The Mousetrap is famous around the world as being the longest running show of any kind in the history of British theatre – with over 23,000 performances. And to celebrate 60 years on stage, it’s on tour for the very first time.
The scene is set when a group of people gathered in a country house cut off by the snow discover, to their horror, that there is a murderer in their midst. One by one the suspicious characters reveal their sordid pasts until at the last, nerve shredding moment the identity and the motives are finally revealed.
From the quality cast including: Steven France, Thomas Howes, Karl Howman, Bruno Langley, Graham Seed, Jemma Walker, Jan Waters and Clare Wilkie; the beautiful period set, to the keep-you-guessing inventiveness of the script, this is good old-fashioned theatre at its very best. It is a glimpse into what theatre used to be, and if the completely packed theatre is anything to go by, it is an example of the kind of theatre the great British public want to see. A quality product and the ideal opportunity for everyone outside London to see this British classic.
This was meant to be The 39 Steps – however due to the indisposition of one of the actors due to an eye injury ( I’d like to imagine the understudy punched him to get the lead role) this was, at the last minute, switched to Alan Ayckbourn’s time travelling comedy drama Communicating Doors.
Three women. One hotel suite. In 1992, one is on her honeymoon night. In 2012, one is about to be murdered. In 2032, one discovers that a communicating door holds the key to all their destinies . . .
When Poopay, a self-styled ‘Specialist Sexual Consultant’, is summoned to a five star hotel, it transpires that her elderly client isn’t interested in her usual services. Instead, the conscience-stricken Reece wants her to witness his dying confession: that many years before, he employed his business associate, Julian, to murder his two wives.
When he learns of the confession, the deranged Julian decides that Poopay must be silenced permanently. Terrified, Poopay flees through the communicating door, only to find that it leads not into an adjacent room, but back into the same suite . . . twenty years before on the very night that wife number two is about to die.
This reviewer has a chequered history with Ayckbourn’s plays. His output is often very much of its time and revivals of his work often seem badly dated. After an over-long set up this however turned into an absorbing evening’s entertainment with deft acting and storytelling keeping the story arc cohesive and engaging.
On the down side, one point of weakness is the staging: the setting here is 1992 and the 2012 of the play is the future. Possibly due to a slightly outdated set decoration (the actual design which incorporated the time-travelling door was cleverly done) but without significant decorative differences across the years this wasn’t conveyed as well as it could have been. For Pitlochry this is a surprise as it’s usually known for phenomenally inventive set design.
This Ayckbourn play has fared better than most and provides as many laughs as suspenseful moments. Worth a visit.
Runs until 11th October – Pitlochry Festival Theatre details here
Television journalist James Highwood has made his career out of challenging the British justice system in his documentary programmes. Now, suddenly, it is Highwood himself who is challenged when he is brought to court on a charge of murder.
Olivier and Tony Award winner Tom Conti is one of the UK’s most familiar actors, so it’s no surprise that he turns in another accomplished performance in Terence Frisby’s courtroom drama Rough Justice.
The premise of this play is an interesting and intriguing one, raising as it does a thorny and divisive moral issue regarding the murder of a severely handicapped baby.
For the most part the play manages to engage and absorb the audience, but would benefit greatly from tighter dialogue and delivery. The horrific (un-amplified) acoustics of the Theatre Royal Glasgow swallow up much of the wordy discourse and several of the actors were rendered inaudible by their choice of delivery. One member of the cast also appeared to be reading his lines wholly from the script in front of him, something which could have been better disguised due to the nature of his role.
That said there are some fine performances here, in particular Elizabeth Payne as barrister Margaret Casey and David Michaels as solicitor Jeremy Ackroyd.
With the first night blips ironed out and the delivery tightened this has the potential be an absorbing night out in the theatre. The after curtain-call opportunity to be the jury is in itself an interesting eye-opener into the views of the populace on the moral issue at the play’s heart.
As any Agatha Christie fan knows, the casting of comic actress Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple in the light-hearted George Pollock MGM series was widely reported by Mrs. Christie to be a grievous mistake. So unhappy was she with the whole situation, and in order to protect the reputation of her precious creation, she made frequent visits to the set to check on proceedings.
