Yule love the hysterical and historical black comedy ‘Absurd Person Singular’ at Malvern Theatres

ALAN Ayckbourn is the only notable British writer that confines his talent to purely writing for the stage. For over six decades, his people observations, viewed from a multitude of auditoriums, has made us laugh and cringe in equal measures.

‘Absurd Person Singular’ premiered in 1972 – two decades into Ayckbourn’s career and when he really started to dig his fingers deeply into the stuff of middle class souls.

Ayckbourn also sets his plays in unlikely places – here the three acts are set in three kitchens on three consecutive Christmas Eves.

The company consists of three couples – the Hopcrofts (Paul Sandys and Felicity Houlbrooke), the Jacksons (John Dorney and Helen Keeley) and the Brewster-Wrights (Graham O’Mara and Rosanna Miles). Director Michael Cabot is well served by them all – with both carefully carved individual performances and exquisitely integrated ensemble work – even through to doing their own scene changes.

The curtain opens on the Hopcrofts, who’s kitchen is so clean you could eat off the floor. It also contains the new wonder gadget – a washing machine!

Sidney and Jane maybe the ‘hosts with the most’ but it soon becomes evident that they consider themselves at the bottom of the social ladder pecking order, and their neighbours treat them accordingly. Snide comments abound as the hapless duo turn in desperate circles to please and impress their betters.

Act Two and it’s Christmas Eve at the Jacksons, where Eva sits in silence writing out suicide notes in amongst the debris of a neglected kitchen – here a giant dog rules roost. Bullish husband Geoffrey bounds in full of Christmas spirit – it transpires he told Eva at breakfast he is leaving her for a younger model – but not ‘til Boxing Day, so they can enjoy the festive season like adults. They have forgotten Christmas Eve guests coming and whilst Geoffrey answers the doorbell, Eva tries various ways to kill herself.

Enter the Hopcrofts where Jane misreads Eva staring at the oven as her desire to clean it rather than turn on the gas and end things – natural gas having not yet arrived to make this an impracticable solution.  Jane goes to work with a bottle of Vim.

The Brewster-Wrights appear and whilst Marion hits the bottle, Ronald tries to fix a broken light. Sidney brings some order to the chaos whilst he unblocks the sink , which Eva has filled with pills.

The pecking order has changed. The Hopcrofts may be the below stairs, or rather below sink and oven couple but they are issuing orders rather than taking them.

The final act is set in the plush kitchen of the Brewster –Wrights – but how the mighty have fallen – Marion is now an alcoholic rarely leaving her bedroom and Ronald has big money problems to the point of not being able to afford heating.

Eva and Geoffrey arrive on this third Christmas Eve where Eva is back in control of their relationship and a chastened Geoffrey has turned from hound dog to poodle.

The Hopcrofts are not invited but turn up anyway dressed in expensive clothes and bearing poignant gifts. They are now despised but feared and well and truly at the top of the ladder. They reduce the others to objects of ridicule, puppetry and servitude.

This is a historical as well as hysterical piece – I had forgotten that back in the early 70s you wore a suit to go for dinner at the neighbours, you invited your boss and his wife to dinner and planned the event with military precision.

Christmas was the time when offices were crammed with expensive gifts from suppliers. Husbands gave wives presents of spin dryers and irons and went to the pub on Sundays whilst the wife prepared the roast. It’s easy to forget how far society has evolved.

Today the cooking is shared whilst one of the parents takes the children or grandchildren for a swim or a kick about in the park (pre-Covid of course).

We may not be totally classless or colourblind yet, but those of us who are old enough to reflect on this era can look back with incredulity and not a little discomfort on how we were.

‘Absurd Person Singular’ is a highly enjoyable classic black comedy on a national tour by the London Classic Theatre Company; catch it till Saturday, July 3 at Malvern and then at many other theatres throughout the rest of the year.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

Yule love the hysterical and historical black comedy ‘Absurd Person Singular’ at Malvern Theatres

ALAN Ayckbourn is the only notable British writer that confines his talent to purely writing for the stage. For over six decades, his people observations, viewed from a multitude of auditoriums, has made us laugh and cringe in equal measures.

‘Absurd Person Singular’ premiered in 1972 – two decades into Ayckbourn’s career and when he really started to dig his fingers deeply into the stuff of middle class souls.

