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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Mangan’

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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I keep breaking my ‘no more Pinter revivals’ rule, lured by the cast and / or creatives, in this case both, though maybe it’s a subconscious desire to one day understand his plays. This team certainly don’t disappoint, but I’m no further forward on the understanding front.

It’s the play’s 60th anniversary. If you’d told those that attended the eight performances of its premiere production that it would be selling out in the West end today, they’d probably laugh. The audience was in single numbers when it was pulled prematurely. Pinter’s comedy with menace / theatre of the absurd must have baffled then as it still does, with its cocktail of ambiguity, confusion, contradictions and political symbolism. I’m still not convinced even Pinter knew what it was about, or whether it being about anything is the point. Despite the bafflement, it’s still compelling.

Ian Rickson’s staging and the Quay Brothers design are as good as any. Zoe Wanamaker and Peter Wight are perfect as the couple running the seaside boarding house, her rather batty and him a beacon of ordinariness. The part of Stanley, the prime victim, really suits Toby Jones. Goldberg is unlike any other role I’ve seen Stephen Mangham play, so he was a bit of a revelation, doing menacing very well indeed, as does his sidekick Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as McCann. Lulu is a small part but Pearl Mackie acquits herself well.

My plea to producers would be to use creatives and actors I don’t like so that I don’t feel compelled to break my own rules, though rule-breaking can sometimes be rewarding…..

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Though its billed as a comedy and it made me laugh – a lot – there’s more to Sam Holcroft’s play about the family Christmas from hell; it made me think a lot too.

Emma, the daughter of Adam & Sheena, is to undergo CGT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) in an attempt to cure her chronic fatigue. CGT requires you to create rules for living – coping strategies. Until we meet Emma, we spend Christmas morning with her parents, grandmother, uncle and his new girlfriend preparing the lunch. They have their own coping strategies too and these are explained to us on two giant scoreboards. In the second half these ‘rules for living’ are elaborated and explained and points scored whenever the strategies are successfully implemented. Everyone begins to realise mum has been in denial about dad’s illness when he arrives for a visit from hospital, at which point things break down completely as rules are abandoned, truths revealed and things get thrown – big-time! When we do meet Emma, she appears to be the only normal person in the room.

The Dorfman is configured as a large rectangular kitchen / diner with multi-level seating on the long sides and one level high up, above the scoreboards, on the short sides. It felt very voyeuristic from behind a half-wall on the front row. Chloe Lamford’s clever design is matched by the originality of the structure of the play and Marianne Elliott’s audacious production. The characterisations are excellent and they are brilliantly brought to life by the five lead actors. The chalk-and-cheese brothers are very well played by Stephen Manghan, ex-cricketer now legal associate, as Adam and Miles Jupp, sometime actor who’s also settled for the law, as Matthew, both influenced if not bullied by dad. Adam’s wife Sheena, beautifully played by Claudie Blakley, is too fond of a tipple and focused on alternative therapies for Emma, solutions not exactly embraced by Adam. Maggie Service is a loud, clumsy, dippy delight as Matt’s new(ish) girlfriend, actress Carrie. Deborah Findlay is superb as the pill-popping mum who has clearly been put upon for donkey’s years. Lovely performances.

In between the laughs, I found myself thinking about my own (and others) coping strategies and reflecting on my own dysfunctional family! An original and entertaining evening .

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Even though the play’s premise is implausible – men can now carry and give birth to a child by cesarian section – it does provide a suitable device to explore issues of childbirth from the perspective of both sexes.

The play takes place in a hospital immediately before, during and after the birth of Ed & Lisa’s child. The roles have been reversed, in part because of Lisa’s bad experience with childbirth and in part to accommodate her career. You don’t have to be a parent to recognise the detail of the role reversal as Ed is humiliated, patronised and humoured by his wife and the hospital staff. He’s a man, so of course everything is more painful and less dignified. Playwright Joe Penhall and Stephen Mangan as Ed deliver a lot of laughs, some somewhat unfairly at the expense of the NHS and a young doctor and an African nurse in particular. It’s amazing how funny requesting raspberry leaf tea can be!

I suspect men and women will see a different play, but I’ve yet to ask any women so I don’t if that’s true and if so how much. I suspect we’ll have a reversal of the ‘women critics like it more than men’ we had with Last of the Haussmans. For a man, there are moments where you turn your head, squirm, sympathise and clench your buttocks! Both Joe Penhall and Stephen Mangan are newish dad’s, so I suspect there’s more than a touch of real experience portrayed on stage – from a man’s perspective.

Though the emotional rollercoaster is occasionally too highly strung and somewhat relentless, Stephen Mangan really does play Ed very well indeed, using every ounce of his exceptional comic talent. It’s hard for anyone to play against that, but Lisa Dillon does well and starts the slow process (in my eyes) of recovering from the career low of Knot of the Heart. There’s fine support from Llewella Gideon and Louise Brealey as nurse and doctor respectively, the targets for much of the anger of both Ed and Lisa.

It was an entertaining and funny 90 minutes, but it was limited in its depth and I suspect I won’t remember it as long as other recent Court hits like Jerusalem, Enron, Clybourne Park and Posh. Mark Thompson’s simple circular set creates a hyper-realistic hospital room that revolves between scenes and opens up for the actual birth to take place at the back and Ed’s prosthetic belly and tits (credited to Paul Hyett) are extraordinarily realistic! Roger Mitchell has staged and paced the show very well.

A good but not great evening. The fact I came out craving fish and chips was purely coincidental……

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