Popcorn

by Ben Elton

Directed by Martin Buttery

September 30th - October 4th, 2003

The Tower Theatre performing Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate

 

Cast List

Karl Brezner : Matthew Vickers
Bruce Delamitri : Michael Greener
Velvet Delamitri : Liz Pilling
Farrah Delamitri : Despina Sellar
Wayne Hudson : Stuart Denman
Scout : Helen Dudley
Brooke Daniels : Nikki Smith
Kirsten : Lucy Hillard
Bill : Dominic Ward

 

Production Team

Director : Martin Buttery
Set Design : Dorothy Wright
Lighting and Video Design : Stephen Ley
Sound Design : Colin Guthrie

Stage Managers : Lesley Scarth, Rachel Hindley, Dinah Irvine
ASM : Jeff Kelly
Lighting operator : Jacky Devitt
Sound operator : Dinah Irvine
Wardrobe : Jude Chalk
Set construction : Dorothy Wright, Zizi Sulkin, Andrew Craze, Thor Hove, Margaret Ley, Alan Wilkinson, Frank Crocker, Celia Reynolds, Keith Syrett, Andy Hind & members of cast and crew



In-house review by Richard Pedersen

Richard is an occasional Tower actor of several years standing. His most recent appearance was behind a beard in The Comedy of Errors.


Once in a blue moon I see a performance by the Tower Theatre Company that totally bowls me over. I saw such a performance Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Martin Buttery's excellent production of the Ben Elton play Popcorn. I nearly described the play as a "black comedy" but somehow that sounds a bit trite. Yes, we laughed, and yes, people were shot in front of our eyes, but the play is difficult to pigeonhole into a genre.

Some of those at the bar found the play difficult to take, and I can sympathise with their view. Nobody, however, could fail to have been impressed by Stuart Denman's performance as Wayne Hudson the "Apsychokiller" (apologies to David Byrne). Mr Denman strutted and swaggered around the stage, wielding a gun as though he'd been born with it, and scared the living daylights out of the other characters, not to mention a good chunk of the audience. His trailer-trash accent was spot-on, and he made his character utterly believable. Equally impressive in the acting stakes was Wayne's partner in crime, the other "Mall Murderer" Scout, played by Helen Dudley. Looking like a downmarket version of Courtney Love, Ms Dudley was pure white trash right down to the ripped denim skirt with the tantalising glimpse of flesh and red knickers. A masterstroke.

Wayne and Scout are the real-life embodiment of the type of characters created by film director Bruce Delamitri, and the play centred on the Academy Awards presentation where Bruce received a Best Director Oscar for his latest oeuvre. Michael Greener played the director, but I felt that he didn't properly get to grips with the part. Perhaps he was overshadowed by more showy characterisations from the other actors, but Mr Greener seemed a little lost amid the maelstrom. It was a shame that his accent let him down on a number of occasions, and his somewhat fast delivery at other points meant that a few key plot moments got a bit lost.

Delamitri's wife Farrah was in the competent hands of Despina Sellar. The part was a caricature of the Jackie Collins-type Hollywood Wife and she played it to the hilt. A similar caricature was the Hollywood Brat in the person of Bruce and Farrah's daughter Velvet (don't you just love these names!). As Velvet, Liz Pilling was just the right mixture of spoilt Valley Girl and gauche teenager. When the crunch came she visibly got younger before our eyes. New member Matthew Vickers played the rather thankless part of Karl Brezner, Bruce's agent. This was a highly competent debut with the Company and I felt for him as a pilled-up Wayne hauled his corpse across the stage. Another absolute tour de force was given by the excellent Nikki Smith as the "actress" Brooke Daniels. A playboy centrefold model with an eye for more substantial roles, Ms Smith gave us one of the most erotic scenes I've ever witnessed in a Tower production when she cued the music and removed her tights (sorry, pantyhose). In a part that called for her to be seductive, totally terrified and eventually almost dead, Nikki Smith was quite superb.

The final two actors to appear were the cameraman and sound operator from the television company who gave us a brief cameo towards the climax of the play. Lucy Hillard bravely made her Tower debut in black underwear, and Dominic Ward - oh, he's used to it by now!

Another star of the show was the television screen at the back of the stage and I can't praise highly enough the ingenuity of the director in using this medium. First we saw Mr Denman and Ms Dudley captured on CCTV, so real that the audience were mumbling "how did they do that?". It got better. Bruce gave his Oscar acceptance speech and then we had the newscasters and anchormen. Gasps of recognition rippled through the audience as Tower members recognised Martin Buttery, Colin Guthrie, Dorothy Wright and Colette Dockery speaking at us from the big screen. It got better still. We saw Dominic Ward with a television camera filming the other actors, while at the same time his film was being seen on the wall-size television screen at the back. Not only that but the film showed the television screen in the Delamitri residence with yet a further version of the events unfolding. You had to be there. So, my congratulations to Stephen Ley who, I understand, put all of this together.

The set design by Dorothy Wright was spot-on for the Beverley Hills location, given the constraints of the theatre and the Tower budget. The large sofas were highly practical for sprawling on, and for causing grievous bodily harm on, while not obstructing the audience's view. Costumes by Jude Chalk were similarly appropriate, although I did think that Farrah Delamitri's dress was just a bit understated for the character. I also felt that the make-up of the actresses (Ms Dudley and Ms Hillard excepted) could have been more over-the-top to stress the fake Hollywood glamour.

All in all, this was a great start to the autumn season and a production which succeeding plays are going to have to live up to. It was not an easy show to get right, and it had the oddity of being a wholly British play on a wholly American theme. It is not for me to judge whether or not Ben Elton got all the pieces in the right place, but nevertheless, Stuart Denman's stunning performance will live with me for a long time to come.