And another thing
Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swales
Guildbury’s Theatre Company
Two and a half hours of sheer delight, playfulness of a high order
This joyful romp is the story of Nell, the daughter of a brothel-keeper and hawker of oranges in Cheapside who became one of the first female actors on the English stage. She rose to the status of favourite mistress to King Charles II, the “Merry Monarch”, after he regained the crown following Oliver Cromwell’s repressive decade of rule. This was the era when women were for the first time allowed onstage. Keeping broadly to historical facts, Jessica Swales has subverted history to create a rip-roaring musical comedy set in the pleasure-loving court of Charles II and the revitalised theatrical milieu of the 1660’s.
The star, in the several plays-within-the-play, and of the whole Guildbury’s production, is Amy de Roche as Nell Gwynn. Her beautiful smile, her unflagging energy and charisma and her lovely voice (as well as the other charms that her seventeenth century dresses reveal) enable her to carry off this demanding role with huge success. But every one of the cast turned in a great performance, from Edward Kynaston as the affronted male diva usurped as a player of female roles, to Pam Hemelryk as Nancy, the dresser attempting to replace Nell in a rehearsal and driving the director (Andrew Donovan) to distraction with her ineptitude, in one of the funniest scenes.
Jessica Swales has written a winning play, combining historical fact, great songs, some amusing references to current contemporary issues and gentle fun at the expense of the theatrical profession in general. More seriously, Nell in Swales’ play represents an ideal of modern woman as an independent, pragmatic person, who values herself and is valued for her sexuality but also for her honesty and her talent.
This is an excellent evening’s entertainment by this accomplished Surrey company. If you can get tickets, either for the production at Waverley Abbey, Farnham, on Saturday 15th July (matinée or evening) or at Haslemere Museum 27th - 29th July, don’t delay - you won’t regret it!
Showing at Waverley Abbey, Farnham, 15th July at 2pm and 8pm
at Haslemere Museum 27th -29th July
Photographs © Phill Griffith.
Tickets available at http://www.guildburys.com
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, says Puck. And there we were, in a real forest a stone’s throw from Guildford High Street, transported by the Guildford Shakespeare Company’ magical (and hilarious) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is a tale of young love (which never did run smooth, as young Lysander points out), dysfunctional marriage in the faery and the mortal worlds, trickery, sorcery, and the equally illusory world of the workers’ dramatic society.
Director Lotte Wakeham has set this production in Guildford, and the date is 1967, with all the fashion fun, timeless musical favourites (and some emerging feminist angst) that the sixties engendered! Oberon is a preening rock star with a huge ego, a beautiful brocade coat and John Lennon glasses; Hermia, the ‘pretty one’ of the four lovers, is a rock-chick in kinky boots. The mechanicals’ play is put on by the Dennis Factory Amateur Dramatic Society and the young people are all students at the new Surrey University (which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.)
These local references drew us very willingly into the play, and so did the actors’ frequent breaking of the ‘fourth wall’, as when a member of the audience is beckoned to hand Helena (the ‘plain one’) her crutches as she slips on the grassy bank up to the ‘stage’. Those crutches came to feature large in the quarrels among the lovers: as weapons, as wings, as defences – the business and the invention were endlessly comic! As Helena, Meghan Tyler was splendidly cross with the boys she believed were teasing her, and fiercely Celtic when she came to defend herself in the battle royal that Oberon stirs up among the young people.
Sarah Gobran as Hippolyta, the reluctant bride of starchy, arrogant King Theseus, and as Titania, has an excellent line in lip-curling scorn and beautiful floaty dresses. Ailsa Joy is a fiery, passionate Hermia, with brilliant dance and fight skills as well as great comic timing.
The Mechanicals, as always, steal much of the show. Matt Pinches is irresistibly comic as Bottom, whether officious at the drama rehearsal, confused and braying as Titania”s bewitched lover, or playing Pyramus in an outsized breastplate astride a furry hobbyhorse. His talent for rendering ordinary lines into side-splitting gobbledegook never ceases to surprise and delight.
Emma Fenney as Puck, Oberon’s tireless secretary and fixer, is a light-footed but down-to earth spirit, sometimes wrong-footed, forever perky, who holds all these worlds together.
This ‘Dream’ is a masterpiece of fun, invention and imaginative comic business,, all set in a world that’s new to most of the audience: the beautiful hidden depths of the forest behind Rack’s Close. If there are tickets left, go quickly to the GSC’s website and snap them up for a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
This review also appears on the Theatre page of Essential Surrey Magazine.
Tickets at https://www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk/booking-start.php
A standing ovation in Woking for this fantastic, warm display of colour, dance and camp comedy with an edge of social comment!