Ayckbourn also sets his plays in unlikely places – here the three acts are set in three kitchens on three consecutive Christmas Eves.

The company consists of three couples – the Hopcrofts (Paul Sandys and Felicity Houlbrooke), the Jacksons (John Dorney and Helen Keeley) and the Brewster-Wrights (Graham O’Mara and Rosanna Miles). Director Michael Cabot is well served by them all – with both carefully carved individual performances and exquisitely integrated ensemble work – even through to doing their own scene changes.

The curtain opens on the Hopcrofts, who’s kitchen is so clean you could eat off the floor. It also contains the new wonder gadget – a washing machine!

Sidney and Jane maybe the ‘hosts with the most’ but it soon becomes evident that they consider themselves at the bottom of the social ladder pecking order, and their neighbours treat them accordingly. Snide comments abound as the hapless duo turn in desperate circles to please and impress their betters.

Act Two and it’s Christmas Eve at the Jacksons, where Eva sits in silence writing out suicide notes in amongst the debris of a neglected kitchen – here a giant dog rules roost. Bullish husband Geoffrey bounds in full of Christmas spirit – it transpires he told Eva at breakfast he is leaving her for a younger model – but not ‘til Boxing Day, so they can enjoy the festive season like adults. They have forgotten Christmas Eve guests coming and whilst Geoffrey answers the doorbell, Eva tries various ways to kill herself.

Enter the Hopcrofts where Jane misreads Eva staring at the oven as her desire to clean it rather than turn on the gas and end things – natural gas having not yet arrived to make this an impracticable solution.  Jane goes to work with a bottle of Vim.

The Brewster-Wrights appear and whilst Marion hits the bottle, Ronald tries to fix a broken light. Sidney brings some order to the chaos whilst he unblocks the sink , which Eva has filled with pills.

The pecking order has changed. The Hopcrofts may be the below stairs, or rather below sink and oven couple but they are issuing orders rather than taking them.

The final act is set in the plush kitchen of the Brewster –Wrights – but how the mighty have fallen – Marion is now an alcoholic rarely leaving her bedroom and Ronald has big money problems to the point of not being able to afford heating.

Eva and Geoffrey arrive on this third Christmas Eve where Eva is back in control of their relationship and a chastened Geoffrey has turned from hound dog to poodle.

The Hopcrofts are not invited but turn up anyway dressed in expensive clothes and bearing poignant gifts. They are now despised but feared and well and truly at the top of the ladder. They reduce the others to objects of ridicule, puppetry and servitude.

This is a historical as well as hysterical piece – I had forgotten that back in the early 70s you wore a suit to go for dinner at the neighbours, you invited your boss and his wife to dinner and planned the event with military precision.

Christmas was the time when offices were crammed with expensive gifts from suppliers. Husbands gave wives presents of spin dryers and irons and went to the pub on Sundays whilst the wife prepared the roast. It’s easy to forget how far society has evolved.

Today the cooking is shared whilst one of the parents takes the children or grandchildren for a swim or a kick about in the park (pre-Covid of course).

We may not be totally classless or colourblind yet, but those of us who are old enough to reflect on this era can look back with incredulity and not a little discomfort on how we were.

‘Absurd Person Singular’ is a highly enjoyable classic black comedy on a national tour by the London Classic Theatre Company; catch it till Saturday, July 3 at Malvern and then at many other theatres throughout the rest of the year.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

Catch ‘joyous’ Tell Me on a Sunday at Malvern – it runs until Saturday

MALVERN Theatres is spoiling us with the premiere of two tours in two weeks.

Following last weeks brilliant ‘A Splinter of Ice’ this week we had the first night of a long UK tour of the wonderful Jodie Prenger as Emma in the glorious Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black classic one-woman musical ‘Tell Me On A Sunday’.

The action started outside the theatre when a jazz band dressed in striped blazers and straw boaters greeted us. It was great to see passers by as well as theatregoers enjoying the stomping tunes in glorious sunshine.

Prenger follows in the illustrious footsteps of Sarah Brightman and Marti Webb in this new production superbly crafted by director Paul Foster, but she doesn’t show any nervousness at all as she totally makes the role her own. She has an amazing voice and crystal clear diction – plus an acting ability to engage, enthral and touch the occasional raw nerve of emotional heartbreak that is part of our rite of passage.

