Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Review: Three Days in May, Richmond Theatre

“It is refreshing to work with somebody who refuses to be depressed even by the most formidable danger that has ever threatened this country”

Set predominantly in the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street between 26th and 28th May 1940, at a point when Hitler’s lightning sweep through Europe had pushed Belgium and France to the point of surrender and trapped large numbers of British troops, Ben Brown’s new play Three Days in May looks at the weight of responsibility that fell on Churchill and his War Cabinet. Behind closed doors, the prospect of going it alone against the Nazis was weighed up against the possibility of suing for some kind of peace terms at a pivotal point in British history, played here in a Bill Kenwright production at Richmond Theatre, part of a UK tour.

There is little drama in Brown’s play – given that much of the history is well-trodden territory and the ‘action’ revolves around a series of Cabinet meetings and the politicking inbetween, this is hardly surprising. But there’s little attempt by Brown, or by director Alan Strachan to really address this through an alternative approach and so what we are presented with is curiously flat and weighed down through overuse of silences. Imposing a narrator – Churchill’s young private secretary Jock Colville – to frame the play and loading him with exposition and historical detail makes for a difficult opening, more akin to a history lesson, and the first act – perhaps even the entire play – never really escapes this to kick into life.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

CD Review: Connie Fisher – Secret Love

“The only time I'm happy is when I'm dreaming in the past”

A bit of a random one but I do have a sneaking regard for Connie Fisher. As the first of the winners of Lloyd-Webber’s TV casting shows, she’s taken a lot of stick despite being genuinely talented – I don’t think anyone could argue she didn’t deserve to win – but she has struggled to escape the shadow of The Sound of Music and her much-publicised vocal problems have garnered a little too much glee than is strictly tasteful, in my opinion at least.

Anyhoo, Secret Love was her second album, and though it does not feature the most adventurous of song selections – there’s a lot of standards and Lloyd Webber (surprise...) on here, but it is all rather appealingly sung and Fisher’s warm voice makes this a CD I do rather enjoy listening to. Classics like I Could Have Danced All Night and Someone To Watch Over Me are given rich, laidback interpretations which she sings effortlessly, gliding over with a lovely warmth and relaxed confidence. The heartbreaking When She Loved Me by Randy Newman from Toy Story 2 soars here in a beautiful version as does a lush-sounding Secret Love, indeed Doris Day’s wholesome image seems a perfect fit for Fisher and the oeuvre she is marking out for herself.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Review: The Faith Machine, Royal Court

“Certainty is a state of mind, faith is a state of heart. There’s a marked difference, I believe.”

I wavered about the status of this review/not-a-review as the performance of the Royal Court’s The Faith Machine that I saw had to be delivered under house lights without any of Neil Austin’s lighting design since a heavy downpour in the afternoon had put the lighting rig out of action which was a shame as Mark Thompson’s design looks intriguing. Indeed, the rain continued to drip onto the stage throughout the show and so the actors had a fair amount to contend with whilst still working things out in this preview. We did still pay full price though so I am not feeling totally forgiving: so I’ve called it a review, but the focus will mainly be on the play itself rather than the production.

Alexi Kaye Campbell scored a massive hit with his first play The Pride back in 2008 and the play recently had its regional premiere which I was able to catch in Sheffield and I was vastly impressed by the maturity of the writing and its refusal to settle for easy answers. Thus the anticipation for The Faith Machine was quite high, especially with a cracking cast like the one put together here for Jamie Lloyd’s production. 

Friday, 26 August 2011

Review: Bernarda Alba, Union Theatre

“Where will you turn when the house of Bernarda falls”

After establishing quite the name for itself with its all-male interpretations of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work, the Union Theatre are now letting the women have their turn with Triptic’s production of Michael John LaChiusa’s chamber musical Bernarda Alba. Based on García Lorca‘s The House of Bernarda Alba set in 1930s Spain, this condensed version – directed by Katherine Hare in 90 minutes without interval – captures the claustrophobia and the knife’s-edge balance of this group of women with a score replete with Iberian influences and near-operatic intensity.

Following the death of her husband, Bernarda Alba rises to the position of head of her household of five daughters and team of female servants but her strict matriarchal rule is challenged by the arrival of a man – unseen – into their lives. In Hilary Statt’s wonderfully austere, white-washed design, we explore the repressed desires of each of these women, all bristling in their different ways under the harshness of their mother’s rule as old resentments simmer, sexuality promises to burst loose and mental fragility seriously threatened in this tale of "a happy, happy family".

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Review: Halcyon Days - Riverside Studios

“Straddle me like a horse and squeeze”

Written in 2004 in response to a spate of teenage suicides in Japan, incidents connected to a rise in websites set up to share techniques and enable people to come together in group suicides, Shoji Kokami’s Halcyon Days is now receiving its English-language premiere at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith after being well received in his native Japan. Treading a fine line between dark yet broad comedy and bleak ruminative tragedy, Kokami’s play follows four people who encounter each other on a such a suicide website and decide to meet up to go through with the deed.

