Posts Tagged ‘Sean Foley’

This was one of my first covid cancellations when its run was curtailed after five or six weeks in March 2020, and the last for me to catch up with some 2.5 years later. Not a stage adaptation of Ben Elton’s hit TV comedy series, but a new play based on the same premise and characters, well some of them.

Shakespeare is struggling to find inspiration for a new play. It needs to be a hit after the lukewarm reception given to Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well. Ideas come from his London landlady’s daughter Kate, firstly King Lear, then Othello. There’s a sprinkling of references to other plays, like Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night and A Winter’s Tale. The humour is in the juxtaposition of the period and contemporary issues like colour blind casting, gender representation and transport woes. so up-to-date I felt there might have been very recent additions. I thought it was a bit slow to take off but when it got going the laughs came quick and fast in a plot where life and plays converge. It’s humour is broad and bawdy, with it’s own charming euphemisms for private parts and sexual acts. I thought it was clever and a lot of fun.

Sean Foley’s speedy staging contains some lovely performances, chief amongst them Gemma Whelan as Shakespeare’s muse Kate, Rob Rouse as his servant bottom and Stewart Wright as larger-than-life 17th Century luvvie Burbage. It appears to be David Mitchel’s professional debut in a play, though he created the character and brings him alive on stage as he did on TV. The economics of live theatre is presumably the reason for fewer characters than on screen and I felt it missed them, most importantly Mrs Shakespeare, brilliantly characterised by Lisa Tarbuck on the small screen.

Good fun.

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I often feel more positive about a show which has received indifferent reviews, though I never know if it’s the pressure of press night (never the best night to see a show in my experience), improvement as the run progresses or the difference between the view of people paid to be there against those who’ve paid to have a good time, and so it is again.

Sean Foley’s adaptation of the 1951 Ealing comedy, the screenplay of which got an Oscar nomination, moves it later in the fifties, but is otherwise faithful to the film; indeed, it feels very much a homage to the genre, still much loved, well certainly by me. One of the keys to their success was the celebration of the underdog, the outsider, the pioneer. In this case it’s the eccentric inventor whose invention threatens the livelihoods and wealth of others.

Cambridge chemistry graduate Sidney Stratton invents a stain resistant indestructible fabric which the mill owners at first embrace, until the potential impact on their wealth dawns on them. At the same time, the workers can see the threat to their jobs. The adaptation illustrates its timelessness and plausibility with clever references to oil. They try to pay off Sidney, and even use mill owner Birnley’s daughter Daphne’s allure to turn him. In the end, it’s the soundness of the science that seals the fate of the invention. There are other up-to-date references which bring a delightful cheekiness.

It’s played as broad comedy, and I thought it was great fun. Michael Taylor’s brilliant design moves us speedily from pub to factory lab. to mill-owner’s home to car ride to digs. Lizzi Gee’s choreography adds a sprightly feel. There’s skiffle music incorporated, with four members of the cast creating a live onstage band bringing a touch of knees-up to proceedings, playing original music by Charlie Fink. This is one of a number of features that reminds you of One Man, Two Guvnors. The cast’s enthusiasm is infectious, but its Stephen Mangan’s amiable charm and comic prowess that lifts it.

It’s a show to go to if you just want some fun, like those Mischief Theatre shows or One Man, Two Guvnors. It may not be up to the latter, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good night out. Find out for yourself.

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This is a real love or hate show, though based on the audience reaction last night there’ll be a lot more in the former category. Farce has become somewhat unfashionable (notwithstanding the subversions of the form in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and Mischief Theatre’s ‘goes wrong’ series) and I’m not sure the West End has seen a farce as frenetic as this for a very long time, if ever. After some initial misgivings, I succumbed to it’s profound silliness but consummate skill.

An assassin and a press photographer, unknown to each other, have adjoining rooms on the sixth floor of a hotel overlooking a court building where a well-known gangster is appearing. The assassin just wants to get the job done and get out of there. The photographer is spiralling into depression following his wife’s departure to live with her psychiatrist. Their situations become as linked as the rooms, as the hotel porter, a policeman, the wife and her psychiatrist get involved in the events unfolding, until the tables are turned.