Emma’s story is of the romantic adventures of an English girl living in New York in the 1980s. She oozes optimism and every time she gets knocked back down the rabbit hole by a procession of poor choice lovers, she dusts herself off, does a bit of self-assertion and carries on to making the next mistake with a beaming smile.

Emma writes often to her mum in England, who must dread getting the letters and reading of her daughter’s latest escapades. Yet you can imagine she laughs and cries with her. This is of course before mobile phones and social media made the world a much smaller place. By the time her motherly advice arrived by mail, Emma would have moved on to pastures new.

In addition to the title song of ‘Tell Me On A Sunday’ the show contains some of lyricist Don Black and Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s finest, including ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’, ‘I’m Very You, You’re Very Me’ and the hilariously ironic ‘Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad.’ All of the songs merge seamlessly into the story, commenting musically.

The set is an iconic model New York City behind which the fine quartet under the musical direction of Francis Goodhand sound like a full blown orchestra,

The show only lasts 60 minutes and that is perfect, every minute is a joy. As a bonus, Jodie Prenger treats us to a few songs and a Q&A experience after the interval and sings a duet with her understudy another Jodie, Jodie Beth Meyer. This lasted only 15 minutes and we could have savoured double that – but having already given us a non-stop awesome performance I will not quibble.

‘Tell Me On a Sunday’ runs at Malvern until Saturday before it goes on its travels across the UK – catch if you can – it’s joyous stuff.

Click here for times, tickets and more.

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

‘Cracking’ Splinter of Ice at Malvern provides a warm glow after a winter bereft of live theatre

TO BE BACK reviewing live theatre in itself was a treat – the fact that we could have a drink in the bar and enjoy the pre-show buzz, a second treat. The big whopping cherry on the top was that this tour premier production of ‘A Splinter of Ice’ is a cracker!

The combination of writer Ben Brown and director Alan Strachan is a meeting of minds and the combination of Oliver Ford Davies and Stephen Boxer is a masterclass not only in acting, but also in audience engagement. Davies plays the legendary bipolar novelist and MI6 agent Graham Greene, Boxer plays his ex-MI6 boss and arguably our most notorious double agent, Kim Philby.

The action takes place in Philby’s Moscow apartment one night in 1987 when Greene has dinner with his old friend whom he has not seen for 33 years.

The set by Michael Pavelka cleverly uses a metal framework to define and divide spaces – from the elevator to the apartment, to the intimacy of a well-worn parlor.  The final touch of the Kremlin appearing as if it had been watching their conversations along with us was a touch of imaginative genius.

As the third member of the company, Karen Ascoe puts in a very believable performance as Philby’s wife Rufa where she oozes protection for the man she loves and confides that he has not long to live.

There is a chess set on a table down stage, which fittingly symbolises the verbal chess game played between the two old chums.

We learn much about both players – and yet we learn little. That is the cleverness of script, direction and performance. What motivates someone to give allegiance to a foreign power, which believes in the repression of everything they believe in?

Four-times married Philby isn’t exactly living the dream that he envisaged would be his Russian reward, but he still clings onto the belief he is playing a game more than living a life. With the thrill of the chase – always being more exciting to him than the prize – he cannot admit that a life controlled by political minders makes him more of puppet than player.

Our sometime narrator Greene equally has never stopped searching and playing games, even he tells us, the deadly one of Russian roulette.

Villains to some, heroes to others, but certainly both these real life quirks of history are played as boys that never really grew up.

The show has had the benefit of an online performance, which received excellent reviews. Now on the stage where it belongs, the live tour must surely end in the West End.

The cast applauded us – their socially-distanced full house audience – as we applauded them. A bonding and a walkdown moment which announces at long last – ‘Theatre is Back!

The Original Theatre Company’s A Spliter of Ice runs until Saturday, June 12. Click here for more information and to book tickets.

Review by Euan Rose.

Head to Stan’s Cafe on YouTube for some quality theatre

STAN’S Café as a live theatre company can always be relied upon to deliver originality and –  most often – brilliant originality.

Formed in the 1990s, this prolific Birmingham-based theatre company has built a reputation for artistic innovation that stretches beyond local and UK borders.

