Saturday, 15 December 2007

Review: Rent Remixed, Duke of Yorks

Many a musical has received a facelift, but none quite so dramatic or misguided as Rent Remixed, setting up shop at the Duke of Yorks. William Baker (director) and Steve Anderson (musical arranger) are perhaps better known as part of the creative team behind Kylie Minogue but are responsible here for reinterpreting Jonathan Larson’s much loved Rent for a younger generation.

The original itself is a rough reworking of La Bohème, celebrating the lives of a group of sexually ambiguous, bohemian New Yorkers, eking out a living on the breadline and devastated by the arrival of HIV and AIDS. And whilst this is ostensibly the same show, the process of ‘remixing’ has ended up with curious results.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Review: Christmas in New York, Lyric

Continuing my obsession with all things Avenue Q or at least vaguely connected, we trotted off to the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to Christmas in New York, a show of Christmas music ranging from traditional carols to thoroughly modern musical theatre numbers. The Q connection comes from Julie Atherton who alongside Paul Spicer is a founder member of Notes from New York, the company behind this annual show whose remit is to promote contemporary musical theatre composers.

It was a highly enjoyable evening in which the talent onstage was clear with a range of West End stars, singing a mix of solos, duets and group numbers accompanied by a large choir giving huge glorious voice to several of the songs. Spicer and Atherton fronted up the ensemble but they far from hogged the limelight as many others, like Emma Williams, Melanie La Barrie and Oliver Tompsett, got their turn too.

Writers of Christmas in New York

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Review: Cloud Nine, Almeida

Every year, my sisters and I are treated to a Christmas show by our Aunty Jean and with the scheduling difficulties and train timetables (they all live in the North-West), our choice ended up being Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine at the Almeida, a somewhat different choice to our usual fare, but one which proved to be enjoyable nonetheless.


The first act is set in a nineteenth century British colony somewhere in Africa where all manner of subversive behaviour threatens the traditional Victorian moral code, which with its male colonisation of women is hardly a bed of roses for everyone. Then the second half shifts to Clapham Common and the sexually liberated 1970s, but we retain the same characters, 25 years down their personal timelines. So the contrast in their behaviour is huge and a range of sexual and gender politics issues explored.


Sunday, 4 November 2007

Review: Shadowlands, Wyndhams

To be honest, I had to be somewhat dragged to see this show. I remember the film Shadowlands being out at the cinema and along with The Remains of the Day (also featuring Anthony Hopkins) neither one appealed to my teenaged self and that mentality remained with me even as this adaptation of William Nicholson’s play arrived at the Wyndhams Theatre. And boy am I glad that I allowed myself to be persuaded. I absolutely loved it and ended up crying bucketloads for almost the entire second half!

For the few who don’t know the plot, it concerns classic English novelist CS Lewis and his late-developing romance with American poet Joy Gresham, its an unexpected relationship for both of them, starting as a correspondence and then blooms into marriage. However Lewis’ Christian faith is severely tested when Joy is diagnosed with terminal cancer and everything he believed in is turned on its head.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward

I suppose I’m getting close to groupie status now, but what can I say, I really love this show! Again, not a huge amount to report in how the show remains a completely guilt-free feel-good pleasure and still as funny as ever, look in the archive for more in-depth writing. It was, however, pleasing to see that whilst Clare Foster was covering for Julie Atherton, I really didn’t mind too much and ended up being quite impressed by her performance. The debutants in the cast didn’t fare quite as well for me.



Making her professional stage debut in the role of Christmas Eve, Jennifer Tanarez is having something of a baptism of fire and she does look a little overwhelmed. Her nerves were far too apparent, resulting in her missing too many comedic notes but as her accent is completely garbled and unfocused, she fails to capture the lyrical dexterity and emotion needed to really deliver The More You Ruv Someone effectively and that song is the key to Christmas Eve.



Thursday, 11 October 2007

Review: Awake and Sing!, Almeida

Directed by Michael Attenborough who is clearly looking to throw the light on lesser known playwrights here in the UK, Clifford Odets is regarded as a modern great and as important as Eugene O’Neill in the development of modern drama yet remains relatively unknown here.

