Posts Tagged 'Rosie Jones'

A Pantomime for the Summer. Review: Merlin, Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre.

On Friday I concluded, definitively, that the perfect way to spend an English summer evening is in the park, with open air theatre, a basket full of food, and a blanket wrapped around you.  I spent another wonderful evening at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, this time to see Merlin and the Woods of Time.  The atmosphere inside the walls is beautiful; glasses of wine, picnic baskets, deck chairs, people snuggled in blankets, all as the sun is slowly sinking behind the trees, and the air is soft and chill.

The production opens in a burst of energy and laughter, with a full-scale theatrical number, musical ensemble, with the whole cast on stage (or should I say ‘On the bark chippings’?).  The laughter of the audience, in particular the children, pierced the air.  When the kazoos came out, and the cast began parading around, blowing them, it was hilarious, and you could hear children laughing unreservedly.  Every so often, throughout the performance, the quiet of the auditorium would ring with the mischievous chuckle of a child, clearly showing that the children not only followed the plot rapturously, but that they got the jokes as well.

Bright, rich costumes, and vividly coloured puppets created an exciting and vibrant feast for the eyes.  A clever device was used, in the form of two sports commentators (with stereotypical voices), who were extremely funny, and created a lot of energy, and, together with the rest of the cast, kept the performance highly dynamic.  The humour is hard to pigeon-hole, as it was mainly very family friendly, often decidedly so, but occasionally a line or gesture was thrown in that was unsuitable for the children in the audience, but hopefully went over their heads.  It wasn’t entirely child-suitable, but as a whole experience, it’s very family orientated.

The characters are larger than life, and make it a kind of pantomime, but with the alfresco freshness of Summer.  Mordred, for example, played wonderfully by Robert Mountford, enters with energy, boldness, and loudness.  Again, very cleverly funny.

Every so often a line, or gesture, absolutely lit me up with joy.  For example, Lancelot being described as; ‘A bilingual, metro-sexual fairy’, or the moment when a siren went past outside at the precise moment of David Hartley’s line; ‘It makes all sounds melodious’, with a small inclination of his head, which couldn’t have been better timed if it had been planned.

Robert Mountford had a tendency, being tall and dressed dramatically all in black, to steal each scene he was in, no less than his shining moment, for me, when he came in as though he’d been decapitated, with the costume making it look as though he were holding his head under his arm, and he began to dance, which was so delightfully funny.  The giggles of children and adults alike could be heard above the music.

Lancelot, played perfectly by Paul-Ryan Carberry, was a pompous, dense fop, but played with intelligent humour.

When I saw As You Like It last week, I fell in love with Rosie Jones and her Maxine Peake spunk.  This week, as Elaine in Merlin, she didn’t disappoint.  One of my very favourite moments of the night was when someone asked; ‘Would you like some wine?’, and Elaine replied; ‘I would not! I am having a pie’.  It was one of those beautiful Waynetta Slob moments, with perfect comedic timing.  The later scenes whirl up into a dizzying chaos, as potions are brewed and drunk, time is warped, and the stage is flooded with the entire cast.  Throughout one of the most chaotic scenes, Rosie Jones (or should I say ‘Elaine’?) is walking around the edge of the audience, hunched over, eating a pie that she has just fallen in love with, thanks to one of the potions, giving disgusted and aggressive glares at the audience members.

Natalie Grady, who plays Morgana, made two appearances as a seemingly unassuming cleaning lady, dressed in overalls and headscarf, singing the Vera Lynn song; We’ll Meet Again, which could be perfectly unremarkable moments in the production, but for Grady’s growling delivery, and northern tea-lady charm, which was hilarious.

Alan McMahon’s Merlin, a tall, spindly figure, was camp, dapper, and Leslie-Neilson-posh.  His delivery and performance were completely golden in terms of comedy, so beautifully effeminate, and twinkly-eyed, and nimble-limbed.  In terms of the funny lines, his delivery was spot-on.

