Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Victor/Victoria - Southwark Playhouse, Tuesday 6th November 2012


A penniless English soprano, Victoria Grant, auditions unsuccessfully for Labisse, owner of Cafe Luis. Toddy tries to help, but Labisse rejects her and fires him. Toddy befriends Victoria, and offers her shelter from the wet wintry night in his tiny apartment.

Richard, the ex-boyfriend, arrives at Toddy's unexpectedly to collect his things. Victoria, her only dress having shrunk in the rain, is by now wearing his hat and suit. Victoria punches Richard and kicks him out. Toddy is impressed. Richard actually thought Victoria was a man! And at that moment The Inspired Idea strikes Toddy right between the eyes. Why not? Victoria could indeed be a man - Europe's greatest female impersonator!

Toddy dreams up “Count Victor Grazinsky” - a gay Polish aristocrat. Toddy drags the reluctant Victoria to meet Andre Cassell, Paris's leading impresario, who is dubious about "Count Victor Grazinsky" until he hears "him" hit a glass-shattering high G-flat. "Victor" is in business.

His show-stopping performance at once makes him the toast of Gay Paree. The only doubter of Victor's authenticity is a dashing American gangster, King Marchan, visiting Paris with his brassy girlfriend Norma and his loyal bodyguard Squash. King is convinced Victor is a woman, and determined to prove it, but starts to doubt himself. He finds Victor attractive as a woman...but what if he's a man?

King, Norma and Squash find themselves in the adjoining hotel suite to the newly successful Toddy and “Victor”. Norma tries to seduce King, but he can’t get it up because of his worry that he is gay. Victoria bemoans to Toddy that in King she thinks she has finally found the man of her dreams, but here she is trying to convince him that she is a man, too!

“Victor” continues to take Paris audiences by storm. Norma complains to Victor and Toddy that King is shipping her back to Chicago because he fancies Victor - a man! King confronts his doubts about himself and Victor Is it possible that he, King, is falling for a man? He invites Victor and Toddy to dinner to try and find out. Labisse also has his suspicions that Victor is a woman. He invites her/him to sing. Richard's group arrives noisily in mid-song. Victor trips Richard and starts a major brawl in the club.. Outside the club, King says he doesn't care if Victor is a man, and kisses him. Victoria admits she's not a man. King says he still doesn't care, and kisses her again.

Back in the hotel, Squash barges into King's bedroom and finds King and “Victor” in bed together and stuns his boss by revealing that he, too, is gay!

Back in Chicago, Norma informs King's gangster partner, Sal Andretti, that King has dumped her for another man - and is living with "a gay Polish fairy." Sal is aghast and sets off for Paris with Norman in tow.

Toddy and Squash have become happy partners. Not so for King and Victoria, unable to be seen together in public. Victoria tells Toddy she doesn't want to be a man anymore. Toddy understands. Neither does he. Sal and the spurned Norma arrive in Paris. King admits he loves "Victor," keeping the secret. Sal, disgusted, ends their business relationship. Victoria reveals herself to Norma as a woman and is witnessed by Labisse. At Victor's “farewell performance” Labisse tries to expose him/her as a fraud. Toddy, thrilled to be back in drag, replaces Victoria in a blink.  Victoria "comes out" as a woman, and is happy. 

Victoria Grant – Anna Francolini
Caroll Todd – Richard Dempsey
King Marchand – Matthew Cutts
Norma Cassidy – Kate Nelson
“Squash” Bernstein – Michael Cotton
Henri Labisse – Ashley Knight
Andre Cassell – Mark Curry

Creative Team
Book by Blake Edwards
Music by Henry Mancini
Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Director – Thom Sutherland
Choreographer – Lee Proud
Set/Costumes – Martin Thomas
Lighting – Howard Hudson

