The Importance of Being Earnest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

While the Octagon Theatre undergoes an extensive refurbishment the company are performing in various venues across the town, one of the most impressive and merely a stones throw from the theatre itself is the beautiful Albert Halls. Part of the Town Hall the impressive Albert Halls acts as a perfectly fitting backdrop for Oscar Wilde’s much-loved Victorian comedy.

Our two protagonists, the dashing upper class cad Algernon (Jack Hardwick) and the seemingly more upstanding Jack Worthing (Dean Fagan) lead double lives in a bid to have some fun away from the strict social constraints of Victorian Britain whilst attempting to court the affections of headstrong City girl Gwendolen (Elizabeth Twells) and pouting country princess Cecily (Melissa Lowe) all of course to the distasteful displeasure of the domineering Lady Bracknell (Sarah Ball).

The play moves at a good pace once you get used to the slightly echoey acoustics within the lofty Albert Halls; Director Suba Das and designer David Woodhead have injected a real sense of style into this production. The stage resembles a photographer’s studio giving the cast opportunities to strike a pose and wink knowingly at the audience during some of the most quotable lines while the production opens with catwalk style vogueing from the cast by way of introduction.

Confusion and deception are the order of the day as we romp from the city to the countryside in this stylish interpretation. Jack Hardwick is exceptional as a flirty and flouncing Algernon. Hugely charismatic and convincingly charming you can’t help but root for this idle scamp. Dean Fagan’s contrastingly sensible Jack compliments Hardwick’s Algernon perfectly and the two bounce off each other offering some great comedy highlights.

Elizabeth Twells is in fine form as the determined Gwendolen. Strong and sassy she is a force to be reckoned with, the engagement scene is an absolute comedic delight while Melissa Lowe embraces the opportunity to play the brattish but ballsy Cecily with gusto.

There’s a slowing of pace during some of the scenes with Lady Bracknell, despite Sarah Balls’ authoritative performance some of her dialogue is lost due to the wordier nature of her lines in the expanse of the Albert Halls. The classic “A handbag?” however is delivered to perfection and gets the generous reaction it deserves.

david-cardy-jack-hardwick-and-vicky-entwistle

Vicky Entwistle and David Cardy as Miss Prism and Dr Chasuble bring an endearing frivolity to proceedings while Dan Shearer happily carries out his instructions as the put upon butler in various stages of undress.

Act I at more than an hour and a half does have the audience shifting in their seats a little while Act II at 35 minutes absolutely sails by, something a tweak or two could easily remedy.

sarah-ball

This stylish piece of theatre works and works well; it is fun, frivolous and delivered with a playful conviction. Another success for the Octagon Theatre in this faithful production dusted with a sprinkling of creative surprises.

Catch The Importance of Being Earnest at the Albert Hall until Saturday 15th June here.

 

 

 

Titanic the Musical

Titanic

One of the most infamous disasters of all time where a heart-breaking 1517 men, women and children lost their lives may not seem like the most obvious choice for a musical makeover, however this Broadway originated production and winner of 5 Tony Awards has its sights firmly set on disproving that.

Thom Southerland has stripped back the original Broadway production which was first seen on British shores at the Southwark Playhouse in 2013 before a critically acclaimed 11 week run at the Charing Cross Theatre in 2016. David Woodhead’s two-tier set with metallic proscenium arch has been upscaled to take in the large venues on this new tour to great effect; immediately transporting audiences to the decks of the doomed ship.

Howard Hudson’s atmospheric lighting reflects the changing mood and emotion of the story perfectly as bright, brilliant optimism is replaced with a chillingly dark desperation. Further adding to the authenticity of the piece is Mark Aspinall’s band who provide an evocative soundtrack of strings & percussion, sweeping magnificently from joyful light-hearted optimism to the dreaded fear of impending doom.

Maury Yeston & Peter Stone’s award-winning musical fills the Lowry’s Lyric Theatre with its soaring score and impressive 25 strong cast whose ensemble pieces are note perfect, packed full of power and quite simply breath-taking. Based on the real stories of passengers aboard the ill-fated ship the ending is one we are all familiar with the characters however perhaps not. The hard-working cast slip effortlessly from one role into another, portraying passengers of all classes to great effect, a nod perhaps to the fact that once you take away the riches & finery of this world we’re all the same.

The plight of the 3rd class is particularly poignant in this production, they are in effect seen the same as the rats that inhabit the lower decks. Their hopes and dreams however soar high, perfectly portrayed in the song Lady’s Maid where burning ambitions are revealed as excitement builds for the new lives each 3rd class passenger yearns for unaware of their tragic fate. The Proposal/The Night was Alive also offers a touching opportunity to delve into the backstories of characters Barrett and Bride, beautifully delivered by Niall Sheehy and Oliver Marshall it is a real stand out moment within Act I.

While the production is visually impressive and the cast one of the most talented ensembles you’re likely to see the depth of characters is somewhat lacking. There are so many stories going on that you never really get the opportunity to connect or care about anyone, leaving the final scenes much less emotional than they should be. Characters while portrayed well aren’t given the time to develop or grow leaving the audience disconnected to their plight. It feel like quite a marmite production, while some audience members around me mumbled that it was too slow, many leapt to their feet at the end.

I wanted so much to love this production, the cast are outstanding, their delivery faultless, the set, costumes, songs and score all beautiful the emotional connection however was lacking for me, sadly this production never fully set sail.

Titanic the Musical on at The Lowry until Saturday 12th May tickets available here.

Strangers on a Train

SOAT

When two men meet by chance on a train journey, little do they know the impact this life-changing encounter will have. As they relax into their journey, the drinks begin to flow and stories of their lives are shared. As hopes, dreams and life’s troubles are discussed an idea emerges which will have an untold impact on both their lives.

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith which was adapted for the cinema by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951, Craig Warner’s Strangers on a Train is a sinister tale of persuasion. Smiling psychopath Charles Bruno (Chris Harper) charms architect Guy Haines (Jack Ashton) into revealing his innermost thoughts then hatches a plan to commit what he thinks are the perfect murders, clever and calculated in a way the truth could never be uncovered. Of course something as dark as murder could never be so simple, the plan quickly begins to unravel & suffocate Guy as a manipulative and unhinged Charles becomes ever-present and looms large in all aspects of Guy’s life.

Chris Harper and Jack Ashton are entirely convincing in their individual roles. Harper is commanding and brash as Charles, obnoxious, obsessive and chillingly intense, he perfectly embodies a man on the edge of madness. Perfectly paired with Ashton’s calm and relaxed presence which becomes increasingly strained as the horror off his characters situation takes over, pushed past the point of no return by a tormentor he barely knows, he takes on the role of cornered victim well, keeping up appearances believably whilst battling with an increasingly manic oppressor.

While both leads and the ensemble deliver strong performances the pace of the play lets the production down, leaving a feeling that a good chunk could have been edited in order to allow the chilling tension the cast are so clearly capable of delivering to florish.

David Woodhead’s set while wonderfully intricate with sliding panels revealling hidden rooms at times muffles conversations & in several scenes blocks cast members from view for audience members sitting anything but bang central.

While some scenes are drawn out others feel rushed, with only fleeting appearances from Helen Anderson and John Middleton as Helen Anderson and Arthur Gerrard, both are excellent and draw attention each time they are on stage.

While there are some excellent performances which hold your attention for the duration of the production, the promised chill is never quite felt. Trimmed down this could be an excellent and gripping piece of drama.

On at the Opera House until Saturday 10th February tickets available here.