Reviews – drama

Lord Of The Flies – review

[Originally published in Arts in Leicester  magazine, 10th February 2016. Re-published here.]

Curve, main theatre
Lord of The Flies runs from 8th February to 13th February

A play adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams from the novel by William Golding.
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Our rating: ****

Reviewed by Trevor Locke

A gripping and imaginative production.

Lord of the Flies. Ralph and Piggy. Photo: Johan Persson.
Lord of the Flies. Ralph and Piggy.
Photo: Johan Persson.

Reading the programme notes for tonight’s play was almost as entertaining as the show itself. In The nature of being human, Professor Tanya Byron takes ‘a deeper look at what this story tells us about the nature of being human.’ The said academic is a consultant in child and adolescent mental health, writer and presenter on TV shows. Her piece, in the programme, was absorbing. It got me thinking about the plays, books and films that have portrayed teenage violence since William Golding’s novel was published in 1954 and Peter Brook’s film of the book came out in 1963. I would not want to suggest that this play is about teenage violence – it portrays much more than that – but several films came to mind as I read Byron’s contribution. I remembered attending a conference of youth justice workers at which SCUM was screened. Alan Clarke’s dark portrayal of life in a British borstal, released in 1983, was a seminal moment for me, at that time, as well as for the 200 or so social workers and probation officers with whom I watched the film. What stuck in my mind was the scene in which the Borstal inmates riot in the dining hall breaking up the furniture in a collective frenzy of teenage violence. Bear in mind that the old Borstals were based on English public schools and their regimes of character-building and devotion to rules and discipline.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

As I continued to read, other films came into my mind: Lindsay Anderson’s IF which satirised the life of English public schools, Brighton Rock by Graham Green, a story of teenage sociopaths, hoodlums and the battles brought by Rockers against Mods, The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 classic about tough working class teens and their rivals from the wealthier side of town. In fact, I even saw parallels with West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet and Rebel Without a Cause.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

Many art forms since the 50s and 60s have dwelt on the nature of young male behaviour and seen it in dark terms of violence and aggression. To Professor Byron, tonight’s play is about ‘human nature’ despite the fact that the characters are all male and all young (in the book they are preadolescent, 6 to 12) and there are no female characters in the play. Tonight’s cast was made up of actors who looked to be in their late teens or early 20s with the exception of Perceval ( a role played tonight by David Evans). Ever since the Brixton Riots of the 1980s, teenagers and young adults have been demonised in the news and popular culture, which might explain why Golding’s 1954 novel has such an enduring appeal.

Like a lot of very successful books and dramas, Lord of the Flies can be interpreted in a number of ways and certainly its plot operates on many levels. It is ostensibly about a group of English public school boys who are marooned on a desert island after their air-plane crashes. It shows how the thin veneer of their upper class upbringing and civilisation is destroyed as they resort to savagery, tribalism, murder and bloodsports. In and beneath that, the plot is about leadership, morality and power, portraying the tense dialectic of group dynamics with individuality. You might see the plot as a struggle for survival, and yes it does show that, or what happens to well brought-up boys when the reins of adult supervision are removed.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson

Tonight’s production at Curve was dominated by the set design of Jon Bausor. The plot takes place on a desert island sometimes on the beach (near to the remains of the crashed aircraft), sometimes on the top of a hill (Castle Rock) and at times in a forest. Putting all that on to a small stage was bound to be a challenge. As with many recent productions, the same set remains in place throughout the two acts. The action – of which there is plenty – takes place around, in and on the various parts of the fuselage of the tail of the crashed plane. It is a set which requires the audience to use its imagination.

The cast of young male actors imbued the production with plenty of energy and when not acting their roles were choreographed into a series of dance-like moves, moments when some of them were frozen while the dialogue took place elsewhere and the kind of running, jumping, climbing and leaping about that only a young athletic ensemble could achieve. Nigel Williams’s adaptation of the Golding novel tells the story and unravels the plot (however you want to interpret it) whilst grappling with the logistics of life in a forested desert island with a beach and a hill. Reading Nick Smurthwaite’s programme note ‘Trouble in Paradise‘, I particularly valued his paragraph:

My experience showed me that the only falsification in Golding’s fable is the length of time the descent into savagery takes. His action takes about three months. I believe that if the cork of continued adult presence were removed from the bottle, complete catastrophe could occur within one long weekend.

He is quoting the words of Peter Brook, the director or the 1963 film, in which he took a group of untrained young actors to make the film on an island in Puerto Rico. When Golding sent his book to the publishers, the plot began with an atomic explosion which brought down the boys’ plane and led to the long the long delay to their rescue.

In that respect, Lord of the Flies is an allegory of the shallowness of civilisation generally and of mankind’s descent into savagery when law and order are removed; if that is how you want to see it, then both the book, the film and the play deserve a place alongside Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story.

A production from Regent’s Park Theatre Ltd.

Pinafore at Curve

21st July 2016

Review: Her Majesty’s Ship Pinafore

by Sophie Antunes

Our Rating: *****

I am very grateful that I got the chance to end my extremely long absence from the theatre, by attending the opening performance of HMS Pinafore, on Thursday 21st July; a truly memorable performance!

