Young Directors Showcase
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
Over the years, the Orange Tree has been a good training ground for young directors. If one ignores Sam Walters and Auriol Smith from the home team, the graduate list is still impressive. Anthony Clark, Sean Holmes, Rachel Kavanaugh, Dominic Hill and Timothy Sheader are now all well-established around the country and others are making their way. This showcase allows us to enjoy examples of the work of the class of 2006/7.
In keeping with the season's theme of Shaw and his Contemporaries this programme of four short plays could easily have the same title.
The Twelve Pound Look by J.M.Barrie
This half-hour long feminist comedy by the Peter Pan man owes a lot to Ibsen and in particular The Doll's House.
Helen Leblique's production of a play first seen in 1910 opens with a comic scene as Harry Sims, played by Stuart Fox, is indulged by his much younger wife (Katie McGuinness) while he repeatedly practises for his investiture as a knight of the realm. This has great comic possibilities, which the director enjoys, umbrella and poker replacing the more usual swords.
The household is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of an omniscient secretary, hired to write thank you letters to those who congratulate the successful and very vain man.
Daisy Ashford is outstanding as Kate, who is far more than she seems. Nine years previously, she was the first Mrs Sims and walked out without any more explanation than reference to an unnamed man.
She wittily proceeds to run rings around the soon-to-be-knight, reducing him to size by explaining that she is more interested in the twelve pound typewriting machine that released her from the hell of a successful husband than in all the riches that he has accumulated.
In addition to the previously-named actors, Paul O'Mahoney is excellent in the cameo role of lugubrious and well-named servant, Tombes.
Having seen this sensitive but very funny comedy, it would be good if the rarely-seen Barrie could become a regular fixture at the Orange Tree.
The Tinker's Wedding by J.M.Synge
Once again feminism and prejudice are to the fore in the second play, directed by Henry Bell and set in Ireland around a century ago. The Tinker's Wedding is a little longer but the flattest of the quartet. It is more interesting for its political outlook than the script.
Pushy Sarah Casey, an Irish tinker played by Amy McAllister, has finally saved up enough to marry her sweetheart, Dudley Hinton's taciturn Michael.
The tinkers are outsiders - travellers who literally live in ditches. As such, the mean-spirited local priest, played by John Paul Connolly, wants nothing to do with them unless his palm is crossed with a sum that would take them two years to earn.
While Sarah is willing, Kate Lock as her gabby mother-out-of-law would rather spend the cash on booze.
The highlights are a series of lengthy heart-felt curses, the best delivered by Miss McAllister but with competition from the old lady and more surprisingly the priest who, having got too greedy, finds himself bettered much to his disgust.
Playgoers by A.W.Pinero
In Helen Leblique's hands, this 25-minute gem could almost be a Monty Python sketch. Arthur Wing Pinero is probably best known for The Second Mrs Tanqueray but, though short, Playgoers is almost as good.
A wealthy and sickeningly happy young couple, named Pussy and Ernie (Emily Rothon and Paul O'Mahoney), have been having problems with the staff. Having sacked the first set, they recruit half a dozen replacements.
A week in, Pussy decides that the new team are so close to perfection that they deserve a reward and for no earthly reason, chooses to send them to a theatre. What seems like an altruistic gesture leads to ribald comedy as the silent sextet of serving staff find their voices and run rings around their generous employers.
Daisy Ashford as Beechcroft is effortlessly disruptive, while Kate Lock's Hackett is a shop steward and others are too grateful, helpful, religious or stupid to accept the gift in the spirit intended.
This play had the audience rolling with laughter and confirms Helen Leblique as a real talent when it comes to directing comedy.
Shakes vs Shaw by G.B.Shaw
The final piece, first performed in 1948 when its writer was in his nineties, lasts a bare ten minutes. It has even less text, as several of these are taken up with humorous physical shenanigans, well realised by Henry Bell and his actors.
Dudley Hinton plays a sleek-haired Shakespeare complete with a sharp beard and gigantic, tuneful codpiece. He is pitted against John Paul Connolly's more generously proportioned and bearded GBS in a duel almost to the death.
The pair start off with words but soon move on to bare-knuckle fisticuffs, brought to life thanks to onstage sound effects delivered from a kind of percussion podium by Dan Staniforth. This has the effect of a sort of live episode of Tom and Jerry.
The pair then move on to verbal jousting, Shaw enlisting the help of others such as Scott, while Shakes relies on his own words (and a few of Shaw's).
This is a witty fragment that is rarely seen, and we must thank Henry Bell for allowing us a glimpse. He too could have a good future, with a real feeling for physical comedy.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher