Saturday, 27 August 2016

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, reFASHIONed Theatre

"Is it not strange..."

The Faction weren't kidding when they said they were breaking out of the rep model that has characterised their output for the last few years. Earlier this summer saw them take Vassa Zheleznova to the Southwark Playhouse and now they're appearing at the reFASHIONed Theatre. What's that I hear you cry, why it's a pop-up space on the lower ground floor of Selfridges just past the luggage where a newly commissioned version of Much Ado About Nothing is paying its own tribute to Shakespeare400.

Director Mark Leipacher and co-director Rachel Valentine Smith have slimmed the play down to a neat 90 minutes, without too much damage (unless you're a big fan of the Watch) and with a nod to the sleekly contemporary surroundings of the reFASHIONed space, introduced digital cameos to supplement their 9-strong cast. So Simon Callow and Rufus Hound pop up on CCTV footage as Dogberry and Verges, and Meera Syal appears regularly onscreen as a reporter for Messina News, filling us in on the breaking news whether on TV or on Twitter-streams.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Review: Steel Magnolias, Hope

"My work gets a bit poofy when I get nervous"

One of my favourite things to experience in the theatre is that sweet spot of just being happy to spend time with the characters presented to you. Much of that is down to the writing but a good deal of it also comes from how the production interprets it and so I'm delighted to report that I happily spent a couple of hours with the ladies of the Hope Theatre's Steel Magnolias, and could easily spend a couple more, with my cup of ice tea, my fan with a pastel-coloured parrot on it (available to buy at the box office) and much love in my heart.

Robert Harling's 1987 play found fame in the film version that was released a couple of years later but works exceptionally well here as a study in multi-generational female friendship. Over the course of 4 scenes in 3 years, we experience the trials and tribulations of the patrons of a Louisana beauty salon but despite the drama - and what tear-jerking drama it is - the beauty of Steel Magnolias comes in the everyday relationships and interplay of these women, their fallings-out and friendships, their sharing of recipes and gossip alike, the minutiae of life writ large.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #7

Love's Labour's Lost

Gemma Arterton and Michelle Terry (almost) in the same play, how my heart doth beat. Sam Yates' Love's Labour's Lost combines Arterton and David Dawson dashing delightfully through the corridors of the Royal Palace of Olite of Navarre, Spain as Berowne and Rosaline, whilst drawing in elements from the gorgeous 2009 production at the Globe - one of my favourite clips from the whole Complete Walk.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida

"Give me the history of the Congo in four and a half minutes"

There's an ingenious moment in the middle of They Drink It In The Congo when a PR guy has to step in for an ailing colleague at an imminent press conference and utters the line above. The answer he gets exposes not only the vast complexity of the socio-political issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also the way in which Westerners seek to reduce them to manageable soundbites so that they can be dismissed as problems easily solved

Which in a nutshell is the key issue at the heart of Adam Brace's new play for the Almeida. Aware of the impossibility of doing Congolese history justice in a couple of hours, he approaches the issue from an alternative angle, the impossibility of "doing something good about something bad". Daughter of a white Kenyan farmer, Stef now works for a London NGO and is excited to be given the opportunity to organise 'Congo Voice', a new arts festival raising awareness of the issues there.

Review: Little Shop of Horrors, New Wimbledon

"When the light came back this weird plant was just sitting there"

Sell A Door
 Theatre Company have built quite the reputation for touring plays and musicals the length and breadth of the UK and that reputation will surely only grow with this cheerfully good-natured production of evergreen cult musical Little Shop of Horrors. Director Tara Louis Wilkinson may not do anything dramatic to the classic Alan Menken/Howard Ashman show but her small-scale production captures its spirit perfectly and ought to please audiences across the country until Christmas.

This 1950s spoof musical, based on the iconic B-movie of the same name, follows the travails of Seymour Krelborn, an orphan scraping a living in a run-down florists whose luck seemingly changes when he finds a strange venus flytrap-like plant which he names Audrey II after his colleague with whom he is in love. But the plant has very particular dietary requirements and Seymour finds himself suckered into a Faustian pact as the fast-growing Audrey II brings him fame, fortune and Audrey's love, just as long as he feeds him blood.

RSC release new Cymbeline trailer

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare's more rarely performed plays and it is a thought that seems to have struck several artistic directors as 2016 has seen three major productions announced. Dominic Dromgoole included it in his outgoing season of late plays at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (my review here), Emma Rice is transforming it into Imogen at the Globe later this autumn, and Melly Still is currently tackling the play for the RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 15th October.

