Visiting Mr Green

by Jeff Baron; dir Annie Woodward
Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, Coventry
20 – 27 October 2012

I first encountered this play several years ago when a touring professional production visited the area with a big name in the title role. At the time, it made a not very favourable impression on me, striking me as a somewhat tedious piece, to the extent that I had completely forgotten about it during subsequent years.

So it was interesting to come to it again all that time later at the Criterion. I had re-acquainted myself with the bones of the play, and felt that it should have a lot more to offer than I had previously experienced. Such proved to be the case.

This is a stunning production in every sense. Director Annie Woodward has done a wonderful job in bringing out both the delightful humour and the moments of pathos in the piece.

The story concerns a recently widowed Jewish New Yorker (Mr Green) who has suffered a fall resulting from a close encounter with a car driven by the only other character in the play, Ross Gardiner. Ross has been ordered to fulfil a period of community service by visiting his victim once a week. This intrusion is, at first, deeply resented by Mr Green, but gradually the relationship starts to blossom as Ross reveals his own Jewish background. A guarded friendship develops between the two, which has many setbacks along the way as both reveal details of their backgrounds that spark off arguments and anger. It all leads to a very moving conclusion which I won’t reveal here.

As Mr Green and Ross Gardiner the Criterion has cast two of its most experienced and outstanding actors in Keith Railton and Chris Firth. Both are superb. Keith captures so perfectly the frailty, the anger, the sadness and, yet, the innate humour present in Mr Green, whilst Chris is totally natural as Ross – a man with his own problems to resolve. In the hands of lesser players some of the scenes could easily drag and even be embarrassing, but it is to the credit of director and cast that the evening is totally engrossing and believable.

Mention should also be made of the set by Doug Griffiths which is intentionally cluttered, but not dark or overly grubby, befitting the home of the recently dead Yetta; and I particularly liked the choice of music between the scenes – vaguely Jewish in style and very appropriate.

All in all, then, a thoroughly enjoyable performance, and probably my favourite evening in the theatre this year.

Hari Kitson

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Richard III

by William Shakespeare; dir Christine Carpenter
Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth
1 – 6 October 2012

The Wars of the Roses being over, Richard of Gloucester determines to gain the throne occupied by his brother, Edward IV.  Death, seduction and manipulation ensue in one of the longest plays within Shakespeare’s first folio.

The length of the play itself can be off-putting to audiences but like the old saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun”.  Unfortunately Richard III at the Talisman Theatre was not fun and I left with a mixture of feelings including disappointment at what should have been the theatre’s great celebratory 70th anniversary production.

Dave Crossfield as Richard himself was excellent and allowed the audience a deep sigh of relief whenever he came on stage.  His stage presence and complete believability carried the production and with better support from all areas could have been a role of lifetime. Amy Heynes as Queen Elizabeth and Elaine Freeborn as the Duchess of York also gave good performances; and the two young princes Frederick Heynes and Fraser Howes were marvelous, showing great promise.

Excluding the aforementioned performances the production lacked energy, scenes dragged and voices dropped so low you had to try and lip read to follow the speeches.  I really didn’t enjoy the characterisation of Queen Margaret who in this production seemed to be directed as a ridiculous, supernatural witch with a child’s toy drum that summoned a hideous green flashing light whenever she performed a curse.

The use of the foyer doors to exit and enter the stage is never a good or creative idea unless absolutely necessary and in this case it wasn’t.  It broke what atmosphere there was (or could’ve been) and only heightened my desire to slip out with them and leave early. The battle scene at the end is hard to execute regardless of where you are but they did this well.  I thought the lighting was very striking in this particular scene and the sword choreography was also enjoyable to watch.

However overall I felt the production was clumsy in all aspects; direction, lighting, sound, set – everything.  Sadly this was a disappointing night out.

Another View

Richard III is the climax of Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses tetralogy. Shakespeare conforms to the mores of the new Tudor age by depicting Richard himself as a villain but adds some interesting depth, giving us a complex and weighty character who dominates the play and lets us see things from his perspective.

In this production, Richard is played as an evil, cackling cripple without the subtleties that help us identify with him and see progress from chancer to madman. Conscience is an important theme of the play, yet the discussion of conscience by Clarence’s murderers is simply cut. At the same time some other scenes are left in that seem unnecessary padding in the production – which, at nearly three hours, did not need padding.

Perhaps my biggest criticism is that it felt at times like ‘Richard III, The Pantomime’. Many scenes were crudely played, such as where Edward makes peace among the factions. All played this clearly still loathing the other faction, and not taking any pains to hide it. This paints Edward as a fool and the others no more honest than Richard and deprives the audience of being one up by knowing that only Richard is being false. Another pantomime scene is that where the mayor and citizens persuade Richard to accept the crown. This scene made me truly cringe – and I had to suppress the desire to call out “He’s behind you!”. This was also one of a number of scenes where Richard, whenever talking about anything religious, lapsed into plainsong chant. Corny, if nothing else.

The above points lay within the remit of the director. As for the performances, there was the general problem with amateur Shakespeare of not enough actors who understand the text enough to convey meaning rather than just words. I was particularly disappointed that Clarence’s haunting dream speech before his murder was flat and uninspired, and Buckingham’s hands were too animated. Not that over use of hands was rare – many seemed to feel the need to unnecessarily indicate people or objects with their hands to make their meaning clear to the audience (Richard indicates his face when he uses the word ‘lineaments’).

Dave Crossfield handled the part of Richard well, although he seems to have ignored subtleties in the character. I was most impressed by Amy Heynes as Richard’s queen; she was the most believable character, reacting naturally to what was happening around her.

Despite the bad points, it is difficult not to enjoy seeing a performance of such a great play and I hope the Talisman will continue to tackle England’s greatest playwright.