Nicholas Asbury’s commentator injected high-energy comedy, usually installed just above the audience’s heads in the special commentator’s box, he was wickedly funny, and the scenes with Poor Dee The River Girl were hilarious, especially the fight with the White Knight.  Any time a man is wearing a platinum wig, and fighting another man twice his size, only good things will happen.

The finale is grand, with another large-scale musical number, which leaves you on a note of feel-good warmth and energy.  I got a real feeling that the cast love what they’re doing, and they want their audience to enjoy it.  As a production, Merlin feels very warm-hearted, with wit and pomp, and theatricality, but all in the bliss of a park on a summer night.

Another perfect evening in the park, it really is the only way to spend a summer evening in England.  Go, while you still can!

My Mum said she felt 'Pampered', what with the delicious picnic we'd brought, and the comfy striped cushions we were given by the lovely people on the ticket desk.

Review: As You Like It, Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

Copyright Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

Last night I spent a Summer’s evening amongst striped deckchairs and strawberries, at Grosvenor Park in Chester.  I’d gone to see As You Like It.  My expectations were somewhat mixed, because from outside the secluded, fort-like open air theatre, standing with the peasants in the park, the impression is of something quite unsavoury, almost like being at the back of a circus tent, or fairground.  When I walked in, however, I was immediately transported.  I was in a world of people sitting in deckchairs, or around the seating terraces, eating food and drinking glasses of wine that sparkled.  I was in a world of soft blankets around people’s shoulders, hampers from Carluccio’s (included with the VIP ticket), strawberries and clinking plates.  I was suddenly at ease, found a spot on the front row of the tiers, and settled into my meagre feast of strawberries, watermelon, and Pringles.  As the pleasant hum of conversation, and picnic-clinking babbled merrily along in the soft evening sun, no-one noticed a man enter the stage, until he spoke.  The audience was taken by surprise, mouths still full of pasta or, in one case, a carefully assembled Eton Mess, constructed from Tupperware with strawberries, ice-cream, and meringue in them.  Suddenly the performance had started, whether we were ready or not.

The Guardian described this production as; ‘Idylic’, and The Stage; ‘nigh on faultless’.  I can only reiterate those words.  It was a blissful experience.

After the initial abruptness of the opening, when the audience were caught on the back foot, following the initial exchange between Orlando and Oliver, which felt  absolutely fraternal, and something much more than just stage fighting, there was an intensity to the physical contact between the two actors that really felt like they were two brothers, the audience (I felt) was suddenly woken from the unsettled beginning by the startling entrance of Charles, the wrestler, played by Rob Compton.  Like a bright light, this Sid Vicious character with punk hair and black leather came in with such energy (and David Beckham looks), it was a shot in the arm.  He had wildness, a cockney accent, with a genuine blood-lust for his opponent, straight out of the Sex Pistols.  As Rob Compton displays a much softer side in later scenes, as other characters, his ferocity in this scene is really impressive .

Only two things, for me, stopped the production being perfect.  I wasn’t that keen on the stainless steel trees which are part of the set, and I think they would have worked much better in another material, perhaps more natural and realistic, even real trees.  The metallic effect is contemporary and modern, but in the middle of such beauty and the greenery of the park on a summer night, with the real trees hanging over the walls, the unnatural hardness of the stainless steel felt, to me, ugly.

The other thing, the only other thing, is the use of jeans as trousers for the men, an unnecessary incongruity, which (for me) spoiled the otherwise perfect costumes, which were elaborate, luxurious, and looked absolutely lived-in, and well-worn, and looked like real clothes, rather than costumes.

During the first few scenes I was actually preparing for disappointment from some of the performances.  In honesty, I was worried that some of the actors were going to be too weak to fill the shoes of previous productions that I’d seen.  Rosalind didn’t immediately appear to have the adequate substance and inner-metal that the character requires, and felt a bit too much of a girl and almost insubstantial.  Likewise, I didn’t feel Touchstone was ultra-quick-witted enough, compared with previous performances I’d seen, and he didn’t immediately seem to have the fast intelligence of the character, and instead felt a little bit petulant.  However, I’ve only expressed these feelings because after the first couple of scenes the actors seemed to have overcome whatever unease they felt at the start, and had really sunk into the roles, completely allaying my fears.  In the later scenes, they felt perfect.

