FringeReview UK 2017
With BLT there’s never anything less than carat quality production and as usual some treasurable performances. Do see this rarity and you’ll end up agreeing with playwright Ron Bernas, and the team here.
A Midsummer Night's Dream’s ideal for open air summer nights: The Brighton Shakespeare Company produces the most joyous, certainly sweetest Dream I can remember. It’s fresh, certainly but also enormously warm-hearted. You feel the ‘silver bow new-bent in heaven’ has unloosed a shower of happiness.
One of the funniest, uniformly excellent productions of RND I’ve seen, it shows that Mullins enjoys a keen sense of pace, superb comic improvisation in scenes with a few props, and does what this pre-Shakespearean series claims: makes new what is in effect new to us, recreating plays from rags and patches of performing history.
Alan Bennett’s 1968 debut play Forty Years On is a Janus-faced cavalcade pretending it’s a school pageant. This production emphasizes nostalgia ahead of satire. Here the school pageant almost takes over. It’s a fine unbalancing edging us back from 1968 since we’re rather more regressive than perhaps we like to admit. This is brave, inclusive, slightly fudged, and symptomatic of our times. Forty Years On might yet transcend them.
A finely-balanced play, not on the issues, which Beaton takes as open-and-closed. But in shading the opposition to Anne Reid’s reluctant campaigner Beaton shows warmth, humour and touches of compassion. Anne Reid comprises dignity and resolute panache in equal measure. James Bolam, apparently a beat behind, charms and rivets attention by turns. Harry Hadden-Paton’s PR Joe is a magnificent, unrepentant performance of sheer nastiness and Michael Simkins’ hapless oilman surprisingly sympathetic. A play that sharpens our tools for thinking and falling about with blunt laughter.
Ayckbourn’s genius shows how literally times are changing in this early masterpiece portraying a sexual liberation more pervasive than the noisier one raging all around 1969: it shows how far the revolutions has as it were penetrated. Strachan’s brilliance is so complete, so identified with this particular play, you forget how superbly founded it is.
This is a very fine revival of The Real Inspector Hound, counting on timing as much as the consummate Hughie counts on pauses. Potton is the commanding presence in Stoppard’s farce, whilst Messingham’s Erie is an exceptionally observed teeter to despair and a sudden lurch back. You wonder what he would have made of the 1930s, and how O'Neill might have answered him.
Witty banter about the trials and tribulations of life as a single mother
La Cage aux Folles one might say comes home to Brighton’s Theatre Royal in this revival by Bill Kenwright Productions directed by Martin Connor. There’s no mystery why Brighton gets two weeks of this.
Amanda Whittington’s feelgood Ladies' Day finds Seaford Little on fine turf. Wright and James particularly together are a delight, and Faulkner’s pitch-perfect Donegal Patrick not only brings the whiff of paddock and angst but allows Forshaw to glint, contrasting her well-founded characterisation. Picott paces a sterling production from a small house, with moments of brilliance.
A funny trio of leftie performers delights Brighton
Shaw’s 1910 extraordinary Misalliance starts as fizzing drawing-room verbosity and comes to rest only after an aircraft’s crashed in on it, with two aviators – one a feminist acrobat – and a gun-toting clerk pops out of the home’s Turkish bath. Often vintage Shaw, half English drawing-room, half French farce.
Slapstick comedy is difficult to bring off, even more fiendish to write. Tomlinson’s cast turn in here a performance as fine as anything I’ve seen in Lewes. Most of all, Kelly’s superb play in their hands lowers not a tap in one of Franklin’s thermometers to any professional production.
Out of Order is a superbly revised first-rank farce with not a weak link, furiously paced featuring perhaps the only time the window (in person?) gets a curtain call.
Daniel Radcliffe’s Rosencrantz is the box-office draw, all bemusement, beautifully drawn out in a hollow-cheeked slow horror of his lot. But it’s as Guildenstern that Joshua McGuire’s sashay from affront to despair through bemusement encompasses the open-mouth ‘lads’ Hamlet greets both with. And David Haig’s Player knowing he’s the opposite of a person insulates his reflective volatility from extinction. On the fiftieth anniversary of its Old Vic debut, Stoppard’s early masterpiece still startles in such a first-rate revival, protesting life to the black-out.
Sam Holcroft modestly demurs her comedy Rules for Living is truly Ayckbournesque: she merely aspires to master some of his technique. It’s Season’s Greetings designed for robots. It’s a variation worth nailing though, not least because it interrogates a therapy many believe works.
It’s the conversations that make this courtly piece delectable. It’s Selina Cadell though who seals the quality of this revival. Her magically inflected words occasion a running benediction; it’s fitting she centres the curtain-call.
Felicity Clements has paced this production with alacrity and probing clarity. She also brings out, with a superb ensemble, the truth of Goldsmith’s characters, several like Marlow and Lumpkin emerging as minted as their fortunes. You’ll not see a more joyous, clear or truthful production of this perennial for years.
Prenger’s brought depth, perfect timing and the art of the comic pause. Above all her orchestration of risk, raunch and recovery comes like a peroration, an enormous yes as someone over in Hull once said. Launched into comic stardom beyond her singing roles, Prenger like Shirley Valentine is ready for anything now.
