Friday, 30 November 2012

Cast of Merrily We Roll Along continued

Review: Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory

"We go way back, never forward"

Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along famously flopped on Broadway when it opened in 1981 but now refined and reappraised, it is considered amongst his finest work and this Menier Chocolate Factory production serves to bolster that reputation. Directed by Maria Friedman, no stranger to Sondheim’s work as an actor but making her professional directorial debut here, the story traces the fortunes of Franklin, Mary and Charley, three writer friends buzzing with creative energy and determined to make their mark on the world. Real life intervenes though and the mistakes, sacrifices and compromises made in their lives as success changes them in unexpected ways are highlighted and heightened by a reverse timeline which sees Sondheim and book writer George Furth move scene by scene from 1976 to 1957. 

It is Franklin who lies at the heart of the story. An unsympathetic figure who we meet as the height of his unlikeability in the midst of a soulless Hollywood party, it is to Mark Umbers’ immense credit that he makes this man such an intriguing person, transcending the limitations of the book which provides little clue as to his motivations. Umbers’ Franklin sparkles with a seductively easy charm that makes him understandably hard to resist and suggests that it not with malice that he rides roughshod over others, but rather that his head is simply too easily turned by the next new bright thing. Jenna Russell’s Mary’s slow self-destruction as unrequited love eats her from the inside is just devastating to watch, all the more so for being played in reverse and realising just how long she has held a flame for her friend, and Damian Humbley’s well-judged Charley has a geeky reticence that explodes in fine style with a delicious rip through 'Franklin Shepard, Inc.' 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Review: Boy Meets Boy -Jermyn Street


“You’ve been free, now it’s time to get married”

Just a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus, the intimate Jermyn Street Theatre has quietly been building a reputation for quality productions with a focus on unknown and forgotten classics and recently scored a massive success with the stage premiere of Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall which subsequently transferred into the West End. And with blockbuster musicals like The Bodyguard and Viva Forever looming on the horizon, to follow that with a Broadway obscurity never before performed in the UK might have seemed a perverse choice but for his final production as Artistic Director of this theatre, Gene David Kirk has unearthed an absolute knock-out success in Boy Meets Boy

Written in 1975 by Bill Solly and Donald Ward, it is set in 1936 as a pastiche of the golden screwball era of Fred and Ginger but this is a world in which there’s a same-sexual equality which not even 2012 can match. For though our Fred is Casey O’Brien, a sozzled society journalist who has managed to sleep through the 1936 abdication crisis, and our Ginger is British aristocrat Guy Rose, who has just left playboy millionaire Clarence Cutler standing at the altar, no-one bats an eyelid. This is a world where equality is just a given, a natural part of high society who are happy to gossip about everyone, gay or straight. Such a simple innovation but one that is a genuine breath of fresh air that revels in its joyous freedom in a show that is unashamedly silly, sentimental yet superlative. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Review: Straight, Bush Theatre

“We just have to position ourselves right"

Though Nick Payne is the name on most people's lips when it comes to exciting new male playwrights thanks to his award-winning Constellations, for my money DC Moore is as equally deserving of such attention. He is probably one of the most talented composers of dialogue working at the moment and his clear-sighted writing has definitely marked him out as one to watch. Directed by Richard Wilson, his latest play Straight opened in Sheffield earlier this month but now arrives in London at the Bush Theatre to present a picture of male friendship unlike most others.

Based on Lynn Shelton’s film Humpday, Straight starts off in a moment of apparent marital bliss. Lewis and Morgan are making the best of a bad lot in their property situation but are so into each other that they are discussing babies. But when Lewis’ old university friend Waldorf arrives, through the letter box first, to collect on a promise of a bed after he finished his gap year travels, he threatens to upset their dynamic by reminding Lewis of the freedom he is midway through relinquishing. A drunken night out ensues with much taunting about their comparative sexual adventures and ends up with them daring each other to have sex on camera, as you do. 

Review: Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre

“I've got the evacuee to prove it"

Now that Blood Brothers has now finished its lengthy London run, the Phoenix Theatre is opening up its doors to new productions: Midnight Tango and Once will come in the new year but first up is Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Goodnight Mr Tom ahead of a UK tour. Michelle Magorian's novel belongs to the similar strong tradition of children's literature as Nina Bawden’s Carrie's War, that contextualises the Second World War evacuee experience for many children. And David Wood's adaptation wisely does not attempt to sugar the pill, though billed as a family show and with a beautifully sensitive story of personal awakening at its heart, there is no escaping the brutal shadow of war which ensures the production is never in danger of becoming twee. 

