second act switches to a Starbucks’ coffee house and then to the offices of a television production company. The scenes are dominated by yet more vitriolic (and violent) exchanges between Kendra and Dean – and the attempt by both of them and Nan to further their careers as a result of the Gloria ‘incident’.

A lonely (and age aware) Lorin, temping at the television company, is bemused by those who he is working for as well as belittled when he meets up with Nan who fails to recognise him. An individual whose time has been and gone. Too old (late thirties).

The acting is outstanding with all six actors contributing to the play’s magnificence. Apart from Bo Poray (brilliant as earnest Lorin), the others either double or triple up.

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Kae Alexander plays a laid back Jenna (an executive at the television company) to perfection. You could boil a kettle by the time she ends a sentence. She is also the spitting, snarling Kendra.

Colin Morgan is superb as an ever more desperate Dean and marvels in a cameo role as an angry IT worker at the TV company.

Completing the cast are Ellie Kendrick (excellent as Callie, Jenna’s assistant), Bayo Gbadamosi (whose eyes do all the talking as a Starbucks’ barista) and Sian Clifford (doubling up as Gloria and Nan). There is not a weak link in this production directed by Michael Longhurst. The set design (Lizzie Clachan) is sublime – and of course we have the musical accompaniment of Bach’s Mass in B Minor (Gloria).

What a shame that this superlative play is taking place just as the Arts Council has slashed Hampstead’s Theatre’s funding by 14 per cent. A reduction that Edward Hall, Hampstead’s artistic director, has described as swinging a ‘wrecking ball’ through the theatre’s future plans.

What would Jacob-Jenkins say? Maybe a trigger point for another play that in time will become a Pulitzer Finalist for Drama – as Gloria was last year while playing Off-Broadway.

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Sibling Rivalry as the Aussie Bacon Cooks to Sizzle – Food (Theatre Review)

Hair-Raising Australian Horror – Hounds of Love (Film Review)

The American Dream in the Dark – Nightcrawler (Film Review)

Dean/Devin: Colin Morgan

Kendra/Jenna: Kae Alexander

Ani/Sasha/Callie: Ellie Kendrick

Gloria/Nan: Sian Clifford

Miles/Shawn/Rashaad: Bayo Gbadamosi

Lorin: Bo Poraj

Writer: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Director: Michael Longhurst

Designer: Lizzie Clachan

https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

Gloria runs until July 29

Sibling Rivalry as the Aussie Bacon Sizzles – Food (Theatre Review)

1 STAR

FOOD is one of two appetising plays currently playing at the ambitious Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea (the other is Mr Gillie).

As its title implies, the backdrop to the play is food, (not quite) glorious food – cooked in a takeaway situated along an Australian highway, beside a river and north of a big country town. But it is no more than an appetiser because the crux of the play centres on the difficult relationship between sisters Elma (Emma Playfair) and Nancy (Lily Newbury-Freeman).

Separated by two years, the sisters are polar opposites. Elma, the eldest, is all anger and resentment – the sibling who stayed at home and ran the takeaway while Mum went from one relationship to another.

In contrast, Nancy gives off more pheromones than can be found in a Sydney brothel and attracts men without trying. Sadly, some abused her when she was a mere teenager (giving rise to a comment that she was the one with ‘two arms and three holes’). Indeed, at age 17, her mother’s boyfriend Craig locked her in the bathroom – ‘He kissed me and I kissed him’.  Consensual, yes,  but it was a relationship that triggered her moving away, leaving Elma to soldier on and hold the proverbial takeaway fort.

In the present, Nancy has returned home. The relationship between the siblings is fraught and as the play unfolds we learn why it is so powderkeg- as we are taken back to key defining moments in their childhood and teenage years.

Into the frying pan is tossed Hakan (Scott Karim), a delightful (and good-looking) Turk who turns up on their doorstep and persuades Elma (through Nancy) that he can help the two transform their takeaway into a restaurant serving such delights as corned beef, lamb shanks and roasted scallops.

Hakan is a charmer who proclaims to be ‘above average’ as both a kitchen hand and photographer. He is also quite happy talking about his love life and the eleven lovers he has enjoyed on his travels (two together in one night and Anthea who took to weeing on his chest).

Predictably, Hakan falls for Nancy but, seemingly out of guilt for the hardship Elma has endured, Nancy encourages him to look towards her older sister for conquest number twelve.

It all makes for 90 minutes of good fare although the ending is a little unsatisfactory. Newbury-Freeman is splendid as the sexy, sultry and somewhat foul-mouthed Nancy while Playfair plays the downtrodden older sister manfully (if you know what I mean) and comes out with some splendid lines. Especially when she accuses Hakan of looking at Nancy as if she were a ‘steak’. I also love her bluntness. ‘I want to kiss you,’ urges Hakan. ‘Fuck off’, she replies.

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But it is Karim who steals the show with his devilish good looks, charm and self-deprecation. He endears himself to the audience even more by talking to them directly, handing out mints (breath fresheners) and bread (as do Elma and Nancy). ‘I like to make each meal a gift’, he proclaims. You cannot help but fall in love with him.

