The Physicists – “…. sharp and breathtaking…”

Reviewer: Peter McGarry, in the Leamington Observer 13th July 2017

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At what point does science become the enemy of humankind? The dividing line is thin, rather like the tentative balance between sanity and insanity, comedy and tragedy.

Heavy stuff indeed, but Friedrich Durrenmatt’s extraordinary play, as boldly tackled by the Loft, attempts to lighten the load by colouring its complexity with manic absurdist humour.

On the credit side, this curious concoction is superbly performed by a company clearly committed to the task in hand. The humour, when it comes, is sharp and breathtaking through the sterling work of Tim Willis, John Fenner and Jeremy Heynes.

They are the inmates of a mental asylum, seemingly living out their individual fantasies and furthering their scientific ingenuity by resorting to what they see as justifiable murder. John Fenner’s depiction of a self-styled Isaac Newton has a deliciously laid-back amiability while Jeremy Heynes as Albert Einstein exudes gentle eccentricity. Their excesses are controlled by a sinister woman doctor delightfully drawn by Wendy Morris with all the comical trappings of a mid-European Bond villainess.

Under the direction of Rachel Adams, the play has clever and striking moments but it founders on a tiresomely leaden opening section until Tim Willis bursts on the scene with a raging lunacy which is positively inspired, magnificently controlled – and physically draining.

Durrenmatt’s writing later creates another tedious sequence as the inmates pour out their emotions and motivations in a contrived round of socio-political analysis. Here we are required to consider the values of scientific development weighed against issues such as the Atom Bomb, the arms race and human suffering.

The overall problem is that like the inmates the play has an identity crisis, ranging uneasily between farce, black comedy, heavy symbolism and theatre of the absurd. In the circumstances, the company does a fine job with strong visual effects, a clinically clever set design by Amy Rodger and some notably good supporting performances from Julia Findlay, Angie Collins and Kaz Sangha.

It might be difficult going at times but this production is never less than provocative.

“Madness and morality handled with humour in latest Loft production in Leamington”

Reviewer: CHARLES ESSEX at the Leamington Courier 13th July 2017 – “The ‘faultless’ cast of The Physicists”

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Knowledge is power. Who controls knowledge? Once the genie is out of the bottle it cannot be put back in. Three physicists are held in a sanatorium run by a psychiatrist who seems as mad as the inmates. Each physicist had a nurse who doted on them but the nurses were murdered by their respective patients. The exasperated detective sent to investigate finally gratefully gives up as he accepts the inmates cannot be held responsible or brought to trial.

But is it so simple?

Set at the height of the Cold War as super powers vie for supremacy in the arms race, the stark clinical setting focuses our attention on the dialogue between the trio. Two of the three scientists pretend to be mad to get access to the third, Möbius, a brilliant scientist, to try to persuade him to side with the super power they each represent. The nurses suspected Einstein (Jeremy Haynes) and Newton (John Fenner) were not mad and were murdered to stop them exposing the deception.

Yet, Möbius, brilliantly portrayed by Tim Willis, was not mad either and had taken refuge in the asylum to make sure the seminal physics theories he resolved did not fall into the wrong hands. The dialogue between the three bristles with ethical challenges.

Ironically they are caught out by their hubris.

The seriousness of the issues was tackled with wry humour and the cast were faultless. Again, The Loft has not been afraid to stage a play addressing challenging moral issues.

* The Physicists runs until Saturday July 22.

“A totality of commitment to the Pinteresque cause”

OLD TIMES Loft Theatre, Leamington, until Saturday (June 10)

Reviewer: Peter McGarry

In Pinter-land people talk around in circles, thoughts are left unfinished and the atmosphere is charged with vibes of surreality.

For some 60 years the works of Harold Pinter have been hailed as a fourth dimension of literary theatre. Or, in some quarters, dismissed as pretentious claptrap. Whichever way you veer, they are a force to be reckoned with in terms of production and performance, and the list of theatrical giants who have taken them on is formidable, to say the least.

Photographer: Richard Smith

 

What is immediately clear from director William Wilkinson’s new revival of this 1971 piece is a totality of commitment to the Pinteresque cause. As a threehander, it focuses on the interweaving relationship between a man and wife and a woman friend from the past, and the potencies and distortions of memory.

The writer leans on sexual imagery and eroticism to suggest the innermost dilemmas of his characters. He doesn’t provide answers – Pinter never does – and revelation is denied in much the same way that Beckett left us waiting for Godot.

However you choose to view this form of theatricality, it puts tremendous pressure on the actors. Here, under Wilkinson’s astute design and direction, they respond with remarkable alacrity to the challenge. Rod Wilkinson’s Deeley taunts, whines and sometimes growls his frustration in a fine portrayal of a man caught in a whirlpool of emotions involving his wife and his lust for her friend.

