Night Must Fall ~ Malvern Theatres

Night Must Fall finishes its run in Malvern this weekend and will continue to tour, details are here: http://www.originaltheatre.com/

Star Rating: ****

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the works of Emlyn Williams, it’s that he writes a thriller/murder mystery with a predictable culprit and lack of a twist. However, it’s the path that leads you to learn the truth that you suspected all along, that makes for interesting viewing.

This production was a particularly atmospheric piece, with incidental music which was as haunting and daunting to me as the music used in television whodunnits such as Midsomer Murders! It set the scene beautifully and prepared me to jump, which I’m always likely to do during this genre of play! The set is also gloriously eerie and provides the perfect backdrop for a thriller of this magnitude. I particularly found the visible ‘woods’ at the rear of the scenery to be a subtle touch, yet they enhanced the gripping junctures that were unfolding on stage.

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Daragh O’Malley as Inspector Belsize

The action takes place at Mrs Bramson’s bungalow, where the relationships between the owner of the bungalow, her staff and her niece are permanently strained. Mrs Bramsom is a wheelchair-bound, sharp tongued battle axe and could be played by nobody better than Gwen Taylor. She excels in such a delicious role and leads the cast brilliantly. Her niece, Olivia (Niamh McGrady) is bored, under her aunt’s thumb and deliberating over a marriage proposal from Hubert (Alsadair Buchan). Hubert is staying at Mrs Bramson’s cottage in the hope of securing Olivia’s affections. Buchan must be commended for a comical performance, he seemed to be playing a character who could have easily been overlooked and he brought the best out in the part. Also providing a few moments of comedy gold, Mandi Symonds as Mrs Terrence who looks after the house, she lightened the tension on several occasions with excellent comic timing. The plot begins to move along once housemaid, the perpetually anxious Dora (Melissa Vaughan) reveals her illegitimate pregnancy and Mrs Bramson offers to pin down her elusive ‘beau’.

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Gwen Taylor plays Mrs Bramson.

The ‘beau’ is a bellboy by the name of Dan (Will Featherstone) and what a kettle of fish he is. Simple and unwitting on the face of it, but a more complex character in this piece, you will not find. The arrival of Inspector Belsize (Daragh O’Malley) just prior to Dan’s introduction, brought the horrific news that a murder may have been committed and as such, Mrs Bramson’s grounds are going to be searched. What follows is a cacophony of events which include Dan joining Mrs Bramson’s staff after winning the old girl over, while Olivia is suspicious of the new employee and lingers in the background waiting to catch him out. It’s a dramatic plot with tension galore and what’s fascinating is how mysterious the character of Olivia remains, she is portrayed superbly by McGrady. Featherstone steals the show, and rightly so, as he takes the role of Dan through a myriad of emotions and is essentially an actor, who is playing a character who is acting.

A strong cast, make a slick job of a predictable storyline and it certainly kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s one of Williams’ better thrillers in my humble opinion.

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Before the Party ~ Malvern Theatres

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

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Written by Rodney Ackland and based upon an original short story by W. Somerset Maugham, ‘Before the Party’ explores a dysfunctional family (the Skinner family) in post-war Britain as they prepare to attend a garden party.

With three daughters living in their rather splendid house (reflected well on stage by way of a magnificent set), Aubrey and Blanche Skinner (played by Tom Conti and Gwen Taylor) have a chaotic home. Blanche’s antics could rival those of Mrs Bennett from ‘Pride and Prejudice’, she’s of a nervous, slightly dippy disposition and wants to make sure her daughters are either mixing with the right people or avoiding becoming the subject of ridicule. The height of her concerns as the story unfolds, is whether her hat looks right. Aubrey appears as though he lives in a state of confusion, he in the legal profession but only deals with ‘clean’ cases. No explanation is offered for the obvious age gap between their youngest daughter (Susan, played by Eleanor Thorn) and the two older daughters (Laura, played by Carol Starks and Kathleen, played by Elizabeth Payne).

