Ooh Mr Bennett! Pride and Prejudice a triumph at the Birmingham Rep

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It was the first one of the classics that I ever read, and remains one of my all time favourite books, so I had high expectations for Pride and Prejudice, which opened at the Birmingham Rep last night. Luckily I was not to be disappointed, in the careful hands of a note perfect cast, Pride and Prejudice proved to be as fresh and funny as it was over 200 years ago, when it first appeared in print.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Austen, , Writer - Jane Austen, Director - Deborah Bruce, Designer - Max Jones, Composer - Lillian Henley, Lighting - Tina MacHugh, Sound - Matt McKenzie, Churchill Theatre, Bromley,2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.persson

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Credit – Johan Persson – www.persson

The story of Mr and Mrs Bennett, and their five unwed daughters is a literary classic, one which shows that it’s writer, Jane Austen, was well ahead of her times. The daughters adventures in the marriage circles as they try to snare the perfect husbands whilst avoiding (in Lizzie’s case) the not so perfect ones, are filled with wit and a perceptiveness of the real situation for women in those Regency times. In Elizabeth Bennett, we have a heroine who was not only a modern women in her own times, but remains one now – spirited, moralistic and enormous fun. And, in Mr Darcy, we have the dark brooding anti-hero who spawned a thousand copycats, not least Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Austen, , Writer - Jane Austen, Director - Deborah Bruce, Designer - Max Jones, Composer - Lillian Henley, Lighting - Tina MacHugh, Sound - Matt McKenzie, Churchill Theatre, Bromley,2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Credit – Johan Persson – www.perssonphotography.com /

As the lead couple, Benjamin Dilloway and Tafline Steen have a fantastic chemistry which sparkles when they are exchanging barbs. Tafline is a great Elizabeth, with just the right blend of sparkling fieriness that makes her such a feisty heroine, whilst Benjamin exudes the dark masculinity and broodiness which is a pre-requisite for Mr Darcy.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Austen, , Writer - Jane Austen, Director - Deborah Bruce, Designer - Max Jones, Composer - Lillian Henley, Lighting - Tina MacHugh, Sound - Matt McKenzie, Churchill Theatre, Bromley,2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE  www.perssonphotography.com /

Felicity Montagu and Matthew Kelly were born to play Mr and Mrs Bennett, and totally charm and amuse in the roles. Montagu is just hilarious as the over dramatic Mrs Bennett, her physical comedy perfect for the melodramatic grand dame, whilst Kelly’s delivery of a comic punchline is showcased wonderfully, particularly in a very famous exchange with Elizabeth which begins ‘your mother will never speak to you again if you refuse to Marry Mr Collins…’, And speaking of Mr Collins, one of the absolute joys of this play is the performance of Steven Meo as Mr Collins, another physical comic performance that raises a lot of the loudest laugh out loud moments.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Austen, , Writer - Jane Austen, Director - Deborah Bruce, Designer - Max Jones, Composer - Lillian Henley, Lighting - Tina MacHugh, Sound - Matt McKenzie, Churchill Theatre, Bromley,2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Credit – Johan Persson – www.perssonphotography.com /

The rest of the cast are uniformly excellent, with Hollie Edwin and Jordan Mifsud an attractive Jane and Mr Bingley. This couple are somewhat overshadowed in the book by their rather bland personalities, but onstage their likeability and sweetness has you rooting for their romance. Another great performance was from Kirsty Rider as Caroline Bingley, she is both deliciously bitchy about the Bennetts and overly simpering when trying to woo Mr Darcy.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Austen, , Writer - Jane Austen, Director - Deborah Bruce, Designer - Max Jones, Composer - Lillian Henley, Lighting - Tina MacHugh, Sound - Matt McKenzie, Churchill Theatre, Bromley,2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Credit – Johan Persson – www.perssonphotography.com /

Pride and Prejudice is a sheer delight, funny and frothy in equal measure, and showing that its witty story has a timeless appeal.

Regent’s Park Theatre presents

Pride And Prejudice

Click here for ticket information

 

The Exorcist at the Birmingham Rep – Gloriously chilling

From the moment the lights are suddenly switched off, plunging the theatre into total darkness, to the minute the final curtain goes down, the theatre version of Williams Peter Blatty’s supernatural horror ‘The Exorcist’, currently terrifying wowing audiences at the Birmingham Rep, never lets up on the uneasy tension. The story of 10 year old Regan whose body and soul is overtaken by a terrifying entity that may just be the devil, has been striking fear into movie audiences for more than 40 years. And now it has been transformed into a truly spellbinding, horrifying theatre experience that is just perfect for those who enjoy their entertainment to be on the dark side.

adam-garcia-as-father-damien-karras-clare-louise-connolly-as-regan-and-peter-bowles-as-father-merrin-in-the-exorcist

copyright credit: ROBERT DAY

As someone who has never actually watched the film in its entirety, I had no preconceptions before the play, although I had certainly heard of certain iconic and notorious scenes.  I was intrigued to see how the theatre version would work, with a compact cast of 8 talented actors, and the action kept to just one house. What we get is a claustrophobic masterclass in creating tension and horror, with a cast that is clearly at the top of its game, with clear, crisp characterisations,  standout scenes that linger uncomfortably in the mind long after you leave the theatre, and a play that now stands on its own merits as a piece of impeccable, excellent theatre.