But things aren’t quite as simple as they seem. One of the four is actually a ghost; not everyone is quite as keen on dying as the others and in the act of coming together, the interactions between this group as they push and pull their way towards death, via rehearsing a Japanese fairytale, reveals some of the complex emotions and motivations behind the suicidal tendencies, which play out for all of them in unexpected ways.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Review: Don Giovanni – Soho Theatre

“How’s your moral compass doing now?”

After the Olivier Award winning success of La Bohème and spearheading a whole new trend in fringe opera, OperaUpClose have collaborated with Soho Theatre for this new production of Mozart’s classic, Don Giovanni, in a new version (and English translation) by Robin Norton-Hale who also directs.

Updating and streamlining the story of the titular ruthless lothario to a pre-credit crunch London, this version makes Johnny a city trader looking for easy pickings to add to the endless notches on his multiple bedposts and searching for ever more high-stakes thrills. Accompanied by the ever-faithful Alexander, the original’s manservant being translated a little tenuously to an intern here, they move from Sloane Square dinner parties to Soho nightclubs, Johnny leaving hearts broken and lives destroyed in his wake but not even he can avoid having to pay the price.



Sunday, 21 August 2011

Review: Summer with the Composers, Battersea Barge via britishtheatre.tv

The Battersea Barge has seen quite a few cabarets over the summer but the producers behind the latest – Summer with the Composers – have taken things a step further and offered a live-streaming service of the show, completely free of charge, with which it could be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. I’m not technologically minded enough to know whether it was my laptop being slow or the recording itself that wasn’t the clearest quality, but it feels churlish to complain that it wasn’t crystal clear considering it was all free and in any case, the sound quality was excellent.
The evening was focused on four leading lights of new British musical theatre writing: Grant Olding, Dougal Irvine, Laurence Mark Wythe and Tim Sutton and showcasing their work in a variety of ways from shows that have made it onto the stage, shows that are still in development, some which never made it out of the rehearsal room and a few one-offs, including one written especially for the Dress Circle Benefit gig a couple of weeks ago. Special guests Samantha Barks, Annalene Beechey, George Ure and Stephen Ashfield sang a selection of the songs but the composers themselves also had a go at singing each other’s songs.

CD Review: London Road cast recording

“Begonias, and... petunias, and... um, impatiens and things”
Capitalising on the unexpected runaway success of London Road, the National Theatre have now released a cast recording of the verbatim musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork. I revisited the show last week – review can be read here – and so it was quite nice to be able to get this more permanent reminder. It is such an unconventional suite of music but as with anything, repeated exposure brings about a kind of familiarity and so the musical vocabulary used here has now been assimilated, its complexity less bamboozling now and a greater appreciation easier to reach.

The show looks at the sense of community that is built up amongst the residents of London Road in Ipswich as the impact of the murder of 5 prostitutes flows out around them: the road had been where the prostitutes touted for business and it eventually turned out that the murderer, Steve Wright, had recently moved into a house on their street. But the play avoids sensationalism and focusing on the murders and murderer by centring on this group of residents and how they felt as the murders were happening and then their lives turned upside down by the revelation that Wright was living in their midst and the media furore that surrounded the ensuing trial.

Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium

“And my head I'd be scratchin' while my thoughts were busy hatchin'

I could have quite happily given The Wizard of Oz a miss, it wasn’t ever really on my list of shows to see but the combined news of a visit from a family member who wanted to see it and Hannah Waddingham’s imminent departure from the ensemble meant that I found myself there on a Saturday evening... There’s something a little odd about its choice as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s third reality casting show, Over the Rainbow, as the show is not really a fully-fledged musical, no matter how famous some of the songs but he persevered nonetheless. What is even odder is his assembly of a strong musical theatre cast around the eventual winner, Danielle Hope, given the paucity of many of the roles around Dorothy.



Lloyd-Webber’s way around this has been to write new songs, with long-standing lyricist Tim Rice, to beef up the roles of characters like the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West and justify the casting of Michael Crawford and Hannah Waddingham respectively. But despite looking a picture with some tricksy staging and wirework, the end result is curiously banal, exceedingly bland and one which rarely excited me. The focus is so much on the stagecraft that the heart of the story is rarely engaged: Hope’s Dorothy is sweet but rarely interesting, there’s little of the ‘star quality’ evident this evening but then the role is not one that really encourages it; Michael Crawford made very little impact either as the Wizard or the cameos as Ozians and so it went, emotion taking second-place to spectacle.


