Do YOU think the Coughing Major cheated? At the end of this retelling of the Millionaire quiz scandal, the cast asks the audience: PATRICK MARMION reviews Quiz
Quiz (Chichester Festival Theatre)
Verdict: Judged and found wanting
One of the best lines in James Graham’s play about Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? remarks on how the British love a pub quiz because it combines two of their favourite things: ‘drinking and being right’.
That wasn’t enough to satisfy one woman in the audience, who collared me in the interval after seeing me taking notes. She demanded to know if I was the director or a critic. ‘A critic’, I bleated meekly, fearful of what was coming next. ‘Well I’m leaving,’ she said ‘I think it’s c***.’
That’s a harsh assessment of Daniel Evans’s genial revival of his hit 2017 production about Major Charles Ingram and his wife, Diana. They were convicted with college lecturer Tecwen Whittock for their part in a supposed coughing scam they used to cheat their way to the ITV quiz show’s jackpot in 2001.
Graham sets out to re-examine the Ingrams’ conviction, offering the case for the prosecution in the first half, and for the defence in the second. The audience gives its verdict by voting at the end.
Yet the show also treats the whole episode as a bit of joke.
James Graham sets out to re-examine the Ingrams’ conviction, offering the case for the prosecution in the first half, and for the defence in the second. The audience gives its verdict by voting at the end
Nothing less should have been expected of Rory Bremner, who is immaculate as the adenoidal, Gromit-grinning, arm-folding, chin-stroking host, Chris Tarrant.
But Mark Benton, as the trial judge, turns His Honour into a wise-cracking clown — with little interest in the truth.
As Charles and Diana Ingram, Lewis Reeves and Charley Webb have precious little to play with. Both regimentally conventional, they are mainly suspicious for their dress sense: he with his hideous harlequin short-sleeved shirt; she with her eternal Alice band.
Daniel Evans’s touring production (co-directed with Sean Linnen) uses video projections to create the febrile atmosphere of the television studio, with close-ups of contestants. But at this week’s final preview they were out of sync with the action, making it hard to know where to focus.
Even so, it’s a neatly choreographed performance, including a karaoke sequence where Marc Antolin (playing a number of roles) sings both the Lionel Richie and Diana Ross parts in Endless Love in a surreal interlude.
The TV show’s heart-thumping music does add tension; and Quiz nuts may find it irresistible.
The rest of us may prefer to keep our cash – that’s my final answer.
Octopolis (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, London)
Your starter for ten… how many brains does an octopus have? Eight, nine, 16 or one? The answer is… nine! One in its head, and one in each leg.
That’s roughly how many you will need to keep up with Marek Horn’s brilliant, but intellectually demanding play about two academics and a cephalopod, starring Jemma Redgrave and Ewan Miller.
Marek Horn’s brilliant, but intellectually demanding play Octopolis is about two academics and a cephalopod, starring Jemma Redgrave and Ewan Miller
Redgrave is a bereaved professor of biology who has been sent a handsome young anthropologist to work alongside her and investigate whether octopuses might believe in God.
The move follows the discovery that groups of famously hermit-like octopuses have been found in ‘contingent cohabitation in begrudging communities’ — much like us humans.
The play could almost be a BBC podcast by Professor Brian Cox with its bold mixture of philosophy, religion, science and anthropology. But it’s also an intriguing meditation on the enigma of animal consciousness.
Luckily, Horn has taken the precaution of including a more accessible love story involving the two eggheads, while Ed Madden’s production – set in what feels like a subterranean aquarium – is energised by the two regularly dancing to songs by David Bowie.
Redgrave fascinates as the bereaved academic with a fearful, haunted look. And Miller brings fierce intelligence to his role as the young anthropologist who becomes emotionally entangled with Redgrave and her multi-brained mollusc.
The play could almost be a BBC podcast by Professor Brian Cox with its bold mixture of philosophy, religion, science and anthropology, writes Patrick Marmion
Close-Up – The Twiggy Musical (Menier Chocolate Factory, London)
Verdict: Twig-thin drama
By Georgina Brown
If anyone deserves a tribute show, it’s Twiggy, the slip of a girl who became the face of 1966, a real-life Cinderella, saviour of Marks & Spencer, national treasure.
