Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

A musical at the Open Air Theatre has been one of my summer institutions for decades. Evita is one of the few Andrew Lloyd-Webber shows I like, I hadn’t seen it for thirteen years and the director and designer are favourites of mine, but it didn’t catch my imagination and I didn’t book early as usual. The reviews suggested it was more of a rock concert and I hadn’t liked a similar treatment of Jesus Christ Superstar, so decision confirmed. Then in its final week, a free evening, sunny days, a few single tickets available, a dose of FOMO and no willpower…….

It’s staged on eight large steps the width of the theatre with the band at the back in a corrugated roofed shed behind a giant EVITA sign. It isn’t long before the smoke and confetti bombs confirm the rock concert aesthetic, later joined by more of the same plus fire and fireworks. Even Fabian Aloise’s quirky, grungy choreography owes more to pop videos that musical theatre. Soutra Gilmour’s design palette goes from funereal black through greys to the Peronist pale blue, with at one point Evita’s white dress spectacularly coloured before our eyes.

Some of this works well, particularly big numbers like the opening Requiem, Act I’s closer A New Argentina, the European visit’s Rainbow Tour & the charity fundraising The Money Keeps Rolling In, but it doesn’t always serve the story well, with some of Tim Rice’s sharp lyrics inaudible. Somewhat ironically, presenting it as a rock concert emphasised how operatic it is, but opera really needs more subtlety and some restraint to go with its spectacle. This is a bit of a one dimensional Evita and I couldn’t help fondly recalling Hal Prince’s ground-breaking original in 1978 and Michael Grandage’s stylish revival in 2006.

I liked the all-shapes-sizes-and-colours ensemble very much, and Alan Williams’ band was simply terrific. Trent Saunders was an excellent Che and Ektor Rivera good as Peron. I felt Samantha Pauly was too shouty as Eva and her vocals sometimes shaky, though in all fairness it was a cool evening (I had a jumper and fleece on) and she was clothed in next to nothing, albeit under bright lights most of the time. I can’t help wondering why all three leads are American when we have many here, some no doubt unemployed, who would jump at and excel in these roles.

I enjoyed it more than Superstar, I respect and admire Jamie Lloyd for taking a fresh look and I don’t regret going, but can we move on from ALW revivals in concert and get back to business as usual please? Ah, Carousel next year – now you’re talking……

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

American writer / composer Dave Malloy is rather prolific – sixteen shows in the last sixteen years – though I think this is the first we’ve seen here in London; not even his multiple Tony award winning Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 has crossed the Atlantic yet. This original and inventive work is subtitled A Musical Fantasia Set In The Hypnotised Mind Of Sergei Rachmaninoff, which seems like a good opener for a review!

It takes place towards the end of the three year period of depression which followed the negative reaction to Rachmaninoff’s first symphony in 1897, when he was just 24. He’s visited hypnotherapist Dahl throughout and the show uses these sessions as a starting point for tangential leaps into scenes with his wife Natalya, opera singer friend Chaliapin and a host of famous Russians including Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Glazunov and Czar Nicholas II.

I liked the idea of having two Rachmaninoff’s, one sitting at the piano playing his music and the other wild and boyish, a bit like Mozart in Amadeus, flitting between scenes expressing what’s inside his head; inner and outer characters. There are original songs, Rachmaninov pieces and hybrids. Even though it’s set in 1900, there are modern references and language which I didn’t think worked particularly well. I did like the idea of having the two keyboard players onstage, Billy Bullivant and MD Jordan Li-Smith, who sounded great.

It’s a rather surreal cocktail which by the interval hadn’t convinced me. The first half closing song, Natalya, and the second half opener, Loop, lifted it, and from then on it was a lot better, and it is a unique piece. Though I have reservations about the material, particularly its structure and unevenness, I have none about Alex Sutton’s excellent production. The design team have done a particularly fine job – Rebecca Brower’s set & costumes, Christopher Nairne’s lighting and Andrew Johnson’s sound – and Ste Clough’s choreography is great.

Tom Noyes as Rachmaninoff the pianist makes a sensational professional debut, playing brilliantly throughout, and singing beautifully in the closing number. Keith Ramsey is terrific as Rach, athletic and manic, on stage for most of the show. They have superb support from Rebecca Caine as Dahl, Georgia Louise as Natalya, Norton James as Chaliapan and Steven Serlin as The Master, the Russian famous five.

