Tag Archives: Gareth Snook

Romantics Anonymous at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

With her last show in charge at Shakespeare’s Globe, Emma Rice is going out in style with a musical romantic comedy that showcases her talents. This adaptation of the French film Les Émotifs Anonymes, is hilarious and heart-warming with a sense of wonder – at stories and making theatre – that is Rice’s trademark appeal.

The story of two chocolate makers falling in love sounds sickly sweet but a big dose of humour prevents any cloying aftertaste. Angélique and Jean-René are pathologically shy – émotif as the French say – and that’s the obstacle they have to overcome to find love. It’s great material for a musical: when the tongue-tied characters can’t speak, they can sing. And the scenario allows the lead performers, Carly Bawden and Dominic Marsh, to win hearts, as we fear and hope alongside them.

You’d be cold indeed not to fall for this fumbling pair. But to cater for cynics, Rice’s book for the show has a cool edge. The therapies tried (including the film’s titular support group) are viciously funny. As is pointed out, the secret of chocolate is a touch of bitterness. So, alongside all the Gallic sensitivity, we have old-fashioned English wit. Even the self-help tape Jean-René listens to loses patience with him! Great jokes and a sense of playfulness mean laughs throughout.

While Bawden and Marsh are brilliant as our emotionally challenged couple, this is the kind of ensemble piece Rice excels with. The often Breton-topped troupe takes on a range of delightful roles. Take your pick: Joanna Riding as Angélique’s uncouth mother, or Gareth Snook as two chocolate shop owners, both male and female. When the cast assemble as the misfit support group, each and every characterisation gets a laugh.

Although the comedy numbers are superb from the start, Michael Kooman’s sophisticated score gets off to a slow start and the lyrics by Christopher Dimond seem serviceable rather than inspired. But, like another description of chocolate from Angélique and Jean-René, the music has a complexity and power that builds.

Despite its everyday story, and a score of satisfying references, Romantics Anonymous is an original. It’s the first new musical at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for a start. It glorifies in lo-fi touches, often Rice’s forte, that show each moment approached with fresh intelligence. It revels in the mechanics of theatre, creating complicity with the audience, with a novel self-deprecation. But the underlying, unabashed aim here is to create theatrical magic. And Rice succeeds so well, you feel gratitude for experiencing this great show.

Until 6 January 2018

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Steve Tanner

“Casa Valentina” at the Southwark Playhouse

From the true story of a holiday retreat for transvestites at the turn of the 1960s, Harvey Fierstein creates an intriguing and substantial comedy drama that has plenty of balls.

Peopled by brilliant characters, most of whom I’d happily see a play about, director Luke Sheppard’s European premiere revels in these complex roles. There’s a decorated war hero, known as Bessie, performed with great charm by Matt Rixon. Ashley Robinson gives the independent Gloria (“irresistible” as man and woman) an appropriately arresting rendition. And new to this tight-knit crowd comes Jonathan, literally allowing his alter ego Miranda out for the first time, with a sensitive portrayal by Ben Deery.

Gareth Snook in Casa Valentina by Robert Workman
Gareth Snook

This is all moving and interesting. But there’s another story, too, as the community searches for respectability. Driven by the serpentine Charlotte (played mesmerisingly by Gareth Snook), there’s a drive to dissociate transvestites from homosexuals. Charlotte is a zealot and her combat with a closeted judge, played by Robert Morgan, includes a riveting blackmail scene. Fierstein shows us not just the camaraderie of this community, but also how persecution blights lives.

Edward Wolstenholme and Tamsin Carroll Casa Valentina by Robert Workman 2015 6
Edward Wolstenholme and Tamsin Carroll

In the middle are the resorts owners, a married couple (or should that be trio?): George/Valentina and Rita. Edward Wolstenholme takes the title role, trying to make a business work and craving “normality” (he’s in the wrong place in more than once sense), while his understanding wife, the heroine of the piece, is given a strong presence by Tamsin Carroll. Their union collapses under the pressure of his competing personas.

Fierstein doesn’t blindly follow a liberal agenda. Clearly, revealing how difficult these men’s lives are creates sympathy. But the secrecy surrounding cross-dressing takes its toll on them and nobody here is a saint. Of course, the play is all the better for this. A work of deep insight, benefiting from the scrupulous mining of a time and place, Casa Valentina delves into psychology with flair and bravery.

Until 10 October 2015

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Robert Workman