Tag Archives: Beverly Rudd

"Anna Bella Eema" at the Arcola Theatre

While firmly rooted in the tradition of fairy tales, this 2007 piece, from experimental theatre maker Lisa D’Amour, balances magic and madness with startling originality. It will not be to all tastes, but the complexity and ambition of the text demand respect.

In a trailer park facing demolition, the housebound Irene and her daughter Annabella are joined by the title character, a golem that the youngster creates as she begins puberty. Both of the human characters tell stories that start out whacky and become truly insane. Their small world is crowded with monsters and metamorphosis. Mental illness is a topic the audience is challenged into addressing: someone should help this family… shouldn’t they? And there’s another ‘M’ – motherhood – packing the play’s emotional punch and, for my money, producing its finest moments. Many of the tales told are funny, a few provide insight into the real world and some are frustratingly opaque.

Adding to the bizarre feel, there’s a cappella singing, and percussion from kitchen equipment, with a score by Chris Sidorfsky that matches D’Amour’s otherworldly interests. You don’t often get a lullaby for a lycanthrope, after all. 

Beverly Rudd as Irene in Anna Bella Eema at the Arcola Theatre
Beverly Rudd

As you can guess, nothing here is easy for the talented trio performing. The wonderful Beverly Rudd leads the way, grounding the show as a charismatic agoraphobic. The daughter is played by Gabrielle Brooks, who gives a tremendous performance as a young girl old before her time. Brooks’ suggestions of the wild, that D’Amour becomes fixated with, are superb. By no means least, Natasha Cottriall performs as the mythic creation, along with many smaller roles, bringing grace as well as ethereal vocals to the show.

Performing actions as they narrate them makes the demands on all the actors heavier – a lot of what occurs is supernatural – which is where director Jessica Lazar really shines. With a text that’s as much a poem as a play, it takes a close study to aid the audience and I, for one, am grateful that Lazar allows us time to absorb some of what is on offer.

Because Anna Bella Eemareally does have a lot going on, and not just in terms of topics: the imagery is wonderfully rich, the ground covered metaphorically immense and D’Amour’s imagination awe-inspiring. The perspectives that the author describes as “prismatic” in her introduction make the play a mind boggler from the beginning. And we’re warned by Irene that time and reality merge in her trailer – there’s a lot of this. 

By the time we get to a dream sequence for Annabella – with racoons, foxes and wolves – the show is in danger of becoming repetitive and exhausting. In the finale, the impact of reality is little explored, making the ending for Annabella unclear. Asking a lot from an audience is an author’s prerogative. But there’s surely an irony that, unlike the fairy tales that are such an inspiration, regrettably, this show lacks universal appeal.

Until 12 October 2019

www.arcolatheatre.com

Photos by Holly Revell

“Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)” at the Lyric Hammersmith

This welcome return of Kneehigh’s much admired reworking of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera is ripe for our times. The show is dark – recreating 18th-century villains in a world of corrupt politicians and organised crime, it pushes into pitch black territory. Politically crude and frequently rude, this is a protest piece with anarchic urgency that condemns money, power and the state of the world.

Writer Carl Grose is stark in his views of human nature, which is the key to the show’s satirical punch. The action is led by Martin Hyder and Rina Fatania, who give brilliantly overblown performances as small town mafiosos murdering their way to a mayoralty. For law and order, Giles King’s maniacal chief of police is frightening stuff, flip-flopping between bribery and blood lust. His target is Macheath, a sinister hitman in this version. Rendered cold rather than charismatic in Dominic Marsh’s sterling performance, Macheath brings the personal into politics, deciding between a life of love, a noble death or a career in crime. The result isn’t pretty. Interestingly, the sexual politics in the piece haven’t been updated as much as you might expect. Macheath’s women are still dopey for him, though the roles are performed with spice by Beverly Rudd and Angela Hardie.

Rina Fatania

Maybe the madness for Macheath is appropriate in a show that calls for a touch of chaos all around. Consider the music. All those songs promised in the title are eclectic to an extreme, and composer Charles Hazlewood’s range of references is awe inspiring. There’s a trade off with coherence – and few will enjoy all the numbers – but each song adds to the crazy appeal of the show, and the energy from Mike Shepherd’s direction, with his talented cast of actor musicians, is considerable. The detail throughout is fantastic, not just with Grose’s tongue-tying script – this is a keep-your-eyes-peeled show. With swapping suitcases and plenty of multiple roles (Georgia Frost does especially well here), you don’t want to miss a moment.

