The Real Thing ~ Malvern Theatres

The Real Thing stays at Malvern Theatres until Saturday 21 October 2017 before continuing with the UK tour, book tickets here: Malvern Theatres

Star rating: *****

The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard is not a piece I was readily familiar with, however the themes and intricacies of the script certainly don’t cover unfamiliar territory.

The opening scene is set in one of Henry’s (Laurence Fox) productions, although that’s not evident until the action moves on from the set to which Charlotte (Rebecca Johnson) and Max (Adam Jackson-Smith) are portraying. Henry is essentially a romantic and we first meet him while he is searching through records for his Dessert Island disc choices. Henry’s taste in music could be described as ‘corny pop’ which his wife, Charlotte is ready to point out to him. The pair have a mutually mocking relationship and they don’t shy away from it when Max and his wife, Annie (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) – who is also an actor, arrive to indulge in a spot of Bucks Fizz. The assumption in the offing when the couple arrive is that Annie and Henry are having an affair. Which of course, they are – it’s predictable from that perspective. However, not so predictable is that Annie and Henry make a life together out of the affair and despite plenty of room for jealousy, what they have is ‘the real thing’.

It’s a fascinating exploration of relationships, not only romantic ones but friendships and the parents/daughter dynamic too. There’s also the recurring undercurrent of politics as Annie supports her controversial jailbird ‘pal’ Brodie (Santino Smith).

The set is contemporary chic and moves smoothly with the action. The simplicity of it allows the dialogue and interaction to take the lead and with a wordsmith such as Stoppard at the helm, I feel that’s necessary.

Laurence Fox is exceptional in the role of Henry, he gives the character an air of vague nonchalance while simultaneously bearing his feelings with raw honesty. His chemistry with Rebecca Johnson as Charlotte is particularly notable and their scenes set the pace for the piece. Johnson embraces the absurdities and quirks of Charlotte and embodies the character completely. I always enjoy her work and this another example of her remarkable talent. Adam Jackson-Smith gives a strong performance as Max, coming into his won when he realises his marriage to Annie is over. Flora Spencer-Longhurst is also a revelation as Annie, a character who could almost be played as a flighty, yet it’s reigned in to allow the journey to unfold steadily. Kit Young is definitely one to watch, he plays Billy, a youthful actor who develops a crush on the leading lady he’s working with – the leading lady being Annie.

Stephen Unwin has worked his magic again and directed a play which challenges, questions and leaves plenty of room for analysis. A fine production of Stoppard’s work which I could watch multiple times and not tire of. Go and see it – there are a few weeks of the tour remaining.

Advertisements

Spotlight On… Star of All Our Children, Rebecca Johnson

Break A Leg favourite, Rebecca Johnson is currently appearing in All Our Children at Jermyn Street Theatre and she took time out in between shows, to chat about her latest role in the five star rated play. Watch our vlog with her, here:  

All Our Children runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until Saturday 3 June 2017. To book tickets to see it, click here:  All Our Children

All Our Children ~ Jermyn Street Theatre

All Our Children runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until Saturday 3 June 2017, book tickets here: All Our Children

Star rating: *****

Lucy Speed as Elizabetta.

Stephen Unwin is a name I am familiar with as a Director, and in my experience he’s an incredibly talented Director. His debut play, All Our Children is set in 1941 and throws a spotlight onto the true story of the cruel and senseless murders of disabled children in Nazi Germany. Their deaths were ‘justified’ financially and said to be a means of lessening their parents’ loads, to whom they must have been a burden and a blight. Set in a clinic where the children’s executions were being authorised by a Pediatrician, the story examines morality, ignorance and on many levels, love.

Victor (Colin Tierney) is the doctor charged with the horrendous job of signing the death warrants of supposedly the most severely disabled, ‘no-hopers’ for want of a better phrase. His health is failing him, he’s diagnosed himself with Lung Cancer and he is unable to speak at length without coughing.  His Administrator at the clinic is an obnoxious young man by the name of  Eric (Edward Franklin), he takes delight in exclaiming “Heil Hitler” at every given moment and has not ingratiated himself with the Victor’s faithful, caring Maid, Martha (Rebecca Johnson). Not least because he is having his fun with her seventeen year old daughter and sees no harm in that. Although it appears that Victor has some empathy and moral standing when he is casually ticking off the list of potential victims, he is forced to face the consequences of his actions. The arrival of Elizabetta (Lucy Speed) at the clinic, desperate to have a look at her boy (although she states he should be a young man by now) is the defining moment. With the imminent arrival of Bishop von Galen (David Yelland) on his way to find out if there is any truth in the rumours of these horrendous crimes – it’s enough to drive the Doctor to question his future. After all, he trained to be a Doctor in order to cure the sick.