La Cage aux Folles at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking
(Original farce by Jean Poiret; musical by Jerry Herman with script by Harvey Fierstein, 1982)
Directed by Martin Connor
The curtain at the New Victoria rises to reveal another proscenium stage, the gilt and crimson plush of the Cage aux Folles in gay Paris. And here come the dancing girls in all their ostrich feathers and satin glory, with legs to die for and energy and style that sets the mood of the evening. There’s a story, too, that blossoms in the second act into a moral parable for the times (one question is: just what makes a mother?). And in telling it, there’s high, raucous camp comedy, farce, and joyous celebration of love, life and diversity.
It’s a simple story: Georges and Albin are partners in life and in the Cage aux Folles, a successful Parisian drag club. Jean-Michel, Georges’ son by a previous heterosexual relationship, arrives home to announce that he wants to marry Anne, who turns out to be the daughter of an influential and prudish local bigwig who would like to close the club. Their ensuing machinations to try to solve the problem are hilarious.
John Partridge as Albin is certainly the star of the show, as well as of La Cage: beautiful, lithe (he originally trained as a ballet-dancer), with a singing voice of incredible range and purity, a talent for comedy and a way of working the audience that had everyone joining in and laughing with him. Partridge is a great partner to Adrian Zmed as Georges, in their scenes of pathos and tenderness as well as high comedy. A memorably camp comic performance by Samson Ajewole makes the character of Jacob both ridiculous and lovable: he got a special cheer from the audience on each appearance in the second act!
The high-kicking chorus, all at least six feet tall in their six-inch heels, are extraordinary: the costumes by Gary McCann are lush and the dance sequences are a treat for the eyes.
La Cage aux Folles was something of a landmark in the history of gay rights when it first appeared as a film in 1978 and as a musical in 1982. It’s full of double entendres but also of emotional and societal dichotomies, making the case for love of all kinds and between all genders, against prejudice and selfish unfeeling. The theme songs I loved best sum up the show’s message: Now is the Time, and I am What I Am.
Don’t miss it! It will cheer up your whole week!
This review will appear on Essential Surrey's theatre page http://www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre-arts
The show is on at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, all this week until Saturday 10th June Book tickets here: http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-victoria-theatre/
Bethan Nash's Emma is captivating. She beautifully portrays Emma’s manipulative charm, which dissolves into adolescent tantrums or self-congratulatory smugness in private as she reviews with Mr Knightley the results of her machinations. Her snobbishness, her shallow concern for appearances and her lack of empathy for the feelings of people less well-off than herself (despite her ostentatious “good works”) are flaws that can be forgiven by Mr Knightley (Phillip Edgely), in the face of her open, childlike nature. Knightley is the steadying influence in her hectic world of small-town gossip and intrigue..
If Emma is snobbish, Mrs Elton (Hannah Genesius) shows how London society “does” snobbishness and social control. This is another spirited performance; the bitchy interactions between the two women are very funny.
Kate Copeland (Miss Bates) also turns in a memorable performance as the pitiable spinster, whose social status has fallen with her finances. Polly Misch as Harriet, Emma’s even more vulnerable seventeen-year-old protégé, is touching in her naivety and silliness. Georgie Oulton as Jane, at risk of ruin by an untrustworthy suitor, completes Austen’s parade of the plight of women without money of their own in Regency society. Nicholas Tizzard, George Kemp and Rhys Jones play the other male characters: the fragile anxious invalid Mr Woodhouse, Mr Elton who wants a wife in a hurry, and Frank Churchill, the handsome cad.
Emma is set in Surrey., which added to the fun: the Leatherhead audience found references to trips to Epsom, a visit to London for a haircut (‘sixteen miles on horseback’) and the reassurance that ‘the scarlet fever has stopped at Cobham’, quite comical.
This adaptation of Emma is authentic and accessible even to those who haven’t read the novel or seen the films. The staging is original and imaginatively designed. And you will surely fall in love with the flawed and charming character of Emma Woodhouse! As Miss Austen herself said, through the character of Mr Knightley: ‘Emma is faultless, in spite of her faults.’
I saw Emma at Leatherhead Theatre; from Tuesday May 30th to Saturday June 3rd it's at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford. Definitely a five-star show.
You Give Me Fever by Jack Lynch
The Back Room of the Star Inn, Quarry Street, Guildford, GU1 3TY
23-27 May 2017 at 8pm
A re-telling in modern terms of the classical Greek myth of Theseus, Ariadne and Phaedra, seamlessly incorporating a score of well-loved hit songs performed by Pippa Winslow in a cabaret setting. An imaginative, engaging piece of musical theatre.
In the small, intimate setting of the Star’s Back Room this week, there’s a show that surprised and delighted us with its wit and smooth presentation. The lush range of Pippa Winslow’s voice, both technical and emotional, and her perfect feel for pace in the narrative, translated a little-known ancient myth into a tale that everyone could relate to.
