Review – A Judgement in Stone (tour)

To the always buzzing Orchard Theatre at Dartford for this new adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s book by Simon Brett with Antony Lampard; and Mr Brett’s comedy credentials (notably After Henry) show in some judiciously placed deadpan lines.

The curtain opens on a classic country house murder mystery set, beautifully realised by designer Julie Godfrey. But straight away we know we’re at a crime scene because of the police tape across a doorway. More unsettling is that the police are on the scene (The Bill’s Chris Ellison and Ben Nealon) and it’s several weeks after a multiple murder. But in the next moment the victims are on the stage and we’re instantly and efficiently transported back nine months to when they first appoint their new housekeeper Eunice Parchment (Sophie Ward playing a nervy social misfit but still commanding the stage). From this point on we are easily introduced to the narrative structure, with the police progressing their investigation in the present and the flashbacks inching ever closer to the moment of the crime we all know is coming.

This structure is, in a way, the essence of the appeal of the play. We know what the crime is and that its eventual execution will reveal the perpetrators to us. But we’re also treated to some effectively drawn characters, each with distinctive characteristics effectively realised by a big name cast. The murdered Coverdale family is headed by Robert Duncan – to me best known for Drop the Dead Donkey. And dour maid Eva Baalham is played by Shirley Anne Field – who starred in the new wave of British films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Entertainer. Also giving what we may call a bravura turn as peroxide blond nosey parker post mistress Joan Smith is Deborah Grant, a TV stalwart having recently been in Not Going Out and first coming to notice in Bergerac.

Roy Marsden  directs this engrossing evening with plenty to reward an attentive theatre goer. If you thought the current BBC series Rellik was being novel in its backwards narrative structure, think again and enjoy this neat and convincing murder mystery from end to beginning.

Until 30 September at Dartford Orchard Theatre and on tour.

Review – Songs for a New World

Once again Sue in the Stalls is at the ever delightful The Space in London’s Docklands, this time for a musical event  – Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Songs for a New World‘.

A constant stream of exciting and occasionally moving melodies is something of a hallmark of Jason Robert Brown’s work, and ‘Songs for a New World’  is no exception. With limited plot, and more of an overarching sentiment holding the pieces together, the cast at The Space had to really emote throughout each individual performance, whilst gelling seamlessly as a team and holding the 90-minutes plus interval production together. No mean feat.

The Space, Songs For A New World, Theatre, Jason Robert Brown, London

The individual performances of Rosie Cumber, Meesha Turner, George Gehm and Oliver Metcalfe were thought provoking and emotional. The strength of their solo voices was amplified when together they sang, filling the room. They were beautifully accompanied by the band under the Musical Director, Sally Goodworth, with a stand-out performer on the drums, seeming to really hold the show tightly together.

Cumber, Turner, Gehm and Metcalfe are faced with the potentially daunting task of jumping between emotions for each song they perform. At times they are called upon to be bold and daring, brash and callous, moody and reserved or even just a silent partner during someone else’s turn in the spotlight. The dedication and talent of each performer meant that these transitions rarely felt uneven, and their distinct characters were easy to spot. The basic and static set was used inventively at times, and projection added a sense of depth and variety to the otherwise bland stage.

Stand out numbers include Meesha Turner as a seductive yet scornful Mrs Claus in “Surabaya-Santa”. This song really gave Turner the opportunity to show off the rich tone of her vocals, particularly in the lower end of her range which is her clear strength. “She Cries” offered a more sensitive performance, whilst “The River Won’t Flow” brought the whole company together in a raucous but musically sound performance. Rosie Cumber’s performance of “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” was sensitive yet empowering, giving the character a depth of emotions you wouldn’t expect possible in a brief singular song.

The Space is an intimate and inviting venue which at times felt overpowered by the vocals on display. With song taking centre stage (dialogue and choreography slip into the shadows) the cast admirably offered varied tone and dynamic but could even afford to pull back more, allowing the wonderful music to fill the space. Overall, ‘Songs for a New World’ was an uplifting and musically varied masterclass in song, as an ideal combination of musical direction, performance and of course the impeccable work of Jason Robert Brown came together. The talent on show was undeniable, and the hard working cast (barely a moment off stage for them all) received a well deserved standing ovation for their efforts.

‘Songs for a New World’ by Jason Robert Brown is at The Space until Saturday 16 September 2017.

Tickets can be purchased HERE.

Review – The Woman in Black

In the decades it has been on the stage, The Woman in Black has retained a reputation for being able to give even the most seasoned theatregoer a fright. It has been probably fifteen years since I last saw Susan Hill’s terrifying ghost story on stage, so I thought it was high time I ventured across the marshes once more to see if I could still get a fright.

My last encounter with The Woman in Black was the Hammer Horror movie version, starring Daniel Radcliffe, which I found genuinely pretty scary so I was excited to experience the same thrill as I stepped into The Fortune Theatre, London. The Fortune is an ideal location for a show like this, a small theatre with the audience so close to the stage they are almost in amongst the actors. I say in amongst, there are only two of them working their socks off the entire play. ‘The Actor’ and ‘Arthur Kipps’ take on multiple roles throughout The Woman in Black and have barely a second off stage each as they plough through the dialogue, building and diffusing tension expertly and despite it no doubt being something of a slog for an actor to be performing constantly, they make it seem effortless and spontaneous which of course adds to the terror of it.
There are moments that I recalled from my previous visit to The Woman in Black (I won’t spoil them here) and I anticipated not jumping out of my seat quite so violently but yet again the show was one step ahead and I gasped and twitched with shock along with the rest of the audience at The Fortune Theatre.
Susan Hill’s novel, and therefore the play, use lots of classic ghost story tropes to build fear, tension and excitement throughout the show. The play has an added device in that it is a play within a play, so therefore moments of tension can be diffused suddenly when the ‘actors’ break to their original characters. It is all very cleverly yet simply done and is definitely worth a visit, particularly in the run up to Halloween!