As Regan, the 10 year old protagonist, Clare Louise Connolly is chilling and heartbreaking. She fully conveys the frightened, desperate little girl, but her mannerisms and actions as she is further possessed are just brilliant. Jenny Seagrove also excels as her mother Chris, a movie actress and single parent who is trying her best to convince people that her child is possessed, and not just mad or disturbed. Her exchanges with Adam Garcia in the role of young priest Father Damien Karras are filled with a frantic desperation, as Karras tries to use reason to convince the mother that her child needs a hospital rather than an exorcism.

copyright credit: ROBERT DAY

copyright credit: ROBERT DAY

Adam Garcia is brilliant, one of a trio of priests trying to help the stricken girl. He is perfect at conveying an haunted man struggling wit his faith following the death of his mother. Peter Bowles has quiet authority as Father Merrin, and the final scene with the two priests and Regan is an emotionally draining experience. There is also a scene stealing performance from Tristram Wymark as Uncle Burke – his ultimate scene with Regan is one of ultimate terror and shock. The cast is nicely rounded out by Todd Boyce and Joseph Wilkins who are both excellent in their roles.

copyright credit: ROBERT DAY

copyright credit: ROBERT DAY

The special effects are wonderful, with perfect use of smoke and sounds to create the creepy, frightfulness that totally pervades this play from beginning to end. The Exorcist is one of those plays which creates tension in every single scene, and really is the perfect viewing during Halloween season.

The Exorcist

Reviewed – Dead Sheep at the Birmingham Rep

“Being savaged by Geoffrey Howe is like being savaged by a dead sheep.”

– Denis Healey

One of the greatest political stories of modern times is that of how the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, was ultimately brought down by her most loyal acolyte, Geoffrey Howe. The man who had been described by playwright Jonathan Maitland as Thatcher’s ‘political soulmate’ became her Brutus, her assassin with a resignation address that opened the floodgates to the growing dissent that had already been rumbling in the Conservative government.  ‘Dead Sheep’, which opened at the Birmingham Rep last night, looks into the intrigue, the key political characters of the time, and also the premise that it was Elspeth, Howe’s formidable wife, who penned the speech and sealed Thatcher’s fate. It is a masterpiece of political satire, absorbing, fascinating, sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, and, quite frankly, unmissable.

paul-bradley-as-geoffrey-howe

The play is a 6 hander, with three actors taking on single, key roles, and a further three actors playing a host of lead Conservative figures of the time. Steve Nallon, so famous for his Spitting Image portrayal of Thatcher, here reprises the role and is astounding. He is Margaret Thatcher, even the stance and the walk is correct, and those withering glances that could kill are there and used to powerful effect. His powerful is perfectly balanced by the wonderful Paul Bradley as Geoffrey Howe, played as a man of compassion and sensitivity, rather than the bumbling idiot Howe is often described as. Bradley’s performance is understated, part elder statesman, part henpecked husband, albeit with a politic wife and a real wife. Carol Royle is also stunning as Elspeth Howe, making her into the real heroine of the piece. Political, principled and charming, the scenes with Elspeth and Thatcher are almost a tennis match of thinly veiled barbs and insults, and the air literally crackles with tension.

steve-nallon-paul-bradley-graham-seed-carol-royale

With such strong performances from the central characters, the other roles could be thankless tasks, but this is not the case. Christopher Villiers is just brilliant, his hilarious turn as ageing lothario Alan Clark, along with a very funny turn as Bernard Ingram, linger in the mind long after leaving the theatre. John Wark as Brian Walden, complete with lisp, is another highlight of a play that is full of very funny, memorable moments, whilst Graham Seed adds heart and pathos to the story as the tragic Ian Gow, forever loyal, always trying to hold things together.

Dead Sheep shows that politics can often be personal. The removal of a Prime Minister could be due to extreme matters of state, then again, it could be due to the loss of a rather beloved country pile. Dead Sheep is a look at British Politics in all it’s glory, with a story that still resonates today, Europe, politicians with beards, strong female leaders, 2016 is there to be seen in this look back at our political past.

steve-nallon-as-margaret-thatcher

Dead Sheep Limited in association with Cahoots Theatre Company

Dead Sheep

By Jonathan Maitland

The HOUSE at The REP

Click here for ticket information.