Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
What would have happened if Romeo had woken up a few minutes earlier at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy and the ‘star-cross’d lovers’ had survived? How would the fourteen-year-olds’ romantic dream have stood up to the test of time, ageing and the stresses and routines of married life? Ephraim Kishon’s play, brought to the Electric Theatre stage this week by the Guildburys, sees the situation thirty years after their survival: Juliet as a discontented, frustrated wife and Romeo a seedy middle-aged husband with money worries and mother-in-law problems, battling with each other over the disappointments and disillusionment of it all. And who do they blame? The author, literally, of their troubles: William Shakespeare himself!
That’s where it gets surreal, for Will himself is haunting them. Written as iconic romantic lovers, now they’re locked in an archetypal marital conflict. Only Will can solve their problems and he’s much more interested in strutting like a peacock, declaiming in blank verse (unlike the rest of the characters, he’s forgotten how to speak prose except at moments of great stress), and attempting to seduce their own fourteen-year-old daughter, Lucrezia. Lucrezia, a modern “daughter from hell” is totally up for it; according to Juliet’s old Nurse, now a friend of the family, she takes after her mother Juliet at that age!
This a rumbustious take on Shakespeare, and incidentally a romp through the text of several plays. Friar Lawrence is senile and keeps thinking he’s in ‘Hamlet’ and Shakespeare himself is prone to declaiming from Macbeth, Julius Caesar and the history plays, in his conversations with the unhappy couple. We’re the groundlings, and at one moment the Bard invites our questions – so you might want to come to the play with an inquiry he can answer from the grave – for instance, who did he leave his very best bed to?
As always, the Guildburys have brought all their enthusiasm and dramatic skills to bear on this production, directed by Steffen Zschaler. Jonathan Constant is a wryly humorous, hen-pecked Romeo, harried by Danielle Buckett, his shrill, disillusioned Juliet, in scenes of marital discord that may strike a chord with many middle-aged couples. But their mutual support against Shakespeare also rings true. After all, they’re in the position of discontented children complaining to a parent, ‘I didn’t ask to be born!’
Ian McShee as the preening ghost of Shakespeare is brilliant. His dancing, self-congratulatory body language and swift changes of oral tone and register are a delight. Tuuli Albekogliu is Lucrezia, a tall streak of defiance who transmutes to a capricious temptress when Shakespeare is about. Tina Wareham gives a memorable, humorous and professional performance as the old Nurse, and Graham Russell-Price’s interpretation (in faux-Irish) of Friar Lawrence in our “Me Too” age is very funny. And Tautvydas Kuiiesius, the guitarist, deserves an accolade for his amazing cockerel impersonations!
This satire was written after Kishon had survived Nazi concentration camps in Poland, and three marriages. He clearly learned much in his long life – above all, how to laugh!
This review was first published online at www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre
This brilliant play was at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, in the week beginning 12th March 2019 and my review of it appeared in Essential Surrey magazine that week.
We’re all aboard the SS Italian Castle for an evening of outrageous overacting, hilarious sight-gags, running gags, puns and misleading conversations sparklingly interwoven in the masterly way that fans will recognise from other Tom Stoppard comedies. This is a pastiche of musical comedy that really works.
The story is based on a play by the Hungarian playwright Ferenc Moulnar, “The Play’s the Thing”. In Stoppard’s version two playwrights and three of the cast of the play they’re writing are all cooped up together on a liner crossing from Cherbourg to New York, trying to complete the script. But a love triangle involving the leading man, the leading lady and the pianist is constantly interfering with the progress of the plot they’re trying to finalise.
Enter Dvornichek, the cabin steward (Charlie Stemp) who is quickly renamed by Turai (John Partridge) and Gal (Matthew Cottle) the writers, and becomes the character who explains all the details of the present situation onstage, for our benefit, as if the action so far hasn’t made it clear enough. Gradually the writers’ power over their play becomes shared, and then taken over, by the rest of the characters: Natasha, the passionate female lead and ex-lover of Ivor Fish (Simon Dutton), Adam (Bob Ostlere) her present fiancé and Dvornichek, now called Murphy the Irish policeman for the purposes of the play within the play. In the tradition of all musical comedies of the first half of the twentieth century, all the knots, both among the characters and in Turai’s play, are satisfactorily untangled and the evening ends with some spectacular dancing by Charlie Stemp and John Partridge, and an unexpected musical performance by Issy van Randwyck as Natasha.
The set is dazzling: we could almost smell the sea air. The costumes and dancing are a delight, the songs and dance routines are beautifully and satirically performed. The whole cast delivers Stoppard’s intricate counterpointed dialogues, full of wordplay and misunderstandings, with perfect dramatic timing. The running jokes are irresistibly funny: the steward, new to the sea-board life, is mysteriously staggering to a ship’s roll when the SS Italian Castle is in dock, yet in a storm he stands steady as a rock while the passengers are being thrown helplessly around the deck. And we wonder, will Turai ever actually be served with the brandy he keeps ordering and that Dvornichek keeps faithfully bringing? (No spoilers for that running gag.)
It’s no surprise to read later that in 1953 PG Wodehouse also created a version of Moulnar’s 1926 play, setting it in a castle, with Dvornichek a Jeeves-like butler. Stoppard’s 1984 version has the same appeal as Wodehouse, and this slick comedy hasn’t lost any of its appeal in the twenty-first century. For an evening of fun and laughter, don’t miss it!
Janice Dempsey 12/3/19