JESSICA Swale’s Nell Gwynn

Here’s my thoughts on The Crescent’s first show. Of their new season

JESSICA Swale’s Nell Gwynn is a gem of a show to kick off the new Crescent Theatre season with and my word they do her justice.

Sumptuous cossies, a set to transport you to ‘The famous Globe’ of old London town and music from Christopher Arnold to grace any royal parlour – and that’s before we get on to talking about the acting.

At approaching three hours long, dear Nell could have been an endurance test, even for the theatre faithful. But there is so much crammed in here to relish that you’re left rather begging for more not screaming for mercy.

The play is set after the death of Oliver Cromwell where 30 year old King Charles II comes has returned from exile in France to grace the throne once more.

The story is not just about lovely orange-selling, part time hooker Nell, but concerns theatre and theatrical folk. It’s the game-changing time when women were first allowed to grace the stage as actors –Heaven forbid this step should cascade them into being allowed to vote and workplace equality!

No this is the time when women ruled with the power of sex and cunning whilst men just thought they ruled and enjoyed the sex.

We meet a company of actors struggling to put on performances in the Kings’ own theatre – artistry must be tempered with political correctness but whatever happens – the show must go on!

Laura Poyner is our hardworking Nell – she rarely leaves the stage as she acts, sings, and cavorts her way into our hearts. In a dress as bright as the oranges in her basket she is simply joyous with a performance that sucks you in and keeps you there until her final epilogue.

Alice Macklin puts in fine support as Nell’s sister Rose, Pat Dixon is as delightful as she is funny as Nancy, Jaz Davison gives up a delicious double as Charles’s wife, Queen Catherine (if any of you have seen the series ‘Get Shorty’ then think the Mexican Cartel boss lady) and sad Old Ma Gwynn, Nell’s brothel keeping mater.

Joanne Brookes completes the main cast female line in another splendid double as we get two mistresses for the price of one – the hissing court bitch Lady Castlemaine and the clever French beauty Louise de Keroualle.

There is not a weak link in this cast – on to the males -Tom Fitzpatrick smiles majestically just like the picture that adorns so many pub walls as King Charles II’ all that’s missing is the spaniel on his lap – a perfect piece of casting,

Sam Wilson is gloriously outrageous as Edward Kynaston, the member of the company who got to don the frock and the face slap before Nelly takes over, Graeme Braidwood is a suitable harassed writer John Drydon, Alan Bull brings the right amount of bluster to Lord Arlington and Luke Plimmer as Ned Spiggett and Christopher Arnold as Henry Purcell also put in solid performances as actors playing actors.

Two special shout-outs firstly for Mark Payne as the lead actor of the King’s theatre troupe Charles Hart – he manages to demonstrate the whole range of acting skills when teaching Nell how to act  – whilst masking it in another layer of what Hart is really thinking –no mean feat for an actor playing an actor showing another actor how to act – if you follow my drift?

Secondly to a truly extraordinary outing for Andrew Cowie as Thomas Killgrew the company director. He is so funny, so believable and so intense – I can’t find sufficient superlatives. – ‘cept perhaps to say Bill Nighy (whom Cowie really resembles) couldn’t have done it better.

Sometimes there is nothing as real as pretense – Killgrew’s uproarious rehearsal room scenes are spot on and timeless. Within those walls plans are hatched, hearts joined and broken; dreams made and shattered – Viva la suspension of disbelief.

Of course all this would never have come to pass if there wasn’t a real director with a vision – Dewi Johnson take a well-earned bow. It didn’t escape my notice that the actors never stopped acting and muttering even when moving the scenery. The company did you proud and you welded them into one hell of a team.

Standards for the season have been set!

Nell Gwyn runs at The Crescent until Saturday.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.

Romeo and Juliet

THE TRAGIC story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet has seen many versions over the centuries.

Of course the most famous is William Shakespeare’s play, (which itself was based on a 16th century poem), but this New Adventures production will surely rank as a new classic. It will surely come to rank alongside Bernstein’s West Side Story, the Franco Zeffirelli film and the  Kenneth Macmillan ballet created for Nureyev and Fonteyn.

