A View From The Bridge- Tobacco Factory ☆☆☆☆☆

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This is it. The show to proclaim loudly that Tobacco Factory Theatre’s is in safe hands and ready to sail into a golden future under its Artistic director Mike Tweddle. If the Tobacco Factory rep company were solid in Macbeth, the five star work begins here, a tight, intense, bruising and occasionally rollercoaster spiralling take on Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge.

Miller’s play invokes the sense of community of Brooklyn’s Red Hook, where dock workers go about their daily hard labours, and this Tobacco Factory production finds its own, drawing a community chorus from a group of non-professionals, aged 22 to 70, many of whom haven’t acted before and have been coached here in weekly classes for the past ten weeks. Five take to the stage per performance, there energy and focus an important part to a climax that feels as inexorably inevitable as Oedipus’ final fall, from the moment that immigrant brothers Marco (Aaron Anthony) and Rudolpho (a terrific blonde-dyed and sensitively hued Joseph Tweedale) enter the house and cause the small Carbone family household to shatter outwards.

Tweddle keeps most of the action confined to a rectangular playing space in the middle of the space, an area in Anisha Fields design just a tad too small to host the heightened feelings that play out there. Eddie begins the play perched on a small old rocking chair, paper in hand, king of his own domain. He is small and wiry, a New York street dweller, as handy with his fists as he is uncomfortable with his feelings. Mark Letheren is superb here, his Eddie a man driven to the edge by feelings he dare not voice, a decent man who loses all sense of who he is. Miller constantly demands his protagonists fight for their name and the associations these give them, from John Proctor’s ‘I have given you my soul, leave me my name’,  to Joe Keller’s ‘A little man makes a mistake and they hang him by his thumbs’, Eddie’s Carbone grapples about what being a man means. He is old school. A grafter. A provider. As he watches his niece grow up and make decisions for herself, independently of himself you can see his nostrils flare. The status quo is broken. His suspicions about Rudolpho; who makes things, sings and cooks question his own sense of masculinity. In Act 2 he forces kisses on both his niece and her beau, the visceral roars of reaction it engendered in a Thursday afternoon matinee showed the play still, some fifty years later, retains its power to shock and provide narrative thrust.

Letheren’s performance is award worthy, as memorable in its way as Mark Strong’s take for Ivo van Hove a few years back. He is ably supported by Katy Stephens as his wife Beatrice, who follows her thrilling take on Lady M, with another women who finds her husband lost to her. This is a more subtle piece of work, her eyes a constant array of worry and fret as she sees everything but refuses to countenance what is occurring directly in front of her. If her Lady Macbeth starts with power which gradually erodes, here her Beatrice gains in power as her family falls apart around her. It proves without doubt that she is one of our finest actors of modern vintage.  Recent Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate Laura Waldren presents a different take on Catherine then many, less girlish, more womanly, and clear eyed bright; someone who prides herself on seeing the bigger picture. The moment she questions whether Rudolpho genuinely loves her rather than the American dream is bruising. She and Tweedale create real chemistry between their characters, like the best relationships both light and and sensual. The beginning of the second Act between them is tingly sexy.

For over two hours this Greek tragedy relocated to NY plays in that rectangular front room, coiling tighter and tighter as violence threatens to erupt. Then finally in the closing stages Tweddle releases it. The work hits operatic heights: music that had previously underscored rising to crescendos, lighting flaring, the space around the house now full of the community actors recruited for the project. The final fight is brief and brutal. The final wail a despairing aria.  It is an accomplished piece of directing, leaving it late to reveal much of its hand. For a first calling card in a space that he has now called home for close to two years it couldn’t have gone much better. The bar is set high

A View From The Bridge plays at Tobacco Factory Theatres until the 12 May.

 

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Tosca- WNO at Bristol Hippodrome ☆☆☆☆

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Every opera company requires productions of their big hitters to become repertoire staples if they want to ensure a healthy bank balance. Welsh National Opera has done better than most to be able to pull out strong La Boheme’s, Dali inspired Magic Flute’s and classically Oriental Madame Butterfly’s out of the closet every few years and delight audiences anew. The formula by and large is to play straight, solid takes on the tales that tell the narrative cleanly and don’t leave its audience questioning why this Carmen is set on a council estate in Bradford. Michael Blakemore’s production of Tosca plays out with a straight bat, period appropriate, detailed sets and clear delineation of character. He lets Puccini work his magic, each act building in tension and wrapping up on cliff-hangers that make you long for the next act like your latest Netflix binge.

