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Pauline Griller-Mitchell

Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

One Man Two Guvnors

Richard Bean’s adaptation of a Servant of Two Masters won The Late Late Show’s James Corden a Tony back in 2012 and this British comedy is starting to gain popularity in theatres around the country. As the audience takes their places at the two sided Silver Spring Stage we are welcomed by a 3 piece skiffle band that are positioned off the stage between the seating sections.

Director, William T. Fleming also takes on the role of Set Designer and has the task of taking us to multiple locations around 1963 Brighton. All the sets look period appropriate and during the changes we are entertained by the skiffle band that is joined by a different member of the cast to serenade us. Unfortunately the positioning of the band makes it difficult to focus on them and not the moving of set pieces – at times they feel like background music for the changes rather than demanding our attention. The transitions are smooth enough that this isn’t in itself an issue but some of the comedic nature of the lyrics is a little lost on the distracted audience. Fleming also utilizes two video screens at various moments in the show; effectively as a window in the opening scene, and less so as a corridor in the pub and as outdoor scenery at other times. They never detract from the production but it does feel like a ‘we’ve got them so we’re going to use them’ based decision rather than truly believing they enhance the production.

Focus is required from the opening scene as the convoluted plot of love, murder, cross dressing and double crossing is unveiled.  We are in the house of Charlie Dench (Kevin Dykstra) at the engagement party for his daughter, Pauline (Lena Winter) and Alan Dangle (Daniel Riker). Dykstra is very good as the down to earth Charlie and he clearly understands his role as his moments of composing himself when discussing his wife or when attempting to understand the complexities of the science behind twins are funny because they are understated. He plays the character with just enough naivety to explain just why his daughter is so much of a ditz. Winter plays Pauline with a childlike wonder and she is vocally and physically funny to watch throughout.  Riker is all arms and legs as he prances around the stage flamboyantly as the wannabe actor, Alan, and his exchanges with Pauline are always entertaining.

We are quickly introduced to the ‘One Man’ as Francis Henshall (Nathan Tatro) breaks up the party with news that his guvnor, Roscoe/Rachel Crabbe (Kristen Pilgrim) is still alive. It’s an immensely likable performance from Tatro who looks like he is having a huge amount of fun on stage and he has us on his side from the start. Pilgrim plays the intentionally transparent gender switch well and it’s a performance full of amusing mannerisms but her delivery is too fast, especially in the first act. We meet the second guvnor, Stanley Stubbers (Anderson Wells) who is also too rapid with his dialogue. There are numerous times when the laughter is just forming in the back of our throats when it is cut off. This sets the tone for a show where the audience should be hysterically laughing out loud and turns it into one of more internal enjoyment. Wells plays all the dramatic moments of his character without missing a beat and his deep resonating voice in some of the dead pan comic moments is genuinely funny.

Maybe it’s this lack of energy from the audience that prevents the end of act one reaching a true crescendo. Fleming could afford to demand double the pace (at least) from his actors in a scene that was funny but could be elevated to chaotic hilarity. The back and forth between Francis and elderly waiter, Alfie (Lenora Spahn) and a poor unsuspecting audience member are hugely entertaining but with more drive it could be a scene we are laughing about long after we leave the theatre. There are also ongoing references to the horrors of living in Australia throughout the show and Fleming chooses to present these with each actor breaking away from the scene to face the audience and there is a dramatic lighting change as the lines are delivered. In a more conventional show this might have been a bold and effective choice but in a production where the 4th wall is obliterated with regularity it just comes across as odd. Maria V. Bissex successfully conveys the 60s theme through her costumes and for the most part the dialect coach, Pauline Griller-Mitchell, helps us believe we are on the other side of the pond.

Fleming gets good performances from all his actors and there are some very funny scenes (Tatro’s fight with himself is only outdone by the hilarious mating ritual of Pilgrim and Wells) Overall the pacing issues are holding the show back but with the benefit of opening weekend under their belt it is certainly possible this production will get stronger and surpass the value of the ticket.

#tothepoint Rating 61/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $25

Value Rating: -$3

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $22. Tickets are available on Groupon and Gold Star for $16.50. One Man, Two Guvnors continues at Silver Spring Stage until July 29th.