Like Macmillan, Matthew Bourne uses the evocative Prokofiev score as inspiration, but Bourne’s is a very different interpretation – one which puts the teenage angst of the protagonists at its heart.

Picture by Johan Persson. s

Set in the ‘Verona Institute’ – a detention centre for troubled youths – this stark, clinical design by long-time Bourne collaborator Lez Brotherston with its prison-like walkways and barred doors brilliantly conveys the bleakness of the situation the teenagers find themselves trapped in.

Here, every aspect of the lives of the inmates is controlled by nurses and wardens – illustrated by the unrelenting, twisted, disjointed movements. One warden, Tybalt, (a menacing Danny Reubens) uses his power to take advantage of the young women, always selecting a different girl to sate his sexual desires.

He chooses Juliet as his latest victim. Their dance is an uncomfortable watch as Juliet tries unsuccessfully to escape his clutches.

Seren Williams as Juliet brings just the right amount of innocence, angst and feistiness to the role.

Enter Romeo (a dashing, innocent-at-large Andy Monaghan)– deposited at the Institute by his powerful parents, the Montagues (Mrs Montague is portrayed as a Teresa May lookalike) – who clearly have no understanding and little time for their troublesome son.

In a humorous scene Romeo is gently teased and shown the ropes of life in the institution by the streetwise trio of Mercutio, Benvolio and Balthasar.

The only brightness in the gloom for the inmates are the dances held by the hapless, do-gooding Chaplain, Revd Bernadette – an engaging, funny portrayal by Madeleine Brennan which brings some welcome humour. The inmates dance with mechanical, stilted movements under the watchful eyes of Guard Tybalt, but once he leaves, they become uninhibited – think school disco when the teachers have left!

Here Romeo and Juliet first set eyes on each other and there follows a pas-de-deux which beautifully captures the innocence and clumsiness of teenage first love – all snogging, fumbling and writhing.

But Tybalt still has Juliet in his sights and continues to exert his power over the troubled youngsters, culminating in a heart-stopping fight scene, danced with such precision, fear and ferocity that you are on the edge of your seat.

No spoilers as to who kills whom, but the spiral of despair and mental anguish is about to escalate, as the lovers are isolated. Juliet begs the Reverend to help her see Romeo again and she agrees, taking Juliet to his cell. There is less innocence and more sexual tension in this pas de deux as they are re-united, but for Juliet the sexual assaults inflicted by Tybalt cannot be forgotten and her mental anguish is painful to watch.

Picture by Johan Persson. s

The ending is, as we’d always known it would be, truly tragic and brilliant in its execution.

Bourne’s productions are built on precision from his dancers and this is no exception. The performances  throughout were faultless – the exertion and passion palpable and utterly compelling. What is even more brilliant is Bourne’s commitment to bringing on new talent – five of the creative team are trainees, and in every tour venue the company are working with six young local dancers aged 16-19, who are inserted into the cast so seamlessly that you can’t see the join. They rightfully got the biggest cheer of the well-deserved standing ovation.

This is a production that every parent of teenagers – and every teenager – should see.

The final performance of Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet take place at the Hippodrome tonight and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday, September 13 and 14).

Click here for more information, times and tickets, which start at £40.50.

Review by Johannah Dyer for Euan Rose Reviews

Shane Richie proves he’s a born Entertainer in Malvern

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MENTION John Osborne’s classic play ‘The Entertainer’ and Sir Laurence Olivier springs to mind – he made the part of infamous Archie Rice his own both on stage and screen. It is a brave actor who dares to follow in those hallowed 1957 footprints, but here we are some 60 years later with Shane Richie revelling in a role he too seems have been born to play.

When we first meet Archie, it is on stage as a club comedian seemingly left over from another age. He is pleasant enough and he engages us instantly – but is this pity we feel rather than admiration?

Director Sean O’Connor (I presume it’s him as there are no other writing or staging credits in the programme) has set this new version in Thatcher’s Britain of 1982 where we are about to embark on our last hurrah sending what’s left of the fleet to the Falklands for a bit of Argy bargy.

Normally I am very wary of updates just for the sake of it (the original chronicled the Suez Crisis of the 1950s), but this is a stroke of genius – the cap certainly fits and I’m so glad O’Connor didn’t try to tie it in with Brexit – tempting, as I’m sure it was.