Its’ projects have included work across a broad spectrum of spaces and media and it’s subjects consistently articulate domestic and global concerns.

Stan’s Café (pronounced caff) always utilises the space it is working in to the maximum and in a myriad of unique ways. I have seen them merging film and live action, multi-leveling and once even performing an a entire mimed production on two conveyor belts.

It came as no surprise then that Stan’s Café first online lockdown venture simply oozed originality.  What a pleasant change it was from the home-filmed monologues churned out on mainstream TV by the good and the great – and the endless repeats. Quite frankly sometimes the old test card would be more interesting.

Take a black box set and transfer that to a TV screen – we now have a unique merging of media – add to that a profusion of faces from one to five and a collection of stories sometimes bombarding, sometimes quietly filling the space. Ta’dar! Stan’s Cafe offers up something artistically unique to make you go ‘wow’ in a jaded world of multimedia mega budgets.

The subject matter of ‘For Quality Purposes’ is call centre workers and this has of course been covered in many ways on screen from documentary to drama by way of comedy. The communal creativity of Artistic Director James Yorker and the participating company members Amy Ann Haigh, Bernadette Russell, Carys Jones, Lexia Tomlinson and Luanda Yasmin deserve great credit for breaking new ground.

I shall be watching again as there is so much of this 25-minute production that deserves a second viewing.

At the moment my most memorable part is the calming floating coffee mug sequence but this may change on the next viewing.

Of course I’d rather be watching Stan’s Café in a theatre and please, Gods of all things theatrical, make that a reality soon – but this a nice outing to enjoy a talented company making the ordinary ‘extraordinary’.

‘For Quality Purposes’ is now available as a free-to-view show via the Stan’s Café Theatre YouTube channel.

Alternatively, click the video at the top of this page.

STAN’S Café as a live theatre company can always be relied upon to deliver originality and –  most often – brilliant originality.

Formed in the 1990s, this prolific Birmingham-based theatre company has built a reputation for artistic innovation that stretches beyond local and UK borders.

Its’ projects have included work across a broad spectrum of spaces and media and it’s subjects consistently articulate domestic and global concerns.

Stan’s Café (pronounced caff) always utilises the space it is working in to the maximum and in a myriad of unique ways. I have seen them merging film and live action, multi-leveling and once even performing an a entire mimed production on two conveyor belts.

It came as no surprise then that Stan’s Café first online lockdown venture simply oozed originality.  What a pleasant change it was from the home-filmed monologues churned out on mainstream TV by the good and the great – and the endless repeats. Quite frankly sometimes the old test card would be more interesting.

Take a black box set and transfer that to a TV screen – we now have a unique merging of media – add to that a profusion of faces from one to five and a collection of stories sometimes bombarding, sometimes quietly filling the space. Ta’dar! Stan’s Cafe offers up something artistically unique to make you go ‘wow’ in a jaded world of multimedia mega budgets.

The subject matter of ‘For Quality Purposes’ is call centre workers and this has of course been covered in many ways on screen from documentary to drama by way of comedy. The communal creativity of Artistic Director James Yorker and the participating company members Amy Ann Haigh, Bernadette Russell, Carys Jones, Lexia Tomlinson and Luanda Yasmin deserve great credit for breaking new ground.

I shall be watching again as there is so much of this 25-minute production that deserves a second viewing.

At the moment my most memorable part is the calming floating coffee mug sequence but this may change on the next viewing.

Of course I’d rather be watching Stan’s Café in a theatre and please, Gods of all things theatrical, make that a reality soon – but this a nice outing to enjoy a talented company making the ordinary ‘extraordinary’.

‘For Quality Purposes’ is now available as a free-to-view show via the Stan’s Café Theatre YouTube channel.

Alternatively, click the video at the top of this page.

Review by Euan Rose.

Hippodrome’s deliciously disgraceful comedy musical is Mormon-tous show

DING-DONG, Hello-Hello, those Elders are in town and guess what? In my opinion this production at the Hippodrome is bigger, brasher and better than when I saw it in London.

I refer of course to the phenomenon that is the multi-award winning ‘The Book of Mormon’.

Picture by Paul Coltas. s

This deliciously disgraceful musical comedy from the creators of the South Park TV comedy series, Matt Stone and Trey Parker and writer of Avenue Q Bobby Lopez, has tears of laughter flooding communally from the moment an Elder rings the first doorbell.

