Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios

A strongly cast production of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg proves a fitting tribute to Peter Nichols at the Trafalgar Studios

“I tend to raise my voice when I’m helping people”

Just a quickie as we’re nearly at the end of the run for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, revived at the Trafalgar Studios by Simon Evans. This production might be sold on the star wattage of its leads Toby Stephens and Claire Skinner but for me, its real power comes in the casting of Storme Toolis as the titular Joe Egg, the first disabled actor to be cast in the role. 

Its significant because the character of Joe is disabled herself, requiring constant supervision, the realities of which are starting to show on the marriage between Bri and Sheila. Evans embraces an arch vaudevillean style to let this fighting couple let us know what they’re thinking, to give us insight into the coping mechanisms necessary to give their daughter the best life she can have. Continue reading “Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Privates on Parade, Union Theatre

“Everyone knows it’s the start of the Third World War”

Written in 1977 about events in 1948, there can be a temptation to dismiss the campery and dated gender politics and racial stereotyping of Privates on Parade as outdated and offensive. An argument could be made – and it is one that I have made myself before – that such notions need to be interrogated and challenged by productions. But equally, when the writing is intelligently nuanced and the direction sensitively done, audiences can be left to do this for themselves.

And so it is – I find – with Peter Nichols’ play with songs, presented here by Kirk Jameson at the Union. Take the time to delve beneath the surface and you’ll soon see there’s incisive commentary about the insidious nature of colonialism, about the personal freedoms that can be explored when released from the social strictures of home, about the contemporary lack of opportunities for women, about how war is an equal opportunities offender when it comes to shattering happiness, whether gay or straight.  Continue reading “Review: Privates on Parade, Union Theatre”

CD Review: Privates on Parade (1977)

“Remember the yearning we felt inside”

This 1977 recording of Denis King’s music is not going to convert any naysayers to Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade – the score to this play with songs doesn’t really stand on its own merits as it is too connected to the rest of the show. But what it does provide for those who know it and enjoy it (I loved the recent Michael Grandage revival) is an affectionate reminder of the rather unique old-school charms of the show and the catchiness of its jingle-like title number.

The beguiling period charm of the music is captured excellently here, remastered by Stage Door from the original tapes, as it dips into pastiches of a whole range of early twentieth century references – Marlene Dietrich and Vera Lynn being two notable examples – and cleverly steers a humorous route through the tangled racial politics of the failing colonial experiment. One could take offence here but to do so is to miss the intent of the show entirely.  Continue reading “CD Review: Privates on Parade (1977)”

Review: Passion Play, Duke of York’s

“That’s what men want to hear…pornography”

The trio of recent major Peter Nicholls revivals is completed with this West End run of Passion Play. But where Privates on Parade and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg thoroughly charmed me with their insights into his back catalogue, this play felt much less like a vibrant piece of interesting theatre and more of a dated portrayal of marriage and infidelity which, despite its technical innovation, emerges as an awkward example of middle-aged male wish fulfilment (credit to @pcchan1981 for coming up with the phrase!). This is somewhat compounded by the direction of David Leveaux which brings a lascivious, almost voyeuristic sheen that feels way too retrogressive for this day and age.

Which is a shame, as there is much to enjoy here as well, not least in the sumptuous luxury of Zoë Wanamaker and Samantha Bond playing the outer and inner voices of the same character. That woman is Eleanor, who finds her marriage of 25 years to James, Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton taking on the two sides of this man, challenged by the arrival of the seductive and much younger Kate. And through the device of the alter egos, we see how the corrosive onset of infidelity affects this couple both publicly in their interactions but also privately as their innermost thoughts are given voice. Continue reading “Review: Passion Play, Duke of York’s”

Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Rose Theatre Kingston

“There’s a limit to what you can do”

Good theatre makes you think, but great theatre makes you dig deep to really contemplate the deeper questions in life and how you might react in a similar situation. Peter Nichols’ 1967 play A Day In The Death of Joe Egg sits firmly in the latter category and in this magnificent production – a joint effort between the Rose Theatre Kingston and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and directed by Stephen Unwin – it deals sensitively but firmly with the challenging reality of being parents to a severely disabled child.

