Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Wise Children, by Emma Rice @ Storyhouse, Chester

“We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 
And then we'll take it higher …
Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue”

Or were we? As the tune rocked out and the audience jigged along in their seats, all the lights went out! As this was an Emma Rice production, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a part of the show. But several seconds later and a few quips from the actors, the audience realised that this was an ironic blip to what had been a highly charged and entertaining evening.

“Oh and we were just getting to the good bit!” quipped Gareth Snook – aka Dora Chance. A few minutes later, someone had obviously shoved 50p in the meter and the lights came back on…actors hurriedly rushed back to their places to carry on as though nothing had happened…and then the runaway caravan developed a mind of its own and nearly pushed poor Lady Atalanta who was sat in her wheelchair off the stage! I don’t know why I was giggling…I was in the front row and nearly had the cast sitting in my lap!

These technical glitches apart, Wise Children was a totally different theatrical experience to what I am used to. I always think that I’m not a fan of musicals…but then I can merrily rattle off a list of the musicals I’ve actually rather enjoyed. Whilst Wise Children is not advertised as a musical, there are a number of songs and routines throughout that keep the production moving at a high tempo. At the interval I said to my friend that it was a shame there wasn’t a soundtrack to buy as the cast sounded exquisite and there were occasions I found myself wanting to sing along (despite not knowing the lyrics!)

Wise Children is a book by the acclaimed novelist Angela Carter, it is also the name of the theatre company Emma Rice created upon her well-publicised departure from The Globe in London. Shakespeare purists lamented her appointment and proclaimed she had destroyed Shakespeare. I can’t possibly comment. I have never seen a play performed at The Globe and I’m most definitely not a purist when it comes to Shakespeare. In fact, the only times I’ve ever truly enjoyed his work have been when actors and directors have stepped outside the box and put a new spin on it (Andrew Scott in Hamlet being a perfect example of this!)
Some might have thought Emma Rice would disappear without trace from this “fall from grace,” but in Wise Children she has shown herself to be innovative, brave, bold and an obvious lover of the late Angela Carter, who herself was not one for sticking with tradition.

 “Happy Birthday to us. We used to be song and dance girls.”

Wise Children could be regarded as a love letter to the theatre. It is April 23rd, Shakespeare’s birthday, and in Brixton twins Nora and Dora Chance (Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook) and celebrating their 70th birthday. They have been invited to their father’s 100th birthday party; himself the greatest Shakespearean actor of all time and also a twin!
On the stage, acrobats, clowns and performers are limbering up. An old style caravan sits upstage and two young girls arrive, skipping, laughing and dancing. The performers head towards them but are stopped in their tracks as the girls start singing:

“I have sharp teeth within my mouth, inside my dark red lips. And polish bright hides my sharpened claws, in my fingertips…”

These are not girls to be messed with, and the carnivalesque air starts to show a darker side, that there is more to the girls than meets the eye, then the door of the caravan opens and we are transported to 49 Bard Street Brixton, the home of Nora and Dora Chance. This is their life story, through the highs and the heartbreaks of love and mistaken identities, this is a roller coaster of emotions celebrating all that is good about showbusiness, family, hope and the need to forgive.

Nora and Dora know who their father his, but he has never acknowledged the fact – that is, until they receive an invitation to his 100th birthday party. This is their chance to tell their story and although time may have aged them, Murfitt and Snook are playful and sassy as they chronical their lives.

It becomes clear that Dora is the one with the common sense as puppetry and a talented cast take us back in time to pivotal points in Nora and Dora’s tale as share their dreams, their hopes, their ambitions with us. Katy Owen (Grandma Chance) brings the twins up in her own unique style and she is ever much the scene stealer as the over-the-top streetwise gran!  (Think Catherine Tate’s “gran” character and you’ll be both shocked and having hysterics as she teaches you a thing or two!)

There are various musical numbers such “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Electric Avenue” that make you want to get up and sing. And there are various beautiful touches of genius, when the cast are waving flags to represent flames, or Peregrines “Rupert Bear” trousers fading in colour as he gets older, to butterflies flying around the stage. This was a production full of imagination, storytelling, fun and laughter, and perfect for transporting you away from the drudgery of the day.

Storyhouse - 19 March 2019 - 23 March 2019
Richmond Theatre - 26 March 2019 - 30 March 2019
Belgrade Theatre - 02 April 2019 - 06 April 2019

Friday, 8 March 2019

The Verdict - Theatr Clwyd

Based on the 1980 novel by Barry Reed, this edge of the seat thriller, adapted by Margaret May Hobbs, will have you gripped from start to finish. Ian Kelsey (Emmerdale, Doctors) stars as the washed-up lawyer Frank Galvin. This once promising attorney has been given a lifeline by his friend and former teacher Moe Katz, a malpractice case representing the family of Deborah Ann Doherty. It’s Frank’s job to prove that the hospital owned by the Catholic Church was negligent in the care of Deborah, a normal healthy 27-year-old, reduced to a vegetative state following complications over her third child’s birth.