The story brings out a wonderful sense of the potential for emotional growth at any age: Oliver Ford Davies' gruff but kind Tom encourages the bruised soul that is Will, played here by Ewan Harris (one of three young actors sharing the role), to come out of his shell as the young Londoner is billeted to a Dorset village where he experiences the countryside for the first time, learns to read and write and generally flourishes now away from the troubled, abusive mother left in London. But Will provides a similar service for Tom, releasing him from the emotional paralysis that has gripped him for nigh on 40 years and Ford Davies' depiction of the slow release of his suppressed paternal instinct is just beautiful to watch. 

Radio Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen + Gracey and Me


 “Is this the way to Macclesfield?”

Books like Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Owl Service and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series were huge favourites of mine when I was a wee laddie, so I quite most intrigued to hear that a radio adaptation had been made of the former for Radio 4. Peter Thomson’s dramatization condenses the novel down to a highly atmospheric hour as this children’s fantasy tale winds its way around the ancient mysteries hidden on Alderley Edge. The story starts with Colin and Susan, young siblings who are sent to stay with old family friends in Cheshire whilst their parents are away, and who soon find themselves sucked into a mystical battle between the forces of good and evil who are all hunting for the Weirdstone which has gone missing and which looks strangely like the jewel at the heart of Susan’s favourite bracelet. 


Thomson has the tale narrated by an older version of Colin, a technique I’m not normally a fan of but one which works extremely well here, especially as he is played by Robert Powell whose sonorous tones are soothingly ideal for the purpose. And Jane Morgan’s production is inspired in its use of music (by Mia Soteriou) and special effects (by Wilfredo Acosta) to quickly establish the necessary atmosphere of ancient mystery and peril. She’s cast her play astutely too: Trevor Cooper’s booming guardian Gowther is brilliant, Philip Voss’ voice epitomises weary wisdom and Monica Dolan is a perfect choice for the wicked Selina Place. And with Hugo Docking and Fern Deacon full of youthful energy and wonder as Colin and Susan, it’s a rather wonderful hour of radio entertainment.  


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Cast of She Stoops To Conquer continued

Review: A Clockwork Orange, Soho Theatre










“Things have changed a bit, old droogie”

Any adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange has to battle with the hugely iconic imagery of the Kubrick film but with their own unique take, the Action To The Word company has come close to making it their own as modern parlance would have it. Previously a hit in Edinburgh, the show forms the main house Christmas entertainment at the Soho Theatre and whilst titillating and leaving one thirsty for a drink of milk, it is a curious thing. The story of an über-violent dystopian society full of disaffected youth in which teenage Alex leads a vicious gang of droogs on the rampage is one laced with real darkness, especially as we see Alex get caught, thrown into prison and then subjected to a government-supervised medical trial, but the presentation in Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ production leans away from the violent core. 

She uses an all-male cast to deliberately ramp up the testosterone level and though a programme note insists that “the piece isn’t ‘gay’ or ‘straight’”, there is no doubting that the levels of homo-eroticism are off the scale. Not that this is a bad thing, not at all, but it means that the air is frequently heavy with seductive sexuality rather than danger, the sexual violence ends up being perhaps just a little too sexy. Additionally, the physical language utilised, with its frequent use of movement to the vibrant soundtrack which embraces Placebo and the Eurythmics just as much as the famous Beethoven, adds another distancing factor as stylised choreography replaces the naturalism of stage combat.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Re-review: The Changeling , Young Vic


“Let me feel how thy pulses beat”


Joe Hill-Gibbins' raucous production of The Changeling first played the intimate Maria studio at the Young Vic earlier this year and encouraged by its success there, it has now transferred into the main theatre to provide a Gothic pre-Christmas treat. Middleton and Rowley's Jacobean tragedy which spirals around spoilt rich girl Beatrice-Joanna's schemes with her malevolent lackey De Flores has been mostly recast, just two people return, but its intense atmosphere, playful spirit and copious quantities of jelly, jam and trifle remain.


Sinéad Matthews takes on the role of wilful Beatrice-Joanna, determined to replace the man to which she finds herself engaged with the ones she has the hots for, and willing to do anything to get Zubin Varla's disfigured De Flores to carry out her dastardly wishes. It's a fascinating casting choice, the melancholy musicality of Matthews' voice initially seems a difficult fit but the contrast of her doll-like frame against the wiry masculinity of Varla becomes highly effective as she attempts to manipulate all around her, forced to use her intelligence and wiles to ensure that Harry Hadden-Paton's appealing Alsemero ends up with her.  