Cast of The Wizard of Oz continued



Cast of The Wizard of Oz continued



Cast of The Wizard of Oz continued



Saturday, 20 August 2011

Re-review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare's Globe

"They see you as a hussy who planned to get your claws into the King from the moment you came to Court"

Another revisit to a play in a month that has seen a fair few and once again, it was to a play I hadn't intended to see for a second time. This time it was Howard Brenton's Anne Boleyn which premiered at the Globe last summer and which seriously impressed as a piece of new writing which managed to bring a potentially very dry historical subject to vibrant life, both enlightening and amusing audiences in equal measure and earning its star, the luminous Miranda Raison, a Best Actress fosterIAN nomination. When it was first announced that it was returning as part of the 2011 Globe Season, the lacking of accompanying casting news led me (and others) to suspect that she would not be returning with the production and so I was quite happy not to bother seeing it again. Sod’s law dictated that Raison did indeed return though and so my resistance was quickly work down and a visit made to the penultimate performance of the run.

My review from last year can be read here and little has changed in that I really did love it just as much second time round. I’d forgotten just how witty it was from start to finish and just how well-written the whole thing is, but particularly the role of Anne. It really is a superb part, shedding a brand new light on a historical figure of whom so much has already been said, but Brenton makes a convincing case for her as a truly unique figure, dazzling with intelligence but also possessed of reckless abandon in the pursuit of her goals. And Miranda Raison breathes such delightful life into her portrayal, brimming with self-confidence and a self-assurance that allows her to dominate Henry VIII for years whilst his divorce with ‘the Aragon cow’ is sorted out yet makes her entirely likeable.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Cast of South Pacific continued



Review: South Pacific, Barbican

“You can't light a fire when the wood is all wet"

It will be interesting to see how many, if any, of the print critics make reference to one of the most significant aspects of the Barbican’s import of the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific: the ticket prices. The majority of the stalls is priced at £85, making the slightly restricted view seats a whopping £65 and you have to go up to the upper circle before prices start to drop. Not willing to spend so much, we went for the second-cheapest option, up in the balcony / gallery - £20 seats which were reduced to £16 with my membership – rather disgracefully the membership discount only being applicable to the first four performances, thus this is a preview being reviewed here. But credit where it’s due, the seats were just like the normal ones, comfortable with lots of leg room and you really are not that far away from the stage at all: it is so nice to find a venue with cheap seats that don’t take the p*ss out of the audience member and their comfort.

But to the show. This was an extremely well-received production in New York, winning a handful of Tonys and running for 2 years, and so Bartlett Sher has sought to recreate its success for this engagement at the Barbican ahead of a UK tour, even bringing over three members of the original cast. There’s apparently 40 people in the cast (though I counted a few less) and an orchestra of 25 so words like lavish and breathtaking are being thrown around, presumably to mitigate for the pricing, though it is not evident that much investment has gone into the set design... It is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most well known musicals, last seen in London ten years ago at the National Theatre but that was before my time here.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Re-review: Les Misérables, Queens


“Who is this man, what sort of devil is he?”

An unscheduled visit back to this old stalwart for me as I took a friend’s last minute spare albeit with not just a little hesitation: the cult of Alfie Boe has not quite won me over yet... Les Misérables has been one of those shows that has present in my life for as long as I can remember really, having seen it countless times but my love for it had become a little comfortable, a little by rote, and so it was most lovely to have the truly fantastic 25th Anniversary touring production last year remind me just why I felt this way about the show, seeing it at the Barbican really was one of the highlights of my year. What was remarkable was that it played in conjunction with the West End production at the Queen’s so there were two versions running in London at the same time, all topped off with a pair of celebratory concerts at the O2.

Keen to keep the momentum going with this show and responding to how well-received the anniversary activity was, producer Cameron Mackintosh has instigated something of an overhaul to the West End production, hoping to transfer some of that energy and freshness by incorporating the new orchestrations, increasing the size of the orchestra back up to 14 and a cast change which brings back some familiar faces (in new roles) and also allowing some of the new faces – Alfie Boe, Matt Lucas – from the concert to play the roles for real this time.

Review: Parade, Southwark Playhouse

“It means the journey ahead might get shorter, I might reach the end of my rope”

Hardly the sunniest of topics for a musical, Jason Robert Brown’s Parade is based on the true 1910s story of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman who is accused of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a 13 year old employee in his factory. How the trial unfolds in Atlanta, Georgia and its impact ripples out, characterises a Deep South rife with virulent anti-Semitism, whipped up by a sensationalist media and fomented by opportunistic politicians and Leo, with his wife Lucille, are swept along with the inescapable tide. This new production is presented in the Vault at Southwark Playhouse, a dark spare space of shadowy arches and echoing sound.

It is a beautifully complex score – one which would reward repeated listening I imagine – pulling in influences from a diverse range of sources, evoking emotion well but more crucially constantly pushing the story forward. Because if there’s a weakness it is that the central premise is fairly limited, the same points are made repeatedly in lieu of much by the way of actual drama. But directed by Thom Southerland, the show really sparkles when it centres on the marriage between Brooklynite Leo and Southern gal Lucille, his bookish dullness captured well by Alistair Brookshaw and contrasted by the openness of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s stunningly-voiced wife whose relentless drive to clear his name wakens a new, deeper love between the two.

