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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

The Humans

This excellent American import arrives from off-Broadway via Broadway & LA with the cast and creative team intact. They bring a heightened realism to Stephen Karam’s contemporary family saga which is a bit of a slow burn at first, but draws you in as it covers a whole host of both personal and wider societal issues.

Brigid and Richard invite her Irish American family from Scruton, Penn to Thanksgiving at their new NYC duplex, a roomy but somewhat grubby place on the wrong side of town. Dad Erik has a non-teaching job in a private school. His wife Deirdre is a much put-upon office manager, now taking orders from, and looking after, men less than half her age earning four times as much. They look after Erik’s mom, who has dementia. Brigid’s music career is going nowhere whilst she waits tables and claims benefits. Things have recently gone badly in both career and personal life for Brigid’s seemingly successful sister Aimee, a gay lawyer. Richard is still studying at 38, but comes from very different stock.

As the evening unfolds, their closeness as a family contrasts with their bitching and sniping, like most families (!), as recent dramatic events are revealed. There’s an air of mystery surrounding the proceedings, generated by the noises and lights of the building and the dreams of Erik and Richard, but though this adds atmosphere, it doesn’t add much more. Along the way, we get references to 9/11, American corporate values & loyalty and economic impact. It feels both a family saga and a comment on our times. There’s an authenticity and naturalism, largely due to a uniformly excellent American cast who’ve been with it now for some time. I found it enthralling.

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American Clare Barron’s play is, well, very American. Ostensibly about the competitive dancing circuit for young teens, it’s more about growing up, searching for individual identity. I struggled to engage with it

I liked the start, where dance teacher Pat is laying out the route to the nationals, via Philadelphia and Akron Ohio to the giddy heights of Tampa, Florida. He tells them he’s created a routine about Ghandi, then discovers they’ve never heard of him. The dance competition journey is funny, capturing the obsession and competitiveness of such things in the American psyche; think pageants.

It took me a while to realise the cast of all shapes, sizes, races and ages were all playing 13-year-olds. They take it in turns to step out and tell their growing up story, their hopes and dreams, in scenes which are more serious and darker, filled with preoccupations of menstruation and masturbation. I suspect this will mean more to those who were once thirteen-year-old girls! It’s structure is a bit like A Chorus Line, though with tales of teenage angst rather than self-obsession and insecurity.

It’s good to see Brendan Cowell back (or maybe he hasn’t left) though the part is nowhere near as challenging as Yerma or Galileo. The seven ‘girls’ are all excellent, with Miranda Foster doubling-up brilliantly to play dance moms. Irfan Shamji was very good as the solitary boy dancer in this troop. I thought Samal Blak’s mirrored dance studio set, mirrors revolving to become competition stages and dressing rooms, was excellent.

I admired it rather than enjoyed it, no doubt because it was so far away from my life in so many ways.

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This was one of the first plays I saw at the Traverse Theatre, and indeed at the Edinburgh Fringe, 33 years ago, which began a lifelong love of both, leading to ten shows at the new Traverse just last month. It was part of a golden age for Scottish drama, led by the Traverse, which went on to mount three more Jo Clifford plays before moving on to the next generation. It hasn’t been revived there since and I’m not sure it’s ever been seen in London before.

It’s set in the early 17th century, when Spain was an aspirational expansionist power with particular designs on the states which would one day become Italy. The newly married Duke of Osuna, not really enamoured with his new wife and seemingly impotent, avoids the honeymoon by heading to Venice on behalf of King and country to make Spain great again, with his poet Quevedo and servant Pablo, whose partner Maria stays at court in Madrid with the Duchess. On the way they encounter pirates and when they get there, it’s all a bit weird, with little to say and not really going anywhere.

I’m not sure Jess Curtis’ hybrid period / contemporary design helps Paul Miller’s production, but the actors work hard to breathe life into it, notably the four central performances by Tim Delap as the Duke, Christopher Logan as poet Quevedo, Eleanor Fanyinka as Maria and an excellent professional debut from Remus Brooks as Pablo. I can see why they thought the time was right to revive it, and indeed I was very much looking forward to seeing it again, but time hasn’t been kind and I’m afraid it comes over as dull and a bit pointless today.

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This audacious musical / pop concert, subtitled Divorced * Beheaded * Live!, puts Henry VIII’s six wives into a contemporary girl group, individually telling their story in song, competing for who had the hardest time, and together commenting on their common ground, and it’s huge fun, this week’s second breath of fresh air for the West End.

Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss’ show has some of the catchiest tunes you’ll hear on a theatre stage, and clever lyrics too. Though there is dialogue between songs, much direct to the audience, the story is largely told through music by the six sassy, bitchy girl power Queens, backed by a cracking all-girl rock band. The excellent costumes and lighting – Gabriella Slade & Tim Deiling respectively – both have a girl band aesthetic, and the audience were cheering and whooping as if they were at a pop concert rather than a musical.The six performers – Jarmeia Richard-Noel, Millie O’Connell, Natalie Paris, Alexia McIntosh, Aimie Atkinson & Maiya Quanasah-Breed – give the wives their individuality in uniformly great performances, and Katie Richardson’s band – the Ladies in Waiting – are great too. Jamie Armitage co-directs a playful production with writer Lucy Moss.

