Friday, 12 August 2016

Theatre Review: Miranda

You would think that watching a romantic comedy based at the cringe worthy Radio Banter wouldn't be a great way to spend an evening, well you would be very wrong....

Based on Carlo Goldoni's play “Mirandolina” and written by Matthew Partridge, 'Miranda' is a modern adaptation of the 18th century classic work. I have to be completely honest and say that I am not familiar with Goldoni's work at all so cannot comment on how far from the original Partridge's work has been placed. To be honest, this is no bad thing as I find endless discussion on how true to an original work adaptation is to be mind numbingly tedious. In my opinion a work of theatre should be appraised on its own merits and not manacled to the work that it bases itself on. It's like comparing the stage version of Les Miserables to the cinematic working of it, film and theatre are two completely distinctive mediums and whilst parallels can be found, they look and feel totally different.

'Miranda' is set in a fictional radio station and the Radio Banter air waves are ruled by one stupendous divaesque figure. Miranda has all of the men at the station fawning over her and bowing to her every whim, she revels in the adulation and doles out her ice cold and cynical advice on a kind of anti dating show formatted program. Watching Miranda expertly play Station Manager against music host is a delight to behold and would actually make you feel sorry for him, if he wasn't such an unpleasant and self important buffoon. I enjoyed every second of Joey Timmins performance and she is clearly loving every second of her stage appearance. Timmins excels in her portrayal of Miranda as a woman who passionately believes that men only ever want one thing.  Timmins sparkles even more deliciously in her shared scenes with long suffering Producer, the intoxicating and wondrous Cider, and Nina Tolleret's constant facial expressions of rebellion were a continuous source of amusement. If Miranda is anti romance then Cider is her polar opposite and yearns for a man that will notice her. Her mission to gain the affection of a suitor seems an impossible task when matched with the loud and brash Miranda. Michael Timney's Station Manager embodies everything that feminists down through the years have riled against. Loud, arrogant and overly confident, Andy sees women as conquests and objects to be bought. His dismal attempts to curry favour with Miranda are met with failure as are those of Deputy Manager, Spencer. Spencer is more romantic in his attempts with Miranda but are met with the same response.  Roel Fox is hilarious as Spencer with his verbal and physical sparring with Andy delivered with effective hilarity. Miranda has only eyes for one man, she is almost desperate in her attempts to gain the interest of Eric, the stations technician, but he is understandably wary. Eric is brought to life by Samuel Mattioli and his effective stage presence adds to the production. To portray a character that is seemingly blissfully unaware of the advances of a beguiling and seductive Miranda whilst clearly showing the audience that he is very attracted to her is not an easy task at all.

Miranda's command of the station is sent into free fall when Richard is employed, mistakenly, as a new host and his stance against women causes friction with listeners as well as Miranda. Peter Cabrera is sensational as the host whose almost allergic reaction to ladies puts him in direct competition with Miranda. Seemingly immune to her charms she must find a way to overcome his challenge or risk losing her control. When on stage together the cast act as one and clearly have a wonderful working relationship, the relationships that exist between the characters are enhanced as a result. None of the characterisations or situations that are presented in 'Miranda' are especially ground breaking and you would be forgiven in writing the play off as a retread of every romantic comedy you had ever seen. This would be unfair as to do so would rob you of an evening of theatrical entertainment, delivered by a group of actors who are accomplished and engaging in their craft. We live in an age where gender equality and the quest for diversity are hot topics. It seems impossible to move without uncovering another article or project which seeks to challenge and champion these important issues. Don't get me wrong, I do see the problems and loudly extol the virtues of 'right role, right casting' but it would be a pleasant change if this was done subtly and wasn't made the sole focus of a production. I probably run the risk of being shot down with feminist flaming arrows  by saying this but if issues of gender equality are constantly focused on the rallying cry becomes ever so slightly tiresome and loses its impact. Much progress can be made by highlighting the issues of equality in a more humorous way without making audiences feel like they have been bashed about the head with a sledgehammer.

The cast should also be credited for the standard of performance which was made even more impressive considering the challenges that the venue posed. Barons Court Theatre is a fabulous venue but, due to seating being on three sides and separated by two columns, connection with the audience could have proved an issue. At no stage did I feel that the action onstage was impeded by these challenges and the proximity of the audience added to the intimacy of the production. Both Director and cast should be praised for overcoming an issue which would have defeated a lesser Company.

'Miranda' could be accused of shying away from the important issues it touches on but, I believe, to do so would be to completely miss the point of the farce that the play is. All of the characters portrayed are extreme, almost caricature, and the situations faced threaten to push the play into parody. I have met people who have elements of the characters on display here but by pushing these to an extreme it is easy to see how ridiculously shallow they are. This is theatre that avoids the 'Scooby Doo' happy ending effectively as none of the characters, with the exception of Richard but his 'Get Over Women Club' is so ludicrous it simply didn't stand up to scrutiny, experience any particular moment which changes their world view. This, in itself, is a wonderful departure from theatre that insists in tying everything up in neat and meaningful little bows. Theatre challenges and pushes boundaries but sometimes its wonderful to watch a play that entertains and makes you smile. Sometimes Theatre should provoke a response but occasionally its a fantastic experience to leave a play having been treated to a great night out.

'Miranda' is running until Saturday 13th August 2016 at the Barons Court Theatre. You can book tickets here

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