But not this flavourless, flat-footed juke-box musical written and directed by Ben Elton, which flicks through her CV, finds a golden oldie (from White Cliffs Of Dover to The Air That I Breathe) to chart a moment and slaps on a clunking commentary about Britain which unfailingly patronises the audience.
Twiggy was born Lesley Hornby in 1949 in Neasden, the youngest of three daughters, to a mentally fragile mum of 42 and a capable joiner dad, from Lancashire.
Britain was ‘white, straight and binary’ (a word unheard back then) and class-ridden: ‘Upper, middle, lower.’ Twiggy, lower, the wrong class to be a model.
But hey, this was the Swinging Sixties. Just 15, she catches the eye of creepy Justin de Villeneuve (Matt Corner) who thinks she looks ‘gear’ in the minidress she has run up herself. Cue ‘Down Town’. He becomes her boyfriend, manager, controller and spends all her money. ‘Gaslighting,’ says a schoolmate.
Twiggy aka Dame Lesley Lawson (left) and Dame Emma Thompson attend the press night after party for ‘Close-Up: The Twiggy Musical’ at The Menier Chocolate Factory on September 27
Gun-toting Phil Spector, wanting a bit of her, comes with the label ‘male entitlement, toxic masculinity’. Thanks Ben, what would we do without you?
There’s no tension, no atmosphere, no showing, all telling. Neither the costumes nor the choreography excite.
You may go out singing Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, nicely done by Darren Day as Twiggy’s alcoholic American husband Michael Witney.
You will doubtless leave wanting more photographs and film footage capturing Twiggy’s gamine beauty, saucer eyes with the painted lower lashes (copied from her rag doll), curly lips, total absence of affectation or ego.
She bats Woody Allen’s question — about who her favourite philosopher is — away with a cheeky ‘Who’s yours?’ and a giggle.
But next to this show-stopping real thing, it’s all the harder for Elena Sykes’s Twig, a plucky singer but hesitant dancer, to compete.
Elena Skye playing Twiggy and Darren Day playing Michael at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London
Beautiful Thing (Theatre Royal, Stratford East)
Verdict: Too twee to be true
Even when it premiered in 1993, Jonathan Harvey’s tender kitchen-sink comedy about a teenage boy falling happily in love with the lad next door on a sarf London council estate felt rose-tinted. All the more so for being bathed in The Mamas & The Papas’ gloriously gooey ‘It’s Getting Better’ and ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’. Deliberately: it was Harvey’s response to the fact that, until then, gay characters on the stage either flapped their wrists or slashed their wrists and, with the tragedy of AIDS, a gay life was anything but beautiful.
Three decades on, with gender taking over the agenda, it feels like a period piece. And a less significant one in Anthony Simpson-Pike’s enjoyable but imperfectly pitched revival which misguidedly ditches The Mama & The Papas in favour of Nineties hits.
Raphael Akuwudike’s football-mad Ste and Rilwan Abiola Owokoniran’s speccy Jamie are gentle, sensitive boys but too old and strong to convince they would come off worst in a fight with school bullies or Ste’s abusive dad. They think ‘frottage’ is yoghurt, but they also seem too assured to fear the consequences when mouthy neighbour Leah clocks they no longer sleep top-to-tail in Jamie’s bed but cheek-to-cheek.
Jamie’s brassy barmaid mum Sandra (Shvorne Marks) has been round the block enough times to have heard of an island ‘called Lesbian’, but that doesn’t guarantee she will bless her 15-year-old’s emergence from the closet.
If Ste gets beaten black and blue for burning the bubble-and-squeak, he’ll surely be murdered for being queer. Yet there is no sense here of jeopardy.
The attraction between Sandra and Tony, a middle-class artist (an irritating, glib Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge) strains credulity. As does bad girl Leah’s passion for Mama Cass. Scarlett Rayner has a lovely voice but, as Sandra says, she would be a natural Madonna fan.
With no one and nothing quite ringing true, a seriously fanciful piece feels merely slight.
