FringeReview UK 2016
Directed By Leigh Ward Brighton Little Theatre strike again with sets and costumes to produce a fresh insight into this perennial. Steven Adams’ sets and three costumiers (Margaret Skeet, Barbara Campbell, Ann Atkins) and Patti Griffiths’ wigs deserve naming, as well as Beverley Grover for lighting.
Brighton Little Theatre have always impressed with sets and costumes. This time they surpass themselves in what amounts to a fresh insight into this perennial. Steven Adams’ sets and three costumiers (Margaret Skeet, Barbara Campbell, Ann Atkins) and Patti Griffiths’ wigs deserve individual praise, as well as Beverley Grover’s lighting. This production directed By Leigh Ward is also playing at BOAT from 21-14 July.
The triple-turned set, Art Nouveau interior of Algernon’s London flat, the flower-potted garden trellises a finally library proved a supremely neat unfussy but supremely elegant way to move three locations. Discreet projected visuals for the garden enhanced this. Elgar’s wind ensemble music during interludes – he composed it around 1880 for the county lunatic asylum – seems deft, rhythmically daft and wholly appropriate.
This is a production to relish for the older cast, who here take on a pitch-perfect weight and authority. Lady Bracknell’s first to appear, and Patti Griffiths (yes the wig-designer) acts in a way that flowers in particular – as it were – in the last buttonholing act with Jack and Gwendolen wearing purple adornments to their cream, where Algernon and Cicely sport bright green for rusticity. That is, encased in her bronzed Amazonian costume she’s not the stately monster of many productions, but one active, furiously shocked, imperious and violent in her bustles, always reined-in by a wonderfully suspect regality. Her ‘handbag’ moment is a crescendo that continues. That’s not to spoil the moment, which is fresh enough to banish traditional rendition.
In the fourth act this more vibrant acting concatenates in the BLT’s tiny space as Miss Prism (Caroline Lambe, with the right firm voice, and not as so often a wilted one) topples back and fends off the man – Jack Worthing – who suddenly thinks he’s found his mother. Indeed the whole of this denouement is lively, rapidly shifting and full of tremulous expectation as people (Worthing amongst them) leap out of the room rummage upstairs and apparate again.
If Carolein Lambe more than holds her own against Vryony Cook’s bright chippy and appealing Cicely, she melts – as who wouldn’t – at Gerry Wicks’ Burgundy tones and authoritative sway. Despite his mildness you see for once he’s not some dunce of a canon given to a retiring actor as a favour, but someone alive in age to the charms of Lambe and more convincingly than in any other production I’ve seen, their mature attraction doesn’t look quite the silly tying-up it might be.
Neil Drew as an able quickly-offended butler shines too as both Lane ad Merriman in two households, having the grace to look subtly different. Kitty Fox Davis has studied perhaps the most famous Gwendolen on film and takes it as a delightfully fruity license. Her innuendo, deep-voiced – more overtly sexual than some productions – works very well here suggesting her mother’s imperiousness and command. She cheerfully demands Cook’s Cicely opposes it with spirit, quick wit and a lively almost improvisatory innocence that marks this character more deftly than normally.
Steven Adams conveys the right spirit and almost voice, though all four younger actors – particularly the men – don’t quite pitch the pointillist superficiality of Wilde’s characters as should ideally happen. Adam is a tad more confident in conversational scenes than Myles Locke’s Jack Worthing but the latter comes into his own in his sudden ardent flurries and his final speeches come across more authoritatively. Both move well and both eat muffins and cucumber sandwiches with supreme nonchalance.
The props and real cakes, the movement on such a small stage is consummate from all concerned. Particularly so since there’s more than average activity, but this never threatens to upstage the artificiality which can too easily become mannered and static. This never happens here. Ward has nudged this production to a different life for the play. Do see it.