Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Costume drama that fills the stage

Meet the courtesans of Camille:  From the left are Zoe Male,(Sophie,),Debbie Loweth (Prudence) and Emily Armstrong (Clemence). 


Sutton Arts Theatre, Sutton Coldfield


THE stage that customarily houses breathtaking, luxurious settings is largely bare throughout director Ian Appleby's account of this Pam Gems classic.

But the costume-drama story of a courtesan's rise from the streets, presented here barely a month after the playwright's death at the age of 85, is one with a tale that fills the stage unaided, spurred on by an excellent company.

There are the women of Marguerite's own kind, whooping excitedly in their gossiping knots, there is the Marquis, raspy-crackly in his ebullience, there are the ladies of society. One of them declares: “I don't want to drive in the middle of the day. The horses will get hot” – and her delivery, punctuated by a pause between the sentences, guarantees a laugh.  There is the loyal Yvette (Valerie Tomlinson).

Marguerite Gautier, that is to say, is not short of company. But it is the way in which Michelle Dawes and Robert Laird (Armand) develop their partnership against the perils of her failing health and of his father who threatens to choke him with his purse strings that holds the attention.

Michelle Dawes (Camille) with Robert Laird (Armand, her lover)

It becomes a partnership that at times threatens to be riveting. There is tender happiness. We see the lover become the husband and the happiness turn to anguish. All too soon, those impressively-conjured coughs take their final toll. It's not a story that conjures an outbreak of throat-lumping, but it is an irresistible attention-grabber.

So is the production's central pairing, ever-confident in presenting the roller-coaster ride of their 19th-Century relationship.

And there is unfailing support from a substantial and splendidly-costumed company, with Andrew Tomlinson outstanding as the Marquis, Debbie Loweth a delight of precision speaking as Prudence, Tomos Frater striking a po-faced blow for the nobility as Count Druftheim, and young Dominic Clarke and Josh Bricknall taking turns in the course of the run as the charming youngster Jean-Paul. They, and all the others in an impressive company, can take justifiable pride in the collective achievement.

There has to be a special mention for Josh Sood, who puts in a marathon shift to maintain his ear-catching responsibilities at the piano throughout.

Great stuff! To 25-06-11.

John Slim 

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