Francis Veber’s play, adapted by director Sean Foley, is extraordinarily physical, exhausting to watch let alone play, and Foley’s production is very slick. Kenneth Branagh proved his comic timing credentials in Harlequinade earlier in this season, now he proves a master of physical comedy too. We’ve seen Rob Brydon play the hapless Welshman before, but here he adds physical comedy to great effect. Mark Hadfield has a great track record in comedy and here, without the physical demands of the others, he relies on body language, facial expressions and the odd movement to bring the house down. Alex Macqueen, Claudie Blakley and Marcus Fraser provide fine support. Alice Power’s excellent set also performs, as sets often do in farce.

Don’t go expecting culture, but do go prepared for and open to a thoroughly daft but thoroughly skilful example of a once popular but now endangered theatrical genre.

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This is ‘edited’ rather than ‘adapted’ from Thomas Middleton’s 410-year-old original. It has been relocated to 1950’s Soho, though in a clever twist the party scene is a Jacobean masked ball. Given that he has changed dialogue and character names and relationships (Sir Bounteous ‘Progress’ becomes ‘Peersucker’, his grandson is now his nephew), I think ‘edited’ should be ‘freely adapted’, though I’m not complaining as it’s rather fun (though slow to take off).

The nephew can’t wait for his inheritance so he steals from his uncle, more than material things in the end as he bags his mistress, prostitute Miss Truely Kidman, who also happens to be helping Penitent Brothel (no name change there!) steal Mrs Littledick (character formerly known as Harebrain) from her husband. This is all surrounded by prostitution, drinking and everything else you might expect in 50’s Soho, with the addition of a terrific jazz band with stunning vocals from Linda John Pierre.

It’s in director / ‘editor’ Sean Foley’s trademark OTT style which was pushed a little too close to Carry On Soho for me. The second half has more pace than the first, which is when the performers come into their own with 13 of them playing another 20 or so roles. Alice Power’s set quickly morphs from the streets to the homes and the superb music anchors it in both place and time. The cast’s infectious sense of fun ensures you have a good time at what must be one of the earliest farces?

This is accessible, quality touring fare and it’s good to see the RSC and ETT combining forces to take it around the UK.

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Whoever had the idea of asking Graham Linehan to write, and Sean Foley to direct, this new version of a classic Ealing comedy was inspired. They bring a touch of absurdity, a sprinkling of surrealism and a cartoon-like quality, add lots of physical comedy and create a homage to the film rather than a film-to-stage transfer. Think Patrick Barlow’s 39 Steps meets Improbable’s Theatre of Blood and you’re getting warm.

It’s still set in 1956 and it’s faithful to the story, but freshly written. Designer Michael Taylor’s has created an enormous higgledy-piggledy multi-level house, with a nod to Heath Robinson, which moves to provide exterior locations and itself  ‘performs’, aided by terrific (and largely appropriately low-tech) special effects by Scott Penrose.

‘Professor’ Marcus has put together a team for a heist at Kings Cross and hires a room in Mrs Wilberforce’s house where, under the guise of rehearsing his string quintet, they plan their robbery. The successful (off-stage) robbery is cleverly staged, and the spoils brought to the house. Most of the play, however, revolves around their ‘getaway’.

It’s cast to perfection. Peter Capaldi is excellent as a gangling manic Professor, increasingly desperate in his attempts to keep it all together. James Fleet is perfect as a military con (gentle)man who seems a little fond of dresses. Stephen Wight is brilliant at the physical comedy required of his pill-popping cockney kleptomaniac (I just don’t understand why he isn’t covered in bruises – I winced a lot!). Clive Rowe is a wonderful big clumsy intellectually challenged bruiser with foot forever in mouth. Ben Miller is a delicious foreign Mafioso with a penchant for knives and a phobia of old ladies. Harry Peacock’s cameo as the tolerant local bobby is lovely. Then there’s Marcia Warren. What can I say? She’s so perfect as the post-war eccentric old dear who invented neighbourhood watch and quite how she keeps a straight face on stage all evening whilst all the chaos is going on is beyond me.

The original story apparently came fully formed in the dream of original screen writer William Rose and there’s a dreamlike quality to this version and this production. I found it delightfully charming; a smile never left my face and I laughed out loud often. It’s a big theatre to fill, but I do hope it finds its audience because it’s a very welcome, beautifully crafted evening.

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