It’s whetted my appetite to see more of Malloy’s work, which won’t take long as, like the proverbial bus, another one comes along next month when Ghost Quartet opens the new Boulevard Theatre.

Read Full Post »

Writer / director Alexander Zeldin’s last play LOVE, about homelessness, also in the Dorfman Theatre at the National, had a huge impact on me. Although I knew what was happening to our welfare system, it confronted me with the consequences very vividly in an emotional rollercoaster that made me sad, angry and ashamed. This is a companion piece, very much in the same style.

Hazel is a volunteer running a drop-in centre providing a hot meal to anyone who needs one, but it becomes much more than that. There’s a choir, with it’s temporary choirmaster Mason, who also helps with the lunches, and advice, counselling, companionship, and belonging provided by Hazel, a woman brimming with compassion and a heart of gold. Just about everything the state no longer provides, in fact.

One of the main threads in the play involves Beth, whose daughter has been taken into care, and her sixteen-year-old son, who’s been forced to become the responsible one in this single parent family. Young Anthony and old Bernard live in an unwelcoming hostel which they escape from for a few hours. Karl fills at least one gap of the many his carer can no longer fill. Tharwa and her daughter Tala come for food, but get so much more. A slice of life in uncaring Britain.

Zeldin’s theatrical style is heightened realism and natural pacing. Natasha Jenkins’ extraordinary design places the audience as onlookers in an authentic community centre in natural indoor light, with characters sometimes occupying seats amongst us. The cast, including three from the previous play, inhabit these characters fully, with the wonderful Cecilia Noble as Hazel, the heart of the piece in every sense, Nick Holder excellent as the very complex Mason, and an empathetic performance from Alan Williams as Bernard.

In some ways it’s LOVE Part Two, but I didn’t find it as bleak and harrowing, perhaps because Hazel represents the kindness real people offer to compensate for what the system no longer does, and there are flashes of humour which provides some release. It still had much impact, though; important, urgent theatre that has to be seen.

Read Full Post »

I’m not sure we’ve seen this 7th play in August Wilson’s American Century Cycle in the UK before; if so, it certainly passed me by. Each play represents the African American experience in one decade of the 20th Century, this one the sixties. They are all set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, from where Wilson himself hails, this play in Lee’s Restaurant, owned by a character called Memphis.

It’s 1969, a year after the assassination of Martin Luther King. The civil rights movement is very active, there are regular clashes as the police target the black community and Pittsburgh’s urban renewal is displacing black families. All this is happening outside Memphis’ establishment, which is itself threatened by compulsory purchase for development. Apart from Memphis and his assistant Risa, we meet two black businessmen, the very successful local undertaker and property owner West, and Holloway, whose business interests are less clear. Homeless man Hambone, hardy able to communicate, drifts in and out, as does Wolf, who runs an illegal betting business using the diner’s phone. Wheeler-dealer Sterling, recently out of prison, makes a play for Risa, befriends Hambone, does deals with Memphis and bets with Wolf. In many ways, he’s the heart if the play.

There’s less plot and character development than Wilson’s other plays. It’s more of a social history, though of a fascinating period close enough to resonate. It’s like seven lives converging inside the restaurant, with events outside a backdrop, and there’s a tragic but very satisfying and defiant conclusion. I struggled to engage with the first half’s overlong eighty minute scene setting, but the second half was much better, though I don’t think it’s amongst the best of the cycle, despite the ripeness of the period. I also struggled catching all of the dialogue, as the emphasis was on authenticity more than clarity. Frankie Bradshaw’s design is terrific, a realistic diner with an impressionistic city backdrop and a symbolic wrecking ball, and director Nancy Medina has repaid the trust of the judges of the RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award with a fine production. It would be invidious to single out any individual in this very fine cast; the seven performances are uniformly excellent.

I’m getting fond of these afternoon trips to Northampton,where so much quality drama now originates. Co-produced by ETT, this one also gets to be seen in six other towns and cities. Get to one of them!

Read Full Post »

For a 32-year-old, adapter / director Robert Icke has had an extraordinary career. Fifteen major productions in eight years, of which nine were at the Almeida, four of them transferring to the West End. Until this, I’d seen nine, six of which I loved. His work isn’t always to my taste, but it’s always interesting. This is his last production as Associate of the Almeida and for me he’s ending on a real high.

