Tag Archives: Forbes Masson

“The Merry Wives of Windsor” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare’s comedy, containing all manner of trials for married life, could well be the perfect fit for the South Bank venue that bears his name. In Elle While’s production, the often broad humour enjoyed in productions at The Globe is in full force. The show is as smutty as it is witty, all out to include the crowd, and a great deal of fun.

The setting for Sir John Falstaff’s efforts to become a gigolo – and the plots to stop him – is updated to the 1930s. The decade provides some lovely costumes from designer Charlie Cridlan while Frank Moon’s music adds a great deal of energy. But the production is very much for today, with an eye on the #metoo movement the men here are pretty awful. I’ll not argue with the observation but there’s a danger, as men try to tyrannize wives and daughters, that the comedy will turn sour; it’s While’s achievement that the play still manages to be funny.

With the husbands, who aren’t really going to be cuckolded, Forbes Masson has a nice line in apoplectic rage while Jude Owusu does well with his character’s jealousy. The men who surround their houses, a trio of suitors and a Welsh parson, are also easy to laugh at (with Richard Katz’s ‘Allo ‘Allo accent making him stand out). Meanwhile, Falstaff becomes a real villain. The interpretation is fair enough when you consider his plans. Pearce Quigley’s performance is undoubtedly a success: his deadpan delivery gets a lot of laughs and his plentiful adlibs, while getting most of their charge from seeming irreverent, are good. Just one question, against all the odds, don’t we want Falstaff to have some charm?

There’s no doubting Quigley’s success with physical comedy – he can really hold a stage. Indeed a big key to the success of the show lies with its continual movement, most obviously with Sasha Milavic Davies’ choreography and a lovely little recap scene that is mimed. But a combination of manic dashes and confident surveying of the stage are carefully balanced throughout. The Merry Wives of Windsor isn’t a true farce, the pace is different and While understands that. You can see the combination in Falstaff’s final humiliation, when the cast mask themselves for a fairy masque, (which will look quite lovely when the weather improves) – here’s a scene marked by a wonderful sense of rhythm.

The real triumph of the production comes with the women in the play which it brings to the fore and makes the real stars. Sarah Finigan and Bryony Hannah take the leads as the eponymous wives and give delightful performances. They’re joined by a feisty Anne, the wonderful Boadicea Ricketts, who excels at carrying the show’s story of young love. And the play’s democratic bent adds further joy with its working class figures. There’s Mistress Quickly, of course, but a clever recasting of the local landlord as a hostess makes both Anita Reynolds and Anne Odeke major roles that add heart to the show. Revelling in its female characters, While delivers not just merry wives, but merry women all around, and a happy audience as well.

Until 12 October 2019

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Helen Murray

“Little Shop of Horrors” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

If this production is anything to go by, director Maria Aberg has green fingers – she nurtures this hit musical about a carnivorous plant from outer space marvellously.

Adapted from Roger Corman’s B-movie back in the early 1980s, Little Shop of Horrorsis a youthful work from the legendary Alan Menken, packed with musical ideas and barely a bum note. It includes the catchy-as-anything title tune, the brilliant romantic theme ‘Suddenly Seymour’ and the hilarious number ‘Be A Dentist’ – all of which you’ll be humming long after the show ends.

The book and onomatopoeic lyrics by Howard Ashman are great fun and there’s an underlying wit that continually impresses. The story of a freakish flower that changes the fortunes of its florist shop owners is told at a cracking pace, while the fact that growth comes at a price makes the piece a simple but effective morality tale. It’s quirky, dark, campy and cultish – all qualities appreciated by Aberg.

The mock low-budget design from Tom Scutt recalls the show’s Off-Broadway origins and original film source, full of anarchic energy and surprises – an achievement in such a polished production – and adds great charm. Scutt’s wonderfully detailed costume designs are fantastic, too, and his skyscrapers in shopping trolleys a nice nod to the skid-row setting.

Jemima Rooper and Marc Antolin
Jemima Rooper and Marc Antolin

Our hero Seymour isn’t really as sweet as he seems, or maybe he’s just dumb. Either way, Marc Antolin does a great job in the role, sounding great and with terrific stage presence. Jemima Rooper has a nice edge as his love interest and a trio of narrators (Renée Lamb, Christina Modestou and Seyi Omooba) are superb – each has real star quality. A couple of performances are too broad, mistaking the show’s fine edged comedy: Matt Willis’ dentist lacks thrills and Forbes Masson’s Mr Mushnik is reduced to a cheap gag.

