Tag Archives: White Bear Theatre

“Chummy” at the White Bear Theatre

John Foster’s new play has two strong ideas behind it: the scenario, of a killer hiring a private detective to stop him killing, and the delivery, which has the story retold and commented on simultaneously. The plot has the potential to grip and the telling, with characters revealing their inner dialogue, creates the entertaining sensation of reading a book. Sadly, implementation of this novel technique has appeal only for aficionados of crime fiction.

Megan Pemberton takes the lead as Jackie, an ex CID with PTSD and an overripe vocabulary, who is haunted by phone calls from the titular “maybe murderer”. Foster knows his heroine is too close to cliché and is playing here – but the game has limited appeal and doesn’t make things easy for Pemberton. Credit to Pemberton for holding the stage: direct addresses are strong and her detailing of Jackie’s mental breakdown, leading to the play’s twist, is good.

Her friend on the phone, Chummy, is an even harder role that Calum Speed tackles well. The character is a blank slate described in detail – an oxymoron that should ring bells well before we learn his name. Speed manages to make it work with a creepy laugh and various voices. As for Chummy’s victims – played valiantly by Jessica Tomlinson – oh dear. The first has a little wicker basket to carry flowers and uses the word “fudge” a lot. The second is an equally unbelievable police woman who acts as a stand-in at the world’s least successful crime reconstruction.

There is a point to reach and some skilled direction from Alice Kornitzer propels the audience. But Foster needs to curb his enthusiasm. More than one scene might be cut and all of them curtailed. The plot is slow and the language verbose. The aim of steeping us in noirish thrillers falters with painted metaphors, excessive alliteration and a lack of humour. That the dialogue is odd eventually makes sense, but the language is jolting – I am sure I heard the word milquetoast used at one point, and lost a few lines after that in bewilderment. There’s far too much lyrical talk of The City – unspecified – and as Foster surely knows, fictional detectives need defined locales; nice try for something different but it doesn’t work. The evening is saved by some nice touches from Kornitzer and three strong performances but the play is overwhelmed by the genre that inspired it.

Until 10 June 2017

www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk

Photo by Headshot Toby

“Good King Richard” at the White Bear Theatre

The market for Ian Dixon Potter’s play is clear. If you like your history, you’ll enjoy this show. As writer and co-director (with Courtney Larkin), Dixon Potter’s sense of purpose is dogged: to rehabilitate Richard III and set the record straight. If the monarch’s maligned reputation gets you riled, your passion should be satiated here.

For everyone else, the play has problems. Pretty much the whole script is exposition. We have Richard addressing the audience as troops, before the battle of Bosworth, as well as two sniffing soldiers, acting as a chorus – but no action. Too many facts and too much back story are compacted into the characters’ speeches. Some lines are so clunky, I felt like cheering the cast when they got through them. Credit where it’s due, though: the politics are clearly presented and the detail scrupulous. Unfortunately, it’s all closer to a history lesson than a play.

More seriously, Dixon Potter fails in his aim of making us think again about Richard, by recreating him as an unbelievable goody two-shoes. Nicholas Koy Santillo bravely tackles the title role, showing the king’s cold legalistic mind, but is given little to work with and a very bad wig.

It’s often said the devil has the best lines, which isn’t saying much here, but the most interesting characters are those who take over from the King as villains. There’s a vain and duplicitous Buckingham, who Ben Harper adds a fun camp touch to, and, better still, two great roles for women.

Catherine Dunne is superb as Elizabeth Woodville, running rings around the men who step into her path, with a sensual edge that adds tension to her scenes. Zara Banks gives a similarly delicious performance as a Machiavellian Margaret Beaufort, bringing her lapdog son Henry Tudor to heel. Whether these women really had the power Dixon Potter supposes is the starting point for another debate. Dunne and Banks certainly lift the play. It’s a shame that their scenes are the only time that you feel you are leaving the classroom.

Until 20 December 2015

www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk

“The Malcontent” at the White Bear Theatre

The Malcontent is a Jacobean revenge drama by John Marston. It could easily be a dry text, of mainly academic interest, but is handled as a thriller by the Custom/Practice Company at Kennington’s White Bear Theatre. In just 90 minutes improbable plot twists and court intrigues are rocketed through, making the play engaging and entertaining.

Marston’s Malcontent, Malevole by name, just to make things clear, is a divided character, appropriate since he is really a disguised Duke residing at his rival’s court. Parading as “more discontent than Lucifer”, his “fetterless” tongue is allowed licence at court just as a fool would be in Shakespeare, and he sets out to cause trouble and expose hypocrisy. It’s just a shame that he ends up being a bit wet. Adam Howden gives the role his very best – flamboyant as the cynic and convincing as the dashing Duke. And Howden isn’t the only talent that the casting directors present on the evening I attended should take note of.

The production does suffer from a common fringe complaint – a uniformly young cast. Although it is cruel to pick out one example, you couldn’t encounter a less likely candidate for gout than the slender Richard Kiess. It’s jarring: yet his is a fine performance that shows commendable comic skills. Lorenzo Martelli plays the new Duke fluently and there is a startling performance from Shanaya Rafaat as Maquerelle, a lady-in-waiting who serves the court’s vice needs, arranging assignations and lusting after bodies and money herself. Rafaat is spirited and riveting.

Accolades must also go to Rae McKen, whose direction is a force to be reckoned with. Clearly undaunted by the language, she presents the plot with admirable clarity, skilfully avoiding the play’s pitfalls, including its occasionally pious tones – this sexy, pacy production really grips you.

Until 11 December 2011

www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk

Written 26 November 2011 for The London Magazine

“Cyrano de Bergerac” at the White Bear Theatre

Gwilym Lloyd makes a dynamic Cyrano in this new production at the White Bear Theatre. His accomplished performance takes the audience on the emotional journey his life-long love Roxane makes – only quicker – we see past his prodigious proboscis to his charms well before she does. From a figure of fun and violence, we come to view Cyrano as ‘philosopher, duellist, wit and lover’. Lloyd achieves all this and, with such a firm foundation, director Simon Evans’ production does not fail.

Cyrano’s loyalty to his friends is one of many enduring qualities. They voice our concerns that his talents might be wasted for quixotic reasons, and also detail the depth of his virtues. Cyrano’s stoicism in the face of his, er, face is deeply philosophical. Chief amongst his retainers is Le Bret, whose down-to-earth delivery shows actor David Mildon’s appreciation of this fresh and engaging translation by Ranjit Bolt. Similarly, Ben Higgins makes his professional debut with a charming performance as Ragueneau, who is supported and inspired by Cyrano.

Evans skilfully uses the whole company in some playful moments of bandying wit that establish a camaraderie that pays off during darker moments. Cyrano’s proxy love affair has serious consequences, but there is plenty of fun along the way, including a scene-stealing performance from Samuel Donnelly as the dastardly De Guiche, who is also besotted by Roxane. And it is easy to see why everyone is mad about the girl – Iris Roberts gives a delightful performance as the playful yet sincere word buff. Philip Scott-Wallace (in another professional debut to be proud of) plays the handsome cadet Christian whose looks win her heart, with just the right amount of confusion to maintain sympathy for himself as well as Cyrano.

With a light touch, Simon Evans has brought out the complexities as well as joys of Rostand’s classic tale. It seems appropriate that even at Cyrano’s death there is laughter as well as tears and that neither seems out of place.

Until 4 September 2010

www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk

Written 5 August 2010 for The London Magazine