Friday, 22 December 2006

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, The Lowry

Having seen and loved Acorn Antiques The Musical when it played in London, despite a few misgivings about the first half, I was keen to ensure that we saw the touring version when it was announced and it fit in well with my Christmas plans to go and see it at the Lowry in Salford. Victoria Wood had obviously taken the (somewhat harsh) reviews to heart though as she has performed some major surgery on the show and the whole conceit of the first half has been removed: we open straight into Manchesterford and the goings-on at the antique shop.

Some of the songs from that original first half have been shoehorned into the story, the tap number is great fun though a bit of a stretch having the am-dram society rehearsing in the shop and other ones shifted around a bit. It still made me laugh, but I must admit to not finding it quite as funny as I did the first time round. And I suppose this is largely to do with the fact that this is a new cast that has been put together for this tour, which features none of the main principles.



Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Review: The Seafarer, National Theatre

Directed and written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson making his National Theatre debut here, The Seafarer is not normally the type of play I would go and see, but the offer of a spare ticket and a few gin and tonics won me over to making a wee trip to the Cottesloe at the National Theatre before heading home for Christmas.

Aptly, the play is set on Christmas Eve in an anodyne suburb somewhere north of Dublin and focusing on the return of Sharkey, an alcoholic recently returned to live with (and look after) Richard, his suffering older brother who went blind after a drunken incident with a skip. Two of Richard’s hard-drinking buddies drop by for a game of poker, bringing with them the temptation of drinking and unhappy memories as one of them is now shacked up with Sharkey’s wife. They also bring the mysterious Mr Lockhart with them whose presence poses an altogether different challenge.

Sunday, 12 November 2006

Review: Dirty Dancing, Aldwych

Much of the trumpeting around the arrival of the stage adaptation of the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing has been around its sensational advance box office takings, apparently the biggest in West End history. The film obviously holds a strong cachet amongst the 30-somethings who flocked to the cinema first time round, but I only hope that they emerge from the Aldwych theatre less appalled and dumb-founded than I that this has made it to the West End.

For those who aren’t aware, Dirty Dancing is a coming-of-age story, following the 17 year old Baby Houseman who is spending a family holiday in 1963 at a Butlins-type resort in upstate New York. She discovers love in the staff quarters there, her eye being particularly caught by the muscle-bound dance teacher Johnny.

Monday, 25 September 2006

Re-Review: Avenue Q again, Noël Coward Theatre

Well as predicted, we went back to this show which is close to being one of my favourite shows ever even after just the one viewing, with a new set of friends as I feel it is my duty to spread the word about this show. You can read what I thought about it on my earlier review, but it was interesting to note what I had neglected to mention first time round.

The Bad New Bears are close to being the funniest things in the show, a little too fond of the demon drink and getting people into trouble, they brighten up the already-bright stage with their YAYYY!!s no end. I loved the little bits that appear on the screens either side of the stage as well: I won’t give any of them away but they help with the clever allusion to this being an adult version of Sesame Street with its life lessons.


Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Review: The Seagull, National Theatre

I’m not hugely proud of it, but I feel I ought to be honest in telling you that we left this at the interval. Hence this review of Chekhov’s The Seagull is technically a review of the first half but wild horses could not have dragged us back into the Lyttelton at the National Theatre, no matter how much I love Juliet Stevenson. It is presented here in a new version by Martin Crimp, condensed and stripped of its location, so that it is now set in some unidentified locale, a non-specific netherland which was quite disorientating. And combined with Katie Mitchell’s highly individualistic approach to directing, it means that this is most definitely Chekhov with a twist.

And I didn’t like it. At all. So many of the directorial choices were just annoying: the tendency towards the naturalistic speaking style meant that far too many crucial lines were swallowed up, most criminally in Nina’s monologue; even when they were loud enough, the idea to have the domestic servants continually running across the stage throughout the scenes resulted in more distraction away from the clear delivery of lines; the dim lighting restricts how much of the actors’ faces you can see (on the one hand this forces you to watch their physical performance more, but on the other, for a lip-reader like me, it was a nightmare).

Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward Theatre

From the moment the posters went up advertising Avenue Q as Sesame Street for adults, I have been eagerly anticipating its arrival at the Noël Coward Theatre. And as it turns out, that description could not be more apt.

It plays as a coming-of-age story for young adults, poking fun at but also addressing semi-seriously the issues of leaving university and entering the daily grind, the anxieties of finding someone to love and also being comfortable in one’s own skin. It is sexually explicit in the funniest possible way and occasionally foul-mouthed but that just adds to the charm and the sense of realism that drives the show forward, even though it is puppets we are dealing with.


