Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
The boys, Jamie (Sam Jackson) and Ste (Thomas Law) are both emotionally deprived. Jamie is growing up with his lone mother and a succession of her more or less unsuitable boyfriends, of whom the latest, Tony (Gerard McCarthy), is doing his best to provide the attention Jamie needs though he receives little encouragement from Jamie or from Sandra (Charlie Brooks) his sexually predatory mother. Ste, living with his violent father and his elder brother, is beaten regularly and longs for some evidence of care and attention from his family.. When Sandra offers Ste refuge from his father in her house, the friendship between the two boys becomes a beautiful thing that offers both of them support and emotional escape.
The excellent cast take ownership of their characters’ tedious, unfulfilled lives, where violence is always in the offing as tension and frustration mount. Vanessa Babirye as Lea, the boys’ ex-school friend (“I’m excluded, ain’t I?”) is a delight: feisty, moody, bored, sulky and ebullient by turns, she’s a great foil for the morose Jamie and Sandra the bossy, dismissive chav who nevertheless proves she loves her son. Thomas Law as Ste brings admirable honesty and depth to the role: struggling to overcome his insecurity, afraid of ridicule or worse, he at last trusts the loving physical relationship with Jamie.
Twenty years ago, gay relationships were taboo to an extent that has been somewhat (though not wholly) mitigated in Britain today. This play was notable in 1993 for its lack of sensationalism about homosexuality. Today it still reminds us that love is based on caring and kindness between human beings, whatever their gender. This is a love story full of compassion, warmth and innocence.
© Janice Windle
This joyous production by Sasha Regan’s talented team of the old favourite, using an all-male cast, really deserves to be a sell-out. It takes the Victorian operetta into a new dimension. And I suspect that the original creators of the work would have loved it, given Gilbert’s satirical impulses and Sullivan’s genius for writing a good tune.
The plot is, of course, ridiculous. In the first scene the young hero Frederick (Samuel Nunn) is being released from his debentures as an apprentice pirate, to which his nursemaid Ruth (Alex Weatherall) committed him by mistake instead of apprenticing him as a pilot. There’s a fierce pirate king and his crew who turn out to be soft-hearted failures. Then there’s “the very modern model of a modern major general” (Miles Western) who is a know-all and a poet; a cowardly police force; and a moral dilemma for Frederick over duty versus love is based on a legalistic quibble and solved by a satirical piece of nonsense.
But it’s all an excuse for some great singing and an even greater range of comic dancing and acting. Each member of the cast seems to have a vocal range from baritone to counter-tenor. The romantic arias and duets sung by Frederick with Ruth and with Mabel (Alan Richardson) are largely played straight and are very beautiful. Richardson’s voice is intensely sweet and reached very high ranges. I almost forgot that the singer was a rather stocky young man in a dress.
The troupe’s ensemble work and stagecraft are brilliant: the approach of the “maidens” to the stage from the auditorium was hilarious. No longer pirates, they had changed voices, body language and frilly dresses, but had not put on wigs, “falsies” or make up. The resulting transformation to coy Victorian misses was all the funnier given that one had glasses and a hairy chest and all had short-back-and-sides haircuts. Their fright on meeting the pirates had us in fits of laughter as they variously fainted, threw hysterics and had to be slapped by their sisters, or cowered in tears, clutching their handkerchiefs.
I wish I had space to tell you in detail all the gems of comic acting, singing and choreography that make this wonderful production so memorable. Fill this auditorium to the brim! Quickly, get tickets and catch this riot of an entertainment before it leaves Guildford for Yorkshire.
5th May 2015