On Stage: Reviews

Review: Muddy Cows

Britain has gone sports mad (again!) – Andy Murray, the rugby Lions, the Tour de France and now the Ashes. But hang on, where are all the women? Have we forgotten Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott, Cath Grainger, Rebecca Adlington and the rest already? Women’s football, cricket and rugby is played by thousands but is, so far as the TV, radio and newspapers go, near-invisible.

 

Muddy Cows, with its all-female cast of six, puts women’s sport refreshingly centre stage. The production has plenty of John Godber trademarks – rough humour, some cracking one-liners, and insights into the invisible motivations of so-called ‘ordinary’ lives and Godber clearly has a great affection for the game and all its rituals. The central dramatic dilemma is fascinating too; the women like each other’s company and enjoy ‘farting around’, but is that enough? Should they be trying to be good at rugby, as their coach wants, or would that spoil their enjoyment? Sport is about winning, and winning does help a team to bond, but it’s also about getting away from the husband, getting fit and becoming mates with people that you wouldn’t otherwise know.

 

The first half spends time setting up the drama and needs a bit more oomph. But the second half, set in the changing room between matches in a tournament, bundles along very nicely. The cast are terrific, with Claire Eden shining as the identical twins Donna and Daisy (naturally we never see them together); she gets most of the best lines, and delivers them with perfect timing.

 

I am a Welshman and therefore believe rugby is the most beautiful game in the world, but only when it’s played by the Welsh. Nevertheless, it’s good to see the English having a go – they’re so much better when there’s no males involved.

Roger Osborne

 

Muddy Cows by John Godber runs at the SJT until 31 August.  Box Office on 01723 370541 or online at www.sjt.uk.com

Review: Two Gentlemen of Verona

Which Shakespeare play has a star turn who has no lines, no music or dancing, no fights or even much movement? Who, in fact, spends his time on stage either looking balefully around the set, or lying down; but who, nevertheless, manages to steal the show. The answer, of course, is Two Gentlemen of Verona and the plum role is Crab, here played masterfully by Lollio the black Labrador.

 

Far from being a crowd-pleasing gimmick (Lollio’s every entrance and exit is accompanied by oohs and aahs from the audience), Crab is the perfect straight man for his master Launce, played by Chris Donelly, in the stand-out scenes in the play.

 

If not handled imaginatively Shakespeare comedies aren’t funny, the plots are creaky, the lead roles stuck-up bores and the mechanicals cartoon-like. This production manages to overcome many of those problems, but not all. A young man called Valentine leaves Verona for Milan, where he falls in love with the Duke’s daughter Silvia, who is promised to another. His friend Proteus stays behind to woo Julia, but is then sent to Milan by his father. In Milan Proteus meets Valentine and Silvia, forgets all about Julia and gets in a right romantic wrangle when Julia follows him disguised as a boy. All ends happily.

 

The romantic story veers between comedy and drama, so that we end up caring little for any of the four young lovers, only hoping they’ll get themselves sorted out. The players instead focus on bringing the detail to life: the best comedy (apart from Crab and Launce, who is servant to Proteus) comes in the scenes between the scatty Julia, played by Dorothea Myer-Bennett, and her maid played by Nicky Goldie. There's fine music too.

 

Fittingly, when the curtain calls are taken, it is Lollio who is the last to leave the stage. He’s graciously accepting the applause, but clear that it is no more than his due for having lifted a worthy production into a partial delight.

Roger Osborne

Two Gentlemen of Verona runs at the SJT from 28 May to 1 June

Box office 01723 370541

Review: Losing the Plot

With women routinely working and men (at least some) cooking and shopping, is there any such thing as role reversal? Well John Godber is willing to give it a go as a vehicle for comedy. In this two-hander he moves from his usual working class setting to a distinctly middle class household in the throes of a crisis.

 

Jack Munroe, played by Steve Huison, is the catalyst, going AWOL from his teaching job, but Susan Cookson in the part of Sally soon takes control of the action and the stage. In his absence she manages to write a book about her husband which leads to a burgeoning career as a writer in London. Her book, being a comedy about hubby’s antics through their marriage, portrays him as a funny guy – a hard role to pull off on stage, not helped by lots of arm-waving by Jack. He in turn takes over Sally’s flower shop, gives up drink and becomes domestic, while she necks the red wine with the best of them.

 

The off stage antics of builders Bill & Ben who had a “little weed” (they hadn’t lost the pot) and sounded as if they were building an extension to the M62 rather than general building work, widened the scene, as did numerous phone calls to the Munroe’s friends and family. Some of the better lines were delivered via this medium and cleverly timed by both actors.

 

Godber has provided another entertaining and funny play and Susan Cookson in particular is terrific; my main reservation was that the main characters are isolated from each other, and this made for awkward viewing at times. You just wanted them to embrace (they never touched or kissed) and admit that this was their lot and they were in it together.

Dave Stroud

 

Losing the Plot, written and directed by John Godber

SJT to 13 April, then on tour until 11 May.

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