Posts Tagged ‘Theatre Royal Brighton’

By the time Ivor Cutler crossed my radar in the early 70’s, he’d been performing for a couple of decades but was now reaching people half his age thanks to the late, great John Peel singing his praises. Though he amused and fascinated me, I can’t say I ever became fan, more of a curious onlooker, but he stays with me in his contribution to Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom album, his performance as the bus driver in Magical Mystery Tour and, more recently, some Mark Morris dances set to his words and music.

It’s almost impossible to describe his oeuvre. He was a poet, humorist, singer (of sorts) and musician (with his trademark harmonium). He spoke in a deadpan mild Glaswegian accent, though he lived from his 30’s to 80’s in London. This Vanishing Point / National Theatre of Scotland co-production perfectly captures the essence of his eccentric, absurd, somewhat surreal uniqueness.

They talked to Cutler’s partner as part of their research and the first meeting provides the show with its starting point, Phyllis King becoming a character. What follows is a series of biographical scenes, taking us from his childhood (he tried to kill his baby brother when he was three!) to dementia in his final years, interspersed with songs, poems and other writings. Sandy Grierson’s Cutler and Elicia Daly’s King are joined on-stage by five multi-instrumentalists who provide sounds and voices as well as music. It’s a very charming homage, as quirky as the man himself.

The show visited Brighton as part of the festival and it’s perfect festival fare, attracting a very healthy audience for a Sunday matinee, accessibly priced. It has now become England’s biggest festival covering the whole month of May, with 750 shows (though still only a third of Edinburgh in 10 days less). Work like this suggests it’s time I gave it as much attention as the other one.

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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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