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.

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.