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Review Round-up: Critics Enjoy Menier Magic Man

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Ian Talbot's revival of Ken Hill’s 1991 music hall version of HG Wells’ classic novel The Invisible Man opened to critics at the Menier Chocolate Factory this week (23 November 2010, previews from 12 November).

Talbot’s new staging, which continues until 13 February 2011, features an ensemble cast including triple Olivier Award-winner Maria Friedman, alongside Natalie Casey, John Gordon Sinclair and Gary Wilmot. Magic and illusions have been created specially by West End veteran Paul Kieve.

The action is set in the rustic village of Iping, where the local inhabitants recount the mysterious happenings of the week that the sinister Griffin (John Gordon Sinclair) arrived wrapped in bandages and with a distinctly unsociable manner. 

Michael Coveney

"More good clean fun than you’d hoped, and less than you’d like, Ian Talbot’s perfectly enjoyable revival of the late Ken Hill’s 1991 HG Wells adaptation is a brave attempt by the Menier to re-kindle the old Joan Littlewood spirit of Stratford East and stir music hall memories of cheap gags, pierrot shows and magic tricks … Roll up, then, to see the flying saucepan, the self-turning newspaper pages, the knife with a mind of its own and the jumbo-sized bosom of Maria Friedman which heaves up and down like an undulating escarpment in the village landscape … Paul Farnsworth’s designs of music hall, saloon bar and forest glade are old-fashionedly cheap and cheerful, and it’s good to see John Gordon Sinclair unmasked at the end: he provides the highlight when, undoing his bandages, he prompts the imperishable line: ‘Oh my gawd, ’e ain’t got no ’ead.’"

Libby Purves
The Times

“Happy? Of course we are. The late Ken Hill’s spoofy, cod-music-hall melodrama on HG Wells’ novel , revived with Paul Kieve’s illusions, turns Wells’s thoughtfulness to merriment and lays on tricks, dramatic chords and slapstick with reckless generosity … They may be a bit drawn-out (its a two-and-a-half hour evening) but when you’re being offered a camp vicar wrestling with nobody, or a pub landlady having her stout breasts jiggled by the empty air, why complain? … There is something lovely, especially at Christmas, about top-flight actors playing the goat: hamming, caricaturing, lovingly sending up theatricality itself … It all contributes to an atmosphere of intimate, end-of-term larks in which we are all complicit. Take friends: if they don’t love it, strike them off your Christmas list.”

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

“A lot has happened theatrically since October 1991, when Ken Hill’s anarchic adaptation of this 1897 HG Wells novel first enthused audiences at the Theatre Royal Stratford East … In fact it’s safe to say that a lot of this “music hall romp” approach looks decidedly past its sell-by date. It all starts promisingly enough in the Empire Music Hall of 1904, where a group of pierrots sings a jolly comic number about the recent entente cordiale. Then Thomas Marvel (Gary Wilmot) promises the story of the ‘’ideous ’appenings’ in the little village of Iping and we’re off, for an evening in the company of a mysterious man with a bandaged face and a pair of sunglasses. It’s around this point that time starts to hang very heavy indeed and one wonders why a show that is bound to play best with families is at a venue with such a determinedly grown-up clientele as the Menier … Director Ian Talbot struggles to differentiate between numerous nigh-on identical scenes and the tone becomes ever more uncertain. An underwhelming experience.”

Michael Billington

"Illusionist Paul Kieve is the invisible genius of British theatre … He is undoubtedly the moving spirit behind a production that attempts to restore the ensemble gaiety of Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, in which the late Hill was a leading player. And even if the 1991 script, with its pierrot-show framework and routine political jibes, shows its age, it allows a strong cast to beef up a set of burlesque rustics … This production may not be subtle, and you don't come out ruminating on Wells' vision of social collapse and unchecked scientific experiment. But, as directed by Ian Talbot, it is all preposterous fun and John Gordon Sinclair, despite his lack of visibility, excellently suggests the tormented demonism of the hero. The evening really belongs, however, to the unseen Kieve who can make inanimate objects skim through the air, and who finally has Gary Wilmot as a choric tramp locked in a trunk only to reappear seconds later at the back of the stalls.”

Sarah Hemming
Financial Times

"You can always rely on the Chocolate Factory to come up with something a little different for Christmas. This year they light on the toothsome prospect of a show with an incorporeal protagonist: the Invisible Man of the title. The theatre stages Ken Hill’s amiable 1991 stage adaptation of HG Wells’ science-fiction account of strange goings-on in a Sussex village. But though it is all quite jolly and the illusions can be ingenious, it’s surprisingly hard work: it doesn’t have the fizz factor of some of its predecessors … Ian Talbot’s good-natured production revels in the nonsense, getting the cast to create their own effects (a handful of snow and a pained expression – a blizzard) … Paul Kieve’s magic comes into its own here and the illusionist provides many delightful tricks, as knives and pistols are brandished, books flung, drawers rifled through and cigarettes smoked – all by forces unseen. But even so, the show, like the menacing stranger, outstays its welcome.”


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