Again in a recurring Pinter theme, he is the male constantly out-manoeuvred by the females of the species as they hint of a union of their own. Lorna Middleton displays these complexities in the wife with a quietly haunting subtlety. Mary MacDonald, an actress always at her best with forceful drama, is slightly less at ease with the Pinter mood and measured wordplay but nonetheless delivers a sound portrayal of the visiting Anna.

The production, originally scheduled for the smaller space of the Loft studio, has transferred well to the main stage in terms of overall design and will score highly with the Pinter faithful.

Sparkling stuff as Loft does Justice to Wilde masterpiece

by Nick LeMesurier, Leamington Spa Courier

 

Oscar Wilde’s perennial comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, gets the Loft’s new season off to a good start. It’s a sparkling comedy of seemingly effortless one-liners.

The plot, which I’m sure most of you know, is deceptively simple. Jack Worthing (Joe Riley) and Algernon Moncreiff (Sean Glock) are two well connected young men about town. Whenever they wish to avoid a boring social event they use what Algernon calls a Bunbury, a fictional relative who is usually in poor health or in trouble and simply must be visited immediately. In Jack’s case his name is Earnest, a dissolute younger brother, who he pretends to be when in town.

Jack/Earnest is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax (Hannah Burt), but is opposed by her fiercely patrician mother Lady Bracknell (Julie Godfrey), who also happens to be Algernon’s aunt.

Algernon decides to play a trick on Jack by pretending to actually be his Bunbury brother, whereupon he falls in love with Jack’s ward Cecily (Bella Stock).

Cue much confusion and comic soul-searching, a neat plot twist and eventually a happy ending.

The play’s familiarity can also be its downfall, and I confess a little trepidation when I agreed to review it. But I was delighted throughout. It’s tempting to try to out-Wilde Wilde, but David Fletcher’s direction pitches it nicely between high farce and schmaltzy rom-com.

Sean Glock has Algernon’s louche manner off to a tee, and Mark Crossley delivers a wonderful over-the-top performance as the genuinely earnest Canon Chasuble.

But the real star is the language; Wilde’s genius is not exaggerated, and this production delivers it warmly.

 

 

Temple Review – by Peter McGarry

Conflict lies at the heart of all drama and it comes in many forms.

This remarkable play looks at conflict in the context of conscience and how it decides or dictates a person’s decisions and deeds.

It fictionalises what could have taken place behind the scenes of a real event – the 2011  occupation by austerity protestors which actually caused the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral. But this is not so much about that flag-waving gesture as the mental turmoil inflicted on the clergy hierarchy indoors. As such it’s a daring and courageous piece of theatre for a local company to tackle.

The skill of this fine Loft production is its ability to examine what could be seen as a word-heavy script by maximising its potency as powerful theatre coupled with flashes of delightful humour.

There are no pat answers to the problems facing the Dean, the Bishop and the Canon Chancellor. Sue Moore’s subtle direction and a splendid set of actors enable us to understand their frustrations. Although the protest issue is not even concerned with religion, the unanswerable question revolves around which side deserves the true moral right of resolution.

The agony of the dilemma is revealed in another stunning performance by Phil Reynolds whose Dean readily admits his own lack of leadership flair but holds fast to his self-belief. Battering at his sensibility are Michael Barker’s strongly rebellious Canon Chancellor and Jeremy Heynes’s fluffy, old-school Bishop.

These characters are vividly brought to life, along with others inextricably caught in the crossfire and delivered in style by Kate Willis and Cathryn Bowler.

On the fringe of the clergy clashes, there is delicious work from Elizabeth Morris whose portrayal of an eager-to-please PA prompts memories of the great Joyce Grenfell.  And Richard Moore’s stately Chapter House set design stamps its authority with lasting effect.

We might never know what actually went on behind those closed clergy doors. But this interpretation offers very digestible food for thought.

Peter McGarry

All My Sons Review – by Peter McGarry

ALL MY SONS

Loft Theatre, Leamington, until February 18

Reviewer: Peter McGarry

Rain teems down, thunder cracks, lightning flashes. A lone figure cries out in anguish.

This portentous and brilliantly conceived opening heralds a theatrical experience of truly intense proportions. The play is Arthur Miller’s earliest triumph. The production – 70 years on – is a triumph for the Loft. It pinpoints the frailties of human emotions through issues which remain remarkably relevant today.

Having set the scene in the back yard of an Ohio family home, Gus MacDonald’s production allows the storm clouds of conflict, passion and betrayal to develop with grim relentlessness. The mood is achieved carefully and with subtlety, enabling the writer’s tight dialogue to be expressed with maximum force and no distraction.