At first I was quite anxious, that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the context and irony of the show, to the fullest extent, which was heightened by the much older audience I could see around me. Yet, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself and was rather amused by the comical performances from the male cast.

HMS Pinafore at Curve, July 21st 2016
HMS Pinafore at Curve, July 21st 2016

The realism of the performance was spot on, due to small actions, such as: torches used for light, cigarettes being smoked, actors changing on stage and the brotherhood displayed by the cast, which allowed us to accurately witness the lifestyle of World War II sailors.

Also, the vocals which filled the room, were very impressive and I was stunned by the variety of notes sung, melodically, by the male actors, who were even able to impressively imitate women for the show. I felt, that I further enjoyed the show due to the music and vocals, which helped to heighten the atmosphere and emotions being presented and in turn brought the whole show to life.

Personally, I loved this theatrical experience and would encourage fans of Opera, as well as people who are interested in history and class struggles, to hurry and watch this performance!

You will laugh, be immersed in breath-taking vocals, and emotionally connect with the talented male actors of the show, who are able to push aside gender barriers to create a performance of intimacy, presenting social injustice in our British class system. HMS Pinafore has helped me to fall in love with theatre again, and I can’t wait to return.

 

OurDayOut

28th April 2016

Review: Our Day Out

Curve
A Curve & De Montfort University co-production
Lyrics by Willy Russell
Directed by Julia Thomas

Our rating: ***

A musical written by Willy Russell in 1977.

A delightful entertainment that brought the vitality of youth to the studio of Curve.

Tonight’s show brought together the huge artistic skills of Curve with the energy and enthusiasm of the students of DMU in what was the sixth annual co-production marking the established collaboration between Leicester’s flagship theatre and one of the city’s two internationally renown Universities. Tonight cast included first, second and final years students from DMU.

The story is set in a Leicester school. Teacher Mrs Kay’s take her ‘Progress Class’ (teenagers who have been excluded from mainstream classes) on a coach trip to Skegness. Deputy Head, Mr Briggs, joins them on the coach. Their destination is the castle at Lincoln but along the way they make various stops – at the café, the zoo, the beach and the funfair. The trip proves to be a succession of problems for the teaching stuff. At the cafe they steal all the sweets; at the zoo they try to steal the animals. At the seaside, one of the teenagers threatens to jump off a cliff. They get back to Leicester having had a marvellous day out but the trip opened up tensions within the teaching staff and laid bare the difficult lives that the group of disadvantaged children faced both at home and at school. Two of the girls in the group perform a routine several times in which they reprise what they feel about the whole thing: It’s boring. For teacher Mrs Kay it is a chance for the kids to get an experience they otherwise would never get; for  Deputy Head, Mr Briggs the errant group represents a constant threat as he constantly shouts at them to behave themselves. Like Blood Brothers the show highlights the lot of working class youth, its bleakness and hopelessness and the irrelevance of education to their lives. It does however have moments of poignancy and tenderness as well as flashes of humour that lighten the gloom. Willy Russell used to be a teacher and so had experiences of field trips. Russell is best-known for Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers and Our Day Out went to on become a firm favourite with audiences and with youth theatre groups.

The cast did an excellent job, singing, dancing and acting with real commitment and enthusiasm. It was interesting that the plot has been transposed to Leicester from its original setting in Liverpool and the stage set was decidedly simple. The young cast brought the production to life and gave a vibrant performance that captivated the audience.
Our Day Out runs at Curve from 28th to 30th April 2016.

 

Bodyguard review

The Bodyguard review

by Melissa O’Biern

Straight from the West-End to the East-End – East Midland’s DeMontfort Hall, that is – this is a concert, a movie and a musical, all rolled in to one. And it is with us for eleven days only. Showing from 15th-26th March before moving onto its next leg.

This stage adaptation of 1992s movie The Bodyguard just about has it all. Pyrotechnics envelope the stage seconds into the performance and the explosions do not stop there. Three-time Brit nominee and X Factor winner of 2008 Alexandra Burke as Rachel Marron greets the audience with a performance worthy of a Grammy as she provides the voice of Whitney, delivered with the energy of Beyonce, and it certainly sets the scene for the rest of the two-hour performance.