It’s a production that is pleasingly realised then and one that is careful to allow musicianship to take centre stage. Claire Rutter has sung Tosca for opera companies all around the world and her take on the diva is sure and steady. She is effective as the jealous mistress in the first act, spitting out her distaste of her lover Cavaradossi’s painting of another women but takes us on a journey that turns her into a form of avenging angel. Her second act aria ‘Vissi d’arte’ is a moving evocation of a women fearing her God has abandoned her and her third act reconciliation with her tortured lover and then damning realisation that she has been tricked are as movingly acted as vividly sung.

Making his role debut as Scarpia Mark S Doss is deep of voice but is not yet chilling enough as the sadistic chief of police that arrests the painter and then dangles this pawn to try to seduce Tosca. His ‘Va Tosca’ sung over the Te Deum lacked sufficient power to fully send shivers down the spine. His interpretation played up the Inspector as refined gentleman; decked up in his periwig and sipping glasses of wine; and seems less keen to turn him into the sadistic monster that Puccini promises.

Of the trio it’s Gwyn Hughes Jones’ Carvadossi who is the standout, his thrilling tenor ringing out on ‘Vittoria! Vittoria!’ and finding more lyrical tones in his third act showstopper ‘E Lucevan Le Stelle’. His acting is broad brush-stroked but effective, light as a lark in Act 1, bloodily defiant in the second and resigned in the third. Jones, like Rutter, is a veteran in the role and he conveys that in a performance rich and true and one that deserved the ringing cheers he received at the company bow.

Timothy Burke brings out the best of the WNO Orchestra, the strings finding untold depths and the set pieces ringing with absolute clarity. The chorus have rarely sounded better than there work in the first act religious song ‘Te Deum’. Ashley Martin-Davies’ sets conjured an impressively sturdy Sant’Andrea dell Valle and a luxurious home for Scarpia’s devious machinations. Mark Henderson’s lighting came into its own with an impressive third act blood red sundown as the bodies come to rest.

This is a safe but incredibly sturdy version of one of opera’s big hitters. It ensures one would suspect WNO countless revivals in the future. If the musicianship stays this good, few will complain.

Tosca plays another performance at Bristol Hippodrome on the 13 April and then moves to Venue Cymru 18 & 20 April

Dracula- Loco Club ☆☆☆☆

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Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s Dracula, currently playing at the Loco Club, a series of tunnels situated under Temple Meads, is not for the faint hearted. A three hour promenade work requiring, complete black outs, a sound design that rumbles and screams and a late blossoming of plenty of claret ensures this is a piece designed for the sturdy in mind. It is also, without question, the best stage version of Bram Stoker’s tale that I have seen.

Confession, I love the novel with a passion others reserve for Tolkien or Potter. I love the films; Christopher Lee’s Hammer version and Gary Oldman’s romantic take in Francis Ford Coppola’s operatic version. Even the TV version in Penny Dreadful got me slathering in anticipation. Yet on stage, so often it fails to raise the hairs on the back of the neck.. The Gothic usually turn camp, Dracula’s bloody cravings as terrifying as Count von Count reciting his numbers in Sesame Street. John Walton’s production, using the full expanse of tunnels, takes the tale seriously. When this Count bares his fangs you feel the bite.

They’re helped by poet Liz Lochhead’s celebrated 1985 adaptation which stays close to the source while finding its own voice. In truth it takes a while to warm up, unlike the novel, we do not get to delve into Vlad’s castle until close to the end of the first act. What we see instead is the burgeoning relationships back home, between novice lawyer Jonathan Hawker (Charlie Suff) and Madeleine Schofield’s earnest Mina Westerfield engaged to be married, and the blossoming romance of Max Dinnen’s Arthur Seward and Ioanna Kimbook’s Lucy Westermann. These initial scenes play out like like a Victorian drawing room comedy without the wit of a Wilde to keep it motoring. It always feels like we are waiting for our main event.

What this initial schematic allows Lochhead to do though, is to frame the narrative closer to the themes she wishes to explore. Her version keeps the Westerman sisters and their newly discovered, Vampire assisted, carnality front and centre. Schofield’s Mina may start the play chiding her sister for contemplating sex before marriage but once she has succumbed to Drac’s bite her base desires froth to the surface. Kimbook’s Lucy feels even more the protagonist of the piece, her early childish innocence, caught as she floats on a swing singing to herself, turns to a women who demands her doctor beau spends the night with her. What is implicit in the book becomes explicit here.

