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Reviews
What do you think of Michael Praed's work? 
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Note: These reviews will probably contain spoilers. 
All opinions expressed are those of the author, not Michael Praed's Fanfare.

 

Table of Contents
Click links to read the reviews

'Sleuth' Review by Haze Pethick
'Blue on Blue' Review by Clare Blackledge
'Killing Castro' Review by Frances Quinn
'Misery' Review by Eve Pelletier
'Misery' Review by Geraline K. James
'Carousel' Review by Janet P. Reedman
'SAJV' Review by C.A. Voigts
 
 

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'Sleuth'
Theatre Royal - Glasgow 2008
by Haze Pethick
Reprinted by kind permission from Michael Praed Online

On May 26th, I saw the first of seven performances straight of Sleuth here in Glasgow. I had been patiently… okay… impatiently(!) waiting for this play to arrive in my hometown for what seemed like an eternity. From the moment Michael announced he was doing this play – and that the play would indeed be coming to Glasgow – I had been counting down the months, weeks, days and minutes until I would get to see it.

As is my tendency, as soon as I knew Michael was appearing in Sleuth, I decided to avoid reading or seeing anything to do with Sleuth – be it in play or movie form. I wanted to go into the theatre and see it with a fresh, open mind, no expectations, no existing opinions… just go in and let Michael and Simon tell me the story.

I was not disappointed.

First of all… Sleuth is a superb play. It’s an excellent thriller, written with a real sense of genius. It is full of twists and turns, high energy as well as subdued and tragic moments; it takes you on a rollercoaster ride that you are not likely to forget anytime soon… you end the play feeling somewhat exhausted, but satisfyingly so, and yet wanting to come back for another go.

This play is cast to perfection. Michael Praed and Simon MacCorkindale are both great actors, as we all know, but even I found myself being even more impressed with the talents of these two actors. There is a real chemistry on stage… an infectious vibe created by Michael and Simon, that pulls the audience into the game.

The play opens with Andrew Wyke (played by Simon MacCorkindale) relishing in his latest work and full of excitement about the evening ahead. Milo Tindle (Michael Praed) arrives… and after an exchange of pleasantries, Andrew kicks off his game with the fabulous line “I understand… you want to marry my wife”. And so it begins… with the first Act showing Andrew almost circling Milo like a predator waiting to go in for the kill. There are superbly executed comedy sequences and Michael’s one-liners are delivered with timing and perfection that many “comedians” only dream of. As we watch the “game” spiral out of control and the boundaries of fantasy and reality are crossed… to the point of no return… we are treated to scenes of high energy fun moving swiftly into terror and tragedy in a seamless yet shocking transition. The first Act ends leaving the audience completely unsure of exactly what they’ve just witnessed – or what is to come.

The second Act sees the tables turned and a brilliantly executed game of revenge is played with Milo in control and enjoying every minute of power over Andrew. Here we see Michael showing what a great character actor he is, superbly disguised and demonstrating his fantastic skill with accents.

The deep psychological element of the play really takes over in the second Act, with the games being played escalate further and the effects really start to mess with the character’s minds, in particular Andrew, whose madness really spirals out of control as he battles between his love of fantasy and games… and actual reality, which he simply doesn’t seem able to face or deal with. Simon’s portrayal of Andrew is spectacular. He gets the character spot on and his energy and delivery is just absolute class.

Both actors do the play proud. These are actors who both have great talent and a real passion for what they do. They bring the stage and theatre alive and pull the audience into their world and it’s a real pleasure to experience. These are both actors who are very well known for their work on television and/or film – however, in my opinion, their talents are wasted there. It takes guts to perform in the theatre… there is nothing to hide behind and there are many actors who wouldn’t dare to go there. However these two actors not only take on the challenge of the theatre, they clearly love it and embrace it – and that really shines through. Their talents are demonstrated fully and we get to see what they really are capable of. It was a pleasure and honour to watch.

Sleuth is a play that is superbly written – and when you get two actors of this calibre taking on the roles and bringing them to life, you just know you are in for a treat.

