Review – Murder on the Orient Express, Festival Theatre, Chichester, 4th June 2022

Murder on the Orient ExpressI was in two minds about seeing the new play adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. On the one hand, I’ve read the book several times, seen the movie (Albert Finney, not Kenneth Branagh), and remember clearly both the crime and the (admittedly exciting) denouement and solution. So this wasn’t going to give me any of those suspenseful thrills that come from seeing a brand new murder mystery. On the other hand, I was sure that Chichester would put on a brilliant production, that Henry Goodman would be a superb Poirot, and we were going to be in town anyway to see The Unfriend so it seemed churlish not to!

Poirot at the denouementYou all know the story, I’m sure. Poirot needs to return home from Istanbul and his friend M. Bouc, who manages the Wagons-Lit Orient Express insists he takes a first class compartment as his guest. What a very good friend M. Bouc is! The first class compartment is unusually busy though; and his travelling companions include the Wagons Lit conductor Michel, plus a Hungarian countess, a Russian princess, an English governess and her military beau, a Swedish missionary, an extravagant American woman and the businessman Samuel Ratchett and his secretary. Ratchett – a loudmouth bully with more money than taste – wants to hire Poirot’s services and is willing to pay big bucks. But Poirot is not interested in this brute and will not take the job.

Poirot and BoucThe train encounters a snowdrift and pauses near Belgrade with no expectation of moving for hours, perhaps days. And at (maybe, maybe not) 1.15am the next morning, Ratchett is murdered by multiple stab wounds. Bouc beseeches Poirot to solve the case before the Yugoslavian police catch up with them – the reputation of the train company is at stake. But Poirot’s first interest would always be justice. When he identifies the guilty party – not if, but when, this is Poirot we’re talking about – he will insist they are handed over to the police, non? But sometimes justice isn’t quite as easy to define as Poirot makes out…

BedroomsRobert Jones’ design for the show is simply terrific. From the opulence of the Istanbul hotel, to the train station, and the individual compartments and dining tables, the whole thing looks stunning. There’s a wonderful optical illusion of the train moving through tunnels that works incredibly well. The costumes are superb, with some evening dresses to die for, and Christopher Shutt’s sound design is full of evocative effects and sometimes blood-curdling shocks. Whether intentional or not I don’t know, but Adrian Sutton’s music frequently put me in mind of Richard Rodney Bennett’s soundtrack to the 1974 film.

Countess AndrenyiAs a Christie fan, and knowing the book intimately, I was very impressed by Ken Ludwig’s adaptation. He has taken out some of the more minor on-board characters/suspects, given the role of the doctor to the Countess Andrenyi so that she is both assistant and suspect, and enhanced the moral question that Poirot must face at the end of his investigations. He has also removed some of the clues, such as the scarlet kimono, and Mrs Hubbard’s sponge bag, and added a terrific surprise just before the interval curtain which is completely different from Christie’s original but works extremely well – I’ll say no more.

PoirotThe big challenge of the play is to make the denouement exciting even though most of the audience will already know whodunit. This it achieves perfectly; the denouement takes up at least the last half hour of the show if not more, and as Poirot goes through his suspects and his reasonings, you can hear a pin drop in the auditorium. The circular stage of the Festival Theatre revolves very slowly, with each of the suspects sitting on chairs, their backs to the audience, spaced out equally, so that you can witness each of them squirming in turn facing interrogation. It also irons out any blocking issues!

PoirotAt the heart of the story, and the production, stands the dapper and slightly diminutive figure of Henry Goodman as Poirot. None of the caricature or pantomime dandy that some characterisations have invested in him, this Poirot is gently arrogant, takes pride in his appearance, has a swishy moustache and all the other attributes that you associate with him – but they’re all extremely believable. He Frenchifies up his accent quite a bit – so that you get 60 seconds in a minoote, or a suspect leaves a fangerprint on a clue. But he’s riveting throughout; and you can completely believe that those little grey cells are working dix-neuf á la douzaine within that intricate brain of his.

