Arts & Culture: UK stars of stage and screen join local theatre company
West End in the Riviera
The South of France English Theatre, or SET, was created almost a year ago by Frances Wilson and a team of local ex-pats dedicated to the world of theatre. Following a successful debut with Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon in February, the team brought the highly acclaimed Deathtrap to the stage in May and June, with great results.
Ira Levin's Deathtrap is a classic thriller set in the early 80s. In the lead role of Sidney Bruhl was the very charming - and incredibly talented - David Easter, of Family Affairs fame in the UK. Playing the good-looking young author was David Moxham, fresh out of drama school in London (not that you would have known it) who turns up at the isolated Sussex, England country home of dried-up thriller playwright Bruhl with a brilliant new stage thriller, at a time when Bruhl's career has hit the skids.
What follows is a series of twists and turns that has you laughing, screaming and completely on the edge of your seat. It is clear to see why Deathtrap holds the record for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway, and was also nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.
Local actress Janine Fitzgerald gave a great performance as Bruhl’s neurotic wife, while Zena Bedford, another local, had me convinced she was a psychic gypsy.
"Frances is a very good director, very modern. She's an actress so she understands the class of directing, she's instantaneous, intuitive - all those things you want from a director," said David Easter.
"It's phenomenal what Frances has achieved, it's come together fantastically," added Janine.
Together, they've managed to pull off a performance that had everyone riveted right to the very end.
"It was funny and scary - literally made us jump out of our seats. You really become engrossed in the story and don't see the time pass," said one member of the audience. "All the actors did a great job."
Fayence to Menton
The SET theatre company stages performances all along the Riviera including Menton, Nice, Sophia Antipolis, Cannes and Fayence. While most are large venues, the Athena theatre in Nice is very intimate; its old-school design with box seats and close proximity to the stage all make for a true theatre experience.
"We love this theatre, it's perfect for this show, it's right in your face, like watching TV and yet I'm right there," said Easter.
It's true, the roof may leak during a downpour, but the acoustics are great and there's nothing like in-your-face theatre. "When the plot twists and turns, you can feel the audience's reaction, it's fantastic," agreed David Moxham.
Family Affairs star
David Easter is best known for his role as Pete Callan in the TV soap opera Family Affairs from 1997 to 2005, but he actually began his career on stage. In the 1991 London Palladium revival production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, he played Pharaoh and Levi alongside Jason Donovan's Joseph.
But it is his extensive experience in television that makes him such a significant presence on stage today.
"I can't do the same performance twice, I do something different every night. It's not because I'm lazy it's because I want to try and change my character at each performance, and I want to see what happens when I take a new approach to it. My fellow stage actors think it's strange," revealed David.
Deathtrap is likely to feature again in the SET programme in the future, so I can’t divulge any plot spoilers. I can however reveal that David Easter will be returning for the next production, which is being touted as a musical piece with characters including Elvis, David Bowie and Roy Orbison.
"I began my career as an Elvis Presley impersonator," confided David, "so I'll be playing a number of classic performers."
It is refreshing to see a significant part of UK culture establishing itself here in the Riviera. We may be a region rich in French culture, but there is a notable lack of entertainment for us ex-pats. It is also encouraging to note that this is produced right here, not made in England and transported over.
"We have a repertory base of actors who are based here and we're bringing people like David Easter and super top-notch stars from the West End in London to do different shows," said Frances, "the aim is to have the same quality as West End standard."
Is it enough to guarantee a dedicated following? "I thought it was great escapism! I will definitely go again," said one lady. "An incredibly professional performance; I would highly recommend it to everyone," beamed another. So, with that the curtain fell on another production by the South of France English Theatre Company. There's plenty of anticipation, and hopefully support, growing for the next show, the details of which you can find right here with us at The Riviera Times.