Alexandra Burke in The Bodyguard 2016
Alexandra Burke in The Bodyguard 2016

The story of Rachel Marron and Frank Farmer, based on the 1992 Warner Bros Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, is told beautifully, moved along by a sweet and nostalgic current of sixteen Whitney Houstin mega-hits, including One Moment in Time, Queen of the Night and I Have Nothing – all, of course, given the kiss of life by Burke’s contemporary and soulful delivery.
Global superstar diva Marron ‘s life is endangered by a crazed stalker convinced that they are meant to be together. Concerned for her well-being, her manager hires Secret Service Agent Frank Farmer (played by Stuart Reid), a no-nonsense, dry-humoured Bodyguard, renowned for his good work, to wrap her in the thick cotton wool that she requires. A man of business, versus a woman of freedom, and she initially resists his attempts to keep her safe – that is, until she falls in love with him.
Running parallel to this love story is the close yet fractured relationship between two Marron sisters, which becomes more apparent as the performance goes on. Nicki Marron (Melissa James) is modest ignored and slightly bitter, yet passive. Rachel is strong-willed and at the centre of the Universe. They seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, however they both have one thing in common – they both develop an ever-increasing interest in the Bodyguard. Is it to fill the overwhelming voids of emptiness that they are both feeling? The breath-taking duet of Run to You, delivered by the talented stars, may suggest so.
As the production rounds itself up to a finish, you can sense the almost unbearable anticipation of Houston’s most famous hit I Will Always Love You – and it does not disappoint. The Oscar aspiring Marron shines bright dressed head to toe in an Oscar trophy-esque gown, possibly mirroring her long-running Oscar ambitions which were a clear theme within the performance.
A very up-tempo and equally emotive performance delivered by Burke truly showcases her to have the full package – a singer, a dancer and an actress, displaying impressive choreography without even missing a note. This will be sure to leave you begging to ‘Dance With Somebody’.

See also:

Our review of Green Day’s American Idiot.

Our review of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

American Idiot

24th March 2016

American Idiot Review
Curve Studio

Our rating: *****

Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Director and Choreographer Racky Plews

Fifteen years ago I was watching Billy Joe Armstrong and his punk band Green Day performing live at The Reading Festival. I have been loving their music ever since. The audience in Curve Studio theatre tonight also loved it; they gave the performers a standing ovation at the end of the show. It was one of the best musical events I have seen at Curve, or anywhere else for that matter.

So many things stood out for me in this show: all the cast members danced, sang and acted and played guitars; in fact in one scene they are all on stage playing guitars – en masse. You won’t see that again in a musical in a long time. The cast were very ably supported by a live band; some of the band guitarists were on stage, on a platform above the main performance area. The three principals sang songs accompanying themselves on guitars.

Green Day's American Idiot runs at Curve from 19th March. Picture from 2015 London production. Photo: Darren Bell.
Green Day’s American Idiot runs at Curve from 19th March.
Picture from 2015 London production.
Photo: Darren Bell.

The moment that stole the show for me was Matt Thorpe singing Boulevard Of Broken Dreams; the Green Day song that has a special resonance for me; I quoted from the lyrics in my novel The Trench, were its sentiments epitomised what rock bands often seem to feel about working in live music. Not what the song is about but hey it seemed to fit anyway.

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone

American Idiot is a punk rock opera; its roots could be said to lie in the rich soil of Tommy, The Rocky Horror Show, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar and various other productions that have broken the mould of musical theatre over the past few decades. Green Day’s album of the same name was released in 2004, the musical being premiered in 2009 at The Berkeley Repertory Theatre prior to the show moving on to Broadway.

Tonight’s show at Curve’s Studio was absolutely marvellous. The standing ovation given by the audience at the final curtain was well deserved. The singing was fantastic, the dance was massively good, the acting amazing and the whole show a complete sensation.

American Idiot was exciting, colourful, dramatic, engrossing, poignant, enjoyable… no shortage of adjectives to describe how good it was. The show opens with the cast singing and dancing to American Idiot, the hit title song Green Day’s album of 2004. A number that fizzed with unbridled vitality.

Well maybe I’m the faggot America.
I’m not a part of a redneck agenda.
Now everybody do the propaganda.
And sing along to the age of paranoia.

Everyone in the cast was good but Matt Thorpe (who played Johnny) was pretty amazing; Tunny (played by Alexis Gerred) was electric and Amelia Lily (as Whatsername) wonderful, Steve Rushton as Will, superb. The performance of the cast sizzled with energy. These guys really rocked out bringing it all to life on the stage.

We did not see the drummer Alex Marchisone until he came on stage for the curtain call right at the end. But the guitarists were visible for most of the show which was great because seeing them playing live gave the whole thing an extra resonance.

The show tells the story of three friends from a suburban area, following different journeys in search of their true selves. Through the songs they express their love, their rage and their struggles. The theme of the show includes a preoccupation with TV and a screen is lowered over the stage from time to time. The story line revolves around the lives of Johnny, Will and Tunny. Will’s girlfriend Heather becomes pregnant. Johnny wanders through the city streets pining for a woman he saw in a window. Tunny enlists for the army. Johnny starts to shoot heroin. Will feels trapped in life as a father with a baby and Tunny is shot while on active service.

American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.
American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.

Well there is a lot more to the story and I don’t want to spoil it for you; I just want you to see it. American Idiot is one of the best productions I have seen at Curve – and there have been a few of them. The show’s eight day run in Leicester is a great shame, for its brevity,   but it’s on tour and many other audiences in many other towns will want to see it. The show is moving on to several other cities in the UK between now and July.

Find out more about the show on the American Idiot website

American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.
American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.

See also:

Our coverage of Rent, the musical

Blood Brothers review

Rocky Horror Show review

Breakfast At Tiffanys

Truman Capote’s
Breakfast At Tiffany’s
review

Adapted by Richard Greenberg
at Curve, Leicester

by Keith Jobey

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
3rd to 12th March 2016
Based on the novel by Truman Capote
Adaptor Richard Greenberg
Director Nikolai Foster
Designer Matthew Wright
Music Grant Olding

Our Rating: ***

Pixie Lott in rehearsals for Breakfast at Tiffanys. Photo: Sean Ebsworth-Barnes.
Pixie Lott in rehearsals for Breakfast at Tiffanys.
Photo: Sean Ebsworth-Barnes.