MichelPatrick Robinson gives excellent support as the hearty and positive Monsieur Bouc, doing his best to look on the bright side and desperately hoping that Poirot can get him out of trouble. One of my favourite actors, Marc Antolin, gives a superb performance as Michel the conductor, delicately extricating himself from Mrs Hubbard’s clutches and handling the princess with the kiddest of gloves. Sara Stewart is brilliant as the aforementioned ostentatious Mrs Hubbard, appallingly flirtatious and ruthless, sparring magnificently with Joanna McCallum’s haughty and dismissive Princess Dragomiroff. Philip Cairns and Taz Munyaneza weave great intrigue together as Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham, and Timothy Watson is terrific as the mean, snarling Ratchett. But the whole cast work together as an ensemble extremely well, and keep the suspense and entertainment going right up to the final minute.

Dragomiroff and OhlssonThe show has now finished its run at the Chichester Festival Theatre but will be playing at the Theatre Royal Bath from 9th to 25th June. If you’re a Christie fan, you’ll love it – and if, somehow, you don’t yet know whodunit, attendance is compulsory!! Enormously entertaining and totally gripping.

 

Production photos by Johan Persson

Five Alive let Theatre Thrive!

Review – Edmond de Bergerac, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 9th April 2019

Edmond de BergeracQuestion: What does Speaker John Bercow say when he sees Cyrano de Bergerac in the House of Commons? Answer: The nose have it, the nose have it.

EDB 5I’d like to apologise for that childish opening, but bear with me, gentle reader. Cyrano is normally all about the nose, but in Alexis Michalik’s Edmond de Bergerac, it doesn’t make an entrance until the final scenes. And that makes sense, because this brilliantly funny account of how Edmond Rostand might have written his famous tragicomedy is all about heart; love for one’s art, whether it be writing or acting, and how you have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous theatre managements in order to get your masterpiece on stage. It’s a wonderfully positive piece, where love finds its true course, hopeless wannabes find success, and even the villains are funny. So, really, the ayes have it, and in abundance.

EDB 3Rostand is down on his uppers, but does have a magnificent patronne in the formidable shape of Sarah Bernhardt, who’s still a box-office draw despite edging towards her best-by date. She organises a meeting between him and Constant Coquelin, the famous thespian who’s been having legal wrangles with the Comédie Française. Although he hasn’t written anything for years, Rostand somehow impresses the Great Man, who commissions a comedy from him; first read-through tomorrow.

EDB 9Thus comes the first of many nights where Rostand works round the clock, with encouragement from the manager of the Café Honoré, and support from his actor pal Léo. A serial womaniser, Léo introduces Rostand to his latest inamorata-in-waiting, Jeanne, and it’s through Rostand’s mentoring of Léo’s otherwise useless romantic small talk that he discovers the muse for Coquelin’s commission. But there’s an awful long way between that initial spark of creativity and Cyrano’s first night.

EDB 4Edmond de Bergerac joins that small but very special group of works of art (whether it be play, book, music, etc) that tries to shed light on its own creative process – and they’re always packed with insight. The film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, for example, intersperses the narrative of the story with scenes where the actors play themselves on set whilst making the self-same film. Elton John’s Your Song and Spandau Ballet’s True take us through the pains and motivations of the songwriter getting the words right. Edmond de Bergerac shows us the individual moments of inspiration that get transplanted into the, as yet, unwritten play; the personal relationships, the overheard arguments, other people’s fantastic one-liners that you just have to steal for your own work. By taking us through the creative process, it also emphasises the truth of what lies at the heart of the new created work. Have I lost you? Sorry, it’s one of my pet favourite things in art.

EDB 1From Honoré’s opening Bonsoir, (to which we all replied) to his final introduction of the curtain call, that fourth wall is always open, and we’re willingly drawn into Rostand’s theatrical world. When an idea comes into his head, he confides it to us. We share in Coquelin’s knife-edge relationship with the law. We love it when the star, who never bothers with stage management’s health and safety warnings, plummets through the trap door. There’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that Rostand is always comparing himself with the ultra-successful Georges Feydeau, because the show is crammed with half farce/half slapstick moments. I also loved the inventive staging suggestions (the train sequences are all hilarious), the over-the-top Frenchy characterisations; and the surprise appearances of the likes of Anton Chekhov and Maurice Ravel. It reminded Mrs Chrisparkle of the fabulously successful revival of Mr Whatnot a few years ago; and with aspects of Noises Off, Kiss Me Kate and Nicholas Nickleby in there too.

