Archive for December, 2013

photo-93John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 novel of the supernatural has already been turned into a highly successful Swedish film and an American one. However, this stage adaptation by Jack Thorne, produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, gives stunning proof, if more is needed, that, when its forces are properly harnessed, live theatre has a power that can be equalled by no other medium. It is a relatively simple story of a young adolescent boy, brutally bullied at school, and his friendship with a “vampire” who appears as a girl of similar age. This is not the soppy romance of the Twilight series; the characters being much younger, the relationship is chaste and there is a sense throughout of childhood innocence coming face to face with the harshness of adulthood. Underlying themes of self-empowerment and the merging of clashing cultures also give the play depth and texture, making it much more than just a feast of shocks and gore, although there are plenty of both during the course of the evening. The set is beautiful to behold – snow on the ground, bare Winter trees towering high, lit in amber and then in blue – and director John Tiffany’s staging is rich with imagination, incorporating several sequences of balletic movement to the accompaniment of a haunting, atmospheric score by Olafur Arnalds. The two leads give performances that belie their tender years; Martin Quinn makes the boy diffident and awkward, gaining fresh confidence through the friendship; Rebecca Benson transforms convincingly from sweet little girl to ferocious predatory animal in an instant. This is an evening of beauty and terror in equal measure and, immediately, it can be ranked amongst the theatre highlights of 2013. If Bill Kenwright’s involvement with the production can be taken to mean that a West End transfer is already assured, it could also become one of the big commercial successes of 2014.

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

The news that a co-founder of the Reduced Shakespeare Company would be turning his attentions towards another of Britain’s literary giants has created great curiosity and high expectations. If Adam Long could whisk us through the Bard’s complete works in a couple of hours, the canon of Charles Dickens should present no problems at all, but does it leave us, like Oliver Twist, begging for more? The show’s opening song informs us that “Shakespeare was good but Charlie was better” and a group of five American hicks proceed to explain their reasoning, looking at the author and his works with American eyes throughout. Maybe Long decided that we British take our national institutions too seriously to poke irreverent fun at them as American may do, or maybe he simply sought consistency with the show’s musical style (rockabilly with touches of Southern blues) which is itself inconsistent with the subject matter. However, such analysis hardly matters when things get into full flow. During the show’s high points all of the ingredients, however odd, mix together perfectly. The plot of Oliver Twist takes barely a minute to recount in an an original song that makes several nods towards Lionel Bart; the sprawling Little Dorrit is condensed into a five-line limerick; Bleak House, The Old Curiosity Shop and Great Expectations fly by at breakneck speed and it is mostly splendid fun. No mention is made of Dickens the social reformer or Dickens the biting satirist of the institutions of the Victorian age, but these things would not bring laughs. The only changes in tone come when scenes from Dickens’ own life are depicted. David Copperfield is seen as autobiographical and too much of the first half of the show is devoted to it, with parallels to Dickens’ life being interwoven with the novel. Heap and Micawber appear in order to berate the author for representing them so unsympathetically, very cleverly merging fact and fiction, but, otherwise, Long finds it difficult to draw any humour from the true story. It seems that Dickens had marital difficulties and an unhealthy fondness for a violent scene in Twist, but there is little else to interest us or to make us laugh and these scenes, which continue intermittently throughout, prove to be something of a millstone around the show’s neck. The second half begins well with an amusing Nicholas Nickleby, followed by a hilarious A Tale of Two Cities (“I’m very nervous as this will be my first decapitation”), leaving the biggest crowd-pleaser until last with an uproarious spoof of A Christmas Carol, sending everyone home full of seasonal spirit. Damian Humbley, is excellent as the “American” Dickens and several other characters, very ably supported by Gerard Carey, Matthew Hendrickson, Kit Orton and Jon Robyns, who share all the roles between them. Having an all-male cast, the show is never shy about getting cheep laughs from bringing on bearded men in drag whenever more original jokes run dry. There is a great deal more to like about Dickens Abridged than there is to dislike. Sometimes it hits sticky patches, occasionally it is repetitive, but, when it is funny, which is for much of the time, it is very funny indeed. Overall, this is up there with the best entertainments on offer this Christmas.

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This review was originally written for The Public Reviews::

No, the BBC is not reviving its property makeover show for a live tour, but all doubts as to what to expect here are removed as soon as the set for this production comes into sight. Three large doors at the back of the stage can mean only one thing – a farce. Marc Camoletti never quite achieved the same status as his fellow countryman Georges Feydeau, but two of his farces, Boeing Boeing and Don’t Dress for Dinner, were sizeable West End hits. The former was revived in 2007 and, largely thanks to a star turn by Mark Rylance, triumphed in London and then in New York. Rylance at his most formidable would have struggled to resuscitate this creaking museum piece, yet Anna Ostergren has managed to breathe enough life in it to provide a pleasant enough couple of hours. In essence the plots of all farces are usually the same, but the best of them are given novel twists, different characters, locations, etc to flesh them out and make them more interesting. However, there is hardly any fleshing out here. This is skeletal farce, the basics and little more. A middle-aged husband and wife each contrives for the other and their housekeeper to be away from their Parisian apartment for the weekend so that they can bring back their respective lovers; of course, all five end up in the apartment in different rooms and mayhem ensues. Kevin Marchant is suitably slimy as the lascivious husband, a high ranking Government official, and Maria de Lima makes the wife a vampish predator, impatient to devour her nervous toy boy (Milan Alexander). Anna Lukis amuses as the bimbo girlfriend, begging for a wedding ring whilst sucking on a lollipop, but the evening’s biggest delight is Jill Stanford as the housekeeper. Her every utterance is laced with sarcasm as she strives valiantly to direct traffic through the apartment whilst milking her employers of every franc (this is set in the 1960s) she can extort in bribes. The venue, a small pub theatre is a plus, so long as the performers remember not to overact, which is not always the case. When the audience is so close to the action, events in the play somehow come to seem less preposterous than they obviously are. Ostergren keeps things moving at a decent pace throughout, possibly helped by the characters having such a short distance to move as they chase around the room from one door to another. Vacuous and predictable it may be, but this production of Changing Rooms has enough charm to bring smiles to our faces and warm up a cold December evening.

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