first night

Ring Round the Moon

Trevs' homage to Downton.
Madeline Ratcliffe reviews...

On such a cold and terribly windy night it was struggle to make it out at all but, in a bid to escape from essays, I soldiered on all the way to Trevs and what a pleasant surprise I had in store for me. Hill College Theatre Company’s Ring Round the Moon was just what I needed: some light-hearted escapism, with the added bonus of a butler!

 

It’s a good play, full of funny and excellently crafted one liners; part Oscar Wilde, part P.G. Woodhouse, and well-chosen too (now Downton’s finished many of us have a country-house-and-servants shaped hole in our lives to fill). At this weekend gathering there’s broken-hearts, plotting, romance and confusion galore, while the strains of waltz music drift from the ballroom. Well done to Michael Huband and his production team for orchestrating the whole thing, including a firework show at the end, with such flair.

 

Ellen Milton stole the show as the grand dame of an aunt who is overseeing the proceedings. Wheel-chair bound with a wicked sense of humour and cackle to match, she plays her with delicious gusto. Although, she has a run for her money from Will Van der Lande as Joshua the long-suffering butler, whose beautifully delivered ‘Sir’ s marked him to be a fine comic actor, and judging by the cheers and laughter that always greeted him, he was the audience’s favourite. Special mention too must go to Imara Csoti, whose portrayal of the dreadful hysterical mother recalled to mind Mrs Bennet in all her toe-curling, obsequious glory.

 

There were a couple of less impressive moments; the slapstick scene, though funny, was revealingly amateur, and the tango, while a good idea, needs more polish. Similarly, the awful Lady India is too much like a modern Essex ‘wag’ (for a play set in the 1920s); her slipping around in ridiculous high heels distracts from the character, though in moderation these affectations are perfect for the part. Occasionally the play drags a little, especially with the repetitive scenes just after the interval, which tried my patience, but this is as much a fault of playwright as anyone else.

 

I can go no further without mentioning the star Felix Stevenson, who has the challenging task of playing Hugo and Frederic the chalk-and-cheese twins at the heart of the play, which he accomplishes with enviable aplomb. Frederic the younger twin is a shy and awkward mess, kind-hearted but hopeless with girls, and Stevenson plays him endearingly, if a little flat. He really excels though with Hugo, who evolves from a quick-witted, smooth-talking man-about-town, to a bit of a cad with a wolfish smile, to an alarmingly dark and crazed Alec D’Urberville style manipulator. His motives are as mercurial as his mood; and Stevenson is so good here because he is not afraid on stage, but is always at home, and willing to let himself go.

 

But while Stevenson is impressive, this is where the play falls down. We are given various motives for Hugo’s schemes: he’s bored with his privileged existence, tired of being eligible, he’s fiercely protective of his brother, he loves his brother’s fiancé, or he’s sickened by the shallow society he keeps, but nothing sticks. There is no satisfying explanation for his violent rants, other than madness, which doesn’t sit well with rest of the play. At one point he screams again and again “all is vanity”, but then this is never fully developed, which is tiresome and disorientating. This lack of consistency troubles throughout: the characters will be on the brink of unburdening their souls only to be jerked away, in time for another character’s outpouring. There is also a very odd Biblical rant by the old billionaire that seems totally irrelevant and spoils the mood of the play (we are saved by the dry remarks of Joshua the butler). Much too is made of “the poor” and the limits of wealth. Yet while a lot of time is taken up by outbursts on the subject, nothing is really said and no real message or conclusion can be drawn, eroding the humour and our interest in these sideline speeches.

On the one hand, a competent, and enjoyable, country-house comedy but in attempting to be deeper and darker, a play that left the viewer dissatisfied and uncomfortable. Still, it’s worth dragging yourself to Trevs; the cast clearly enjoyed putting this play on, and the audience had a ball with them. 

* * *

 

Madeline Ratcliffe

1 December 2011

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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