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Review: Relative Values, Harold Pinter Theatre

Posted on 18 April 2014 by Amina Bhuiyan

Relative Values

With family, it’s all relative. In Noel Coward’s comedy Relative Values, we see a family dynamic entrenched in historic values disturbed by a shift in society.

Sam Hoare as Nigel, the Earl of Marshwood, brings home Miranda Frayle, a young Hollywood actress whom he intends to marry, much to his mother’s chagrin. Leigh Zimmerman is suitably fabulous and flighty as his unwelcome starlet. Nigel’s mother Felicity, Patricia Hodge’s Countess of Marshwood, is ineffably sharp and at first only mildly perturbed by the turn of events – her stiff upper lip barely twitches.

It’s only when her loyal maid of 19 years, Moxie, is mysteriously determined that the addition of Frayle to the Marshwood Manor will cause her to terminate her employment irrevocably that we see the ascension of the plot. Caroline Quentin reminds us why she is so lovable with her utterly perfect comic timing and charm in this role.

Rather than altering the situation, the Countess of Marshwood concocts a cleverly convoluted plan to instead shift the perspective with the aid of her noble butler, the very wordy Crestwell. It surprised me to learn that this is Rory Bremner’s West End debut as he is brilliant, a complete natural.

Hodge’s clipped tones perfectly embody the searing asides as the matriarch refusing to be toppled. Her partner in crime is her nephew the Honourable Peter Ingleton who brings a gay lightness to the playful character. Steven Pacey as Peter is very amusing in his efforts to ensnare an unsuspecting Don Lucas, the very attractive yet dim actor in what turns out to be something of a love square. Peter’s involvement, along with those of the unsuspecting neighbours Lady Cynthia Hayling and Sir John Hayling really fuel the fire.

The stellar cast launches its opening night at the Harold Pinter Theatre, and takes its audience back to 1951. With original video clips of a young Queen Elizabeth and Churchill’s post-war public addresses, one truly does feel transported. These clips mentioning rations and other factors that affected everyone, regardless of financial and social position, prove a great backdrop for this story about the British class system.

Coward also uses the opportunity to take a jab at the Americans, the two main villains and perfectly fitting the stereotype of being incredibly stupid. Having said that, Hoare’s pouting, petulant son doesn’t fare a much better fate with his resolute conflict-avoidance tactics to ensure he is always in mummy’s good books, at whatever cost. Through the Countess of Marshwood Coward even pokes fun at what lies beneath the upper class: joyless friendships born from familial connections.

Under Trevor Nunn’s direction it’s no surprise that the play is so very well performed; however, in true Coward form it’s hardly succinct. One of Coward’s lesser known and arguably less popular plays dances with what is now generally thought of as a taboo: advocacy of a social hierarchy.

It’s easy to see why Relative Values is lesser known and a little unpopular: it alienates most people except the niche it is in favour of preserving. Despite this archaic idea, it’s impossible to deny that the true heroes of the play are in fact the hired help.

Having spent so long working together and serving the Marshwoods, they are clearly family themselves and wholly entertaining with it.

Relative Values is running until 21 June at the Harold Pinter Theatre. For tickets and more information go to the ATG Tickets website.

Amina Bhuiyan

Amina Bhuiyan

By day Amina works for an accountancy firm in the city. By night she writes about theatre. She has worked with numerous organisations including RADA, The National Youth Theatre and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She has also studied Drama & Theatre studies and English Language & Literature. Aside from theatre, she also likes a number of things - including but not limited to - food. And then writing about that as well.

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Review: Summer Day’s Dream

Posted on 14 September 2013 by Kirsty Emmerson

Summer Day's Dream

The Finborough Theatre is a wonderfully intimate space that gives no sense of grandeur or expanse upon entering the doors. It lets the drama speak for itself, in this case giving nature its time to unfurl around the audience, opening the doors to the idyllic lives of the Dawlish family, and the disruption that is about to come.

One could be forgiven for assuming – in the first ten minutes – that this piece is one set in the early twentieth century, the farmhouse-come-mansion that this family live in is mentioned to be in the country, and within moments, home-brewed beer and hard-to-find tobacco are settled on the table, bartered over and shared. This is not a pre-war pastoral play, however. We are in the midst of the twentieth century, and the Dawlish family, along with much of the British Isles, has been plunged back into pastoral England, tilling the fields and living off the land after an atom bomb destroyed every industry centre in the country. Here the people are happy, until their simplicity is interrupted by a Russian, an American and an Indian from across the borders, intent on surveying the land, and potentially exploiting the happiness of others for their own gain.

Authored by J. B. Priestley and first performed in 1949, Summer Day’s Dream is eerily forward thinking in its expositions of industry, consumption and politics, and many of the lines in the script are impressed upon a modern audience as though the creatives here want their audience to understand that the state of our world is not a new one, and is not likely to change unless the general population makes an effort to better themselves. Though, therefore, the delivery of the lines sometimes feels out of place with the rest of the play, so heavy handed in comparison to the easy joy of the recitations of Shakespeare included in some scenes, one cannot fault the actors for their portrayal of characters betrayed, romanced and tired.

Each throw themselves into the role, and though I found the exuberance and excitability of youth a little grating in Christopher and Rosalie Dawlish, both Tom Grace and Eleanor Yates brought heart to their roles with performances that showcased their abilities and impressed immensely. Give them desire or disillusionment, cold rage or open fury and they will certainly deliver. From every side, we are met with those who meet the needs of their characters. The restraint and integrity of Patrick Poletti, Helen Keeley and Peter Singh as the intrusive foreigners is well maintained, even as they evolve before our very eyes.