The third in my trio of flu-ridden reviews. Happily for all concerned, by this time I was feeling much better, but if anyone would like to send me grapes anyway, please feel free. I was still a bit under the weather, which is why I was fanning myself with my handkerchief while waiting for the show to start (I was hot). Why the man sitting in the row behind felt it was necessary to tap me on the shoulder and say “Buy a programme for £2 and use that instead” is quite beyond me. I should have responded that I would love to see someone try and mop their forehead with a programme, but I was far too busy gawping at the audience members who seemed to think it was a fancy dress night; one chap appeared to be dressed as a toy solider and another looked like he had found Marie Antoinette’s lost necklace and had decided to wear it looped across the front of his jacket, fastening it with a large diamante cocktail glass-shaped brooch. Perhaps he’s one of the cast, opined Him Indoors. He wasn’t. Still, I suppose it is nice when people decide to dress up to go to the theatre. The woman sitting with the man with the programme fetish was wearing a fur coat. More about her later. But not that much later – in fact, now. Why do people seem to think that, once the music starts playing, it is still acceptable to carry on talking? Woman in Fur Coat sat there quite happily nattering away (actually, she was moaning) for at least five minutes and got a couple of my special Hard Stares. Unfortunately these had no effect whatsoever until I threw a “Will you be quiet!” in her direction, at which point she wisely decided to limit herself to the occasional sotto voce remark, but not sotto voce enough that I couldn’t hear every bloody word about how cold she was and how the theatre was grubby and it was making her fur dirty.

Anyway, rude audience members aside, I had quite a good time. The dank vaults of Southwark Playhouse aren’t exactly 1930s Paris, although there is a certain sympathetic seediness. This worked fine for a louche nightclub and cockroach-infested apartment buildings (the sound of the occasional train rumbling overhead was a nice counterpoint), but didn’t really cover the five star hotel. But vaults under a mainline railway station are going to take a bit of suspension of disbelief to overcome – they may be fine for A Christmas Carol but anything else is going to be a bit of work. News is that the theatre is moving to an abandoned 60s office block just down the road in Newington Causeway. That will be interesting….. The length of the performance space causes directorial issues – best to sit the middle and play “head tennis” than sit at one end and miss a lot of the action. If you do have to sit at one end, the end away from the orchestra is better. Sit at the pricey “nightclub tables” and you will miss a heck of a lot. Not all the direction works – Act 2 is ushered in by a woeful magic act (which I came perilously near to ruining by being too thorough in my inspection of Dafydd Gwyn Howell’s equipment (no sniggering at the back please – he may be a hairy Welshman but there is no truth in any rumours you may hear). Although the Playhouse obviously operates on a shoestring, there are 8 people in the orchestra (2 more than the production of 9 to 5 I recently saw and which has Dolly Partons’ megabucks behind it), all working like stink and deservedly getting their own on-stage bow at the end.

The shoestrings are apparent in the wig and costume departments. Decent wigs are shockingly expensive to hire, and bad wigs just as pricey. Several of those sported in this production look uncannily like they have not long before been scuttling round in the darkness; I imagine the Wig Mistress rushing off into the gloom with a torch and a big stick, hearing a loud thump and a squeal and then seeing her return triumphantly holding her prey at arm’s length and beaming “Another tenner saved from the budget, chaps”. Poor Anna Francolini often has to wear two at once – a bladder over her own hair, a “Victor” wig, a “night club routine” wig and often some sort of headdress perched on top just to add insult to injury. The things one puts up with to earn a crust. Practically everyone else wears their own hair – although I couldn’t work out whether Jean Perkins, who played several small parts had subjected her personal dead rat to ministrations with a wire brush and a can of Elle-Net or was just having a terrible hair day.

Costumes, in the main, looked similarly tired. The only properly fitting dinner suit in the entire production is obviously Mark Curry’s own, and his own properly polished black shoes stuck out like a sore thumb. Ms. Francolini’s dress shirt looked as if it had been used to wipe up a spillage out in the bar, and a judiciously applied damp sponge and hot iron wouldn’t go amiss on her dinner suit either. In the awful “Louis says” number (which was jettisoned for the film and no wonder, because its dire), poor Miss F has to wear what are meant to be Marie Antoinette’s expensive silks and satins but which actually look like a badly made-to measure sofa cover and a pile of slowly unravelling cotton wool. Yes, I know, I know. Costumes are expensive to hire or make. But frankly, if someone outside had been rattling a collection tin in aid of the Costume Department, I’d have gladly dropped some money in. Perhaps Mrs Fur Coat could have wafted her Platinum Card in their direction – she certainly moaned enough. About 20 minutes into the show, one character coughs several times and blames “the damp”. Mrs. Fur Coat chimed in “DUST!” very loudly. The closing number is woefully underdressed and Richard Dempsey has to wear a feather head-dress that looks like an ostrich with alopecia that has been savaged by an overly-protective mother meerkat.