Effortlessly moving from spoken narrative into jazz singing and back again, Winslow held us entranced. She’s able to change register with lightning speed. We particularly enjoyed Zing Went the Strings of my Heart, her bitchy portrayal of a lisping Ariadne through the jealous eyes of Phaedra: a masterly piece of comedy. We loved Comes Love in the voice of Daedelas, the man who made wings for Icarus. Her original interpretation of Girl from Ipanema, was also a highlight. She could hit a note of pathos, too, as in One for my Baby. Sensuality dripped in every note of I am in Love and many others of the songs in this rich score.
The accompanying guitarist, James Shannon, gave the musical numbers sensitive support with his arrangements. He did emerge from anonymity once, memorably, but no spoilers!
You Give me Fever was at the Yvonne Arnaud Mill Studio last year, and we’re very glad of a second chance to see it as it tours the South East. It’s a short show of two 35-minute acts, with an interval, a great addition to a night out. The fast pace, witty writing and character acting and brilliant musical performances make it a go-see.
Tickets for this week can be purchased from http://www.guildfordfringe.com/events-archive/you-give-me-fever-the-phaedra-cabaret/
the black market and to the Germans, and in danger of deportation to the concentration camps or summary execution, such resistance as they could muster had to be small scale, undercover sabotage.
A family left without their menfolk, Jeanne Becquet, her young teenaged daughter Estelle and her daughter-in-law, Lily, are preyed upon by Major von Pfunz. Their spirited attempts at self-defence are shown to be puny in the face of his power as the occupier. Estelle vents her anger and the frustration they all feel, with rebellious challenges to von Pfunz’s face, small acts of personal sabotage upon him, and an attempt to invoke the supernatural against him.
When Lily finds and brings home to nurse a man on the point of death, who has no memories of his identity and speaks English and German equally fluently, Estelle names him Gabriel, like the angel, believing her symbolic rites have worked.
The cast is very strong. Belinda Lang is magnificent as Jeanne, her cutting remarks and desperate insolence dominating the first half of the play. The character of Estelle is equally powerful, excellently portrayed by Venice van Someren as teenage angst writ large and focused in rebellious tantrums and a wild belief in the power of good to triumph over injustice.
Paul McGann manages to transform his appearance and stage presence into the unattractive, complex and ultimately evil von Pfunz, to the extent that he is virtually unrecognizable from his screen reputation in Withnall and I and Dr Who.
As in all Buffini plays, there are moments when the characters discuss the morality of their situations. The dogmatic, merciless attitude of diehard Nazis towards ‘inferior races’ is exposed by von Pfunz’s description of Lily (‘a cancer in your family’) and his definition of war as ‘force versus chaos – law no longer applies’ are chilling and apt in today’s global crises as they were in WWII.
This is an enjoyable and thought-provoking night at the theatre, well worth seeing.
This review is also published on the Essential Surrey website,: http://www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre-arts
There’s a hilarious comedy at the Yvonne Arnaud this week. I hardly expected to laugh and cry so much on a Tuesday night, at a play about aging people marginalised in a private nursing home – and most of the tears were of laughter!
We meet Diana Trent (Nichola Auliffe) grumpily breakfasting in ‘Bayview’ Home for the Elderly, and in the first few minutes of the play we quickly realise that she is more than a match for the frankly creepy staff who try to patronise and control her.
With a quick-fire series of withering glares and killer put-downs Diana shows her contempt for Harvey, the inadequate, narcissistic manager and Jane, his assistant, whose inept attempts to cajole her like a fractious child she elbows aside, metaphorically and physically (making excellent use of her walking stick at key moments!) Her view of aging as a bad joke played on humanity, her cynicism and her indomitable energy are an inspiration to all of us!
Enter Tom (David Benson), a new and, in his own way, an equally rebellious inmate, and a story begins to unfold, as Diana finds herself and romance is born, without sentimentality or euphemism, at Bayview. The end is surprising – though, on reflection, to be expected.
This is an amazing piece of entertainment, successful on all levels. The strong cast play perfect stereotypes: Nichola Auliffe the feisty ex-war correspondent who won’t lie down and die quietly; Jeffrey Holland as Tom, who rebels by retreating ad lib into rich private fantasies; Samuel Collings as Harvey, the vain, neurotic manager, whose body language and sometimes acrobatic stage presence is horribly mesmerising and Emily Pithon, who embodies all badly educated carers as his pathetic, wheedling, downtrodden admirer, Jane. Diana’s niece, Sarah, is played vigorously by Joanna Bending as a chip off the old block that is her aunt.