It may take awhile but once the thrills and spills start there is rarely any let up. Walton’s training at Ecole Phillipe Gaullier ensures the physical score of the piece is always effectively demonstrative. There is an especially effective set piece when the brides of Dracula stake out Harker, edging ever closer, erotic and terrifying all at once and lit, full of chilling looming shadows by Rachel Stinton. Similarly the climatic scene,so often eliciting laughs for its operatic heightened emotions is given full gory effect here.

The acting, as is always the case with BOVTS graduating students is first rate. The four lovers all effectively portray the decadent collapsing of their moral compasses while Taheen Modak ensures his vampyre stays just the right side of cliché. Best of all though is James Bradwell’s Renfield, a highly physical and committed performance, sweatily effective in making us feel for a servant literally possessed by his masters.

The run sold out before opening (Bristol does like its events) but its worth trying to pick up a return. The fear was that the tunnels may have made the show little more than a gimmick but instead it opens up the work and lets us get a close up view of one of the enduring works of literature. Four bloody fangs.

Dracula plays at Loco Club until the 17 March.

 

The Cherry Orchard- Bristol Old Vic ☆☆☆☆☆

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The year of change is coming to Bristol Old Vic. A new £9 million pound front of house renovation will be unveiled come September along with a shiny new studio that the city has much missed. This distinguished Georgian playhouse, described by Daniel Day Lewis as ‘the most beautiful theatre in the world’, will motor into its future, more sure than ever. Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard seems an ideal first play to tackle with that theme in mind, a play that looks very much into its past while peeking delicately into the future. And Christ, what a staging Michael Boyd has given it, a piece that teases, tickles and eventually cracks. It doesn’t spin the wheel with its staging, it’s very much of its time, even if the translation by Rory Mullarkey has a modern vernacular, but it shines a light anew on Chekhov’s last masterpiece. Like his work with Shakespeare, Boyd makes the classics, with their long histories and memorable performances, feel freshly minted. This is an elegant, complex, funny and extraordinary night of theatre. It is one of the best staging’s BOV have produced in the past few years.

It also presents the richest acting ensemble here since Pink Mist. There are 14 individual portraitures all teeming with inner life and technical dexterity. Chekhov, much more than Shakespeare, produces characters as equal and as alive as each other. Not one role feels less than fully inhabited, there are no spear carriers or messengers here. Kirsty Bushell’s Ranyevskya is the beating heart of this production and is heart-stoppingly good. This is no over privileged airhead blindly charging into disaster but a women who sees clearly where her world is headed, but is too distraught, too trapped in a cycle to be able to change it. She gives money away because she sees others need it more, she above all realises there is only ever one way her financial woes can go. Yet even as her past collapses around her- a child gymnastically vaults around the stage as a constant reminder of the son now drowned0 and she stares into the abyss of her future she is still always a riveting character, funny and seductive, it’s no wonder Jude Owusu’s Lopakhin has carried a torch for her since he was a child.

Owusu plays the part with exactly the right virtuosity. At a time when Bristol is tackling its own problematic past with slavery, Boyd casts the former surfs turned gentry with a black and mixed race cast. It ensures the politics are to the fore as Lopakhin’s speech, delivered moments after his purchase of the cherry orchard starts in wonder and ends in something close to glee. This is a man barely able to comprehend his new position, from a child seeing his ancestors bend their knees and now holding dominion over his former masters. Hayden McLean’s Yasha starts as a cheeky jack the lad stealing kisses and ends a cigar puffing big man breaking hearts without a second glance. As these men see their own fortunes change it’s only Enyi Okoronkwo school teacher Trofimov who can predict the violent repercussions to come (Chekhov’s seeming insight only came into effect some years after his death with the 1919 Russian revolution taking out, mostly literally, the ruling classes of Russia.)

It is also great to see Bristol made talent get a chance to shine. Recent theatre school graduates and Peter O’Toole winners Verity Blyth and Rosy McEwan are terrific as the Ranevsky children, the former all innocent sweetness turned hard and the latter fierce  and austere until love turns her fragile. What a delight as well to see Harry Humberstone, a Wardrobe Theatre Christmas show standout, take a different, rougher turn as part of the ensemble.

