A View From The Bridge

Miller’s classic tragedy of lust and betrayal is given a bold and confident reworking in this stylish Maddermarket production.

The set is stripped back to little more than a square of white flooring, a solitary chair, and a plain backdrop that serves as a screen for shadow plays throughout the action.

The colour is instead provided by lawyer Alfieri, whose narrator role is beefed up with additional dialogue and stage time, roaming through the action as Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie becomes increasingly frustrated at his niece Catherine’s developing relationship with illegal immigrant Rodolfo, to the concern of both Eddie’s wife Bea and Rodolfo’s brother Marco.

Greg Lindsay-Smith rises magnificently to the call as Alfieri, the wise but impotent commentator who, like the audience, can anticipate what is going to happen but can do nothing to prevent it.

As Eddie, Nick Meir is a study of masculine frustration: tense, troubled, terrified of acknowledging his taboo desires. The opening of act two, where he returns worse for alcohol, is brilliantly played: a slight off-balance to his deportment conveys everything we need to know.

Miller is sometimes criticised for the two female parts being underwritten but Panda Monium gives Beatrice plenty of character: a strong woman that guides her niece and stands up to her husband. Similarly Nyree Williams turns in robust and believable Catherine.

Jose Tarouca’s Marco is brooding and dark while Ben Prudence as Rodolfo is contrastingly slight, literally given their physical differences as demanded by Miller’s tale.

Jez Pike’s direction and design takes several liberties with the script. The boldness mostly plays off but the focus on Alfieri dislocates us a little from the meat of the play, and Catherine’s girlish fascination with Eddie is almost entirely excised. The shadow plays sometimes work well – such as suggesting the secretary at Alfieri’s office – but can feel like a conceit in search of a purpose.

On its own terms though this is an immensely powerful and enjoyable production, and a View not to be missed.

Waiting In The Wings

The superficially wispy plot of this Noel Coward play hides a darkly comic and sharp take on ageing and the lives we live.

Set in a retirement home for old actresses, the cast features a number of local performers who haven’t tread the boards for a while, with an estimated total age of over 1000 years – and it was experience, rather than dotage, that showed.

With the core eight residents almost permanently on stage, this is genuinely an ensemble piece but Sue Newstead and Mel Sessions edged into leading roles as a pair of steely old stagehands reigniting an old feud when their retirement brings them back together.

Gill Tichborne’s exclamatory Irish actress is overly melodramatic and a cheap stereotype – which is what makes her performance so enjoyable – and a sharp contrast to June Gentle’s sensitive and devastating portrayal of Alzheimer’s sufferer Myrtle.

This is a bittersweet play, with plenty of laughs and a good deal of pathos. We see the decline of these once-bright stars and feel their disappointment, but we also see their resolve in resetting their expectations and finding new ways to live. When one is offered the chance of a new life away from the home, it is both upsetting and absolutely right that she turns it down.

Cassie Tillett’s direction could do with a little more urgency (as could the scene changes), but it feels shorter that its two and half-hour run. This is a surprisingly powerful piece and a great chance to see some experienced talent back on stage.

Waiting In The Wings continues until July 20, 2019 at the Sewell Barn Theatre, Norwich

Faustus

This is the story of a man who wants everything, and is willing to sell his soul to the devil to get it – and it’s a production that has high ambitions too.

Marlowe’s sixteenth century text is there but it has been chopped and changed, and interspersed with video clips, songs, and jokes about iPads.

In the title role Adam Edwards has great tone and presence, descending into a despairing mess as his dreadful destiny becomes all too discernible. John Dane’s Mephistophilis wields an intense and cruel power; tightly wound and viciously bitter.

Giles Conneely has (literal) comedy chops, his expressive face gurning through multiple roles as (a surprisingly tuneful) Lucifer, Robin, and a much-abused Pope. Nina Taylor leads the assorted spirits and supporting characters, switching between a solemn Good Angel and an animalistic, prowling Bad Angel.

Jane Kidan, David White, Diane Webb, and Alex Gale cover a range of characters, including the seven deadly sins.

There is no sloth in this production, but there is a gluttony of ideas. Chris Bealey’s direction and design is bursting with clever concepts, but they are also clashing concepts. The cast can be proud of their performances, but I still left a little covetous of a simpler, stronger, telling of this classic story.

The 39 Steps

This stupendously silly spy thriller is a delight from start to finish.

Based on the story – but not the style – of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 film, itself a loose adaptation of John Buchan’s book, this comic romp turns theatre convention on its head.

