Posts Tagged ‘Samantha Seager’

It’s taken me over a year to catch up with this, deterred by mixed reviews and West End prices, propelled now by the return of co-creator Paul Whitehouse to the cast and a decent midweek deal. It’s extraordinarily faithful to the TV sitcom, a true homage which offers no surprises, but the familiarity, nostalgia and excellent execution made it a real fun night out.

It’s obviously an amalgam of episodes / series during which Del Boy meets Raquel, Rodney marries Cassandra and Boycie and Marlene’s attempts to conceive succeed. All of the other characters, including deadpan Trigger, are there in Peckham as we move between the flat, the pub, the cafe and the market. There’s a lot of attention to detail in recreating things like mannerisms and voices, and they’ve even created the iconic visual gags involving a bar that’s not there and a chandelier. Oh, and the yellow Reliant Robin comes onstage a couple of times. The music, mostly by Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan (creator John Sullivan’s son) and Chas & Dave, and the original John Sullivan theme tune recurring, suits the show, though I found the addition of songs by Simply Red and Bill Withers, and part of Carmina Burana as a curtain-raiser, a bit baffling. When Whitehouse as Grandad morphed into Uncle Albert, continuity went right out of the window.

It’s well designed by Liz Ascroft, with the pub building and block of flats as backdrop to a playing area that transforms between locations. The Theatre Royal is a bit plush for Peckham, but director Caroline Jay Ranger’s delivers a surprisingly intimate staging. Tom Bennett is great as Del Boy, the archetypal lovable rogue that the show revolves around, excellently partnered by Ryan Hutton as younger brother Rodney; there was more warmth to the relationship as surrogate father / son, I thought. There’s excellent support from Ashleigh Grey as Raquel, Jeff Nicholson as Boycie, Samantha Seager as Marlene and the understudy playing Cassandra, who was very good. Paul Whitehouse was delightful as Grandad, more playful when he surprised us as Uncle Albert. The ensemble numbers were particularly well staged and sung.

I’m really glad I went. It was nice to be in a very un-West End audience for what is populist fare, but quality populist fare, and I enjoyed the warm nostalgia of sharing memories of one of British TV’s greatest sitcoms. Gavin & Stacey – the Musical anyone?

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I’m struggling to understand why I haven’t seen a Torben Betts play before. He’s written 14, over half of which have been seen in London. This one’s a transfer from the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond (where a number of his plays have debuted) to the much bigger St. James Theatre and it’s a surprising blend of comedy and tragedy.

Oliver, Emily and their two kids have moved north, following civil servant Oliver’s redundancy, in search of a cheaper life. Emily is a left-wing new age Buddhist who thinks being with ‘real people’ will do them all good and she invites neighbours Alan & Dawn round for drinks (though there aren’t any, as they’ve given up alcohol!). Still, postman Alan brings his own cans and Dawn flirts with Oliver in a very funny culture clash. There are skeletons in all of their cupboards and past tragedy and current tragedy are revealed before Oliver & Emily head back south, aided by Oliver’s inheritance from his mum.

The play has a knack of switching from high comedy to shocking tragedy in an instant, which chills you and makes you question why you’ve been laughing. In addition to the culture clash, it covers a broad range of recent political and social issues such as the consequences of the ‘credit crunch’, British intervention in the Middle East, the transition from Labour to New Labour and private vs state education. It’s like Alan Ayckbourn meets Mike Leigh; more edge than Ayckbourn, broader than Leigh. I liked it.

It must have been very different in-the-round at Richmond, but It sits nicely on the St James’ stage in Sam Dowson’s realistic family living room design. All four performances are very good. Laura Howard’s Emily is earnest and brittle and always right. Darren Strange navigates Oliver’s transition from put-upon husband to man-in-charge extremely well. Daniel Copeland gives Alan more depth than his seemingly superficial first impressions and Samantha Seager does the same with Dawn. Director Ellie Jones’s staging, with its quirky scene change dances, balances the comedy and tragedy well.

Good to see new writing, good to see a Torben Betts play at last and credit to both the beleaguered Orange Tree for producing and St. James Theatre for transferring.

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