Cast of Parade continued

Monday, 15 August 2011

Re-review: London Road, National (and thinking about riots)

“If you make your house look nice, if you feel good about where you live, you’ll en- you’ll enjoy life a whole lot better”

I hadn’t intended to revisit London Road at the National Theatre even as it scored a much-deserved extension to its run: I adored its daring invention and its deep empathy for its protagonists when I first caught the show at the Cottesloe, but when a ticket on the ultra-bargainous row T popped up on the website (seriously, this is one of the best theatre tips you will get) I just couldn’t resist returning. And it was well worth it. It is such a unique show with surprising levels that it was a real pleasure to take it in a second time, from a different seat too, to soak in some of the details that had passed me by first time round and gain a slightly different perspective on it too.

My original review can be read here and it is interesting looking back at what stood out for me about it on first viewing and how much my opinion was reinforced second time around. Kate Fleetwood and Clare Burt broke my heart all over again with their portrayals, but I really did notice how good everyone is in the show, Rosalie Craig too but particularly the men whom I previously neglected a bit, Hal Fowler struggling to get a word in edgeways, Paul Thornley’s handsome normality, Duncan Wisbey’s blokiness. And having heard the music once, it was interesting to see how much familiarity there was given how untraditional the score is, the repetition of key phrases having earwormed their way into my brain, combined with some just beautiful harmonisation: 'London Road in bloom' is probably the prime example of the quirkiness and emotional power of the music and highly effective in demonstrating early on the potential of this verbatim musical artform. 

Review: Dames at Sea, Union


“So sweet and soft and gentle,
My favourite Oriental”

The Union Theatre have definitely identified their niche in London’s cluttered theatre landscape: small-scale revivals of musicals that might otherwise have languished in obscurity with productions that are big on ambition. The latest show to get the Union St treatment is Dames at Sea, a 1966 parody of 1930s musicals with book and lyrics by George Haimshon and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise which much like The Drowsy Chaperone, grew from its beginnings as a short sketch into a full show.

Though it was entertaining enough, I couldn’t help but feel that this was the Union treading water rather than blowing our socks off with something great. The piece itself is a show about putting on a show – it feels like they all are at the moment! – the cast of a musical have to find a new venue as their theatre is being pulled down but the arrival of a ship full of sailors with connections to the chorus offers a solution. Stuffed full of clichés from the small-town girl arriving on Broadway with nothing but her dreams, the big diva who then feels threatened, the sailor who just happens to be an amazing songwriter, chance meetings with former partners a-plenty, the list goes on…

CD Review: Scott Alan – Dreaming Wide Awake

“I have fought, I have cried.
I've been broke, I've been bruised.
Yet at the end of the day
This life is what I still choose.”



I was recommended this Scott Alan CD, Dreaming Wide Awake, by a reader who like me wasn’t a huge fan of Tim Prottey-Jones’ album which I reviewed last week and claimed that US composers were basically better all round. Whereas that sentiment made me automatically want to not bother, I do love a good recommendation and Scott Alan is one of those composers of whom I’ve heard a fair bit without having actually engaged with his music or any of his shows. Alan is a lyricist and composer who has written a handful of shows but more recently, his output seems to have been channelled into collections of his work on CD: he is now up to his third, of which Dreaming Wide Awake is the first.



I’m not going to get sucked into a US/UK debate here, there’s room in my heart to like all sorts of different things for different occasions, but I do have to say that this is an album which pretty much blew me away from first listen. Opening with the punchily brilliant I’m A Star by Eden Espinosa, it is clear that Alan is unafraid of showing emotion in all its colours through his writing. I’m A Star is the kind of song to get pulses racing with its determined dreams of success and one I’m surprised I haven’t heard in a cabaret set (yet). Tracie Thoms’ Let Love Begin has a driving tunefulness and there’s a great comic number in the countering viewpoints of At Seventeen.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Review: On The Record, Arcola


“I just think it’s my right to talk, to be free, to write. I’m not special, I just decided to do this”

iceandfire are a theatre company dedicated to exploring stories about the struggle for human rights through performance. Their latest work, which has now just closed at the Arcola, was On the Record by Christine Bacon and Noah Birksted-Breem, a mixture of verbatim work and theatrical reconstructions following the stories of six investigative journalists battling to expose their horrific stories from across the globe. 