It shouldn’t really work, I’m hardly the target audience and you wouldn’t think it’s my thing, but I loved it!

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Well it won’t win any awards for subtlety! It was apparently always meant to be a musical, well spectacle come rock concert really, originally called Neverland, a modern day Peter Pan featuring ‘The Lost’ and a character called Tink, but for 40 years it was just an album by Meat Loaf which sold 43 million copies (3 of them in the UK, in the charts for 1.5 years) leading to two sequels.

The evil Falco Corporation is pitted against The Lost, but it’s CEO’s daughter is in love with Strat, their leader. As far as story goes, that’s about it, I’m afraid, even flimsier than the Dominion’s previous long-term occupant We Will Rock You. I was surprised to find power ballads predominated over rock songs, most of which were executed well, backed by a fine band. Jon Bausor’s extraordinary design, with projections by Finn Ross, fills the stage and indeed the vast Dominion auditorium to great effect; this is probably the best thing about it. It’s very well staged by Jay Scheib, but the choreography is vanilla pop video.

There’s a lot of talent on stage, but the performing style is uniformly over-the-top, albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek, everything exaggerated and, well, BIG. I enjoyed the spectacle and admired the execution, but I felt starved of story and I over-dosed on power ballads and pop video dancing. If you’re one of the 5% of the UK population that appears to own the album and you like your shows like rock concerts, it may be for you. I’m glad I waited for the cheap deal.

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This Bush Theatre transfer is a real breath of fresh air for the West End. Arinze Kene’s play is an extraordinary concoction of drama, performance poetry, rap and music, staged brilliantly, with a virtuoso performance from the playwright himself. I found it thrilling.

Misty tracks black Londoner Lucas as he navigates the city, starting with an altercation on the night bus, struggling with the changes to, and gentrification of, his city. It also tells the story of the playwright, developing his work with advice and interference from the producer, his agent and friends. Both are interwoven in a series of inventive short scenes, many with music, with the two musicians, the stage manager and a young girl providing brief characterisations of others. It’s structure confounds you as its originality pleases you.

Rajha Shakiry’s simple stylised design relies on Daniel Denton’s terrific projections and shadows to create evocative stage images beautifully lit by Jackie Shemesh. Omar Elerian’s staging is masterly, creative and unpredictable. The music, played live by Shiloh Coke and Adrain McLeod, seems an organic part of the story, and Elena Penoa’s sound made it exciting but fully audible. Arizne Kane has bucketloads of charisma and presence and his performance is stunning. All of the components come together to produce a truly captivating evening, with the audience erupting at the end.

I knew of Kene’s talent as an actor from One Night in Miami and Girl from the North Country, but I had no idea that he had such an original writing voice too. Unmissable.

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It’s eight years since the Menier transferred their superb revival of this show to the West End, so enough time has lapsed for me to want to see it again, though with a tinge of sadness in the week its book writer Neil Simon died. The Watermill’s revival is in its customary actor-musician style, with a touch of updating for good measure.

Based on a Fellini film, the adaptation by Simon, with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, tells the story of dance-hall hostess Charity and her search for love. It starts with her being dumped, and almost drowned, by then boyfriend Charlie, before a one-night stand with Italian film star Vittorio and a two-week infatuation with nerdy accountant Oscar. It’s one of the few musical comedies without a happy ending.

The wonderful Gemma Sutton plays Charity with a combination of dippy charm, naivety, gullibility and eternal optimism, more vulnerable than usual, and she’s sensational. Her fellow hostesses try to inject some realism to prevent her exploitation, but her rosy specs are irremovable. Even though they are ‘taxi dancers’ (present day lap dancers), there’s a strong suggestion that ‘clients’ can pay more for additional services, which must have been a bit shocking when it premiered fifty years ago, though its also suggested Charity is more innocent than the rest.

The story seems a bit thinner this time around, particularly in the first half, but the score is packed with great songs – Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now, There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This, The Rhythm of Life – and they are sung and played very well. As usual, they work wonders with the small space. Diego Pitarch’s design is all black, white and red, with heart-shaped arches that light up and a small video screen at the back to signpost locations like Central Park. The costumes are more contemporary than 60’s.

The rest of the cast is excellent, with an auspicious professional debut from Alex Cardall as Oscar, and another from Tomi Ogbaro as the bass playing head of the hippy dope-smoking Rhythm of Life Church. In Paul Hart’s production, they all play instruments, in brass-dominant arrangements, and the hostesses as showgirls moving whilst playing saxes and trumpets prove irresistible.

Another treat at the lovely Watermill.

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