To begin with, we are introduced to Laura who is having second thoughts about marrying a Mr David Marshall (Peter Sandys-Clarke) and we come to realise that she has not long been widowed, in circumstances that come to light and alter as the plot builds. Indeed her sister, Kathleen airs her disapproval of the chosen colour of Laura’s party dress, pink, and wears black, herself to make the point. There is a strong sense of sibling rivalry between the two and it is played excellently by Starks and Payne. Their younger sister, Susan skulks about talking of gruesome findings, having watched a pig being slaughtered and taking delight in seeing the discomfort her musings bring.

Mr Marshall is not deemed to be a suitable husband for Laura, and the family are none too pleased with his dealings with the black-market, even though they’re willing participants, themselves when it suits them. The cook is also unsuitable it seem and indeed, a Nazi!

With the word ‘dysfunctional’ applying to the bedroom door-knob as well as the family situation (and with hilarious consequences, thanks to the subtlety of Conti’s performance) this piece almost borders on a farce, but has enough twists, turns and censure to steer it away from that category. The scene having been set in act one makes way for an altogether ‘livelier’ and ‘bouncier’ act two, there was also more notable chemistry between the characters during the second act, too. However, Conti and Taylor give consistently solid performances throughout and make for a sublime duo, it’s a wonder they’ve not performed together, before. They sit comfortably at the helm and are perfectly cast. Conti also directs the play and I feel he has demonstrated a flair for this, even while he is in character, it appears that he never takes his eye off the ‘ball’ and has an exceptional eye for detail.

The tour remains in Malvern until Saturday 3rd October and will move to Cheltenham, Bath and Eastbourne.  For more information and to book tickets please follow this link: http://www.kenwright.com/microsite/before-the-party/?id=576#tickets

 

The Good (Inte)review – Gwen Taylor

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Interview by Helen and Garry McWilliams

Hello Gwen, thank you for talking to The Good Review – are you enjoying the tour of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and what was it like having the break at Christmas between tours?

First of all, I love this play and I love ‘Miss Daisy’ – the tour has been tiring so it will be good to have a rest at the end of it, but I couldn’t turn this part down. It was lovely to have Christmas off but lovely to get back to it again.

Which theatre has been your favourite on the tour?

I have to say Derby because it’s my home town and they make an enormous fuss of me in Derby because I know everybody and they know me. Otherwise I would say Mold because we weren’t expecting the reaction that we had there.

Which do you prefer between an old theatre or the newer build theatres?

I like either, as far as the set for the play is concerned this theatre [Wolverhampton Grand] has a lovely big stage and plenty of space which makes a difference. The dressing room’s quite nice too!

What’s it like working with Don Warrington and Ian Porter?

Oh they’re both a joy to work with, we all get on very well and I’ve worked with Ian before. Ian understudied the role of Boolie in the West End and he’s solid as a rock.

After all these years treading the boards and appearing on screen, do you still get nervous? If so how do you handle the nerves?

I do still get nervous, I just take a few deep breaths and try not to think about it too much.

Do you agree that it wouldn’t be right if you didn’t get nervous?

Well that’s what people say, but it would be nice not to, but I don’t mind if I do because it’s an exciting job and a responsible job. Especially in theatre where the audience have paid their money. Television I don’t tend to, except when there’s an audience if you’re filming a sit com, but even then I don’t worry because I know it can be re-taken. I used to pride myself on not making mistakes, though.

What advice have you got for anyone who wants to become an actor?

I wouldn’t give advice, if you’ve got to do it you’ll do it and if you’re tough enough you’ll get on, if you’re not you’ll get hurt. It’s such a strange business and breaking into it is strange. I was 30 when I started out, though so there is time for people. Ideally I suppose write your own play, put it on and get people to come and see it – although I don’t really know what the answer is.

It’s a difficult business because you don’t know where your next job is coming from?