Set in the Depression era and following the fortunes of a Jewish family living in the Bronx, it centres around the huge matriarchal figure of Bessie, played by no other than Rizzo herself, Stockard Channing. She keeps her family close around her but they are a motley crew: her husband is a depressed failure, her father is a revolutionary dreamer, her son is disillusioned with life and her daughter has got herself knocked up. In economically incredibly difficult times, Bessie has to make tough decisions to secure the future she desires for everyone, even if it means over-riding their own wishes and desires.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Review: The Enchantment, National Theatre

Does context make a difference? Not knowing anything about Victoria Benedictsson, the Swedish writer of The Enchantment, would leave you thinking that this is just another tale of Nordic emotional angst, the doom and gloom we know from the likes of Strindberg and Ibsen. But there’s much more to it than that: Benedictsson herself had a scandalous affair with a critic which ended badly in him rejecting her both sexually and artistically and she consequently committed suicide just months after completing this play in 1888. Her story then formed the inspiration for both aforementioned writers: the seeds of both Miss Julie and Hedda Gabler could be said to arise from here.



The Enchantment is probably best described as semi-autobigraphical, clearly heavily informed by her own experiences but not a strict representation thereof. Caddish sculptor Gustave Alland captures the heart and mind of Louise Strandberg whilst she is recuperating in her brother’s Parisian art studio. She tries to forget him by fleeing back to her native Sweden and a life of domestic drudgery, but temptation is strong and she returns to surrender to an utterly unsuitable affair that cannot end happily.


Friday, 14 September 2007

Review: Les Misérables, Queens Theatre

No matter how many times I see this show, it never fails to move me: I just love it. It is like Teflon and I will not hear anything bad said about it: a great position for a wannabe reviewer I’m sure but hey, it’s my blog! On its revolving drum set, Les Misérables tells a story of romance and revenge set against the backdrop of the French revolution, two men pursue a vendetta over decades whilst revolutionaries fall in love and die in battle. And boy is it dark, one sometimes forgets just how dark it gets with death never far from any of the characters, making it compulsive viewing.

As a musical, I think it is one of the most rousing that there is. The ensemble numbers are just huge, and there’s so many of them that I get goosebumps virtually every 10 minutes. Do You Hear The People Sing, Red & Black, Look Down and possibly the best song in a musical ever, One Day More, all of them winners. And then there’s the solos, so many of them unfortunately famous as talent audition staples, but in their right context I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own are beautifully moving and Bring Him Home, when performed well as it is here, is a thing of falsetto wonder.


Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Ambassadors

Starting off at the Menier Chocolate Factory and transferring to the West End at the Duke of York’s, Little Shop of Horrors now has its third home in London at the Ambassadors and I have finally gotten round to seeing it. And boy am I glad that I did. 

It is a very sweetly composed story, straddling that not-so-well-trodden boundary between sci-fi and romance. Seymour, a down-on-his-luck orphan just scraping by in grim urban Skid Row, finds a special plant which happens to appear during a solar eclipse and suddenly everything in his life starts to improve. The flower shop where he works becomes more successful, he sees a way to rescue the girl he loves from afar from a violent relationship, but as always, there’s a downside to all of this and in this case, it is that the plant is a living, carnivorous one with a particular yen for human blood.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Review: The Hothouse, National Theatre

Pinter is one of those playwrights who I know I ought to like but I’ve never really got it with his plays, never had that light-bulb moment that made me see what others do in him. So quite why I let myself get talked into going to The Hothouse, a play he wrote in 1958 but didn’t get produced until 1980, I do not really know.

It is set in an undetermined institution, somewhere between mental institution and convalescent home I think, which is run by a staff who have more problems than those at Holby City and Casualty combined. When the governor decides to try and solve some of the problems when Christmas Day sees one inmate dying and another giving birth, it sets in chain a set of events that reveals how rotten each member of the staff is, no-one ends up being free from blame and an increasingly sinister tone leads to a bitter ending.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Continuation of the cast of Saint Joan


  • Continuation of the cast of Saint Joan

Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre

With Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw took the well-known story of Joan of Arc, a young peasant girl eventually sainted, who led the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years War and was repaid for her trouble by being declared a witch and burnt at the stake since she believed that she was being guided by the voice of God in her head, and created an all-too-human story filling in the gaps in the history with tales of conflicting institutions, personality clashes and a keen sense of humour of what her life must have been like.