EDB 7It’s all performed at fantastic speed and pinpoint accuracy by a hugely likeable and talented cast of fourteen, playing something like fifty or sixty characters. At the still point in the turning world, Freddie Fox is outstanding as Rostand, clearly a devoted family man but unwittingly caught up in what looks like (to his wife at least) an illicit affair. Robin Morrissey is hilarious as the empty-headed matinée idol Léo, and Josie Lawrence uses all her fantastic vocal skills to create a very grande Bernhardt, a grumpy Duenna and a West Country prostitute who saves the day (in a number of ways).

EDB 8Chizzy Akudolu gives great comic presence to the diva-ish Maria, Simon Gregor steals every scene as the camp couturier and the pompous hotel receptionist, whilst Nick Cavalière gives great support in a number of roles including (with Mr Gregor), Coquelin’s creditors, the two menacing Floury brothers. Delroy Atkinson is superb as always as the assertive Honoré and the ham old actor, Harry Kershaw is terrific as the awful actor Jean, David Langham makes for a wonderfully pompous Feydeau, Sarah Ridgeway a kindly, put-upon Rosemonde, and Gina Bramhill a sparkling yet spikey Jeanne.

EDB 6Top of the shop is a superb performance by Henry Goodman as the ebullient and vain Coquelin, the demanding boss who needs his script double quick and insists on a duel scene because he’s quite handy with a rapier. Even though he’s potentially difficult and a nightmare to work with, we support him absolutely in his attempts to see Cyrano on stage. It’s a lovely comic performance but with plenty of serious tinges. But everyone gives a performance of top-quality commitment, and the result is an evening of sheer delight.

EDB 2Michalik’s original production opened in Paris in 2016 and is still packing them in after 800 performances. Of course, Cyrano de Bergerac is second-nature to the Parisien theatregoer; he’s like our Hamlet, but with added proboscis. This short touring production – the play’s UK première – courtesy of Birmingham Rep, in a translation by Jeremy Sams, still has dates at Cambridge and Richmond to follow, and I’m sure will do a lot to raise the profile in this country of not only Cyrano, but also Alexis Michalik. A marvellous tribute to Rostand and a fabulously funny night out. Don’t miss it!

Review – Volpone, Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, Stratford, 5th September 2015

VolponeFor the third weekend in a row, we met up with Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters for an afternoon of culture and drama. It was the Countess who was particularly keen on seeing this production, immersed as she is in all things literary and old, and that’s not just her husband. I’d read the play when I was younger but none of us had actually seen it on stage, so it was about time we got ourselves some education. So if, like Mrs Chrisparkle, you thought Volpone was Ben Jonson’s more successful prequel to Volptwo, maybe it’s time to reacquaint yourself with some Jacobean dramatists. Whilst Shakespeare continues to make his presence felt in every outdoor summer venue and traditional theatre space at least once a year, his Elizabethan and Jacobean contemporaries sometimes get overlooked. For at the same time that Shakespeare was whacking out King Lear, Jonson was proposing a very different kettle of fish in the guise of Volpone.

Henry GoodmanGuise is a good word in the circumstances, because Volpone – the man – is the ultimate dissembler. In reality a hale and hearty manipulator of idiots and lover of riches, to the outside world he is a feeble old man, languishing on his sickbed, dribbling incontinently into a spittoon. When not creating that illusion, he might be pretending to be Scoto the Mountebank, or a courtroom official, or any number of bogus creations. With its carefully chosen Italianate names for its characters, Jonson created the classic satire on greed. It’s set in Venice, where Volpone (the fox) with his co-conspirator servant Mosca (the fly), attempt to outwit the wealthy Voltore (vulture), Corbaccio (raven) and Corvino (crow), to prove that fools and their money are indeed soon parted, preferably in Volpone’s direction. Innocents are drawn into his web of deceit, like Corbaccio’s son Bonario (kindly) and Corvino’s wife Celia (heavenly). In a subplot, we are introduced to Sir Politic Would-Be (at the time politic meant “scheming” or “sly”), his garrulous and airheaded wife the Lady Would-Be, and the traveller Peregrine, whose name means…er… traveller. In a very moral resolution, the good, the bad and the foolish are all shown to be precisely what they are, with the wrath of the courts coming down heavily on the transgressors; with liberation and exoneration as the reward for the wronged.