Sunday, 25 November 2012

The 2012 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Play

WINNER Constellations by Nick Payne (Royal Court Upstairs)
Love and Information by Caryl Churchill
(Royal Court Downstairs)
This House by James Graham (National’s Cottesloe)

Best Director

WINNER Nicholas Hytner for Timon of Athens (National’s Olivier)
Carrie Cracknell
for A Doll’s House (Young Vic)
James Macdonald for Love and Information (Royal Court Downstairs)
Ian Rickson for Hamlet (Young Vic)

Best Actor

WINNER Simon Russell Beale, Collaborators (National’s Cottesloe and Olivier)
Charles Edwards
, The King's Speech (Wyndham’s) and This House (National’s Cottesloe)
Adrian Lester, Red Velvet (Tricycle Theatre)
Luke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (National Cottesloe)

Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress

WINNER Hattie Morahan, A Doll’s House (Young Vic)
Eileen Atkins, All That Fall (Jermyn Street)
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small (Sydney Theatre Company for Barbican)
Laurie Metcalf, Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Apollo)

Ned Sherrin Award for Best Musical

WINNER Sweeney Todd (Chichester Festival and Adelphi)
Singin’ In the Rain (Chichester Festival and Palace Theatre)
Swallows and Amazons (A Bristol Old Vic production, presented by the National Theatre and The Children’s Touring Partnership at the Vaudeville Theatre)

Best Design

WINNER Soutra Gilmour, Inadmissible Evidence (Donmar Warehouse) and Antigone (National’s Olivier)
Miriam Buether, Wild Swans (A Young Vic/American Repertory Theatre/Actors Touring Company co-production)
Ian MacNeil, A Doll’s House (Young Vic)

Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright

WINNER Lolita Chakrabarti, Red Velvet (Tricycle)
John Hodge, Collaborators (National’s Cottesloe)
Tom Wells, The Ktchen Sink (Bush)


Milton Shulman Award for Outstanding Newcomer

WINNER Matthew Tennyson, Making Noise Quietly (Donmar Warehouse)
Denise Gough, Our New Girl (Bush) and Desire Under the Elms (Lyric Hammersmith)
Abby Rakic-Platt, Vera Vera Vera (Royal Court Upstairs and Theatre Local Peckham)

Beyond Theatre Award

Danny Boyle and his creative team, for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics

Lebedev Special Award

Nicholas Hytner, for his dynamic directorship of the National Theatre

Editor’s Award

David Hare, for his contribution to theatre

Burberry Award for Emerging Director

Simon Godwin

Moscow Art Theatre’s Golden Seagull Award

Judi Dench, for her contribution to world theatre

Review: Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Royal Court

“We have to be remembered” 

This rehearsed reading of Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance was held at the Royal Court in memory of its playwright John Arden who passed away in March of this year. I decided to attend as he’s not a writer I’m familiar with and the little reading I about him that I did in advance seemed to suggest that he’s possibly due a Rattigan-like revival. Though now apparently considered a highly significant British playwright, his work hasn’t really been in fashion in recent decades and his was a career marked with frequent clashes with the theatrical establishment which has possibly led to his oeuvre being a little neglected. 

The journey of the play Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance itself seems archetypal in this respect. It was received badly by both critics and audiences on its opening in 1959 but is now considered to be his best play and a modern classic. The process of exactly how something like this happens is something I’m very interested in discovering more about, (a short programme note explains the Royal Court themselves published a leaflet for audiences asking ‘What kind of theatre do you want?’ to get to the bottom of the issue) but on the evidence of this play, it is a little hard to see why it was not a success. 

Cast of Serjeant Musgrave continued



Saturday, 24 November 2012

Review: Red Velvet, Tricycle

"It’s like being at a crosswords”

Indhu Rubasingham keeps it in the family with her opening salvo as Artistic Director at the Tricycle as Lolita Chakrabarti's first play Red Velvet features her husband Adrian Lester in the main role. But her tale of the experiences of Ira Aldridge, a nineteenth-century African-American actor who caused shockwaves with his performances, offers an intriguing preview of sorts as Lester will be taking on the role of Othello for the National Theatre next year.