Wigs, costumes and rude audience members aside (Mrs. Fur Coat and Mr. Programme left in the interval, thankfully), there is a good show going on here with some fine performances. Its just sad that they are fine performances seen in a production with lacklustre values; they deserve better. Anna Francolini works her tits off in the title roles, making the daft plot seem believable and bringing a warmth to the role that rather eluded Julie Andrews in the film. She has a lovely mellow speaking voice and a great vocal range. Richard Dempsey, although perhaps a little too young for the pivotal role of Toddy, is so sweet and charming that he just makes you want to ply him with nourishing chicken soup and organise his sock drawer. Basically, he is everyone’s Best Gay Friend – Dispenser of Good Advice, Shoulder to Cry On, Provider of Waspish One-Liners in a Crisis. I must remember the line “There is nothing so inconvenient as an old queen with a head cold” for future use. Kate Neilson rather lets the character of Norma Cassidy go begging, however – what could have been a great comic turn is rather thrown away. One wonders what Mark Curry is doing here at all – Cassell is a “nothing part”, and although Curry is not exactly “A List”, its still bizarre to see him on stage in this. The dancers all work their socks off and the choreography is wonderful. Again, they deserve to be in a show with higher production values. They certainly deserve better costumes. There’s not a soul on stage who isn’t pulling more than their weight – this company is the dictionary definition of the phrase “Teamwork”.

Anyway, this is a good little show. Buy a ticket well in advance (like air fares, the closer to the date of the performance you buy them, the more expensive they are), wrap up warm, don’t wear your fur coat, get there early (unreserved seats!) so you can sit in the middle of the row, don’t chatter to your companions once the music has started, enjoy the performances, don’t compare Ms. Francolini with Julie Andrews if you can help it, compare her favourably with Julie Andrews if you must, blank out the “Louis Says” number if you can, put a few coppers in the collecting tin for costumes if you see one, and try not to ruin any magic tricks if you are asked to rummage in a cloth bag. - Telegraph reviewer can’t count the number of people in the orchestra.

Not in the original production, but written for the film to replace "Louis Says". 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