This play, set in Rutherford’s dressing room on location of the first film Murder She Said, centres around the ever-present Mrs. Christie and the rather more interesting story of Rutherford’s real life.
In one hour we touch on; mental illness; childhood trauma; murder and suicide, as well as Rutherford’s rather interesting relationships with those close to her.
Janet Prince assumes all the roles in the intimate setting of the Gilded Balloon Teviot’s Wee Room. Wee it is indeed, and the enjoyment of the experience is enhanced by the feeling that we have been personally invited into Rutherford’s dressing room to hear her recount her tales.
Prince retains focus throughout and the sometimes shocking revelations keep the interest levels up in this hour long show. I wouldn’t advise anyone without knowledge of Rutherford or Christie to go along as the main enjoyment is the feeling that you are finding out secrets you never knew about a familiar friend but well worth a viewing if you are a fan.
Apologies for the tardy posting. The first show out of the stable of the recently launched Theatre Royal Brighton Productions, a subsidiary of the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), is this revival of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rarely seen English comedy Dandy Dick, starring Patricia Hodge and Nicholas Le Provost (whom I last saw literally bursting out of the doors of a pub in Soho with Jonathan Pryce).
Helmed by the company’s artistic director Christopher Luscombe its run here in Glasgow is part of an eight-week UK tour before a planned West End transfer.
Dandy Dick, written in Brighton in 1887 – tells the story of the Very Reverend Augustin Jedd (Le Prevost), a pillar of Victorian respectability, who preaches regularly against the evils of horse racing and gambling. However, a visit from his tearaway sister, Georgiana (Hodge), leads him to risk all at the races, much against his better judgement. Mayhem ensues, with romantic intrigue, mistaken identity and a runaway horse.
Dandy Dick last had a major production in a 1987 tour, and was last revived in the West End in 1973 with Alistair Sim and Patricia Routledge.
This is a trip back to Victorian Theatre with a bit of a wink to the 21st Century. With actors of the calibre of Hodge and Le Provost it was always going to be a winner: both showed immaculate comic timing and remarkable restraint in material that could so easily have tipped over into pantomime territory. Ably supported by television stalwarts Michael Cochrane and John Arthur along with the all-singing and acting Florence Andrews and Jennifer Rhodes and the violin playing Charles De Bromhead, this is an old-fashioned piece of fun of the highest quality, an amusing and diverting evening’s entertainment.
As a footnote:
Commenting on the Theatre Royal Brighton Productions inaugural production, ATG joint CEO Howard Panter said it was indicative of a growing trend: “There is a renaissance happening in regional theatre, and we have undoubtedly seen a shift from the centre of the theatrical landscape being London – from Sussex to Scotland and everything in between, audiences are keen to see quality plays without travelling many miles for the pleasure.”
ATG is the UK’s biggest theatre owner, with a portfolio included 27 major regional receiving houses. The group’s recent pre-London box office successes have included Zach Braff’s All New People and the National Theatre tour of One Man, Two Guv’nors, both reviewed on this blog.
Last year I went to see Verdict. It was booked at an hour’s notice and I rushed in on a rainy afternoon to see what turned out to be an excellent production by the Agatha Christie Theatre Company. This time the company, now in its seventh year, presents a stylish new production of the queen of crime’s classic thriller Murder On The Nile.
The play is based on her 1937 novel Death on the Nile, which in itself started off as a play, which Christie called Moon on the Nile. Once written, she decided it would do better as a book and she only resurrected the play version in 1942 when she was in the middle of writing the theatrical version of And Then There Were None.
“On board a steamer, cruising under the scorching Egyptian sun, honeymooners Simon Mostyn and his wealthy socialite wife Kay find themselves being pursued by an old flame of the newly-wedded groom. Then tragedy strikes. A body is discovered. And all fingers point to Simon’s ex fiancée. But everything is not what it seems!”
This is not the Death on the Nile we all know featuring Poirot, in fact, it doesn’t actually have a sleuth, just Canon Pennefather (Dennis Lill) guardian of murder victim Kay Mostyn (Suzy Amy) for whom the penny finally drops and he silently comes to the realisation whodunnit.
