Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fables and Farquhar

Don't be put off by the Janet-and-John-ish flyer for The Boy Who Cried Wolf, the summer show at Bristol Old Vic ~ it's stylish and clever, and funny enough to delight all ages. Aesop compiled over 600 morality tales and director Sally Cookson has selected eight of Michael Morpurgo's versions, succinctly scripted for the company by Adam Peck. A great family summer show with a street-party atmosphere, as King Street has been transformed into an open-air theatre with tiered seating, bandstand, and a play-park garden stage that fills with wittily inventive props and a diversity of characters created by the talented team.
Chris Bianchi brings irresistible rococo humour to every role but his star turn is a Gangnam-style hyperactive Hare competing against Lucy Tuck's lettuce-eating tortoise; Tom Wainwright is fabulously funny, especially as the Wolf-cryer of the title story ~ a stroppy teenager enlivening boredom by varied ruthless tactics. There's a brilliant sequence after the interval when he dons a Velcro hat and urges bleating audience members to throw woolly lamb-balls at it... you probably need to see that but trust me, it's hilarious ~ and like all the audience interaction, superbly well- judged. Funky live music from Will and Benji Bower enhances each mood and maintains the narrative pace. And the moral of the story is:  If you set out to please everyone... you may actually succeed.

At Bath's Mission Theatre, Next Stage production of Our Country's Good met enthusiastic applause at the end of its last performance before heading to the legendary Cornish coastal Minack Theatre in a double bill with Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer, its inspiration and contrastive counterpart. Writer Timberlake Wertenbaker developed this piece in 1988 from diaries and research from the penal colony in Botany Bay 200 years earlier, and the passion and pathos of this authenticity gives the story its impact. The bare bones are real: a motley collection of maltreated young prisoners did give a performance of Farquhar's play a year after their transportation, at the instigation of the Governor and despite fierce resistance from many of his officers. An excellent cast directed by Ann Garner movingly recreates the brutality of the prisoners' lives under the shadow of the gallows as well as powerfully showing the transcendent and redemptive power of theatre. The officers' arguments about the role of drama are especially strong moments, as when the Governor quotes Socrates views on slavery to his flagging director.  As social history this is salutary, and the irony expressive in the play's title is subtly evident throughout in the contrast of emotional empathy among the lower class and belligerence between their betters. Cleverly set and dressed, this production has some fine acting ~ I especially liked Joshua Ward's sadistic officer (clearly an ancestor of Mackay from Porridge) and young Tom Ash-Miles as Sideway ~ for the record, he was transported for life for stealing 'property' worth 28 shillings but, once bitten by the acting bug, went on to open a theatre in Sydney.

Also this week in Bath, The World's End at the Odeon, a story about a man so hell-bent on re-enacting the most epic pub-crawl of his life that the only thing that could stop him would be the end of the world as we know it. Possibly this comedy sci-fi will be hilarious only to massive Simon-Pegg-&-Nick-Frost fans but luckily I am! Loved it.

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