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The Green Room

Michael Hasted brings you News, Views and Interviews from the Everyman Theatre

Things have been a bit quiet of late at the Everyman for the past few weeks. There have been many and varied one night stands many of which involved a good deal of dancing in the aisles but the only play was “Doctor in the House” with Joe Pasquale and Robert Powell. It was a bit of fun but came across very much as a vehicle for Mr Pasquale at the expense of the other members of the cast. Although he has a great deal of charm and seems a funny enough comedian, his talents as an actor were not obvious. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable evening in an undemanding sort of way.

With the new season, which starts on 10th September, the lack of good plays through the summer will be compensated for in no uncertain manner. I have never seen its like, literally. There are eight plays, one after the other, each of which promises something special. Throughout September and October actors like Timothy West, Penelope Keith, William Gaunt will be appearing in plays by Ronald Harwood, Oscar Wilde and Keith Waterhouse, to name only a few. Plus, there is a visit from the Kneehigh Theatre Company with “Steptoe and Son” which, believe me, is not another TV sitcom rip-off. Kneehigh is one of the best independent theatre companies in the country as those of you who saw “Brief Encounter” a couple of years ago will testify. Even better than Kneehigh is the Propeller company who will be back in April with another Shakespeare double bill. But more of all that in the Green Room over the coming months.

To start the new season ball rolling Felicity Kendal will be appearing in Alan Ayckbourn’s “Relatively Speaking”. Ayckbourn’s plays have been a mainstay of popular British theatre for the past fifty years and Miss Kendal is a name often associated with them. “Relatively Speaking” was Ayckbourn’s first commercial successes when it opened at the Duke of York theatre in London in March 1967. Since then there have been in excess of seventy London productions and that does not include many plays that did not reach London from Scarborough, were they were all first performed. “Relatively Speaking” tells the story of Greg and Ginny. They have only known each other for a month but Greg has already made up his mind that she’s the girl for him. When she tells him that she’s going to visit her parents, he decides this is the moment to ask her father for his daughter’s hand. Discovering a scribbled address,
he follows her to Buckinghamshire where he finds Philip and Sheila enjoying a peaceful Sunday morning breakfast in the garden, but the only thing is – they’re not Ginny’s parents.

Felicity Kendal is one of the UK’s most popular actresses who shot to fame with her role in BBC television’s “The Good Life” alongside Richard Briers and Penelope Keith. This will be the first time she has starred in a play by Alan Ayckbourn since the West End premiere of “The Norman Conquests” in 1973. The star cast also includes Kara Tointon best known as Dawn Swann in “Eastenders” and winning the BBC’s 2010 “Strictly Come Dancing”.

The father is played by Jonathan Coy whose many television credits include “Rumpole”, “Hornblower”, “Brideshead Revisited”, “Downton Abbey” and “Foyle’s War”. On stage he has starred in “Nicholas Nickleby”, “Donkey’s Years” and in the celebrated 2011 West End production of “Much Ado About Nothing” with David Tennant.

Lindsay Posner is an award-winning director, known for his work in the West End and at the Royal Court Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. His recent productions include “Noises Off ” at the Old Vic and “Abigail’s Party” which played Bath prior to aWest End run. Designer Peter McKintosh is the winner of an Olivier Award for “Crazy For You” in the West End and was Olivier nominated for “Hello Dolly”. His productions of “Death And The Maiden”, “Butley” and “The 39 Steps” all received Tony nominations on Broadway.

Although Alan Ayckbourn was a popular and successful playwright it was only his period at the National that he was also accepted by the establishment as a “serious” playwright as well. His first major success was “Relatively Speaking” and after a quiet period at the Everyman during the summer everything gets into gear again at the beginning of September with a fabulous new production of the aforementioned play. But the most fab thing about it is that it stars Felicity Kendal. The play is directed by Lindsay Posner and also stars Jonathan Coy.

Beautifully crafted, wonderfully funny and charmingly English, “Relatively Speaking” was Ayckbourn’s first great West End success and turned him into a household name. When the show opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1967, the critics hailed the arrival of a great new comic talent. Felicity Kendal, needless to say, is one of the UK’s most popular actresses who shot to fame with her role in BBC television’s The Good Life. This will be the first time she has starred in a play by Alan Ayckbourn since the West End premiere of The Norman Conquests in 1973.

This production come to Cheltenham courtesy of the Theatre Royal Bath which has consistently high standards and whose touring shows frequently transfer to the West End. There is also a lot of good stuff coming up in The Studio over the next few weeks. On 12th September the Malvernbard Company present “Casting” which explores the problems of a theatre director and producer having to re-cast their new production of “Hamlet” after the hero runs off with Ophelia leaving them in the lurch.

Perhaps the most promising of the new season in The Studio appears to be a short season of adaptations of Charles Dickens novels. Locally based Jenny Wren Productions are mounting “The Pickwick Papers” adapted by Doc Watson. This version of Dickens’ classic comic novel is full of humour, madcap mayhem and lots of music and laughter. Full of marvellous characters getting into the most frightful scrapes, this is action packed fun for all the family. That is followed on 17th October by “Dombey and Sons” presented by the Stroud based Red Dog Theatre Company. The season rounds off with the Everyman’s own company production of “Great Expectations”.

Yes, I know it’s only August and we are in the middle of another sun drenched English summer but it is about this time of year that people’s thoughts and shop merchandising prepare for Christmas. And Christmas means only one thing to loyal theatre goers and that is pantomime. The reason I am mentioning it now is that there is some hot news.

“Dick Whittington” this coming Christmas will be as traditional as ever with a lot of the old familiar faces and is again written and directed by Phil Clark. What is new and exciting is that for the first time the comedy lead is taken by Tweedy the Clown whom many of you will already know from Giffords Circus. I spoke to him just before he was due take a turn round the ring in a field near Cirencester.

‘I mainly work in the circus of course, mainly with Giffords but do lot of other stuff as well. I do pantomimes, I work in theme parks and I’ve got my own one-man clown show in theatres that I perform. I keep busy. I’m a jack of all trades really, master of none but that’s good for a clown, to be able to get a bit of comedy out of everything.’

He was working in the United States with the biggest and best circus in the world, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, and until a couple of years ago. He played in every major American city starting with an opening season at Madison Square Gardens in New York.

‘Barnum’s have dozens of clowns but I was one of the principals which meant I could do my own thing. It was very exciting but quite daunting. It’s absolutely huge, completely different from working with Giffords or even in a pantomime in a theatre which are both very intimate and you have a strong relationship with the audience. Playing to audiences of 5000 or more you can’t have that.

‘I joined the circus straight from school; I didn’t have any formal training, I learned on the road. I do a bit of everything really music, juggling, horse-back. I picked up a lot from watching the old pros. It seemed like the best way.’

I regard myself, if not an authority on circus, then certainly a fan. I’ve seen Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey atMadison Square Gardens as well as the leading circuses in Europe and Tweedy is beyond a doubt the funniest, cleverest and most original clown I have seen. It will be interesting to see what he brings to “Dick Whittington” at Christmas. I will aim to speak to him at greater length for the December issue, so watch this space.

The Everyman is actually the main ticket outlet for Giffords so if you fancy a quick taster of Tweedy’s talents there are still a few more weeks left before the circus finishes for the summer. And he will be doing part of his one-man show, “A Night with Tweedy”, in the Studio on 20th September.