9 to 5 - Wimbledon Theatre, Thursday 25th October 2012


As the clocks ring and the workers wake up, Violet, Doralee, and Judy prepare for another mundane and hellish day at work at Consolidated Industries . Judy Bernly is a naïve new employee, a recent divorcee whose husband, Dick, left her for his secretary. On her first day, Judy meets Violet Newstead, the supervisor of her department. Violet trains Judy and introduces her to Franklin Hart, Jr, the arrogant and sexist Head of Department. Judy soon learns that Violet, an employee for over 10 years, has been passed over consistently by those who could promote her.
The buxom Southern belle Doralee Rhodes is Hart's personal secretary. Despite the fact that Doralee is a happily married woman and Hart is married to a very emotionaly troubled woman who is never in town, Hart continually makes inappropriate advances toward Doralee, pushing her patience and tolerance to the limit. Hart has also been lying to his colleagues that he's been sleeping with her anyway, causing office gossip to go wild. The women in the office treat her rudely as a result
Violet is once again passed over for an important promotion, even though her ideas are good enough that Hart passes one off as his own and takes all the praise for it. When Violet protests to Hart that he passed her over for a promotion because she is a woman, Hart bluntly tells her that the company would rather have a man in the position, and Violet storms off on her own, but not before she reveals to Doralee that her “affair” with Hart is common knowledge. Doralee threatens to use her gun on him the next time he makes an indecent proposal. Judy is humiliated by Hart in front of the entire department. All three women go to Violet's house and smoke a joint which Violet has confiscated from her son, fantasizing about the ways in which they would take their revenge.
The next day, Violet accidentally and absent-mindedly puts rat poison in Hart's coffee, mistaking it for an artificial sweetener. Before Hart can drink it, he falls from his unstable desk chair and knocks himself unconscious in his office. He is rushed to hospital. The women discover that Hart wasn't harmed at all, but their discussion about the incident is overheard by Hart's nosy personal assistant, Roz, and Hart tries to use the information to blackmail Doralee into having an affair with him after all. Doralee loses her temper and ropes Hart with telephone wires, and Judy fires on Hart with Doralee's pistol when he escapes his bonds.
With Hart's wife away on a lengthy cruise, the women decide to kidnap Hart and imprison him in his own home until they can somehow get him to co-operate and forget the whole incident. But Hart refuses to listen to them and vows to kill them. Looking for a way to blackmail Hart to keep quiet, Violet discovers that Hart has been embezzling money from Consolidated by illegally selling inventory from a Consolidated-owed warehouse on the black market and keeping the profits for himself. The girls plan on using the information to blackmail Hart to keep quiet from calling the police, but have to tie Hart to his bed to prevent him from leaving the house and exposing them. Violet sends for an order of the warehouse inventories as proof of Hart's embezzlement scheme; because of a computer system change, the office will not send them the invoices for at least four weeks.
The three women work together to make Hart's absence from the office as inconspicuous as possible, and they send Roz to Europe on a ruse to learn a foreign language to keep her away from the office. During the weeks of Hart's confinement, the three ladies take a number of liberties in improving the workplace in ways that they see fit.
One night, Hart almost escapes. Judy, who is staying nights in Hart's house is surprised when her ex-husband shows up at the house after following her there after work and he asks to reconcile with her. But when Hart makes a noise, Judy is forced to restrain him, and her ex-husband, seeing the captive Hart tied up, mistakenly assumes that Judy is having an affair of her own with her boss and leaves, claiming that they are now over and will never get back together.
Hart is accidentally freed when his wife returns early from her cruise, and for three days, he quietly buys back all the items he sold on the black market and puts them back in the Consolidated warehouse.
After taking them to the office to meet with Violet, Hart plays his final card boasting that women never can defeat him. Just when it appears as if he is going to send the girls to jail, a sudden visit from the reclusive and ruthless Chairman of the Board, Russell Tinsworthy interrupts him. To the cold and unfeeling Hart's chargrin, he finally sees that Violet, Judy, and Doralee have made some radical changes in the office while keeping him imprisoned, and it seems as if the sudden surge in productivity has caught the attention of Tinsworthy.

Since the women did all of it under the false approval of Hart, they can take no credit for it, but fate seems to be on their side: Tinsworthy "rewards" Hart for his good work by immediately removing him from his position and sending him to work on a special project in Brazil, much to the amusement and delight of Violet, Doralee, and Judy as now they are free from Hart who will never try to destroy them without destroying his own career
Violet is promoted to Hart's place as vice president of Consolidated, Judy Judy is single and loving it and writes a bestselling book, Life Without Dick. and Doralee moves back to her Tennessee hometown where she became a country music singer. Hart is kidnapped by natives and is never seen or heard from again 

Violet Newstead: Jackie Clune
Doralee Rhodes: Amy Lennox
Judy Bernley: Natalie Casey
Franklyn J. Hart: Ben Richards
Roz Keith: Bonnie Langford
Joe: Mark Willshire
Dick/MrTinsworthy: Marlon Moore

Creative Team:
Music and lyrics: Dolly Parton
Book: Patricia Resnick
Director/Choreographer: Jeff Calhoun
Scenic Design: Kenneth Foy
Lighting: Ken Billingstone