The play, written by Aussie Steve Rodgers, is expertly directed by Cressida Brown while the staging is imaginative. Ladders are used for the actors to escape up when they do not form part of the dialogue. A fridge, cooker and deep fat-fryer are wheeled across the stage – on occasion cleverly used to frame certain scenes (Nancy’s encounter with five lustful men).

The Finborough rarely disappoints – and so is the case with Food. Not worthy of a Michelin star but a good night out nonetheless.

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For more information about Food, visit the Finborough Theatre website

Also read: Hair-Raising Australian Horror – Hounds of Love (Film Review)

The American Dream in the Dark – Nightcrawler (Film Review)

‘ALL OUR CHILDREN’ – CHILDREN. OUR WONDERFUL CHILDREN (THEATRE REVIEW)

 

Elma: Emma Playfair

Nancy: Lily Newbury-Freeman

Hakan: Scott Karim

Playwright: Steve Rodgers

Director: Cressida Brown

Designer: Hannah Wolfe

‘ALL OUR CHILDREN’ – CHILDREN. OUR WONDERFUL CHILDREN (THEATRE REVIEW)

RIOTOUS FARCE AT THE ORANGE TREE (THEATRE REVIEW)

5 STARS

GREAT plays stand the test of time, even if they need an occasional lick of paint to freshen them up.

Such is the case with Le Jeu De L’Amour Et Du Hassard, a play written by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux and first performed in 1730.

Marivaux, a Frenchman from good Parisian stock, was only a part-time writer but he wrote more than 35 plays during his lifetime. His influence was such that it spurred the term ‘marivaudage’ – a not particularly flattering term used to describe verbose or affected writing.

Le Jeu is probably Marivaux’s most famous play but it was given a wonderful makeover in the early 1980s by the late John Fowles (The French Lieutenant’s Woman). This culminated in The Lottery of Love, a script which has now been used to marvellous effect in the latest offering from the Orange Tree Theatre in London’s wealthy Richmond.

Directed with aplomb by Paul Miller, the play is set in a drawing room (birds twittering away in the background) in the Regency period (early 1800’s). All perfect for the Orange Tree Theatre and its quadrangle stage. Love and class frame the play.

Mr Morgan, portly and refined, is keen to marry off his attractive daughter Sylvia and has a suitor in mind (Richard, son of a friend) who will be visiting them later that same day. But Sylvia is not so eager declaring to her maid (Louisa) that she is perfectly content as she is and has no interest in Richard – however true the claim that he is attractive, intelligent and a trustworthy gentleman.

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Sylvia, somewhat reluctantly, agrees to meet with Richard but only if she and Louisa reverse roles, enabling Sylvia to observe Richard from a detached distance. Mr Morgan, a doting father, agrees – much to Louisa’s delight who cannot wait to assume a position above her normal station.

Just before the women scuttle off to change clothes and roles, Sylvia’s dashing brother Martin arrives, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and full of mischief. Mr Morgan then opens a letter from Richard’s father which  states that Richard has the same idea as Sylvia – namely to dress up for the meeting as his manservant John Brass so that he can learn more about Sylvia’s character. John Brass, of course, is to present himself as Richard.

What follows is 80 minutes of enjoyable – and occasional rip-roaring – farce as aproned and servile Sylvia (now playing Louisa) is wooed by a smitten and ridiculously well-spoken John Brass (Richard).

Richard (John Brass) is dressed like a peacock with green laces in his shoes, a flower in his hair and gauche rings adorning most of his fingers (hats off to costume supervisor Holly Rose Henshaw).

More clown than supposed master, he instantly falls in love with Sylvia (Louisa) who makes the jump from ‘common’ to ‘posh’ quite seamlessly.

On one level love transcends the classes. On another, those of equal social standing are drawn together like twins or magnets.

Some of the language may jar but the acting is wonderful (great casting by Rebecca Murphy). Dorethea Myer-Bennett is quite exceptional  as the real Sylvia (Silvia in the original Marivaux play). Cynical one moment, demure the next. Her facial expressions are as enjoyable to observe as her comic timing is to listen to.

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Ashley Zhangazha portrays Richard (Dorante) as the earnest man he obviously  is while Tam Williams (Martin, Mario) makes a perfect sibling – tall, upright, handsome, beautifully spoken and seldom missing a chance to have a little fun at Sylvia’s expense. Upper class through and through.

Claire Lams (Louisa, Lisette) is more than effective in portraying Louisa’s transition from servant to supposed Lady of the house. One moment, a slightly cheeky and cheery servant. The next, a lady with a voice to match – and quite happy to be dismissive of her ‘maid’. Oh, how she enjoys chiding the real Sylvia. A duplicitous character made for Ms Lams.

As for Keir Charles, he plays Brass like a Regency version of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Bombastic, conceited, foul mouthed, a man who finds falling in love quite easy and despite Richard’s goading is never quite able to shake off his lack of class. One critic describes him as a Regency version of Russell Brand. One Russell Brand is surely enough for this world.

