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.