Rebecca, The Musical (Charing Cross Theatre, London)
Verdict: Not waving but drowning
The big number in Rebecca is the title song ‘Rebecca’, shouted by Kara Lane’s Mrs Danvers, teeth gleaming, eyes glinting. It sounds like a watered-down version of Blondie’s marvellous Maria. Herein lies the problem with this musical version of Daphne Du Maurier’s matchless thriller, made bland by Sylvester Levay’s music — at best soupy sub-Andrew Lloyd Webber — and banal by Michael Kunze’s book and lyrics, originally German, rewritten by Christopher Hampton. Which are inexcusably ineffectual.
Rhyming ‘unthinkable’ with ‘unsinkable’ — several times over! — does not a rich lyric make. Whoever wrote ‘Orchids never were my style. Azaleas are more versatile’ is unfamiliar with azaleas.
Everything about this piece is derivative and desperately unimaginative, as if created by AI.
According to the programme, the piece ‘moved’ audiences in a dozen countries. These productions surely had more atmosphere than director’s Alejandro Bonatto’s amateurish attempt. In an effort not to break the (non-existent) theatrical spell, hotel bellhops and maids in mop-caps move the furniture during scene-changes. Characters, mostly below-stairs types, run through the auditorium loudly gossiping.
In crudely choreographed crowd scenes, servants hoot with laughter at their new mistress’s lack of sophistication; a gaggle of reporters (caricatures waving notebooks) gasp in court, in chorus.
Throughout, Lauren Jones’s (left) sweet naif and Richard Carson’s (right) morose Max sing with sensitivity and some strength above the thin, thumpy sound of an invisible orchestra of 18 squeezed through speakers, their efforts wasted on this second-rate material, writes Georgina Brown
The dismal designs amount to video projections of waves crashing onto the rocky coast behind rippling white polyester curtains.
The much-feted Manderley is plainer than a Victorian Gothic village hall.
Snake-like tree roots grow on the inside wall of Mrs de W’s bedroom where a Sapphic Mrs Danvers endlessly sniffs her dead mistress’s nightie.
Dowdy Mrs de W, mark two, changes only once from a sack-like, sack-coloured frock (denoting her dowdiness) into one similarly dreary.
She puts on heels to symbolise her new-found sense of self.
But throughout, Lauren Jones’s sweet naif and Richard Carson’s morose Max sing with sensitivity and some strength above the thin, thumpy sound of an invisible orchestra of 18 squeezed through speakers, their efforts wasted on this second-rate material.
Peter Grimes (English National Opera)
Verdict: Strongly sung, thrillingly conducted
By Tully Potter
This production has been improved and although it is still flawed, it conveys much of the excitement Britten’s masterpiece provoked when it was premiered by the ENO’s forerunner company in 1945.
Few operas give the orchestra such riveting music to play – think of all those interludes – and under Martyn Brabbins’s baton, Britten’s extraordinary aural effects, especially in the strings, are brought to vivid life.
In Gwyn Hughes Jones and Elizabeth Llewellyn, we see and hear believable interpreters of the title role and the patient, forbearing Ellen Orford, although both could purify their tones more at particular points.
The other vocal stand-out is Simon Bailey as the old sea-dog Captain Balstrode, whose bluff good sense is a counterweight to Grimes’s inherent violence, increasingly deranged dreaming and slim hold on reality. (Seagoing lads were often abused, as Vaughan Williams reminds us in his setting of the folksong The Captain’s Apprentice, but Grimes’s record is particularly bad.)
Few operas give the orchestra such riveting music to play – think of all those interludes – and under Martyn Brabbins’s baton, Britten’s extraordinary aural effects, especially in the strings, are brought to vivid life, writes Tully Potter
The main trouble with this production is that it makes all the other characters as weird as Grimes, when the whole point is that the Borough as a whole takes against him because his behaviour is beyond the pale.
With this proviso, there are telling contributions from Christine Rice as Auntie, John Findon as Bob Boles, Clive Bayley as Swallow, Anne-Marie Owens as Mrs Sedley and Alex Otterburn as Ned Keene.
Paul Steinberg’s sets are often very drab – ‘All right if you like corrugated iron, I suppose,’ my companion commented – and the sea still moves about from scene to scene. Balstrode still offers to help Peter with his offstage boat but remains onstage.
But the virtues are more than the vices. With the chorus, whom Britten treated like their equivalent in a Greek tragedy, singing sonorously and urgent direction from the pit, we forget the occasional clunkiness of Montagu Slater’s libretto and get caught up in the unfolding drama.
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