Tag Archives: Greenwich Theatre

“Bad Nights and Odd Days” at the Greenwich Theatre

Director James Haddrell and his talented cast bring to the stage four shorts by Caryl Churchill that fans of the playwright will not want to miss. Two pieces tackle the near future and two are relationship dramas. The combination shows Churchill’s breadth of imagination and skills effectively.

The first oddity comes in a piece called Seagulls. Mrs Blair is a “new species of person” who has telekinetic powers. But this isn’t the X-Men. Having introduced the preternatural, Churchill’s ironically mild mannered heroine (depicted conscientiously by Kerrie Taylor) really only wants to feel wanted. A contrast with the ambitions of her friend and now manager, ably performed by Gracy Goldman, broadens out this neat, satisfying sketch.

Closer to sci-fi, set in “The Londons” at a time of civil unrest and pollution, the title of Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen indicates what interests most in this piece. The dialogue for the character of Vivian, superbly delivered by Verna Vyas, contains skilful repetitions that create and sustain an unsettling air of their own. Supported by Dan Gaisford and Bonnie Baddoo, as an estranged father and daughter, the piece from 1971 suffers from being a now generic dystopia.

Verna Vyas, Bad Nights and Odd Days, Greenwich Theatre (credit Lidia Crisafulli)
Pictured top, Gracy Goldman and Kerrie Taylor. Above, Verna Vyas

Moving on to the nocturnal

Arguably the most ambitious piece is Three More Sleepless Nights. This is a trio of scenes, with dysfunctional relationships, each tackled in a very different manner. Firstly arguing; with characters played by Paul McGann and Gracy Goldman speaking over each other throughout. Then a scene with hardly a word; apart from the synopsis of films, that leaves the audience with a horrific image. Characters played by Gaisford and Goldman return in a finale that ties together themes of fear and dependence. For me, what the three scenes really have in common is a technical ability on the part of the cast – hugely impressive.

Kerrie Taylor and Paul McGann, Bad Nights and Odd Days, Greenwich Theatre (credit Lidia Crisafulli)
Kerrie Taylor and Paul McGann

There is such diversity in Churchill’s work that any favourite amongst the four is a personal choice. But Abortive strikes me as the most provocative and exciting. Taylor and McGann perform this twisty story of an affair, which resulted in a pregnancy, impeccably. Crammed with questions, there is also a character who does not appear to consider. Invited into the family home, the troubled Billie is a vivid and intriguing presence who haunts the couple. Wealth and status are conveyed effortlessly alongside complex motivations and considerable pain.

None of these shorts is that short! So the programme is a huge endeavour on Haddrell’s part, not least the intelligent curation. If all the pieces don’t hold equal interest, contrasting them is stimulating. And the strong production of all combines to make Bad Nights and Odd Days a time to remember.

Until 10 July 2021

www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk

Photos by Lidia Crisafulli

“Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four” at the Greenwich Theatre

Director and writer Nick Lane’s adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novella is at its best when it takes its subject seriously. Lane appreciates that this “pretty little mystery” is an adventure story full of exoticism and he balances this trio of ingredients well. With some sensitive taming of the more unwholesome Victorian values, the show makes for comfortable entertainment with a traditional feel.

The production isn’t without humour, nowadays it’s hard not to smile at Sherlock’s old-fashioned ways. But comedy moments – a poor running joke and a bumbling police inspector – are disappointing. It’s much better to be intrigued with Holmes as a hero. Thankfully that’s the strategy followed most and just the quality Luke Barton, who takes the part, encourages. With notable understatement and a cool edge, along with a nice notebook, Barton cuts a dashing figure.

Dr.Watson also benefits from being credible rather than comedic. Joseph Derrington takes the role and excels as a narrator, taking us through the action and guiding our responses to other characters with skill. Derrington gives a sense Watson can hold his own against Holmes so that the friendship between the two men has depth. And he does well with the insipid romantic subplot.

Joseph Derrington as Dr.Watson and Ru Hamilton as Thaddeus Sholto

Lane has chosen a tough text to bring to the stage. Like many a Conan Doyle story The Sign of Four has plenty of far-fetched elements and these are, mostly, dealt with well. Presenting Holmes as a master of disguise is pushing it too far. And that we never actually see the murderer on stage might frustrate some, although it’s really a sensible move. But when storytelling is to the fore the production takes off. Atmospheric musical accompaniment from Tristan Parkes and Victoria Spearing’s flexible set create a surprising sense of luxury. And some of the hard-working cast get a chance to shine; Ru Hamilton does well as both Major Sholto and his son, while Zach Lee has a strong section explaining the mystery. These flashback scenes show Lane’s directorial strengths and his appreciation of the text as you snuggle down to enjoy a great story well told.