You’ve no doubt spotted the posters about town over the past few months. Sitting in the Exchange,  across the road from Curve,  we did. And I have to admit, Pixie Lott taking the lead role had an influence on deciding to buy tickets for it. Were we a bit hasty making our decision? After all, she’s a singer not an actress isn’t she?

This is an important production for Curve. A European premiere that is opening in Leicester before going on tour nationally. It concludes at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London’s West end. The first time a Made At Curve production to do so. A fact they’re quite rightly proud of.

Rumour has it that this theatre production follows the book more closely than the movie chose to. The brochure tells us that this is a more ‘faithful adaptation, which investigates themes of identity, sexuality, love and loss… while charting this extraordinary story of two young people finding their way in a rapidly changing world’.

The movie is legendary, Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar nominated role helping cement it’s place in Hollywood history. Not that I’ve seen it, so I’m watching the production without any preconceptions. I don’t even know the gist of the story. In fact I’m more aware of the single by Deep Blue Something of the same name, which my wife keeps reminding me will not feature in the show no matter how many times I sing its chorus.

It’s a full house for the Saturday matinee, and also my first time in the main theatre of Curve. I’m impressed. It’s a really nice theatre. And it’s great to see it thrive like it is. The stage has an art deco feel to it, reflecting the architecture seen in New York City from the 1940s. Think the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Center… and obviously Tiffany & Co.

As mentioned earlier the lead role of Holly Golightly is taken by Pixie Lott. She is of course famous for her music, having topped both the singles and album charts in the UK. Couple that with TV appearances on X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing and you have a well-known name. This, however, is her stage debut. A bit risky perhaps for such a key role in a performance? Especially a role that’s inevitably going to be compared to Audrey Hepburn. So how did she do? Well she can certainly sing, her rendition of Moon River far surpasses my attempts at the Deep Blue Something single. So no question whatsoever on that count. And I’m pleased to say she can act too. She seemed to relish the role and performed with great gusto. I did wonder about the accent at times, it seemed forced, but perhaps that intentional, after all, Holly is never really the woman you think she is.

Fred (played by Matt Barber) is particularly impressive as the other main character alongside Holly. He holds the story together, interspacing his dialogue with a narrative that breaks the fourth wall, bringing the audience in. It is his tale we hear and he tells it brilliantly. It’s a slightly seedy tale, a one of the underbelly of the high class society of New York during World War II. But that’s all I’ll say.

I have to say I was engrossed by the time the lights went out and the show closed. There was some discussion about whether there should have been more songs, but it is not billed as a musical, more of a play with songs included. So that’s mighty fine with me.

Keith Jobey writes for Music in Leicester magazine.

Background notes

Curve announced the full cast for the show that stars Pixie Lott.
The full cast was announced for the 2016 UK and Ireland Tour and the West End limited season of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, adapted by Richard Greenberg and directed by Nikolai Foster.
Matt Barber (Atticus Aldridge in Downton Abbey) will play Fred and Victor McGuire (the sit-coms Trollied and Bread) will play Joe Bell. They will be joined by Robert Calvert as Doc, Naomi Cranston as Mag, Charlie De Melo as José, Tim Frances as Rusty Trawler/Editor at 21, Andrew Joshi as Yunioshi, Melanie La Barrie as Mme Spanella, and Sevan Stephan as OJ Berman/Dr Goldman, with Katy Allen and Andy Watkins.
As previously announced, Pixie Lott will star as Holly Golightly for the UK and Ireland Tour, from 3 March to 30 April and 13 to 25 June, and at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket from 30 June to 17 September.
Truman Capote’s classic novella has been adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize-winning Finalist and Tony and Olivier Award-winning playwright Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, Three Days of Rain), and contains memorable songs from the era as well as original music by Grant Olding (One Man, Two Guvnors, RSC’s Don Quixote).
Based on Truman Capote’s beloved masterwork, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is set in New York in 1943. Fred, a young writer from Louisiana, meets Holly Golightly, a charming, vivacious and utterly elusive good-time girl. Everyone falls in love with Holly – including Fred. However Fred is poor, and Holly’s other suitors include a playboy millionaire and the future president of Brazil. As war rages on in Europe, Holly begins to fall in love with Fred – just as her past catches up with her.