Miles RichardsonWith its completely original plotline, many consider this to be one of the finest Jacobean plays – certainly of the comedies. It is, however, rather long-winded. Structurally it starts with an elaborate opening scene where Volpone and Mosca fleece and con the three fools individually, and I sense that the more you emphasise the differences between these three characters, the funnier it is. It then breaks away to the street scene where Sir Politic and Peregrine have their conversation, giving Volpone and his entourage time to re-create themselves as Scoto and his team, which gives rise to a lengthy performance by Volpone-as-Scoto, encouraging his audience to buy his amazing cure-all oil. Finally, Volpone wins the attention of Celia – which is what all this has been leading up to. Benjo allows Scoto to rule the stage, and extemporise at length – and I really do mean at length. My own feeling is that it was because the original Volpone was played by Richard Burbage who was the Laurence Olivier of his time; the longer he was on stage, the happier the audience would be. Once Corvino has taken his revenge on Celia for her sassy behaviour but nevertheless agreed to offer her to Volpone for sex – yes this is quite an adult Jacobean comedy – humiliation and disgrace is the inevitable outcome for all concerned.

Geoffrey FreshwaterTrevor Nunn has created an updated version of Volpone for the RSC. No sense of Venetian gondolas and canals remain in this stark modern environment, where entrycams show us who’s knocking at Volpone’s door, video projections display the allegedly sick Volpone’s feeble heartbeat and erroneous blood pressure readings, and with a click of a button we can even see the stock exchange figures scroll past whenever Volp wants to play the markets. Overhead cameras show the sexy modern bed on which he plans his liaison dangereuse with Celia – you can just imagine that he would threaten to upload a coital video to YouTube in order to extort extra dosh. Sir Politic Would-Be points out how many followers he has on his iPad; and Lady W-B is followed everywhere by a camera crew. For me, the most effective use of the camera was during the court scene, where Volpone stops the proceedings to have a little private soliloquy whilst everyone else stands stock still as if frozen in time. The camera that was targeted on the judge also freezes and goes from colour to black and white, then resumes in colour again when life carries on. A relatively simple effect perhaps, but really arresting.

Matthew KellyNot only is this a modern, technological age Volpone, it’s also a world where celebrity rules, which gives plenty of opportunities for telling juxtapositions between the 17th and 21st centuries. The programme credits translator and updater-extraordinaire Ranjit Bolt with “script revisions”. There are certainly plenty of these, most notably perhaps in the Scoto scene where the majority of Jonson’s original text has been replaced by a brand new speech. Fair enough; that’s in keeping with it being a cadenza-like sequence where the words and gestures play to the actor’s strengths and allow him simply to entertain to the full. However, I think it’s regrettable that Mr Bolt decided to retain Jonson’s original concept of this being a long scene. Funny and innovative as it is, it really does go on too long for no apparent plot progression benefit. It’s like one of those interminable drum solos in a concert that shows off the performer’s skills and range, and is very entertaining whilst it lasts, but then when you move on you can hardly remember it. As an aside, I realised when watching this scene the derivation of the word mountebank – because Volpone sets up a bench/table (bank) and stands on top of it (mounte) to deliver his spiel. You probably knew that already.

Steven Pacey, Guy Burgess, Colin RyanBut where the production and its technological vision really works is with the characterisation of Lady Would-Be. A vacuous glamour-puss from the Katie Price/Made in Chelsea stable, she preens and pouts her way through the show whilst always ensuring the camera gets her best side. Her attendants are make-up girls and hair stylists, haute couture-shopping bag carriers and minders. Living life for her reality show, everything is captured on film until such time as she might be seen in a bad light, when she turns off the charm (such as it may be) and the cameraman gets the unsubtle call to “cut”. A great source for humour, and totally in keeping with the modernised version of the character, it was particularly funny in the courtroom when Lady W-B realised the trial was being televised, and thus kept bobbing about like a Hallowe’en apple trying to remain in shot. You can even follow her on twitter @LadyP_W.