Their reports are first given under the pretext of a conference on press freedom, indicating the importance of reporting free from undue influence, to tell the stories we might not want to hear but which we simply must. Then from Sri Lanka to Iraq, Mexico to Russia and the Middle East, we see each of them at work, risking their lives in a multitude of ways from a multitude of enemies.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Review: Anna Christie, Donmar Warehouse

“If your oath is no proper oath at all, I’ll have to be taking your naked word for it and have you anyway”

Generally speaking I try to avoid reading anything about a show, especially reviews, before I’ve seen it and written about it as despite the best of intentions, one always ends up parroting certain views as one’s own and this blog is meant to be about my opinion on shows. But the internet and Twitter in particular makes that increasingly difficult these days and earlier this week I’d been notified of Billington’s 5 star review for the Guardian and the tantalising promise of a ‘glistening torso’ which meant my already-keen anticipation for the Donmar Warehouse’s Anna Christie increased just that little bit more! 

As part of his farewell season, Michael Grandage is pulling out the big guns and this features the return of two big name alumni for the Donmar – Jude Law has been getting much of the attention, he was an excellent Hamlet in the Donmar's West End season, but also Ruth Wilson, slightly less heralded though criminally so, as she is one of the brightest acting talents we have in this country, her Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire earning her an Olivier.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Review: The Wolf, Network Theatre

"A small Balkan nation lost their independence for you"

There’s a real sense of being in a place one ought not to be with the Network Theatre. On a road which doesn’t appear on any maps and down a service tunnel alongside and under Waterloo station, the unassuming door leads into a converted arch which is the home for a company, Southern Railway Dramatic Society, who have been going since 1939. Other companies also put on shows there like the Sturdy Beggars who return here with this production of Ferenc Molnár's The Wolf.

Molnár is a Hungarian writer – one of their most beloved apparently – whose influence has been felt in adaptations of his work from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel to Tom Stoppard’s Rough Crossing¬ but The Wolf has not been performed in the UK since the early 70s. Exploring the delicate balance of keeping a marital relationship working in the face of insecurities and long-hidden dreams, its portrait of the compromises and conflicting priorities feel as apposite today as it must have done at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Review: The Globe Mysteries, Shakespeare's Globe

“Open the clouds”

It is rare that one witnesses people encouraging the clouds to open at any performance at the Globe, it seems like a needless temptation of fate! But nevertheless, Tony Harrison works in the phrase into this play and on this occasion at least, the heavens did not open (although Mary did still get assumpted!) Starting off with God and the creation and whipping through key stories from the Bible – ostensibly with messages incorporated for us in modern life – until we reach the last judgement, The Globe Mysteries is Tony Harrison’s own adaptation of his 1977 version of The Mysteries for the National Theatre.

Played with a cast of 14 who cover over 60 roles between them, we move from the Garden of Eden through Noah to the birth and death of Jesus and then beyond. There’s a rough chronology which sees us sweeping through time so that we end up more or less in a modern-day setting around the time of Jesus’ death which means the whole range of the costume department is exploited. Harrison’s text is a rough kind of verse, with rhyming couplets and modern reference points aplenty but it is a deeply traditional set of stories which doesn’t take well to the transfer and overall, I found it to be rather problematic.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Review: Crazy for You, Open Air Theatre


“Dancing makes my troubles all seem tiny”

There’s no hiding the fact that the Open Air Theatre’s Crazy for You is pure hokum but for sheer escapist fun and a feel-good atmosphere that will whisk you away from the troubles outside of Regent’s Park for an evening, this will pretty much do the trick. Based on the George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, Ken Ludwig – he of the recently departed Lend Me A Tenor – wrote a new book in 1992, heavy on post-modern knowingness and light on substance: silly but fun – if you come here looking for authenticity you’re bound to be disappointed! 

Banker Bobby Child is forced to abandon his Broadway dreams and is dispatched to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theatre there. Sensing an opportunity as he falls head over heels with the daughter of the theatre’s owner, he decides to impersonate the Broadway impresario he longs to work for and arranges for a benefit show to be put on to save the theatre: madcap fun ensues with mistaken identities – clearly a Ludwig fave – at the fore. 

Cast of Crazy for You continued

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Review: Top Girls, Trafalgar Studios 1

“I couldn’t live a woman’s life, I just don’t understand it”

Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play Top Girls makes the seemingly de rigueur leap from Chichester to London, which so many of their productions seem to achieve, to play a 12 week run at the Trafalgar Studios. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark who also worked on the premiere at the Royal Court, the play looks at the roles that women play and the choices they have to make in order to get there. We were able to take advantage of a preview deal which got us great seats for £15 - thus this is a review of a preview, the show taking nearly 2 weeks to bed into the new venue.

Things open with businesswoman Marlene celebrating her promotion to MD of the Top Girls employment agency by holding a dinner party to which a number of historical figures have been invited. They are women from history, art, literature, who have all achieved great success but at a certain price. We then move to ‘real life’ where we see Marlene’s agency at work, advising women on how to get what jobs they want and the obstacles they will have to overcome. Marlene’s own life is also explored as her own choices are revealed, her relationships with her sister Joyce and the girl Angie whom she looks after.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Review: Blue Surge, Finborough

“I thought I could pay for something a little extra...”

