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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Portal’

Oh, what a tonic. Sandy Wilson’s pastiche of the 1920’s, written in the 1950’s, sparkles in the 21st Century.

Set in a finishing school in Nice run by Madame Dubonnet, its the tale of Polly and her chums as they prepare for a ball, choosing their costumes, all looking for love. Polly falls for delivery boy Tony when he brings her costume to the school. It seems like a hopeless match, rich girl and poor boy, but they meet on the corniche and agree to go to the ball together as Pierette and Pierrot. Polly’s dad arrives to find that Madame Dubonnet is an old flame. Tony’s parents arrive and we find out he isn’t who he seems. At the ball no less than six couples become engaged.

It’s pure escapist fun with its tongue firmly in its cheek. Bill Deamer’s period choreography is simply fabulous, as light as air, totally uplifting. Paul Farnsworth’s design is gorgeous, particularly his costumes, which are beyond sumptuous in the Act Three ball – from where we were sitting in the front row, you could clearly see the astonishing craftsmanship. MD Simon Beck’s band sound fantastic. Director Matthew White has squeezed every ounce of humour out of this 66-year-old show and made it as fresh and funny as you could wish for. The smile never left my face for the duration.

It’s brilliantly cast, with Amara Okereke & Dylan Mason making a delightful young couple and Janine Dee & Robert Portal a charming older one. Tiffany Graves wows again as Hortense and both Adrian Edmondson & Issy Van Randwyck give great comic cameos, the former not exactly known for musicals. The casting is in fact faultless, and their joy becomes your joy.

An antidote for election blues, but it’s not the sort of production you can only see once, so I’ve already booked to go again as a tonic for my post-election blues.

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This is the third play by French playwright Florian Zeller that we’ve had in London in less than twelve months, all translated by Christopher Hampton. I worried when the second, The Mother, was stylistically similar to the first, The Father, that he might be a one-trick pony, even though I admired both. Fear not, the third is very different and quite possibly the best.

The first scene introduces us to Michel and his best friend’s wife Alice in a hotel room. They are having an affair. What unfolds over 90 minutes in seven scenes in six locations, each involving just two of the characters, is the unravelling of their infidelity, taking many twists and turns, keeping you guessing until the final moments. It’s a masterly piece of writing and it’s very funny. To say any more would spoil it. 

Lindsay Posner’s staging is as masterly as the writing and Lizzie Clachan’s design is as clever as the play’s structure, changing location with the slide of a screen. Alexander Hanson as Michel is onstage throughout, carrying the play, and he does so brilliantly, but the other three – Frances O’Connor, Tanya Franks and Robert Portal – are terrific too.

Apparently there are six more plays we haven’t seen, including a companion piece to this, unsurprisingly called The Lie. I can’t wait. Three plays in and I’m convinced he’s a find.

This is why I go to the theatre. I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t follow The Father into the West End. Unmissable.

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The Finborough has a knack of finding a rarity in search of an audience, and an audience in search of a rarity; this one sold out before it opened. It’s an oddly titled banned 1925 Noel Coward play, getting its UK professional premiere. We must have been real prudes back in 1925, as it got staged in the US, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Egypt & South America – but not here; well, until now.

You’d know it was a Coward play even if you went to see it blind. In fact, it occasionally seems like a parody of Coward. Cads & bounders, cocktails & cigarettes and everyone’s darling, darling. In the world of the upper middle class, the play revolves around Edward Churt, a portrait painter who seems to be the only one who works. The rest visit each other for drinks and gossip, have lunch, play majong and travel to foreign parts to have drinks and gossip with their friends who’ve also travelled to foreign parts.

Right at the beginning of the play Edward discovers his wife Carol’s infidelity, but he doesn’t confront her until the end of the play. In between, his friend Evelyn decides to intervene on his behalf and it’s this overlong two-hand middle act where the play is at its weakest. It’s not a great play and it’s hard to identify with or care about any of the characters, which makes it more an experience of detached theatrical history that engaging, involving drama.

Simon Kenny has designed a simple, elegant and evocative period set and the costumes are terrific. The three leads, all of whose real names could be Coward character names(!) – Jamie De Courcey, Dorothea Myer-Bennett & Robert Portal – are all very good and there’s a superb supporting performance from Georgina Rylance as ice cool Zoe. Whatever you think of the play, this is a typically high quality Finborough production.

It isn’t the slightest bit shocking to a modern audience and the suggestion of a ban today would be laughable. Porgy & Bess, which I saw the previous night and which first appeared ten years later, would have been much more shocking. In 2014, it’s a rarity for those interested in 20th century British theatre in general and Noel Coward in particular.

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