It is all way over the top but Mr Charles provides the play with much of its humour. A fool dressed as a clown, often using the audience as a springboard for his oafishness (something Ms Myer-Bennett also does earlier in the play while questioning the intentions of most men).  Note to people booking tickets in the next few days – do not sit in the front row unless you want to be the butt of some good old fashioned humour.

Pip Donaghy completes the cast as a loving father, Mr Morgan (Orgon).

The play, which runs until May 13,  is a triumph for the Orange Tree Theatre. Yes, it is still dated despite Fowles’  best efforts. Yes, it is slap stick romance. But it’s great fun – as well as being a great play (mind you,  great with a small g, not great with a capital g).

Tickets are available for all bar one of the remaining performances. Grab one if you can. Pure escapism – and don’t we all need a little of that at the moment.

For more info: www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

The Lottery of Love – 4/5

Martin: Tam Williams

Louisa: Claire Lams

Richard: Ashley Zhangazha

Sylvia: Dorothea Myer-Bennett

Brass: Keir Charles

Mr Morgan: Pip Donaghy

Director: Paul Miller

Designer: Simon Daw

Costume Supervisor: Holly Rose Henshaw

Casting: Rebecca Murphy

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Also read: Family Rupture in Healing Belfast (Theatre Review)

Late Company – The After Shocks of School Bullying (Theatre Review)

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FAMILY RUPTURE IN A HEALING BELFAST (THEATRE REVIEW)

5 STARS

NORTHERN Ireland is the backdrop to Everything Between Us, the award winning play by David Ireland that is now getting an airing at the Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea.

Predictably, its theme is the troubles – and the painful journey to a near state of political and religious reconciliation (although more recent events suggest otherwise).

But this is no predictable play. Far from it.

It boils away for 70 minutes like a vat of oil, spitting out globules of venom at every opportunity. The play is not for the faint hearted, nor those who are easily offended by the liberal use of the ‘c’ or ‘f’ words. It never fails to shock.

It starts with Teeni McKinney coming back to Belfast after an eleven year absence – on day one of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission for Northern Ireland at Stormont.

The play is savage from the very first moment Teeni storms on stage pursued by her older sister Sandra until the finale when Sandra walks off it exclaiming her horror at being a human being. Visceral throughout – shocking in parts – but it is not without its moments of rich humour.

Teeni’s return is a whirlwind one and she is all fire and brimstone as she rails against everyone. ‘I came out screaming like a banshee,’ she says, referring to her birth. ‘I declared war on this world as soon as I was out.’

Her targets include the chair of the commission who, shockingly, she abuses racially. Her older sister Sandra Richardson is ridiculed for her weight – ‘you’re fat’, ‘I can’t even bear to breath the same air as you’. Fenians, she hates with a vengeance, even lambasting her sister for wearing a green dress.

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Even Nelson Mandela is given a verbal going over although the bubble Teeni has been living in over the past eleven years means she is not even aware of the great man’s death.

Teeni is, blonde, self-assured, sexually confident and a recovering alcoholic (three years dry, allegedly). ‘I’m beautiful, I’m really intelligent, I’m funny, I’m sexy,’ she proclaims.

She is also a lethal mix of energy, hatred and bile. Kicking out at everything (most of the stage set) and everyone (ex-boyfriends, her mother and her dead father, a member of a protestant paramilitary group and a killer of nine Fenians who was in turn murdered by the IRA).

By way of contrast, Sandra is overweight, becalmed by comparison and an integral part of the peace process (a member of the legislative assembly). But she is not without her demons, separated from husband Stevie and bizarrely a member of Alcoholics Anonymous even though she does not drink.

Her turmoil is fuelled in part by the fact by Teeni walked out on the family and then failed to contact them – even when their father died.

‘Say sorry,’ she pleads. ‘You’ve caused havoc. Our mother has been crying for eleven years.’ The fact that Teeni drew a knife on Sandra’s son Ryan when he was newly born has left a metaphorical weeping wound between the two of them.

This familial fracture is the essence of the play and towards the end we get an explanation as to why Teeni is so unhinged.

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Uncomfortable, yes. Cringingly so on occasion. But it is essential viewing nonetheless. The acting by both Katrina McKeever (Teeni) and Lynsey-Anne Moffat (Sarah) is top drawer. I certainly wouldn’t want a run-in with McKeever’s Teeni while enjoying a night out in Belfast.

As has become the norm with the Finborough Theatre in recent months, Everything Between Us is an excellent production superbly directed by Neil Bull. Hats off to The Working Party Theatre Company for its role in bringing this play to an English audience.

If you have a strong constitution, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It runs until May 16.

Everything Between Us – 4/5

Teeni: Katrina McKeever

Sandra: Lynsey-Anne Moffat

Director: Neil Bull

Designer: Laura Cordery

Casting director: Matthew Dewsbury

Producer: Matthew Schmolle

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