While the call for changes in society and for personal responsibility are not convincing enough in this grim vision of our state, they are depicted well through the only character we come close to caring for – Patrycja Kujawska’s Widow Goodman forms the spine of the show (and her violin playing is fantastic). It’s a shame that Punch – yes, as in Judy – gets the last word. While Sarah Wright, who led the puppetry on press night, is fantastic, Punch’s nightmarish commentary ends up overwhelming. That Punch talks most of the sense on stage is downright depressing. We’re not in that much trouble, are we?

Until 15 June and then touring until 13 July 2019

www.lyric.co.uk

Photos by Steve Tanner

“Brief Encounter” at the Empire Cinema

Seeing Emma Rice’s adaptation of Noel Coward’s film back in 2008 has long stayed in my memory – this is the story of a doomed romance that makes you fall in love with the theatre. Rice’s invention, changing Coward’s piece in many ways, as well as her passion and creativity, all make this an unmissable revival. The celebration at its return seems to have skewed the production slightly – put simply, it’s too funny – but the sense of triumph that it is back is one I wholeheartedly share.

The setting for the show is the cinema that hosted the movie’s premiere back in 1946, and the interactions between projected films and actors that occur throughout are breathtaking. But this isn’t a show of gimmicks. Rather, imagination is the key: from when Alec and Laura rise from seats amongst the audience to recount their love at first sight, leading to their painful goodbye, Rice adds music, acrobatics and witty theatricality at any opportunity – not a scene goes by without a memorable moment.

The couple, who contemplate rather than consummate their love, are well played by Jim Sturgeon and Isabella Pollen. Rice recasts the story to focus more on Laura in impressively empowering fashion, and Pollen conveys her character’s inner turmoil. Strong performances from two other couples, designed to show love at different stages of life, share the stage with Rice elaborating them all from Coward’s original. Lucy Tackeray and Dean Nolan delight as an older courting pair, a delicious combination of entendre and genuine passion. Beverly Rudd and Jos Slovick have roles as younger lovers and are similarly endearing. Slovick’s musical skills impress, and both get a lot of laughs.

Jos Slovick & Beverly Rudd
Jos Slovick & Beverly Rudd

The sense of taboo that drove Coward’s writing has disappeared and the story lacks its original tension as a result. It’s still moving – but Rice wants romance and she delivers it. There are so many beautiful moments in the production that hearts skip many a beat and it is the beauty of this Brief Encounter rather than its tragedy that we carry away with us.

Until 2 September 2018

www.briefencounterwestend.com

Photo by Steve Tanner

“The Magistrate” at the National Theatre

Stepping into a gap in the National Theatre’s schedule left by the cancellation of The Count of Monte Cristo, Timothy Sheader’s production of The Magistrate may be a last-minute stocking filler – but it doesn’t feel like one. Packed with laughs and polished to perfection, it’s a real gift for the Christmas season.

This is a theatrical achievement all the more impressive because Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1885 play isn’t all that great on the page. When Agatha marries Aeneas Posket, she lies about her age and turns her son, Cis, from a 19-year-old man into a 14-year-old boy. The ‘larks’ he gets up to drop the whole family, and any passing female, into deep water, forcing his new step-father, a Magistrate, to get involved. The exposition could be slow and the satire weak, but Sheader fills the show with energy, kicking it into life and giving the National’s last hit comedy, One Man, Two Guvnors, a run for its money.

Of course, comedy is all about timing and The Magistrate‘s wonderful cast excels at this: from the excellent Beverly Rudd, who shines in the small part of Popham the maid, to Jonathan Coy, who plays an Army Captain from Agatha’s past with enough bluster to steal a scene or two, and Joshua McGuire, who gets great laughs as the young son “swelling with agitation” as a result of the five years taken off his age. With so much talent on stage it seems that John Lithgow, who takes on the title role, needs to grow into his part a little – he’s certainly upstaged by his wife, played by Nancy Carroll, in absolutely fabulous style.