Annette McLaughlinAt the heart of the play is a bravura performance by Henry Goodman as Volpone. He is perfect for the role, being very experienced at playing the dominating central character of many a fine production. We saw him in Chichester as Arturo Ui and he was mesmeric. In the course of this play he has to perform many parts, all of them Volpone. His transitions from one to another are seamless. It’s particularly enjoyable in the opening scene where he quickly changes from the fit-as-a-fiddle fox to the invalid in his domestic hospital bed. In a split second he ages about forty years; in “All the world’s a stage” terms he goes from the fifth age of the Justice in fair round belly, to the seventh, sans everything, in a snap. But all his characterisations are rounded, individual, and well considered to give maximum comedy value. It’s a very fine performance.

Annette McLaughlin and Henry GoodmanBuzzing around Volpone is Mosca, the fly, or, as more pejoratively termed, his parasite. Mosca is a constant presence, reliably assisting Volpone with his mischief and crookedness, darting here and there to serve and to misrepresent. He is His Master’s Voice where it comes to liaising with the three fools, trying to out-donate each other where it comes to adding to Volpone’s collection of riches. It’s an assured and cheeky performance by Orion Lee on his RSC debut, very believable as Volpone’s Rottweiler in his dealings with the outside world; just maybe when the tide turns and Mosca is in the ascendant, trying to outwit his master, he lacks a certain gravitas in the courtroom scenes.

Ankur Bahl, Jon Key and Julian HoultOf the three dupes attempting to get their mitts on Volpone’s legacies, I was most impressed by Miles Richardson as Voltore the lawyer, with a good level of pomp and decency, which gets blown apart in the courtroom scenes where he is run ragged by attempting manipulation after deviation. He gives a great comic performance. A chip off the old block, he has much of his father Ian Richardson’s slightly lugubrious stage presence which is perfect for the humiliation of his general unravelling. Matthew Kelly is a very stern and unyielding Corvino, which works very well when he’s dominating his wife, but I felt there wasn’t a lot of light and shade in his performance. Geoffrey Freshwater’s Corbaccio is a deaf and doddery old thing, and, despite it being a good performance it makes you realise that, as a character, it’s something of a one-trick pony. Once you’ve laughed at his deafness a few times, there’s not a lot left to laugh at.

Volpone castThere are, however, some terrific other performances. The always excellent Steven Pacey as Sir Politic Would-Be is an avuncular and persuasive presence in his rich but tasteless clothes, stringing out fanciful plots and nonsensical concerns to the mild amusement and subsequent deep annoyance of Peregrine, an energetically youthful portrayal by Colin Ryan. In this modernised version, Sir Politic doesn’t get disguised in a tortoise shell but is squeezed into one of his wife’s outfits, make-up and beard at sixes and sevens, looking like Conchita Wurst after a hard night on the town. Mr Pacey carries off his shame with a nice mixture of anger and resignation. He is matched by the wonderful Annette McLaughlin as Lady Would-Be, capturing all that essential hollowness of a wannabe reality star, a bitch when thwarted, control freak par excellence, the true definition of beauty being skin-deep. Her stand up argument with Peregrine is theatrical bliss.

Richard Rees and Nav SidhuJon Key, Ankur Bahl and Julian Hoult give good outlandish support as Volpone’s triumvirate of servants, representing the full range of humankind – you have to ask yourself, why Volpone does choose to be surrounded by a dwarf, a hermaphrodite and a eunuch? What was in the person spec for those job descriptions? Their mini-shows to entertain Volpone are well performed but, rather like the Scoto scene, tend to act as a pause-button to the play as a whole rather than driving on the drama – but that’s Jonson’s fault. Andy Apollo and Rhiannon Handy as Bonario and Celia don’t have a lot to do apart from outraged indignation, but they do it very well.