Just four actors represent dozens of characters, making frequent in-jokes and playfully messing with what it means to be on stage: we see fake cars with breadstick window wipers, beds constructed out of people, and some very odd escapes through windows.

Everything is played for laughs, particularly by Molly-Rose Treves and Ben Prudence who take on most of the heavy lifting playing policemen, hotel owners, crofters, music hall stars, and even an airplane. Their comic asides to the audience are perfectly timed.

The strikingly tall Harry Benjamin stands out throughout as unwitting hero Richard Hannay, the unassuming chap caught up in a spy ring and having to fight to clear his name of murder. He has the debonair twinkle and sonorous voice of the classic matinee idol; you can’t help rooting for him.

Elea Hepper is a triple love interest, playing a glamorous spy, an innocent Highlander, and a no-nonsense woman of means. She is spot on throughout, but particularly shines as unlucky in love crofter Margaret; her pining tears both comic and strangely moving.

Director Chad Porter and designer James Utting have kept the production tight; it bounces along from gag to gag and the deceptively simple staging strikes the perfect balance between suggestion and functionality. Their planning, and the copious backstage help, is the silent engine that keeps the show running.

Patrick Barlow’s award-winning script is a modern classic, earning it a healthy nine-year West End run. This production by the Maddermarket Players absolutely does it justice.

Diary Of A Nobody

It’s not quite pantomime season, but this pacey and curious production has the warmth, absurdity, and frequent cross-dressing to almost qualify for that dubious label.

What sets it apart from those celeb-draped neon-coloured extravaganzas is that rather than being a tale of magic carpets, magic slippers, or magic beans, this is supposedly a tale of the humdrum. The magic is in the humour.

An adaptation of George Grossmith’s late 19th century satiric novel, it charts 15 months in the life of an ordinary city clerk. The conceit is that Charlie Pooter (portrayed without a single misstep by Trevor Burton) has decided that if someone like Pepys can make people endure his diary, then so can he – and he’s enlisted a troupe of amateur thespians to enact it on stage.

Accompanied on piano throughout by Mr Putley (Selwyn Tillett), he charts the adventures of his household: the excitement of not managing to growing cress and radishes; the joys of enamel paint; the annual holiday to the same small Essex resort. Each entry is a barbed comment on pretention of the aspiring classes, with order frequently tipped asunder by the crashing brashness of Pooter’s hapless but somehow high-achieving son Lupin (Laurence Green).

Green, together with Steven Scase and Paul Ellingford, takes on a slew of characters, changing costume, switching between accents, limps, and hats, as they crash manically through the story. They are sometimes singing, occasionally sashaying suggestively, and constantly silly.

Two minor characters appear as skeletons hanging from rails, their voices provided by the actors hiding their mouths behind newspapers as they have conversations – as multiple characters – with themselves. It is stupid, absurd, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Freja Gift’s direction and design gives both style and substance, ensuring lots of laughs without every becoming cruel. The conceit wears a little thin in places and a couple of judicious cuts to the text would help keep up the quality, but it never dips for long.

If you’re looking for a featherlight distraction to tickle you on these cold winter nights, you really should get a ticket. Oh yes you should.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Dario Fo’s famous farce leaves a unavoidable impression in this lively production by the Sewell Barn Company.

Karl Hartland and Claire Williamson’s direction really ramps up the ridiculous in the second half, mixing slapstick and physical comedy with the sharp wordplay.

Hattie Scopes leads as the Maniac, with a crazed eye but a little too much self-control, with Vincent Gaine and Emma Kirkham convincing as the duplicitous detectives.

Will Harragan’s constable sounds the surest note, with his background acting a delight all of its own.

Some of the political content lacks nuance and is rattled through in its delivery, but the strength is in the comedy and absurdity of the unfolding action.

There’s nothing accidental about the laughs; this is a rude and spunky production of a modern classic.

Burying Your Brother In The Pavement

This sparky, surprising, and brilliant exposition on grief, love, and family, bounds along thanks to a superbly talented young cast and pinpoint direction.

Written by Jack Thorne (Skins, This is England) it focuses on Tom (Matthew Doswell) as he grieves for his brother Luke (Jack Fisher), and his idiosyncratic plan to bury him under the pavement where he died.

In the process he comes across a rapid succession of unlikely characters, drawn with piercing accuracy by a flexible ensemble that nail the darkly comic tone.

Doswell leads superbly, evoking the confused surreal world of a grieving teen, barely absent from the stage during the hour-long run. Heather Kelly is brusquely sympathetic as his sister, and Ali Hunt a captivating modern street urchin.

This is a striking and heart-wrenching production with a very limited run; don’t miss it.