Moving on to the Royal Exchange, Manchester after Bristol means that designer Tom Piper has had to turn the Bristol Old Vic’s gilded proscenium into an in the round delight. Its two tiered seating structure on stage, an exact replica of the Georgian auditorium turns the space into something resembling a dolls house theatre. It looks beautiful. The Exchange has many virtues to it but this production won’t look as breath-taking as it does here in Bristol

Boyd’s production sticks close to the label Chekhov prescribed as a comedy in four acts. From the vaudevillian squeaky shoes in the first act to Julius D’Silva’s heightened take as the neighbour on the make it keeps up a fairly regular chuckle quota. Yet Boyd, a master of staging, can turn the mood in an instant, witness the moment as D’Silva thinks he’s lost a bag of money at a party and his world falls apart. It’s a brief moment, all of thirty seconds long but contains in it a world of meaning. The whole 150 minutes is choka full of them.

This is a production that showcases Boyd, his ensemble, Chekhov and Bristol Old Vic at its very best. God I love the theatre when it’s this good.

The Cherry Orchard plays at Bristol Old Vic until the 7 April and then at Manchester Royal Exchange from 19 April- 19 May.

Macbeth- Tobacco Factory ☆☆☆

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All hail the new Factory Ensemble, swooping in and playing the spring season at Tobacco Factory Theatres that used to be the preserve of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory. In many ways Macbeth, feels like more of what Andrew Hilton previously instigated, a young director getting the opportunity to make a mark on Bill’s greatest tragedies. So after Polina Kalinina’s Romeo and Juliet and Richard Twyman’s Othello, we now get Adele Thomas’ take on the Scottish play. Of the three, this is by far the least revelatory. Though it boasts some strong ideas- the witches are a genuine skin crawling delight- and one superb performance from Katy Stephens as Lady M, it is, all told, a solid rather than enlightening evening.

Its central concept makes a mark, Anisha Fields has created a Mad Max style wasteland of burnt tires mushed into soil; an industrial war zone where soldiers in fatigue enter soaked in dark clarets of blood. It’s a visual look similar not only to George Miller’s tetralogy but also to Ralph Fiennes’s filmed version of Coriolanus, but the macho atmosphere is not expanded on in the acting, the warriors here distinctly poetic rather than road warriors playing out gladiatorial games.

Jonathan McGuiness’ Macbeth struggles to bring out the poetry within the role, distinctly underwhelming in the early scenes where Macbeth’s humanity, the poet of the soul encased in warrior body, gradually darkens as the witches prophesies set him on the path to destruction. From the moment he is alone with Stephens, he is like a mouse ready to be consumed by a python, this is a relationship whose power dynamics are clearly in the court of the fairer sex. He improves as the evening goes on and Macbeth’s tyranny takes hold, though he never possesses the chill factor that the best performers bring to the role. It’s only in his ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ where he finally seems to get on top of the material, here we get glimpses of the man finally returning to take over the increasingly dark shell.

Stephens Lady Macbeth is the reason to buy a ticket. Here is an actress performing at the very top of her (considerable) game. Shakespeare provides a challenge for all lead actors, providing so many facets that no performer can ever hope of giving a definitive performance. Stephens’s interpretation plays more notes than most. This is a women defined by her lack of child, as she cuddles Banquo’s son we see the women she could have been in a parallel universe. It’s the lack of motherhood in her life that drives her towards a different purpose: family is all; her reasons for pushing her husband is driven by her love for him, needling him into doing the bloody deed to give him the advancement she thinks he deserves. As she begins to lose him, first in the banquet scene when he envisions the ghosts of his victims, later when he coldly shuts her out, we see the last strand of sanity leave her. The sleepwalking scene, never played better, has a sad state of inevitability to it, a women who has lost the final thimble of family she has left. Her technique, enhanced by a number of years at the RSC is flawless, her clarity and beat on the iambic a lesson to all students on how to speak Shakespeare. I’ve seen a few Lady M’s but Stephens has got closer than any I’ve seen to toppling Dench as the Queen to rule them all.

It’s inevitable perhaps that other performances get left in the shade, with no one really getting much stage time to make an impression, though former SATTF regular Simon Armstrong makes a cool and dead eyed assassin alongside his stern Duncan.