Until 11 May 2019 and then on tour

www.blackeyedtheatre.co.uk

Photos by Mark Holliday

“The Shy Manifesto” at the Greenwich Theatre

This wonderful monologue from Michael Ross is on a national tour. Let’s hope the play is showing near you as attendance is thoroughly recommended. It’s part-presentation, akin to a school debate, and also a tender story about youth that’s full of topical relevance. The trials – and joys – of being shy become moving, thought-provoking and funny in a brilliant script.

The production is a bitter-sweet triumph because of its author’s sudden death from cancer this year. While the show is hugely enjoyable, it’s hard not to regret future works we are now deprived of. That Ross missed seeing the show performed is cruel. That those involved have done such a good job is of some consolation.

With The Shy Manifesto’s hero, Callum, Ross has written a fine creation who works well theatrically and makes a great role for Theo Ancient. It’s impossible not to warm to this keen-to-quote teen, who Ancient makes such a charming, flawed figure. Engendering complicity with the audience from the start, Callum’s world view is engrossing, his insecurities and his fate at an end-of-term party affectingly emotional. Ancient moves from cowed moments to bold exuberance, as director Cat Robey paces the show expertly. Robey does particularly well in energising the script with complementary musical accompaniment and lighting. These skills combine to take us into Callum’s Bournemouth bedroom world completely, to make his worries our own and likewise his hopes for the future, be they to stay true to himself or to live around the corner from the British Museum.

Ross hasn’t just penned an unusually good teen drama. His writing reveals facts sometimes lost on our hero, which creates a delicious subtext for the audience. His crush on new boy Gilbert is just one example. It’s fascinating to explore the theme of ‘shycons’ (brilliant term) who are idolised by the introverted. And while evoking a young voice so expertly, there’s a spirit of individualism that should give pause whatever your age. Callum’s questions may be raised in a naïve fashion – he’s 17, after all – but that doesn’t make them less important. Ross uses a young narrator to point out what should be obvious, sometimes unacceptable, to all; and to challenge, frequently in a surprising fashion, some easily accepted assumptions.

Alongside this is a great comedy. Callum’s intellectual pretentions, including his contagious love of words, remind us not to take him too seriously, and it’s a talent to make the vocabulary hilarious all by itself. And the cast of extras we meet – each performed with the help of a single prop (with one notable exception) and seen only through Callum’s eyes – are all worth a joke or three. Ross was an accomplished craftsman and a distinctive voice, his writing full of compassion, intelligence and humour. The Shy Manifesto proclaims these qualities loudly.

On tour until 4 March 2019

www.theshymanifesto.com

Photo by Anthony Hollis

“Romeo and Juliet” at the Greenwich Theatre

Merely Theatre has a commonsense approach to its policy of ‘genderblind’ casting. A crew of ten pairs up to rehearse roles and half of the actors perform at a time – regardless of their gender. It’s a voguish idea that scholars and pundits love to comment on but, for director Scott Ellis, it’s more about equal employment than proving a point. Thankfully, Ellis appreciates that what matters to the theatregoer is a great, well-acted play, and that’s what he aims for.

For my trip, Emmy Rose took the role of Juliet, giving a bracing “headstrong” rendition, alongside a clear-eyed and heroic Luke Barton as Romeo. There’s a strong sense of suicidal teenagers battling against the world. Barton is full of petulant frustration and Rose is wonderful when she rejects advice from her trusty old nurse. With only five in the cast, there’s a lot of doubling up, most startlingly when Rose plays an aggressive Tybalt. Pairings add a frisson without feeling theorised.

It is Merely Theatre’s ambition as a repertory group that really marks it out – the company is also performing Twelfth Night. The simple set and everyday costumes (Florence Hazard) give an air of travelling players. The cast works slickly and tightly – support and encouragement are palpable. Among multiple roles, Tamara Astor’s nurse, Ffion Jones’ Paris and Hannah Ellis’ madcap Mercutio show that comedy is a particular strength. Frequent direct appeals to the audience are consistently successful. That the plot remains clear is a huge achievement on everyone’s part.

Some character changes make your head spin and overall the production is too speedy. “Light of foot” is one thing but the pace here left me, if not the cast, breathless. The focus is on action, justifying abbreviations, so there isn’t time for any sense of foreboding to develop. But, while some tension is lost, attention is gripped. I can report that a young audience gradually tore themselves away from their phones. That’s big praise nowadays.

Until 22 April 2017

www.merelytheatre.co.uk

Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith