Saturday, 26 May 2012

A Doll's House review

Augustina Seymour as Nora. Picture by Keith Pattison

KESWICK theatre-goers who thought the recent successful run of The History Boys would be a tough act to follow need have no worries. Ibsen's A Doll's House has just started in the studio and is going to blow your socks off.

It's hard to believe this was written in 1879 - the theme of female emancipation meant it could have been written in the  1920s, 1960s or even today. There's bankers, gutter-press reporters, evil money-lenders - and even an attempt to hack into someone's private correspondence. I had to check the cast list to make sure no-one called Leveson was going to turn up in the second act.

It says in the programme notes that this is currently the world's most performed play but Keswick director Mary Papadima has given it a fresh, exciting and gritty makeover which will make even those familiar with the play glad to see it again. For those who don't know the play, there's a real treat in store. Fear not that this is by some 20th century Norwegian playwright. Papadima and the cast make sure it's digested with ease as this gripping drama unfolds.

It is based on a true story. One of Ibsen's friends - Laura Kieler - took out a loan at a time when women just didn't do that sort of thing. When her husband found out he divorced her and had her committed to an asylum. Only Ibsen appears to have found anything wrong with this! We may laugh at the notion now and the play only gives a nod to the true origins, concentrating more on society's attitude to women in general and mothers in particular. More than that, it also asks both men and women to question their role in society.

Augustina Seymour is the wife and mother, Nora, who is hiding a dreadful secret. She pitches the performance perfectly as just another 'doll' in the doll's house before starting to wake up and determine her own destiny. Nicholas Goode is the bewildered husband Torvald and Philip Rham the slightly awkward 'third party' in the cosy marriage. But it's James Duke as the sinister money-lender who adds sizzle to the whole proceedings and cranks up the pressure to almost intolerable levels.

Papadima, however, steers well clear of black and white Victorian melodrama. The motives are all very believable and open to heated arguments among the audience on their way home.

A Doll's House is on one level, a gripping enough drama of deceit, blackmail and betrayal. But it's the play's central theme of a woman (and man's) role in society which ensure the play's relevance even today. And Papadima serves up a master stroke at the end to make sure the stunning ending is played out to its very best - not least thanks to a terrific performance from Augustina Seymour.

This will rank as one of Keswick's best productions and I for one can't wait to see it again.

* A Doll's House is currently being staged at Keswick Theatre

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Bedroom Farce

Maggie Tagney in Bedroom Farce at Keswick Theatre

ANYONE who needs cheering up during these days of economic gloom should pop into Keswick Theatre.
Bedroom Farce is just one of the plays running at the theatre by the lake during their summer season and it’s guaranteed to make you forget about stocks, shares, the inflation index or quantative easing!
Instead you’ll be lost in a world where the Bedroom Index, Angst Count and Giggle-ometer are all you need to worry about.
Alan Ayckbourn’s farce is in the safe hands of Stefan Escreet and a talented cast. It’s a bit more considered than many English farces – this is a humorous but sometimes astute look at that most ghastly, hideous and comic world: Relationships.
Sex, of course, rears it’s ugly head but only to generate yet more laughs. For Delia (Maggie Tagney) and Ernest (Stephen Aintree), sex is only a happy memory – supplanted instead by a midnight treat of sardines on toast or hot cocoa. But while this older couple provide a calmer and dispassionate view of the chaos on stage, it’s their son Trevor (Chris Hannon) who is the centre of the storm.
He has destroyed the relationship with his psychosis-laden wife Susannah (Louise Yates) and now seems determined to destroy all those around him.
First in his sights are Malcolm (George Banks) and Kate (Jessica Ellis) who are holding a house-warming party. The lovey-dovey couple are soon reduced to screaming demons with only broken furniture left in their wake.
Trevor, of course, is blissfully unaware of the harm he’s doing and moves swiftly on to Jan (Zoe Mills) and Nick (Adrian Metcalfe). Nick manages to get some of the best laughs of the evening despite playing the role of someone stuck in bed all night with a bad back.
The performance got off to a slow start but by the second half the laughs were coming thick and fast. The play was written in 1975 and is set in the 70s – complete with garish wallpaper and haircuts. To be fair the humour seemed dated at times and I was left feeling some of the scenes needed as much a makeover as most of the bedrooms. 
But this certainly had plenty of good moments and an overall feel-good factor that will make for a super summer evening out.
Bedroom Farce is at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick until November 7. Box office: 017687 74411. Website:

Friday, 18 May 2012

Newtown Boggle

BOGGLE is the Cumbrian dialect term for a ghost - well, anything odd or unexplained. And the Newtown Boggle is one of the more famous supernatural visitors that is said to wander the streets of Whitehaven. Over the centuries the boggle has changed shape and form - probably due to two ghost stories being confused. In one form the boggle is a huge black dog that stands and howls outside a house the night before a death (or on the harbour when a ship has been lost at sea). In its other form, the boggle is described as an extremely tall lady with no head.

My partner, Lesley, has now stumbled across what is perhaps the oldest reference to the boggle - a report in The Cumberland Pacquet of October 1, 1793:

WHITEHAVEN: Whether on "the sensible and true avouch of their own eyes," we know not, but it is reported, that a very ancient and awful personage, commonly known by the title of The New-Town Boggle, has lately 'revisited the glimpses of the moon, making night hideous.' -- Nothing so much checks the general admission of the report, as the shape in which this well-known phantom now appears: - it is that of a huge swine: and some sceptics are of opinion, that so extraordinary a visitant should assume a form less common to our streets.

I am happy to be corrected, but what I think The Pacquet is saying towards the end is that the sceptics are suspicious that the creature should appear in such a common form as that of a pig - common, because at that time most households would have kept a pig in the backyard. 

If the boggle was a portent of disaster then its appearance in October 1793 was very timely. A couple of weeks later The Pacquet would report on the execution of Marie Antoinette.

The 'making night hideous' quote is from Hamlet.