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Posts Tagged ‘Jack Archer’

Playwright Torben Betts’ unique blend of black comedy & tragedy, veering towards melodrama, with a surreal twist, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine.

Caroline is a famous TV chef & domestic goddess, a Christian, married to a rich banker, with three children and a lovely London home. They are rehearsing the final show to be filmed in her kitchen before they sell up & downsize and move filming to the studio. After the rehearsal, they plan to celebrate left-wing, vegan son Leo’s 1st from Cambridge. Graham the carpenter has just finished his four-months work on the property. This seems like an idyllic family…….

….but Caroline has a drink problem, and her temporary PA Amanda discovers that the Mail are about to use some old photos of her out on the razz. Husband / father Mike, a bit of a lech and a philanderer, returns from golf having got a hole in one but also witnessed a death. Leo is disappointed Caroline hasn’t delivered on her promise to tell Michael his secret, and it looks likely Caroline & Michael’s plans for him might clash with his values. A potential buyer for the house turns up at a most inconvenient time. There’s a storm outside, but it’s nowhere near as fierce as the one that breaks out inside, as most of their worlds come tumbling down, as the secrets and lies unfold. It’s very funny, but also very dark. Underneath the black comedy, there are a lot of truths about families and relationships.

I’ve never seen such an elaborate set at the Park Theatre, a terrific uber-realistic kitchen by James Perkins. It’s the sort of play that requires precision staging, and it gets that in Alastair Whatley’s production. Above all though, there’s a set of superb performances, all in tune with the material. We’re more used to seeing Janine Dee in musicals these days, so it’s great to be reminded what a fine ‘straight’ actress she is, with pitch perfect comic timing (and boy can she do drunk well). Patrick Rycart’s old buffer Michael is a tour de force; he took my breath away when he fell. Charlie Brooks has to play a tragic figure with all the comic chaos going on around her and Jack’s Archer and Sandle have to play things relatively straight too as Leo and Graeme respectively, which they all do very well. Genevieve Gaunt is a delight as PA Amanda, with some very funny turns of phrase and mannerisms.

I really enjoyed this strange concoction, entertaining but thought-provoking too.

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I so love these Finborough rediscoveries. This one is the sixty-year-old only play by a man better known as a translator / adaptor, literary manager and theatre critic and it’s another gem which makes you wonder how work of this quality can remain unproduced for so long while inferior work is revived with great regularity. It could only be staged at the time because it was produced at the Arts Theatre, then a club; theatre censorship was still in place and they would never have allowed it in a normal theatre.

It’s set in a public school, and in particular the shady world of sex, love and power. Housemaster Hallowes gives sex talks to the fifteen-year-olds whilst the seventeen-year-olds are ignoring them. House prefect Park takes an even stronger stance than Hallowes, which his deputy Tully ignores. Hallowes latest talk is too late for Tully’s fag Turner, but not for his contemporary Hamilton. The examination of the abuse of power by older boys echoes current events in film, theatre and politics. It’s examination of the difference between sex and love is altogether braver and more original. It’s a beautifully written piece, though perhaps a touch overlong in the closing scenes of each half.

Christian Durham’s impeccable production takes place on the set of the Finborough’s other play, but you’d never know it. All five performances are outstanding. Simon Butteriss’ Hallowes is a benevolent master with a clear moral code; his sex talk scene was a gem. Of the 17-year-olds, Oliver Gully’s stern and earnest Park contrasts with Harley Viveash’s gregarious and passionate Tully, whilst in the 15-year-olds, Jacques Miche’s cheeky and knowing Turner contrasts with Jack Archer’s naive and serious Hamilton; the latter’s facial expressions spoke volumes.

A great rediscovery given a fine production. Hopefully to be seen by more than the 600 that can fit into these twelve scheduled performances.

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