Tag Archives: Robert Portal

“The Truth” at Wyndham’s Theatre

French playwright Florian Zeller’s well-deserved success continues with this sparkling comedy of manners about adultery. As with his previous hit, The Father, Christopher Hampton adapts and the production comes from Bath, this time via the Menier Chocolate Factory. Twisting perspectives and playing with expectations, Zeller’s winning formula engages the audience in an enthralling fashion. This is edge-of-your seat comedy – as exciting as it is funny.

The staging is an austere affair – the flair comes with the writing and director Lindsay Posner keeps the action and performances taut. Four friends and their affairs, the deceit and double crossing, interrogations and revelations, are delicious. The thoughtful overtones of a play so self-consciously about lying are held in check to serve the high-quality humour.

Alexander Hanson, as Michel, gives a gleeful performance as an arch hypocrite who sees guilt as “useless” and lying as the sensitive thing to do. Hanson gets the lion’s share of the lines, followed by the mistress, a convincingly chic Frances O’Connor, her husband, who is his best friend, and the wife. The latter two, played by a wonderfully dry Robert Portal and Tanya Franks (brilliant in the final scene), may be on stage less but it’s testament to the script and cast that this play feels such a firm four-hander. The betrayed have secrets of their own (of course!), providing shocks and laughs.

The circle of lies Zeller constructs is viciously funny and satisfyingly clever. Silly slips and people trapped into telling the truth all happen in a wealthy milieu where discretion is the obsession. With lashes of Gallic sophistication only adding to the fun for a London audience, the wit and irony here is finessed to perfection.

Until 3 September 2016


Photo by Marc Brenner

“Around The World In 80 Days” at the St James Theatre

A rip-roaring comedy adventure that’s a thrill a minute, Laura Eason’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s story makes perfect family entertainment. Phileas Fogg’s race around the world – the result of a bizarre bet based on his confidence in Bradshaw’s guide and Victorian travel – is an extravaganza that keeps kids of all ages enraptured.

As an English gent of the Empire era, Fogg, a character created by a French novelist and adapted by an American playwright, provides laugh-out-loud moments for grown ups. A master of understated observation, Robert Portal is perfect in the lead, with the “mathematical precision” his character lives by making a romance with Mrs Aouda (Shanaya Rafaat) all the more endearing. Fogg is more interested in whist than tourism, taking derring-do in his stride. And all in a top hat. There’s plenty of fun with accents and just four actors take on all the extra roles – bravo! But it’s the superb physical comedy that marks the show. Fogg’s valet Passepartout’s punches alone make Simon Gregor a big hit.

There are escapades on an elephant, jungle rescues, sledges and a shoot out in the American Wild West. In the background, providing even more jokes, is a warrant for Fogg’s arrest following him around the world. Tony Gardner is superb as Inspector Fix (the clue’s in the name) observing that Scotland Yard has sent its best man to solve a robbery at the Bank of England… “as well as myself”.

Director Lucy Bailey inspires awe with her talents. Revelling in the mechanics of theatre, with trapdoors and tricks to make the show magical, her craft is clear to see. Showing us the world, while emphasising the theatre’s intimate scale, Bailey co-opts our own imaginations marvellously. Speed is of the essence, and Eason brings out the pace, but it’s Bailey who is in charge of punctuality here and, like Fogg, she is spot on time.

Until 17 January 2016

Photo by Simon Annand

“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