Posts Tagged ‘James Perkins’

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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David Storey’s rarely revived 1989 examination of ageing and family relationships & tensions gets the sort of delicate, sensitive, nuanced production we’re fast getting used to from Alice Hamilton, with as fine an ensemble as you’ll see anywhere. This is a very welcome revival of a work by a playwright we see all too little of.

The Pasmore’s are surprised by their three adult children on their 60th wedding anniversary and taken out to lunch. Tommy Pasmore is a retired miner and his wife a lifelong homemaker. They’ve had to struggle financially and there are current tensions evident. In the (longer) first half it’s mostly pleasantries, welcome reunions, some bickering and more than a touch of nostalgia. When they return from lunch though, there are home truths, skeletons leaving cupboards and the unsaid being said. The parents go to bed upset, so the ‘children’ decide to stay over.

The second half is a lot better than the first, which seemed to me to be overly ponderous, in a Checkovian way, and I struggled to maintain attention. The second half is a gem though, an excellent, very authentic family drama which may well be somewhat autobiographical. James Perkins’ superb period design places the coal fire centre stage and Sophia Simesky’s costumes complete the evocation of the period. Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace give marvellously calibrated performances as the parents, understated until emotions surface. The three siblings are all beautifully judged by Colin Tierney, Sarah Belcher and Connie Walker.

The Orange Tree continues it’s roll, on this occasion with something their traditional audience are welcoming with open arms.

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Robert Holman must be the least well known prolific playwright of the last forty years. He’s written twenty-four plays, half of which were first produced by august companies and theatres like the RSC, the Royal Court and the Bush, where this 1977 play, his seventh, was first seen. He’s often considered the playwrights playwright. After this, I’ve decided to call him the Guisborough Chekov.

You learn what the title means early on. We’re on that bleak industrial Teeside coastline lined with steel and chemical plants, ships offshore waiting to offload their cargo. Thirty-nine years on, of course, the steelworks is closed and the Wilton petrochemical plant that once employed tens of thousands has been split up and sold off to multiple companies, employing a lot less people. In the middle of this is a birdwatching spot where 59-year-old Martin and twenty-something Jack meet looking for cormorants and oyster catchers.

We learn about Jack’s thwarted ambition (he works at the Wilton chemical plant), where Martin goes for his holidays and about an environmental issue about to threaten the habitat of their beloved birds. We meet Jack’s wife Carol and Martin’s son’s friend Michael. There’s a tragedy offstage. It’s gentle, wistful stuff. I admired the writing. I didn’t quite believe in Jack, but the other characters are well drawn. Director Alice Hamilton has great affinity with plays like this, as she showed with Barney Norris’ The Visitors and Eventide. I liked James Perkins’ clever design. The performances are good. I was under-stimulated and a bit bored, though. For me, it didn’t really go anywhere. It was all a bit dull and unengaging. The Guisborough Chekov.


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The last time I went to Southwark Playhouse, it was to see a musical called Parade I hadn’t really rated at the Donmar three years before but loved second time round. Well, now its the other way round – I loved this at the Bridewell 13 years ago, yet I’m now not so sure it’s a good show (though it is a good production).

Adam Guettel & Tina Landau’s musical tells the true story of a man who is trapped in a cave in Kentucky for several days in 1925 whilst seeking out a new entrance to the show cave he and his family own. A young cub reporter picks up the story and it travels like wild-fire, capturing the imagination of the whole country. A media circus and a commercial carnival ensues, a local mining executive tries to take over the rescue and the family bicker.

The Vaults, Southwark Playhouse’s space in the arches under London Bridge station, is a superb location for a show largely set in a cave – though this does bring some acoustic problems they don’t entirely overcome, and a distance from the audience which doesn’t help you engage with the story and characters. Derek Bond’s staging is imaginative and James Perkins evocative design and Sally Ferguson’s atmospheric lighting cleverly use just eighteen ladders and some rope & boxes.

The score is beautifully played, under MD Tim Jackson, by a lovely combination of string quartet, acoustic guitar / banjo, harmonica and percussion and the performances are uniformly good. Ryan Sampson contrast his superb performance in the Kitchen Sink recently at the Bush with a completely different but equally superb one as the dimunitive cub reporter Skeets. The role of Floyd is a tough one – it carries the first 15 minutes virtually alone yet there are long scenes overground where he’s silent – and the excellent Glenn Carter works hard but doesn’t quite pull it off. I very much liked Kit Benjamin as the mine owner Carmichael and Gareth Chart as brother Homer and the three reporters – Vlach Ashton, Dayle Hodge and Roddy Peters – bring some much-needed fizz in their ‘chorus’ number.

It’s hard to imagine a better venue or a more talented cast, band and creative team, yet it ultimately fails because the subject matter, the story and the sub-operatic score just aren’t good enough. I didn’t feel engaged and the music only occasionally impressed. I felt I was observing a piece of work, not involved in the tale.

These second looks do confound sometimes!

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As much as I love the Finborough Theatre, for the second time this year (the first was And I And Silence) I find a play which doesn’t really live up to the expectations created by the reviews.

This new play by Dawn King has a rural setting in a world of state intrusion. Farmers Samuel and Judith are visited by foxfinder William who undertakes a forensic examination of the farm and the farmers, seemingly on behalf of the state. Neighbouring farmer Sarah is the only other character. The farm is struggling, Sam & Judith have lost their child and their relationship is seriously affected. William’s arrival is badly timed and unwelcome, but they have to co-operate.

The problem with the play is that it is preoccupied with creating this mysterious world above all else. There are lots of plays with a similar theme and I’m not sure this adds that much to the cannon. It was a bit Pinteresque, though the opening pause and another close to the end seemed even longer than any Pinter created! 

I think that the intimacy of the space (even more intimate than usual thanks to James Perkins spare but clever design), the quality of the Blanche McIntyre’s staging and the exceptional performances of Tom Byam Shaw, Gyuri Sarossy and Kirsty Besterman seduce us into thinking it’s a great play when in reality its a great production of an OK play – which doesn’t sustain its (unbroken) 95 minute length.

I’ve never heard of the Papatango Playwriting Festival, but this play won it this year. For me, its good rather than great new writing and because of the hype, I left the theatre disappointed.

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