|Date||23rd June 2018|
|Society||Tamaritans Theatre Company|
|Venue||The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth|
|Type of Production||Play|
Author: Gareth Davies
It is always refreshing to see a production by a local company in the Theatre Royal, albeit in The Drum. I did not know this Neil Simon work but the publicity and my own reading about the play promised a fun evening. The Tamaritans are still lucky to enjoy The Drum studio for some productions, and a high standard in this professional space was expected.
The set design (Robin Empsall and Niall Clinton) used the space well, with a realistic room setting. The use of the doors and staircase was fine, effective, and completely fit for purpose in this ‘farce’. The furnishing and props were well chosen and generally nodded towards the era, allowing the ensuing drama to unfold with ease. I did question the decision to set the action in a standard front room, though. This did not ring true for me as a home of people who live in a prestigious London house. Perhaps the room could have been a reception room/entrance hall of a large town house, with the various doors and staircase leading into other spaces.
The costumes (Sue Bailey) were all largely authentic and fitted the social circle as well as the period, the gents looking very dapper in their dinner suits. I do wish more attention could be given to shoes and trousers sometimes. Especially when sitting in a raked audience it is so often the shoes and trousers that pull the eye if they are not right. All of these characters should be dressed impeccably in every detail.
This is a demanding company piece and it is essential that the links are very strong throughout; there was some doubt about this at times in this production. The actors never let the pace or energy flag and ensured that the more manic episodes were enthusiastically staged, as demanded by the comic plot, but it felt too manic for too much of the time – more variety was needed in much of the delivery, both in terms of pace and volume.
The cast worked hard to maintain this production. Lianne Gore as Christine led from the start, building the increasing confusion of the situation. Sam Crawley as Ken was generally befuddled, his timing whilst being ‘deaf’ was well established and kept the confusion driving along. I did not believe they were barristers, however. Their characterisation for this couple needed more sophistication and more sense that they are professional orators.
Rhea Preston and Clive Lovatt worked well as a couple, creating believable improvised stories that became more extreme by the minute. Claire and Len were a very likeable couple. The long monologue towards the end of the play was impressively played – well done to Clive Lovatt for that.
Freddy Denman (so lovely to see him on stage again) and Doreen Sutton (remnding me a little of the darling Dora Bryan) delivered great fun in their quirky psychiatrist and chef roles, trying desperately to keep a handle on the situation without seeing through the multiple lies that were flying around. I always enjoy hearing a beautiful spoken voice and Freddy Denman could read the telephone directory poetically!
The arrival of James Allwood and Nina Jarram into this hugely dysfunctional party kept the dynamics sparking; as with the rest of the company these were generally good individual performances, whilst each of the couples worked well together. Nina Jarram is always good value on stage – her skill as a character actress was enjoyable to watch.
Finally arriving at the household were PC Conklin (Joe Gore) and WPC Casey (Helen Lawton) proving that the smaller roles need as much partnership, ability and comic timing as the other characters. Cameo roles are often difficult to slot into the final scenes of an established drama but this was effortless and all credit to the company and director. Indeed, for me, PC Conklin stole the show. Joe Gore delivered a perfectly drawn, comically vocalized and suitably silly portrayal.
One of the features of this production was the largely clever dialogue - there was a real conversational tone, which allowed this script to flow and the drama to have energy, and focus that is not always achieved by lesser writers. Many in the audience were evidently having a great time and enjoyed Simon’s jokes, although I did not feel it was his best work.
Many thanks once again to the Tamaritans for the invitation; it was interesting to watch this company at work in The Drum. I am looking forward to ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ in October.
NODA SW District 3