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'Blue on Blue'
Haymarket Theatre - Basingstoke 2006
by Clare Blackledge

‘Blue on Blue’ is about ‘Embedded Journalism’.  Embedded – Definition: A journalist travelling with troops and reporting from the battlefield.  The 2004 Iraq war was the first time embeds were used.  Pros: unprecedented media access to the front.  Cons: lack of distance and independence between reporters and their protectors.

The play is based in a media camp in the Iraqi desert.  Here the journalists and the army share a camp.  The set was brilliant, tents, rocks and camouflage netting over the top.  There is also a truck containing all the equipment needed to send the reports back home.  The actors step towards the front of the stage to give their reports, as if there are cameras there.

The journalists are Greg, played by Michael Colgan – What Greg lacks in experience he makes up for in ambition.  The youngest of the journalists, desperate to get on.  Jude, played by Kathryn Pogson – Jude is the doyenne of foreign correspondents, but has she taken on one war too many?  One of the older and more experienced of the group, she has been here before.  However her marriage is suffering because of her work.  Neil, played by Michael Praed – Neil has seen it and been there.  Cynicism alone can get him through a bad day.  Past experience has taught him a lot.  He takes risks.  Poitrine, played by Alexandra Staden – A sassy American, who will do anything to become queen of the airways.  More concerned with her own appearance, she doesn’t even write her own scripts!

The Army are Tyrone, played by Nicolas Bailey.  He is not all he seems!  Captain Mike Lagoe, played by Andrew Frame.  He resents the journalists being there at all, particularly as he is made to ‘baby-sit’ them.

The play shows the relationships between the journalists themselves and with The Army.  Secrets are revealed about the characters.  The Army tries to hold back information from the journalists, who are all keen to send the best report home.  Things become heated at times and there is a surprising end to the play.

Blue on Blue stands for friendly fire, but don’t believe all you hear on the 10 o’clock news.  A bunch of embedded television journalists are not only fighting a war but each other – and the army.

A more serious play for Michael, but one, which was interesting and enjoyable.

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'Killing Castro'
Greenwich Theatre - Greenwich 2006
by Frances Quinn

‘Killing Castro’ is based on the attempts of the CIA to eliminate Castro.  Set in the early 60s, it brings together four characters whose brief is to figure out a feasible way of removing the Cuban leader. Edward Hardwicke is the elder, avuncular character, the leader of the team. Clive Mantle plays the decorated hero, a redneck type who hates ‘Commies’ with a passion, Michael Praed is the scientist who specialises in poisons (he looks like ‘Brains’ from ‘Thunderbirds), and Joe Shaw is the idealistic new kid, a lawyer by training but with a leaning towards science.

The play is set in one room as they meet to try and think up ways to assassinate Castro, or at least bring his rule into disrepute. They get off to a bad start when the overhead projector refuses to work - they send for a replacement; the cable is too short. They settle on a paper pad and easel; the marker is dry.  The only usable marker is pink, which leads to some grumbling.

Suggestions are made - should they invade, drop leaflets (a daft idea, given that most of Cuba is illiterate!) or go for the direct approach and try poisoning Castro with thallium?  At the very least it will make his beard fall out and ruin his macho image. But do they put the thallium in his socks? His underwear? Come to that, what sort of socks does he wear? Can they be sure Castro himself will wear them? Or how about putting it in his diving suit? Or planting a bomb made to look like a shellfish?  Or poisoning his cigars with botulism?  A slight drawback is that heat renders the bacteria useless. Or how about shooting down a US plane -- an unmanned flight-- say Cuba did it, and claim it was full of school kids?  But then they’d need bodies.

Clive’s character keeps holding out for good old-fashioned assassination; they can arrange to get a Mafia hitman, who will have to be assassinated afterwards, of course, so he won’t talk, and then THAT assassin will have to be taken care of...