Opening with a pair of botched raids on a massage parlour suspected of offering additional services, the Finborough’s latest UK premiere – that of Rebecca Gilman’s Blue Surge – bustles with relationships between cops and hookers, discussions about the American class system and exploring whether you can ever truly escape your past. Set in a mid-sized Midwestern city in the recent past, Curt is a hard-working honourable cop, who with his doofus of a partner Doug was responsible for ballsing up the raids and thus potentially jeopardising a promotion. They both find themselves drawn to two of the workers they encountered there though and whilst Doug falls into a relationship with the ditzy Heather, Curt tries to play the knight in shining armour and rescue Sandy, with whom he feels a great affinity, putting both his job and his relationship with fiancée Beth severely at risk.

For Beth is middle-class and choosing to slum it as an artist and Curt finds it impossible to really connect with her as he is from a solidly working-class background , his upbringing close to the poverty line and continuing, he believes, to shape his life even now. Connecting with Sandy, who reveals a similarly broken childhood which has directly resulted in her career choice, he sees a kindred spirit despite the 20 year age gap and a quirky relationship of sorts starts to grow between them. But whilst he wants to rescue her, she doesn’t actually want rescuing and so good-intentioned as he is, Curt’s actions threaten to jeopardise everything.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

CD Review: Tim Prottey-Jones – More With Every Line

“I know who you are and I know why you’re here”

On the face of it, Tim Prottey-Jones’ debut album More With Every Line ought to have been a no-questions-asked slam-dunk of a success with me, following on from other new musical theatre writers with star-studded line-ups on their albums – Michael Bruce and Lance Horne springing immediately to mind. Yet something about it didn’t quite work for me and after repeated listens, it still hasn’t emerged as an album that I am particularly fond of.

Prottey-Jones is a young composer, a drummer and guitarist as well as a singer, and this album is made up of songs taken from two musicals that are currently in development with his co-librettist and lyricist Robert Gould – After the Turn and Once Bitten. And it is these two points between them that I think are shaping my opinion. The music is largely pop/rock which really just isn’t my thing at all and as these are shows in development, this is music which hasn’t necessarily been much exposed to the rigours of external ears.

More With Every Line continued

Review: The Swan, National Theatre

Second up in Double Feature 1 is DC Moore’s The Swan. Set in a South London pub, much as his brilliant one-man show Honest was, the scene is the morning of a funeral and preparations are being made for the wake in this rundown establishment.

At the centre of everything is Jim, a bombastic performance from Trevor Cooper and blessed with some brilliantly inventive swearing, who claims to have been practically born in the pub where his mother was a singer and where he has ruled the roost ever since. Slowly but surely, more people arrive and the picture comes into focus as we come to realise exactly who the funeral was for and what his connection was to each of the characters.


Review: Edgar and Annabel, National Theatre

As mentioned in the main review for Double Feature 1, of which this is the opening play, the less you know about Edgar and Annabel in advance the better, as this really is one of those watching experiences that benefits hugely from being allowed to unfold in front of us without any forewarning. So this is your last warning, I will try to avoid too many spoilers but if you’re thinking about going to see this, stop reading (and then come back afterwards!)

Sam Holcroft’s tightly-crafted new play takes place in a land gripped in a police state, with people under constant surveillance in their own homes, where a brave few are attempting to stand up to the ‘Orwellian establishment’. In their kitchen, young married professionals Edgar and Annabel go about their daily business, but it is soon apparent that not all is what it seems.


Review: Double Feature 1, National Theatre

“We’re ready to go off-script now”

Ever the contrarian, I took in Double Feature 1 at the National Theatre’s found space the Paintframe second, after Double Feature 2 - of which I was not the greatest fan – but I had been told that both plays in 1 were better than 2 so perhaps this was the best way round to see them. In the end, I have to agree that these two plays were far stronger than those in 2 – a more satisfying experience for me as an individual but I would argue that they are better written too.

Edgar and Annabel comes from the pen of Sam Holcroft, who I’ve yet to see a full-length play from though I have seen her shorter works in both Clean Break’s Charged and the Tricycle’s Women, Power and Politics seasons. The second comes from DC Moore, a writer about whom I am getting increasingly excited, his The Empire followed by Honest, which was just about as good as a one-man show could be.

Review: Chapel Street, Old Red Lion

“If someone wanted to take me to the theatre, I’d go...if they paid”

Chapel Street is the debut play from Luke Barnes, a sharply written two-hander about Kirsty and Joe who tell their separate, but increasingly intertwining, accounts of a highly drunken night out with their respective friends. He’s getting hammered with his friends down the pub, she’s knocking back vodka at her friend’s house but when everyone goes into town to continue the evening, fate smashes them together.