For Aldridge was a Shakespearean actor of some renown who toured Europe with many productions and the opening of the play sees him preparing to take on the role of King Lear in a Polish theatre. He's being interviewed by a journalist about the key moment in his career though, a disastrous attempt to take on the role of Othello which was received with horrific racism (a man blacking up to take on the role was infinitely more preferable) and distaste from nearly all around.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Review: Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange


“I’m not interested in your perfect functions”


It is often the case with lesser performed works by well-known playwrights that there’s a reason why they don’t occupy the same place in the canon, and so it was with this production of Tennessee Williams’ 1957 play Orpheus Descending which I managed to squeeze into the end of a hectic work trip to Manchester. It is unmistakeably his work: elements like the oppressive heat of the Deep South, repressed passion and a mismatched couple are present and correct. But there’s also a lugubrious pace and a patchwork quilt of superfluous supporting characters which helps to explain its relative obscurity.

Lady Torrance is an unhappily married Mississippi store-owner whose head is well and truly turned with the arrival of handsome young drifter Val. He’s escaping his past but finds himself in the most stifling kind of narrow-minded community as they react against him. At the same time though, he offers the potential of a way out for Lady who dares to dream of a more liberated future, but the constraints of her present circumstances and the ever-powerful echoes of the horrific past mean nothing is easy.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre


“It’s the little lies that get you into trouble”

Aged 36, the widowed Agatha Posket feared for her re-marriage prospects so when the genial Aeneas Posket, the magistrate for the Mulberry Street Police Court, arrived on the scene, she lopped 5 years off her age and promptly became Mrs Posket. The only trouble is her 19 year old son Cis whom she tells the world is actually 14 in order to make her fib fly. The farcical trials that follow as he continues to act as a 19 year old and the arrival of his godfather threatens to undo the whole deception make up the plot of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rather delightful play The Magistrate, which takes up residence at the Olivier as the National’s Christmas offering in place of The Count of Monte Cristo

Nancy Carroll is simply sensational as Agatha, an actress in full control of her considerable gift and razor-sharp throughout. Whether layering in real pathos in lamenting the lot of a middle-aged widow, working in genuine comedy whilst extemporising wildly as chaos surrounds her or managing to make the spitting out of some bread into a moment of sheer genius, she is never less than unmissable. And she supported excellent by Joshua McGuire as her son Cis, who has a wonderful physicality and gleeful sense of timing in his teenage rampaging and Jonathan Coy’s family friend Colonel Lukyn who is pretty much scene-stealingly fantastic, a true master of comic acting which fully deserves the mid-show round of applause he received.

The Magistrate cast continued

Cast of Salad Days continued

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Review: The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, Almeida

(With huge apologies to all concerned, especially to Alfred Lord Tennyson, this is to be read in the style of The Lady of Shalott)

“It doesn’t look like a poem, but it is”


Tonight I went to Islington,
For theatre and lots of fun,
But this play it was not the one
(The) Dark Earth and the Light Sky

‘Tis written by the man Nick Dear,
The thought it did fill me with fear,
For Frankenstein made me feel queer,
With dialogue so dry.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Not-a-review: Thérèse Raquin, Finborough

The Finborough's Vibrant festival has been running for 3 years now, offering an opportunity to catch pieces of new writing and works-in-progress from the vast number of playwrights with some connection to the West London theatre. I've attended a few of these readings in the past and am loving the fact that I will soon have the opportunity to see a full production of one of them early next year as Mike Bartlett's Bull makes its bow up in Sheffield.

Catching my eye this year though was the chance to see a musical version of Thérèse Raquin with music by Craig Adams and book and lyrics by Nona Shepphard. We were treated to the first half in its entirety and remarkably, a cast of 13 gathered to give full voice to this intriguingly pitched musical which lies, in the astute words of my companion for the evening, ‘between Les Mis and Sunday in the Park with George”.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Review: The IDolls, Matcham Room at the Hippodrome Casino

“Drama and talent and sex - combined"

Since they were cast together as the divas in the musical of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Portia Emare, Emma Lindars and Charlotte Riby have harnessed their considerable talents to form The IDolls, a musical trio who’ve built up quite a reputation for themselves with their powerhouse vocals. Their repertoire may have been born out of a mutual love for soul music but their set tonight at the Matcham Room in London’s Hippodrome casino went way further to embrace their musical theatre beginnings as well as 70s disco, Motown, self-penned tunes and contemporary pop. 

So given their natural strength and the unique selling point of the gorgeous blend that they come up with, the first half of their gig felt slightly unbalanced. After a thrilling opening that featured Sister Act’s sparkling 'Fabulous Baby' and an epic soul/Motown medley including a fierce rendition of 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine', the eclectic mix that followed felt a little too, well eclectic. Giving each of the IDolls a solo spot to showcase their individual voices is an integral part of the evening, but allowing the same for each of the guest performers alongside a duet with them felt a little excessive, the interval arrived with the feeling that the group numbers were just something of a special treat rather than their raison d’être.