There is a slight lull in proceedings when they agree that a good old-fashioned bullet is the only way. In the intervening scenes we learn why Clive’s character hates the Communists, and why Shaw’s character can never agree with him.  The tension mounts as they wait to hear if the assassination succeeded.  But it turns out that Castro has refused to stay in the hotel picked for him as being ‘too Bourgeois’ and has gone to stay in Harlem - so it’s back to square one! Until Michael’s character has a wonderful idea about sending in someone to impersonate Jesus, claiming to be the second coming and denouncing Castro... but they have to figure out a way for him to walk on water.  At this point Michael’s character gets carried away with drawing diagrams and produces what is possibly the funniest piece of art onstage ever to be seen. Alas, this idea is not thought feasible, so they start arguing again...

Eventually, in reality, we got the Bay of Pigs fiasco - a shame, as ‘Jesus Christ Surferstar’ would have made a lot more headlines!

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'Misery'
King's Head Theatre - Islington 2005
by Eve Pelletier

For those familiar with Stephen King’s novel 'Misery' and its Oscar-winning movie adaptation, it is difficult to imagine a darker, more intense presentation of the story. But Simon Moore’s stage adaptation, starring Michael Praed and Susan Penhaligon, dispenses with peripheral characters and non-essential past history to focus on the central conflict and provide a sense of immediacy to the plight of the injured novelist held captive by a psychotic fan.

Paul Sheldon (Michael), the author of a popular series of period romance novels about a heroine named Misery Chastain, awakens to find that he has been seriously hurt in a car crash somewhere in rural Colorado. The woman tending him, his rescuer, is a former nurse named Annie Wilkes (Susan) who proclaims that she is his “number one fan.” But when Annie discovers that Paul has killed off her favorite character in his last novel, so that he can turn his talents to a different genre of fiction, she is enraged. Determined to “save him” from his own bad judgment, she forces him to write a chapter per day of a new Misery novel: one in which he must bring his heroine back from the dead. Her tactics quickly deteriorate from verbal tirades to humiliation to torture, as Paul realizes he must use every trick his writer’s imagination can conjure to pacify Annie and keep himself alive.

'Psyco'-esque music and the dilapidated look of play’s only set certainly add to the creepy atmosphere. But the real tension is provided by two very strong performances that deliver the requisite shocks to the system that you expect in a thriller.

Michael has only a few brief minutes to give us a true glimpse of Paul Sheldon, via a videotaped awards acceptance speech. This is important, since the play proper opens with Paul able to speak only with great difficulty, as a result of his injuries and the medication he is on. The tape presents a portrait of a glib, arrogant, in-your-face successful American with all the “who’s better than me?” attitude that the rest of the world finds so off-putting. Paul is full of himself. It shows in his street-savvy accent, his self-satisfied smirk, his condescending manner, his body language. These are the qualities that make Paul’s ability to survive his ordeal believable – but they also contribute to raising the tension level between Paul and Annie. I found it interesting that the tape at the end of the production shows a much more subdued Paul.

Susan’s Annie Wilkes character is revealed more slowly. Our first impression of her is of an annoyingly silly woman: girlish, inappropriately pleased with the circumstances, and somewhat lacking in judgment (and those are her good points!). She is the perfect romance-genre version of a Trekkie. Over the next few scenes, as she becomes progressively disappointed with Paul, we begin to see the self-righteous and easily angered psychopath behind the fan-girl. Susan does a fine job combining the threatening qualities of a woman utterly lacking in human empathy with Annie’s eerie and unwholesome obsession with Misery Chastain.

But it’s Michael who makes us feel the terror ... and the pain. As with all his dramatic roles, he gives Paul an inner intensity and drive that hooks you into relating to the character, despite the fact that he’s not someone you’d necessarily like.

He begins by reflecting back at the audience, primarily through facial expression, its own reactions to Annie: mild irritation and condescension gives way to incredulity, apprehension, serious concern. By the time Annie has her first violent outburst, we are inside Paul’s head – and he is showing us how to react to her, bringing us along with him. When she hurts him lifting him into the wheelchair, his screams make us cringe – OW that’s painful! And when he’s struggling to hoist himself back into the chair, after sneaking extra medication in Annie’s absence, we’re huffing and puffing with one eye on the door – will he make it??? (There is actually quite a bit of physically demanding business with that wheelchair – someone has been working out!)