There’s that and it’s difficult if you’ve got family. There was a Northern Irish actor who worked with Graham (Graham Reid – Gwen’s husband who is a playwright) in his plays and came one day and said he was going to give it up because he couldn’t tell his two daughters when they could go on holiday the next year. He misses acting but at least he can tell his girls when they can go away on holiday.

With Wolverhampton being the final stop for ‘Daisy’, have you got anything in the pipeline after the tour has ended?

‘Butterfly Lion’ again in the autumn, I’m down to do a 14 week tour of that. Also Graham has a new play opening in Belfast at the Lyric Theatre on 1st May, it’s called ‘Love, Billy’.

Do you still enjoy touring?

I do although it is tiring, but I wouldn’t do it without Graham. It also depends on the part though. Of course it’s lovely to be able to play a role close to home, but I wouldn’t go in the West End just for the sake of being close to home.

Would you go back to ‘Coronation Street’ if they asked you?

Well they did say would you be available again and I said I’d love to go back but only if there was a good storyline, otherwise I don’t really see a reason for the character to return.

Thanks to Gwen for talking to us, please see Garry’s review of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and look out for the tour of ‘Butterfly Lion’ which opens in Colchester at Mercury Theatre on 5th September 2013. Also watch out for Graham Reid’s play ‘Love, Billy’ and visit http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk for information and to book tickets.

First Published 12.04.13

Driving Miss Daisy – Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Reviewed by Garry McWilliams

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A five star effort from director David Esbjornson who has taken Alfred Uhry’s script and created an enchanting production.

This was our second visit to see the play, my wife (Helen McWilliams) reviewed previously [read here] when ‘Daisy’ arrived in Malvern in November 2012 – however I was interested to watch for a second time and review it from my own perspective. What struck me this time was prior to ‘curtain-up’ (for want of a better phrase as the set was visible and we took our seats) the appearance of the props on stage were not dissimilar to ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (although not on the same scale) and there is no indication of the magic that comes to life when the play commences. Once the production is in full flow the projections at the back of the set provide an atmospheric as well as informative touch and the ‘car’ is a wonder to behold indeed.

Gwen Taylor is outstanding as Daisy Werthan, the 72 year old who refuses to allow her son Boolie to trample all over her fiercely guarded independence. Just because she has crashed her car doesn’t mean that she feels unable to get back behind the wheel again. However, Boolie Werthan (Daisy’s son, played superbly by Ian Porter) has other ideas. Enter Hoke Coleburn (Don Warrington) who is looking for employment and takes the job as Miss Daisy’s Chauffeur. Warrington brings a warmth and vulnerability to Hoke to the point that if one were to take ‘sides’ – his would be the ‘side’ worth championing. Taylor and Warrington are a winning combination and their on-stage partnership is truly seamless. All three of the actors are perfectly cast and it would be difficult to imagine anybody else in the roles.

The story on the surface is that of an unlikely friendship which develops following Daisy’s initial reluctance to rely on anybody but herself and Hoke’s insistence that he should work for the salary that he is receiving from Boolie. However the script delves into class division, illiteracy and also examines some racial issues. There are many highly amusing performances such as Hoke’s delight in telephoning Boolie to advise him that he has finally managed to undertake the duties he is employed to do and driven Daisy to the ‘Piggly Wiggly’ store. Daisy’s distain at her daughter-in-law is hilarious, the line ‘that’s the biggest lie I’ll tell today’ following a telephone conversation with her son where she has sent her ‘love’ to said daughter-in-law met with many chuckles. There are also poignant moments woven in with the light comedy and as Daisy’s health deteriorates some of her bravado goes with it – although not all of it is lost!

The play lasts for 1 ½ hours with no interval and it seemed to hold the attention of everyone in the auditorium. At times one could hear a pin drop, the audience appeared to listen to every single word and their reactions which included applause after various scenes were reflective of the faultless production.

Driving Miss Daisy is making its final stop at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and finishes on Saturday 13th April. If you want to book tickets for the remaining shows please see http://www.daisyontour.co.uk. Please read the interview with Gwen Taylor for details of her forthcoming projects.

First published 12.04.13

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