Two by two, the suited-and-booted Latter Day Saints missionaries (known as ‘Elders’) are sent in pairs to bring the Mormon word to every corner of the world.

Picture by Paul Coltas. s

The two we follow are the tall, clean cut, all teeth ‘n’ smiles Elder Price – a brilliant outing by Robert Colvin and ‘hapless geekism’ personified in Conner Peirson’s awesome Elder Cunningham.

Together our twosome set off from the sanctuary of the milk and cookie capital of Utah, Salt Lake City, to Africa’s Uganda where warlords, famine, an Aids epidemic and female mutilation await them. If that doesn’t sound like the recipe for a bundle of laughs you couldn’t be further away from the truth.

Yes this show is way beyond risqué with songs and jokes about things that are taboo – but it is oh-so-clever, relevant and in a perverse sort of way, moralistic.

Love will out and in the end it does – leaving you not only laughing at the Mormons but also with them and feeling that though they may be nuts, they are certainly nice nuts and mean well in their missionary nuttiness.

Picture by Paul Coltas. s

There are some amazing numbers including the jolly calypso  ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai!’  where the villagers sing about their impoverished everyday lives – no food, no rain, bandits bullying them, women getting abused – and the translation of the song title is?  Urm… not printable here.

There are also tap dancing, high kickin’ routines and huge spectacles, the daddy of which has to be the outrageous ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ where Elder Price gets visited by imps, demons, witchdoctors and even Old Nick himself.

The Book of Mormon is not I suppose a show for the faint- hearted but it has fans all over the world who’ll travel vast distances – just like the elders from Salt Lake City – to see it again and again.  I was baptised a few years ago in the West End, my confirmation took place on press night at the Hippodrome.

Book of Mormon runs until March 28.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

*****

Review by Euan Rose.

Amazing acting and a ‘Hole’ lot more as mystery-comedy comes to Malvern

LOUIS Sachar is an American young-adult mystery-comedy author.

He is best known for the ‘Wayside School’ series and the award-winning novel ‘Holes’.

In 2003, Holes was made into a movie by Disney with Sachar writing the screenplay himself. It’s probably the movie that is best known and this stage version (again by Sachar) is destined to bring in whole new audiences to the theatre – if the first night of the UK tour is anything to go by.

Picture by Manuel Harlan. s

I came new to the party but Bobby – the young man I took along for an expert opinion – was familiar with the story of life on an American prison farm. Here, a wrongly incarcerated boy called Stanley (a charismatic and engaging outing from James Backway), has to dig the same sized hole every day whilst a tyrannical warden looks on.

It’s a humdinger of a tale and director Adam Penford has used every form of theatre from the musical to the physical by way of the practical to tell it. The young ‘orange is the new cool’ clothed cons shovel spade loads of sand from one giant hole to another whilst engaging in banter, barracking and battles under the blistering sun at this, their sad ‘university of life’.

The Warden, a cracking performance by Rhona Croker, is definitely hiding something and has her charges digging holes on the hunt more for buried treasure than rebuilding broken characters.

Picture by Manuel Harlan. s

All of the company were well-cast, many doing a multiplicity of roles. They operated beautifully as a team as they interjected ‘life in the camp’ with vignettes about ancient outlaws, curses and pioneers.

My favourite con was Leona Allen as Zero, who was lump-in-the-throat appealing in vulnerability as an uneducated street kid with aspirations – Bobby’s was definitely ‘Armpit’ played by Henry Mettle with his stand-up comic appeal looming as large as his physique.

Simon Kenny is a designer with a massive pedigree and ‘Holes’ is one more triumph to add to his list. Must have been quite a challenge to bring a dried-out lake full of holes to the stage – he’s made it look simple and that’s the sign of creative genius.

The other stars of the show are the critters and the critter director in the form of master puppeteer Mathew Forbes.

His rattlesnakes and yellow spotted lizards are indeed the stuff of nightmares.

Strangely on refection I think Holes is a morality play along the same lines as Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies – ‘do as you would be done by’ being the common message.

Nottingham Playhouse created this production originally and this 2020  tour is a co-production by the Children’s Theatre Partnership and the Royal and Derngate Northampton.

Excellent stuff – Bobby says go see it and he’s a tough critic!