Artistic Director of Curve, Nikolai Foster said, “It’s a testament to the beauty of Capote’s imagination, the extraordinary characters he created and Greenberg’s faithful adaptation, that alongside Pixie and Matt, we have assembled such an accomplished company of actors to bring this dazzling play to life. We are thrilled to welcome the company to Curve and our audiences in Leicester and on tour in the UK. Every week of 2016 will see a Curve production on a UK stage and we are thrilled Breakfast at Tiffany’s will be part of this commitment to sharing work that has been made at Curve.”
Breakfast at Tiffany’s will be directed by Nikolai Foster, the Artistic Director of Curve, with production design by Matthew Wright, lighting design by Ben Cracknell, sound design by Mic Pool and wig design by Campbell Young.
Nikolai Foster is Artistic Director at Curve. Recent productions include Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good and Shakespeare’s Richard III (all Curve), Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (West Yorkshire Playhouse), the 20th anniversary production of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing (Curve and Nottingham Playhouse), Calamity Jane (Watermill Theatre, Newbury & UK tour) and a major new production of the Broadway musical Annie (West Yorkshire Playhouse & UK tour).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s will begin performances at the Curve, Leicester on 3 March 2016, before embarking on a UK & Ireland Tour. There will be a 12-week season at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London’s West End from 30 June to 17 September 2016.
Visit the website for Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

See also:

Music from the Schools.

An Inspector Calls.

Outings (play review).

An Inspector Calls Review

17th March 2016

Review: An Inspector calls

Trevor Locke was at Curve to see J B Priestley’s play

Curve Theatre, 17th March to 23rd March
Our rating: ****

A gripping drama with a twist in the tale and a surprise ending

What we see on stage is a bewildering time warp of 1940s northern town realism somehow morphed into a 1912 drawing room drama. At one point towards the end of the play (which was performed at Curve in one sitting) the family mansion appears to be blitzed in a WWII air raid only to be magically restored to its former state a little later. The destruction of the house reflects and echoes that of the family who live in it as their lives are torn apart by the revelations blitzed out of them by the Inspector. The ruination of the house depicts the discrediting of the old social and political order. The family members are exposed as being complicit in the suicide of a destitute young woman who they, at first, deny all knowledge of until the Inspector cunningly brings out the truth – that the whole family has been responsible for the poor wretch’s demise, in one way or another.

An Inspector Calls Tour 2015. Photo by Mark Douet.
An Inspector Calls Tour 2015. Photo by Mark Douet.

Priestley is known for a lot of things: novelist, playwright, social commentator and essayist, broadcaster – his prodigious output was impressive. His left wing political views were credited with supporting the rise of the welfare state. A Yorkshireman, he served in the army in WW1 before attending Cambridge for his education. Priestley’s career took off with the publication of The Good Companions in 1929. An Inspector Calls came in 1945. The play was first performed in Russia and made into a film in 1954. Its revival by the National Theatre in 1992 secured its place in twentieth century theatrical history.

An Inspector Calls has been lauded as Priestley’s most famous and acclaimed play. It’s stark socialist stance led it to fall into disrepute during the UK’s more right-wing eras; it’s return today, in a more politically diverse climate, is a recognition of its wide appeal as theatre and its constant inclusion in school curricula and examination papers. It’s a highly engaging piece of drama with a gripping plot that has a twist and a surprise ending. It that respect it scores highly with the drama-going public.

The play is set in 1912 and takes place over the course of one day but the play within the play is set in World War 2. Somehow, in Daldry’s production, the two time periods provide contrasting lenses through which to view the plot. Priestley does not hold back from giving us a speech about the evils of capitalism and the moral failures of middle class society. At one point the stage lights go out and hard, monochromatic lighting puts the stage into stark relief as the Inspector harangues the audience about the importance of social responsibility. Factory owner Arthur Birling is portrayed as an arch capitalist, as at home in the Edwardian era as he is in the contemporary world where individuality is lauded over community values and the needs of the poor can easily be disregarded in the pursuit of individualism.

Priestly does not come across (at least in this play) as a Marxist-Leninist, but as a benign Wilsonian neo-socialist. He probably would not have looked out of place in the Blair government. Some of what he uses Arthur Birling for is to make us realise that the Victorian admiration for self-embetterment and the every-man-for-himself mind-set is just what Thatcherism (so to speak) wanted us to believe. I am not knocking the play; its canter across the moral high ground is, after all, what we are used to in a lot of Shakespeare.

Daldry’s production has a rather peculiar set, designed by Ian MacNeil. Strange sets have become familiar at Curve in recent times. Most of the play takes place in a cobbled street above which is the elegant family mansion of the Birlings, wealthy and influential citizens of Brumley (a fictitious northern industrial town.) At the start of the play we find the family at home, celebrating the engagement of Sheila Birling. Members of the family are heard (and occasionally glimpsed) enjoying themselves in the parlour of the house, occasionally coming out on to the balcony to speak to people below them in the street. The walls of the house then open out like those of a doll’s house to reveal the grand interior. It is certainly a clever piece of stage design but all feels a bit surreal.

The actors in tonight’s show delivered creditable performances. Liam Brennan’s portrayal of Inspector Goole was sharp and coherent. Geoffrey Leesley’s Arthur Birling was very credible and full of character. The Sybil Birling portrayed by Caroline Wildi was viperous and acerbic when Sybil is put under pressure, although at other times she appeared rather cardboard. I particularly liked Matthew Douglas’s portrayal of Gerald Croft (somewhat Downton Abbey, in a good way.) Stephen Warbeck’s incidental music was very Hitchcock.

Spoiler alert. If you do not want to know the ending, stop here.

