Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Theatre Review: Role Play, Dolman Theatre, Newport

Emma Hazelhurst and
James Reynolds in Role Play
Photo: Phil Mansell
Writing reviews over the last few years has seen me publish items for the local press and the internet.  In the case of Newport Playgoers' production of Alan Ayckbourn's Role Play back in 2011, I wrote the standard 250 word review for The South Wales Argus and a more detailed review for a magazine content website. As that review has not been on line for some time, I'm reproducing it here.
Between 17 May and 21 May 2011, Newport Playgoers staged Alan Ayckbourn's drama Role Play at The Dolman Theatre, Newport, South Wales. The directional debut from Judith Lindwall focused on the events of a dinner party from hell and the misconceptions of the characters that attended it. 
Along with Game Plan and Flat Spin, Role Play formed the third and final part of Alan Ayckbourn's 2001 Damsel's In Distress trilogy originally performed by The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. 
The plays were only linked in that they featured a female protagonist in an extraordinary situation, and dealt with several recurring Ayckbourn themes including a lack of communication between individuals, relationships, technology failure and the death of love. 
Role Play is set in a London Docklands apartment and joins Justin and Julie-Ann as they prepare a dinner party to announce their forthcoming engagement. The storm raging outside is almost a prophecy of things to come as the pair attempt to keep up appearances for Justin's sherry drinking mother Arabella and Julie-Ann's parents, Derek and Dee, who are travelling all the way from the North. 
Justin and Julie-Ann's seemingly perfect pairing already has cracks in it. This becomes apparent in the opening moments of the play when the highly strung Julie-Ann panics at the loss of a fork from the dinner set and makes a suggestion  that the couple abstain from sex for the next three months before their marriage. 
Dealing with Julie-Ann's tantrums and his mothers drunken interruptions via the phone, Justin's evening takes an interesting diversion when an ex lap-dancer called Paige Petite from the apartment upstairs spectacularly falls onto his balcony. 
Paige is on the run from her violent boyfriend and his gun toting bodyguard Micky whom shortly afterwards bursts onto the scene. As Micky and Paige await her boyfriends return from Birmingham they decide to crash Justin and Julie-Ann's dinner party which leads to revelations, confusion and much in the way of comedy and drama. 
Cassie Bowkett and Jamie Jarvis brought the characters of prissy Julie­-Ann and Justin to life.  The pair illustrated the couples tolerance of each other via heated arguments and a lack of communication akin to a couple who are closer to breaking up rather than starting a life together. 
Jarvis had some delightful scenes to react to, for as well as an over-bearing girlfriend, his character also has to deal with a bigot, a gun to his head, a drunken mother and a damsel in distress in the form of the plays reluctant heroine Paige Petite. 
Emma Hazelhurst with
Jamie Jarvis & James Reynolds
Photo: Phil Mansell
Emma Hazelhurst endeared the audience with her portrayal of Paige, an East-End girl who has fallen on hard times. Not only did she portray the character with sensitivity but also delivered her humorous lines with a touch of irony.  While making polite conversation with Julie-Ann's parents the judgemental but slightly dim witted Jobson's, they quiz Paige on her career as a dancer "Have you been in anything we might have seen?" "I Hope not" she replies decidedly.  Later on, there's a further wonderful moment, "Do you dance Cappella?" ask the Jobson's.  "No" responds Paige, "I've only been as far as Amsterdam". Hazelhurst as Paige also shined in moments when she wasn't at the forefront of attention reacting to the other characters and getting the chance to turn the tables by performing a lap dance routine much to the shock of the other characters. 
Rose Bissex brought a lot of laughter to the role of Justin¹s confused sherry drinking mother Arabella. Her confusion over who was actually Justin's girlfriend and her drunken collapse at the end of the first act only to be replicated in exactly the same position at curtain up in the second made excellent comedy. 
James Reynolds as Micky with John Sheen and Sue Morgan as The Jobson's also provided strong support and equally had moments to shine in this marvellous production. There was also a fully functional well designed set made up of Justin and Julie - Ann's apartment which allowed the cast to move freely around the stage and disappear in and out of doors as the narrative commanded. 
Although Role Play includes language that some people may find offensive, this is never used to gain cheap laughs. Ayckbourn¹s skillful writing delivers some wonderful scenarios situated around a dinner party from hell and with the skillful cast of The Newport Playgoers at the helm made this a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable production. 
For news on Newport Playgoers productions visit their website

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