Huddled in my jumper, coat, gloves and scarf when I should, by rights, have been wearing an 80s power suit with a nipped in waist and lots of padding in the shoulder area, I made my way to Wimbledon, heavily mucoid and streaming sweat from seemingly every pore, shocked to see what a dump Central Wimbledon has become since my last visit. Tatty and boarded up shops line the streets, and fast food wrappers and empty cans blow across the pavements. Where are the Wombles when you really need them? Yes, it seems that the recession has come to town – so what better to troll out and see than a musical about when times were so good that even the humblest secretary had a bulging filofax (mine had a red leather cover with a blue strap fastened by a natty yellow press stud) and mobile phones were so big they could be used to prop open a door. Nouvelle cuisine was just about to hit us, proving beyond all doubt that lunch was for wimps, and Reagan, Thatcher and Gordon Gekko were extolling the virtues of greed. Hair was big, the credit was unlimited, the working hours punishing but the good times were starting to roll. Cue the music!
Wimbledon Theatre seems to be carving itself out quite a nice niche in naff. So it seemed inevitable that, for a few short nights, it would become a Temple to Dolly. And my, did the audience come in their droves. Coach parties of Women of a Certain Age, well tanked up and ready to tell their boss where to shove his Tippex, along with quite a few Gentlemen of a Certain Age who had probably spent at least 10 minutes earlier that evening gyrating in front of the mirror holding a hairbrush and pretending to be Doralee Rhodes. The Chestily-Endowed one actually “appears” in the show to narrate, thanks to the wonders of technology – and as soon as she did, the whoops were so loud that several decades of dust fell off the proscenium arch’s reclining figures and I swear that at least one bat was dislodged from the ceiling. I do wish Wimbledon’s management would spend a bit more on cleaning – the entire place feels grubby and smells a bit like your grandma’s front room. Not that most people in the audience seemed to care. If the lyrics of the opening number had suddenly descended from the flies on a screen, I swear that people would have been ripping up the seats in their enthusiasm to join in. Everyone (save a few obviously unwilling husbands) seemed out for a good time. And, in the main, what people wanted was more or less what they got – a penny plain, tuppence coloured night of feel good entertainment. No Brechtian angst, no Chekovian misery, no soul-searching Ibsen – Dolly is in town! 9 to 5 is unsophisticated, brash, more than a little cheesy – but hey, bread and circuses, right?

In the main, the musical numbers aren’t all that great, even though they were penned by the Chestily-Endowed one, and I see from the Internewt that a lot of them don’t seem to have made it on the journey over from Broadway – several of them have been cut, including great swathes of the “dream sequence” numbers. Apart from the theme tune, not a single one can I hum a snatch of a couple of weeks afterwards. But they were delivered well enough for everyone to enjoy them – save one solo from Natalie Casey which was strangely underpowered and rather wobbly all the way through. Bonnie Langford (an exact contemporary of Him Indoors – one of them can don fishnets, suspenders and a basque and bring the show to a total halt by doing the splits upside down on a sofa while belting out a number, and it ain’t Him Indoors, although personally I wouldn’t put it past him to have a go) brought the show to a total halt by doing the splits upside down on a sofa while belting out a number and damn I just wrote myself into a corner didn’t I? Slightly scarily, the Langford Clan seem to be challenging the Redgraves for the title of Greatest Theatrical Dynasty – not only does Ms. Langford boast Summer Strallen and Scarlett Strallen as her kin but there’s another one in the chorus of this show, Sasi Strallen. Watch out for the forthcoming debuts of Samantha Strallen, Sarah Strallen, September Strallen, Singalong Strallen, their adopted sister from the Far East Sushi Strallen and their only brother Derek.

Auntie Bonnie makes the best of a “nothing” part that she can (although her solo is a gift and rightly stops the show, Amy Lennox makes a game stab at being Dolly Parton but doesn’t quite manage to bring it off, Ben Richards isn’t quite old enough to play Franklyn J. Hart - I forgive him because he’s got a buff bod and a hairy chest (neither of which unfortunately one gets to see until 2 minutes before the final curtain - but the acting honours are walked away with in their entirety by Jackie Clune as Violet Newstead, who plays the Lily Tomlin role better than Lily Tomlin played it in the film. As mentioned above, Dolly herself appears high above the stage, peering out from the face of an office clock and providing the role of narrator/greek chorus/fairy godmother, although until the colour levels were worked out, she looked so green that she looks like the lovechild of Kermit the Frog and Elphaba. I didn’t hear much of what she said because every time she popped up like the Genie of the Clock, she was completely drowned out by whooping.

