Julia Brookes paid a visit to the show and explored it for Lippy
It was hard not to be impressed upon walking into Pyramid Theatre last week to see Open Theatre’s production ‘The Velvet Veins.’ The blank canvas with which the theatre provides you, had been transformed by producers Ellery Turgoose, Sam Cooke and Ellie Gelber into a set with a profoundly regal feel. Around the edge of the stage hung colourful lanterns at varying calculated heights, whilst the black curtain at the back was covered by two royal drapes with hand drawn artwork, designed by Rosie Margree. The set came together with plants, a desk and even a throne. As an audience member, you felt part of the world of the show before it even had a chance to begin.
The play itself, written by Harry Daisley, was a feat. One can never really be sure what to expect with student written theatre, but this script was impressive. Throughout it, Daisley constructed another world; one with feuding siblings ruling different lands. It was funny and well-paced, and, although set in a fantasy land, it had nods to twenty first century life which made it relevant. Daisley managed to build a play that brilliantly balanced slapstick and subtlety. Some jokes slapped you in the face and some caught you off guard. Quibs about veganism had the whole audience laughing. The plot was meticulously constructed and the attention placed on side plots was impressive, adding a romance between Selene and Mr Alexander when the characters could have been left as merely functional.
This continued across the board; each character had a distinct personality, back story, and role to play in the narrative. This well calculated writing was paired with a cast of incredible actors, which meant the play really came alive. Each member of the cast was as strong as the next, with excellent characterisation and instincts. Particular stand outs were the police officers Burt and Kurt played by Maisy Dodd and Ruby Sparks, who kept the audience giggling with their nonchalant duo. Their boss Mr Alexander, played by Barnaby Milton was also excellent. Milton was less caricatured, and grounded the piece excellently with needed naturalism. Beth Crossley took on the tricky task of playing the villainous Chancellor, and her portrayal was brilliant. She added humility to a stock villain, making one care for him despite the trouble he was causing.
The excellent acting came together with some wonderful moments of direction. Daisley effectively choreographed his script to make transitions between reality and the Chancellor’s broadcasts smooth and engaging. Movement as the Chancellor walked downstage with the ensemble, analysing what he was wearing, worked well. Another stellar moment of direction was the dance scene between the Chancellor and Ludwig, done brilliantly by Crossley and Erin Cooke, which had the audience smiling as they grooved to ‘Yes Sir I can Boogie.’ The most stand out moments were those when the script switched from dialogue to beautifully written prose, most of which was delivered hypnotically by Cooke. This was most effective at the opening of the play, where the director constructed his world’s narrative, the poetic prose was delivered by torchlight and was fascinating to watch, immersing you in a new world before even meeting the characters. The prologue bordered on Shakespeare, but it didn’t feel outdated, managing to separate the play from the farcical trap it could have fallen into with its puns and plot.
The play, centred around the kidnapping of the royal fashion designer Ludwig, would not have been what it was without the costumes. Designed by Rosie Margee, every single one was meticulously crafted and thought out. The empress’s royal costume was composed of corset, cape and even a ruff. Even the less lavish costumes, like those of Selene’s and the police officers’, were still fashioned from top to bottom. The Chancellor, at one point, even wore an outfit which was completely constructed out of the artwork taken from the drapes at the back of the stage. The attention and effort put into the costumes and the execution with which they were delivered gave the show a professional, sophisticated feel.
The set, costume and even the music, combined splendidly with Daisley’s script and direction, as well as a host of talented actors, means The Velvet Veins was a treat to watch; a feast for the eyes and the imagination.
Words: Julia Brookes
Photos: Joe Fenna