Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
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.
This production does everything perfectly. Lyn Paul, who played the demanding rôle of Mrs Johnstone in the play’s West End run in 1997 and for the past 20 years has taken it up again and again, is absolutely stunning. Her singing is flawless, her presence moving.
Sean Jones’ performance as Mickey is memorable for portraying so sensitively a vulnerable character gradually reduced by circumstances, as the charm, humour and enthusiasm of Mickey’s child-self in the first act is replaced by despair and emotional paralysis in the second.
The narrator, Dean Chisnall, is a powerful figure, part Kismet, part undertaker, part nightclub bouncer, part fixer, perhaps part demon, lurking to watch as the drama plays out. His commentaries, sung or menacingly intoned, are essential to the sense of inevitability that hangs over the story as it unfolds.
Alison Crawford is Linda, and she beautifully inhabits the character from a skinny child of eight through teenage vamp to despairing young wife and mother. There is not a weak performance in the whole cast.
The set worked perfectly, the scene changes were seamless. The music was wonderful, from the menacing drum phrase that sounded like “Eastenders” before that soap was conceived, to the haunting song of “Marilyn Monroe”, the bitter “Easy Terms” and the threatening theme of “Shoes Upon the Table”.
The New Victoria was packed, with people of all ages. There were few dry eyes as we stood for five curtain calls. We left with the message and the songs ringing in our ears and minds. Blood Brothers is a musical to revisit, however often you’ve seen it before.
This review has also been published on the theatre page of Essential Surrey online magazine this week. "B;ood Brothers" is at the New Victoria Theatre until 21st January.
I must go down to the sea again...
Friends were surprised when we booked a cruise from Southampton UK to the Caribbean, over Christmas and New Year 2016-17. "Which airline are you on?" they asked, confusing me for a moment because I hadn't even considered flying anywhere and I'd booked a sea-voyage because I don't like long-haul fllights. We live in easy driving distance of Southampton and it seemed a natural plan to hop on a cruise ship that would take us via La Coruña in Spain, straight to Barbados, St Lucia, St Maartens, Antigua, Grenada and home via San Miguel in the Azores. We have been married for six months now, but we treated the trip as our belated honeymoon.
Of course, we soon realised that there was much more to it than a ferry-ride. We were at sea on the Atlantic Ocean for a total of 16 days, while P & O did its best to keep us from suffering from cabin fever and scurvy. They certainly succeeded regarding the scurvy. The food was plentiful, delicious and varied, and available at all hours of day and night, all included in the price of our ticket.
The cabin fever was also catered for, with a daily programme of talks on the places we visited and other topics (many of which, sadly, turned out to be aimed at selling something), deck sports, tennis, golf practice, yoga, a small gym, a library, a painting class, a choir, guest comedians, film showings, quizzes, dancing, and music and dance shows by resident entertainers.
We also met a lot of people, through sharing dining tables with different passengers every evening. We found a number of like-minded souls, and had some good laughs with them. We were amazed to find that everyone we met had been on cruises several times before, and some virtually lived on cruise ships!
Not much of the entertainment suited our taste though we did enjoy some of the films, and particulary enjoyed meeting Eddie the Eagle, who joined the ship for the last three days, promoting the recent film about his life. His talks were highly enjoyable, because he is true enthusiast and a very honest speaker with a great sense of humour; those qualities give him huge charisma.
Of course I went along to the art group. which was run by a very pleasant man who had originally been an engineer but now teaches watercolour painting. I decided that I preferred to paint independently, though. The paintings and drawings I'm publishing below are from a small (A5) cartrige paper sketchbook and an A3 pad of watercolour paper that I took along with me.
On St Maartens we took a taxi tour and were shown the lovely nudist beach (unoccupied) at Orient Bay, and another beach next to the international airport there, where people go to admire the planes as they swoop in over the sea... an unusual tourist attraction, I thought, because I normally prefer my holiday resorts out of earshot of Boeings.
In Barbados we had a morning on the long white sandy beach between our docked ship and Bridgetown and admired the succession of rainbows over the turquoise sea. In the port of Castries, St Lucia, we found the park containg a bust of the Nobel Prize winning poet Derek Walcott, wandered round the busy market, and in a church yard came across the tomb of a colonial wife, Anne Otto Bayer, who died on a voyage to England in 1826 and was brought back to be buried in St John's Church "by her earnest desire". Her husband John was buried there too, ten years later.
Everywhere in the islands we admired the beautiful colours of the buildings, profusions of unexpected clashes and atonal harmonies we haven't seen anywhere else. In San Miguel, in the Portuguese Azores, we admired the wonderful baroque cathedral and I bought a pair of delightfully comfortable silver and black shoes in the sales.
In our 24 days away, we saw and photographed so many things, grand and trivial, that it would take 6 blogs like this to do them justice. (Go to the Facebook albums of my husband, Dónall Dempsey, if you would like to see more of our photos.) I'll sign off here, and leave you with some pages from my holiday sketchbook.