Tag Archives: James Perkins

“Ruddigore” at the King’s Head Theatre

A happy birthday to the Charles Court Opera, which celebrates ten years with a cracking production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore. I confess to being a fan of G & S and, while this work is not their best, this excellent company glosses over this. And anyway, Ruddigore has enough silliness, with plenty of tongue-tying lyrics and improbable plots, as well as enough sweet tunes, to still sparkle.

This is a standard G & S story of smart maidens and unusual heroes, full of topsy-turvy and pleasing satire. A witch’s curse on the house of Ruddigore means its baron has to commit a crime everyday. No one is happy about the legacy. The heirs try to abscond, fiancées are driven mad and the local village bridesmaids have a tough time celebrating hymen.

Though the production is a faithful one, director John Savournin is suitably strict, so proceedings are snappy. The musical adaption by David Eaton, who performs on the piano, is admirably sprightly. James Perkins’ design brings a nice touch of the pier postcard to proceedings, while silly supernatural antics from the Ruddigore ancestors enhance the levity.

RUDDIGORE Guiltily Mad - Sir Despard (John Savournin) Photo Bill Knight
John Savournin directs and performs

Best of all are the first-class performances on offer. Matthew Kellett and Savournin both sound great as as the brothers who battle over a baronetcy – whether in hiding, committing crimes or repenting misdeeds – and Savournin steals a couple of scenes with great comic panache. Rebecca Moon plays the virginal Rose with a beautiful voice, while as bridesmaids desperate to fulfil their duties, Susanna Buckle and Andrea Tweedale give astounding value, standing in for a large chorus. A cast this strong means fans and newcomers, both to G & S and this work, are guaranteed to leave happy.

Until 14 March 2015

www.kingsheadtheatre.com

Photos by Bill Knight

“Dances of Death” at the Gate Theatre

Watching the intricacies of close relationships has an extra charge in the wonderful intimacy of the Gate Theatre. Opening last night, Dances of Death, shows us a marriage long disintegrated into a conjugal competition that is sure to provoke any audience. Howard Brenton’s new version of Strindberg’s influential classic condenses two plays into one evening to create a riveting night of theatre.

At first it seems as if we’re in for a comedy, as Edgar and his wife of 30 years, Alice, bluntly admit their misery, and settle down to a squabbling card game that neither enjoys – they have other games to play of a more sinister kind. Forced to join them is Kurt (Christopher Ravenscroft), whose crime of being matchmaker to the pair is something they have never forgiven him for.

Michael Pennington and Linda Marlowe establish the main characters with skilful speed. Their continuing contest is convincing, despite obscure motivations and bizarre behaviour. Pennington is marvellous at the captain of a military camp on a remote island; an impressive fabulator, rolling his eyes in a drunken stupor, and a boorish bully with a mischievous edge. Best of all, his depiction of physical illness is superb. Marlowe has a harder task, with a more ambiguous character whose past as an actress gives the whole piece a theatrical air. The performance fits the role, but director Tom Littler shows a questionable bravery in allowing some hands-on-forehead histrionics.

Poor Kurt’s punishment continues into the second play. It’s here that the production is most successful. As Edgar and Alice’s child, performed with a knowing theatricality that makes her very much her mother’s daughter, Eleanor Wyld makes a believable temptress. The innocent “sheep” now is Kurt’s son (a moving performance from Edward Franklin) and as the constraints in their society start to reveal themselves more clearly through the young couple’s relationship, the play starts to matter to us more. Littler’s pacing is bold and James Perkins’ design utilises Strindberg’s paintings to great effect.

It’s still a struggle to really appreciate Edgar and Alice’s relationship – a final admission of affection seems dismissed. The most interesting relationship in Dances of Death is that between its authors – this new version sees two writers, both with very individual voices, somewhat at odds. Brenton’s muscular approach matches Strindberg’s radicalism in many ways and both are visionary artists (interestingly, like Strindberg, Brenton also paints), but Strindberg’s politics are not well served. The writers’ union, like the one on stage, seems uncomfortable, though never less than fascinating.

Until 6 July 2013

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 7 June 2013 for The London Magazine