The play is remarkably even-handed in that it presents all sides of the argument and never really comes down on the side of either Joan or her oppressors. There are no goodies and baddies here, just a girl who believes God is speaking to her and the machinery of Church and State who will do anything to ensure their power remains stable: Shaw’s message is that uncontrolled individualism threatens the established order and is rarely tolerated.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Review: The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder, National Theatre

The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder is a new play by Matt Charman, playing at the National Theatre and looking at whether polygamy is a valid or possible lifestyle choice in the middle of suburbia. Set in a regular house in Lewisham, Pinder and his wife Esther have not been able to have children, so he divorced her and married Fay who delivered a son, Vincent. However Esther didn’t move out and realising he was onto something here, Pinder repeats the trick twice more, filling his house with wives and children. But this alternative lifestyle has its downsides and two new arrivals threaten to upset the delicate balancing act.

Whilst an unbelievable concept, especially given Lamb’s average Joe looks and demeanour, Charman does well at spinning the web that holds them altogether. Sorcha Cusack’s childless earth mother who rather enjoys having a flock to tend over; Clare Holman’s Fay who masks her unease by drinking and sleeping around whilst fretting over her gangly awkward son (Adam Gillen, who is bizarrely brilliant); Martina Laird’s Lydia who was essentially just after a sperm donor. Enter Carla Henry’s Rowena, a heavily pregnant and emotionally and physically battered teenager who is welcomed into the strange state of affairs. This all kind of works and is surprisingly well executed.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Review: The Chalk Garden, Donmar Warehouse

The Chalk Garden is a 1955 play by Enid Bagnold, revived here by Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse and featuring a top-notch cast, not least of two women who are surely dames-in-waiting.

The plot starts with Mrs St Maugham’s attempt to employ a governess for her unruly granddaughter Laurel. Miss Madrigal is the successful applicant and brings with her, into this quirky English household, not least a wealth of knowledge about how to make things grow in the chalky soil of the garden. As Laurel and Miss Madrigal come to know more about each other, secrets begin to unfold and realisations occur as to how what needs to change in order to make everything right.


Sunday, 27 May 2007

Review: The Lady From Dubuque, Theatre Royal Haymarket

When Edward Albee’s 1980 play The Lady From Dubuque opened on Broadway, it lasted for just 12 performances. So I imagine they are hoping for a little more success with this production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket featuring a largely American cast, augmented by our very own Dame Maggie Smith. It is a much more challenging work than say Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but director Anhony Page is clearly up for the challenge.

The play starts at a strained party in Connecticut at which three couples have been playing 20 Questions with increasing rancour. It ends when Jo, the hostess who we find out is dying of cancer, can no longer bear her pain. Afterwards, a mysterious woman, the "lady from Dubuque", who insists she is the mother of the hostess, arrives with a companion and raises more difficult questions.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre

Based on a well respected (although I’d never heard of it, let alone seen it) film, A Matter of Life and Death sees Cornish theatre company Kneehigh take the cavernous Olivier theatre by storm with a highly inventive and physical reinterpretation of this story. Peter, a World War II pilot is shot down whilst on a mission but doesn’t die because the angel sent to collect him gets lost in the fog. Instead, he meets and falls in love with June, the radio operator who tried to help him down. Peter is then forced to plead his case in the court of Heaven to see how his future will play out.

As the romantic leads, both Tristan Sturrock as Peter and Lyndsey Marshal as June seemed a little overwhelmed by the production, not really able to give us much of a sense of the relationship between the two and too often required to do something gymnastic or wacky instead of focusing on the emotion of the moment. In the more light-hearted characters, like Douglas Hodge’s Frank and Gisli Örn Gardarsson’s gymnastic Conductor, there’s more freedom and opportunity for fun, but by and large this wasn’t a production about strong acting.

Personally, I was not a fan of it; I found the show too long to run without an interval and thought that there was just generally too much faffing around. The focus seemed to be on creating spectacle after spectacle, so a table tennis match becomes a huge event and there’s an evocation of an aeroplane using burning rubbish bins and nurses pedalling upside down on bicycles (I must admit I had to have this explained to me, I couldn’t see the plane without being told!): it’s all done on an admirably epic scale but to me it had little heart or real meaning. And whilst the use of a live band onstage was initially a nice touch but stylistically, their accompaniment jarred badly as it covered a multitude of musical styles with no coherence, some poorly judged ‘comic’ songs and was frequently distractingly loud.

