Tag Archives: Katie Bernstein

“The Power of Sail” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Paul Grellong’s strong play works well as both a think piece and a thriller. Set in Harvard, a professor who invites a right-wing speaker to a prestigious symposium causes predictable trouble that escalates into tragedy. With the help of director Dominic Dromgoole, and a crack cast, this quality affair is a success.

First the debate, and top marks for topicality. Arguments for and against the invitation are set out well. Free speech versus the feelings of students is only one angle. Our professor, Charles Nichols, wants to defeat the Neo-Nazi believing that the answer to hate speech is more speech. But Nichols is a narcissist, full of pride and privilege, even if we don’t doubt he’s one of the good guys. Julian Ovenden is perfectly cast in the lead and does a great job. The arguments are clear, presented with a cool passion, while there are just enough hints that something else is going on.

Julian Ovenden and Giles Terera

Students past and present argue with him, providing neat roles for Michael Benz, Katie Bernstein and Giles Terera. There is more to each than meets the eye. Meanwhile the Dean, played by Tanya Franks, isn’t happy either as her friend Nichols is turning into her biggest problem. Franks is perfect at showing underlying tension, making us wonder if her problems are personal or political. It turns out everyone here has other agendas.

Katie Bernstein and Tanya Franks

As motives come to light, the play contains twists. OK, there aren’t any gasp out loud moments. And moving the action back and forth in time might be a bit clearer. But the sense of disappointment over some characters or a wish to cheer others on is real and shows how smart the writing is. Plus, all those extras complicate the debate in an intelligent way.

Campus dramas can be rarefied. The Power of Sail doesn’t quite escape that problem and, although Dromgoole keeps the pace quick, in general the characters are too naïve. How caught up everyone is in their own world might be explored, how their actions have wider consequences emphasised, instead everyone just seems a little out of touch. Nonetheless, what could be a dry subject, although important, is made dramatic and the production impresses.

Until 12 May 2024


Photos by Manuel Harlan

“The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Duchess Theatre

Mischief Theatre’s hugely successful comedy started out on the fringe and is now a West End and Broadway stalwart. Running strong since 2014, the scenario of an amateur company, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, trying and failing to stage a murder mystery, seems so brilliant it’s a surprise it’s new. Plenty of jokes inspired by the title are ready and waiting. Add that this spoof of The Mousetrap cleverly uses gentle, family-friendly humour – you don’t even need English as a first language – and the hit status is easy to explain.

Slavishly following the lines while being forced into ever sillier improvisation, the poor players go from one disaster to the next yet, of course, the show must go on. There’s no shortage of jokes, although there is a lot of repetition. Those based on mistakes from the script are less funny, but the slapstick is spot on. There are plenty of wince-inducing moments – especially for the two actresses that end up trying to play the female lead (Katie Bernstein and Meg Mortell) – and real surprises at all the acrobatics on offer.

The jokes around the try-hard performers work, too, complete with their awe-struck realisation that they are performing to a crowd, Alastair Kirton’s nice-but-dim Max is very good here. Their thrill and nerves at being on stage adds an endearing element. When the director, another expert performance from Patrick Warner, who has introduced himself with misplaced optimism, breaks down, pointing out it’s not a pantomime (no prize for guessing the next line), it’s funny but also sweet. The show’s authors Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, who are also performers themselves, strike an appealing tone with an eye on engaging with a crowd.

There is a danger with any long-running show that things get flabby. The Play That Goes Wrong is so highly choreographed by director Mark Bell it’s pretty safe from this. But some jokes are dragged out, making you wonder if the running time is increasing. The cast are great and incredibly hard working – the action starts as soon as the auditorium opens. Yet it is the death trap set, designed by Nigel Hook, that is the star. It’s a real technical marvel that provides thrills, spills, and the best laughs. The atmosphere is great and the crowd leaves well and truly pleased.

Booking until April 2019


Photo by Alastair Muir

“Allegro” at the Southwark Playhouse

It’s hard to believe there’s a musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II that is only now receiving its UK premiere. The coup of finally staging this 1947 piece goes to the team of producer Danielle Tarento and director Thom Southerland. While you can understand why this life story of an Everyman, Joseph Taylor Jr, hasn’t joined the composer and lyricist’s formidable hit parade, the show is well worth seeing.

Taking the lead is Gary Tushaw, first handling the puppet that represents his role’s young years, taking us through first love at high school, a career as a doctor and finally the breakdown of his marriage. Tushaw is endearing and sounds great but his character is perhaps a little too saintly. We meet his family, of course – grandmother (Susan Travers) and parents (Steve Watts and Julia J Nagle) – all fine upstanding performances for the roles of fine upstanding citizens. Surprisingly, his love interest isn’t likeable, which makes her a deal more interesting and gives Emily Bull something to get her teeth into.

ALLEGRO 1 Gary Tushaw (Joseph Taylor Jr.) and company Photo Scott Rylander
Southerland injects as much energy into Hammerstein’s book as he can, with the help of some superb choreography from Lee Proud and a nimble set from Anthony Lamble that makes me confident none of the cast suffers from vertigo. And it’s difficult to criticise this “simple” story for being just that – when the “commonplace” is so clearly the aim. Taylor turns his back on big success – that’s his achievement. Time in the city, where living a “ratrace” gives the musical its title song, is far from the overall tone. The piece is obsessed with hope and home. Maybe I am a softie but I was amazed something so sentimental wasn’t cloying.

The ambition of Rodgers and Hammerstein in Allegro wasn’t timid, and nor is Southerland, but the show is small in scope and occasionally condescending. And yet a collection of songs this strong should not be missed. It’s clear that the ensemble, which includes professional debuts for Matthew McDonald, Benjamin Purkiss and Samuel Thomas, are committed to them. With numbers as good as The Gentleman is a Dope for a supporting role (a superb Katie Bernstein), you can’t fail to be impressed.

Until 10 September 2016


Photos by Scott Rylander