This year the McCarthy Theatre houses two one-acters, staged separately at lunch-times and occasionally together in the evening. Opening next week is the world premiere of James Quinn’s Twenty 20, appropriately enough about cricket, but first up is a controlled and intelligent production by Adam Sunderland of Caryl Churchill’s challenging and elusive play about cloning and identity, A Number.
A Number has always attracted star players from its 2002 premiere (Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig) onwards; when I saw it previously, Timothy and Samuel West were the father and son(s). Oddly it’s a play that benefits from a lack of flamboyance, a sort of anonymity, and Christopher Wilkinson’s dogged agonising is perfect for the role of Salter, the self-deceiving father. With three distinct “sons” to play, Richard Galazka has a more virtuoso role, but the production is characterised by restraint and well-timed naturalistic delivery.
The Mikado, on the other hand, doesn’t do restraint and places any naturalistic acting in the most absurd situations. As with last year’s Pirates of Penzance, it doesn’t tick the obvious boxes, but somehow by the end has built gloriously unstoppable momentum and surreptitiously imposed its own crazy standards. The cricket motif doesn’t seem to add anything beyond a few sight gags – until you realise that you’ve accepted as perfectly natural Geoffrey Boycott as the Mikado of Japan (an engaging rather than terrifying Kraig Thornber). It is still disappointing that the actor/musicians are so often busy on stage that the accompaniment is often left in the hands of pianist Richard Atkinson, but he does it extraordinarily well and the likes of Jared Ashe (clarinet) and Kieran Buckeridge (flute) chip in manfully. The writing of entirely new lyrics for Koko’s little list and the Mikado’s object all sublime is, not in theory, a good idea (Gilbert left some very jolly ones to be going on with), but they are very funny and bang up to date!
So it works! The theatre kindly allowed me to see a preview, so it may generate even more snap before Press Night, but Act 2 in particular was a joyous example of what can be done with inventive direction (Chris Monks), choreography (Beverley Norris-Edmunds) and design (Sue Condie) – I’m just a bit worried about the batting collapse that appears on the score-board during the interval. The production is a triumph of teamwork: this must be the only Mikado where two of the most entertaining performances come from Pish-Tush (the droll Jared Ashe, a doleful umpire in Dickie Bird cap) and Pitti-Sing (Clare Corbett, radiating a sort of manic pertness). Vocally standards are high, with Julie Jupp’s formidable Katisha and Claude Close’s complacently self-regarding Pooh-Bah (the other umpire, of course!) particularly impressive. Kieran Buckeridge does much to win the audience as a Ko-Ko who can take in languor and panic in one giant stride, but all praise belongs to the whole 11-strong ensemble.
- Ron Simpson
Editor's Note: Whatsonstage.com/northeast's 4 star rating has been given for both productions.