Review: A Chorus of Disapproval, Harold Pinter

"I just want you to know I think you're a total and utter bastard and that one of these days I hope you'll get what's coming to you. Having said that, best of luck with the show tonight and I hope it goes really well for you.”

Alan Ayckbourn's plays seem to be unavoidable, not least at the Harold Pinter theatre where Absent Friends previously played to be followed by Trevor Nunn's production of A Chorus of Disapproval and that's before a Pinter play has even made it onto the stage of the renamed theatre. And I've yet to really succumb to the pleasures of our most prolific of living writers, I've visited many of the productions of his plays that have played in London in recent years but never quite had that lightbulb moment to explain to me his enduring success.

But I'm always up for testing my assumptions and when a friend offered to day seat (front row seats for £10), I was happy to accept and sure enough, whilst it wasn't quite a Damascene conversion, I did find myself laughing more than I expected and actually enjoying myself for the most part. Key to this was Rob Brydon's central performance as the ineffably Welsh Dafydd ap Llewellyn, a solicitor by day and a amateur dramatics theatre director by night taking his group through their latest production of The Beggar's Opera. The play opens with the final number from that show and as the curtain descends, we see backstage that the relationships amongst the cast are incredibly strained.

Review: A Walk Through the End of Time, Orange Tree


"First there's the mess, then there's the Messiaen"

The frustration of the Barnes to Richmond rail replacement bus service (over an hour on this sunny Sunday afternoon) paled into insignificance on reading the background to this rehearsed reading at the Orange Tree. Jessica Duchen's play A Walk Through the End of Time features an estranged couple who are reunited after 25 years as they prepare to attend a concert performance of Quatuor pour la fin du temps, a piece of music composed by French composer Olivier Messiaen whilst he was held as a prisoner-of-war in the early years of the Second World War. Its unusual make-up, of clarinet, violin, cello and piano, simply reflected the musical ability of his fellow prisoners and its first performance was in 1941 at the prisoner-of-war camp Stalag VIII-A.

Duchen's couple - a woman whose father was imprisoned with Messaien (Harriet Walter) and her scientist ex-husband (Henry Goodman) - leaf through their programmes and discuss the music, the man who wrote it and the men he wrote it for and the terrible circumstances in which it was written. But in doing so, they discuss their own personal history, what happened to them in the past and what has taken place since then, and the reasons why - gods of science are pitted against gods of faith as they try to resolve their differing takes on the world in the hope of finding something together in their future.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Re-review: Constellations, Duke of York’s

“At any given moment, several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously”

Due to its often fleeting nature, it is a real luxury to be able to properly revisit a show at the theatre. Not just to return to a play during the same run but to experience the same production anew in a different environment, and for those who were able to see Nick Payne’s sparkling new play Constellations upstairs at the Royal Court earlier this year, that opportunity now presents itself as it takes up residence at the Duke of York’s, with its original stellar cast of Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall, to complete the Sloane Square venue’s highly successful season of transfers. 

On paper, it is an intriguing if a little opaque prospect: Payne’s play takes scientific principles like quantum multiverse theory and uses them to explore the infinite possibilities of one relationship. In reality though, it is a highly moving account of the connection between beekeeper Roland and scientist Marianne, exploring different permutations and possible outcomes of their lives as scenes repeat themselves from different angles, different viewpoints, sending their relationship down a different path each time, even as they seem to be drawn to the same inescapable conclusion. (My original review of the show can be found here and to avoid repeating myself too much and to be a bit different from a regular review, this piece of writing will focus mainly on my experience as someone revisiting the show).

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Review: Twelfth Night, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud


“What kind of woman is't?"

In what is now a bit of a tradition (although I was abandoned by my usual partner in crime), late November sees me travel to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford, as it has become one of the first places that Propeller visit as they commence their lengthy tours around the UK and beyond. Indeed my first ever Propeller experience was here with the frankly outstanding Richard III, which with The Comedy of Errors made for an incredible introduction to this all-male company. The most recent double bill of Henry V and The Winter’s Tale didn’t quite live up to that billing for me, despite still being some of the most imaginatively reinterpreted Shakespeare I saw all year, and so there was no doubt I would continue to make the pilgrimage to Surrey. 