Vicky Vox as Audrey II

It’s Seymour’s nemesis, the plotting plant he names Audrey II, that is the star. The clever move is to use not just puppetry here but to cast a drag queen in the role and Vicky Vox steals every scene – this Audrey II really reigns. You’re kept wanting more of Vox, leading to a truly spectacular encore number, including a new wardrobe for everyone, where the show’s crazy creativity is unleashed, making sure the audience leaves blooming.

Until 22 September 2018

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

“Travesties” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Wearing his director’s hat, Patrick Marber has excelled with this revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1974 play. A characteristically dense affair, it uses the flawed reminiscences of an English diplomat in Zurich, one Henry Carr, to bring together Lenin, James Joyce and Tristan Tzara, thus covering politics, literature and art. You need to pace yourself to keep up.

Formally inventive, Stoppard uses speeches, verse and songs, while modifying Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (if you need a reason, Carr performed the play in his youth). The elderly Henry suggests his memoirs could be a collection of sketches, and Marber embraces this to create some vaudeville scenes worthy of Cabaret Voltaire. Carr’s dementia is a wicked parallel to free association, ironically utilised in this satisfyingly controlled puzzle of postmodern plenitude.

Carr observes that as an artist you have to “pick your time and place” and in choosing such a fertile moment in European history, applying his own frame and distorting it, Stoppard has the audience enthralled. OK, it’s difficult to imagine many erudite enough to get their heads around the whole thing (you’d have to be as clever as, well, Tom Stoppard), but it’s great fun trying to keep up. It’s so crammed with humour that getting just half the jokes makes it worth it.

There’s a lot going on in Henry’s head, and Tom Hollander’s finest moments come when memories overwhelm his irascible character. Playing his younger self, he makes the comedy work hard. Stoppard even provides the review for his lead actor: parts don’t come much more demanding than this and Hollander really is superb. This this is a technically brilliant performance, the aged voice truly remarkable.
The rest of the cast seem spurred on by Hollander’s star turn, making each role memorable. Freddie Fox is superbly cast as the decadent Tzara – his switch to Wildean mode is faultless. Peter McDonald and Forbes Masson manage to make, respectively, Joyce and Lenin men you can laugh with as well as at. Clare Foster and Amy Morgan’s witty singing battle as Cecily and Gwendolen is a highlight in a show that has no shortage of brilliant moments. Stoppard and Marber run from any potential the play might have toward pretention. Just don’t forget to take a breath yourself.

Until 19 November 2016

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“As You Like It” at The Roundhouse

Nowadays, productions of As You Like It are often sensitive to the political content of the play. Duke Frederick is a tyrant, after all, and the Forest of Arden a liminal space where all kinds of conventions are negotiated. Michael Boyd’s production at The Roundhouse takes on board and enforces these ideas. The strength of his vision results in an As You Like It that is as startling as it is entertaining.

It’s snowing in this Forest of Arden. This arcadia is populated by the dispossessed. Heading up a fugitive court with an edge of desperation about it, the exiled Duke Ferdinand (Clarence Smith) has a harrowed look and Jaques’ melancholy makes a lot of sense. Boyd directs his cast towards a deadpan delivery that modern comic sensibilities will appreciate. With Forbes Masson’s Tim Minchin-inspired Jaques this really pays off. Masson’s is a terrific performance – direct, deep and very funny.

Boyd’s treatment is both realistic and high pitched. The court seems an almost gothic place. The best wrestling scene I have ever witnessed is a bloody match between Orlando (Jonjo O’Neill) and Charles (David Carr), who look more like cage fighters than gentlemen at sport. And vegetarians might wish to linger at the bar after the interval in order to miss a rabbit being skinned on stage.

Spring comes to Tom Piper’s minimal design, as his wall of squares opens up to allow shoots of greenery. Not just the auditorium, but also the whole of the Roundhouse is bedecked with Orlando’s verses. It’s an idea the RSC is expanding on with its Adelaide Road project: commissioning the poet Aoife Mannix to conduct writing workshops around the stories of Camden residents, and a promenade on the 14 May along the street that connects The Roundhouse with the RSC’s other London home, The Hampstead Theatre.

Back in Boyd’s forest, things become increasingly enchanting. There is always an edge to this Arden: the dreams and fantastic beasts are frightening, Sophie Russell’s Audrey is hilarious but a little cruel and Richard King’s Touchstone plays too close to the edge for comfort. Yet what romance the play contains bursts out and the real joy of the evening is Katy Stephens’ Rosalind. Hers is a star turn that makes the whole play revolve around her character. Rosalind’s intelligence is combined with a giddy energy in an enormously physical performance that is not to be missed.

As You Like It plays in rep until 5 February 2011

www.rsc.org.uk

Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Written 18 January 2011 for The London Magazine