Orion LeeYou come away from this production part impressed, part exhausted; the modernisation works well provided you don’t mind liberties being taken with a sacred text – not that it’s that sacred – and it offers several excellent performances. On the other hand, the play lasts three hours ten minutes, which is quite an ambitious project if you’ve just had a nice lunch with a bottle of Chablis, and you do get the feeling that there were some self-indulgences that could have been stripped away to bring it in at a more reasonable two and a half hours. But nevertheless it’s enjoyable and inventive, and when everyone gets their come-uppance at the end, you feel that justice has been done. Only a few more performances left, so you’d better get in quick.

Production photographs by Manuel Harlan.

Review – The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, 21st July 2012

ChichesterTime for our annual pilgrimage to Chichester, and this year, for the first time, we visited the Minerva Theatre as part of our weekend. Whereas I always find negotiating the foyers of the Festival Theatre a privileged joy, I didn’t get the same feeling at the Minerva. Once upstairs and in the circle area outside the auditorium entrance, I found the atmosphere stuffy and hot; and the bar area, which is the back side – if you’ll pardon the expression – of the bar in the Brasserie, was unattended – twenty minutes before curtain up at the matinee – not a good sign. We went into the Brasserie to get attention of the bar staff on that side, to be met with a bunch of guys who looked quizzically at our attempt to get a little glass of wine, as if it were a great inconvenience in their “clearing-up-after-lunch” routine. Come on Chichester, you can welcome your punters better than that!

Resistible Rise of Arturo UiMrs Chrisparkle and I haven’t seen a lot of Brecht, but this is one play I have always wanted to experience in a theatre. I read it years ago, during the time when I basically read every play I could get my hands on. Written rapidly in 1941 whilst Brecht was in exile in Finland, and unperformed until 1958, the play portrays the rise of an infamous Chicago gangster from the kind of guy people used to laugh at when he came into the room to the kind of guy who could manipulate entire populations to his own wicked ends. It works well on two levels – as the story of the gangster taking over the vegetable trade in Chicago and Cicero; but of course chiefly as an allegory of the rise of Nazism under Hitler from 1929 to 1938. The original UK production didn’t take place until 1967 when Ui was played by Leonard Rossiter. I bet he was brilliant in the role.

Henry GoodmanThe Minerva is a little like a miniature Festival theatre – Roman amphitheatre-shaped, and you have to walk down onto the stage area and around and back up again to find your seat. It’s rather cramped, and not terribly comfortable – at the interval plenty of people were apologising to the person in front for kneeing them in the back during the first act – but the sight lines are perfect. As you enter the auditorium, the stage is set up as a speak-easy, with a group of musicians giving it some 1930s style jazz round the piano; and the tables are beset with hoodlums, all sucking on stage cigarettes which, I have to say, smell repulsive when you’re that close – they’re like cannabis just with a shorter odour life. The play begins in Brecht’s finest tradition, with his breaking down the scene by having an MC address us directly and introduce the gangsters on stage individually, so you know precisely what to expect from them throughout the play.

David Sturzaker In many respects it is an extraordinary work, in that it takes the dreadful events of 1930s Germany and re-presents them in a different country under a alternative scenario of lawlessness, but there is no mistaking whatsoever Brecht’s allegorical intentions. His original version of the play has each scene preceded or interrupted by a some written words which tell you precisely the events in history that the scene is meant to represent. In Jonathan Church’s production, he has tried to make it not quite so Brechtian by demoting these information pieces to a double-page spread in the programme. Mrs C and I didn’t discover this until the interval, which is a shame as it would have given the first half scenes an added dimension for us. The play is also written in verse, another distancing Brechtian device, making it on the one hand slightly less realistic but also giving it oddly more gravitas.

Michael Feast It’s also a very nasty play. In this cityscape, if you’re not a gangster, a murderer, a swindler or a thief, then you’re a victim of at least one of the above. There’s no scope for concealing the mental and physical violence; and it brilliantly shows you how a population can get caught up in thrall to an evil man through fear, intimidation, greed and cowardice. Brecht certainly did the world a service when he wrote this play, and if it alerts just one person to the possibility of a new Ui rising to the top of some dunghill who somehow acts to prevent it, then who knows how many lives it could save. The final scene of the play is horrifyingly well done and grimly looks to a vile future. The play ends with a brief epilogue as Ui slowly starts to come out of character and take the voice of the actor playing him, warning us not to be complacent as the bitch that bred this bastard is still breeding.