This time round, they are revisiting their 2006/7 productions of The Taming of the Shrew (which will start performances in late January) and Twelfth Night which commenced earlier in the month and which I saw at this midweek matinée. And from the lowering storm clouds that form the ever-present backdrop, it is clear that this is going to be no fluffy romp but rather a bittersweet take on Shakespeare’s rich comedy of frustrated love and sexual confusion. Sure, the production is full of the raucous innovation that Propeller bring to their reassessment of the Bard’s work and so we have here - amongst many, many other things - boxing matches, the La’s, tap dancing, nose flicking, and shirtless moving statues.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Short Film Review #7


The best cultural experiences, no matter the medium, is the way that it can make one feel. So where classic Broadway-inspired choreography makes my soul soar, musical comedies make me laugh helplessly and my painstakingly curated iTunes collection can fit any mood I want, this group of shorts contains two films that made me weep for days, I’m welling up just thinking about one of them now, and so I am pleased to be able to them with you. The first and the last are the weepies, with a smattering of less sad films mixed in the middle.

Lullaby

Haydn Gwynne is one of those actresses whom I love and I know I love, but I’d be hard-pressed to name too much that I’ve seen her in as I have seen her often enough for my liking. Fortunately, I recently caught her in the searingly powerful touring version of Duet for One so her immense talent was still fresh in my mind as I turned to this short film Lullaby. (Interestingly, she has done quite a few shorts so I’ve been able to see a bit more of her since I started watching them.)
It may be kind of beside the point, but I’m not going to say too much at all about it, aside from urging you to watch it. Written and directed by Kevin Markwick, Gwynne is simply sensational in what is essentially a monologue of most moving poignancy which builds cleverly across the 12 minutes of its running time. Shot beautifully by Ole Bratt Birkeland on a Kent hilltop and scored attractively with Stephen Barton’s swelling music, it is an absolutely gorgeous little piece of film that I’d highly recommend.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Review: Lea Delaria – Live at the Hippodrome



"I'm Lea De-fucking-Laria and I'm gonna fucking let you know about it"

We’re lucky enough to live in a world now where, although there is still much progress to be made, acceptance of gay and lesbian people on the television is pretty much a given. So it is incredible to think that it was less than 20 years ago that Lea DeLaria made history as the first openly gay comic to appear on national TV in the USA. Since then, she has carved out a career in stand-up comedy, theatre and television but arguably most successfully as a jazz chanteuse of some note, revisiting the music to which her jazz pianist father introduced her.

Such a repertoire suits the intimacy of the Matcham room, the new cabaret space at the Hippodrome casino, but it is clear that DeLaria revels in the closeness too. A born raconteur, she flirted outrageously and dropped multiple f-bombs within minutes of arriving on stage and peppered her set with fascinating anecdotes from her 30 year career. And what a set it was, taking in selections from all of her CDs (plus a sneak preview of her forthcoming 2013 album) and showing off the supremely fierce skills of her band of three.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Review: The Seagull, Southwark Playhouse


“I always wanted to be a writer”

With an iPod blaring out tunes from the likes of Cat Power and Animal Collective, characters wearing battered Converse and slim-fit trousers and a wannabe writer bashing away at a laptop, it is clear that Anya Reiss’ adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull is aiming to demonstrate the timelessness of the Russian playwright. But this reinterpretation, directed by Russell Bolam, strips away too much without establishing a strong enough sense of its own identity.

Elements of the play sparkle under Reiss’ touch, in unexpected places. Emily Dobbs’ vivid Masha is a cracking portrayal of the disillusioned young adulthood that is the by-product of rural isolation, as she longs for the moody passion of Joseph Drake’s immature would-be playwright Konstantin yet finds herself resigned to the duller safety net of Ben Moor’s well-observed schoolteacher Medvedenko. And there’s a neat touch too in the Act 2 opening sequence that speaks so much about how deeply she can feel.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Review: A Winter’s Tale, Landor


“A sad tale is best for winter”

The last two adaptations of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (Propeller and the Unicorn’s recent version) have left me rather distraught with their takes on this problem play, and Howard Goodall similarly had me reaching for the tissues with his Love Story and last year’s revival of The Hired Man at the Landor Theatre. So it’s safe to say that there was a certain degree of expectation as I returned to the Clapham North pub theatre to see the final preview of Goodall’s latest project, A Winter’s Tale - a musical inspired by Shakespeare’s play with a book by Nick Stimson. 