Comedy went through a massive change in the 1980s – it was the time of the subtle clever stand-up replacing the obvious cheeky chappy like Archie.

His response is to resort to tasteless and racist, toe-curling humour and his love affair with the audience becomes more fractured every time he performs to us.

Of course he can’t see what’s happening – it’s our fault.

Running alongside the fall and fall of Archie Rice on stage is the disintegration of his dysfunctional family and home life. Seemingly the only common denominator they all have is an unquenchable appetite for endless tumblers of gin.

Everyone starts out as normal, take Granddad Billy Rice (an ebullient Pip Donaghy), himself an old entertainer, warm as toast in welcoming Jean, Archie’s daughter by his first marriage when she turns up unexpectedly. But this isn’t exactly a social call – Jean (a convincing Diana Vickers)  has come to lick her wounds following breaking up with her fiancée.  Her character unfolds like a flower – from bud to bloom in complexity. She has been an active protester against the Falklands war in direct contrast to her brother Mick who is Archie’s hero son away fighting for Queen (her majesty’s portrait adorns the lounge wall) and country (there are Union Flags hanging in the window).

Sarah Crowe plays Archie’s long-suffering second wife Phoebe – she perfectly captures a woman who tolerates the misogynistic treatment dished out to her because whilst she isn’t exactly happy to be a victim, the alternative frightens her even more.

Phoebe’s solution: drink more and smile. turn a blind eye to Archie’s philandering and constant put-downs and fuss over everyone like you’re a real mother hen.

Finally there is Frank (a sardonic, ever-smiley Christopher Bonwell), Archie’s other son whose job it is to introduce Archie on stage and be his gofer in life – providing him with whatever he wants.

O’Connor’s direction is very clever, he uses the political backdrop by way of red top paper headlines in a cacophonistic harmony with  Archie’s descent into obscurity and likewise family battles echo the political squabbles.

Shane Richie gives us a tour-de-force as the ubiquitous creature that is Archie Rice – like Lord Olivier he will be a very had act to follow.

He is not always an easy watch, in fact there are times when Richie’s Rice makes you squirm with embarrassment – even to the point of feeling unclean in his presence;  just like the master John Osborne intended.

There is much to relish in this production and perhaps even more to ponder over on the journey home.

The Entertainer runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday, September 14.

Review by Euan Rose,

Check out the tour dates by following link :

Check out the tour dates by following link :

https://www.theentertainerplay.co.uk/

Crescent’s popular favourite Spamalot was a knight to remember

SINCE the amateur rights for ‘Spamalot’ were released three years ago it seems every musical theatre company in the land has staged a production – you could probably go somewhere in England every week and catch it.

Most of these companies rehearse for and perform one show a year. The big ones have deep pockets to hire in the huge sets and boxes and boxes of costumes necessary to stage this colossus.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Why then should the Crescent, which only includes one musical a year in an already robustly challenging main house season decide to a show that not only has the potential to decimate the coffers but also leaves them vulnerable to unnecessary and unfavourable comparison?  After all, with the triumphs of niche shows like ‘Urinetown’ and ‘Parade’ they’ve a built a reputation for ‘…and now for something completely different’ – how Pythonesque!

These were the thoughts in my head before attending the Crescent’s opening night. Well – ‘hush my lips’ how wrong could I be?

No they don’t have deep pockets but they do have ‘Phil the Builder’ and ‘Colin the Wizard of Design’ that’s Phil Parsons and Colin Judges, two legends who have once again done the impossible. Constructed a wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling West End set from scratch – not a pantechnicon-delivered, well worn, only 30 careful owners, self-assembly hand-me-down

but a stunning original.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

“Build it and they will come” ‘twas said and they did – it was full. There was anticipation, excitement and an opening night buzz I hadn’t seen at the Crescent for quite a while. Those that came were generous and giving and there to enjoy not to critique which is my job.

Based on the 1975 British film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the show is a parody of the medieval story of King Arthur.