Thomas’s production has conjured witches that unnerve the senses, faceless spectres who incant in what sounds an Easter European gypsy tongue, hauntingly amplified around the theatre. A silent epilogue, inserted into the production, is enough to keep you up at night as they silently engulf their chosen on their way to make a brand new prophesy. She is also good on giving action to the psychological elements, the wiping of hands a near constant through the action as characters continually wipe blood from them. For all her good work though the two hardest scenes in this play are bodged, the porter scene dropped in and out as quickly as possible like director and performer had no idea what to do with it and the dreaded England scene still dragging on interminably and holding up the action North of the Border. There is little shade here, what humour there is in the text dropped in favour of building up this bleak world.

Macbeth is an obvious box office draw for the theatre, which is particularly important as they go about renovating the space and adding a studio to their venue again, and the work is fundamentally solid which should go down well with the school groups. It’s hard to shake the feeling it’s all a little safe but one propped up by a performance that Bristol should be talking about for years.

Macbeth plays at Tobacco Factory Theatres until the 7 April. A View from the Bridge will continue the season from 18 April-12 May.

Julius D’Silva Talks The Cherry Orchard

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Julius D’Silva has a long list of theatrical credits both in the classical and musical repertoire. These includeStrictly Ballroom (West Yorkshire Playhouse/Toronto) Made In Dagenham (Adelphi), Ann Boleyn (Globe and ETT) Macbeth (Globe) Oliver (Drury Lane). Before this he was part of the RSC’S History Ensemble that from 2006-2008 brought Shakespeare’s two tetralogies to the stage. I caught up with him one lunchtime at Bristol Old Vic on a break from rehearsal to discuss his work on The Cherry Orchard, reuniting with his History director Michael Boyd and what he is looking forward to doing in Bristol whilst he is here.

Have You Ever Worked In Bristol before?

No. It’s the very First time I’ve explored the city, first time I’ve ever stepped foot in this theatre. I was brought up in Cornwall but Bristol never really featured, went to Plymouth, passed through it on the way to Birmingham, but I’ve never had opportunity to work here. It’s been on the list. I’ve had friends and colleagues who have worked here, Isla Blair says it’s her favourite theatre in the world and has done about 12 plays here, she played Varya in The Cherry Orchard here about 40 years ago, Julian Glover who was inJulius Caesar (in 2017) here also has talked about the beauty. You step into the auditorium, it is so intimate with the 18th century seats still up in the gallery, and it’s great. I always seem to work in theatres that are having work done to them, unfortunately I never get the finished article, I’d love to come back and do some more work when it’s finished.

Have You Ever Played In Chekhov before?

I did Three Sisters a long long time ago but have never done any professional. This is Michael Boyd’s first Chekhov as well so its great to explore this play together.

Why do you think The Cherry Orchard has had such longevity as a play? What puts it on the pantheon of great theatrical works?

(Long pause)

Well….It’s full of Big Philosophical Ideas. Very current philosophical ideas. The conflict between the individual and collective and full of the big turn of the century ideas. Nietzsche and Marx were cooking up these big, world changing philosophies which are still very relevant in our current climate.

Chekhov gives us boldly drawn characters which shine a light on the absurdity of human folly, I think the idea of memory, the past being both a prison and a refuge, do we hide in our thoughts, or do they imprison us. I think he talks about change a lot, there is this huge change that is about to happen that he doesn’t see, you can see this premonition of what is to come in Russia which obviously he did not live to see. The characters in this play are an ineptitude of humans really, all trapped to some extent to the past and some are more able to move forward than others.

As well as all this it has a great playfulness and is great fun, full of laughs, it’s classified as a comedy in four act and people don’t often think about Chekhov like that. There is this great line in Withnail and I ‘Anyway I loathe those Russian plays. Always full of women staring out of windows, whining about ducks on their way to Moscow’. And that’s not what this play is about; it is funny; slapstick funny; full of human absurdity and the comedy that comes out of that.

So it’s very rich in comedy, philosophy, political commentary, in the human study of characteristics, it’s a real rich work, so many layered and well flavoured and has been really enjoyable to discover in rehearsals.

Can you describe a little about the character you’re playing?

Boris Semyonov-Pischik is a landowner living next to the cherry orchard, and he’s riddled with debt- as most of them are- and he’s constantly trying to pay off his debts, he owes money to everyone in the town, and he says all he ever talks about and thinks about is money. He has, we think narcolepsy and suffered two strokes but he’s an optimist, he’s quite a buoyant character, looking at the glass half-full, I hope he’s quite funny and quite charming and the audience warms to him. He disappears for Act 2 but comes back and you see him colourfully in Acts 3 and 4. He has a bit of good news at the end which is good for him.