The first act is just glorious. This Sicilia is a dark, military world and this is obvious from the off with a magnificent multi-layered opener of goose-pimpling intensity which sets the scene perfectly. Pete Gallagher’s Leontes and Alastair Brookshaw’s visiting Polixines make a fine pair of kings, all good-natured joshing until Helen Power’s Ekaterina enters the scene to persuade Polixines to extend his visit whereupon the red mist of vicious jealousy descends on Leontes with devastating consequences for all concerned. Goodall’s swirling melodies and impassioned lyrics are ideally suited to this emotional whirlpool and all three leads excel, backed up by a large but impressive ensemble who bear witness to the tragic consequences of Leontes’ blinkered viewpoint.


Cast of A Winter's Tale continued

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Review: The Trojan Women, Gate Theatre


“A pregnant woman is a Trojan horse”

After Mike Bartlett’s inimitable slant on Euripides in his contemporary version of Medea for Headlong, it is now the turn of poet Caroline Bird to reimagine the world of Ancient Greek tragedy for modern times with her take on the same playwright’s The Trojan Women, directed by the Gate’s own AD Christopher Haydon. Set in the mother and baby ward of a prison in the fallen city of Troy, the mothers, wives and sisters of the destroyed army await their fate as the marauding Greek invaders decide how to divide their spoils of war, chief among them Hecuba, the former queen and Helen, the woman in whose name the Greeks fought their bloody war. (FYI I attended the final preview, courtesy of their bargaintastic Gatecrasher offer).

Bird’s prose clearly has a keen poetic edge, especially in conjuring up the desolation of a defeated nation, and perhaps surprisingly it also opens a vein of bleak humour, at times a blessed relief from the sheer harshness of it all but also sometimes feeling dangerously close to a glibness that feels wrong and best embodied by Jon Foster’s blokey Talthybius who is frequently very close to this line. Lucy Ellinson’s excellent one-woman Chorus negotiates the balancing act with much more skill, her very pregnant tragicomic countrywoman shackled to the bed and thus an unwitting witness to everything, passing incisive comment, asking pertinent questions, bitterly relating the very human toll of the conflict to those normally protected by palace walls. 

Review: The Bodyguard, Adelphi


“I know in my heart you’d find a girl who’s scared sometimes”

My first thought when I heard that they were making a musical version of 1992 film The Bodyguard supplemented by songs from Whitney Houston’s back catalogue was how on earth are they going to work my favourite of her songs, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, into that story. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, but more of that later. Taking on the lead role in which Whitney made her acting debut is American import Heather Headley, although at this performance in the month of previews before it opens officially, we saw the alternate Gloria Onitiri (a familiar face from Avenue Q days) who made a sterling case for the vital importance of supporting Great British talent. 

For those not familiar with the film, Rachel Marron is a superstar pop singer-turned-actress who, unbeknownst to her, is receiving threats from a stalker and when her entourage employ ex-Secret Service agent Frank Farmer as a new bodyguard for her, sparks fly as the undeniable attraction between them threatens his professional distance and effectiveness. Several years in the making, Alexander Dinelaris’ book adapts Lawrence Kisdan’s original screenplay with a few changes: Rachel’s sister Nicki has a greater role; the identity of the stalker is handled differently and there’s a little modernisation to reflect a more tech-savvy and social-media friendly world. 

Cast of The Bodyguard continued



Cast of The Bodyguard continued



Friday, 9 November 2012

Review: The Effect, National Theatre

"Call it what you want, just don’t let it define you”

Though it has arguably had a variable strike rate in terms of hits and misses, the Cottesloe Theatre seems determined to go out roaring in stylish flames before it closes for renovation to re-emerge as the Dorfman, as huge successes The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and This House are now followed by Lucy Prebble’s new play The Effect in a co-production with Headlong which, if there’s any justice in the world, should have some kind of further life as with the previous two plays which are transferring into the West End and the Olivier respectively. 

Miriam Buether works her transformative magic once again to reconfigure the theatre into the waiting room of a modern private clinic, one in which a clinical trial is about to begin. Two people have signed up to try out this new drug and two doctors monitor them, looking for the answers that they hope will be provided. What they are looking for is to see how much their medicine can influence what we call our feelings, our emotions, as they try to figure out if the highs of love and attraction and the lows of deep depression can be controlled with just a tweak of the dosage. But though they are seeking to run a scrupulous experiment, their human subjects respond in unexpected ways as they try to tease apart what is real and what is manufactured in the world of heady emotion they are now feeling. 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Review: People, National Theatre


“People spoil things”

Were I watching Alan Bennett’s new play People at home on DVD, I would probably make it a drinking game, with a shot to be taken every time the title appears. Except it wouldn’t last very long at all, no matter how strong your liver, as it is repeated, repeated and repeated in this lament for the fading fortunes of the English aristocracy. Dorothy Stacpoole, a former model who now lives a semi-reclusive life with her companion Iris, is being forced to decide the fate of her near-decrepit South Yorkshire stately home: should some of the contents be sold on to private investors, who are also interested in buying the whole house, or should it be given to the National Trust, who Bennett has decided to take aim at with this piece of writing.

