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Phillip Emanuel Productions in association with John Burston presents

Three Women in an Ice Cream Cone

 

by Elizabeth Fotheringham

 

Directed by Nadia Tass

 

King’s Head Theatre

 

10 August – 5 September 2010

 

 

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

The ambitious bi-line of this play, set in the London gelato and coffee cafe of Italian immigrants Gino and Luigi, is ‘a slice of 1950’s life.’ However, if that’s true, then its’ over-simplified storyline must be from Italian Switzerland as it has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese.

Gino (Jason Nicoli) and Luigi (Jai Armstrong), younger bachelor and family man respectively, run The Cone Shop, which is frequented by the three women of the title: lithe, blonde seamstress Grace (Charlotte Newton John), whom Gino allegedly adores, flashy Alice (Nathalie Pownall) who never fails to catch his eye and titillate his libido, and Linda (Barbara Drennan), a classy ‘older woman’ teacher who lends a touch of elegance and refinement to the proceedings. The storyline is set either in the shop, which covers the length of the King’s Head’s rectangular stage or, at the far left side of the stage (actors’ right) where some cafe furnishings are periodically rearranged to represent the flat of Alice and her thuggish boyfriend, Gary (John McQuaid). Other notable males in this play are the trusty Postman (Felix Pring), who can always be counted on for his droll observations, and Michael (Tim Faulkner), a Parliamentary secretary who is married, but doesn’t always let that fact be known.

 If it sounds like, given this cast of characters, this story has possibilities, that’s because it does, and that’s one of the frustrating things about watching this character driven play. Although there are some likeable performances from some fine actors here, the play’s characters, like its’ brief scenes, never really get to live and breathe as fully as you wish they would. As a result, we are left with a series of more or less one dimensional characters who tease us with snippets of what they might be, without ever letting us in on any of their facets – rendering them types or personas, rather than fully fledged people and scenes that often come across more as TV fodder than the stuff of theatrical comedy/drama.

Despite those facts, there are some good performances here. Gino is personably played by Jason Nicoli, who proved his ability to improvise when a door knob came off the entrance and exit door the actors were using, and he took advantage of the situation, doing a subtly enacted double take – in character, drawing laughs where none had been intended. Gino was perhaps, the greatest missed opportunity, as Nicoli seemed capable of doing more with him than he’d been written and/or directed to. Charlotte Newton John (Olivia’s second cousin) does a fine turn as Grace, Gino’s girlfriend, playing a working class girl with dignity and the courage to dump a louse before he really gets a chance to cramp her style, let alone ruin her life. Jai Armstrong also gives a likeable performance as Gino’s older, often taken advantage of brother, Luigi, though his character’s Napoli philosophising, however well enacted, tends to get a bit wearing at times. Barbara Drennan is also very good as Linda, though it would have been great to see Ms. Drennan in a role she could really sink her obviously highly polished teeth into. Tim Faulkner as Michael and Felix Pring as the Postman also do all they possibly can with their limited characters. Unfortunately, Nathalie Pownall and John McQuaid as badly paired lovers Alice and Gary seem to have been drawn from a soap opera riff with clichés and McQuaid in particular struggles under the weight of his light-weight character which even obviously seasoned directing can’t surmount, coming off as more over the top than ‘angry young man’, though Director Nadia Tass may have done well to draw on films from the late ‘50’s of that genre for her cues in relation to McQuaid’s character. As the girl who ‘can’t help it’ Nathalie Pownall’s character Alice is simply trying too hard to be the quintessential 1950’s bad girl. Though it is obvious that Pownall could do more than she’s given here, what she has been given needs re-vamping. Her squeeky clean red patent leather high heels are more Grease than gorgeous, which is too much like looking back on the 1950’s from the 1980’s. If Alice is really going for Hollywood glamour, Playwright Elizabeth Fotheringham would have done well to imbue her with a little less crass and a little more class, (in the original sense of the word) either real or skilfully feigned. After all, Alice is a working girl and must have something of a head on her shoulders, even though they are bared in a Jane Russell puffed sleeve blouse and short-shorts in her opening scenes. Less costuming and posturing and more substance for Alice please! It’d be much more interesting if she turned out to be something she didn’t seem or look like from the outset!

London? There’s very little evidence of it here, apart from English accents at various ends of the social spectrum, all getting along in an exaggeratedly jolly fashion. Some street sounds might have helped, and/or vintage ads or news from a radio...The jukebox that wasn’t lit, that nobody ever went near didn’t help the 1950’s atmosphere of the Cone Shop either. However, the set of the cafe, designed by Kimberley Meikle, did have some authentic elements, such as scuffed counters and jars of sweets that seemed like Italian cafe ones. However, there was no sense of the changing seasons and among the Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra songs being played was Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’, yet the cafe was completely devoid of holiday decorations. Come on – these characters are Italian - there would have at least been some tinsel! And I don’t think Grace would have worn a thin coat with sleeves halfway up her arms in the midst of a London winter! A little more thought to such elements would have enhanced the play’s atmosphere and historical/sociological context.

Then there is this element – the play does not seem to be able to place itself. By that I mean that it is difficult, if not impossible to tell whether playwright Fotheringham wants us to laugh at it a la Three Coins in the Fountain, (a film in which French actor Louie Jordon played an Italian prince), or whether she’d rather have us nod with her at ballsy 1950’s under-rated dramas like Douglas Serk’s Imitation of Life. You can have one, but to put it in topical terms, the two are like oil and water.

A predictable storyline, characters that seem more like characterisations and an overall lack of atmosphere and context, which wasn’t helped by frequent, unavoidably clumsy scene changes, at times, enacted to remove a lone class or cup, which destroyed all hope of getting into any sort of mood or sych with the production may add up to a lost cause in some people’s minds. But some accessible acting, decently thought out set design and intermittently canny directing helped, as did period songs being played here and there which I oft clung onto for dear life in an attempt to take my mind off the seemingly, endlessly shifting stage hands. One thing which might have helped the flow of this production would have been longer scenes, rather than a series of brief ones which may have been meant to come off almost as cinematic frames, but instead just seemed like scenarios.  Longer scenes and more thought out placing of props, like expresso cups and milkshake glasses, i.e. placing one on one table and another sort on another, in advance or at least, all at the same time, would have meant less fiddling about and fewer distractions. However, that said, this script needs tightening and anything which seems obvious from the outset in its storyline needs redirection.

One last thing – the title of the play isn’t much help to the imagination, despite its phallic overtones. Ice Cream while being a bit of a paradox might have been closer to the desired mark. After all, that old childhood chestnut, ‘You scream, we scream, we all scream for ice cream,’ still runs though many a head to this day. And who can resist a good gelato? Even a lesser one seems more desirable than home grown.

 

 

Box Office: 0844 209 0326 or

www.kingsheadtheatre.org

The King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, Islington
London N1 1QN

Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30pm
Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm

£15.20 - £21.20

 

 

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