Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Kimberley Marlowe as Fiona, Jim Cutajar as Ron, Louise Grifferty as Rose, Maura Judges as Hettie and Robert Hicks as Sam,. Pictures: Alastair Barnsley

Variations on a theme

Highbury Theatre Centre


Variations really is the name of the game in this curate’s egg of a production of Terence Rattigan’s reworking of Alexandre Dumas, filsCamille, a novel and subsequent play which, incidentally, also spawned La traviata.

Unfortunately, the theatre Gods have not looked down kindly on this production and, sadly, it shows.

Casting was the problem, with two of the three male roles, including the lead, only filled this month giving them only two weeks to both learn the part and rehearse, a Herculean task for both them and the rest of the cast who had been rehearsing blind.

That they got so close in so short a time deserves a great deal of credit but the failings were all too apparent, with the prompt playing a major part; the uncertainty was infectious and with so many pauses and prompts the pace was at times glacial, acting suffered and any brief stirrings of momentum were quickly dashed

Which is a pity, as this is a production which also shows potential, and no doubt with a few more hours committing to memory and, I suspect, a weekend of hard rehearsal, the only variations to be found will be as Rattigan intended.

Rattigan wrote the play in 1958 setting it in Cannes where we find Rose (Louise Grifferty) who collects husbands (all rich and four so far) and lovers (How many? Who knows?) like others collect stamps.

Rose, who has climbed socially from the back streets of Birmingham to the exclusive villas of the Riviera, spends her life in a whirl of society parties and expensive restaurants with regular visits to the casino where she is slowly donating her fortune to chance with her martially acquired wealth rapidly shrinking.

A state regularly pointed out by her paid companion Hettie (Maura Judges) who has become more than an employee, she is now a friend, looking after and trying to protect her younger charge.

rose and kurt

Rose with potential husband No 5, Kurt, played by Sean Mulkeen

It is at the casino where Rose finds her new lover. She has blown off husband No5 in waiting, German financier Kurt (Sean Mulkeen, with a nice German accent, mein herr) and then finds herself with no cash. Luckily, she is rescued by Ron Vale, a ballet dancer with an affected foreign accent, to give his ballet persona a certain gravitas, that is until Rose tells him she detects a twang of home and knows he is a fellow Brummie.

It is not the only thing the pair have in common, both are needy, both are quite shallow, both are somewhat self-centred

Jim Cutajar has done a sterling job in his two weeks in the part and is a personable Ron, the ballet boy, as the pair fall head over heels in love, an infatuation of like souls.

It is a relationship which blows hot and cold as Rose switches affection between dancer Ron and German zillionaire Kurt; Teutonic comfort and oodles of cash against love, if not quite on the dole, certainly not in clover.

Then there is Sam, choreographer mentor of Ron, played by Robert Hicks, the other actor with a two week tenure in the part. Having taken Ron in seven years earlier until a row a few days ago, he knows the dancer much better than Rose, and gives her some home truths about her fragile lover boy.

Drifting through it all is rich friend Mona (Sandra Haynes), another of the unattached women with the wealth to attract lovers and above it all is Rose’s daughter Fiona (Kimberley Marlowe) who accepts who, or rather, what her mother is and has risen above it.

Hanging like a black cloud over Rose is her health. She is suffering from tuberculosis and being treated with the relatively, in 1958, new drug Streptomycin with doctor’s orders for complete rest and no alcohol. She spends her time on the social merry go round and drinks like a fish, so that’s going well, then.

The play’s climax comes when Rose, whose affections have been changing as often as the guards at Buckingham Palace, finally has to make a real choice.

Will it be Kurt, security, untold wealth and three months in a Swiss sanitorium – and a chance of survival – or Ron and life of passion, true love, or as true as the damaged pair can ever manage, living hand to mouth? Living, of course, being a moot point if Rose’s TB continues unchecked.

The set from Malcolm Robertshaw, a Riviera villa with terrace, pool off, and well-furnished, interior room behind is excellent while Andrew Noakes’ lighting captures the light of the South of France, much loved by artists, by day and the well appointed villa at night. Tony Reynolds sound gives us arriving and leaving cars and some evocative music to help set the scene.

Director Alison Cahill has battled on under immense difficulties and the structure of a fine play is in place; there is no lack of effort or committment, it just needs a little more time to complete. To 03-11-18

Roger Clarke


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