Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Zindabad by David Conville
The Mill, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
28th April – 7th May
The Mill Studio’s world premier staging of “Zindabad” presents an unexpectedly large dramatic experience in this small theatrical space. The title is the Urdu word for victory or patriotism and refers to Pakistan after partition by the British in 1947 and it's a tale of people in the grip of high passions, both political and personal. In the frightening social upheaval following the division of India into separate Muslim and Hindu states, law and order are overturned by angry murderous mobs of both factions. Against this violent background, a private story of illicit love, infidelity and divided loyalty is played out almost at our feet while history rages on screens above and beyond the comfortable living rooms inhabited by expatriate British landowners Nick and Sally Lawrence, Betty Swami the absent local commissioner’s wife, and the archaeologists Harry Lesseps and Mortimer Wheeler (the real-life TV archaeologist in the 1950’s).
The interwoven situations are fraught with danger for all the characters. For Harry Lesseps and his married lover Sally Lawrence, the danger at first seems mostly psychological, but more physically dangerous to them is the mob violence that hems them in. Tension mounts exponentially throughout the play as all the main protagonists gradually realise that they can no longer hope to control the people whom up to now they've employed and patronised under the British Empire.
The casting is perfect: Justin Butcher as the passionate Franco-Hindu Harry Lesseps is a brilliant foil for Andrew Wincott’s Nick, tight-lipped and arrogant as the wronged husband; Rebecca Johnson is the archetypal neglected wife who has been swept off her feet despite her moral scruples. Linda Thorson plays Betty Swami, the resilient long-term expat Englishwoman married to a Hindu, with delightful humour; Frank Barrie portrays Wheeler with equal charisma as a middle-aged charmer with a seductive eye for the ladies. The supporting roles of faithful servants (Antony Zaki and Ali), and vengeful rebellious ex-employee (Ranjit Krishnamma) complete the strong ensemble.
To achieve on the intimate stage of the Mill the effect of a cinematic historical blockbuster while treating the audience to engaging interplay among strongly drawn individual characters is a real feat by director Richard Digby Day and designer Tim Reed. David Conville, who wrote and produced “Zindabad”, inspired by his own Anglo-Indian upbringing, has created an absorbing drama that works on several levels. Not to be missed.
Janice Windle 29/04/2016
"Jerusalem" by Jez Butterworth
directed by Marie Gardner for the Pranksters Theatre Company
There’s a bucolic, rumbustious romp in modern Merrie England at the Electric Theatre in Guildford this week, leading up to St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. But it’s not all cakes and ale in “Jerusalem”, nor in this neck of the Wiltshire woods, despite Morris dancing (the Guildford Morris Blitz and Pilgrim Morris Men performing in the foyer in the interval), a (missing) village Queen of the May and a stream of dialogue that’s never less than entertaining, comic and at times surreal. Be prepared for some strong language throughout and a roller-coaster of dramatic action in the second act.
Mark Ashdown plays “Rooster” John Byron, a shamanic drug dealer living in a camp in the forest, whose charisma, raves and ready hand-outs of drugs and alcohol attract a motley band of young people and the hatred and suspicion of residents of the new houses in the village, who want their corner of England “cleaned up”. It’s a demanding role and Ashdown fills it with huge gusto and sensitivity to the nuances of the character. Despite his rascally ways, we begin to sympathise with Rooster before the end of the play.
The young hangers-on, played with wonderful energy and great comic timing by Alex Mircica, Paul Weems, Neil Brown, Amy Yorston and Amy de Roche, are like Shakespearean mechanicals in their naivety. Lee is about to go off to Australia with little or no money in his pocket; Davey’s chauvinism is so complete that he feels ill if he finds he’s wandered out of Wiltshire into another county and he “can’t see the point of other countries”; Ginger’s ambition to be “called” a DJ is the butt of endless banter and cruel practical jokes. The girls who generously offer Lee “one for the road” are nevertheless freshly and innocently living for the moment, which seems to be all they own.
Phil Snell as the eccentric Professor speaks up in poetry for the English belief in individualism and independence. Ian Creese as Wesley the disillusioned village pub landlord speaks up drunkenly for the Englishman hounded by his corporate employers on the one hand and his wife on the other.
The Pranksters have created a highly comic, poetic, dramatic commentary on the state of England’s “green and pleasant land” in Marie Gardner’s excellent production of “Jerusalem”.
The play runs until Shakespeare's anniversary/St George's Day - 23rd April 2016.
You can buy tickets here: http://pranksterstheatre.org.uk
This review is also published online at Essential Surrey (www.essential surrey.co.uk/theatre)
I'm loving being offered the chance to review theatre in my part of Surrey, through the online news magazine Essential Surrey. This week it was a production by the local drama group Guilburys of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot", at the Electric Theatre An ambitious choice, and the first time a production of the play has been seen in Guildford for fifteen years, I'm told.
This was my review, now up on Essential Surrey's "What's on" page.
Don’t wait! Go to see the Electric Theatre’s brilliant production of this classic Beckett play. Angst? Absurdist? Existentialist? You can put labels on it, but the fact is that Beckett stares into the abyss that’s human existence – and laughs! And we laugh with him.
So here’s the plot: two tramps, Estragon (“Gogo”) and Vladimir (“Didi”), are hanging about in a barren landscape with one dead-looking tree and a blank sky, discussing why they’re there, whether they should move on, and (much of the time) bickering as old friends or married couples do. They would like to leave, but they’ve promised they’ll wait for Godot. But the only other people who pass by are a strange pair of men, Pozzo and his slave Lucky. And, as one critic of the play famously said “nothing happens, twice”. But actually, quite a lot happens.
The banter between Didi (Dave Ufton) and Gogo (Tim Brown) is brilliantly handled by both. Tim Brown is a charming Gogo with a goldfish memory, who lives only in the moment. His sulky obedience to his more prosaic friend’s insistence that they go on waiting, and his obsession with his boots, give him the air of a child on a long journey asking “Are we there yet?”
Phill Griffin as Pozzo delivers a masterly performance, part aristocrat, part military leader, part circus ringmaster, arrogant, power-obsessed, narcissistic, brutal, frightening and funny all at once. His manic presence makes the tramps’ behaviour and conversation look sane and humane by contrast. Tom Kent as Lucky, Pozzo’s inappropriately named slave, in sad clown dress, unusually performs the important “thinking” speech with bravura and eloquence, which only turns to madness as he is tackled and silenced by Gogo and Didi.
The power relationships among the characters are handled by Oli Bruce the director with tremendous humour and much slapstick. This and the banter between the tramps reminds us of the best of Laurel and Hardy, while Pozzo’s aristocratic drawl is reminiscent of Terry Thomas of “Carry On” fame. It really works.
In this classic absurdist play, time, space and human relationships are fluid and ambiguous. As Vladimir says, who knows whether anything we remember really happened, or if we are all dreams ourselves? Becket offers no answers. All we can do is amuse ourselves while we wait for Godot.