After playing in Bristol the production will move on to the Manchester Royal Exchange- a theatre in the round. Designer Tom Piper has helped transform the traditional proscenium of BOV into an in the round space (which I was lucky enough to get a look at before coming to this interview). What do you think the benefits of telling Chekhov’s play in the round are?

(Long silence)

I think that sometimes, it sounds clichéd to say three dimensional but it’s much more intimate, we don’t often see people standing out front in a flat picture frame in everyday life, this brings its audience much more into a colloquial relationship with the characters I think. And that’s the same in translation as well, we are lucky to have a director, musical director and translator who speak Russian. In the round gives people perspectives. It allows you to see things from a characters point of view literally and helps you understand them I think. Chekhov draws them (his characters) so clearly, each one has a point of view and an agenda and staging the work in the round literally allows you to see it.

You briefly touched on Rory Mullarky translation. What do you think he brings to the work? Has he given it a contemporary twist such as Simon Stephens did with his?

I hope we’ve got both (historical and modern verbiage). Without giving too much away I think that becomes clear in the staging of it and in the design of it, that we wear both hats, both period and modern. What he has most definitely caught is the funnies, the humour of it, Chekhov described it as a comedy in four acts and he’s got that, he’s most definitely got that. He’s also not a martinet in terms of saying ‘no no no we can’t do that.’ He’s been in the rehearsal room which is great, how often do you get the writer in the room on a classic, it’s just brilliant. It’s accessible, yet of its time but the language is easily accessible to a 21stcentury audience. It deals with subjects and topics we are wrestling with and it does it in a very funny way but also people can expect some tragedy as well and some tear jerking moments. I hope they’re surprised by the comedy and they never expected Chekhov to be fun. I was of the Withnalian opinion of Chekhov, for a long while, but I’ve been proved completely wrong.

Looking at your career the classics and musical theatre have intertwined. This is very unusual still to this day.

Yes and I’ve been very fortunate in so much as I’ve been able to step between the two worlds of classical and musical theatre, I don’t think many people get the chance to do that. It’s slightly easier to move between classical to musical because of the directors now moving between the two, For example Rupert (Goold) saw me in the History Ensemble and him and Cameron invited me to play Mr Bumble in Oliver on Drury Lane, a real milestone for me. A great experience, then to go back to this kind of work. You just know that no one is messing with Michael’s process, there are no producers making suggestions in the back room and that’s very liberating as an actor. One hand washes the other, if you can do both, it’s a treat.

Let’s talk about The Histories. I saw them while I was still a student and I still think it’s the finest achievement in British theatre this century. What do you remember about the process? Any stories that particularly stand out?

It was an extraordinary experience in my life, to be part of an ensemble like that, it’s like a great football team, the more you train, the more you play together, the better you get. You start to develop these lovely symbiotic relationships with the other performers and by the time you get around to rehearsing the third play you are already starting at a much higher level because you know each other, egos disappear and trust kicks in when you realise you don’t really have to impress anyone in the room. It was Theatre as momentous as the Ring cycle, doing the whole thing over the weekend, having to learn all your parts over 7 (of 8 plays) and then Michael asking me to understudy Richard III which is 70% of that play and then asking me to understudy Falstaff, there was no RAM in my head, but he’s a difficult man to say no to. The enduring memory of that work was having to wear Bardolph’s prosthetic face with a teddy boy wig from eight in the morning to 11 at night, having the hot towel that went on after peeling off the nose was lovely. The night when the enormous explosion happened just before ‘Once More unto the Breach’ which made Prince Charles bodyguards reach for their guns was certainly memorable. And the audience who followed us from the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford to the Roundhouse in Camden  and threw red and white roses at the end, a response of an audience who sat and watched 24 hours of Shakespeare over a couple of days, it was wonderful.

And of course Katy Stephens is currently in Bristol playing Lady Macbeth over the river as part of the Factory Ensemble.

Yes that’s right and hopefully our paths will cross. The friendships from that company have endured ten years on and you very quickly reconnect when you meet again. We became a very trusting group by the end, when you see them it’s like you saw them last week, I haven’t worked with Michael for close to 10 years before this, but it’s very familiar, very comfortable, very quickly we came to a place where we could trust each other and play.

