Single Spies ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Alan Bennett is a playwright that most are familiar with, if not for his plays then certainly for his films (which started as stage productions), History Boys and Lady in the Van. From my personal point of view, he never fails to astound with the topics he chooses to pursue and this particular piece pushes the boundaries, further.

There are two individual spy stories relayed, each one covering a myriad of emotions, heart-breaking with cringe-worthy moments which combine to create the humour. Bennett is an honest story teller who excels in finding the sublime in the ridiculous. An Englishman Abroad (previously a television move) has Guy Burgess as the central character, played by Nicholas Farrell who connected with the character on many levels. Burgess was a British radio producer who died in 1963, he was a member of the Cambridge Spy Ring that passed secrets to and from the Soviets before and during the Cold War.

Belinda Lang plays Coral Browne who was an Australia-American actress and who met Burgess in 1958. Lang plays her with a great deal of humour, grace and intelligence. The chemistry between Lang and Farrell is notable and the set embodies the piece, too.

A Question of Attribution which was also a television movie follows Sir Anthony Blunt who was an art historian but also a member of the Cambridge Five. David Robb plays Sir Anthony, his performance is witty and yet incredibly moving. Blunt is under scrutiny from Chubb (Farrell) and the dialogue moves backwards and forwards between them seamlessly. However, once Her Majesty the Queen joins the equation while Sir Anthony is at Buckingham Palace on a painting swapping exercise, there is a shift in the story. Lang’s portrayal of Her Majesty The Queen rivals that of Dame Helen Mirren’s. The interaction from there became more engaging due to the introduction of such a well known figure. The set for this particular piece was glorious, as one would imagine, the length and depth of the stage at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre lends itself to the grandeur Buckingham Palace.

This is Bennett at his best, observational, whimsical and deeply moving. It’s brilliantly cast and I am including the supporting cast in that. Single Spies stays at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 27th February and with a full house on the evening that I was fortunate enough to be present, this could be a sell out!

Visit for more information and to book tickets.

Photograph credits: Alastair Muir

Of Mice and Men ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Kristian Phillips (Lennie) and Dudley Sutton (Candy) in Of Mice And Men (1)

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is a text often used for GCSE English examinations, and it’s easy to see why, for this is a play which could be analysed over and over, and then analysed again!

Starring William Rodell as George and Kristian Phillips as Lennie, and with a ‘band’ (formed by cast members) beside the stage adding to the atmosphere of the piece, this production featured a set which was easily manoeuvred by the ensemble. Notable, too was the lighting design which matched every nuance of the tale, which is powerful, dramatic and exceedingly melancholy.

We are introduced to George and Lennie when they are on their travels, again, in search of work. George is the leader of the pair as Lennie has some mental impairment. Lennie is played superbly by Kristian Phillips, he can demonstrate Lennie’s character with body language in equal ability to his delivery of the dialogue. So much larger in stature than George (William Rodell) who has been sticking up for his mate for many years and beginning to come to the end of his tether. Lennie likes to stroke soft textures such as fur and is obsessed with a dead mouse in the opening scene. Whereas George has to regularly appease his side-kick with fantasies about their own ranch, where they would “live off the fat of the land”.

Finding employment on a ranch is the beginning of the end for the enduring ‘friendship’. Despite some understanding from their colleague, Slim (Jonah Russell) and the comradeship offered by old Candy (Dudley Sutton) who has one hand and an aged, smelly dog for company (played spectacularly well by Arthur, making his stage debut!), Lennie’s behaviour is the cause of many an upset. The young man does not know his own strength, or indeed his own mind, and a step closer to the dream of working of his own ranch with George is a short-lived shot in the dark.

This emotional journey is portrayed brilliantly as a team effort, Sutton is a joy to behold as Candy, the actor is an octogenarian, now and can still project! Saoirse-Monica Jackson makes her professional debut as Curley’s ‘tarty’ siren of a wife and what a talented discovery this young actress is. The cast share a chemistry which lends itself to the play, and the relationship between Lennie and George is a particular highlight.

This master piece finishes on Saturday 13th February so get in quick!

Visit the website for more information and to book tickets for the remaining performances –

The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

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The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe was my favourite book when I was growing up and an eager young reader. My own vision of what Narnia should look like has been a mixture of my own imagination and the 1988 BBC television series.

This production which has been dramatised by Adrian Mitchell and also has music by Shaun Davey, was a visual treat from start to finish. The set was a sight to behold, it unfolded in perfect synchronisation with the story. From the Professor’s house that Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are evacuated to, to the wardrobe and its forest of fur coats, to Narnia itself, with snow falling from the ‘sky’ and hide-away homes for its residents, Mr Tumnus and Mr and Mrs Beaver.

