Brighton Fringe 2017
Two plays by W.S Gilbert are successfully revived by The Foundry Group.
“Two masterly and unfairly neglected short plays by W. S. Gilbert, England’s leading 19th Century dramatist. ‘Sweethearts’, a cynical comic masterpiece with timeless observations on the sexes, and ‘The Hooligan’, a brutal, yet blackly comic study of a condemned man’s final minutes that was a sensation at its debut in 1911. Performed by: LLoyd Ryan-Thomas (Nominee – Best Actor, Brighton Festival Awards 2014) Emma Wingrove (Bite-Size Breakfast) Nick Bartlett (Gangs of New York) David Mounfield (Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show). Directed by Brian Mitchell (Argus Angel winner 2014).”
Two plays, penned by W.S Gilbert are brought successfully to the Lantern Theatre stage by the Foundry Group. You may not know that Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan, the operetta duo) was not only a librettist, but also an acclaimed playwright, poet, illustrator and writer of ballads.
Here we have two very different plays that explore themes that are still relevant today, and hard-hitting for different reasons. Sweethearts looks at love over the years, at memory and and both plays explore how we revise history. The Hooligan takes us to the last moments of a prisoner about to meet the executioner. Sweethearts is a gentler offering, an often painfully funny two-hander. Far more than historical artefacts, The Foundry Group have revived these plays because they represent strong writing: they are dialogue plays that both entertain and furrow the brow. The company has brought them to the stage in a way that preserves the historical style and content, yet has made them accessible to a modern audience.
You might think you’ve seen this all before, but what you’re actually seeing is this ‘after’. This work came decades before Oscar Wilde, or an Alan Ayckbourn. These writers of over 100 years ago today have influenced the writers who followed them in ways they may not even be aware of. Here we have plays which explore the human condition and the painful ways in which we attempt to deal with it, through drama, dialogue, and dark comedy. Love, regret, loss, guilt, anger, frustration, the climb of years – it’s all here. We also have some very direct delivery, crisp staging and plenty of knockabout dialogue. Silence is also well employed, especially in the Hooligan. Stillness, gentle portrayal sits alongside some shattering physicality. As we try to remember. As we express our frustration and regret. As we prepare for our final moments…
Acting is of a uniformly top notch standard, the production does not reek of stagecraft. These plays do well on the small Lantern stage. This is quintessential Fringe, yet both plays would more than hold their on at the Theatre Royal.
I will not give away any of the plot. from these two well chosen pieces. It is exactly in the nature of the contrasting material that places them so well together on the Fringe. The plays are unlikely bedfellows yet they are all the better for it. We have contrast and overlaps, as dark humour mixes with some very dark drama. Dark comedy was at the heart of much Gilbert and Sullivan work and it is more than in evidence here.
There is deft direction from Brian Mitchell. One sign of good directing and acting that you believe the characters before you have lives outside of the script. That was certainly the case here. I want to congratulate the cast for fine performances in both pieces, for simple and accessible direction and production. As generous, whole-hearted and full-bodied theatre from a time gone by that more than holds its own in the twenty-first century, this is a must-see.