Review – Exposure, Imagine That Theatre Company, University of Northampton Flash Festival, St Peter’s Church, Northampton, 25th May 2017

Dorian GrayImagine That Theatre Company present The Picture of Dorian Gray in the style of the Mischief Theatre Company presenting The Play That Goes Wrong. It’s the age-old story of the picture in the attic that gets witheringly older whilst the dashing Dorian remains his old handsome self. I too am practising this art; sadly, both me and my portrait are ageing visibly so something’s going wrong. Not as much that goes wrong with the Imagine That Theatre Company’s version, of course.

Dorian Gray was never like thisUnlike every other production in the Flash Festival, with the possible exception of The Time Travel Tour, this is the only one that has no pretence to anything serious whatsoever. No sirree. This is played purely for laughs, which is much harder than it looks. Frequently humour emerges organically out of serious subject matter. But to make your audience laugh at what is almost exclusively slapstick or the ridiculous is a tough call, and to write the perfect slapstick vehicle for these five talented actors would probably take ten times as much effort and time than they probably had all year. So, inevitably the play was a little patchy, with some sequences that were genuinely hilarious and some that were borderline tiresome.

So I’m going to dwell on all the good things! The largely improvised (at least I think it was) opening scene with Lewis Hodson and Lee Hancock as Roger and Colin looking for each other was absolutely brilliant. Mr Hodson has a wonderful po-faced expression that can take on so many different meanings with just a twitch of an eyebrow – a real gift that he used to excellent advantage. How can just idly repositioning the flats and then accidentally screaming at the unexpected sight of an audience be so funny? He makes it so. Lee Hancock too, listens out for a tiny giggle from the audience and then bounds over to them with the biggest intimidating glare to stop them from laughing – so they laugh more, much to his growing fury. Messrs Hodson and Hancock aimlessly chased each other all round the set for ages – probably about ten minutes; totally pointless, absolutely hysterical.

Imagine That castOther good things: I really enjoyed the overall performance of Lauren Scott as she flipped from being the stern Dorian Gray (think Gabrielle Glaister as Bob in Blackadder II) to being herself (or at least the actor playing herself playing Gray. I think.) She was all roister-doister one minute and girly-pearly the next; very nicely done. I also liked the on-off relationship between her and narrator/boss Hans Oldham (or the actor playing Hans Oldham… you get the picture) – including a very nice moment when he’d pushed his luck too far and she wasn’t having any of it. I enjoyed Ben Barton’s performance as the easily hurt and not-very-good stand-in actor from the Local Actor’s Society; his splendidly vacant expression smeared with half-on/half-off lipstick is the stuff of nightmares.

Imagine that cast 2The performance was clearly inspired by the group’s visit to The Play That Goes Wrong, and maybe the whole thing lost a little originality as a consequence. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of content in here – comedy idea after comedy idea meant there was possibly too much; the phrase less is more occasionally came into my mind. There was one repeated gag that really got on my nerves, and the whole thing could have done with a punchier ending. However, there’s no doubting it was very funny, the very likeable cast worked their socks off to please us and it was met with virtually maniacal laughter from the audience. This was a hard job but they did it well, and you can’t look back on it without a big smile on your face.

Review – Posh, University of Northampton 3rd Year BA (Hons) Acting Students, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 16th March 2017

PoshFrom Pornography to Posh – they are at least in alphabetical order – and the next matinee performed by the Third Year Students studying Acting at the University of Northampton, treading the beloved boards of the old Royal Theatre in Northampton. Would it be two hard-hitting plays in a row?

Ben BartonDespite having written loads of plays that were completely overlooked by producers, Posh was the first play by Laura Wade that was performed in the West End – at the Duke of York’s in 2012. I’ve never seen any of Ms Wade’s work before but I knew of Posh by reputation; a dramatised version of life at Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club, where posh boys will be posh boys and pigs are scared. Benjamin SullivanI attended that much respected university, gentle reader, although it was hundreds of years ago now, and although I may have occasionally got absolutely chateau’d (I confess I use that phrase myself), I never came within a burning £20 note of the Bullingdon Club. So this play is a splendid opportunity to wonder what it would have been like if one had been the right kind of student.

