Reviews: Great Expectations, Dundee Rep & The Producers, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Theatre

Great Expectations
Seen at Dundee Rep;
transferring to Perth Concert Hall,
June 23-27

The Producers
Seen at Theatre Royal, Glasgow;
touring to His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen,
June 22-27

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Jemima Levick’s three years at Dundee Rep have been distinctly variable. Now, as her co-artistic director Philip Howard takes his leave of the Tayside theatre, is a good time for her to remind us just how good her work can be.
Blessed with a superb adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations by Jo Clifford, Levick has fashioned a deeply affecting and impressively classy presentation of one of the great novels of English liberalism. It takes huge skill to transpose from page to stage the story of the progress of the orphan Pip, from working-class roots in the Kent marshes, to the London gentry, and back again.
Levick’s production for the Rep and Horsecross Arts (as Perth Theatre’s parent company insists on calling itself) has the necessary brilliance in every department. Each element of the show – from Becky Minto’s stylishly bleak, cleverly functional set (comprised of dozens of picture frames), to Mike Robertson’s ever-shifting, atmospheric lighting and David Paul Jones’s gorgeous music and songs (performed by the composer himself on a baby grand) – fits the others like a hand into one of Miss Havisham’s lace gloves.
Clifford proves herself a master craftswoman in turning a substantial, episodic novel into an engaging, tightly wrought play. The splendid structure and balance of her script is matched by Levick’s flawless casting.
It seems invidious to single out anyone in what is, first-and-foremost, a wonderful ensemble performance. That said, Great Expectations can never be truly great on stage without a compelling Pip, and Thomas Cotran, by turns self-doubting, naive and ludicrously snobbish, has the measure of his character, both as boy and man.
There are lovely performances, too, from Ann Louise Ross (a believably anguished Miss Havisham), Millie Turner (a stoic, turned righteously angry Estella) and David Delve (equally superb as both the pompous Wopsle and the inscrutable Jaggers).
On her day, Levick is one of the finest directors in the country. This Dickens will, surely, be remembered as one of her best pieces of work.
It’s difficult to imagine a play more different from Clifford’s adaptation than Mel Brooks’s famous comic musical The Producers. However, this touring production shares with it a near perfect fit between script and cast.
Brooks’s brilliant, politically incorrect satire mercilessly extracts the proverbial out of Broadway as means of striking at its real target, Nazism. Only a Jewish artist could get away with a comic monster such as Franz Liebkind (author of the Nazi musical Springtime For Hitler), played with delicious craziness here by Ross Noble (who took over the role mid-tour from the fabulous Phill Jupitus).
Glasgow, itself home to great Jewish humorists (such as Ivor Cutler, Arnold Brown, and Jeremy Sadowitz), gave a deserved opening night standing ovation to director Matthew White’s production. White realises that the only way for Brooks’s clever, screwball comedy to work is for it to appear to career away in fifth gear with no brakes.
Cory English and Jason Manford are tremendous as the corrupt producers Bialystock and Bloom. Tiffany Graves and David Bedella are equally impressive as the outrageous caricatures Ulla, the Swedish “sex kitten”, and Roger De Bris, the camp as Christmas dud director.
Indeed, everyone performing on Paul Farnsworth’s wonderfully tasteless sets gives the kind of unrestrained performance needed to create a really excellent staging of this side-splitting classic.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on June 21, 2015

© Mark Brown

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