Michael Lanni as Peter, Leonie Eliott as Susan, James Thackeray as Edmund and ‘Over the Rainbow’ finalist Emilie Fleming as Lucy, were perfectly cast as the four Pevensie children. They portrayed over-excitable, playful youths exceedingly well, with Thackeray in particular demonstrating sullenness of young Edmund’s character by skilled use of body language.

When Lucy first enters the wardrobe and walks through to discover Narnia, I felt as in awe as she did! Mr Tumnus (Joe Servi) was just as I imagined when I first read the book all those years ago and when Edmund manages to follow Lucy when she takes her second trip (having been sceptical before) his encounter with the White Witch is also the stuff of my own imagination. Allison McKenzie gives a hauntingly real performance as the White Witch, she switches from sickly sweet to evil and stunning make-up adds to the effect. Rumblebuffin (the White Witch’s henchman) is played by a puppet (there are many puppets used throughout the production and they add an extra dimension to an already flawless show), Danielle Bird who ‘plays’ him has the funniest accent which suits the character to a tee and her quick, sharp delivery is an asset, indeed. Ms Bird, it seems, is multi-talented as she also dons stilts later on to play an equally hilarious giant!

Notable in this production is the movement of the ensemble which is well choreographed and does not distract from the centre of the action. The songs are delightful and paint their own picture of the tale, ‘Turkish Delight’ was my personal favourite. Edmund’s passion for the sticky, sweet treat contributes to his downfall, it makes sense that it should be one of the musical numbers.

When all four children finally enter Narnia together and meet Mr and Mrs Beaver, not only is their house a wonder, but their performance is equally wondrous. Thomas Aldridge (Mr Beaver) and Sophia Nomvete (Mrs Beaver) are a superb comedy pairing and their musical number is also a highlight. Of course, while three of the children are siding with the beavers so that they can meet Aslan the Lion and put a stop to the permanent winter spell which has been cast by the White Witch, Edmund has returned to the enemy’s house for more Turkish Delight.

Aslan was quite splendid, cleverly worked as a puppet in a similar way to the star of War Horse. As an ensemble, puppeteers and actors alike, are a strong team and go a long way towards making this show a must-see this Christmas.

The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe will be at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 16th January 2016. Details can be found here:




Break A Leg Review Interview: Felicity Dean

Interviewed by Helen McWilliams


We were bowled over by the production of ‘Harvey’ which has just moved from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre to Malvern Theatres. Helen was even more thrilled to have the opportunity of interviewing one of the stars of the play, Felicity Dean. Here’s what she had to say:

So, Felicity – tell me about ‘Harvey’ and your character ‘Betty Chumley’.

Yes, Hello Helen – ‘Harvey’ is a prize-winning play written by an American playwright called Mary Chase, who wrote it originally to cheer up a friend. It’s a charming and comedic play about a very nice, congenial man whose best friend is an invisible rabbit. Everybody thinks he’s quite mad, but it turns out that really in the end, he’s the sanest of the lot. It’s a charming slow burner of a play of a genre which is old fashioned. However, it has its place for audiences today because it’s a really good night out.

I play Betty Chumley, she is ditzy which is how I play her, she’s slightly intimidated by her husband, he’s a Psychiatrist. When she meets Mr Dowd I like to think she’s transformed and finds her voice because she’s met someone who treats her nicely. It runs no deeper than that and I think the audience react to her with warmth.

I think that’s very true given the audience reactions we heard during the interval. I think people hoped (as we did) that the character would make another appearance. From our point of view, although yourself, Amanda Boxer and Linal Haft are only in the play for a limited time, you each make a big impact.

Well, that’s nice to hear, all of the parts are iconic and you feel you’re part of an ensemble. I’m very lucky with the actors I’m working with.

Have you worked with any of them before?

I’ve only worked with Amanda Boxer (who plays Mrs Chauvenet) before in ‘Trial and Retribution’ on television. I haven’t worked with any of the others before, but we’ve all got mutual friends in common.

You mentioned ‘Trial and Retribution’, you’ve done a few detective-style dramas on television, have you a favourite?

I have to say ‘Midsomer Murders’, I think they still do it don’t they? Such a lovely company to work with, they look after you so well and I was fortunate enough to do it twice when John Nettles was still in it.

I love ‘Midsomer Murders’!

Yes, it’s the sort of thing you can sit down and watch with a cup of tea and a digestive!

Definitely! With regards to ‘Harvey’, were you familiar with the 1950s film?

Yes, I watched it…

Did you find it useful in relation to your part?

I did find it useful for research, although I think if I had been playing Veta I probably wouldn’t have watched it until near the end. I think there’s a balance as to how useful it is, it could permeate and cause you to imitate the person you’re watching.

So, are there any roles that you would really like to play?

I’m really drawn to Tennessee Williams, for example I’d like to play Amanda in ‘The Glass Menagerie’. Tragic but comedic characters interest me, I like characters that have a depth, Chekhov is another playwright who has written characters with the sort of depth that interests me.