What does Boyd bring to the table as a director of The Cherry Orchard?

Well, he trained in Moscow, he speaks Russian, so that’s handy, he’s got his own copy of his A Level Russian text of the Cherry Orchard next to him with his sixth form scribbling’s attached. So he can consult the original text, he allows people to play and bring their own ideas, he’s not at all proscriptive really, my way or the highway, I don’t think he’s like that. He gets a very talented (not including myself in that) group of actors in the room, he’s very good at casting and getting a group together and trusting an individual actors taste and judgement and skill. He also wears his genius very lightly and he’s got some very nice ideas which I don’t really want to give away about staging and themes that run through the piece which are imaginative and surprising and fun. He’s a good laugh, he’s got a great sense of humour. He’s just very highly skilled and very experienced. I think he likes actors as well which is great, sometimes you work with people and you’re like ‘do you even like actors, why are you doing this?’ He has a very clear overall idea about the piece but he will allow you to play within that, I’ve never heard him say no, never heard him say that’s not right, never heard that tone.

A lighter question to finish. Is there anywhere you’d like to see while in Bristol?

I’m going to be 50 on Monday so there will be karaoke somewhere Sunday night. But just….Walking through the city, it’s so beautiful with the water. I went and sat in St Stephens church on my way to rehearsal this morning and listened to someone playing Eric Satie on a grand piano so that was very cool. I want to find Alan Rickman’s seat here, as he gave me my first break, in fact he wrote to Michael Boyd on my behalf saying ‘will you see Julius’, my career was going nowhere before that so I want to find Alan’s seat. But I’m going to slowly let the city unfold as there’s lots to see, especially for someone who enjoys eating as much as I do, there’s just endless possibilities. And I’m looking forward to the famous Renato’s next door where a lot of old colleagues have their photos on the wall.

The Cherry Orchard plays at Bristol Old Vic from 1 March- 7 April and then Manchester Royal Exchange 19 April-19May

 

Crimes Under The Sun- Ustinov Studio ☆☆

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There are few nights at the theatre more satisfactory than a new comedy landing all its punches. There are few more painful nights than comedies that land flat. New Old Friends latest Crimes Under The Sun, opening at the Ustinov before embarking on a lengthy UK tour, is, at least so far, a night distinctly under-nourished, under-written and under-rehearsed. There are moments within which suggest that this is a work that will improve with playing, that they’re not completely flogging a dead donkey, but it needs some TLC before we get to this stage

The time seems ripe to spoof Christie. After all her Witness for the Prosecution is packing them in at the County Hall London, Branagh brought Poirot and that ripe moustache to cinema screens in an all-starMurder On The Orient Express and the BBC have cleared their Christmas schedules for the foreseeable future to bring her adaptions onto the air. In our hectic modern times, the period murder mystery is very much in vogue.

Yet pastiche and spoof need specification if they are to work their full effect. Jill Myers who plays memoirist cum-sleuth Artemis Arinae has a Belgian accent that wanders via the Estuary. As she conducts her writing on the sunny Riviera she finds herself, just like Christie’s favourite amateur sleuth Marple at the epicentre of another crime scene. A former actress, turned deep sea diver has been found dead on the beach. Was she offed by her upstanding, very British husband who we find out has killed before in a bar fight. Her American rival, now promoted to number one in the world with her death. A spiv gent on the make. A women looking to off her to steal her husband. A hard working cast of three portray all these and more and impress. They just need material that gives them more. Jokes land with a thud. Set pieces don’t come off. The script in general seems more focussed on clarifying its twisty narrative than ensuring belly laughs. Feargus Wood Dunlop, who also writes, throws himself with considerable gusto into every role he plays but for every role he nails- his delivery of a very English bar fight is top notch- there are also moments that are less defined- his voyeuristic Irish priest is very one note.

At its best director James Farrell’s production shows what could and perhaps can still be: the introduction of Jonny McClean’s brattish youngster reciting witchcraft is a real showstopper as are the three plodding policeman portrayed by Heather Westwell with little more than a stoop, a moustache and a pair of glasses.  Best of all the patter routine, composed by Kathryn Lovell is a sly delight, bringing up memories of Seriol Davies’ seriously terrific How to Win against History which sent up everything in glorious anarchic form. New Old Friends production is of a more restrained vein. My advice, a bit more music, a little less plot.

Crimes Under The Sun plays at the Ustinov Studio until  24 February and then tours the UK until May