Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Coy’

I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of this Michael Frayn play. It’s just over forty years since I saw it first and four years since I saw it last, with three other productions in between; the gaps are getting shorter. On the first occasion, I left the Savoy Theatre by a back door, lost and disorientated, a case of life imitates art. The first act of Michael Frayn’s farce within the play, Nothing On, is played three times, but once backstage and twice onstage, and over a period of ten weeks.

We start at the technical / dress rehearsal on the eve of the first performance in Weston-super-Mare when the play is nowhere near ready after just two weeks of rehearsal. The director interjects from the auditorium and the cast try and remember the intricacies of doors and props, the most actorly amongst them still looking for their character’s motivation. There are personal relationships between some, though mostly secret.

Then we’re part way through the tour in Ashton-under-Lyne, by which time the director has moved on to Richard III in Aberystwyth, relationships are strained and tempers frayed but the show must go on. Now we see the same act from backstage whilst the performance takes place on the other side of the set, so we see the entrances and exits with the dialogue a sound backdrop. The director pays a visit, unhelpfully as it turns out.

In the final week in Stockton-on-Tees we’re watching the first act again. It’s got to the point where the feuding makes it necessary to improvise much of the show, with outright war between some cast members, and the director makes another unhelpful visit. They only just make it through, though through what is more to the point.

I’ve long admired Joseph Millson, but here he shines, with extraordinary physical comedy skills and superb comic timing. It’s lovely to see national treasure Felicity Kendall deep in the chaos as veteran actress Dotty / housekeeper Mrs Clackett. Jonathan Coy’s pensive moments trying to understand his character and aspects of the action are a joy. Tracey Ann-Oberman, in her final week, is a benevolent omnipresence, trying to keep everyone happy.

I felt the first act was a touch slow this time, but the second and third found me weeping with laughter again. A New Year tonic.

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I’ve always thought this a well-structured, well-plotted comedy; but I’m used to seeing a less radical, less farcical production and I’m not entirely convinced Timothy Sheader’s broad cartoonish take on it serves it well – though in all fairness I did warm to it as the evening progressed.

There’s a giant 3D frontispiece which rises to reveal a group of ‘dandies’ singing the first in a series of narrative songs specially composed by Richard’s Sisson & Stilgoe, then the first of Katrina Lindsay’s pop-up book sets. The Olivier’s drum revolve is well used to deliver the other three settings. It’s technically outstanding and looks great, but…..

Arthur Wing Pinero’s late 19th century play revolves around a lie told by the Magistrate’s wife in order to bag him. She takes five years off her age, which requires her to take 5 years off her son’s age, making him a 14-year old in a 19-year old body. He leads her husband astray (as a 19-year-old might) and she seeks to make other complicit in her deception so it isn’t revealed.

Though the acting style is somewhat OTT, in keeping with the directorial style, there is much to admire in the performances. For me, John Lithgow has to live up to both Nigel Hawthorne and Iain Richardson as the magistrate and he acquits himself very well indeed. Nancy Carroll continues to impress, here the broadest and loudest I’ve ever seen her as the magistrate’s wife. Joshua McGuire pulls of the task of making a 19-year old 14-year old believable to great effect.

There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles from Nicholas Blane as the other magistrate, Jonathan Coy as the Colonel, Roger Sloman as the chief clerk and Alexander Cobb & Beverley Rudd as servants. Don Gallagher & Christopher Logan provide delicious French caricatures as the hotel proprietor and waiter.

It’s an enjoyable evening, and thoroughly suitable seasonal fare, but despite the inventiveness and talent it falls short of greatness by its lack of subtlety.


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