I can’t quite put my finger on what was amiss here but it was lacking something: It could have been the slow pace and lack of tension; it could have been the static set; it could have been the slightly stilted script or it could have been too many lackluster performances; or a combination of any or all of these things. This company has produced work of excellent quality before but this production doesn’t see them living up to their usual high standards.
Of the performances, Kate O’Mara as Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes had the best of any amusing lines to deliver but she appeared not to have stuck her teeth in properly and her slurred diction rendered most of what she said inaudible (hooray for the captioning in this performance or we’d all have been lost). The rest of the cast, though competent enough, seemed to play their parts without much contribution to character development and many were flat and one-dimensional.
That said, it was, in its way, an entertaining enough way to spend a few hours. For those going to an Agatha Christie Theatre Productions play for the first time – don’t let this deter you attending again – they can do so much more than this.
“The ageing King decides to step down from the throne and divide his estate between his three daughters. Deceived by false promises and rejecting his one faithful daughter, Lear’s former kingdom spirals into chaos as he is driven to madness by the cruel treatment of his own family.”
This intense exploration of the human condition is the focal point of Artistic Director Dominic Hill’s inaugural season. Celebrated Glasgow actor David Hayman, returns to the Citizens in the title role, 33 years after his last appearance here. He is joined by a cast of familiar faces including; George Costigan (Calendar Girls, Shirley Valentine & Rita Sue and Bob Too) as Gloucester: Paul Higgins (The Thick of It) as Kent and Cal Macaninch (Downton Abbey & Wild at Heart) as Cornwall.
After a 33 year absence from his “creative home” David Hayman returns to The Citizen’s Theatre and delivers a truly sublime performance: a performance that will doubtlessly be remembered for many years.
He begins this theatrical tour de force by striding imperiously across the stage, Cossack hat on head, to dispense his kingdom with arrogant zeal amongst his three daughters and then proceeds to take us on a journey which sees him end as a physically shrunken, anguished, remorseful shell of a man.
In the wake of Hayman’s truly inspiring performance it would be easy to overlook the rest of the cast. However, from George Costigan’s heart-breaking turn as Gloucester (seen below with Hayman),
Kieran Hill as the double crossing Edmund (below centre),
to Paul Higgins’ strong performance as the loyal Kent (below left), they more than hold their own.
This is a re-imagined Lear, placed smack-bang in our recession-hit times.
Olivier award winner Tom Piper, who designed the set, recently worked on Kevin Spacey & Sam Mendes’ Richard III for the Old Vic, (which I had the privilege to see), and the design is similar in many ways. It evokes the same bleak historical-modernist feeling. Lighting design is by Ben Ormerod.
Now when I heard that an original soundscape, performed live on custom-made instruments, was being created for the production my heart sank, However, Paddy Cuneen has actually enhanced the performance with a series of atmospheric and unobtrusive sounds.
There were a few downsides, Ewan Donald as Edgar and Shauna MacDonald as Regan both had appalling diction especially Donald who at times was utterly unintelligible, even from the third row. However this is a King Lear that would stand up against anything you could possibly see at the Globe or the RSC and the queues around the block for tickets (as seen below) show what an appetite we have here in Scotland for Shakespeare. Artistic directors take note.
Many, including me have had doubts about the wisdom of turning the 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers into a stage show. The story of a “professor” of crime who masterminds a daring robbery and uses the subsiding house of a sweet little old lady in King’s Cross as the hideout for his villainous gang, all of them impersonating (badly) the members of a classical string quintet, isn’t just one of best Ealing comedies, it is one of the most loved British films of all time.
But, amazingly, the show works and oh boy does it work, so much so that the tears of laughter running down my face were so bad that I had to reach for a hankie to mop them away. This is truly laugh out loud funny – and that’s rare thing to say. Just the sight of the crooked house of innocent Mrs Wilberforce raised a round of applause from the audience. The set has been brilliantly designed by Michael Taylor and springs some fantastic surprises in the course of the show.
