Whodunnit (Unrehearsed) at the Park Theatre review ****

Whodunnit (Unrehearsed)

Park Theatre, 25th July 2019

I am ashamed to say this but myself and LD were just a teensy teensy bit disappointed when we discovered that the guest at our performance of Whodunnit (Unrehearsed) at the Park Theatre was Clarke Peters. To recap. Park AD Jez Bond and writing/directing collaborator Mark Cameron created their parody Whoduunit (is there any other kind?) to raise a few quid to help fund the Park’s ongoing whirlwind of good, (and occasionally not so good it must be said), entertainments. To get the good people of North London, or in our case SW London, to dip their hands in their pockets, a volunteer was promised from luvvieworld who would play the role of the “Inspector” with the vital caveat that they wouldn’t see a script, and we wouldn’t know who they were, until the performance began.

Comedy luminaries such as Sandi Toksvig and Tim Vine (LD’s faves) had signed up alongside top drawer actors such as Adrian Dunbar, Jim Broadbent and Joanna Lumley (the Tourist’s). It was probably fair to say that, of all the candidates, Clarke Peters had, for us two, the lowest name recognition. Which I think reveals a shocking level of ignorance on our part. For you culture vultures will know that Mr Peters was a lynchpin of The Wire, has had a successful musical stage career in London and on Broadway, wrote Five Guys Named Moe and has an extensive UK TV bio. Pretty much none of which we had seen. And the worst thing of all. The Tourist had actually seen Mr Peters on stage just a few months ago. In the Old Vic production of Miller’s The American Clock. Which frankly is unforgivable.

All of which, as it turned out mattered not a jot. As Mr Peters was wonderful. Of course once we had seen and heard him it was clear we sort of did know who he was. Even so we were still blown away by how funny he was. Messrs Bond and Cameron have created a witty script ticking off every possible creaky murder mystery trope, and the rest of the cast, Candida Gubbins as housekeeper Anne Watt, Lewis Bruniges as her son and the handyman Jack Watt, Patrick Ryecart as the aristo owner of the house, Rigby Dangle and Omar Ibrahim as the suspicious stranger, Oscar Weissenberginelli, were all terrific. Though I would reserve special praise for Natasha Cottriall as Rigby’s daughter Felicity Dangle.

However the show can only be as amusing as the “star” allows given that they were fed their lines, and directions, via an earpiece, from Robert Blackwood. And this is where Mr Peters was so impressive. Not only did he enter into the spirit of the thing, with ad libs, inventions and playing off the rest of the cast, but actually he managed to create a character and sustain a plot over the couple of hours of the story. Of course it was all nonsense. But I suspect it wouldn’t have been half as funny if the “star” was uneasy with the technology and/or timing and therefore defaulted to too much mugging and derailing the proceedings. Mr Peters, once he was in the swing of things, certainly did not whilst still finding and milking a few repeated gags. The best of which involved an imaginary door, French chanson and a very alert team on the sound desk.

I gather this venture was a success for the Park, so, if they are tempted to roll it out again, you might want to give it a whirl.

Madame Rubinstein at the Park Theatre review ****

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Madame Rubinstein

Park Theatre, 4th May 2017

Jez Bond and his team at the Park Theatre (with the help and goodwill of assorted North London luvvies I think) are doing an ever more successful job in my view in staging new plays and productions that people want, or should want, to see. Which is ultimately the whole point. If no-one sees a play it is a shame, if people see it but don’t really enjoy it (ponderous Shakespeare or clobber you over the head issue plays spring to mind) then it has similarly failed to deliver.

I am signed up for Twitstorm, Rabbits, Loot, What Shadows, The Retreat and Daisy Pulls it Off in forthcoming seasons here and, in contrast to some of the stuff I get to, have found it a relatively easy task of dragging along a willing chum to many of these. Whether it is the subject, the writer or the cast there is normally a clear hook to make me part with the cash. There is also a nice buzz about the place.

And so it was with Madame Rubinstein. A comedy based on the life of cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein, with Miriam Margoyles in the lead, was enough to persuade the SO, BUD and KCK to schlep up to Finsbury Park mid-week. And I think we were all glad we did.

Now it would be pretty easy to knock this play (many of the proper reviews have done just that), written by Australian John Misto and which MM herself was instrumental in bringing to this theatre. There is a sense that Mr Misto has tried to cram all the key events of Ms Rubinstein’s life, biopic style, into a couple of hours to the detriment of any real insight into her character. This also means the messages such as they are –  the barriers that stood in the way of Ms Rubinstein and her rival and nemesis, Elizabeth Arden, their need to re-invent their own pasts in order to sell their dreams to their consumers, the part that cosmetics played in the emancipation or otherwise of women in 1950s America – end up being diluted. And this in turn is not helped by the unrelenting focus on keeping up the gag quotient.

But when it is this funny and entertaining who cares. It is hard to imagine anyone else but Miriam Margoyles delivering the stream of one-liners that she was gifted with. But Frances Barber as Elizabeth Arden and Jonathan Forbes as long suffering assistant, Patrick “Irish’ O’Higgins, gave as good as they got. Yes the jokes are often on the obvious side of stereotypical and yes there is a campiness about the whole affair that some might not welcome. And the multiple scene changes (mostly just shifting of desk and chairs) are distracting. But we laughed. A lot. As did everyone else there.

So a top night out for all. Apparently this is sold out now but if it pops up somewhere else take a look and, as I say, if anything else piques your interest in what is coming up at the Park I think it is worth taking a punt.