Which medium do you prefer between film, television and theatre?

I love theatre, I always have, there’s something about as the lure, even as they say ‘the smell of the grease paint’. I’ve always seen it as one of my life skills, you really have to learn it, and there’s always more to learn. Having said that I’ve just been filming an episode of ‘Casualty’ in Cardiff and I really enjoyed that, they’re so accurate with their detail, all the machines that I was ‘hooked’ up to worked! I was even offered an MOT while I was there!

What advice have you got for anybody that wants to go into acting?

I find it quite alarming, because everybody seems to want to do it, but I would say to people don’t do it unless you burn to do it. If there’s nothing else that you are passionately committed to, There’s a phrase spoken by the great dramatist and acting teacher Stanislavsk “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art” I think that is a brilliant piece of advice, and I’d like to pass onto anyone starting out. You don’t want to discourage people, though and at my son’s school’s careers night I had the longest queue! I said to most of those people to get a degree, get an education and then work it in parallel with something else.

Finally, for anybody that’s to toying with the idea of coming to see ‘Harvey’, what would you say to encourage them to come along?

Come and have a really heart-warming, funny and enjoyable evening, it covers all age groups, so you could bring your mum, your gran – bring the whole family!

We’d like to thank Felicity for giving up her time to be interviewed, Helen had a lovely time meeting her and we highly recommend that you go and see ‘Harvey’.

A link to our review is here:

You can book tickets to see ‘Harvey’ at Malvern Theatres up until Saturday 28th February 2015, tickets are available from the box office on 01684 892277 or via

Harvey ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams


Many among you will know actor, James Drefus for creating memorable roles Tom Farrell in ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and PC Goody in ‘The Thin Blue Line’, however his latest role as Elwood P Dowd in the moving and imaginative stage play ‘Harvey’ has certainly shaken off those ‘type casts’.

Written by Mary Chase and directed by Lindsay Posner, this play has a canny way of toying with the audience’s emotions as it takes you on a journey of wonder. ‘Harvey’, we learn, is a white rabbit of over six foot tall who exists in Mr Dowd’s imagination – or does he? On the face of it, the story could be considered a charming tale of a middle-aged man and his imaginary friend. Delving deeper into the complexity of the central characters, causes one to consider, is ‘Harvey’ in fact some sort of divine intervention. This path could lead to the conclusion that the rabbit is indeed, a ‘pooka’, which is certainly what Mr Dowd claims. Of course, there’s also the added intrigue that ‘Harvey’ does not seem to appear to one person, alone. The play is pulled back from the brink of working on the level of a children’s story by dealing with the reality of mental health, which was handled in a much more barbaric fashion in the 1950s. However, the setting of the sanatorium does not detract from the humour, indeed comedy is present in abundance.

The set is adaptable and notably stunning in places, with an eye for detail at every turn. It seamlessly creates the relevant back-drops for the family home where Dowd resides with his sister and niece, the sanatorium and Charlie’s bar, Dowd and Harvey’s favourite haunt.

With a touch of magic coupled with superb technical ability from Drefus, we are led to believe that we can ‘see’ this creature. Joining him in the strong cast are David Bamber (Mr Collins from the BBC’s adaptation of ‘Pride & Prejudice, among many other credits) who excelled as the pompous and controlling Psychiatrist, Dr Chumley, with Felicity Dean putting in a tremendous performance as his wife Betty. Clearly intimidated by her husband, the character of Betty is somewhat under-utilised, but we were delighted to have the opportunity to see Dean on stage, as we already know her from many television programmes including ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘Rosemary & Thyme’. There are some entertaining moments between Dowd’s niece, Myrtle Mae (Ingrid Oliver) and assistant from the sanatorium, Duane Wilson (Youssef Kerkour). There is also a flourishing love story between Dr Sanderson (Jack Hawkins) and Nurse Kelly (Sally Scott) which provides a distraction from the over-riding ‘madness’ and is played beautifully by both actors concerned.

What can we say about Maureen Lipman (playing Dowd’s sister, Veta Simmons) that hasn’t been said before? It’s fair to say that she usually guarantees a sterling performance and she didn’t disappoint. Lipman’s chemistry with Drefus is exceptional and she cuts a fine comedy duo, with Bamber in their scenes, too. With Dreyfus as the over-excitable brother who is easily influenced by his invisible companion and Lipman as the flappable sister who also ‘sees’ the pooka, this casting is a force to be reckoned with, indeed.

‘Harvey’ is a must-see (pardon the pun!) and continues at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 21st February, before its west end transfer the play will also take in Malvern and Richmond – so there are plenty of opportunities to catch it.

 Please go to to book tickets for the remaining Birmingham dates, or alternatively visit for full details.

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