So not one of my favourites by any means, but then my companion absolutely adored it, so obviously something of the Marmite about this one!







Cast of A Matter of Life and Death continued

Friday, 18 May 2007

Review: On The Town, Coliseum

I can’t honestly tell you what it was that attracted me by buy tickets for On The Town at the Coliseum: the chance to make my first trip to this venue, the cheap balcony seats, Leonard Bernstein’s name or maybe it was just the hot guy in a sailors uniform on the poster, but I have never been so glad to take a punt on something unknown as I was here. This is proper old-school Broadway musical entertainment at its dazzling best, perhaps unsurprising given Bernstein’s pedigree. The combination of a huge ensemble with a full orchestra means the total personnel involved is over 100 which is mightily impressive and lends an epic scale to the set pieces and Stephen Mears’ excellently choreographed routines. And it was all the more so considering I wasn’t expecting any of it!

We’re in 1944 and three sailors have just 24 hours of leave to kill in New York and they decide to use it on looking for a girl. It is a simple premise, but one given wonderful life here as the guys variously drink in the sights of the city, sample its cultural delights, chase some skirt but also keep an eye out for romance too. All fun and games but this production never loses sight of the fact that we’re smack in the middle of World War II and that the solace these men are looking for is a strictly temporary measure and so there’s a real bittersweet kick to proceedings that lends a real depth to the show.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Review: The Letter, Wyndhams

Based on a real life scandal, Somerset Maugham’s The Letter takes place in the house of a plantation owner, Robert Crosbie, and his wife Leslie in the British colony of Malaya in the 1920s. With her husband away on business, Leslie claims that she shot a mutual friend, Geoff Hammond, in self-defence, following an attempted rape, and the play focuses on the steps taken by the wife's lawyer to convince the court of her innocence. Matters are complicated somewhat following the discovery of an incriminating letter which throws doubt on her innocence and her lawyer is forced to make a huge decision in order to save her.

I imagine that Jenny Seagrove is aiming for impassive here as Leslie, but just comes across as wooden and completely devoid of emotion. It is as stiff a performance as I have ever seen, she never feels relaxed or comfortable on the stage and it was quite hard to watch. Matters are not helped by the plummy accents which permeate this production, but lend it the air of farce. Anthony Andrews was just dull as the lawyer who faces a dilemma and I didn’t give two hoots about him in the end. Jason Chan’s Chinese lawyer clerk does well to try and rise above the questionable racial stereotyping; Andrew Charleson’s blindly devoted husband is fine and Peter Sandys-Clarke’s British consul was nicely observed. 

Friday, 11 May 2007

Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Novello

Direct from Broadway and originally written as a skit for a stag party, The Drowsy Chaperone (a musical within a comedy it claims) comes to London delivering 90 minutes of huge amounts of fun, though not quite the Elaine Paige star vehicle one might have imagined.

The show itself has a relatively simple plot, following the wedding day of pampered starlet Janet Van De Graaff who is about to give up show business to marry the dashing Robert Martin on the estate of ditzy Mrs Tottendale. Making life a little difficult for them is an array of odds and sods each with their own agendas, Janet’s producer who wants to stop the wedding, the outrageous Adolpho, Janet’s gin-drinking titular chaperone and a whole load of others beside. But where the show stands out is having it all narrated by Man in Chair.

Cast of The Drowsy Chaperone continued

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Review: Evita, Adelphi

I was adamant that I didn’t want to see this production of Evita for so long and I am not really sure why. But having announced its closure and with some good ticket deals floating around, I finally took the plunge and boy, was I wrong. Central to this revival of the 1978 Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice collaboration was the casting of the Argentinean Elena Roger to take on the title role of this rags to riches story of the second wife of Argentinean president Juan Perón, Eva Duarte, whose controversial rise to power captured the hearts of some, thoroughly alienated others but ensured her a lasting legacy as one of the most colourful political leaders. 

From the opening number, I could feel something exciting happening, a certain energy on the stage, which then exploded in a joyous version of Buenos Aires filled with ecstatic singing, tight Latin-inspired choreography and I just loved it, I was ready for giving a standing ovation from then on! The incorporation of a real Latin American feel into both the music and choreography gives the show a real injection of authenticity which lifts it into the stratosphere. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Review: The Rose Tattoo, National Theatre

The Rose Tattoo, one of Tennessee Williams’ earlier plays, is a life-affirming tale of sexual passion, love, betrayal and dealing with loss. Sadly, the original director Steven Pimlott died earlier this year, meaning Nicholas Hytner had to take up the reins at the National Theatre, working with his friend’s notes and paying tribute to his memory in a most fitting way.

