Review: Decline and Fall at The Old Red Lion

Originally written for www.whatsonstage.comSylvester McCoy in Decline & Fall

It’s no mean feat turning a 224 page book into a pacey 2 hour play but Henry Filloux-Bennett’s sprightly version does just that. Through a mixture of knowing re-enactments, re-tellings and re-jigging Decline and Fall has been laced together cannily.

A chameleon cast shift from one character to another as our put-upon hero Paul Pennyfeather is pushed from pillar to post by a cavalcade of cartoon caricatures. It’s a clever whirlwind, with at one point Emily Murphy having to address and answer herself; it could have been disastrous but in this charming actress’ hands it’s a lovely moment. We are very aware this is a show we are watching; these are actors and this is a theatre dontcha know.

This works on the whole, but the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudging’ means that each rolling of the eye or change of posture is performed to its zenith. Sometimes this drowns out Evelyn Waugh’s own delicately balanced lampooning and the whole thing could have benefited from a slightly lighter touch.

Sylvester McCoy’s elastic clowning is fun to watch and he’s obviously a much loved performer, relishing the palpable waves of affection he gets from the audience. He doesn’t hog the limelight however and has solid support from all, although the dastardly Fay Downie as femme-fatal Mrs Beste-Chetwynde and Murphy’s very funny Florence Fagan fly slightly higher than the rest.

To The Manor Born meets Evelyn Waugh, this Christmas you could do a lot worse than the funny, if a little hammy, Decline and Fall.

Review: 1927’s The Animals and Children took to the Streets at BAC

Written for www.whatsonstage.com The Animals & Children Took to the Streets

It could be easy to tag 1927’s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets as style over substance; it is none too shabby on the eye and the story, though sweet, feels in parts quite light. But timing is everything and on a day of epic student protest, the story of angry children taking to the streets to fight against an unfair social system, seems instead eerily prescient.

We follow pretty Agnes Eves into the dark dank world of Red Herring Street. This dodgy neighbourhood, full of vice and melancholic caretakers (who rather brilliantly speak only in sardonic voice over) is brought to wriggling life by Paul Barritt’s mischievous film and animation. A sparkling and robust score, performed with both gusto and grace by Lillian Henley, underpins Barritt’s constantly shifting world. It is a landscape littered with intelligent style references to 1930s Bauhaus poster design whilst revelling in naught cartoonish comedy.

Performers Suzanne Andrade, Esme Appleton and Henley, firmly inhabit this two dimensional environment, making it flesh and blood with some calculated yet joyously specific clowning and mime. Perhaps most brilliantly whilst 1927 knowingly laugh at their own theatrical trickery, in Andrade’s sharp and fruity script there is also a sense of reality to their world and characters; a truth which engenders empathy.

Even in the face of a narrative which may not stand the test of time, The Animals and Children took to the Streets is and always will be an entrancing piece of art with a capital R (or so they tell us). 1927 have once again conjured up a night of unique theatrical magic out of a potent combination of deadpan grotesquery and vaudevillian flair. This cautionary tale, on the surface at least, is a macabre masterpiece of invention and skill.

Running to 08 January 2011