A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Ovation presents

Play it Again, Sam

Photo by Adam Holt

 

by Woody Allen

Directed by John Plews

Designed by Suzi Lombardelli

Lighting Design by Howard Hudson

Costumes by Rachael Vaughan

Sound Consultant: George Kendall -Bush

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

20 May – 26 June 2011

 

Who is Woody Allen? Is he that nervous, witty, Jewish Film maker from the lower East Side? Or is he rather a character destined to play a parody of himself, a supporting actor in the film of his own life? Play it Again, Sam debuted on Broadway in 1969 was a run-away success, and was eventually made into a film. Allen wrote and starred in the main role as Allan Felix (Tim Frost), a neurotic, self deprecatory bag of nerves, a projection of Allen's personality and vehicle for his switch blade wit which couldn't backfire.

We follow Allan Felix (Tim Frost), a film critic who spends all his days watching silver screen classics. Nancy, (Josephine Kiernan), his wife leaves him to find a 'real man,' preferably one with a motorcycle and long hair. Felix's friends, Dick (James Kermack) and his wife, Linda (Amy Bailey) take it upon themselves to lift him out of his misery by introducing him to the leggy, Sharon (Felicity Russell). Things go typically tits up for Allan, despite receiving advice on how to seduce women from Humphrey Bogart (Shaun Stone), who begins making cameo appearances in his life.  As we enjoy his excruciating blunders and exquisite one- liners we discover that the girl of his fantasies might be sitting right under his nose.

Tim Frost is just the right blend of spluttering nerves and babbling energy, excelling at evoking Allan's acerbic wit. His Jewish lilt savours Allan's accent and brings the flavour of fast talking Manhattan to the leafy borough of Highgate. Frost excels at comic timing and his cringe worthy antics never fail to amuse as he kicks over his coffee table and collapses over his record player,  generally acting the klutz. His relationship with Keirnan is amusingly desperate, as she struts across the fantastic set, all bubblegum chic and nasally New York accent in a crop top and tight jeans, she  commands his lust and throws it back in his face. Bailey as Linda, compulsively tidies Allan's apartment, acting the dreamy home-maker, obedient to the role Dick has given her.  Bailey demonstrates a cool elegance through her fine poise as she vividly expresses Linda's emotional integrity with her yearning eyes that long for the passion Dick denies her. Kermack as her husband, plays a slick, arrogant business man of the 1950's, who talks of emotions in terms of investments and conveys well, the innate comedy of a man who takes himself so seriously he has to update his colleagues over the telephone every other minute about where is going to be that afternoon. A profoundly prophetic insight into how society would eventually evolve. Twitter anybody?

Allan's hallucinations of Bogart are brilliantly handled, as scenes from his favourite movies begin to infiltrate his life and reflect his own situation. Hudson has the lights turn steely blue when Bogart enters, creating a sense of a shift from reality to the world of Allan's imagination. When Stone appears as Bogart from Casablanca in a trench-coat and trilby, he bestows his virile one-liners in an amusing “schmokin hot” accent, with a neat spareness.

Life imitates Art in Play it Again, Sam, especially the classic movies of the ‘40’s and ‘50’s and the play are testament to the influence these films have exerted over Woody Allen. Plews's excellent direction allows Allan's fantasies of the silver screen to come alive in fantastic interludes, when Kendall – Bush's dramatic film music, strikes up and the actors engage in famous encounters from these timeless classics in the ubiquitous apparel of the time. All that's missing are the plumes of smoke left behind by a disappearing train.

Suzi Lombardelli's set is a brilliant recreation of a Manhattan apartment, which has been painstakingly designed with a great deal of love and attention. Classic movie posters decorate the walls while clothes and takeaway cartons are discarded on the floor. A spiral staircase creates a second level,   and is used inventively for the club scene and Allan's feverish film watching.  Lombardelli ingeniously uses the blinds to project film scenes on to and it also allows a backdrop of Manhattan to dominate the set, painted onto the wall behind. The city is a living presence in the play and an important reminder of Woody Allen's inextricable relationship with New York, as much as his fondness for women.

Play it Again, Sam, is laugh out loud funny and will have you in stitches. Woody Allen is without a doubt a comic genius. His ability to pen witty one liners which take their humour from his own inadequacies and neuroses appeals to us all, not only for their self deprecating qualities, but also, his talent to create realistic characters who we can sympathise with, but at the same time laugh at. Plews has done a fantastic job of doing justice to the material, which despite its age is as vigorous now as it was in its heyday.

 

 
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
The Gatehouse Pub
Highgate Village
London N6 4BD

20 May – 26 June
Tuesdays-Saturdays at 7.45pm (Sundays at 4.00pm)

Tues/Weds/Thurs £12 (Concs £10)
Fri and Sats £16 (Concs £14)
Sundays £14 (Concs £10)
BOX OFFICE: 020 8340 3488

http://www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com/

 

 


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