Tag Archives: Ian Talbot

“Scaramouche Jones” from stream.theatre

This revival of Justin Butcher’s 2001 play affords the opportunity to see an intriguing and acclaimed text. The “long and weary” life of its centenarian character, a famous clown, of course, recalled on the night of his death at the end of the 20th century, is a compelling yarn that balances elements of the fantastic with weighty concerns. 

Scaramouche’s life is colourful, to say the least. But it is also one filled with trauma and pain. His birth in a brothel in Trinidad, his life as a snake-charming slave and eventual arrival as an immigrant in Britain show us a world where people “mingle and co-mingle”. The globe-trotting Scaramouche covers a lot of ground.

As a consideration of Privilege, with a capital P, the character’s complexion (without make-up) proves a fascinating motif. Jones’ skin helps him in bizarre and unexpected ways. His whiteness saves his life. But note, it is also a mark of pain: frosted tears, white sand and lime from burials all contribute to the “seven white masks” that are the play’s subtitle. Start your debate.

The text is full of vivid images and incredible characters. Scaramouche’s mother, the “charming villains” he meets, and the “beggars and invalids from the four corners of the globe” create the world picture Jones aims for. And such a vast canvas makes the play a tricky one to perform.

To describe this particularly ambitious monologue as competent is not faint praise. Director Ian Talbot’s presentation is clear and concise. But the use of sound effects is overplayed – they add little to the descriptions of events. And both Talbot and his performer, Shane Richie, try to inject energy unnecessarily. Along with lots of accents of, erm, variable success, Richie’s delivery becomes grating, his sense of rhythm too monotonous.

Richie does rise to the play’s central scene. Scaramouche’s time in a concentration camp is a strong moment for all. Nailing the emotion and ambiguity of the play’s hardest, and best, scene becomes an unforgettable moment. It’s as a grave-digger that Scaramouche, incredibly, discovers his ability to make children laugh. His big picture approach ensures these ‘tears of a clown’ are peculiarly original, poignant and thought-provoking. 

Until 11 April 2021

www.stream.theatre

Photo by Bonnie Britain

“Eugenius” at The Other Palace

Here’s yet another irreverent musical, this time taking comic books and their creators as its subject, full of tongue-in-cheek fun and aspiring to cult status. A transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre was announced and cancelled just today. Let’s hope the breaking news is just a postponement to future success. The show is primed to do well by Ian Talbot’s admirably ambitious direction, which ensures that Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins’ piece impresses. There’s plenty of enjoyment to be had, even if Eugenius is a tame affair that too gently pokes fun at theatre and heroics: it’s competent, entertaining and only just short of super.

Reservations arise not just because the piece is derivative, although you will probably recognise a lot of other shows that have inspired it. Adam and Wilkins’ book is a bit messy and the humour tepid. There’s a coming-of-age story that’s whisked to Hollywood just as it’s settling down, with a clumsy competition device where our hero’s unpublished comic is to be turned into a film. Then there’s a half-developed struggle for integrity before the fictional world of ‘Tough Man’ collides with reality to provide us with moral lessons. None of this is bad, although the lyrics are strictly functional, but it’s Talbot who powers the show.

Christopher Ragland and Rob Houchen

Much is made of time and setting – America in 1988 – and the show cleverly cashes in on nostalgia. But the nudges to recollection are superficial, achieved by constantly throwing in references. There’s little effort to make the characters specific either. Their ages are a bit of puzzle and another niggle is ignoring how snobbish comic book geeks can be! It’s unbelievable that they would be so egalitarian with their references. Here it’s the performances that win out. Rob Houchen makes for an appealing lead as Eugene, likewise his love interest Janey and best friend Feris are engagingly performed by Laura Baldwin and Daniel Buckley. The whole cast gets the chance to shine with a lot of dual roles as Eugene’s fantasy connects with real life: Christopher Ragland and Simon Thomas both benefit.

It’s a shame that the love story in Eugenius is so predictable. Comics themselves have been challenging since before people started using the term heteronormative – so it’s odd to end up making fun of something more sophisticated than your own parody. The role of Janey is particularly unsatisfying, no matter how much irony is intended. Thankfully, when it comes to the most important thing – the music – Adams and Wilkins are on firmer ground. They can write a catchy tune and the score coheres well at several points. There’s a nice mix of pastiche and sincerity that offsets a lot of contrived moves. It may be a case of promise rather than something to rave about, but Eugenius deserves success.

Until 21 October 2018

www.eugeniusthemusical.com

Photos by Scott Rylander

“Afraid of the Dark” at the Charing Cross Theatre

The latest attempt to scare London theatregoers out of their seats is Afraid of the Dark, which opened last night at the Charing Cross Theatre. I chickened out of Ghost Stories but always recommend The Woman in Black, so consider myself open-minded about scary shows. Afraid of the Dark didn’t make me jump much – you wouldn’t bother daring someone to see it – but it’s perfectly diverting.

