Tag Archives: Matthew Gould

“The Gulf” at the Tristan Bates Theatre

This work from Audrey Cefaly won the Edgerton Foundation new American play award and receives its European premiere under the careful direction of Matthew Gould. The Gulfis an artful, confidently quiet two-hander that examines a dying romance with powerful realism.

The lovers, well performed by Anna Acton and Louisa Lytton, are Betty and Kendra and it’s a case of opposites attracting. If you side with one party, it could well be revealing. And there’s the potential to take some of their wisdom away with you. Describing herself as “delightful”, Betty is a dreamer with a head full of plans and ambition. A bit of a snob, maybe, and with a secret to hide, Acton conveys all of her character’s complexity in satisfying style. Lytton’s Kendra is, appropriately, more charismatic. She describes herself as “a beast”, but obtuse is the better word used – living in the here and now there seems more awareness, a deeper intelligence, and Acton’s skill lies in revealing this.

Some snags may have arisen in the play’s move to the UK. It’s not quite obvious how old the women are, if indeed that matters, so when they talk about going to college it isn’t clear how mature a student each would be. In both instances, how dissatisfied they are, or should be, with small-town life could also be made more explicit. Finally, in my ignorance of geography, I’m not sure how much peril the women are in when their boat breaks down or whether Betty’s subsequent hysteria is justified or a telling revelation of character.

Quibbles aside, Cefaly’s writing of emotional intimacy is accomplished, exploring deep inside a relationship. Gould never upsets the tension or overplays the suggestion of physical violence, while the chemistry between the two is perfectly portrayed. Such a character-driven piece, with relatively low stakes and little plot, will not excite everyone but, as a close study, clear in purpose and execution, the play is impressive.

Until 5 May 2018


Photo by Rachael Cummings

“Goodbye Norma Jean” at the Park Theatre

An Essex grandmother runs away from her care home to Los Angeles, where she claims to be Marilyn Monroe. She’s followed by her grandson Joe, portrayed sensitively by Jamie Hutchins, and their relationship is explored with frank humour. The star is Vicki Michelle, famous for her role in ‘Allo ‘Allo, who makes the jokes work and creates some tender moments. Michelle lights up the show and is incredibly engaging. It’s unfortunate that the material falls short of her talents.

Dylan Costello’s script, which director Matthew Gould fails to rein in, suffers from leaden lines and an excess of events. Joe, whose boyfriend is abusive, talks to an imaginary Marilyn and has a burgeoning romance to deal with. It’s not that any of these plots are bad but, when combined, the play takes on more than it can cope with. Themes of fame and self-worth are fine, the topics are rich if unoriginal, but they end up being shouted and what could be a sweet comedy ends up taking itself too seriously.

The play has unhappy roles for its secondary characters. Farrel Hegarty has a near impossible task as two versions of imaginary Marilyns (I am afraid she appears to Michelle’s character as well) and only gets to shine with a smaller role as a TV host – yet another subplot that rams home the play’s suspicion of celebrity. Even worse is the part of Bobby, played by Peter McPherson. Costello creates characterisation through backstory alone – in just one scene we see Bobby as an unstable practical joker, a prostitute, a drug addict and the lover of a Hollywood star threatening to kill him. Clearly, a life a little too crowded with incident.

As for dialogue, the script is a tiresome collection of homespun truths that shouldn’t have been allowed out of the house, let alone near a stage. Some efforts at profundity don’t even make sense, especially in the relationship between Joe and Bobby, who fall in and out of love from sentence to sentence and end up talking about opening a pizza restaurant together. Nonsense like this, including a scene where Joe gets some new trainers, slows things down dreadfully. Throwing in terminal cancer and euthanasia seems vaguely tasteless and Costello’s script continually deflates during a painful second act. Hutchins struggles valiantly and Michelle makes sure you aren’t bored, but it’s a relief to say goodbye rather than au revoir to a script like this.

Until 19 March 2016


Photo by Mia Hawk

“The Glass Protégé” at the Park Theatre

A scandalous affair between two leading men in 1940s Hollywood, with the wicked studio system spoiling true love, is the subject of Dylan Costello’s The Glass Protégé. Even if you haven’t seen the play in its previous incarnation, entitled Secret Boulevard, the story seems the familiar stuff of gay folk law. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of the project, it’s clearly a labour of love, but what could be a serious story of passion feels trivial and sometimes dull.

David R. Butler plays Patrick Glass (the name a too transparent metaphor), an Oxford-revisited Englishman matched as a stereotype by a red-necked Texan, performed valiantly by Stephen Connery Brown, with whom he falls in love. Despite brave performances, the script doesn’t allow the leads to convince as film stars or lovers, with a romance that goes from tortured angst, via a Mae West impersonation, to a romp and betrayal, far too quickly.

Joining them, Emily Loomes works hard as Candice, a blonde starlet who isn’t dumb at all (are they ever?), while Mary Stewart, who can clearly hold a stage, has little to do as a bitchy gossip columnist who is, well, just a bitch. The play is fussily structured around flashbacks from the near-present day, which are more satisfactory than the potted history, as the older Patrick (Paul Lavers) deals with his demons and his son (Roger Parkins), along with the play’s only intriguing character, an East German immigrant, played well by Sheena May.

While the cast struggles with the script, director Matthew Gould doesn’t help, showing little thought about the small space worked in or the pace of the piece. The biggest problem, though, is the dialogue. The actors’ lines, surely meant to reflect the ‘garbage’ film they are working on, consist of clichés, platitudes and repetition (Hollywood is nasty – we get it). Exposition is clunky and characters merely vehicles. Attempts at profundity ring hollow time after contrived time and the play’s portentousness becomes tiresome.

Until 9 May 2015


Photo by Krisztian Sipos