Schoolteacher Bri hates his job and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian – a juxtaposition which is beautifully realised in a highly amusing opening sequence – but his dissatisfaction has much deeper roots. His 10 year old daughter Josephine can’t do anything unaided or communicate with the outside world and the strains on his marriage to Sheila are really starting to show, they get by turning their life into one big comedy routine to numb themselves from the brutal truth of their situation. Continue reading “Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Re-review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre

“We’ll press upon the enemy until he’s in a funk,
And show him its no easy thing resisting British spunk”

Just a quickie to cover this return trip to Privates on Parade, the opening show of Michael Grandage’s 5 show takeover of the Noël Coward Theatre, as I was able to attend the final performance of the run thanks to the day-seating efforts of a friend. I liked the show immensely when I saw it at the end of last year and whilst I could see that it might not be to everyone’s tastes, I was somewhat surprised at the charge of ‘dated’ that some people levelled at the play. Perhaps it’s a conversation that needs to be had with someone who actually felt that way but it feels erroneous to me, not least because it’s not even set (late 1940s) when it was written (1977).

The biggest change of course was due to the untimely and sudden death of Sophiya Haque who played the role of Sylvia. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the company to continue after such a tragedy and all credit to understudy Davina Perera who rose to the challenge of taking on the role full time mid-run and achieving a seamless transition. Otherwise, I enjoyed the show just as much as I did first time round and having a better sense of the play as a whole, I appreciated the emotional depths of the writing that much more, the comedy has a more astringent edge in the knowledge of what is to come. Continue reading “Re-review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre

“How many sorts of people there are”
 

Well what an unexpected thing Privates on Parade turned out to be. Not knowing anything about it in advance meant it was full of surprises: the ‘play with songs’ moniker shouldn’t disguise the fact that it is closer to a musical than a play, and it very much needs to be treated as the period piece that it is. On the face of it, its ribald campery and racial stereotyping could be something of an affront, a relic of an old-fashioned past with old-fashioned attitudes, but to merely dismiss it as dated and offensive is to miss the wider points of Peter Nichols’ 1977 play and the nuances of Michael Grandage’s production, first seen at the Donmar in 2001.(FYI: this was a preview performance.)

The play opens the Michael Grandage residency at the Noël Coward theatre, a season of five star-studded plays – Simon Russell Beale is the marquee name here – with a new pricing model aiming for greater affordability for drama in the West End. It’s set in the fictional Song and Dance Unit South East Asia (SADUESA), a British army entertainment corps stationed there at the time of the Malayan Emergency in the aftermath of the Second World War, and follows this troupe of military entertainers as they tour their act through the hostile jungle of the Malayan peninsula. So against the near-oblivious flamboyance of the Marlene Dietrich covers, cabaret turns and jaunty full ensemble numbers, is a backdrop of long-simmering native discontent and explosive violence for which they are ill-prepared. Continue reading “Review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: Lingua Franca, Finborough Theatre

“They can have us spooning and forking any time between breakfast and bedtime”

Continuing the 30th anniversary celebrations at the Finborough Theatre is the world premiere of a new play by Peter Nichols, Lingua Franca. The play is set in 1950s Florence, where Flowers gets a job teaching English at Lingua Franca, a shambolic language school housing a ragbag collection of individuals from across the globe, all struggling to come to terms with a new society in a Europe no longer at war, whilst luxuriating in the Florentine cultural bounty all around them. The programme informed me that the lead character Steven Flowers is also in one of his earlier plays, Privates on Parade, it made no difference to me not having seen that but there’s a neat bit of casting in that Ian Gelder who appears here in a different role, played that character in the original RSC production.

At the centre of the story is a love triangle of sorts: once Stephen has become accustomed to his new way of living, he throws himself into a life of gay abandon, whipping his classes up into a raucous frenzy of singalongs and chants as a different way of learning and having already caught the eye and rapt attention of repressed and depressed English Peggy, launches headlong into a passionate, physical affair with German Heidi. As Stephen, Chris New brings a wonderfully warm charm which makes it easy to see why so many women fall for him and plays the darker, crueller streak that comes as he ruthlessly pursues his sexual urges at the expense of all else equally well. Continue reading “Review: Lingua Franca, Finborough Theatre”