Chris DrewActually, I was a member of the Page 71 Dining Society – probably long since defunct, sadly – but I think the worst we ever did was chuck a few sprouts about, and have one of our members swim naked in Lymington Harbour. Not like the Riot Club, as Laura Wade has named her secret society, where outward shows of gracious dignity quickly degenerate into pushing the boundaries of decency in all directions. The play asks some very searching questions about society as a whole – to what extent can money buy anything, from paying to compensate other people’s ruined evenings to other people’s ruined lives. Connor McCreedyAnd will the powers that be always have the ability to cover up those things that are best left unremembered? What happens at the Riot Club, stays at the Riot Club, comme on dit. Well, maybe. It’s a rich (in both senses of the word), meaty play with plenty to enjoy and some scenes that you watch with your hands covering your eyes as you gasp at the insensitivity of what some people have no qualms about asking. Personally, I didn’t really like the brief opening and closing scenes – the ending especially gives the story a definite outcome that I think it would be best to leave to the audience’s imagination. But that’s a separate issue.

Daniel Ambrose-JonesNevertheless, Laura Wade’s play gives the acting students plenty of opportunities to make the most of their characters; the belligerently fascist Alistair, the lightweight drinker Toby, the seriously over-indulged George, the sexually go-getting Harry, the wannabe diplomatic Leighton. Most of them took to it like the proverbial ducks to water, with Lee Hancock in pole position, completely relishing the true awfulness of Alistair’s Javiar Melhadocharacter, constantly provoking the others, undermining others’ authority, patronising and belittling what he sees as lesser people than himself. Mr Hancock gives an award-winnng, energetic performance, giving full rein to his ample vocal powers and splendidly disdainful expressions. Steven Croydon fills out the role of Toby with Jay Andrewssuperb displays of petulance, intolerance and impatience – also of resignation as he knows he’s going to face the consequences of his previous misdemeanours. He has a very strong stage presence – the kind of actor you watch for a few seconds even when they’re not talking because you know they will be still 100% connected with what’s going on. He performs a wonderful drunk act as his character gets totally smashed during the Dregs game; Jennifer Wyndhamthere’s a beautifully played (and timed) scene where Messrs Hancock and Croydon are leading two different conversations, Mr Hancock strident with his dogma, Mr Croydon wheedling in his inebriation, the one piping up in the conversational gaps left by the other; very funny and very recognisable.

Lauren ScottConnor McCreedy gives a very clean-cut and authoritative performance as President of the Society, Leighton; interpreting the role with great clarity, you can see that Leighton sees himself as the enabler and guide – wanting the other diners to have the best experience but also wanting the best for the Society, which means damping down enthusiasm if he thinks it will keep them out of the papers. I also very much enjoyed Lee HancockBen Barton as Hugo, another naturally authoritative figure, treading a fine line between the decadent and the decent; and Olly Manning made the best of the comic opportunities given by the character of George, relishing everyone else’s puddings with enormous refinedness. Tom Garland’s Ed was an intelligent portrayal of the new boy desperate to fit in and constantly making lame comments; I think we’ve all been there.

Matt KitsonThere are also three characters totally unconnected with the society, each given fine, strong performances. Chris Drew’s pub landlord Chris is the epitome of the hard-working little man, the kind of person some of these posh boys utterly despise; this “entrepreneur’s society” dinner that he thinks he is hosting is a little Olly Manningdifferent from what he’s used to but he’s still stretching his sinews to make sure they have a good time – until things get cataclysmically out of hand. His daughter and waitress Rachel, played by Jennifer Wyndham, gets subjected to a range of attention throughout the course of the evening, and Ms Wyndham absolutely nails that position of having to balance the customer is always right with I’m not doing that. Steven CroydonAnd Lauren Scott gives a delightful cameo as the high class escort engaged to “entertain” the guests, and who quickly makes us realise that there definitely are services that money cannot buy. As a small criticism, there were a couple of roles where I thought the actors could make even more of their presence and increase the expression and confidence in their voices. Tom Garland There were also a few occasions when many of the actors continued with their next line despite the audience still howling with laughter, so we didn’t catch a word they said – that’s a skill that needs to be mastered! However, that did not stop it from being a very entertaining production of an enjoyable play – congratulations to everyone on creating a true menace of a dinner party.