Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
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