There was an appropriately chilling atmosphere created by the authentic looking set (designed by Simon Higlett) which set the tone of the play and Jermyn Street’s studio space added extraordinary impetuous.

David Yelland as Bishop von Galen

Colin Tierney is outstanding as Victor, his characterisation is steady and considered for the most part, yet his ability to layer the emotions that the doctor is experiencing is also notable. Edward Franklin makes for a despicable Eric and that is exactly what we are supposed to feel for this slippery, scheming character, his performance is on point throughout. The character has a fascinating back-story which doesn’t justify Eric’s behaviour, but offers some explanation. Lucy Speed is a revelation and extremely heart-wrenching as Elizabetta the grateful and then grieving mother. The character represents all of the mothers (and indeed, fathers) who will have been faced with such horrific news and Speed does it brilliantly, what a force to be reckoned with! David Yelland commands the stage as Bishop von Galen, the two-hander scenes with Tierney were among some of the finest in the piece. Meanwhile Rebecca Johnson possesses the canny ability of underplaying Martha, blending her into the background as the all-seeing eye, then bringing her to the fore with magnificent force, appropriately. Her beautifully emotive performance in the final scene moved me to tears.

Rebecca Johnson as Martha

This piece serves as a stark reminder of the horrors of the holocaust and, certainly in my humble opinion, throws a question mark over humanity. Epilepsy is frequently raised as just one of the conditions that disabled children suffered with (and this remains a common accomplice to disability). What struck a chord with me was that the parents of these severely disabled children must surely have fretted about their offspring succumbing to a number of life-limiting illnesses, yet the eventual cause of their children’s deaths would have been the furthest thought from their mind, unthinkable. One of the main themes of the play is summarised beautifully by Martha when she admits that she is grateful to have her own healthy children but that she has come to love the children in the clinic.

Stephen Unwin is as gifted a Playwright as he is a Director. I cannot remember the last time a piece of theatre moved me to such an extent with its intensity and complexity.

Photo credits: Camilla Greenwell

 

Break A Leg Top Five Touring Shows of 2016

Touring productions are part of the vast majority of shows that I go along to review, so whittling down a short list of the top ones from 2016 is no mean feat. The task has been eased somewhat as a few of my personal idols have been treading the boards this year and their appearances were highlights in themselves. Here we go, folks:

Phyllis Logan 1
Phyllis Logan as Monica in Present Laughter – I’ve waited a lifetime to see her on stage… it was worth the wait!

Present Laughter tour – the winner of Break A Leg Critic’s Choice Award for best touring/regional production, I had multiple reasons for taking this show to my heart. First of all, I’ll make no bones about the fact that I have been a huge fan of one of the stars of the play, Phyllis Logan, since I was a very little girl. So to see an idol on stage was a particular delight, and she was brilliant, plus she is also now a Patron of the website. Thumbs up all round! I thought that the cast as a whole were incredible, though and as well as having the pleasure of seeing another fantastic and well-known actor tread the boards, Samuel West, I also enjoyed Rebecca Johnson’s performance. I had seen her in Wendy & Peter Pan at the RSC in 2015 and loved her, so to see her in a Noel Coward play (I am a real fan of Mr Coward’s work) was a treat. I could gush further about the production, but I think the award for the show speaks for itself and I watched it once with a press ticket in my hot little hand and paid to see it again. That always speaks volumes, too! Well done to Stephen Unwin, who directed brilliantly.

RFM
Rehearsal For Murder featured a stellar cast!

Rehearsal For Murder tour  – another play on my list for so many reasons, the chance to see Amy Robbins and Robert Daws on stage together couldn’t be missed and the cast were all superb. Stellar performances from each and every one and excellent direction. It was a dramatic thriller which had me gripped and frantically trying to fathom who dunnit. It also made for terrific interval debating between my husband and I. Neither Mr Daws or Ms Robbins disappointed, either and I’m now all the keener to see them tread the boards again. My interest in thrillers was also piqued from this particular play, so it was a winner in all respects!

julie
Julie Legrand was outstanding in The Rivals, she was so ready to play Madame Malaprop!

 The Rivals tour – my first trip to Bristol Old Vic Theatre and what a pleasant one it was, too. With Break A Leg Critic’s Choice award winner, Julie Legrand as Madame Malaprop amongst a cast who worked together so smoothly and wonderfully well. It was my first introduction to the work of another one of Break A Leg’s award winner, Lee Mengo as Bob Acres. Although I was familiar with the play, I had not seen it performed before, and my face ached from laughing. The entire production was a joy from start to finish, the theatre had a welcoming and enticing atmosphere and I met one of my long-time idols, Ms Legrand, afterwards too which was a moment I’ll never forget. A brilliant night at the theatre.

blood-brothers
Blood Brothers will always be one of my favourite musicals. What a score!