In an incredibly slow-moving opening 30 minutes or so, it becomes apparent that Dorothy – Frances De La Tour oozing hauteur – favours the former option, whilst her Archdeacon sister June is determined that it should be the latter. Bennett rails against the commodification of history and the creation of ‘experiences’ but curiously he makes Dorothy the mouthpiece with her fears of having people traipsing through her home and disrupting her life. Quite why we’re expected to feel sympathy for this poor little (formerly) rich girl whose inability to take responsibility has left the house, and her life, in the state it is in, I’m not sure.

Cast of People continued

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre


“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England"

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.


Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will.


Cast of 55 Days

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Review: Steel Pier, Union Theatre

“Men and me are like pianos - when they get upright, I feel grand"

Steel Pier is one of Kander and Ebb’s lesser known works: its initial 1997 run (featuring Kristin Chenoweth’s Broadway debut) lasted just a few months and it is only now that the show is receiving its professional European premiere at the Union Theatre. In some respects, it is not hard to see why: David Thompson’s bland book lacks any sort of dramatic drive or interest, and Kander and Ebb’s score misses the deliciously dark edge that characterises much of their best work. But this highly energetic production from Paul Taylor-Mills has a dancing charm which lifts the entertainment factor.


We’re in Atlantic City in the midst of the Great Depression, where exploitative Mick Hamilton is running a marathon dance competition where the last couple dancing will win a cash prize. His secret weapon is veteran of such competitions Rita Racine, but she is tired and determined that this will be her last danceathon and her partner has failed to turn up. Stepping in at the last minute is mysterious flyboy Bill Kelly and as they progress through the contest, Rita finds her attentions and affections torn between these two men.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Short Film Review: #6

An intermittent feature on here over the last few months has been my discovery of the world of short films (you can read my other collections of reviews by clicking on the tag 'film' below) and it has been amazing how many links have been sent to me since I started, recommending this film and the other. It may take me a little while to get round to them all, but do keep the suggestions coming in.


Nora
Following on from the huge success that was her production of A Doll’s House at the Young Vic this summer, Carrie Cracknell has further explored Ibsen’s premise of a woman reaching breaking point in this short film Nora. Using the same lead actress Hattie Morahan but locating her in a modern-day context, Cracknell and collaborator Nick Payne depict a high-pressured world in which Nora struggles to balance looking after two small children with her job as an ad exec whilst her husband is away on business. 

Zac Nicholson’s cinematography looks sensational in its muted colours and interesting focus points and if Cracknell employs the windblown hair look a little too often, she can be forgiven as Morahan’s deep pensiveness pulls it off in a series of beautifully moody shots. As a piece of storytelling, I’m not sure it holds quite the same power as as a modern woman, contemporary Nora has assumedly had much more control over her life and the choices she has made than 19th century Nora ever would have done, but there are neat hints at the way that Nora feels the entire world is against her, women as well as men.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Review: Victor/Victoria, Southwark Playhouse

“A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman? That’s preposterous.”

It is sad that the Southwark Playhouse will have to quit its current London Bridge premises as it has hit a vein of real good form allied to a growing understanding of how best to use the converted railway arches and particularly so with this creative team, who have made this the hot venue for musical theatre on the South Bank, challenging both the nearby Union and Menier Chocolate Factory. Following on from rapturously received productions of Parade and Mack and Mabel, director Thom Southerland has turned his hand to a new adaptation of musical comedy Victor/Victoria

With a book written by Blake Edwards for his wife Julie Andrews, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Henry Mancini and posthumously completed by Frank Wildhorn, the show on paper isn’t necessarily that distinguished. In 1930s Paris, English soprano Victoria Grant is struggling to get a job but a chance encounter with Toddy, her instant gay best friend, thrusts her into the limelight as he hits on the idea of Victoria pretending to be a female impersonator and so Count Victor Grazinski is born, taking the cabaret scene by storm and causing all kinds of sexual confusion as men find themselves irresistibly drawn to this enthralling new performer. 

Cast of Victor/Victoria continued