The RSC's production will then transfer to London's Barbican for a limited season from 31st October until 17th December 2016 so you have no excuse not to do a compare and contrast exercise between the Globe and the RSC's approaches to the romance, power, jealousy, love and reconciliation of this surprising play. A trailer for Still's contemporary adaptation can be found below and all ticket information for both Stratford and London can be found here.


Monday, 22 August 2016

Review: Screens, Theatre503

"I'm a second generation immigrant, the generation that makes it or breaks it"

In its opening quarter, Stephen Laughton's Screens manages to be that rare thing indeed, a play that actually comes close to capturing the way in which technology has utterly transformed both our everyday behaviour and interpersonal relationships. Georgia Lowe's smartly spare design allows for Richard Williamson and Dan English's projections to take us through Al's faltering first steps into gay online dating on Grindr, Ayşe's hashtag-heavy documentation of her teenage strife on Instagram and crucially, a peek into their mother Emine's inbox on her brand-new smartphone

It's an ingenious route into the lives, both online and off, of this British Turkish Cypriot family living in Harlow but we soon come to see that Laughton's scope is wider, much wider, than this, as he folds in issues of the immigrant experience, splintered cultural identity, homophobia, post-Brexit racial antagonism and much more besides. Thus Screens becomes a highly ambitious piece of writing about the difficulties in finding your self when personal and political circumstances are in such flux. 

Review: The Collector, Vaults

"There are two sides to every story"

Based on the novel of the same name by John Fowles, The Collector is a psychological thriller that ultimately sits rather uncomfortably in this theatrical form. Max Dorey's extraordinarily detailed set sits well in the atmospheric surroundings of Waterloo's Vaults, setting the scene for creepy goings-on, but Mark Healy's adaptation loses the dual perspective of the novel and thus fatally upsets the storytelling balance. 

The Collector is a kidnap drama - Lily Loveless' Miranda has been abducted by butterfly enthusiast Frederick, a bumbling young man who is new to the kidnap game and is well portrayed by Game of Thrones star Daniel Portman in all his needy awkwardness. But where Fowles deepened his narrative by giving us an account of the story from both perspective, Healy draws the focus in and loses much of what makes these characters interesting.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #6

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Dorney Court, Berkshire
I'm becoming less and less tolerant of men taking women's roles, especially when there's no reciprocity, and as much as I like Paul Chahidi - I don't see why he gets to be one  of the titular merry wives here opposite Mel Giedroyc. Rebecca Gatward's fourth-wall smashing direction is very much in keeping with the Globe's often broad sense of comedy but for me, it lacks any subtlety at all.



Sunday, 21 August 2016

CD Review: An American Victory (2016 Concept Album)

“No way to change that now"

The art of the concept album can be a tricky one, as is evidenced on An American Victory, an album of 21 songs from a new musical written by first-time composer Louis R Bucalo. The show is set in 1801 in a time of lawlessness on the seas, Thomas Jefferson's government struggling to deal with the piracy that continually holds their ships to ransom at a time when money is scarce and the US navy is not yet fully in existence.

At least that's what the detailed synopsis tells us. One of the crucial problems with An American Victory is that you'd be hard-pressed to work out what is happening from these songs alone, they lack any kind of narrative impetus which is close to a fatal flaw when it comes to storytelling in musical theatre. Too little drama emerges from both music and lyrics, which leaves vast swathes of it feeling inert despite its occasionally stirring nature.

CD Review: Funny Girl (2016 London Cast Recording)

“So 'stead of just kicking me why don't they give me a lift?”

The Menier Chocolate Factory’s extremely well-received production of Funny Girl has been as much beleaguered as blessed as it wound its way into the West End, garnering acres of extra publicity that the show barely needed given its impressive ticket sales and subsequently announced UK tour. But so relentless has the focus been on leading lady Sheridan Smith and her absences from the show whilst looking after her mental health, that you begin to doubt the maxim that all publicity is good publicity.

Doubtless, a conversation needs to happen about the expectations that are raised when a show is sold on the name of its star. You can argue convincingly that a production is always bigger than its star name, and understudy Natasha J Barnes deservedly got much acclaim for filling in for Fanny but the case is undermined somewhat when the producers put that name above even the show’s title on the publicity (on Broadway, you’re entitled to a refund or exchange if an above-the-title star is off…).

Cast of Funny Girl (2016 London Cast Recording) continued