A truly frightening amount of this show is clicktracked – pre-recorded and played as backing – mostly for the ensemble numbers, when there are 20 people on stage but apparently 60 people singing, which is a rotten cheat. Its glaringly obvious that fraud is being perpetrated when there are only principals on stage but still apparently 60 people belting out at full throttle. This is lazy costcutting and unfortunately more and more prevalent in the theatre, as is having a tiny orchestra sweating away in the pit playing 4 instruments each. Yes, having an electronic keyboard saves you from having to put an ad in The Stage looking for a sousaphone player, a second trombone and someone to who can play the harmonica and help sell ice-creams in the interval, but its putting people in the profession out of work, as is clicktracking. Both practices should be frowned upon, as should charging people £3 for a bottle of lukewarm water. Theatre management take note, and dust your allegorical figures please, Wimbledon.

This is not sophisticated entertainment in any way, shape or form. The unlikely “plot” is full of holes and the characters paper-thin. It is unashamedly trashy, no-brain, feel-good entertainment, perfect for a girl’s night out with the boys, even though comparing it with clips from the original Broadway production, a lot of bits and pieces seem to have been thrown overboard with the musical numbers en route across the Atlantic. Interestingly, there are some quite thought-provoking and intelligent articles in the programme, although I suspect most of the audience will be reading Dolly Parton’s three-page biography on the train home. As the production is going on tour, overbearing bosses should make sure that they employ a Taster to check their coffee for rat poison if any of their staff are going to see the show.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Twelfth Night - Shakespeare's Globe, Wednesday 3rd October 2012


Viola has been shipwrecked in a violent storm off the coast of Illyria; in the process she has lost her twin brother, Sebastian. She disguises herself as a boy and assumes the name Cesario for protection. Thus disguised, Viola becomes a page in the service of Orsino, the Duke. It seems that Orsino is having little luck courting Olivia, who is in mourning for the death of her brother. As Orsino's proxy, Viola is sent to Olivia with love letters. Viola refuses to budge until she is let in to see Olivia; Olivia, intrigued by the impudent young "boy," contrives to get "Cesario" to return by sending her steward, Malvolio, after her with one of Olivia's rings. Viola realizes to her dismay that Olivia has fallen for her Cesario rather than Duke Orsino—further complicated by the fact that Viola has had stirrings herself for Orsino.
Sebastian (Viola's twin, presumed dead) comes ashore in Illyria thinking that Viola has drowned in the shipwreck. A man named Antonio rescued him from the surf, and continues to aid him—at some risk to himself, as Antonio fought against the Duke at one time. Meanwhile, in Olivia's house, Sir Toby Belch (her uncle) has hoodwinked a foppish Sir Andrew Aguecheek into supporting him by convincing him that he could be a suitor to Olivia. There is a running feud between Malvolio , the House Steward, and Belch; with the help of Maria, Olivia's maid, and Feste, a clown, Belch plots to make a buffoon of the steward. Maria writes a love letter to Malvolio that will make him think Olivia has fallen for him. Malvolio falls entirely for the sport, which eventually leads to his confinement as a madman.
All the while, Belch is egging Sir Andrew into a duel with Viola's "Cesario" character as she departs from Olivia; Olivia is now entirely smitten with Cesario, even though Viola continues to press Orsino's cause. As Viola and Sir Andrew prepare for a duel that neither one wants, Antonio happens upon the scene. Believing Viola to be Sebastian, he intervenes and is arrested. Viola, of course, does not recognize Antonio. Later, Belch and Sir Andrew encounter Sebastian, who doesn't back down from Aguecheek when challenged and resoundingly beats him. Olivia intervenes in the matter, and - mistaking Sebastian for Viola/Cesario - presses her suit for him. A bemused Sebastian agrees to marry her. Antonio is brought before the Duke for questioning, and Viola relates the events of the duel. Antonio tells everyone how hedragged "this man" from the surf, saving his life. Then Olivia enters, searching for her new husband—who she thinks is Viola (as Cesario).
Adding to this confusion, Belch and Aguecheek enter claiming that Viola/Cesario has violently assaulted them. In the midst of Viola's denials, Sebastian appears. The brother and sister recognize one another and are reunited; Sebastian helps to clear the confusion as to who fought who and who married who. At the end, Orsino and Viola pledge their love, Olivia and Sebastian will remain satisfactorily wed, and Olivia rebukes Belch and Maria for their abuse of Malvolio, who vows his revenge upon the whole lot. Belch agrees to wed Maria to make up for getting her in trouble, and all—except the disgruntled Malvolio—will (apparently) live happily ever after
Sebastian – Sam Barnett
Orsino – Liam Brennan
Maria – Paul Chahidi
Antonio – John Paul Connelly
Viola – Johnny Flynn
Malvolio – Stephen Fry
Fabian – James Garnon
Feste – Peter Hamilton Dyer
Sir Toby Belch – Colin Hurley
Andrew Aguecheek – Roger Lloyd Pack
Olivia – Mark Rylance