Blood Brothers tour – always a favourite musical of mine, I did the same trick as with Present Laughter – bought a ticket to see it at one theatre and had a press ticket to see it elsewhere.  I never tire of Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone, I think it’s fair to say that it is her part and I’m always guaranteed to enjoy her performance. Adding Sarah-Jane Buckley to the cast as Mrs Lyons has really set it off. I have always thought that she has been an excellent actress each time I’ve seen her either on telly or on stage. Not only have I found her to be one of the best actresses to play Mrs Lyons, but I gather that she did a fine job when it came it stepping in to Ms Paul’s shoes and taking on the role of Mrs Johnstone. I adore the musical score for this show and I look forward to seeing Graham Martin play the multiple roles that he has made his own over the years. Graham is a friend of my husband’s and it’s always a good excuse to see him when Blood Brothers does the rounds.

_ROP0948
Rocky Horror Show… long may they continue making a man with blonde hair and a tan – they have a regular punter in little old me!

The Rocky Horror Show tour – another of my all-time favourite musicals that, had I have had the time, I would have paid to have seen at another theatre after having reviewed it with my press ticket in Malvern. I had seen Liam Tamne in Hairspray and Les Miserables before, but he really came into his own as Frank-N-Furter. OK, it helped that he was easy on the eye, but the mischief and mayhem that he put into the role was outstanding. I love everything about this show, from the audience participation and leaping out of my seat to do the Time Warp, which never gets old – to the variety of narrators that grace the stage. We had Steve Punt play the narrator on this occasion and he was amazing. Hats off also to Sophie Linder-Lee, my favourite Columbia so far. I fully expect that this show will be in my top five choices again, next year!

Phew what a challenge that was… I wonder if any shows will knock The Rocky Horror Show and Blood Brothers off the list in 2017? Excited to out!

Spotlight On… Star of Present Laughter, Daisy Boulton

Present Laughter is a touring show stopping at:

Richmond Theatre – 1st – 6th August 2016

Theatre Royal, Brighton – 8th – 13th August 2016

Malvern Theatres – 15th – 21st August 2016

Daisy Boulton is currently starring in the tour of Present Laughter by Noel Coward, here’s my exclusive interview with the talented young lady, herself.

Thank you for chatting to Break A Leg, Daisy, tell me about your character in Present Laughter and are you enjoying the tour so far?

I am playing Daphne Stillington, a 24 year old debutante, who has fallen hook, sink and liner for Garry Essendine, a hugely successful and famous theatre actor. I am really enjoying the tour – yes! Such a talented and lovely group of actors and company of creative.

What did you think of the script when you first read it? How familiar are you with Coward’s work?

I loved Daphne and thought it would be such fun to play….if I manage to pull it off. I saw ‘Hay Fever’ in the West End a few years ago and thought Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Freddie Fox were fabulous. It’s a joy to have the opportunity to play such complex and brilliant writing and revel in it’s the hilarity.

Have you a favourite line or scene?

When Liz says ‘I feel a sinking’ in explanation for asking for a cup of coffee. I have found myself finding many a tongue-in-cheek, apt moment to use the line.

Present_Laughter___Samuel_West__Garry_Essendine__Daisy_Boulton__Daphne_Stillington____Photo_credit_Nobby_Clark____r06_
Daisy with co-star Samuel West in Present Laughter

 

What made you decide to become an actress?

Doing The Dreaming as a kid with the NYMT and years later watching Harriet Walter play Cleopatra opposite Patrick Stewart at the Novello Theatre.

Who inspires you as a performer?

Well…..Harriet Walter, Cush Jumbo playing Anthony in Julius Caesar at the Donmar and then taking on a regular lead in The Good Wife, which is the show of my dreams to be in. Julianna Margulies for that matter! Katie Sagal in Sons Of Anarchy. There are many pretty amazing performers, female and male who I am inspired by.

What do you think the most valued lesson is that you’ve learned in your career, so far? 

Never stop thanking my family and friends for their relentless love and support!

Any advice for aspiring actors?

If you get a knock, get up, dust yer self off and go again. It’s never straight forward.

Finally, what can the audience expect from Present Laughter and what would you say to encourage people to come and see it?

Sam West is a fabulous Garry. It’s lots of fun. It’s brilliant, brilliant writing. It’s an insight into the world and life of Noel Coward as it is the closest to an auto-biographical play. The hidden depths and subtleties have been important to us as a company creating it, Stephen Unwin, our director said how like Chekhov Coward is and I agree. It’s moving and sad in many ways as a play but through great humanity and therefore laughter. Humans are quite funny really after all.

Huge thanks to Daisy for her time and I’ll be seeing the play to review when it arrives in Malvern, can’t wait!

Photo credits: Theatre Royal, Bath

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: