Tag Archives: Caxtons

“I am guilty. I’m a little confused.” The Thrill Of Love at The Caxton Theatre

The words of Ruth Ellis to the off duty policeman who arrested her outside The Magdala pub in April 1955 after she had used a revolver to kill her lover David Blakely. The crime is played out in the opening scene of The Thrill Of Love by Amanda Whittington, which retells the story of the last woman to be executed in Britain.

As post war austerity draws to an end the private clubs of Soho and Knightsbridge are full of well to do punters and there is always a place for a good looking hostess. It’s a world of seedy glamour, of fast cars, strong drink and seamed stockings and the new production at The Caxtons recreates that world to remarkable effect on a stripped back stage painted prison grey and with the shadow of window bars cast over the set. There are only a few pieces of spartan furniture on stage, emphasising the similarities between the tawdry clubs around which the action plays out, the spartan bedsit in which Ellis miscarries, having been punched in the stomach by Blakely, and the condemned cell at Holloway (just pull the wardrobe aside to reveal the door to the gallows chamber).

The play investigates the damage that love can do and the suffering that some people are prepared to endure in its name. A crackly recording of Billy Holiday sets the scene and Chloey Rose as Ruth Ellis brings just the right mixture of brass and vulnerability to her portrayal of Ruth, a small town girl from North Wales who has spent the war dancing every night and hopes to move into the glittering world of British film celebrity like her idol Diana Dors.

Drawn inexorably to men who will do her harm she seems to be marked for victimhood from the start and although the play unquestionably doubts whether or not she should have died as she did it does not make her out to be a heroine or a martyr. She’s a severely damaged person, incapable of pulling herself back from the brink, as frustrating to Ruairidh Greig’s dogged, down to earth police detective as she is to her friends.

Greig’s old school copper is an omnipresent narrator/character, moving serenely through flashbacks, questioning Ellis to try to discover the truth, (particularly about exactly where she acquired the gun) and persuade her to co-operate with the many appeals for clemency launched on her behalf by others. She gives him short shrift almost to the end, by which time it’s too late.

There’s fantastic support from the three actresses who play Ellis’s friends, Marie Barker as the hard as nails and heart of gold Sylvia Shaw, Louise Blakey as comrade in arms Vickie Martin and Claire Wright as charlady and good girl Doris Judd and under the direction of Cathy Bennett-Ryan they effectively summon up the spirit of an era long before #MeToo, when casual violence against women was part of everyday life.

After a run of comedies it’s nice to see the Caxtons taking on a more serious piece of theatre for a change and we’d highly recommend a visit.

The Thrill Of Love is at the Caxton Theatre from Saturday 20th January to Saturday 27th January. Tickets available through www.caxtontheatre.com or on 01472 323111.

The Flint Street Nativity at The Caxtons

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Blue Remembered Christmas

The Flint Street Nativity
Caxton Theatre
November 25th – December 3rd

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas and down at the Caxton Theatre the crowds gathered last night for a seasonal show full of laughter, joy and a little sadness as the Caxton Players performed Tim Firth’s Flint Street Nativity.

Many of us will have fond memories of this drama from the original 1999 TV play featuring the likes of Frank Skinner, Stephen Tompkinson and Jane Horrocks but whatever you do, don’t let that put you off going to see this production, because this is a show that benefits immensely from live performance and you’ll have to wait a long time to see anything this funny and telling in town.

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As adults playing children the cast lead the audience through the excitement and terror of a primary school nativity play, complete with classroom rivalries, distraught teachers, and the parents who remain unseen until the end of the show but are still ever present thanks to the influence, benign or otherwise (mostly otherwise), that they exert over their children’s lives.

There are plenty of laughs along the way – including some great slapstick and some of the most inspired vulgarity you’ll hear in a while. Anybody who thinks bad language is neither clever nor funny hasn’t seen this show. Comedy highlights include the arrival of twin Messiahs (and the accidental decapitation of one of them), the escape and recapture of the school newt, a foul mouthed donkey and the children’s encounter with the contents of their teacher’s handbag.

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The key to the play’s success is that it allows us to see the adult world through the prism of childhood but it’s not all laughs and ‘Oh my, the things they say”. There is also a pervading sense of compromised nostalgia and of innocence in the process of being lost as the youngsters’ conversations reveal how much of the adult world they have witnessed, how much of their parents’ lives they have misunderstood and more tellingly how much they have understood at least as well as, and probably better than, their elders. These are not children enjoying the blissful ignorance of youth that we might wish upon them. I’m not allowed to quote Larkin’s This Be The Verse in these pages but I can at least reference Crosby, Stills and Nash’s words about teaching your parents well which seem equally relevant. The parents in the play seem remarkably unwilling to learn however. Ain’t that the way of the world.

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It’s a real ensemble piece and with all the cast working so hard for each other it seems wrong to single people out for special praise so I’ll just say that George Mansfield is astonishingly funny as Herod/Joseph, Helen Riley excels as an archangel who wants to be Mary, Ian Hammond has exactly the right air of bewildered naivety as the narrator and Gary Fox, as the severely damaged Frankincense, has a compelling air of vulnerability and neglect.

It would be remiss not to add that Phil Whitfield as The Ass makes the absolute most of his swearing song. Special praise must also go to director Nadine Bennett-Wood for drawing so many disparate narrative strands together into a coherent whole.

So if you’re looking for some festive theatre that isn’t a panto (oh no it isn’t) then we highly recommend The Flint Street Nativity at the Caxtons.

Miss. Miss. I’ve finished, Miss.

~

To book tickets visit www.caxtontheatre.com
Or call into the Grimsby or Cleethorpes TIC
Or contact them by phone on 01472 323111

The Ladykillers At The Caxton Theatre

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The year is 1956. The place, a dilapidated old house on a bridge at the rear of King’s Cross Station. A friendly local bobby is patrolling his beat and he drops in on an elderly widow with regard to a report she has made that a local newsagent is a former high ranking Nazi in disguise. It turns out to be a false alarm but later that day the same old lady is visited by the debonair Professor Marcus who wishes to rent a room in which to stage rehearsals for his string quartet.

Those familiar with the classic Ealing comedy of the same name will be aware by now that we are in Ladykillers territory and the so called musicians are in fact bank robbers planning a cash raid on the station just up the road. You may perhaps be thinking that it’s a brave company that dares to take on one of the best loved comedies in British film history, especially one that boasts classic performances by Alec Guiness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom, (we’ll pass quietly over the 2004 Coen brothers/Tom Hanks remake) but in their new production the Caxton Players succeed admirably in making the play their own and treating the audience to an evening full of laughter.

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This version is not a straight crib from the film but a 2011 West End adaptation by Graham Linehan (of Father Ted fame) which brings back all the much loved characters and gives the company enough laugh lines and set pieces for the whole cast to show off their comedy talents while keeping the pace rattling along.

At the centre of the action are Geraldine Godwin, excellent as Mrs Wilberforce, frequently bewildered but also given to flashes of insight which eventually bring the criminals to informal justice, and Professor Marcus, played with great panache and charm by Byron Young, a very different take on the role from the Alec Guiness benchmark and all the better for that. The whole cast is on fine form, from Steve Skipworth as the scene stealing One Round and George Mansfield’s couture obsessed Major Courtney to Sam Brierley as young gun Harry Robinson and Chris Dempsey as the gerontophobic mafioso Louis Harvey. Rod Chapman’s Constable McDonald, who bookends the piece, is nicely judged and very funny.

Director Rob Till and all the technical team pull out the stops to deal with the challenges of staging a play which necessitates simultaneous action on two floors and features a geoseismic son et lumiere whenever a train passes beneath the house and the result is a triumph. It’s a play with plenty of highlights but the sequence in which the criminals dazzle a group of visiting pensioners with their avant garde playing has the style of a renaissance crowd scene and the humour of the best of Benny Hill.

The Ladykillers is running at the Caxton Theatre from Saturday 3rd to Saturday 10th September andf there are still tickets available through www.caxtontheatre.com or from Cleethorpes Tourist Information Centre on 01472 323111.