Daniel Kendrick’s Joe, brimming with swaggering self-confidence, was a terrific performance – recalling Trystan Gravelle’s electrifying turn in DC Moore’s fantastic Honest in the way he totally engaged with the audience, I have never felt more like one of the lads as when he was talking to me! He also portrays the quiet desperation of a young man still living at home, barely able to get casual labouring work, his frustrations not quite driving him to action though. Ria Zmitrowicz has the slightly more difficult job with Kirsty, a 15 year old girl becoming aware of her burgeoning sexuality but not quite yet fully aware of the consequences of exploiting it in the way she does. She does find a nice likeability in amongst her naïve dreams and Barnes captures the brutal honesty of teenage speak well.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Review: The Mother, The Scoop at More London

“When I die I want to be able to say this, ‘I never did anything violent’”

Paired with Around the World in 80 Days as part of the free theatre season at The Scoop at More London, Brecht’s The Mother is a little performed play from 1932 telling of a woman living in a Russia on the cusp of revolution who is forced into a new world of political activism when she sees how her own activist son is treated by the authorities. As she meets with his friends and begins to engage with their agenda, she finds herself on a journey of personal growth, as she finally learns to read and as her political consciousness is awakened and becomes impassioned, she becomes a figurehead for the movement that her son is part of.

Though it is a story that is ultimately advocating Communism, the decision to keep the setting fairly loose and not tethered too tightly to its original time and location frees it up hugely and consequently scores a huge resonance in its examination of the issues around political dissidence and the right to demonstrate in public, particularly for young people. Ravenhill’s translation has a punchy directness and humanity that gives the political discussion a very relatable dimension through the figure of ‘The Mother’, played with tireless grace by Nicky Goldie, her concern for her son accompanied by a growing outrage at how she perceives society to be rotten and pushes for change.

Review: Around the World in 80 Days, The Scoop at More London

“Everybody dreams of a little adventure”

As part of the free theatre available at The Scoop at More London which is now in its 9th impressive year, Around the World in 80 Days is a streamlined version of Phil Willmott’s original production for the Battersea Arts Centre 10 years ago which truncates the action in 75 swift minutes, accompanied by a suite of catchy original songs by Annemarie Lewis Thomas. It is freely adapted from Jules Verne’s novel and so whilst the shape of Phileas Fogg’s journey, the result of a wager to traverse the globe in an unheard-of 80 days, remains the same, the action is enlivened with highly recognisable figures from Victorian England passing comment on his progress.

It is fast and furious and lots of good-natured fun. Eugene Washington’s stern Fogg is tempered by the lovable antics of Joseph Wicks’ Passepartout, his able assistant, and when they rescue the Princess Aouda – a personable turn from Suzanne Ahmet – from an Indian funeral pyre, even Fogg’s stony heart begins to melt as his eyes are opened to the vast cultural influences to which he is exposed as they journey through Asia – helped memorably by a grumpy elephant through the Indian jungle, mounted with great style – and then through the USA – with a great song set in Salt Lake City which predates the Book of Mormon by at least a decade! – before trying to make it back in time to England to settle the bet.


Friday, 5 August 2011

Review: The Hired Man, Landor

“No greater pleasure than work done well”

The Hired Man was Howard Goodall’s first musical, setting Melvyn Bragg’s story of turn-of-the-century everyday rural Cumbrian life to a score inspired by Kurt Weill but primarily influenced by English choral and folk music. Based on events that happened to Bragg’s grandfather, the plot revolves around farmhand John Tallentine, his wife Emily and their family during a period of considerable social and economic upheaval as agriculture declines, pit mining advances and the shadow of the First World War threatens everything and everyone.

Though the scope of the story is huge, taking in a significant chunk of British social history, it is actually intimately told by focusing in on this single family and how the larger events impact their daily lives. In this respect, Andrew Keates’ production at the Landor is a great match of venue and material as we are taken right into the heart of this story and the struggles of its tightly-knit society to find just a little daily happiness as they work the land whether through a pie and a pint in the local or breaking marriage vows.

Cast of The Hired Man continued

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Review: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I would love you if I could”

Are certain of Shakespeare’s plays done to death whilst other neglected? When asking a friend, with whom I caught up briefly this week, what he was going to see this week, my response to him saying As You Like It was ‘which one?’. This may actually be the only production currently running in London – though I did take in the Royal Exchange’s modernised version on my trip to Manchester last month – but it does feel we are never too far away from As You Like It in one shape or another.

This particular production, which has played a few dates at Shakespeare’s Globe in the midst of a considerable UK and Europe jaunt, has the similar small-scale touring feel to the Hamlet that opened the Globe’s season this year with a small cast of travelling players – here in Victorian dress – covering all the roles and providing the musical accompaniment, all from the large wooden box that dominates, and forms an integral part of, the stage.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre

“The English vice is that we don’t own up to our emotions...we think they demean us”

Rattigan’s Nijinsky is something of a companion piece to the production of The Deep Blue Sea with which this is playing in rep at the Chichester Festival Theatre and sharing much of its cast. Looking to make their own unique tribute in the centenary year of Rattigan’s death, new pieces have been commissioned to play alongside his plays and here, Nicholas Wright has embroidered a story around the mystery of Rattigan’s 1974 unproduced and unpublished screenplay about ballet dancer Nijinsky and his passionate affair with Ballets Russes impresario Diaghilev.

