EFR - Reviews of Montmorency

Montmorency

Fri 10th – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

Sukhmani Khatkar

at 11:03 on 20th Aug 2012

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Montmorency transports us directly to the heart of the crime addled Victorian London, documenting the shady dealings of a protagonist intent on leading a risky double life. This production manages to capture the grimness of this seedy underworld with alarming accuracy, but a confusing narrative meant it became, at times, frustrating to watch.

Adapted from Eleanor Updale’s novel of the same name, Montmorency charts the life of a man desperate to escape the meagre poverty he was born into. Having been treated by the perceptive Dr Farcett after suffering horrendous injuries in an industrial accident, Montmorency finds himself in Pentonville prison. Befriended by Frank Halliday, a crippled outcast characterised by an awkward eccentricity and verbosity that means he is prone to what can only be described as articulate outbursts often laced with quotes from Rousseau or some other philosopher. Montmorency, whilst incarcerated, chances upon an unmissable opportunity. Having learnt about the intricate network of sewers that run beneath London’s streets he, upon his release, takes it upon himself to utilise such knowledge for the benefit of criminal activity. Using the alias of Mr Scarper, Montmorency begins to use the sewers as a means to breaking and entering. Indeed, he succeeds in plundering an array of London homes and business. Furthermore, it is with such new found wealth that he adopts the gentleman-like lifestyle he so craves; attending the opera, socialising with the elite and dodging suspicious questions regarding his identity.

Montmorency is a play concerning the perilous nature of leading a double-life. Matthew Hopkinson’s portrayal of the protagonist was, at times subdued. There was a quietness to his performance that may well have been deliberately deployed in order to capture the complexities of his character; a man so intent on escaping reality that there is little room left for his original persona to shine through. However, I felt, given the complexity of his situation I would have liked to see more earnestness in his characterisation, the calm and controlled manner with which Hopkinson delivers his lines seems to be at odds with the seemingly overarching dangers of his predicament. James Blake-Butler is the real star of the show, capturing Halliday’s crazed desperation and individual tragedy poignantly. Whilst Montmorency quietly schemes, Halliday’s emotional outrages truly highlight the bitter inevitability of his sad fate.

Furthermore, there are some slight inconsistencies with the narrative. Despite briefly mentioning the potential for sewage-aided crime there is no explicit explanation for how Montmorency could seemingly disappear down a manhole at intervals during the play before emerging in various upmarket London homes in seconds. Unfortunately this all sees like a highly improbable caper, perhaps a little more of a briefing would not have gone amiss?

Montmorency succeeds in capturing sleazy, decaying Victorian London. However, a little more explanation and a little more emotion at times would have only enhanced an already excellent production.

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Ella Griffiths

at 11:14 on 20th Aug 2012

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Embracing the Dickensian clichés of urban grime, loveable criminals and top-hats, the majestically titled ‘Montmorency’ is a solid and endearing chunk of good old-fashioned theatre. In the first stage adaptation of Eleanor Updale’s novel featuring a metamorphosing and entrepreneurial criminal, directors Chris Snow and Mitch Whitehead have crafted an enjoyable, if not ground-breaking, theatrical thriller.

Walking the fine line between predictable archetypes and fresh characterisation, the cast embraced their roles with infectious enthusiasm, while mixing professionals and young amateurs lent a diverse and exciting texture to the performance. Following the story of an injured criminal who reinvents himself as a gentleman in order to carry out elaborate thefts, the duality of Montmorency and Scarper was oppressively reminiscent of Stevenson’s famous novella. However, considering the influence of Edinburgh’s dark passages upon the writer, this coincidence merely enhanced the suitability of the play’s Gothic overtones to the stormy evening outside.

The slightly pedestrian plot is uplifted by a fantastic performance from James Blake-Butler as the contorted and ranting Frank, a gruffly affectionate fellow prisoner with a talent for mimicry. With grotesque facial contortions and erratic movements conveying the criminal’s desperation, Blake-Butler avoids cloying melodrama by lighting up the stage with his sheer energy. His magnetism has the result of overshadowing Matthew Hopkinson as a sullen but nonetheless engaging Montmorency, adorned with a convincing set of magnificent scars, as well as off-setting the dashing and ominous Philip Dunster as Dr Farcett. The comic interludes featuring an extravagant suit and hat salesmen, as well as charming and flirtatious Cockney ladies, add an amusing dimension to a production threatening to drown in hackneyed upper-class caricatures. Indeed, the costumes of smart tail-coats and dusty rags lend the production an air of slick professionalism, artistically compensating for a slightly untidy set reminiscent of a school play in the array of painted cardboard bricks. While the use of taped dramatic music is necessary in order to enliven the action sequences depicting the thefts, it threatens to become a tinny and contrived backdrop when illuminating the sudden and disappointing ending.

Nonetheless, ‘Montmorency’ is a production harnessing quality acting, lively scripting and dynamic blocking in order to ensure a likeable if underwhelming depiction of the Victorian criminal underworld that showcases genuine talent.

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