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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Meadows’

This is a musical theatre adaptation of one of prolific American novelist Paul Gallico’s four Mrs Harris books. Quite how an American gets to write about a post-war British char lady I don’t know, but I’m pleased he did, and even more pleased Rachel Wagstaff and Richard Taylor have turned it into a charming, heart warming, quintessentially British show which gets a short run in Chichester following it’s premiere in Sheffield two years ago.

Set in the late forties, war widow Ada Harris lives in Battersea, working as a char lady, as does her best friend and neighbour Violet. She talks to the spirit of her husband, who is always with her. Her ‘clients’ include an accountant, a wannabe actress, a retired major and a foreign Countess trading in antiques. She is forever undertaking acts of kindness for them all.

Violet’s clients include Lady Dant and when Ada covers for her there, she is spellbound by a Christian Dior dress and becomes obsessed with owning something so beautiful. Somehow she manages to get enough money together and heads to Paris where she is initially greeted with disbelief and disdain, but eventually charms everyone in her path until she returns with a Dior dress made for her. She also spreads her kindness in Paris, the results of which follow her home in flowers, but not until after another act of kindness back home ends tragically.

Taylor builds on his experience with The Go-Between (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/the-go-between) and produces an even better score. I would describe his very original musical voice as tuneful but song-less and (almost) sung-through! It suits the story so well, flowing beautifully, as does Daniel Evans impeccable staging, with much use of the revolve. Lez Brotherston’s designs are simple but gorgeous, with the private fashion show in the House of Dior taking your breathe away as eight models descent the stairs in stunning gowns.

Evans has got himself a faultless cast, led by Clare Burt, who follows her star turn as working class theatrical hero Joan Littlewood with another star turn as another working class hero. Clare Machin delights once again, this time as friend Violet, morphing deliciously into the French cleaner at Dior. Louis Maskall is terrific as Bob the accountant and Dior’s Head of Finance Andre; his leg acting alone deserves an award! Joanna Riding, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Mark Meadows, Nicola Sloane, Gary Wilmot, Rhona McGregor and Luke Latchman are all excellent, doubling up as London and Paris characters, with five of them adding one, two or three more. It was lovely to see Tom Brady’s ten-piece band leave the pit to get a well earned ovation.

The show’s message about kindness seems particularly welcome today. Another wonderful feel-good afternoon in Chichester. I do hope it gets a London transfer as it’s too good to see only once!

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The 70’s were my 20’s and my first decade at work. Looking at the Trafalgar Studio One stage, designed by Soutra Gilmour, before the play started was a deeply nostalgic experience. Electronic typewriters, telex machines and those phones that seemed to be around for decades. By the time the the play starts, though, you can’t take your eyes off the characters crowded in the office for the duration. Many have questioned the setting, modern dictator references and the coup d’at that follows the civil war, but I thought it was all deeply intelligent and made for a riveting experience.

Richard’s relentless removal of everyone in his way en route to the top job would be entirely plausible in a 20th century dictatorship. The hunger for power fuels the manipulation, the lies and the killing without conscience, though rarely at his own hand. The claustrophobic setting adds something to the intensity of the drama. We’ve seen men like this Richard in our lifetime, which makes it very easy to relate to him and even easier to be repelled by him. As the play progresses, and the carnage is scaled up, the pace seems to increase and the blood begins to flow before your eyes.

Martin Freeman may appear a restrained Richard, at least at first, but this seemed to me to be in keeping with the concept – modern dictators all seem cool on the outside. It’s the small things – a chilling laugh, a raised eyebrow, a malicious grin; all often direct to the audience – which make you believe he’ll do absolutely anything to reach his goal. His second half entrance in bright red uniform is completely unsurprising; he’s got it and he’s going to make sure you know it. I thought it was an excellent performance; the closest I remember is Ian McKellern’s more Hitleresque one – this is more generic 20th century dictator.

He’s surrounded by a superb supporting cast. Macbeth’s excellent Banquo, Forbes Masson, channels Ernie Wise as a superbly oily Hastings. Simon Coombs has an entirely original take on loyal henchman Tyrrel. Jo Stone-Fewings is one of the best Buckingham’s I’ve ever seen and Gerald Kyd seemed to make much more of the role of Catesby. Mark Meadows inhabits both Clarence and the Lord Mayor, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t realise it was the same actor, and you completely believe Paul Leonard feigned loyalty as Stanley. The casting of the women is particularly strong, with the wonderful Maggie Steed a haunting presence almost throughout, Gabrielle Lloyd’s very regal Duchess of York, Gina McKee motherly Queen Elizabeth and Lauren O’Neil is the best stranglee ever!

Much has also been said about the audiences, but mine was amongst the most attentive and quietest I’ve ever experienced. I don’t care what anybody else thinks, I related to this Jamie Lloyd staging of Richard III more than any other and for that reason, it’s a great one – and a superb start to the very welcome return of Trafalgar Transformed.

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