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Posts Tagged ‘Denise Welch’

Well, it looks like I’m going against the critical flow again on this one; I rather liked it, particularly the design, the songs and the infectious enthusiasm of the cast. Treating it as a family show might be the key.

It doesn’t have the storytelling quality of Alan Bennet’s iconic non-musical NT adaptation. It’s more character-driven, though there’s more of a story, well, caper, in the second half. Once we’ve established who’s who on the riverbank, the mysteries of the wild wood and Toad’s status, it’s basically about his imprisonment and escape and the takeover and reclaiming of Toad Hall. Julian Fellowes book isn’t up to much, but George Stiles catchy tunes and Anthony Drewe’s witty lyrics do enough plot driving to make up for it.

Peter McKintosh’s design is cute for the riverbank and grand and imposing for Toad Hall, with some excellent train, car and boat journeys in-between. The costumes help define the characters and I thought they were lovely. Aletta Collins choreography also adds much to the characterisations. Rachel Kavanaugh’s production has, above all, a lot of charm, helped by delightful performances like Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole and Gary Wilmot as Badger. I liked Rufus Hound’s very brash, loud, athletic (and green) Toad and Denise Welch’s Geordie mother Otter. Neil McDermott is a good baddie, a suitably oily weasel.

The 6 and 10-year-old seemed to enjoy it as much as the older members of my party and the producers get a gold star for the accessibility that the children-go-free policy provides. Much better than those cynical paid critics would have you believe.

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This is a new version of a 10-year-old Richard (one-man-two-guvnors) Bean play first set in Newcastle, now relocated to Kingston and jam-packed with local references (the detail of many was lost on me, someone who lives a whole nine miles away, though you do get the gist). It’s a black comedy about a drug dealing family.

Gavin & Catherine Robinson are children of the 60’s who have since been Kingston main dealers. Son Robert is a few grams short of a wrap but big enough and thick enough to be their enforcer. Other son Sean is in the process of taking over the business and taking it down a much darker street occupied by Russians and the like. Daughter Cora seems to be the white black sheep, more keen on her studies than boys, booze & drugs, much to her mother’s disdain. As the play starts, Robert’s junkie wife has died.

Bean really knows how to write cracking comic lines and it’s packed full of them. The populist local references are clever but come a touch close to overuse and in danger of being too contrived. The dark aspects of their trade – addiction, violence and death – didn’t sit entirely comfortably inside the comedy for me, but I suppose that’s the point of a black comedy. They’re loveable rogues who kill people!

Keith Allen & Denise Welch are very good as the parents, but the real acting honours belong to Matthew Wilson, whose Robert is a superb characterisation, and Harry Melling, who walks a fine line brilliantly between heartless bully and mummy’s boy. Kate Lamb has a real transition to make as Cora and pulls it off well. Richard Wilson’s staging loses pace occasionally, but is otherwise excellent. James Cotterill’s design captures the world of criminal middle class snobs really well and fits the difficult Rose stage better than any other in my experience.

This isn’t vintage Bean, but its a lot of fun and well worth the (9 mile!) trip.

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