This isn’t an exact re-telling of the film – that really couldn’t be done, instead, Graham Linehan’s new adaptation and Sean Foley’s inventive production is full of fantastic jokes and amazing physical comedy, but most amazingly of all, it still remains true to the charming spirit of the brilliant original.
The cast are truly stellar; Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller, James Fleet and Stephen Wight not only play their individual roles to perfection but also combine beautifully as a whole.This is a rare treat – just a perfection from start to finish.
It has also just been announced that it will tour the UK at the end of the year. I urge you to get tickets. This truly is a must-see.
War Horse is based on the novel by the former children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo.
It tells the story of the First World War through the eyes of a horse, Joey, who is sold to the cavalry division, shipped off to France, serves first on the British and then, after being captured, on the German sides before ending up wounded and wandering in no-man’s land.
But Joey is pursued by his young master, Albert, who enlists at the age of 16 with the express purpose of finding his beloved horse amid the carnage of the trenches.
Quite frankly of all the possible children’s novels to stage – this one, due to its scope and storytelling, looked the least likely. How on earth do you put a life-size horse on stage, and make it the most important character in the show, believable?
Well you do it by making Joey and the other horses in the show truly magnificent creations by the Handspring Puppet Company. Their wooden framework, translucent fabric skins, and extraordinary mobility somehow capture the very essence of the horse.
This is much more than just a puppet show. Nick Stafford’s powerful adaptation of Morpurgo’s novel, ditches the horse’s narrative and tells the story through the human characters. It brilliantly captures the intense relationship that can exist between humans and animals and the waste and terror of the First World War.The sight of horses and sword-wielding soldiers charging across no-man’s land into great blasts of machine gun fire encapsulates the futility of the conflict.
And though it might seem sentimental to conjure the suffering of war through the agonies of poor animals, it somehow doesn’t feel like that. There is something so noble about these astonishingly lifelike puppets, whose movements are so meticulously caught by their operatives.
The play is engaging and emotional from start to finish and is beautifully performed by the entire cast. The narrative is film like and it is no wonder that it made its way onto the big screen. The moving music, sung by folk singer Bob Fox, gives the play a cinematic feel as well as evoking the time and place beautifully. It also builds an atmosphere and stirs emotions in a way that should be envied by many musicals. The sound design also adds to the realism. My only bugbear was that some of the dialogue was not amplified enough and got lost in the circular auditorium of The New London Theatre (I was in the stalls so I don’t know how it was from further up).
All things said, this stands out as a fantastically imaginative play and a real theatrical event. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Following his critically acclaimed performance in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre in 2010, David Suchet returns in Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece. His co-stars include Laurie Metalf, still probably best known as Jackie in Roseanne and Sheldon’s mum in The Big Bang Theory and Kyle Soller (below right) who recently starred in the Royal Court’s production of The Faith Machine for which he won the 2011 Outstanding Newcomer Award. The production opens at the Apollo in the West End on the 3rd of April.
Long Day’s Journey into Night follows the Tyrone family through one tortuous day, as they battle their demons, their pasts, and one another in four extraordinary personal struggles.
This beautifully acted, three hour, four act piece starts innocently enough with David Suchet’s James Tyrone swapping pleasantries with his wife Mary (Laurie Metcalf), their eldest son James Jnr, (Trevor White), and fragile younger brother Edmund (Kyle Soller). By the time the three hours are through, their hard worn facades have been torn down and every hurt laid bare. It is an emotional wringer through which both the cast and audience are well and truly wrung.
The tendancy often, is to go overboard with such melodramatic material as this, but the performances here are so finely wrought and Suchet is a master of understatement, his performance, as with the rest of the cast is perfectly pitched. Soller too deserves special mention, never once straying into histrionics, he is entirely believable as the consumptive Edmund and Metcalf is the epitome of the drug-addled, haunted soul Mary. It is by no means an easy three hours but the sheer quality of the acting and the delivery of the complex, fast flowing dialogue will have you gazing on in awe and clapping loudly at the end. The sustained applause at the end had Metcalf moved to tears. This, simply, is a piece of pure quality. See it if you can.