Wednesday, 21 September 2016

"Say Something Happened/An Englishman Abroad" by Alan Bennett.
Lace Market Theatre, Nottingham.
One thing I love about Bennett's plays is his sharp eye for people watching and his sharp ear for the way people speak, as well as what they say, these two plays in this double bill reflect both of these talents.
The performances, as far as I know, are sold out all week with only a chance of cancellation tickets to see this wonderful presentation. While they could have sold more tickets by staging them on the Main Stage, the intimacy of the upstairs performance area suited both plays perfectly.
"Say Something Happened" features "Mam" and "Dad"; an elderly, in age only definitely not in mind, married couple and a visit from a "wet behind the ears" social worker, June.
You can see June's confidence grow from the start of the play to the end, thanks to the straight-talking Mam and affable Dad.
Mam and dad are played beautifully by Carol Parkinson and Leonard Jackson. They get the accent and the naturalness of being an older married couple spot on, making the performance very believable in their relationship. There's a part in this play which counters the natural comedy when Mam tells June something that the open discussions between the three didn't reveal while Dad was in the room. This is quite a poignant moment which is also something that Bennett does so well.
A good chunk of the play also features on their daughter, Margaret, who has done very well for herself. Her whole image is brought to life in our imaginations by Dad, but is an important thread for the play.
Rosina Reading (June) has a wonderful character role as the Social Worker.Her whole face tells the full story of her nervousness in her new job and the character's inexperience of interviewing people. And I love the wig!
The accents, you can tell, is the result of lots of work to get it right by all three actors. Lovingly directed by Jemma-Dawn Froggitt; you can tell by the pace of the play. Bennett's spaces between the script are just as important as the words themselves in creating a natural and real rhythm. The props and set have also received serious attention. Nothing has been overlooked from the scones on the side plates to the regal looking large tray and tea service that you just know would be paraded out for guests.
"An Englishman Abroad", directed by Jim Brooks, is another lovely piece of theatre and just as lovingly directed as the above. This play is the true story of actress Corale Browne and her meeting, quite by chance with the spy Guy Burgess. The setting for this play is a world away from the Leeds setting of "Say Something Happened" as this is set in Moscow in 1958 as well as in London for the latter part.
Malcolm Todd (Burgess) pulls in another lovely character role, painting a sad picture of his life in Moscow, Living with his partner, at a time when homosexuality was hidden, and pining for home. Burgess's drink problems were evident but subtly done. Furnishing his flat with items from London and ordering his clothes from Savile Row, which is where Corale came in useful to Burgess.
Bex Mason (Corale) is, at first sight, quite unrecognisable. It's amazing how a wig and make up can change a person's appearance. Classy with a very English accent and wonderfully aloof.
The two main roles are supported by three other character driven roles with even more accents which sound very natural to the roles. Piotr Wisniewski as the bitchy Tailor, Linda Croston as a wonderfully snobby sales assistant and Martin Pikett as Tolya, Burgess's young lover. 
Although this play is not as humorous as the first, it is yet again a wonderful observation piece on Bennett's part and the accents are once again superb. Romanticism of a different kind with this one but the comparisons are there. Once again the set and the props were all there,as well as the wonderful costumes in both plays, another thing that the Lace Market Theatre excel at.
Two excellent plays, not Bennett's most performed plays, which is why i was so eager to see them, and not overly long. What Bennett lacked in play length, he certainly made up for in observational humour and an ear for regional accents.
The quality is all in the writing and that is why Bennett's plays are such a joy to see, especially in the hands of a wonderfully talented cast and directors such as we have here.I sat through both plays with a constant smile on my face, such was my joint love for Bennett's writing and the wonderful cast. It really is worth contacting the Lace Market Theatre box office to check for ticket cancellations because these two plays are beautifully written and lovingly performed. If you do miss out this time though, that'll teach you to get in there earlier to get your tickets at Nottingham's hidden gem of a theatre.
"Say Something Happened/An Englishman Abroad" are being performed as an Alan Bennett double bill until Saturday 24 September 2016.

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