And as to the operation scene, well . . . the combination of Michael’s desperate, pleading screams and the sight of Susan wielding a blowtorch was so tense I nearly went into a full-body charley horse. ‘Nuf said.

The play contains some humorous moments as well, not the least of which are Michael’s readings of some of Paul’s daily chapters. He attacks the narration with gusto, employing a variety of accents to represent the different characters, and proves himself a superlatively entertaining story teller. But Susan’s rapt attention is equally comical as she sits licking honey off a kitchen knife.

I should mention that both actors employ American accents to good effect. In comparing the two, I’d say Michael’s has a definite “big city” edge to it, which helped to emphasize the difference in the two characters’ backgrounds and tastes.

There were a few minor problems that had, I believe, more to do with the venue than with the production. For example, the small slatted area in the corner (representing the area outside of Paul’s room) was visible in varying degrees depending on where you sat – some of the action was therefore lost to portions of the audience. And certain visuals, like the defacement of the “shrine” did not come across well from the dimly lit stage.

One thing that did throw me was the length of time Susan spent on Annie’s first “fit” – a display of catatonic schizophrenia that was very realistic and well portrayed, but I thought could have been cut a bit shorter. I know it must be very difficult to determine at what point realism ceases to add value to the audience’s experience; but for me, the line was crossed.

Still, these were momentary distractions. The real focus of the play was on the tightly choreographed psychological ‘dance’ between Paul and Annie. In a two-person play like this, the actors are entirely dependent on each other to give them what they need for their own reactions - and I think that Michael and Susan both did a fantastic job and had a wonderful chemistry between them.

All in all, Misery is an excellent piece of theatre and a very entertaining night out.

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~~~

'Misery'
King's Head Theatre - Islington 2005
by Geraline K. James

It started with the TV broadcast telling and showing Paul Sheldon (Michael) getting a writing award. In the darkness, off to the side, you can barely make out Annie Wilkes (Susan Penhaligon) standing there, watching her "favorite" author. 

It is very dark; the music very eerie. Scary.

In the opening scene, Paul is in bed; bruised, battered and in deep pain.  Annie sets up the scene telling him where he is, that they are snowbound and she is his number one fan.  Annie, as you can tell, has been by herself too long. She doesn't fit in.  Paranoia is setting in slowly.  As she slowly and methodically tortures and terrorizes Paul, we can see how confused and in absolute agony he is in. As the terror increases, the tension increases.  There are small tension reliefs by Paul, otherwise you would crack under the strain of the terror.  You can watch Annie go slowly in the downward spiral of a psychotic, methodical, non-person.

In the second act, Michael starts to bring Paul's personality out a bit.  They have been together for awhile by then and he is rolling around in a wheelchair.  Annie forces him to rewrite the "Misery" story to suit her deranged mind.   To her, Paul's heroine "Misery" is a live person, not just fiction.  She slowly tortures him, making him humiliate himself time and again. He, in turn, starts to slowly push back at her. 

It is a give-and-take cat-and-mouse game, but she is getting more-and-more crazy by moments.  Susan conveys this beautifully, scarily.  You can see it in her eyes, her facial attitudes and her body language. Michael's character is trying to overcome the absolute terror he is in, trying to stay one step ahead of her killing him.  He knows that she will at some point, if he does not please her or when he finishes the "Misery" stories.

One of the scary scenes was when she hobbled him with an axe.  Very horrifying, as was the cauterization in that act.  It sends you into deepest chills.  There are funny moments too, as when Paul says he needs to put his foot down and they both fall into fits of laughter. But he knows in the back of his mind she will not let him live.  It eventually ends with a huge out-and-out fight with only one winner.

In Michael's portrayal of Paul, scared, hurt, in complete agony, his humiliation of having to ask for things which unman him, you feel all of his terror of being at the mercy of a madwoman. Susan portrays Annie Wilkes slowly going into the depths of madness with an art. The show is perfect in which it conveys all the horror and terror one would expect of someone held captive.