“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” – William Shakespeare

I made my way into the theatre a little earlier that I usually would and took my seat at the front. The curtain opened on the figure of a man sleeping on the floor of his office. A further few minutes before the real “curtain up” was due, a siren sounded, waking up the sleeping Galvin, and he started slowly moving about, getting ready for the day ahead. Removing his old shirt and throwing it into his filing cabinet and taking a fresh shirt off the radiator he proceeds to re-enter the living world - starting the day as he ended the night before…with a glass of whiskey!

This subtle scene, which set the tone for Galvin’s character, was lost by many of the people sitting near me as they sat chatting with their friends, oblivious as to what was happening on the stage. As the lights in the auditorium were dimmed, a quiet hush took hold as we heard a sound-over of a hospital emergency room issuing a “Code Blue” and the sounds of CPR being performed.

“Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here…” The Guardian Angel Prayer

Cut back to Galvin’s office and the entrance of his client’s mother, Mrs McDaid. She is happy to reach an out of court settlement, she just needs some money to ensure her daughter gets the best medical care possible, and that her three grand-children will not go without. But once Galvin has visited Deborah at The Holy Ghost Hospital and sees her shrunken body kept alive by drips and tubes…a body in a vegetative state that blinks once for yes and twice for no…he decides that that the case should be heard in a court of law. The last entry in Deborah’s diary is that of the Guardian Angel Prayer, and it compels Galvin to become her guardian angel, in place of the one who let her down.

“How the hell are you going to stop them? They’ve got God and Colcannon on their side!” – Moe Katz

Bishop Brophy arrives at Galvin’s office with a $300,000 cheque in what he believes is a generous settlement so that the case does not have to go to court. Frank sees this as a derisory offer and declines without checking with the family first. Mrs McDaid finds out and is furious with Frank, slapping him in the face before storming out of his office. Moe, is equally stunned and curious as to why Frank is trying to commit further professional suicide by taking on a case against the Catholic Church…no one can win this battle, given the large US firm of lawyers that they use. After this, Galvin won’t even be “ambulance chasing” anymore, circling the obituary notices in the daily paper for new cases.

Loose lips sink ships

Frank cuts a lonely figure as he makes his way across town to the local bar. Here he meets the new barmaid Debbie, and after one too many whiskies he tells her about the big case he has taken on, and how he has managed to find a expert witness who is willing to testify that the doctors at The Holy Ghost had administered the wrong type of aesthetic to Deborah, which resulted in her choking on her own vomit, depleting her brain of oxygen and leaving her a vegetable for the rest of her life. Life is looking good for Frank and his day in court…that is until his star witness suddenly disappears.

As the case moves to the court room, there are some dramatic twists which leave the audience gasping…sometimes in shock, sometimes in horror and sometimes in disgust! This is a play which really tugs at the heartstrings.

Earlier in the story we watched Concannon, attorney for the defence, conduct a dress rehearsal with the doctors who were to stand trial. He coached them in what to say, and how to say it, ensuring there was a connection between them and the jury. 

Dr Towler was performed beautifully by Paul Opacic (Hollyoaks, Emmerdale.) Whilst there was just the right level of arrogance in his manner as he explained in simplistic terms what medical procedures had taken place at the hospital, it was obvious he felt he was demeaning himself in oversimplifying terms. “I don’t have to explain myself to ignorant oafs. Do you have any idea of my stature in the medical community?” This is a man who thinks he is infallible and above the law! It showed why Moe Katz had not wanted Galvin to go up against the establishment. This was a time for the doctors to stick together and turn a blind eye to any misdemeanours.

Ian Kelsey will get all the plaudits for this play, and they will be well deserved as his role is pivotal to the story and his performance is consistently solid throughout; but the supporting cast in The Verdict is an especially strong one and should not be overlooked. Richard Walsh (London’s Burning) stands out by delivering two outstanding performances which are completely different, as both Bishop Brophy and the Judge. Michael Lunney is unrecognisable as the amiable Irish bartender and then the odious Dr Crowley, and Holly Jackson Walters provided a stark contrast to the doctors when she took to the stand as the former admittance nurse, Natalie Stampanatto. Her performance pulled at your heartstrings and you believed every word she uttered. This was a woman who knew right from wrong, and as scared as she might be, she was brave enough to stand up to the old boy’s network.

The jury is still out on a few of the attempts at American accents which weren’t that convincing, and there were some occasions where the acting was rather wooden, but that didn’t detract from an enjoyable night. In summing up, there was conclusive evidence that fans of the five-time Oscar nominated film The Verdict, will be thrilled and entertained by this compelling courtroom drama which has made its succesful transfer to the stage.

The Verdict continues at Theatr Clwyd until Saturday 9th March and then heads to the following venues:

Tues 12th – Sat 16th March ….. Coliseum Theatre Oldham
Tues 19th – Sat 23rd March ….. Theatre Royal Winchester
Weds 27th – Sat 30th March ….. Jersey Opera House
Tues 9th – Sat 13th April ….. Grand Theatre Blackpool
Tues 16th – Sat 20th April ….. Gaiety Theatre Dublin
Tues 30th April – Sat 4th May ….. Kings Theatre Edinburgh
Tues 7th – Sat 11th May ….. Eden Court Theatre Inverness
Tues 21st – Sat 25th May ….. Theatre Royal Plymouth