After experiencing the gradual disintegration of the Birling family, both their reputation, status and their home, the family members gather to take stock of what had just happened to them. They forensically pick over the evidence of the evening and conclude that it might all have been a hoax. Their misgivings are confirmed when they phone the Chief Constable and are told that there is no Inspector Goole on the force. A call to the hospital reveals that no young woman died there earlier in the day. They fall about laughing as though they had all been the victim of a practical joke. That is the twist. Then comes the surprise. Right at the end, a phone call from the police informs them that a (real) police inspector is on his way to see them to investigate the death (that evening) of a young woman who had swallowed disinfectant to kill herself. The plausible whodunnit suddenly becomes something else: a mystery, a supernatural ghost story – I don’t know. It was no less shocking.

An Inspector Calls Tour by J.B. Priestley, presented by P W Productions in association with A I C Tour (2015), The National Theatre’s award-winning production.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Designer: Ian MacNeil
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Associate Director: Julian Webber
Cast:
Liam Brennan
Caroline Wildi
Geoff Leesley
Matthew Douglas
Katherine Jack
Hamish Riddle
Diana Payne-Myers

See also:

Outings (review)

Lord of the Flies (review)

King Charles III (review)

Outings

Thursday 25th February

Outings – review

Curve, studio theatre
Outings 25th and 26th February
The world’s first show based on true-life coming out stories
by Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldin
Our rating: *****

Reviewed by Trevor Locke

Moving, funny, disturbing but wholly insightful

On stage tonight were Andrew Doyle, Caroline Lennon, Hardeep Singh Kohli and Camille Ucan.

Camille Ucan appeared in Outings, February 25
Camille Ucan appeared in Outings, February 25

The phrase ‘coming out’ has embedded itself in the British language. Originally it meant ‘coming out of the closet’, a phrase coined in America in the 1960s. Tonight the four actors read a series of stories, collected and edited by Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin, originating in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The show began at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 and most of the stories were submitted to a couple of websites run by the editors. These stories reflect the life experiences of men and women from around the world as they reveal their sexual orientations to their family, friends and work colleagues.

Moving, funny and sometimes disturbing, these stories tell us a lot about the world we live in and the people who react to the confessions of those nearest to them. The 20 or so stories are vibrant, compelling and highly revealing; they lay bare not just the personal accounts of the people who came out but the reactions of the mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, work mates and others to whom they ‘came out.’ That tells us a lot about our society; it exposes who we are and how we behave towards others, especially those we love or are supposed to love.

Adrew Doyle appeared in Outings, February 25
Adrew Doyle appeared in Outings, February 25

Outings is not a play; the four people on stage tonight did a vastly good job at acting (rather than just reading the scripts) bringing each of the characters to life and making them into real people by giving them credible voices. Neither was it a documentary or a lecture. Many kinds of individuals came across in the stories: women, men, young, old… they all told of what they did to reveal their sexual orientation to those around them, the reactions they got from others and the impact of their revelations on their lives and those of their nearest and dearest.

Most of the stories were monologues, except where two or more of the actors enhanced the story by acting out moments of dialogue. It was cleverly done and the two hours of drama and comedy never had a dull moment; it was always gripping, sometimes tear-jerking, now and then side-splittingly funny but always insightful and moving.

Our four actors had a real knack of bringing the story-tellers to life and giving them colour and presence. The stories hopped from man to woman, from teenager to older married man, to someone born into the ‘wrong’ body, to a straight woman who had married a gay man, to a footballer who had to battle with a homophobic sport, to a teacher who told a class of eight year olds that he was gay… if you did not know these were true stories you would be forgiven for thinking they had all been made up. Truth is stranger than fiction.

The media has, in recent years, presented us with several high-profile coming out events: swimmer Tom Daley, footballer Justin Fashnu, rugby player Gareth Thomas, Apple boss Tim Cook, actress Ellen Page, Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, the list goes on and on. Tonight’s stories were not about celebrities;they were from ordinary, sometimes extraordinary, people living humdrum lives in a variety of situations. What tonight’s show does remarkably well is to reflect back to ‘straight’ people how they deal with coming out. Society has a lot to learn.

Outings is at Curve on 25th and 26th February.

 

LordofTheFlies at Curve

Lord Of The Flies – review

Curve, main theatre
Lord of The Flies runs from 8th February to 13th February

A play adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams from the novel by William Golding.
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Our rating: ****

Reviewed by Trevor Locke

A gripping and imaginative production.

Lord of the Flies. Ralph and Piggy. Photo: Johan Persson.
Lord of the Flies. Ralph and Piggy.
Photo: Johan Persson.