Musical interludes with lyrics by Richard Stilgoe (with a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan) add even more fun, and the sets from designer Katrina Lindsay are magnificent – pop-up fantasies that make the most of the Olivier stage, they hint at Christmas cards. But this show is so good that it’s not just for Christmas and should entertain for a long time afterwards.

Until 10 February 2013

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 23 November 2012 for The London Magzine

“The Beggar’s Opera” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

It’s hard to underestimate the success and importance of The Beggar’s Opera. The influence of John Gay’s satirical ballad opera is so enduring that viewing is essential for theatre lovers. As Londoners we are further obliged to attend: the premiere production paid for the construction of the first theatre in Covent Garden and the work teems with references to home that Londoners will love.

In Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production, 18th-century London is masterfully evoked by William Dudley’s ambitious set. The park is cast as a pleasure garden, the criminals’ party in the shadow of Tyburn: the gallows are garlanded, the maypole formed with chains, but Newgate is only a cart ride away.

The stage is set so well that the story of love and dishonour amongst thieves speeds along. Bigamy and betrayal, awash in the ‘strong waters’ of gin, mean fists are always at the ready. Praise must be given to those often ignored in reviews – the movement and fight directors, in this case Maxine Doyle and Terry King – whose work with this Hogarthian epic never distracts from Gay’s dictionary of abuse. ‘Beggars’ is such a delicious catalogue of invective that it makes you wonder if we have lost the art of the insult.

The cast is as rude as can be. David Caves’ Captain Macheath is convincing as the sensual highwayman and Flora Spencer-Longhurst is refreshingly full blooded as Polly Peachum. But for sheer sauce Beverly Rudd steals the stage as Lucy Lockit.

The Beggar's Opera performed at The Open Air Theatre Regents Park
Beverly Rudd

Rudd is in fine voice – important since The Beggar’s Opera is essentially a musical. Director Lucy Bailey makes the laudable decision to use selections of the original score, performed superbly by The City Waites on period instruments, yet what should be the focus of the show seems like an addition.

Bailey is such an intelligent director that this reservation can be cast aside. Steeped in satire that still feels fresh, Bailey’s take on the highwayman as a celebrity makes her finale riveting and shows her understanding of this genre-busting work. She makes the importance and success of The Beggar’s Opera easy to understand.

Until 23rd July 2011

www.openairtheatre.org

Photo by Alastair Muir

Written 30 June 2011 for The London Magazine

“Into the Woods” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Into the Woods is Sondheim’s masterpiece. A musical score full of invention yet accessible, lyrics that are at once moving and hilarious, and both perfectly accompanying James Lapine’s wonderful book.

Interweaving fairy stories, questioning what these tales are really about and then, after the interval, returning to the characters to find out what happens after the happily ever after; it’s one of the cleverest things you’ll ever see and one of the most rewarding.

Director Timothy Sheader gives the show a production it deserves. His new spin is to cast the narrator as a child. This adds little, but where Sheader excels is to bring out the musical’s qualities. This is particularly well executed in the way he brings out the dark side of the fairy stories we tell children – the woods are a sinister place and we fear for the babies in them.

With Soutra Gilmour’s wonderful set and some startling choreography from Liam Steel, the dynamism of the piece is given full scope. The mix of stories is hectic and a controlled chaos appropriately challenges suspension of disbelief.

The characters’ knowledge of the artificial world they are a part of, along with the lessons they learn and impart, is relished by the cast. There are some wonderful performances here. Beverly Rudd is great as the greedy Red Ridinghood, managing a tune while she stuffs buns in her mouth. Michael Xavier and Simon Thomas play the Princes with a nod to Russell Brand and get the most out of their duets.

There are three great leading ladies. Hannah Waddingham is on excellent form as the witch and Jenna Russell is as superb as ever as the Baker’s wife. Helen Dallimore’s sweet voice serves well in the role of Cinderella, whose proclamation, “I wish”, starts the whole glorious evening.

It seems obvious to stage Into the Woods at Regents Park. There must have been a collective, “ah, yes”, when it was announced, yet it is to Sheaders’s credit that it is done so well. It is great to hear the wind in the leaves accompany Sondheim’s score and see the characters retreating into the trees at the end of the evening. The only problem with this production is the short run. Given the number of wonderful touches, and surprise voice over, it would be great to see it transfer or return to the park next year. That’s my wish anyway.

Until 11 September 2010

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 17 August 2010 for The London Magazine