Tag Archives: Imogen Stubbs

“Communicating Doors” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

If anyone can deal with that tricksy genre – the comedy thriller – it’s playwright Alan Ayckbourn. And as if combining chuckles with tension weren’t enough, this sci-fi story of murder and time travel challenges the cerebellum as well. As Lindsey Posner’s studied revival of the 1994 play shows, Ayckbourn comes as close as anyone can to cracking such an ambitious juggling act.

As you’d expect, there’s plenty of running around rooms, the twist being that it’s one hotel suite at three different times. And while doors aren’t slammed, creeping around between the decades, with the threat of bumping into a murderer, provides a couple of good jumps. There’s a dominatrix call girl for laughs and an officious security guard (nicely paced by Matthew Cottle). Be patient with the comedy, as it gets stronger in the second half.

It’s fitting that only the women in the story can use the eponymous portals. Ayckbourn has written three fine roles for women that mischievously outshine the play’s male characters. The ruthless Reece (Robert Portal) and his henchman Julian (David Bamber) manage to be threatening, with Bamber’s toupee and dastardly laugh deserving their own credit in the programme, but it’s the women – working out time travel and taking control – that make the show.

Rachel Tucker’s tart-with-a-heart manages to be believably frightened and feisty by turns. Lucy Briggs-Owen and Imogen Stubbs play Harold’s former wives, both murdered, with suitable flashback appeal. Stubbs is particularly strong at carrying the scenario, with a no-nonsense approach aiding the surprisingly credible edge of this entertaining evening.

Until 27 June 2015


Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Little Revolution” at the Almeida Theatre

All hail Alecky Blythe, of London Road fame and Queen of verbatim theatre, whose new work Little Revolution is currently playing at the Almeida. When rioters ran amok in the capital in 2011, Blythe took to the streets with her Dictaphone and recorded what they said to her. Having editing the interviews, she presents an intimate take on events, using performers who listen to the recordings, via headphones, on stage and recreate the dialogue.

The verbatim technique isn’t easy; there’s a danger subjects appear manipulated and there can be an air of worthy documentary. The masterstroke here is that Blythe joins the performers, repeating her own questions and copying all the stutters, nervous laughs and hesitations that are the mark of real conversations. Blythe is enormously endearing, an innocent abroad with a microphone, mocking herself as much anyone, truly making the show.

Little Revolution is surprisingly funny. Comments no playwright would ever dare to get away with come straight from people’s mouths: a trio of young girls straight out of Little Britain, middle-class angst and a German journalist too clichéd to be believed. There’s little menace, more a sense of confusion as people try to work out what is going on. Blythe doesn’t delve deeply into the causes of the riots – although plenty of ideas are raised, none is explored – instead, attention is given to the effects of violence on an already fractured community.

That London is divided by gentrification isn’t exactly news. But Joe Hill-Gibbins’ tight direction appreciates that Blythe’s work brings this important issue home to us. The focus is local campaigning that kicked in just after the riots. Wealthy hippies try to help a looted shopkeeper, while mums on a council estate campaign to ‘decriminalise Hackney youth’. There’s friction between the groups, epitomised by a street party courtesy of Marks & Spencer, but though arguments are presented swiftly the play is never simplistic.

The cast is good, Imogen Stubbs and Ronnie Ancona standing out through their stage presence. More noteworthy is a ‘community chorus’ joining the professional actors and used by Hill-Gibbins to create a sense of scale and a casual feeling. Again this stems from Blythe. She likes people and her interest is contagious. Dramatically reconfiguring the Almeida space further enforces a sense of informality and investigation to create an atmosphere quite unlike your regular night out at the theatre.

Until 4 October 2013


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 12 September 2014 for The London Magazine

“Strangers on a train” at the Gielgud Theatre

Most people know Strangers on a train because of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film. As with the director’s earlier work, Rope, it was based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Hitchcock must have been a fan, and it would be nice to think he would approve of writer Craig Walker adapting the book, rather than the movie, for the stage.

Presenting Highsmith’s take on the ‘perfect murder’, with two strangers killing for one another, thereby securing alibis and depriving investigators of motive, it’s a disturbing journey worth taking.

It’s a shame that director Robert Allan Ackerman’s production contains so many frustrations. After a bold move away from the screen, continual projections make us feel we are watching a movie and some frankly hammy music sets a period feel in the worst possible way, being both clichéd and melodramatic.

Imogen Stubbs (Elsie) in Strangers on a Train credit Brinkhoff and Mogenburg
Imogen Stubbs

The first act is taken at a disconcertingly swift pace: this is Highsmith on a high-speed train. It’s all so quick that the performances disappoint a little. Laurence Fox and Jack Huston are the strangers, Haines and Bruno, who kill an unwanted wife and a father holding back a legacy. Fox’s accent slips as he rushes the lines and there are times it is difficult to hear Huston. The possibility of homoeroticism, so potent in Highsmith’s work, is also an issue. These are remarkably sexless performances (was this a conscious decision?). Of the secondary characters, only Imogen Stubbs, who plays Bruno’s mother with a knowing nod to Blanche DuBois, giving us an impression of what Marilyn Monroe might have become, stands out.

Everything improves greatly in the second part – ironically as the steam runs out, and the pace slows. Now we have the psychological outcome of the murders, the realisation of how dangerous Bruno is and Haine’s descent into instability. Fox and Huston have the chance to show themselves as fine actors, the tension is higher and the finale surprising.

Throughout, the show looks stunning. The revolving design from Tim Goodchild is worked for all it’s worth and the impressive number of sets is remarkable. A monochrome palette is deployed, with superb costumes from Dona Granata, making the show lavish. It would have been great if the suspense matched the style. But Highsmith’s ideas and the sheer power of her storytelling go a long way and Warner has done well to bring so much of this forward.

Until 22 February 2014

Photo by Brinkhoff and Mogenburg

Written 21 November 2013 for The London Magazine