It is wisely left to a string of fine performances against the background of Richard Moore’s evocative set to eke out the fearsome disintegration of the family. This is triggered by revelations of businessman Joe Keller’s culpability in the deaths of servicemen through faulty aircraft design.
From disbelief to disillusion, Joe’s son, through a superb performance by Jimmy Proctor, is seen to fall apart in the face of ultimately lost ideals and shattered loyalties. His good nature and optimism are touchingly realised in his feelings for his dead brother’s girlfriend – played with a stylish mix of sweetness and strength by Julie-Ann Randell – before the axe falls.

Miller’s play further twists the knife as Joe’s wife constantly refuses to accept the wartime death of her other son. In another stunning portrayal by Mary MacDonald, she is an outwardly bright but innately tragic figure inhabiting a fantasy world.

Joe, of course, is the catalyst for the fall and the eventual victim of devastating pressures. His gradual descent is beautifully realised by Tom O’Connor as he struggles to retain dignity in the face of overwhelming guilt. And there is some eye-catchingly good work from George Heynes as the angst-ridden son of Joe’s betrayed partner.

The cause of political upheaval in its day by flouting the American dream, the play still stands as a monument to the best of drama. As does this version which is a credit to local theatre.

Oliver! Review – by Peter McGarry

By its sheer weight of tuneful songs this remains one of the most popular musicals. The exclamation mark in the title could also be seen to reflect the enormity of staging it.

Dickens’s evocative tale of the orphan lad’s progression from Victorian workhouse through the grimy environments of back-street London to eventual long-overdue happiness demands numerous set changes and a great many faces.

Tim Willis’s bold production tackles them all head-on and if it tends to be a bit stop-start in the early stages, this will be smoothed out as the run continues.

By the time Oliver sings Where is Love? (hauntingly performed by Oscar George, who alternates the role with Megan Bignall), the emotional tug of Lionel Bart’s superb show is becoming evident. And when act two opens with the rampantly full-blooded Oom Pah Pah, we’re more than into the swing.

This show-stopping number is magnificently performed by Louise Woodward who so effectively etches the character of Nancy between bouts of bubbly high spirits and sad reflection (As Long as He Needs Me). There is eye-catching work too from Flo Hatton as her tag-along friend Bet.

The Oliver Twist story will, of course, always centre on the raw, brash humour and chill factor of Fagin’s den of thieves and here the splendid Steve Smith once again delivers a master-class in rich characterisation, investing the wily old villain with a heady mix of comedy and pathos. His young gang members respond well, despite looking a little too clean-cut for their back-alley lifestyle.

This hardly applies to the fearsome nastiness embodied in Chris Cortopassi’s compelling Bill Sikes, a well-judged essay in cold ruthlessness, and there are fun elements in Benjamin Wellicome’s undertaker and John Fenner’s Mr Bumble.

The austerity of the locations is significantly captured in Richard Moore’s set design which works wonders on a limited stage, and Matt Flint’s musical direction does full justice to those evergreen songs.

With a little more refinement along the way, this will be a worthy tribute to Bart’s brilliant adaptation. Even Oliver himself could hardly ask for more.

Peter McGarry

the-entertainer

The Entertainer Review – by Peter McGarry

Better to be a has-been than a never-was – one underlying theme from this play which could be seen quite cynically to reflect a broad context of Britain today.

Such ambiguity presents a formidable challenge to a theatre company in reviving John Osborne’s penetrating drama about disillusion and bitter self-appraisal.

It dates back nearly 60 years but yields a startling relevance to modern times of internal political upheaval, controversy over military forays into foreign lands and even Brexit.

William Wilkinson’s intense production focuses on lost British glory in terms of the good old days of music hall and its social lifestyle, reflected by the last-gasp efforts of a fading stand-up comic facing a new order of society. This role, once a non-Shakespearean landmark for Laurence Olivier, is undertaken by Phil Reynolds with courageous vitality.

He conveys the downward spiral of Archie Rice who is forced to be funny and in so doing he successfully delivers a stage act of outdated patter and wearyingly contrived songs. His performance is extraordinary in its credibility before a ‘real’ audience.

Behind these scenes Archie emerges with the practised superficiality of a joker constantly citing the joys of draught Bass and reviling the taxman, aspects again finely tuned in Reynolds’s central performance.  He is brilliantly matched by Wendy Morris as wife Phoebe, oozing cosy amiability as she sinks further into an alcoholic stupor – a portrayal that so cleverly blends hilarity with a sense of tragic hopelessness.

For all its basic power, the play’s construction is occasionally dated, notably in the static nature of the first 20 minutes. Lengthy pauses in a ‘waiting for Archie’ sequence seem to hamper the early stages of the piece as well as Steve Smith’s development of Archie’s once-famous dad which becomes so well realised later.

It remains, however, a notable achievement for local theatre.

Peter McGarry