Intriguingly penned by Anonymous, the play’s various scenes of suspense circle around an old Vaudevillian magician who delights in scaring the wits out of a B-movie producer and his minions. Julian Forsyth takes on the role of ‘Master of Terror’, Dr Henry Charlier, with nice prestidigitation. And those he terrorises at the film studios (by giving them an envelope predicting their darkest fears) ham it up in appropriate fashion. Rebecca Blackstone’s screams are great and Mark Rice-Oxley tries hard to shed some light on his character’s motivation. None of the actors has that much to work with – characterisation isn’t the point after all – and nor is the plot trying to thread them together up to much. But there’s a good sense of humour here and some neat touches.

What impresses is the show’s production team. Effective light and sound, along with illusions from Darren Lang, reveal this to be a magic show that is entertaining rather than eerie. The stories are made the most of with technical expertise as well as some lo-fi touches that receive eager applause. Just like the movie producer looking for the next gimmick, Afraid of the Dark shows that cheap touches can work well. The real thrill comes from experienced director Ian Talbot who has more than earned his fee here. Consistently tense and swiftly paced, this play is more fun-filled than fear inducing.

Until 26 October 2013

Photo by Eric Richmond

Written 12 September 2013 for The London Magazine

“Charley’s Aunt” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Brandon Thomas’ legendary farce has enjoyed an illustrious history since its 1892 premiere, and a host of stars have donned drag as Lord Fancourt Babberley, who masquerades as a chaperone for his university friends Charley and Jack. Ian Talbot’s new production at the Menier Chocolate Factory uses the piece’s period and nostalgic appeal to delight the audience. It’s a “clinking good idea” that results in an evening both gentle and civilised.

In the title role, Mathew Horne gives an accomplished performance marked by surprising restraint. He never flags, but in trying to show the lovesick emotions underneath the antimacassar he’s using as a shawl, the comedy fails to fly. It doesn’t help that the show has two intervals. We get some fantastic sets from designer Paul Farnsworth, but taking time out for big breathers during a farce isn’t a good idea. There’s plenty of fun when Charley’s ‘aunt’ is chased around the college quad or a piano, but the real strength of the night is that the whole ensemble has its share in the spotlight, making Talbot’s production pleasingly balanced.

Dominic Tighe and Benjamin Askew both excel as Babberley’s fellow students Jack and Charley, and all the love interests (Leah Whitaker, Ellie Beaven and Charlie Clemmow) do well with frankly clunky roles, getting the laughs out of all those stiff upper lips. Steven Pacey works marvels as Jack’s father with some great comic touches and Jane Asher, who plays Charley’s real aunt, will leave everyone with the words “she’s wasted in the part” on their lips. Their performances all show a consummate skill that’s fitting for Talbot’s respectful revival.

Until 10 November 2012

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 2 October 2012 for The London Magazine

“Lend Me A Tenor: The Musical” at the Gielgud Theatre

A musical farce is a tricky thing to pull off, but Lend Me A Tenor shows us how it’s done. The book is the important thing. Based on the play by Ken Ludwig, Peter Sham’s adaptation of a star tenor’s guest performance is as simple as a farce is able to be. Confused love affairs, disguises, behind-the-scenes dramas and onstage shenanigans at a Midwestern opera house are combined with ease and plenty of laughs.

Sham’s lyrics are a model of clarity and hilarity. And if it takes guts to rhyme the name Tito with “indeed-o” then it pays off. Brad Carroll’s intelligently nostalgic score is easy on the ear. So what if you can see the mechanics? It works.

Despite the manic action (with the doors on Paul Farnsworth’s impressive set naturally getting a satisfactory amount of slamming), Ian Talbot’s direction seems effortless. With this cast, he can afford to be confident – Lend Me A Tenor has plenty of experience on stage and it really shows.

Matthew Kelly takes the role of Henry Saunders, harassed opera impresario, in his stride. Michael Matus is the star singer with a believably great voice and the kind of Italian accent you only get on stage. This team knows there is only one thing funnier than an outrageous accent… another character faking an outrageous accent. Stepping into the tenor’s shoes is Damian Humbley as mild-mannered Max, who gets the show’s big tune, ‘Be Yourself’, just as he is going onstage to masquerade as the divo.

With its female leads, Lend Me A Tenor, also excels. Maggie (Cassidy Janson) is our ingénue, and the opera’s resident diva Diana DiVane (Sophie-Louise Dann) is the “not so ingen-new”. Both are infatuated with Tito the tenor for romantic and professional reasons: Maggie wants to borrow him for a fling before she settles down, leading to the show’s romantic title tune, DiVane sees him as a kind of bridging loan to the Met and has a show-stopping ‘audition’ number. The superb Joanna Riding plays Tito’s long-suffering wife with delightful comic timing.

This cast is so strong that the performers might seem somewhat wasted; it’s an enviable position for any production to be in. But a musical needs more – that special something that critics are loath to describe as ‘heart’, and Lend Me A Tenor is such an enchanting piece that it’s clearly in credit.

Until 6 August 2011

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Written 1 July 2011 for The London Magazine