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Posts Tagged ‘Dennis King’

It’s hard to believe that it’s the 40th anniversary of this Peter Nichols play (with songs by Dennis King), inspired by his own period in forces entertainment in the CSEU, and what a superb revival it is.

Set in the Malayan peninsula after the Second World War, when Britain was having a spot of bother with Chinese commies, SADUSEA entertains what’s left of the troops in Singapore before embarking on a Malayan tour to perform for an altogether different audience. The military leader is god-fearing Major Flank (brilliantly played by Callum Coates), assisted by corrupt Sergeant Major Drummond (Matt Beveridge, excellent), but the entertainment is led by Captain Dennis, outrageously camp and openly gay at a time when he would no doubt have been imprisoned back home. His entertainment troop includes a brummie, a cockney, a posh boy, a mixed race (Welsh-Indian) woman and newcomer Flowers. Their lives and loves are interspersed with rehearsals and performances. It starts as light and frothy but gets very dark indeed, though it’s often hilarious. I enjoyed Dennis King’s songs much more in this small-scale production, because they felt more authentic.

Mike Lees superb design and Kirk Jameson’s staging serve the play very well. Simon Green is outstanding as Captain Terri Dennis, with terrific turns as Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward and Carmen Miranda. I’ve been lucky enough to see the late Dennis Quilley in the original production, Roger Allam’s Olivier Award winning turn in 2001 and Simon Russell Beale just five years ago and Green is a match for all of them. There’s a most auspicious professional debut by Martha Pothen and a fine ensemble, most of which were new to me – Samuel Curry, Paul Sloss, Tom Pearce, Matt Hayden, Tom Bowen and Mikey Howe as the mute native help.

Well worth catching, whether you’ve seen it before or not.

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This Peter Nichols play with music (Dennis King) was first seen at The Aldwych Theatre in 1977, the then London home of the RSC, when the playwright was very much in their favour. A year before he became Artistic Director of the Donmar, director Michael Grandage  staged it there (with Roger Allam, Malcolm Sinclair and the relatively unknown James McAvoy and Nigel Harman). Now, he’s staging it back in the West End (at the very appropiately named Noel Coward Theatre) as the first in his 5-play season, just after leaving the Donmar.

It’s an autobiographical piece set just after the second world war in a forces entertainment troupe in South East Asia. The rag-bag of performers is led by as-camp-as-they-come (Acting Captain!) Terri Dennis. We see them rehearse and perform, plus backstage relationships, banter and abuse. There are two mute locals whose sinister demeanor tell you they are more than servants to these extraordinary masters.

If you’ve got a decent seat it works well, though not quite as good, in a bigger space – though it has aged a bit and seemed a little overlong this time. It’s a fascinating period and situation though with all sorts of issues explored and the music is completely at home given the context.

The chief reason for seeing it is a superb cast and chief amongst those is Simon Russell Beale with yet another career high. He has the uncanny capacity to act with every part of his body, striking poses that bring the house down, breaking into facial expressions that have you laughing out loud. Angus Wright is perfectly cast as the pompous Major, as is Mark Lewis Jones as the somewhat unsympathetic Sergeant Major, and John Marquez is great as the unlikely Corporal. Joseph Timms, Sam Swainsbury, Harry Hepple and Brodie Ross make a great quartet of singing & dancing soldiers. 

Designer Christopher Oram appears to have re-cycled and roughed up his design for Evita, but it works well as the frame for various South East Asian locations. Grandage’s staging is as always impeccable and there’s a fine band under Jae Alexander hiding in the upper tier on the right.

If you’ve seen the play before, go again to see a fine cast. If you haven’t, go to see a highly original play by one of Britain’s most underrated playwrights. Whatever, you have to go to see Simon Russell Beale at the height of his powers – again!

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