Michael Aitkins originally conceived the idea for Waiting for God as a stage play in 1990 but instead it became a successful TV series between 1990 and 1994. Now Aitkins has revived and rewritten it for the modern stage, bringing it up to date with sparkling, witty dialogue and a fast pace, reinforcing the attitudes that the aging generation of today recognise: resilience, self-respect and a refusal to give up life without a struggle or to lose their sense of humour.
Director James Seabrook has produced a winner – do go and enjoy it!
This review will also be published on the theatre review page of Essential Surrey online magazine
Is this London, or the USA? No, this is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and it’s the Capitol in Rome, not Washington. We’re about to witness the downfall of “the greatest Roman of them all”: Brutus, “an honourable man”, driven by his honest belief in political integrity and his distrust of hereditary power to carry out a terrible deed: the murder of his friend, his country’s leader.
This is William Shakespeare’s archetypal tragedy, which explores the dilemma of a good man driven to perform evil deeds by his own beliefs. As Gemma Fairlie, the director, points out, recent productions of Julius Caesar have often been set in such countries as modern Iraq and Serbia. The play poses timeless questions: individual conscience versus political expediency; where should power lie in society; the nature of honour, and above all the role of the mob and the ability of politicians to manipulate us if we let them.
As a member of the audience in Holy Trinity Church last night, I was part of the mob, waving placards at the direction of Caesar’s minders, applauding his self-congratulatory speeches, and finally, after an interval tour of the war-zone that’s the consequence of Caesar’s assassination, signing up to one of the rival factions’ armies.
As usual, the Guildford Shakespeare Company have produced a mind-blowing production. All the players turn in magnificent performances, most in several different roles, and the principals are very powerful indeed. Noel White as Caesar plays the public charisma and private vanity and insecurity of the great man perfectly. Brutus, played by Johanne Murdock in this gender-neutral production, is powerful in the second half as the commander of the conspirators’ army. Her response as her dying friend Julius looks up gasping “Et tu, Brute” brought a tear to my eye.
Jack Wharrier as Mark Anthony is magnificent; he delivers the speech that turns the mob against the conspirators with such passion that “Brutus is an honourable man”, at first a compliment, becomes spitting irony and rabble-rousing rhetoric. Society is shattered into anarchy.
Design, lighting and sound are wonderful. I was particularly impressed by the lightning effects that flashed up on the high stained glass windows above us. The company's imaginative use of this unusual dramatic space is reminiscent of the Jacobean theatre in the great houses of the time. I loved the conducted tour of the "war zone" behind the scenes, in the interval, too.
This is another palpable hit (forgive the pun and change of play!) for the Guildford Shakespeare Company.
Julius Caesar is at Holy Trinity Church until 25th February. Tickets from https://www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk/tickets.php
or on the door - but don't risk missing this - seats are limited!
This review is also published on Essential Surrey's What's On page.
http://www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre-arts/review-guildford-shakespeare-society-julius-caesar/ with photographs,
Not an obvious source of farce or laughs, you’d think, but this is Ayckbourn, and however black, the humour is there, illuminating the real subject of this play: the nature of the artist’s drive to create and the way that that can relate negatively to his need for human relationships and his family’s need for him.
The tussle between Jerome’s need to create a definitive piece of music, and his need to use every significant experience in his life as raw material for his art, is made concrete here. He has listening devices in every room in his flat, recording his family’s and guests’ voices, as he searches for the sounds that will bring his music to life. Not a recipe for relaxed relationships, as he has discovered, but that doesn’t deter him. As Alan Ayckbourn himself writes:
“Jerome steals bits of people and really doesn’t even care at all … completely shameless …”
The first version of the play was shelved because Heather Stoney, now his wife, was horrified by the uniformly negative message it carried. Rewriting it to be staged in 1987, Ayckbourn introduced the theme of ‘love’ and a new dimension entered the play.
The star of the show is a most engaging robot, programmed by Jerome to speak phrases from his recordings when triggered by real human voices. The female robot, with suggestions of “The Stepford Wives” in her behaviour and relationship to Jerome, is a wonderful piece of Ayckbourn fantasy and the source of a great deal of comic business and irony.
The question of the value of being human as opposed to being a machine,is another theme that "Henceforward" approaches, with a cynicism that belongs more to the character of Jerome than to his creator, I would guess from Alan Ayckbourne's programme note. And the business of being an actor, too - how much does Zoë feel fit for any role in life? "It depends on the script, dear," she trills.
The cast are faultless, to a man, woman and robot, with Laura Matthews and Jacqueline King turning in exceptional performances. The synthesised music, composed by the author/director himself, is an impressive part of the production. Alan Ayckbourn’s direction brings out in the production all the edgy farce, black comedy and menace in his play.
It’s a classic Ayckbourn, not to be missed.
"Henceforward" is at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, until 28th January 2017
A slightly shorter version of this review will appear in the Theatre section of Essential Surrey magazine later this week.