Joe McGannAnd that actor in question is Henry Goodman, whom I believe we haven’t seen before, but I have heard a lot of Good Things about him. His performance is nothing short of remarkable. Ui completely consumes him from head to toe, inside and out. He starts off as a wretched little man, the butt of jokes, sunken inside himself like a warped parody of Uriah Heep, but without the apparent humility. As his fortunes improve he visibly swells in height and breadth; his clothes become smarter and better fitting; his confidence grows; his enunciation clarifies and he just becomes a bigger entity until finally he is the full-grown monster. All along, of course, his appearance develops slightly more Hitleresque nuances scene by scene; with the addition of an insignia on his armband, his arms and feet movements as taught by the actor, his sleeked hair, his military clothing, his violent voice, his manic jackboots. It’s horrifying and fascinating, and really drives home the message that this is how evil can come to power. It’s an incredible performance. He also makes the best out of the stylised humour of the play, which personally I found hard to appreciate. The characters are so vile that to laugh with them is to demean oneself. Nevertheless, the majority of the audience found the humour in the role borderline hysterical. Maybe that in itself is evidence of how a charismatic approach can sweep people along in its path.

William Gaunt The acting throughout is of an extremely high quality. The performances of Ui’s three main henchmen are all first class. David Sturzaker as Givola in particular conveyed the “Best Supporting Evil” role, with his vicious ruthlessness cushioned in his otherwise soft and polite floristry trade. You can see how he is the essential nice guy turned bad, and boy is he bad. Michael Feast also gives a superb performance as Ui’s lieutenant, Roma, and his eventual come-uppance almost makes you feel sorry for him – but not quite. Joe McGann’s creepy Giri with the hat fetish is a chilling assassin. His doubling up as the decent investigator O’Casey gives him another meaty scene. The doubling up of William Gaunt as both the corrupt Dogsborough – as whom he is very convincing – and the judge didn’t quite work so well for me as it looked simply as though Dogsborough had landed the prime job of being the judge; particularly as the judge is clearly also corrupt and legitimises the trumped up case against the wretched defendant Fish. I didn’t get the sense of there being two different characters. Amongst the other supporting roles, I was really impressed with the performance of Rolf Saxon as Clark, devious leader of the Cauliflower Trust, another extremely good realisation of a character that on the face of it is laudable and trustworthy but underneath is a dissembling villain.

It is an excellent production of an unpleasant play. I can’t actually say I enjoyed it, but it probably should be compulsory viewing for all young people reaching voting age. Freedom is fragile, democracy easily manipulated. Brecht’s allegory is as relevant today as it ever has been.

Enjoying the sunP.S. As befits the first sunny weekend in what feels like a decade, Chichester was looking lovely. The matinee of Arturo Ui chucked out at 5.25pm and with a 7.30 start for Kiss Me Kate looming, we didn’t have much time to idle over choosing a dinner location. With the new Marcos having too-expensive-a-menu for simple people from Northampton to contemplate, and with the George and Dragon pub being fully booked, we decided to chance the first place that looked remotely suitable. This turned out to be Clinchs restaurant (there’s no apostrophe in their name, whether that’s right or wrong) and it turned out to be a fairly bizarre experience. After a friendly welcome we sat at comfortable seats on a nice big table and quickly received the menus. We ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and it was very good, nicely chilled; and a recognisable label from supermarket shelves. Ordering took a while; but not as long as the meal did. In the meantime we were amused by the amateur service; a waitress, arms piled high with freshly prepared meals, standing in the middle of the restaurant shouting back to the kitchen “GINA! Where am I taking this lot?” Plates were getting taken to the wrong tables; people were waiting to be served whilst the waitresses were chin-wagging with friends in the garden. We were starting to get a little anxious but at 6.40 it arrived. The food was superb. We scoffed it and asked for the bill, and fifteen minutes later, with no bill presented, just went to the cash desk to pay. The area behind the till was awash with half open bottles of lemonade, wine, juice etc, all bearing Sainsbury’s labels and looking as scruffy as your own kitchen at 2.30am after a long hard party. This new restaurant has the makings of something good, but needs professionalising up a bit!