Gates of Gold

Reviewed for [The Stage](

Trafalgar Studios 2, London
Author: Frank McGuinness
Director: Gavin McAlinden
Producer: Charm Offensive
Cast: William Gaunt, Paul Freeman, Michelle Fairley, Josie Kidd, Ben Lambert
Running time: 1hr 25mins (no interval)

It is somehow appropriate that in presenting a fictionalised version of Irish theatrical couple Hilton Edwards and Michael MacLiammoir, Frank McGuinness presents us with a troupe of characters who are often unable to distinguish fact from fiction in their own lives.

William Gaunt, as frail actor Gabriel in his last days, dominates the stage. Through his bickering with uptight partner Conrad (Paul Freeman), we glimpse a relationship that has survived through love but not without bitterness and resentment. Michelle Fairley refuses to let Gabriel’s nurse, Alma, to be drawn as either saint or angel of mercy. Her confrontation with Gabriel’s nephew Ryan (an occasionally over-stiff Ben Lambert) leaves us no wiser as to whether she intends to hasten her charge’s departure.

Indeed, throughout the play it is hard for both characters and audience to establish what is fact and what is reality. This mostly works, although Gaunt’s soliloquy about what it was like to be blackmailed for being openly gay loses its impact under such a structure. The faults, though, are outweighed by the conclusion, with a dying Gabriel in his partner’s arms, calling out for one final fantasy. Conrad’s resulting speech – “Two men met. They had a marriage. It lasted” – has nothing untrue about it and brings to an end a remarkable evening of theatre.

Review: Beautiful Thing, Sound Theatre

Jonathan Harvey’s urban gay fairytale remains his best and funniest theatrical work to date and is further enhanced by this confident production.

As the 15-year-old neighbours whose friendship turns into full-blown love, the doe-eyed intelligence of Jonathan Bailey’s Jamie works perfectly alongside Gavin Brocker’s sport-obsessed Ste. Both actors provide a depth to the relationship far deeper than the dialogue would otherwise suggest.

They are eclipsed though by the female leads. Michelle Terry plays the Mama Cass-obsessed neighbour Leah as unlikable as she can, ensuring that the second act switch of character, where she becomes the ultimate in loyal friends, works flawlessly. Sparks fly between her and Jamie’s mother Sandra, the ultimate heart of the piece, whom Carli Norris plays with pitch-perfect ferocity and tenderness throughout.

In support, Steven Meo does well to lift hippy artist Tony out of the caricature he is painted on the page, forming a well-rounded and sympathetic outsider whose chilled out approach to problem solving saves the day when all about him are reduced to verbal and physical battery.

This production is likely to be the Sound Theatre’s last, before the bulldozers move in this autumn to replace it with a soulless hotel complex. In addition to the starlit finale on stage, Beautiful Thing creates the ultimate in happy endings for its venue as well.

This review first appeared in the August 3, 2006 issue of **The Stage**

July 19-September 9
Author: Jonathan Harvey
Director: Tony Frow
Producer: NML Productions
Cast: Jonathan Bailey, Gavin Brocker, Steven Meo, Carli Norris, Michelle Terry
Running time: 1hr 40mins

Black and White Sextet

Reviewed for [The Stage](

Rosemary Branch, London
January 31-February 26
Author: William Shakespeare, adapted by Robert Pennant-Jones, who also directs
Producer: Rosemary Branch
Cast: Ben Onwukwe, Richard Earthy, Fliss Walton, Matt Reeves, Jason Eddy, Cleo Sylvestre
Running time: 2hrs

There is no reason why director Robert Pennant-Jones’ audacious filleting of ‘Othello;, reducing Shakespeare’s classic to two hours and a cast of six should work – but it does.

By choosing to relegate some plotlines to exposition delivered by pre-recorded video newscasts in 21st-Century English, or hinted at through snatches of mobile phone conversation, Black and White Sextet instead encourages us to focus on the emotional core of the play.

Iago dominates the first half even more than usual in this adaptation. Richard Earthy’s exaggerated portrayal may be better suited to a larger auditorium – his chilling half-whispers as he draws Othello in would be more welcome throughout.

Fliss Watson’s wide-eyed, intelligent Desdemona, whose love blinds her to her husband’s rage until the very last second, is the captivating core to this moving and intelligent production.

Once Iago’s claws are into him, Ben Onwukwe’s Othello quickly dominates the stage and with impressive support from Matt Reeves, Jason Eddy and Cleo Sylvestre one is left wondering why one should ever return to the longer version.

The seventh star of the show is Aaron Marsden’s imaginative folding set design. Rarely has a such a small space been utilised so effectively.

When Harry Met Sally, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Can Alyson Hannigan fake an orgasm? That’s the unvocalised question that many visitors to When Harry Met Sally, now playing at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, will have in the back of their minds before the curtain rises on the stage adaptation of the Rob Reiner comedy. The answer is that she can — but the trouble is that she fakes Meg Ryan’s.

Like its 1989 film parent, Marcy Kahan’s stage adaptation takes place over a number of years. Nora Ephron’s Oscar®-nominated screenplay remains moderately untouched, save for a few location changes. Whereas Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal form their first impressions of each other on a road trip from Chicago to New York, Alyson Hannigan’s Sally meets Luke Perry’s Harry when he decorates her new Manhattan apartment; their second meeting takes place not on a plane, but in a gym. Ultz’ imaginative stage design, echoing the letterbox proportions of its cinematic progenitor, works more often than it does not. The incidental music, arranged by Ben and Jamie Cullum, is disappointing, with far too much reliance on It Had To Be You.

The two leads need to be as strong as possible, a task not made any easier by the iconic influence of Crystal and Ryan in their roles. Luke Perry rises to the occasion admirably, choosing not to emulate Crystal but provide his own reading of the same script. Hannigan, in her first stage role, ends up looking uncomfortable and stilted in comparison. With a voice lacking in projection (not helped by the acoustics of the Royal, which seems to favour tones deeper than Hannigan’s upper-register nasal delivery), she ends up shouting to compensate. Coupled with her character’s ever-chirpy persona, this makes for an often painful first act, thankfully relieved by the wonderful performances of the supporting cast, particularly Sharon Small and Jake Broder as Marie and Jack, the title characters’ best friends who end up falling for one another.

Indeed, the play suffers from an uneven structure, with the most interesting character developments on all fronts not appearing until well into Act Two. Once she has a range of emotions to play, Hannigan kicks up a gear, showing what she’s really capable of. Even then, though, her performance is rather too similar to Meg Ryan’s, especially when called upon to cry at news of her ex’s impending marriage.

As one would expect from its source material, When Harry Met Sally manages to be an immensely funny play. When it comes to dramatic tensions, though, the uneven pace means that the dilemma and resolution occur far too close together — so the real meat of the play is over almost before it’s begun.

* _Originally reviewed for [ UK](