Reading the programme notes for tonight’s play was almost as entertaining as the show itself. In The nature of being human, Professor Tanya Byron takes ‘a deeper look at what this story tells us us about the nature of being human.’ The said academic is a consultant in child and adolescent mental health, writer and presenter on TV shows. Her piece, in the programme, was absorbing. It got me thinking about the plays, books and films that have portrayed teenage violence since William Golding’s novel was published in 1954 and Peter Brook’s film of the book came out in 1963. I would not want to suggest that this play is about teenage violence – it portrays much more than that – but several films came to mind as I read Byron’s contribution. I remembered attending a conference of youth justice workers at which SCUM was screened. Alan Clarke’s dark portrayal of life in a British borstal, released in 1983, was a seminal moment for me, at that time, as well as for the 200 or so social workers and probation officers with whom I watched the film. What stuck in my mind was the scene in which the Borstal inmates riot in the dining hall breaking up the furniture in a collective frenzy of teenage violence. Bear in mind that the old Borstals were based on English public schools and their regimes of character-building and devotion to rules and discipline.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

As I continued to read, other films came into my mind: Lindsay Anderson’s IF which satirised the life of English public schools, Brighton Rock by Graham Green, a story of teenage sociopaths, hoodlums and the battles brought by Rockers against Mods, The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 classic about tough working class teens and their rivals from the wealthier side of town. In fact, I even saw parallels with West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet and Rebel Without a Cause.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

Many art forms since the 50s and 60s have dwelt on the nature of young male behaviour and seen it in dark terms of violence and aggression. To Professor Byron, tonight’s play is about ‘human nature’ despite the fact that the characters are all male and all young (in the book they are preadolescent, 6 to 12) and there are no female characters in the play. Tonight’s cast was made up of actors who looked to be in their late teens or early 20s with the exception of Perceval ( a role played tonight by David Evans). Ever since the Brixton Riots of the 1980s, teenagers and young adults have been demonised in the news and popular culture, which might explain why Golding’s 1954 novel has such an enduring appeal.

Ralph in Lord of The Flies. Photo: Johan Persson.
Ralph in Lord of The Flies.
Photo: Johan Persson.

Like a lot of very successful books and dramas, Lord of the Flies can be interpreted in a number of ways and certainly its plot operates on many levels. It is ostensibly about a group of English public school boys who are marooned on a desert island after their air-plane crashes. It shows how the thin veneer of their upper class upbringing and civilisation is destroyed as they resort to savagery, tribalism, murder and bloodsports. In and beneath that, the plot is about leadership, morality and power, portraying the tense dialectic of group dynamics with individuality. You might see the plot as a struggle for survival, and yes it does show that, or what happens to well brought-up boys when the reins of adult supervision are removed.

LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author - William Golding, Director - Timothy Sheader, Co-Director - Liam Steel, Designer - Jon Bausor, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/
LORD OF THE FLIES by Golding, , Author – William Golding, Director – Timothy Sheader, Co-Director – Liam Steel, Designer – Jon Bausor, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2011, Credit: Johan Persson/

Tonight’s production at Curve was dominated by the set design of Jon Bausor. The plot takes place on a desert island sometimes on the beach (near to the remains of the crashed aircraft), sometimes on the top of a hill (Castle Rock) and at times in a forest. Putting all that on to a small stage was bound to be a challenge. As with many recent productions, the same set remains in place throughout the two acts. The action – of which there is plenty – takes place around, in and on the various parts of the fuselage of the tail of the crashed plane. It is a set which requires the audience to use its imagination.

The cast of young male actors imbued the production with plenty of energy and when not acting their roles were choreographed into a series of dance-like moves, moments when some of them were frozen while the dialogue took place elsewhere and the kind of running, jumping, climbing and leaping about that only a young athletic ensemble could achieve. Nigel Williams’s adaptation of the Golding novel tells the story and unravels the plot (however you want to interpret it) whilst grappling with the logistics of life in a forested desert island with a beach and a hill. Reading Nick Smurthwaite’s programme note ‘Trouble in Paradise‘, I particularly valued his paragraph:

My experience showed me that the only falsification in Golding’s fable is the length of time the descent into savagery takes. His action takes about three months. I believe that if the cork of continued adult presence were removed from the bottle, complete catastrophe could occur within one long weekend.

He is quoting the words of Peter Brook, the director or the 1963 film, in which he took a group of untrained young actors to make the film on an island in Puerto Rico. When Golding sent his book to the publishers, the plot began with an atomic explosion which brought down the boys’ plane and led to the long the long delay to their rescue.

In that respect, Lord of the Flies is an allegory of the shallowness of civilisation generally and of mankind’s descent into savagery when law and order are removed; if that is how you want to see it, then both the book, the film and the play deserve a place alongside Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story.

A production from Regent’s Park Theatre Ltd.

See also:

Our review of King Charles III.

Feature: Food in the twentyfirst century.

King Charles III

King Charles III – review

Curve, main theatre

King Charles III runs from 26th January to 30th January

Following a sold-out run at the Almeida Theatre and a critically acclaimed West End season, Mike Bartlett’s multi award-winning new play King Charles III comes to Leicester.

King Charles III is at Curve theatre Leicester
King Charles III is at Curve theatre Leicester

Our Rating: ****

Tuesday 26th January 2016

If you think the plot of tonight’s play is far-fetched, please read the history of England’s medieval kings and remember that Charles I’s defiance of Parliament led to the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s interregnum which saw the abolition of the monarchy. Not forgetting that James II was deposed by Parliament. One thing that history tells us about our monarchy is that anything can happen, already has done and probably will do. What playwright Mike Bartlett has done is to look at the present line of succession to the throne, study the characters he finds there and extrapolate what might happen when the inevitable day comes to pass when we see a new face under the crown of England. King Charles III is nothing if not provocative. The plot which unwound in Act 1 is credible. This play captivated me from beginning to end. As the plot unravelled, through several surprising twists and turns, I became more and more absorbed in it and the result of the audience was too, I think.