Though the play is a well-constructed and well-timed revival, and inspires questions in the audience of what exactly our place is in global society, and it is certainly immensely enjoyable for its performances and individual nuances, in the current group of topical pieces being performed across London, this is no glittering stand out. It is, however, enjoyable and thought provoking, and running at nearly two and a half hours (including an interval) it is certainly worth its ticket price.

Summer Day’s Dream is playing at the Finborough Theatre on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays until 24 September. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.

Kirsty Emmerson

Kirsty Emmerson

Final year English student, determined to get into theatre by hook or by crook, I spend half of my time reading and the other half trying to write on anything and everything I can get my hands on. Fuelled by tea and whatever new food I’m trying this week, you’ll find me in theatres or bookshops, probably mumbling about Shakespeare or the latest cricket scores.

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Review: I Do

Posted on 02 August 2013 by Samuel Sims

Dante or DieAs a newbie to site-specific productions, I couldn’t help but feel a tad apprehensive walking into Islington’s Hilton Hotel for Dante or Die’s latest piece, I Do. It’s about, you guessed it, a wedding – or rather the events that unfold prior to one. I wasn’t sure whether I would have to take part in the ‘show’ in some form or other (this is my idea of absolute hell) or perhaps be forced to do something unthinkable. But once I’d gotten over the initial hyperventilating, a sense of intrigue took over, especially after being handed a lovely cream boutonniere to wear.

Dante or Die is a very exciting and innovative company indeed. Led by Co-Artistic Directors Daphne Attlas and Terry O-Donovan, it aims to create dance theatre and site-sensitive productions, which are inspired by urban myths, contemporary stories and the magical in the mundane. Boasting an impressive list, including La Fille a la Mode premiering at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2011, Ferrytale which took place on the historical HMS President as part of the Thames Festival 2004 and the eerie Caliper Boy, Dante or Die is a revolutionary company on the brink of something very special.

Showing as part of the Almeida Festival, I Do takes its audience on a journey around the hotel’s third floor, entering various rooms where dramatic and occasionally comedic scenarios are unfolding. Voyeuristic and surreal it certainly is. Split into six groups, we were led by an usher into one room at a time with the order varying between the groups, meaning the ‘storyline’ would affect each differently. We started off in a small, dark cramped space with a very nearly naked gentleman laying half on and half off his bed. The curtains are drawn and his phone is ringing (right next to where I was uncomfortably perched I might add) and eventually he crawls over and retrieves it, listening to the various urgent voicemails that await him, before throwing on some clothes, grabbing a bag and running out into the hall. Immediately after, a vision in white bursts in: the occupier’s bride-to-be with some serious doubts about a wedding she is epically unprepared for. We are led back into the corridor and into another room.

I Do continued much in the same way with us been led to rooms occupied by the best man (who is having a gay love affair with a heterosexual member of the party), the bride and her bridesmaids singing 90s tunes (couldn’t help but have a little dance in my seat) whilst swigging Prosecco from the bottle; the mother of the bride and her estranged ex-husband; a very emotional room with the grandparents. All are cleverly linked with moments occurring in one room that we may have already seen in another, but from another point of view.

Site-specific performances are perhaps always going to feel a little bit awkward, what with being thrust into the action and feeling as though you’re observing something you shouldn’t (but secretly loving). It is just a phenomenal way to present theatre and  credit must go to the actors who had to frequently deal with us being in the way and not once going out of character. The bride’s sister is the absolute highlight with the most elaborate and covert operation ever seen in order to have a cheeky fag without setting off the bedroom’s smoke alarm.

Pieces of theatre such as this one really do make you think and are a very welcome change to the more traditional style that is still ruling the country. More please!

I Do will be going on Tour around the UK this Autumn. For more information and tickets, see the Dante or Die website.

Samuel Sims

Sam is Reviews Co-ordinator for A Younger Theatre as well as a freelance writer and editor who hails from Hull, though he has been in London for roughly 300 years. He enjoys multi-coloured socks, eating sausage rolls and seeing as much theatre as humanly possible.

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All aboard at Sheffield Lyceum this Easter!

Posted on 11 April 2012 by Laura Turner

This Easter week, Sheffield Theatres is taking audiences on an action-packed adventure as Bristol Old Vic’s hit musical Swallows and Amazons sails into the Lyceum Theatre from Tuesday 10 to Saturday 14 April.

A stage adaptation of the much-loved book by Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons tells the story of the school holiday exploits of the Walker and Blackett children and their sailing boats – the Swallow and the Amazon. As the crews set sail for Wildcat Island, they encounter savages, capture dastardly pirates and defeat mortal enemies.

The production has already premiered at the Bristol Old Vic and been resident in the West End before embarking on its new spring 2012 tour of the UK and is the perfect way to remember the long-lost days of endless summer evenings playing with friends and getting lost in an imaginary world.

Directed by Tom Morris, Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic and co-director of the National Theatre’s Tony Award-winning War Horse, and featuring songs by The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon.

Tickets are on sale now, priced from £10.50 – £19.50 and can be bought by calling the Box Office on 0114 249 6000 or online at sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.

Performances nightly at 7.00pm, and 2.00pm matinees on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Jump aboard for Easter adventures!

 

 

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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