The show runs until Saturday, March 7.

Click here for times, ticket prices and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose.

Sparse stage and shorter script sees Hamlet shine at the Crescent

HAMLET is probably Shakespeare’s most performed play – I’ve lost count of the number of productions I’ve seen over the years and – as I read in his programme notes – this is Michael Barry’s third trip to Denmark as director.

Picture by Jack Kirby. s

As it is also Shakespeare’s most quoted play, let me start with a misquote: ‘There’s nothing rotten about this Barry Film-Noir vision’. It works well and mainly because his Hamlet, a pulled back, thoughtful performance from one of the Crescent’s top guns Jack Hobbis, bares quite a resemblance to 50s iconic bad boy James Dean.

I was truly expecting him to appear in a turned-up collared leather jacket with a Marlborough cigarette hanging from his lower lip at some point. Like in Dean’s ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, Hobbis’s ‘less-is-more’ approach makes for a real-deal charismatic Prince.

There is no set designer to credit as there is just an open nebulous space in a traverse setting where the audience sit facing each other like opposing fans. Pre-curtain I was tempted to shout: “Come on everybody let’s storm the castle” but resisted.

Picture by Jack Kirby. s

Lighting designer John Gray uses the void to create clever, often mysterious, sometimes luscious spaces in which the company unfold the story of this doomed Scandi-dynasty.

Jennet Marshall’s frocks are a joy, capturing bitter cold nights with trench coats, ski masks, boots and jumpers then jumping to the subdued elegance of Nordic courtly attire.

Barry’s vision, embraced by his creatives is not of a country at war – whilst it may certainly not be at peace, it calls for the psychiatrist’s chair more than the executioners axe. Quite rightly – for as well as having the highest suicide rate in Europe, the Scandinavians are renowned for self-flagellation.

Picture by Jack Kirby. s

The company gives all-round competent performances and there are some excellent outings. Femke Witney is the best Ophelia I have ever seen and her final descent into madness is a jaw-dropper. Isabel Swift as Hamlet’s best mate Horatio has a clever female-football-pundit feel about it – bringing a smile amidst the darkness, Skye Witney skillfully delivers dignity first and majesty second as Gertrude and Robert Laird is both commanding and riveting as a rightly one-dimensional Claudius.

There was some clumsy staging – it was frustrating to have Hamlets first entrance and speech completely masked – however, the closeness of the action from that point on was all embracing and we became more participants than observers.

In this reduction, every classic line is still there and well delivered.  Thanks to some excellent scissor work on the text by the talented Mr. Barry the story is cleared of clutter.

‘Brevity is the source of wit’ indeed but it also brings us to the walkdown before numbness in the nether regions has set in.

A ‘good night’ indeed, sweet prince.

The show runs until Saturday, March 7.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****Review by Euan Rose.

Damned good theatre at the Birmingham Rep as Faustus comes to town

ACTRESS Jodie McNee as Johanna Faustus is a one-woman powerhouse.

She spends two hours on stage expounding as much energy as would the winner of a gruelling marathon or a 15-round title fight.

Her performance is relentless – from the moment where we first meet Johanna trying to levitate and time travel by having her head held in a tub of water to the final seconds when a clock chimes midnight and the devil takes his due.

McNee speaks, acts and delivers like a continuous burst of machine gun fire in a quite remarkable tour de force.

As to this new version by Chris Bush of the tragedy Christopher Marlow penned way back in 1631 it is complicated – enjoyable and worthy but most definitely complicated.

Picture by Manuel Harlan. s

There is much to like – an outstanding set by designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita that comprises a cross between a giant wasp nest shaped cowshed and a time warp tunnel – the walls of which become projection screens. The tunnel provides for some interesting acting spaces, including a dark and moody recess at the back from where devilish things brew up and emerge.

Richard Howell complements the Jabares-Pita set with a lighting design taking us from a true pitch black to galactic explosion and splendour whilst eerie music and noises from sound designer Giles Thomas complete the creation of this strangeness.

Heading up the creatives is director Caroline Byrne, who sets a frantic pace for her company to pursue. Everything is always delivered at the gallop never a trot, which is merciful lest we should have too much time to actually try and comprehend everything we are seeing and hearing.