One last niggle- I was disheartened that Le Beau, played by David Hartley, wasn’t French.  A lot of the jokes and other characters’ lines depend on Le Beau being outrageously and humorously French, and the lack of a French accent meant that those jokes didn’t work, and were lost, which is a shame.

Orlando, played adorably by David Ricardo-Pearce, was a really refreshing revelation.  He was quietly heroic, with a gentleness and softness, not aggressively masculine, which made for a really endearing portrayal of the character.

As Rosalind, played fantastically by Natalie Grady, transformed into Ganymede, she took on all of the gumption and substance that makes this female character an equal for the men.  She had joyfully adolescent lasciviousness and lusty growls when away from the men, which ascended to a beautiful dexterity when manipulating Orlando, so that you felt she was a real match for him.

There were moments of pure, stomach-tickling comedy, of the kind that Shakespeare would have created in his day, and which are often lost nowadays on an audience that doesn’t really speak the language they’re listening to.  One of these moments was created by Silvius, played by David Hartley.  His anguished screams of; ‘Phoebe’ from outside the theatre, perfectly timed, and hilarious, made sense of the references to him by Corin and Rosalind, which have been lost in other performances I’ve seen.

The next remarkable entrance was by Jaques, played by Nicholas Asbury as a kind of drunken Rik Mayall figure with a Young Ones voice, who made his first appearance taking gulps of the drinks of the front row of the audience.  His scene with the musicians, Rob Compton playing guitar, was absolutely uplifting, and their interaction was funny and heart-warming with pure joy.

Asbury’s interpretation of the famous ‘All the World’s a stage’ speech, perhaps one of Shakespeare’s best known, was delivered in a drunken and irreverent way, which made it lighter to experience, and refreshing, and not what one expects.  However, he never lacked the weight and poignant intensity that that speech requires, but managed to be  funny with it, although it could have had a little more depth of volume (perhaps ‘Boom’ is the right term).  Nicholas Asbury is cockle-warming and effervesces with comedy, to the point where it becomes exciting to watch.

In these later scenes Touchstone, played by Paul-Ryan Carberry, really revels in the role, and comes into his own.  If he started out a little weakly, in his later scenes, especially the verbal dual with Corin, he gave the character all the flourish and intelligence, and deep intensity of wit, that he so needs.  Touchstone has a particular kind of personality, and Carberry captures it perfectly.

The other entrance that produced, actually, one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre, was by Phebe.  I’ve played this character, and anticipated the portrayal in this production with baited breath, anxious that it should be done right.  Phebe, played magnificently by Rosie Jones, entered the space running flat-out, with utter determination and a blazing conviction in her eyes which was so beautifully hilarious.  If the expression ‘eyes ablaze’ should ever be used, it’s now.  Rosie Jones, with that spunky northern fire perfected by Maxine Peake in her formidable female roles, played Phebe like one of the Furies.  The speech where she’s describing Ganymede to Silvius, juxtaposing positives with negatives, grew and grew into a schizophrenic dichotomy, and she went from being torn between like and dislike, to a real mental tearing-apart, a meltdown.  The performance was given so much energy, aggression, and passion, that the audience applauded, though with reluctant uncertainty because of overlapping the next character’s entrance, and the actors had to take a pause because the audience felt so compelled to give Rosie Jones commendation in applause.

The whole experience was just beautiful, from the perfectly English complexions of the women on stage, to the perfect pitching of the humour and music.  It was enthralling, uplifting, dazzling to the eye, and absolutely warming to the heart.  I can’t recommend it enough, as a complete experience.

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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up ( with your thoughts.

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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Pete Doherty,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day

Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road

Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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