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Posts Tagged ‘John Gunter’

I haven’t seen an entire street on the Olivier stage sine John Gunter built part of the city of Bath for The Rivals in 1984. Bunny Christie’s street has an extra third storey on the houses and is a bit (intentionally) shabbier, but is spectacular nonetheless. It transforms to create an apartment block, shops, nightclub and a clinic.

There is much else to enjoy in Dominic Cooke’s NT debut, but it doesn’t really sparkle like other productions I’ve seen, most recently Propeller at Hampstead in 2010 and I’m not entirely sure why. The pacing is a bit uneven; one minute it’s zipping along, then appears to have ground to a halt. I don’t know whether it has been cut, but it came in at just 2 hours 10 mins with a 20 minute interval, so I suspect it has – though not noticeably.

I liked the idea of acting out Egeon’s opening speech describing how he lost his wife and twin sons (and their twin servants). The more frenetic scenes are given a ‘keystone cops’ style that somehow made them seem fresh though still appropriate for the material. The Abbey has become the Abbey Clinic and one half of both twins end up ‘sectioned’ there after a particularly slick chase scene involving an ambulance driving onto the stage! I also like the idea that the twins have different accents, having been brought up in different places, though Shakespeare didn’t write any lines like ‘why are you speaking funny?’ to support this, so there’s even more disbelief to be suspended than usual! Despite the comedy that preceded it, the closing scene was much more moving than I’ve ever seen it before. I wasn’t sure about the band playing familiar songs in a foreign language at first, but I warmed to it.

After what seemed like a hesitant start, the acting was first-rate. The twins are well matched, particularly Lucien Msamati and Daniel Poyser as the Dromio’s. Lenny Henry has as much presence and as good a  speaking voice as he did in Othello, but is much more relaxed in a comic role where he is able to use his full range of facial expressions. Claudie Blakely’s Adriana and Michelle Terry’s Luciana are deliciously chavvy creations.

So a good rather than great Comedy of Errors, but one I’m glad I saw.

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I studied this play for something that used to be called ‘O’ level. At the time, all I got to see was an amateur production. It was 15 years before I saw a professional one, but it was an extraordinary one; John Gunter seemed to have actually built part of Bath’s Royal Crescent on the Olivier stage (the life-size houses could be turned around and opened out to reveal their interiors) and Michael Hordern turned eating a boiled egg into a comic masterclass.

There’s a lot going on in Sheridan’s restoration comedy and it’s fun – preposterous fun, but fun all the same. The character names are particularly delicious and there are lots of parts, big and small, which actors relish. It’s impossible to dislike, but it doesn’t change your life.

This Peter Hall production comes off the Theatre Royal Bath quality-classics-staged-for-a-song production line. It fits the Theatre Royal Haymarket like a glove. Simon Higlett’s set isn’t as grand as Gunter’s but it does the job perfectly well. The cast is uniformly good, with Penelope Keith an imposing enough Mrs Malaprop and Peter Bowles a fine Sir Jack Absolute. There are great comic turns from Gerard Murphy as Sir Lucius and Keiron Self as Bob Acres and a lovely cameo from Ian Connington as Fag.

As much as I enjoyed seeing it again, it didn’t sparkle that much though and I’m afraid it falls into the category of ‘another Rivals’. Still, there are worse nights out to be had.

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