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'Carousel'
Tivoli Theatre - Dublin 1991
by Janet P. Reedman

Following Michael's recent departure from the shores of America, his appearance at the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin was much anticipated as a welcome return to the stage. The play of choice was 'Carousel' by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Michael took the lead role as Billy Bigelow, the fairground barker who married a girl he met on his ride, Julie Jordan. Turning to crime, Bigelow was later killed in a robbery before making amends to Julie and his young daughter in order to enter heaven. 

The stage was very much interactive, with the audience able to cross a bridge with water below, and then ride on the working carousel as the actors looked on. Free candy floss was even provided!

There had been some speculation at the time as to whether the play would be an updated version, but the producers decided to keep to the original setting and timeframe. Michael was required to speak with an American accent, which he managed to execute credibly. For the role, he had grown a small beard and pointed sideburns. Michael's hair, much longer than that seen in his 'Robin of Sherwood' days, gave his character a "gypsy" feel which added to his interpretation of the character.

It was to be the first time Michael had sung on stage since the days of 'The Pirates of Penzance' and 'Abbacadabra'.  It was nice to hear that he was still a strong and competent singer, especially in the ballad "If I Loved You" and the more dramatic "My Boy Bill", where he leapt around the stage like a man possessed, dancing over tables and the like.

Some of the more skeptical in the audience were most surprised to find out that the young-actor-turned-overnight-soap-star could actually sing.

The story of 'Carousel' is not all sweetness and light, although the various film interpretations have given it a 1950's "syrupy glow."

Michael's character was a wife-beater, and quite often Michael would show flashes of anger to express that Bigelow was far more than just a harmless rogue who danced about, charming the ladies!  One of the most dramatic scenes was when he smashed a cup to signal his fury. With the tense look in his eyes and the suppressed rage in his walk, you could hardly imagine you were seeing the same play as the Shirley Jones version.

The weakest part of the play involved the miscast actor that played Bigelow's partner in crime, Jigger. He seemed too young and not worldly enough to be the one leading Bigelow along. Yvonne Brennan as Julie sang well, but it was hard to believe that someone with Billy's roving eye would be attracted to someone so plain.  The rest of the casting was fine, everyone performing with enthusiasm. Cyril Cusack also had a small role as the Star Keeper, lending the production it's much needed famous name, though his role was very underplayed and not the most challenging for an actor of his stature.

As this production was only limited to Dublin, it was a great shame that a wider audience was not able to enjoy this pleasant and innovative stage production.  Indeed the promotion appeared subdued and quite lacking, considering Michael's return could have been better used to promote ticket sales.

Nevertheless, it was a good welcome back to the stage for Michael, one that would directly lead to his next big stage role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Aspects of Love' a few months later, and help to rejuvenate Michael's UK career after many years of absence.

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~~~

'In the Beginning'
'Secret Adventures of Jules Verne
by C.A. Voigts

 'The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne' ©1999 Talisman Crest Productions It was a setup and quite a setup it was. Actually, there were setups within setups. I enjoyed all of them.

What setups? Well, setting up the characters and situation for an absolutely wonderful show called "The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne." This opening episode piqued my interest as to exactly what would happen in future episodes. I also wondered how Phileas and Passepartout would hook up with Rebecca and Jules. Also, any show that starts out with David Warner has to be a good one in my book.

The setup of Phileas by queen and country was nicely done, at least from a storytelling viewpoint. I'm not sure Phileas would appreciate knowing he was set up, but, then again, he is an astute fellow and probably does know, on some level, that he was set up to get the Aurora. I did wonder that no one seemed at all surprised to see a huge dirigible flying around Paris, or London for that matter.

I think another reason I enjoyed the show was the similarity to another show I enjoyed in my youth -- "The Wild, Wild West." (No, not the movie - the original TV show - yes, I'm dating myself!). It was always fun to see how the writers used science to create a daring story.

All in all, a wonderful beginning.

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~~~

 

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