Having been able to examine images of the original work, Wright has incorporated scenes into his own play, so we get to see Rattigan’s version of the tumultuous love affair between the older Diaghilev and his protégé, the man often cited as one of the greatest dancers ever, and the strain it was placed under due to Nijinsky’s mental fragility, something exacerbated (or even caused by?) falling into marriage with a woman. These scenes are interspersed with a modern-day (1974) narrative with an ailing Rattigan sequestered in his suite at Claridges and having to deal with Nijinsky’s widow, Romola, who is virulently objecting to his version of the events of her earlier life.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Blogged: When social media really is social (and not so much)

Late June saw me attend the Devoted and Disgruntled satellite event What Are We Going To Do About Theatre Criticism and followed by calls to action from other bloggers who wanted to hear more voices than just the reviewing one, I decided that I would give it a try and attempt to bring a different perspective onto certain issues that I felt I could contribute to. I had the best intentions but life has pretty much got in the way since then and I haven’t really had the time to devote to writing. But one issue has kept burbling around in my brain and it was all brought back to me in various ways last week, so here goes (apologies for the length).

The subject I decided to hold a session on at the above-mentioned event was “Should bloggers aim for/be held to a set of professional standards/code of conduct” the notes of which can be read but a quick summary was a definitive rejection of the statement and a recognition that blogging is an individual act which can’t (and shouldn’t) be policed. I have to admit to being a little surprised by this, but as the discussion progressed I realised that the issue I really wanted to delve into was an offshoot of the original question: something along the lines of ‘what value would a bloggers association have and is it desirable’, this similar idea of trying to provide some sort of structure that bloggers could rely upon if necessary.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Top 5 plays for July

A rather non-London top 10 for July...
  1. Singin' in the Rain
  2. The Crash of the Elysium
  3. The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
  4. For Once
  5. The Deep Blue Sea
  6. The Day We Sang
  7. The Pride
  8. A Midsummer Night's Dream
  9. The Beauty Queen of Leenane
  10. Encourage the Others

CD Review: John Owen-Jones – John Owen-Jones

“And if that’s what you believe you need, you’re wrong...you don’t need much”

I was a little wary of this album when it was first pressed into my hand to listen to by a friend. Despite having been impressed by John Owen-Jones in the 25th Anniversary tour of Les Miserables, I’m not generally a fan of bombastic male singers and having had my fingers burned/eardrums damaged by listening to Alfie Boe’s album, I have to admit to lumping Owen-Jones in with him. But my friend was persistent and admittedly, I was most intrigued by the prospect of him singing Sondheim’s 'Pretty Lady' from Pacific Overtures with Michael Ball and Bryn Terfel. So I listened to that song first (how I ever managed with cassettes as a child I do not know!) as I was pretty sure that it would set the tone of whether I liked the approach to the album or not. And sure enough, despite it being three massive male voices, there is a gorgeous subtlety at work here that convinced me that this was going to be something more than your standard pop-opera fare and closer to a ‘proper’ musical theatre album.

Over a nicely trim 11 tracks, Owen-Jones covers a number of bases but surprisingly for me, he ventured into contemporary musical theatre with great success. 'I’d Rather Be Sailing', by American William Finn, a composer who I only currently know through people singing his songs at cabarets but who I am pretty sure I think is fantastic, is a lovely piece of restrained singing, multi-tracked to gorgeous effect. Jason Robert Brown’s 'Someone to Fall Back On' is also excellent (though Julie Atherton does now own that song, even if it was written for a man to sing).

Review: Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, Jermyn Street

Ev’ry Sunday afternoon we’ll be polite”

Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered is a musical revue, celebrating of the works of Rodgers + Hart, both those lesser known and more famous, in a similar way to how Classic Moments Hidden Treasures went through the Sondheim back catalogue last year. Eschewing any kind of formal narrative, it simply flows from song to song, some obviously paired up, some just left simply alone, as the cast of five in their louche 30s Hollywood costumes swirl elegantly around the intimate stage of the Jermyn Street Theatre.



In many respects, this was exactly how I imagined it would be: fairly traditional arrangements of a fairly traditional repertoire, sung professionally yet not quite reaching levels of inspiration that might make it a must-see, though it is charming. Stephen Ashfield brings an effortless class to all of his numbers, making his forthcoming entry into Legally Blonde seem an intriguing prospect; Katie Kerr injects some much needed personality into some of the quirkier numbers and Valerie Cutko’s beautifully subtle tone added an interesting texture.