Thursday, February 21, 2013

'One for the Road' by Willy Russell

21 February 2013

The Royal Theatre, Northampton, reopened after refurbishment in 2006 with ‘Follies’ by Stephen Sondheim (reviewed here in November 2006) which was the first production by the Royal and Derngate’s new Artistic Director, Laurie Sansom. This week we were back at the Royal for Laurie Sansom’s final offering before he leaves to become Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland. His Northampton swansong was the appropriately titled ‘One for the Road’ by Willy Russell. I’ve enjoyed Laurie Sansom’s work at Northampton. While avoiding the ambitious excesses of his predecessor, Rupert Goold (a hard act to follow), he has demonstrated a lightness of touch, a mastery of music and a great ability for comedy, across a very varied range of material. Laurie Sansom productions which stand out for me from the past seven years include ‘Follies’, a marvellous ‘Wizard of Oz’ (reviewed here in January 2009), 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (reviewed here in September 2008) and 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein' adapted by Lisa Evans (reviewed here in February 2008) – all of which incorporated local amateur actors alongside a professional cast. I also fondly remember Sansom’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Private Fears in Public Places’ – with the audience seated on the stage, amongst the action (reviewed here in July 2009) and the surreal televisual farce 'Soap' by Sarah Woods (reviewed here in April 2007) with its magnificent revolving stage.

‘One for the Road’ is a Willy Russell comedy originally written in 1976 but significantly revised in 1985 (to set the action in the 1980s). A disastrous dinner party in a new housing estate somewhere in the North of England leads two couples to question what they are doing with their lives and to wish for the freedom of the open road. ‘One for the Road’ feels like a cottage pie (or ‘hachis au parmentier’) incorporating ingredients including Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigail’s Party’ (with John Denver here standing in for Demis Roussos), Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Thing’ (but with ‘Wogan’ rather than ‘Desert Island Discs’) and 'Neighbourhood Watch' by Alan Ayckbourn (reviewed here in March 2012) (with its common theme of suburban gnome vandalism). Willy Russell’s play predates all of these so it is a little unfair to suggest it felt derivative. It was a very funny show with a dark Ayckbournian sting in the tail and a nice way to say farewell to Laurie Sansom.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

'Canada' by Richard Ford

15 February 2013

"First, I'll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later." The opening sentences of Richard Ford's 2012 novel, 'Canada', seemed immediately destined for classic status. It's an intriguing start to an interesting book (which I read as an unabridged audio book, read by Peter Marinker). The narrator of the novel is Dell Parsons - a 15-year old boy throughout the novel's main events, though the narrative voice is the adult Dell remembering these events. It's 1960 and Dell and his twin sister Berner are the children of an apparently 'normal' family in Great Falls, Montana. 'Canada' looks at the relatively small steps that can transform ordinary lives into the extraordinary. When Dell's father gets into financial difficulties he decides to rob a bank. But he's not really a bank robber and his ineptitude splits his family apart. Though once he has robbed a bank he is a bank robber isn't he? Dell is puzzled by the way in which people become defined (and redefined) by their actions. Despite its focus on dramatic, life-changing events, 'Canada' is a slow book which builds a detailed picture of the ordinary lives which are to be forever changed. And it has a strange structure: halfway through we are suddenly in a new setting with a completely new set of characters in which Dell is the only link to the first part of the novel. Soon, however, we realise that we are following a familiar pattern as Dell's new life is turned upside down. 'Canada' takes us "where many bad events originate, from just an inch away from the everyday".


Thursday, February 07, 2013

'Borgen' by Adam Price

7 February 2013

I am a big fan of political drama. I have fond memories of the BBC Radio 4 dramas ‘The House’ by Christopher Lee and ‘Number 10’ by Jonathan Myerson, and the TV adaptation of ‘A Very British Coup’ by Chris Mullin, as well as ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘The Thick of It’. But I can’t think of any better example of the genre than ‘Borgen’ – the Danish TV series by Adam Price. I’ve just finished watching the second series of ‘Borgen’ on BBC Four and I’m getting withdrawal symptoms already. Sidse Babett Knudsen is wonderful as as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg: you can see the angst in her face as she tries to balance doing the right thing with the need for political compromise. The reality of coalition politics is frustrating and fascinating. The character of spin doctor Kasper Juul (played by Pilou Asbæk) manages to be both despicable and sympathetic and his on/off relationship with journalist Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is a constant sub-plot. If you’re missing ‘Borgen’ too I would recommend Vicky Frost’s excellent episode-by-episode blog on the Guardian website, see: (but beware of spoilers if you are still watching series two).

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Friday, February 01, 2013

'Get Follicled' by Lea Pryer

1 February 2013

Before Christmas we were delighted by our local amateur pantomime, ‘Rapunzel’ at the TADS Theatre (reviewed here in December 2012). Last Saturday we returned to Toddington to see the adult version, ‘Get Follicled: the True Story of Rapunzel’, again written and directed by Lea Pryer. Using the same set, the same cast (minus one or two of the younger actors) and following roughly the same plot, this was a parallel universe ‘Rapunzel’. For those seeking an ‘adult pantomime’ I suspect this fulfilled all the expectations that phrase suggests. It was incredibly crude, with nothing so subtle as a double entendre. Much of the show was very funny with the comic talents of Janet Bray, Rachel Birks, Mike Collins and Rory White wonderfully demonstrated in their adlibs and interplay with the audience. But, for me, the funniest moments were those aspects shared with the family-friendly version – the puppets, the facial expressions, the corpsing. And, given that the audience for the performance of ‘Rapunzel’ we saw in December was overwhelming adults, I felt most of us might have been happier with a reprise of that more innocent tale.

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