Creative Team:
Director – Tim Carrol
Designer – Jeremy Tiramani
Choreographer – Sian Williams

Disclaimer: half this review was written before I went down with the flu. Not man-flu, you understand, but real “Oh my god I feel like I’m dying” flu, and which has laid me low ever since. In fact, at one point I coughed so long and so hard that it caused a problem that I soon have to go into hospital for. So there. So my apologies for the delay, and if some of the details of the performance are a bit sketchy in my memory by now. I’ve seen two more shows since then, and hopefully reviews of these will be winging their way to you soon. So…….

I wasn’t really sure I wanted to see this production. For at start, it was at the Globe, and I have issues with the Globe (mainly because I usually end up sitting behind a pillar so I can’t see, the acoustics can be terrible so I can’t hear, and the seats are hard and have no back so I can’t get comfortable and my bum hurts after about an hour). And it was raining. And I was coming down with a cold. And Stephen Fry was in it (I hate Stephen Fry). And Roger Lloyd Pack was in it (I loathe Roger Lloyd Pack). And although Twelfth Night is my fave Shakespeare play, I’ve seen it murdered many times, so I’m generally wary about seeing it again, just in case. Nothing is as unsatisfying as a bad Twelfth Night – unless it’s a cheese sandwich made with really cheap, miserable, white sliced bread. So, if anyone had cut open a fowl and examined the entrails, the omens probably wouldn’t have been that great for this outing.

The omens were wrong! I liked it! It was funny! I even laughed a couple of times, despite my aching back, snotty nose and numb bum. I even liked Stephen Fry in it! Of course, this wouldn’t be a review written by me if I couldn’t find fault somewhere, and I loathed Roger Lloyd Pack even more than usual, and there were a couple of things I didn’t like about the production but hey, in the main, that dead chicken was wrong! (Maybe I paid too much attention to its gizzard when I should have been examining the contents of its crop). Huzzah! OK, I was still sitting behind a pillar for the first half, so was ducking and weaving like a flamingo doing a mating dance, fully aware that David Attenborough is pointing a camera at it and thinking that here is its chance to get an audition for Strictly, so perhaps I had best cash in a savings policy and buy a really expensive seat next time – but hey, at least I wasn’t getting pissed on by the torrential rain like the Groundlings (the Globe Stewards, most of whom left the SS in disgust because it was too liberal for them) won’t let you put up an umbrella and one does tend to look a bit of a tit with a plastic bag on one’s head. And being a Groundling makes your feet hurt).

I did like the fact that you could hear Every. Last. Bloody. Syllable. of Liam Brennan’s Count Orsino. Perhaps not the greatest actor ever to have trodden the boards at the Globe, and perhaps not exactly the most lovelorn Orsino I’ve ever seen, but at least you could hear him. Perfect projection, even when right at the opposite side of the stage and facing away from me. But perhaps not the most flattering costume silk puffy trunks and glittery pumps are really not a good look, particularly when the actor sporting them has made no effort to give himself a period haircut or wear a wig. I didn’t initially take very kindly to the fact that Viola was being played by a man using a kind of throaty, irritating treble but I got used to it after a while. What really hacked me off was that there was no indication of there having been a shipwreck which would explain her presence on the coast of Illyria. In fact, if you weren’t familiar with the play, you could have been left mightily confused as to what she was doing there. Neither did Viola look like she had been thrown up on the beach by the waves – I was almost tempted to shout out “You don’t look very wet, love”. And I didn’t really like the way Mark Rylance played Olivia either, not for a long time. Rylance plays Olivia like one of those dolls children used to make out of wooden spoons, with a bit of circular material tied underneath the bowl for a dress, moving about the stage as if on wheels in the fashion of one Mrs. Honeyman of Camberwick Green. It got a laugh the first time he did it, but what is funny once and vaguely amusing twice is boring by the 17th time you see it. The kabuki make-up didn’t really help, and I really resented Olivia being played as an out-and-out comedy character, muttering darkly that it went against the spirit of the play. But I warmed to it and grudgingly admit that Twelfth Night is supposed to be a comedy after all, even though I still think Olivia is one of the few “real” people in the entire play and it cheapens the part to try and scene-steal by over-acting at every possible opportunity.