Joe Harper cuts a handsome figure as King Arthur and has the cappuccino-smooth vocals to match, Mark Horne makes an amusing Sir Robin, Paul Forrest cuts a noble gait as Sir Lancelot, Luke Plimmer a worthy Sir Bedevere and the ever watchable Nick Owenford tackles Sir Galahad like an amalgamation of ‘Carry On’ characters.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Tiffany Cawthorne is delightfully divarish as the Lady of the Lake – Dave Rodgers ‘spot on as the kind of Frenchman we love to hate, Jack Kirby brings a smile as he stilt-walks and squawks as the Head Knight of Ni, Brian Wilson offers up a rib- tickling cameo as a castle guard and my ‘best of the best’ shout out goes to Brendan Stanley as King Arthur’s sidekick lackey – ‘Patsy’ – simply masterful.

The Knights of the Round Table tap dancing routines choreographed by Colin Lang was my highlight of the show.

To reiterate, Crescent costumes don’t come in a hired in crate but many are made and adapted from the theatre’s own wardrobe. The bevy of beautiful frocks kept coming and coming, from crusaders to showgirls – sterling job from Stewart Snape’s team.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

As a production what this ‘Spamalot’ lacks in originality is more than made up for in gusto. There was an infectious feeling of camaraderie, which leapt over the curtain line from ‘tabs up’ – here was ‘Sheepcote Street United’ playing out of their depth in the Premier League – there were some decidedly dodgy moments and no doubt a chaotic backstage but by George (him what slayed the dragon) the company deserve to be proud of what was achieved.

Rarely have I seen such relieved faces in a walkdown.

Directed by Keith Harris and with a band hitting all the right notes under the baton of Gary Spruce (simply ‘driven’ percussion from Matt Firkins) this glorious frolic canters to Camelot until Saturday, June 8.

Click here for more information and to book tickets.

 Review by Euan Rose.

Constellations under the lights of the Crescent was ‘written in the stars

ONCE, some 40-odd years ago I was stopped on a red traffic light as I was passing through Evesham – an army-style open topped jeep came through the other way. Driving it was a strawberry blonde with big eyes, which caught mine, just for an instant and we smiled ever so briefly. Couldn’t have been more than a ten-second meeting and one I had forgotten – until seeing the Crescent’s opening night of Constellations.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Nick Payne’s’ drama is set in – well actually it isn’t exactly set in any one place or time zone but happens on multi-platforms across a series of parallel universes.

It is a series of ‘what ifs’ – what if our company of two, Quantum Cosmologist Marianne and Beekeeper Roland meet at a party – or not? Hit it off or not? Go back to his or not? Go back to hers or not? Sleep together or not? Spend the rest of their days together or not?

Do we care? Oh yes!Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

I’m not going to give you any spoilers or answers here – then again maybe there aren’t any?

Perhaps I never went to see it at all? Maybe we living in a universe that exists on the head of a pin? Maybe in another a universe I met jeep-lady and spent my days with her.

Such was the impact of this production that I pondered what-ifs all the way home and continued to ponder into the early hours.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Undoubtedly Constellations is a very clever play despite being one which could easily make for a boring evening – thankfully Mark Thompson has directed it with obvious love for the text as well as the theme and has added in conjunction with the creative team of Joe Harper and John Gray – a generous dollop of clever sound links and imaginative lighting. The lights above us change colours and patterns like a DNA string or a homage to the voyages of Starship Enterprise.

Robert Laird plays Roland with warmth, sensitivity and believability, Beth Gilbert as Marianne matches him on all counts – they fit together like a pair of perfectly hand made gloves crafted from the finest softest leather.

They tell the story via a wide spectrum of artistic skills and offer up a seamless journey where there are no footprints to follow.

One particular passage is done in sign language – you didn’t need to be a student of BSL to follow it – the expressions on their faces said it all.

The use of dance throughout is yet another way of communicating – here Dance Instructor Jo Thackwray uses Beth’s dance talents to the fullest whilst working cleverly within Robert’s obvious limitations so that he is always the anchor to her perfect flights and posture.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

This is quite a remarkable production in so many ways – without doubt the most original piece of drama I have seen so far this year – I can’t get it out of my head.

Constellations runs at the Crescent until Saturday, May 18. To book tickets or for more information, including times, visit https://www.crescent-theatre.co.uk/theatre-event/?EventID=117132

Review by Euan Rose.