Set in the Sicilian community in New Orleans, the story follows Serafina della Rose, an exotic seamstress who when widowed struggles to balance cherishing his memory with actually living life. She locks herself away and this affects her daughter Rosa from enjoying life too, but when a buffoonish, tattooed truck driver arrives in town, something inside Serafina begins to stir which is good timing for Rosa as a hunky sailor named Jack catches her eye.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Re-Review: Avenue Q again again! Noël Coward Theatre

So, up to my third trip to Avenue Q now with yet another group of people to whom I have raved about this show: I feel I ought to get some kind of commission at this rate. This will be a short piece as you can read my earlier two reviews which cover the production in much more depth.

The only notable change is the first major cast replacement with Ann Harada, who came over from the New York cast when this first opened, leaving the role of Christmas Eve to be replaced with Naoko Mori, who is perhaps most famous from her role in Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. Making a completely different visual impact and bringing a different comic sensibility to the part, Mori impressed despite perhaps not inspiring the same vocal confidence as Harada.

In terms of the show, it still fills my heart with absolute joy, full of laugh-out-loud moments, lyrics that remain witty as ever and some of the most hard-working actors on the stage, manipulating puppets, covering more than one role and making it all seem completely effortless. So in case it isn’t obvious, I still heartily recommend this show and at this rate, you may still bump into me making yet another trip!

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Review: The Man of Mode, National Theatre

The Man of Mode is a Restoration comedy of 1676 by George Etheredge, but has been given a thorough makeover here by Nicholas Hytner in a modern-day version which is playing in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. 

The story centres around the bed-hopping Dorimant, played here by an often shirtless, toned tattooed Tom Hardy who in a nutshell, is sleeping with Mrs Loveit, but in the midst of dumping her to sleep with Belinda, but also hunting after Harriet whom he wants to marry. So we follow Dorimant and his motley crew of followers and hangers-on from party to fashion shoot to opening in their world of wealth and celebrity. Played against this is the story of one of the followers Bellair, who is trying to escape an arranged marriage so he can pursue his true love (who his father also fancies), setting this in as Asian community as both stories wind their way to farcical ends.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Review: Avenue Q Lurvefest, Delfont Room

Continuing the massive love-in that I have for Avenue Q, when I heard about this late night cabaret show by the cast on Valentine’s Day at the Delfont Room, I had no doubt in my mind about booking. And it was well worth it as it turned out to be a brilliant and hugely amusing night, full of great singing. It played as a total assortment of things, with cast members mixing up serious heartfelt renditions of songs with personal meaning to witty interpretations of songs from other songs, both solo and in groups and of course some serious puppet play as the more furry characters from Avenue Q also took time out of their busy schedules to give us a number or 3.

I didn’t take notes as we were stood up for the show and it was the kind of night where I just wanted to soak it all up and enjoy it with my partner for once. It may not have been the most romantic way to spend Valentine’s, although I don’t think we ever thought it would be as it was frequently hysterical. So this is more a recollection of highlights from the evening than a full review.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Review: Thérèse Raquin, National Theatre

Thérèse Raquin was originally a novel by Emile Zola but he adapted it into a play himself, though the version that is being put on here by Marianne Elliott at the National Theatre is one by Nicholas Wright, who worked absolute wonders translating Philip Pullman’s epic His Dark Materials trilogy into one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. The story follows the doomed antics of a couple embroiled in an adulterous affair and the devastating consequences of not being able to live with what they’ve done.


Maybe it was a consequence of not knowing the novel rather than it being a weakness of the play, but I didn’t like the fact that we entered the story at the mid-point, so that the love triangle had already mostly played out with Thérèse already tumbled for Laurent and Grivet cuckolded. I wanted to see more of this build-up to get a better sense of the characters and their motivations: as it was, I didn’t really believe in the erotic drive between the lovers, nor saw the side to the husband that forced such a dark decision as the one they carried out. Having to accept all this as a fait accompli and making the focus of the play the moral reaction to their dastardly deed felt slightly skewiff to me and this I didn’t much care for it, or them.