This puts New Venture Theatre onto a new footing. Six new plays – two by actors taking part - and six directors, all developed by NVT’s nurturing over the past year culminates in this short festival. There’s If it was an annual, even bi-annual event, it would change things in the south east.
Quilter’s best known for Glorious! and End of the Rainbow. His output’s devoted to theatrical experience; his obsession’s fed into performative actors, mainly women. Quilter doesn’t allow obvious endings, or neat ones in this touchingly funny homage to theatrical living. This production does as much for The Actress as any revival anywhere.
Like the recently-mounted The Elder Brother, though far more complex, The Custom of the Country is a work crying out for production. It’s had one or two, though this spirited, superbly idiomatic, wacky and unfailingly inventive company ought to be proud their efforts lifted this heavy-texted work to the pitch of laughter. Even when occasionally it wasn’t at first intended, they made sure it soon was.
Like Shakespeare and as we now know with Middleton in Measure for Measure, Fletcher and Massinger enjoyed a posthumous collaboration. It’s powerful, stellar in imagery and reach, something rare in comedy and perhaps only found in Shakespeare.
This is one of the very finest RNDs and with the consummate cast and minimal props, Morell makes more than an embryo production of this extraordinarily fine play. It’s like a brilliant, vividly realised sketch of something that could run.
Dorothea Myer-Bennett is simply outstanding in her unravelment from uffishness as the heroine Sylvia, to a self-discovering naked passion prepared to offer anything. That’s the essence of a playwright too-little seen who’s provoked the most blissful comedic production this spring affords. Outstanding in nearly every way, it’s another gem from Richmond’s Orange Tree.
Incestuous stars, passing of the ears, deep heat as a condition not an old muscle unguent. The dotty felicities of Patrick Barlow’s language in The Messiah directed by Rod Lewis are easily masked in the Norman Wisdom-like pratfalls of his hapless duo. Unless you add Mrs Flowers; and you should.
This Mikado not only redefines but rescues the operetta from an edgy oblivion, where we could never lose the melodies, yet increasingly hesitate to stage the work. It’s back.
The famous adage of farce as tragedy played at breakneck speed begs questions of how much pathos Moliere wished to inject, how fast he wanted to go in The Miser. All teeters towards the tragedy of the absurd. This may not be 1668 very exactly, but it’s the nearest to one side of Moliere we’ve seen for years, and conveys something of the shock of his new.
The play really is worth seeing, a credit to Trafalgar Studio’s courage in continually taking risks – ironically with an established drawing-room comedy.
Nicholas Quirke and D. A. F. T. will always confound expectations. Long may they do so. Quirke’s D.A.F.T. Theatre arrives at Brighton Open Air Theatre – or to crowd acronyms, B. O. A. T. - with Restoration dramatist William Wycherley’s 1676 The Plain Dealer. With hovering seagulls swooping for chicken legs, and a superb exit by Matthew Carrington f-ing everything then ‘F-ing interval’ it’s a sparklingly-observed revival.
It was the third and last act mingling high farce and near-tragedy as it does, that pitches this part of the already superb performance to outstanding by any standard. The legendary production by Druid Theatre Galway in 2009 came to mind. This part of the night is on a par with it. There can be no higher praise.
The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune of 1582 (published 1589) is a crackingly-paced romp starting with disputing goddesses and Jupiter’s hopeless arbitration. This is one of the very liveliest Read Not Dead performances with a remarkably detailed sort of propos, with two performances almost off the script altogether.
This is an outstandingly-conceived show, generous to cast and audience alike, superbly choreographed and performed in what might seem challenging spaces. The last blast of summer’s breath: enjoy.
Plews and Wicks have created a musical powerhouse literally all-singing and dancing, of the highest West End standards. The quintet – and they blend magnetically together – of Clifton, Barrett, Rush, Glover and McDuff have stamped character and stomped bliss on this musical.
There’s a fizz and pop to this play: Miguel the electrician has electrocuted himself. He’s done more than that though. Philip Ayckbourn should be feeling just a little proud of the professionalism of the cast, crew and his own script.
Together with textual revisions making this a newly-definitive production, with the cast re-moulding it and above all Hollander’s superbly faltering diffidence, this is the outstanding revival of a play in the West End this season.
Tamsin Greig’s extremes as Malvolia mark the first intimations of the terrible and define this production The only caveat with this predominantly youthful cast is that January’s chilly ivy hasn’t pricked more fingers. But the ground’s shifted.
Could this be the pilot to a melancholically-observed sitcom like Vicious? One audience member suggested it. Whilst The Romance of the Century is beautifully observed and deftly revivifies a much-fictioned historical turning-point, The Weatherman is outstanding comedy, as are the performances.
This is an enchanting play, with a small bitter aftertaste only lurking under the candy coating. Priestley’s lines are so beautifully constructed that they often carry the performance. Happily they get much more than that here: it’s an example of LLT ensemble-work mostly perfectly fired and romping neatly into the annals.
It was a canny idea to kick off the first commercial theatre venture in years with a new comedy by the Marx Brothers – albeit set in 1850, and by a zany ancestor of Groucho’s band. Rory Kinnear’s Karl Marx is a gloriously edged reading of selfishness and fundamental idealism sitting uneasily with insensitivity