Our female Faustus, the daughter of an impoverished apothecary and a wicken witch, dear Johanna, is an inquisitive soul. She conjures up Lucifer (an ingenious double as dad and devil by Barnaby Power) to find out if her mother was his acolyte. Mother was you see, martyred by pious Christian goody-goodies and to find if she ended up in the nice place or the hot place, Johanna needs to access the list in Hob’s little white book. For this she enters into a contract with him but one where he will let her enjoy knowledge that is mostly denied to women.

Old Nick insists she has a companion, his oily servant Mephistopheles – played with superb ‘best mate’ believability by Danny Lee Wynter.

Johanna gets an extra 144 years of life and the ability to become a time traveller.  She sets out to beat Lucifer at his own game and make things good and better – sadly the reverse always thwarts her best endeavours though she does get to meet female pioneers Elizabeth Anderson and Marie Curie.

In truth, the further forward in time our heroine travelled. the more confused I became.  That doesn’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy the production – I did immensely. In fact the last Faustus I saw was four hours long at the Other Place at Stratford and where someone behind me loudly whispered ‘For God’s sake get on and die’.

This Bush/Byrne epic is original, challenging and enthralling with a liberal dose of humour thrown in for good measure.

Faustus runs at the Birmingham Rep until March 7.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

*****

Review by Euan Rose.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover in Malvern is ‘jaw-dropping’ stuff

THE GOLDEN rule of adapting any classic novel for the stage is that it must present what the writer intended their audience to see and feel in a comprehensible way. In essence- achieve good story telling.

Tilted Wig are a new theatre company to me, but one I shall certainly be watching out for in the future.

In this production of DH Lawrence’s erotic masterpiece they manage to tick all the boxes and add some – including an innovative programme, which has the feel and stains of a well-thumbed copy of the original novel and sets the scene perfectly for the performance.

It was 60 years ago that the famous literary trial at the Old Bailey allowed publication of the said banned book, which was supposed to poison the minds of polite folk and servants alike turning us into degenerates. In fact, the verdict not only led to long queues outside bookshops but changed history by heralding in the swinging 60s and with its monumental changes to sexuality. Lady Chatterley and her pheasant-rearing lover pioneered sex as something to be enjoyed – not endured – by both or more participants.

In this Tilted Wig production adaptor and director Ciaran McConville has worked in close harmony with his designer Katie Lias to bring together a tale of life after the Great War – the changing British class structure and sex going on behind drawn curtains and closed doors – all wrapped up in one big smacker of a love story.

The curtain rises on a noisy battle in the trenches, during which Lord Clifford Chatterley becomes paralysed from the waist down. Others die in that opening skirmish, a fact of which Clifford remains cognisant as he spends the rest of the play confined to a wheelchair.

Lias’s war trench setting, which is a permanent fixture, is somehow perfect as an all-seeing eye over the claustrophobic situations the characters find themselves in as the action moves to England and the Chatterley stately home and estates. Dead soldiers add their comments and this doesn’t seem out of place either.

Trapped in a sexless marriage because of her husband’s loss of all genital related activity, Clifford’s young wife Constance resents being destined to be a carer forever and seeks fulfilment elsewhere. After a few false starts, she settles on a passionate affair with the gamekeeper Oliver Mellors. The cold cemetery-like trench now becomes his hut – a place of warmth where passions are unleashed.

Inevitably, ardent secrets eventually become tainted lies or spoken truths. The final scenes where Clifford falls from his chair and crawls across the floor a broken man and Constance leaves in search of a new destiny is jaw-dropping stuff. We feel sorry for them both – Clifford may have lost the ability to perform sexually but not the desire and Constance does not deserve to forever be the ‘scarlet lady’.

Rupert Hill is perfect as Mellors, the sultry sexual gamekeeper who is a respectful as much as masterful lover – Phoebe Marshall simply oozes sexuality when she unleashes it from its cage as Constance and Mark Hawkins takes us through his personal journey of pain and frustration in a very joined-up performance.

Bethan Nash, Tom Richardson, Daniel Goode and Guy Dennys add depth to the company in the many other parts they play. In fact everyone from creative to cast work together impeccably to produce this Lady Chatterley for today’s generation – it may not shock anymore but rather lets passion engulf us in a joyful experience.

Bravo Tilted Wig.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover runs until Saturday, February 29.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose.