Tag Archives: Lloyd Owen

“Noises Off” at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

The delicious irony that lies behind Michael Frayn’s classic is as effective as ever in this new revival. Taking us behind the scenes of a farce, from disastrous rehearsals to the exhaustion of a show that’s been on the road too long, actually demands great technical skill. Every deliberately forgotten line or missed cue, each slapstick move and faulty prop needs executing to perfection. Director Jeremy Herrin and his cast have the know-how and, with that in place, the audience can sit back and laugh.

Without diminishing Herrin’s achievement – as well as the coming-and-going of the farce being performed there are the backstage shenanigans going on – Frayn’s play is so perfectly written you can’t fail to get caught up in it. It’s clear from the midnight rehearsal we start at that all is not well. In Act Two, which takes us literally behind the scenes, tensions within the company come to the fore. And by the end of the show those naughty noises we can hear, from the exasperated performers, are nearly drowned out by audience laughter.

If a trick is missed, maybe Lloyd Owen could make it clearer that his character, the exasperated director of the show, is the company lothario. Likewise, the love interests – on stage the actress Brooke (Amy Morgan) and behind the scenes the stage manager Poppy (Lois Chimimba) – could benefit from more laughs from the play’s love triangle. But all the cast are incredibly hard working. For once in the theatre it pays to show the crowd that you are breaking into a sweat, and results are fantastic.

Leading the laughs are Deborah Gillett and Meera Syal as old hands Belinda and Dotty, who are full of endearing gossip. Syal flips from formidable to vulnerable as her elderly character, who has put money into the tour, has to work increasingly hard for a return. There are fantastic turns, too, from Daniel Rigby and Jonathan Cullen as two nice but dim actors who quibble about bags and boxes or questions of motivation. Every ‘love’ or ‘darling’ gets a giggle and, as affection turns into aggression, the play gets funnier and funnier.

Showing the show deteriorate as tensions mount is beautifully done – remember we’re seeing pretty much the same thing three times here! The perspective alters, of course, quite literally when we are behind the scenes, but it’s the creation of a mood by all the cast that does the work. Each scene may be manic but the characters have different paces as exhaustion and desperation sets in. Command of the piece’s tempo means that Herrin gets the final applause. Listening to his onstage counterpart, the advice is to deliver the show with plenty of “bang”. We have that, but the action never escalates into something incomprehensible. As a final accolade for Herrin and his crew, the sense of tenderness towards the theatre in Frayn’s play is clear. The commitment that the show must go on, even if that’s just for the “small crowd at the front of the back stalls”, is unquestioned. Admiration abounds for all involved with a fantastic play that’s brilliantly delivered.

Until 3 August 2019

www.lyric.co.uk

Photo by Helen Maybanks

“Good People” at Hampstead Theatre

Another hit American play opened at the Hampstead Theatre last night. Following the run of Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn Ed Hall’s theatre brings an award-winning play across the pond again, with Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Impeccably directed by Jonathan Kent, with a superb set from Hildegard Bechtler, the play is about a working-class woman in South Boston. A story of the recent financial recession, and good old-fashioned class strife, it’s full of intelligent belly laughs.

I can’t imagine Imelda Staunton took long to say yes to the role of Margaret, who is with us in every scene. A great actress at the top of her game, Staunton slips seamlessly into this is fascinating and fantastic character. Recently laid off work, with a disabled daughter to support, Margaret is sharp as a knife and deeply human, endearing us to her with her enduring hope and her disbelief about how the other half lives.

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Angel Coulby

The return to Boston of an ex-boyfriend – who is quite literally the one that got away – gives rise to two fantastic scenes of comedy and confrontation. As a ‘Southie’ from the same depressed background as Margaret, now made good as a doctor, Lloyd Owen provides a suitable spar to Staunton’s talents as the now successful man taunted for being “lace-curtain Irish”. And there’s a lovely performance from Angel Coulby as his wife. The tension and the comedy mount wonderfully as Lindsay-Abaire throws race, gender and questions of inequality into the mix.

The play is too fleeting, indeed fast-paced, to give any big theme its real dues; but if it’s thoughts you want provoking this is dynamite stuff for debate. The banter is brave and biting, while Margaret’s true desperation and the fact we continue to hope she really is one of those ‘good people’ give it heart as well as humour. The story is resolved in a courageously short epilogue held in a bingo hall, which shows what a fine plotter Lindsay-Abaire is. The play certainly deserves a full house.

Until 5 April 2014

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 6 March 2014 for The London Magazine