The production was solemn and dignified, almost to the point of frustration. It was a plot that bit hard on the bones of the British ‘constitution’ (not that our country actually has one) and gnawed away at the uneasy relationship between democracy and monarchical rule. Our state is a peculiar edifice. This was a very serious play but then so too were Shakespeare’s history plays – the Henrys, King John, the Richards – it certainly was not a comedy but could have been a tragedy, depending on your point of view. It is perhaps (as someone said) a ‘history for tomorrow.’ Bartlett’s drama is rooted in the popular media of the contemporary world, just as the great bard’s was rooted in the fashions and preoccupations of Tudor times. What we think we know about Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Harry (through the lens of the media) was used to foresee how their roles might play out on the great stage of the state.

When I review a play, I normally give a resume of its plot. I have decided not to in this case; because I think that people should go and see it with an open mind and also be prepared for the many surprises, if not shocks, that it will provide if the details of the plot are not known. The play is about many things; it is about the main characters (the dramatis personae) both as individuals and as a family group, it is about how history is made, it is about the creaking fabric of the state, the endless battles between political leaders, the troubled relationship between the royals and the media, the machinations of politics and the law… I could go on.

One thing should be said about this play – Bartlett has done something few other contemporary dramatists would dare to do (or be foolish enough to do) – he has written the entire play in blank verse. The kind of thing we would be familiar with from seeing Shakespeare. It sounds like Shakespearian acting, almost, but not quite. Bartlett explained how this epic drama caused him to feel terrified at the idea of writing in verse (‘one thing I knew very little about, he admitted in an article). In fact, I liked this style; after all I have been going to Shakespeare plays for over 50 years) and a plot of this degree of epic-ness seemed to deserve something more than plain English dialogue. There are many points throughout the play where you can detect the influence of the great Bard’s history plays and the blank verse gave it a grandeur and solemnity that modern English would not have done justice to, it heightened the drama and enhanced the feel of the more monumental scenes. But even though it was written in blank verse using contemporary English, there are points where Bartlett drops in a literary anachronism or two (making the spoken dialogue far from realistic in today’s speech) simply to make the line scan an iambic pentameter, I suspect. As others have already pointed out, Bartlett lacks the gift for figurations and metaphor of the great Bard and lacks his ability to write brilliant twists of imagery. It would certainly not have worked had Bartlett tried to ape Tudor script completely; the content is far too twenty-first century for that. I cannot quote chapter and verse for these odd lapses of vocabulary (unless someone wants to send me a copy of the script) but I noticed them straight away. Happily not even these peculiar choice of words were a distraction from the plot or the acting.

If this aspect of the play interests you I recommend the article on The Guardian where Bartlett gives some examples of how he worked with the verse (Guardian 20/9/14)

Robert Powell as Charles Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Robert Powell as Charles
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Tonight’s production at Curve had many good points, not least Robert Powell’s acting and very dignified rendition of Charles. Tom Scutt’s scenery was impressive and convincing (although there was only one set and it never changed with the location suggested in the play.) Weighed against the many good points was Richard Glaves’s portrayal of the ‘ginger joke’ Prince Harry. Either Glaves’s characterisation or the script did not do it for me. What would have worked, I would suggest, is a blend of Shakespearian clown and elements of Hal (the young Henry V). The Harry of this play just didn’t feel right, from what we know of Prince Henry of Wales, the fifth in line to the throne. What we got were the antics of an unconvincing fool (to be fair to Glaves, I doubt he could have done much with the part anyway, given how it was written.) The other aspect of the play that I balked at was the appearance of the ghost of Diana Princess of Wales, more than once. We could have done without that and the scenes with the spectral visitations added little to the substance of the plot.

Bartlett’s play has been described as ‘brilliant’ and I agree with that; it is not a history, tragedy or comedy; it is a thriller. It digs deep into the modern world of power, politics and the state and rubs salt into the wounds created by the media. Its denouement sees the royals capitulating to the power of the press and they sign away regal authority in order to preserve the stats quo. The history of the English monarchy has been one of a gradual erosion of power, from the time when the King had absolute power, starting with Magna Carta and relentless slicing away of powers by Parliament until we end of by asking ‘what is left?’ A ceremonial position with even less authority than you would find in most European presidencies. In this respect the play is a dark and disturbing vision of out future with a constitutional crisis which threatens to plunge England into another civil war. It sees the Monarchy as bearing the seeds of its own destruction, imagining an apocalyptically dark chain of events that feeds on all we have seen over the past 800 years.

Spoiler alert
At the end of the play we see King William V seated in splendour with the orb and sceptre in his hands and the assembled congregation of Westminster Abbey proclaiming “God Save The King.”
Directed by Rupert Goold with Whitney Mosery
A play by Mike Bartlett
Set design by Tom Scutt
Lighting by Jon Clark
Musical director Belinda Sykes

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