Tag Archives: Paradigm Theatre Company

Theatre Review: Tartuffe (Canal Café Theatre, London)

Come on down your table's waiting. The cast of 'Tartuffe'. Photograph: Jon Bradshaw. Courtesy of Paradigm Theatre Company.

Come on down your table’s waiting. The cast of ‘Tartuffe’. Photograph: Jon Bradshaw. Courtesy of Paradigm Theatre Company.

Rating: ****

For various reasons, Paradigm’s fourth production in their season had many difficulties when it first opened a little over a week ago, including a last minute change of director and some issues with the cast. However it has now finally found its feet.

Director and company associate Cat Robey has taken the Gutenberg non-rhyming translation of Molière’s satirical company, reducing it and resetting it in the world of seedy 1920s cabaret.

Orgon (Chukwudi Onwere) has been bewitched by a seemingly humble and pious beggar, Tartuffe (Jeremy Gagan). Taking into his home Orgon worships him and lets him have free reign of the household much to the annoyance of everyone but Orgon’s mother. But is Tartuffe all he seems, and is his interest solely in God or in Orgon’s daughter, wife, and wealth?

Robey’s truncation of the text down to a mere 90 minutes without an interval is quite welcome. For all that can be said about Molière, as biting as his satire is it is also as verbose in equal measure. It does feel noticeably cut and a touch whistle-stop, but all the main narrative elements are still there and it’s certainly preferred to the prospect of an additional hour of stodgy didactic where every last witticism is extrapolated to exhaustion; Molière is quite fond of his own verse. Even with an energetic cast and Robey’s attempt at make it a bit more pacey the show is still quite flat in places.

Despite this the company still somehow manage to make it feel fun. Gagan’s portrayal of the villain is charmingly grandiose and scintillatingly sleazy, making his scheming seem even more dastardly. Whilst Katherine Rodden’s outspoken and saucy chambermaid really brims with energy and sass that drives the scenes she’s in. Robey also manages to direct the more comic moments with ease. Her treatment of unconvincing hiding places for eavesdropping rascals compound upon Molière’s wit to raise a few additional laughs.

However the resetting falls by the wayside as it doesn’t lift the text. Despite Shoni Wilkinson’s costumes adding some oh là là it doesn’t really add any gravitas to Molière’s damning portrait of the hypocrisy, class, and religion, and neither does it give a new perspective on the narrative; it just feels superfluous. But fortunately neither does it distract. You can’t blame Robey for attempting to freshen up a writer whose work is notoriously stuffy whilst simultaneously creating a production that reflects the venue.

Other faults are mere niggles. There were a few missed opportunities to bring out more comedy in some scenes, and Loyal’s near omnipresence sat in among the audience didn’t seem to make much sense.

It’s undoubtedly something Molière purists and enthusiasts should avoid. But by opening up the play to a more general and less severe audience the result is a robust and enjoyable take on a dowdy classic.

Tartuffe plays at the Canal Café Theatre, London, W2 6ND until 27 April 2013. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book tickets visit www.canalcafetheatre.com.

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Theatre Review:A Woman of No Importance…Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow (Hen & Chickens, London)

Katherine Rodden as Lauren, with a glass of Sainsbury's Finest Merlot. Don't know it until you've down it.

Katherine Rodden as Lauren, with a glass of Sainsbury’s Finest Merlot. Don’t know it until you’ve downed it.

Rating: ***

Lauren (Katherine Rodden) is not so much having a bad day but a bad month. Out of work and lost somewhere in a sea of Bond Street shopping and empty bottles of Sainsbury’s Finest Merlot, she passes the time drunk and rehearsing monologues by Oscar Wilde. But just as she feels she about to have an epiphany her mother (Rachel Dobell) rudely barges in with some shocking news – she’s divorcing. Soon what follows is a farce of family dysfunctions, divorce lawyers-cum-marriage counsellors, feisty suitors, and some other guy whose name eludes me.

In her programme notes playwright and resident company member Rodden mentions that her goal here is to create a modern farce in the style of Wilde or Noel Coward – updating class-based comedy for a modern age. But you needn’t read the programme notes to have sussed that out. Sarah Pitard’s stage is a handsome collection of 1940s Chinoiserie furniture complete with an elegant painting of the period, even if it is cluttered with the debris from Lauren’s despair. There’s even Coward playing over the theatre’s sound system between scenes. Yet despite Rodden and the indomitable Paradigm Theatre Company’s efforts, A Woman of No Importance… is an example of just how difficult it is to perfect farce, even when it’s something so well meaning and modern as this.

There is very little wrong with the writing. In fact Rodden’s text delivers a bevy of sharp and sassy one-liners that will keep you chuckling or, in some cases, laughing out loud throughout. The only criticism is that towards the end it succumbs to what is so easily done with farce – it all gets a bit too over the top that it looses the charm it held the audience with for the first four fifths of the play with. But more so it’s the execution that lets it fall short of what its trying to be.

There are moments when the cast’s comic-timing is a little off. Snappy little lines are sometimes not delivered as quicksilver as the script begs for causing some of the gags to arrive a little stilted. Also, the cast often don’t react too well to the audience, so when there are big laughs you all too quickly miss the next line because there isn’t a pause enough it above the patrons’ bellows. And when it comes to the physical comedy element it feels far too rehearsed and laboured. Slapstick begs a spontaneous and unsuspecting energy to it and Paradigm’s crew lacks just that. Knowing where the kicks are going to come from next spoils the punch-line, and this stops what should have been a riotous climax from being so.

But there are many saving graces to the show that makes Paradigm’s effort very worthy and still manages to result in an enjoyable evening. Cat Robey’s direction, although admitting it’s her first time doing farce, manages to pick out smaller details which augment Rodden’s witty text – everything from lawyer Geoffrey’s errant tongue, played wonderfully weaselly by Matt Houlihan, to some well placed interactions with some well placed props. Robey has always been a director who knows that God is in the detail and despite venturing into new territory A Woman of No Importance… is no exception.

The cast also hold themselves generally very well. Rodden’s Lauren is sufficiently whiney, self-absorbed, but charming enough for us to sympathise with her plight but willing indulge in a schadenfreude that makes her mishaps comically worthwhile. But it’s Alan Booty, playing Lauren’s father, that really steals the show. He has a monolithic presence on such a small stage whose persona as the oversexed toff dad is as boisterous as the laughs he brings about. His deliveries are always light, playful, and more often than not spot on making him a real delight to have on stage.

A Woman of No Importance… is a production on not quite perfection. It’s such a shame because it really tries to be, and with tighter execution it really could have been the formidable modern farce it wants to be. But none the less it’s still a sterling effort that, despite its faults, will push away the February gloom with charm and gusto.

A Woman on No Importance…or Somewhat Importance Anyhow plays at the Hen and Chickens, London, N1 2NA, until 23 February 2013. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book visit www.unrestrictedview.co.uk.