Review: Pygmalion

Pygmalion

The Town Hall in Kensington is a non-traditional venue for theatre and as such presents an array of challenges for the creative team behind the British Players production of George Bernard Shaw’s, Pygmalion. As we negotiate our way into our temporary seats we get an immediate chance to see Maggie Modig’s set. The stage is split with Professor Higgins’ study and drawing room stage right and Mrs. Higgins’ drawing room stage left. A central curtain at the back of the stage is flanked by painted backdrops of the London skyline. On the apron of the raised stage stand three columns and two benches indicating a third venue.

We hear the sound of rain and a street light is lit stage right. The third venue is established as Covent Garden with Mrs. Eynsford-Hill (Ruth Vernet) and her children, Clara (Erin Schwartz) and Freddy (Todd Mazzie) attempting to find a taxi. The interior venues are not lost as much from the light as we would hope and the rain sound effect vanishes as quickly as it arrived despite the dialogue making it clear it is still raining. As for the dialogue itself, all the actors are mic’d up, which may be dictated by the acoustics of the venue but it takes some getting used to.

After a chance meeting in the opening scene between Higgins (Dan Owen), Colonel Pickering (John Allnutt) and Eliza Doolittle (Jenn Robinson), scene two takes us inside the home of Professor Higgins. Owen gives a strong performance with anger and playfulness always bubbling under the surface of his portrayal of the Professor. He captures the lack of empathy of the character and there is a truth in his work sometimes missing from some of the other members of the cast. Allnutt brings the right amount of affable bluster to the role of Pickering but his delivery is too presentational, something that will be a recurring theme throughout the show.

Eliza Doolittle will always be Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 musical film adaptation, My Fair Lady, and you can hear some of those Hepburn exclamations in Jenn Robinson’s delivery. Although those moments are intended to be larger than life, her focus on her accent and the cadence of her speech make her seem somewhat disconnected and a lot of the emotions feel like crocodile tears. Roger Stone brings the right level of energy to the role of Alfred Doolittle and the exchanges between Stone and Owen are verbally very pleasing. However, visually, the scenes between them, along with Allnutt, just don’t work. Far too often, Director, Pauline Griller-Mitchell, has the 3 men in a straight line facing the audience and the amount of unjustified movement within the blocking is quite staggering.

The costumes, by Harlene Leahy, are a strength throughout the show.  The styles and color palette effectively representing the different classes of this period of British life; although dressing Mrs. Pearce (Sam David), the Scottish housekeeper, in tartan feels a little too obvious. Unfortunately every time David enters the stage there is an annoying hum seemingly linked to her microphone which, along with a moment of horrendous feedback for Owen that comes later, is hard to forgive.

As the lights fade we hear the lessons between Higgins and Eliza that adeptly signify the passing of time before the lights come up on Mrs. Higgins’ (Margaret Lane) drawing room. We meet the Eynsford-Hill family for the second time and Vernet, Schwartz and Mazzie make the most of their limited stage time – with the exchanges between Schwartz and Robinson in both the opening and closing scenes of the first act particularly enjoyable.

The second act has a set surprise up its’ sleeve as the central curtain is drawn to reveal a staircase from which Eliza enters. It gives the set a wonderful depth which sadly it then fails to utilize for any purpose for the remainder of the show.  Robinson is a lot more comfortable as Eliza now she has transitioned into the better spoken version of herself and as the act progresses she starts to find the connection that was lacking earlier.  Unfortunately it’s too late for us to be truly affected by her fate and her decision to leave Higgins is not close to the emotional peak that it should be.

The reappearance of Alfred Doolittle, with his new found wealth, should make for an entertaining final scene and there are some funny moments with Stone lamenting his change in circumstance and Owen sulking like a toddler in time out. However, what follows is more bizarre blocking and characters almost rotating every few minutes to take turns sitting at Mrs. Higgins’ desk in a kind of slow and tedious game of musical chairs.

The Town Hall is a challenging space. The set and costumes are of a high quality and the performance of Owen as Higgins is a highlight…but the sound issues and the inability to isolate the different locations in the lighting design really hurt the overall quality of the production. However, it is the lack of authenticity in the interactions between the characters, largely due to movement rather than delivery, which unfortunately makes it impossible to recommend this show.

#tothepoint Rating: 48/100

You can view a full breakdown of the points here.

Ticket Price: $22

Value Review: N/A

Please review our scoring section. Our unique value for money guide only applies to shows that score 50 out of 100 or higher. The The British Players production of Pygmalion continues Friday through Sunday at Kensington Town Hall until April 9th.

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