Paul Chahidi’s Maria was a revelation. On paper, a very minor character, with nothing much to say and very little to really do. But Chahidi plays her like a real person – stately and dignified, aware of her position but human enough to show the occasional spark of mischief. Peter Hamilton Dyer’s Feste was another revelation – if you’ve read this blog for a while you will know exactly what I think about Shakespeare’s fools, particularly the ones that do little but ponce around the stage being verbose – and usually as funny as haemorrhoids. But this Feste is played completely straight – to such an extent that the verbiage becomes a shield, used as protection against all the lunacy happening around him. In fact, the audience is left in no doubt that Feste is probably the one sane person left in Illyria. I can’t comment on Colin Hurley’s performance as Sir Toby because, to be perfectly honest, I cannot remember a single thing about it – not even what he looked like – from which, dear Reader, you must deduce that it’s a fairly underwhelming performance.

I hate Roger Lloyd Pack. Loathe him. Sorry, but I do. The man has about as much talent for comedy as a plate of rice pudding and what is worse cannot project his lines to save his life. Oh, he starts them OK, but halfway through his timbre gives out and the words just disappear into thin air like the morning mist. His Sir Andrew was possibly the dreariest and uninspired I have ever seen, and lines which should be funny or endearing are just thrown away for absolutely nothing. I hate Stephen Fry equally, but I was intrigued by the lack of histrionic over-acting that I expected, and eventually quite impressed by it. I was actually, genuinely sorry for this Malvolio when the revenge plot against him begins to take on a dark and vicious turn (another revelation – the prison scene is usually presented as Malvolio’s comeuppance, something deserved because he has been pompous, something for us to laugh at. But here I was left wondering whether things had gone too far, and if it was the three aggrieved plotters had become more vicious than was necessary – while bringing a candle for Malvolio’s prison beneath the stage Maria spitefully flicks a gob of hot wax down onto his head. It gets a laugh – it’s a clever directorial detail – but it made me wonder about such casual cruelty).
There were some other very nice directorial touches too – we get to see some of Malvolio’s stewarding duties as he sits next to Olivia and selects bills and invoices from a folder for her to sign during their first scene. Olivia’s increasingly risible attempts at “casual flirting” show a spot-on interpretation of the text (the gardening scene is particularly funny) and there is a horrible, awkward subtext of the fear of being thought homosexual in the scene where Orsino begins to feel attraction for “Cesario” which I have never seen done so well. And it’s the first time that the weather has played such an integral role in the play – far from being sun-drenched Arcadia, Illyria is more likely to be rain-drenched England than ever before. The poor groundlings groaned and applauded in equal measure Feste’s final lines “and the rain it raineth every day”.
So, why have you not heard more about this production in the press? Its all explained here:

- for some unknown reason, the Globe have decreed that there were to be no press reviews for the entire run, until the production re-opens in the West End later this month, presumably hoping that a blanket moratorium on reviews would whip up interest for the West End run. The cynic in me feels that perhaps they were unsure of what the critical reaction might be and were playing safe accordingly, not least because Mr. Fry apparently walked out of a production after a bad first night review, never to return. To me this is unsporting on many levels. But, of course, the bloggers have had their revenge on the whole pack of you, and, as the Telegraph review points out, not even the Globe can prevent paying punters from putting their thoughts online (if they happen to be a writer for a national newspaper during the day, that is the Globe’s tough luck).