Friday, 12 May 2006

Review: The Crucible, Gielgud

Arthur Miller wrote the Crucible about the witchcraft trials that took place in Salem in the seventeenth century but at a time when America was gripped in the McCarthyite Communist hunt of the 1950s so much of its message was an attack on the contemporary situation thinly disguised with the veneer of historical parallel. This RSC production which has transferred to the West End after a very successful run is directed by Dominic Cooke.

A group of drunken women dancing naked in the woods late one night starts off rumours of witch-craft and devil-worshipping in the little village of Salem and so begins the witch hunt that ultimately leads to the torture and the execution of innocent men and women as hysteria takes over some and cold political survival dominates the elite’s response even at the expense of human life. It’s quite grim, but its power comes from the resonance that it still has today with the political situation in the USA.

Saturday, 22 April 2006

Review: Hay Fever, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Set in the country house of the Bliss family, Hay Fever is a comedy of bad manners and terribly bad behaviour, laced with Noël Coward’s cutting wit, set over a weekend from hell. In the cavernous Theatre Royal Haymarket, a strong cast is headed up by Dame Judi Dench as Judith Bliss.

Theatrical has-been Judith has not been taking to early retirement well and is hankering after a return to the stage as she’s had enough of her family. The play starts off with the family inviting various guests to stay for the weekend: Judith invites a fan, her husband has a ‘muse’ coming to visit and her son and daughter also invite a friend to stay, only trouble is, no-one has told anyone else they’re inviting anyone.

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Apollo

At three hours long with two intervals and some of the most vicious interplay on the stage, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is perhaps not for the faint-hearted. With an all-American cast headed by Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin, there is probably no more bruising experience currently in the West End, but it is well worth the effort.

Edward Albee’s 1962 play centres around George and Martha, an unhappily married couple for 23 years, who after an evening out invite a newly married couple who work in the same university department as George back to theirs for drinks. But when they start to fight in front of their guests, the poisonous atmosphere envelops all of them and really lays bare how much of a battle marriage can become. She drinks too much and enjoys the fighting, but George is equally complicit as this is the only kind of interaction that gets their juices flowing these days.

Friday, 20 January 2006

Review: And Then There Were None, Gielgud

There has been something a little snobbish about the reaction to And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie’s first appearance on the West End (the ever-long-running The Mousetrap notwithstanding) for quite some time. For all people’s talk that it is ‘just another Agatha Christie’, it is somewhat undermined by this above fact that her work is largely never revived in London and as for the dismissive assertions that it is just perfect for Middle England, I find that a horrendous attitude. There’s room enough for all kinds of theatre in London, and for people to like some or all of those kinds as they see fit: the idea that because something might be popular, it loses any artistic value is a perilous one and shockingly naïve given the economic realities of mounting West End shows.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, this is a new version of this show by Kevin Elyot who, according to my companion, has actually done very little updating or modernising in the end, instead relying on Christie’s intelligently intricate plotting and a very solid cast, to deliver the twists and shocks of this murder mystery set on an island. Opening with ten strangers sat around a dinner table, invited by a mysterious man Mr U N Owen, who are then picked off one by one according to the words of the nursery rhyme from which the title is taken.

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Review: As You Desire Me, Playhouse

A study of memory and identity and how truth is often just relative, Luigi Pirandello’s As You Desire Me is one of his lesser performed works, but presented in a new adaptation by Hugh Whitemore and directed by Jonathan Kent, it has quite the casting coup with both Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins as part of the company.

We first meet Scott Thomas as Elma, a singer in a sleazy 1930s Berlin night-club and living in a sado-masochistic relationship with a man Salter and his lesbian daughter Mop who is also attracted to her. A man appears and tells her that she is, in fact Lucia, the wife of an Italian aristocrat. She was the victim of an appalling assault during the First World War and, as a result, lost her memory. But when she goes to Italy to pursue this dream new life, she finds unexpected problems and disappointments.

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre

From where preconceptions come I am not entirely sure, but I’ve never been a fan of Ibsen’s plays even when they come as highly recommended as this production of Pillars of the Community at the National Theatre. The play marks the centenary of Ibsen’s death and is apparently one of his lesser performed works, something that doesn’t always inspire the greatest of confidences.

The play centres around Karsten Bernick, an avaricious and deceitful man who has climbed the greasy pole to become something of a bigwig in his small Norwegian town and managed to create an allure of benevolence and good standing in the community. But skeletons in the closet have a way of re-emerging and when two members of his extended family, who know all of his dirty secrets, return from America, Bernick is challenged to discover just how far he is willing to go to protect his reputation and continue to ignore his conscience.



Cast of Pillars of the Community continued