I don’t know the source of this adaptation, Arthur Schnitzler’s ‘Professor Bernhardt’, but it’s billed as ‘very freely adapted from’ so probably more Icke than Schnitzler. It’s a riveting debate about medical ethics & politics and how modern society responds to such issues. We’re in a medical institute which researches into and treats dementia, but the incident that generates the debate concerns a young girl who’s taken in as an act of mercy. Her death is picked up by interest groups covering faiths, abortion, race and sex, fuelled by the internet, social media and the press, escalating in a matter of days, with most of the debate driven by emotion and special interest.

Casting which is gender and colour blind, and in one case of doubling up, means things are only revealed by what is said rather than what is seen, so identities aren’t always immediately obvious. The first half sees the debate confined to the institution, though events outside are being monitored. In the second half they become public, and the worst aspects of modern society’s obsession with witch hunts and public ‘crucifixions’ come to the fore. The unfolding drama and discussion has you in its grip throughout, with the plainness of the design placing all of the focus on the dialogue as it takes its hold. It could easily be dry, but I found it thoroughly absorbing and emotionally engaging. It would be good to think those who judge without evidence get to see it, but they are probably making ill-informed comments via their smart phones or pursuing a blinkered view based on vested interest.

Juliet Stevenson is onstage throughout, even during the interval, and her performance is an extraordinary tour de force, moving from detached and logical to surprised, defiant, combative, dejected and broken, a real roller coaster ride. There is a fine supporting cast in multiple roles and a drummer high above the stage adding tension through percussion. I left the theatre emotionally drained but exhilarated. I suspect I shall be processing for days. As fine a piece of drama as you could wish for.

Read Full Post »

In 1987, a quirky and, at that time, highly original little one act musical called March of the Falsettos turned up in the West End for a few weeks. It was the second part of a trilogy but we never saw In Trousers, the first part, or Falsettoland, the third, here in the UK. This is the second and third part together, and its taken 27 years to get here, hot on the heels of a successful Broadway revival three years ago. It’s writer William Finn went on to give us The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Little Miss Sunshine and the song cycle Elegies, and there are a handful of other shows that never made the crossing. His book co-writer James Lapine is better known as Stephen Sondheim’s collaborator on three of his shows between 1984 and 1994.

The story revolves around Marvin, Jewish New Yorker, married to Trina, son Jason. He leaves Trina for a man, Whizzer. Trina goes to Marvin’s shrink Mendel to help her come to terms with it. She gets Mendel to see her son Jason at home, though he might be the most balanced of them all. She ends up marrying Mendel. Marvin and Whizzer bicker, as do Marvin and Trina. He seems to want it all. Marvin and Whizzer split. In the second part we meet the lesbians, Marvin’s neighbours, and he is reconciled with Whizzer. The family rows turn to Jason’s bar mitzvah and the spectre of AIDS appears. The story is told almost entirely in song, thirty-five of them in fact. They are expertly crafted, catchy tunes with sharp, witty lyrics that really do propel and animate the story. Each part starts lightly, but gets serious, and both dare to end sadly. It struck me how ground-breaking it must have been and how much it was ahead of its time. With the exception of the fatality of HIV, it seems more a story of now than then.

This appears to be a big gig for Director / Choreographer Tara Overfield-Wilkinson and she’s done a great job. The real strength of the production is its faultless casting; I loved every one of them. Daniel Boys as Marvin and Oliver Saville as Whizzer excel in both acting and singing and the combination of their voices is beautiful. Laura Pitt-Pulford shines as always as Trina and I loved Joel Montague’s characterisation of Mendel, both also in fine voice. Natasha J Barnes and Gemma Knight-Jones make great contributions in the second past as the lesbians, with great big vocal performances. Young George Kennedy gives an incredibly assured performance as Jason; a most auspicious professional debut indeed.

In the last six months the producers Selladoor have given us Amelie at the Watermill and on tour and Finn’s Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola and on tour. Long may they continue to deliver such high quality productions like this. Don’t miss it!

Read Full Post »

This is the second production from Wise Children, Emma Rice’s new company, following the show also called Wise Children. It wasn’t scheduled to come to London, so I went to Cambridge, which probably guarantees it will now come to London!

It’s based on the first of Enid Blyton’s books of the same name, set in a girls boarding school in Cornwall soon after the Second World War. Six schoolgirls arrive for their first term, joined by another held back a year. Each represents an archetype – the bully, the bossy one, the class clown, the timid one and so on. The clash between these very different personalities is the source of much of the story, though there’s an unplanned adventure and a school play to put on. It became a bit darker, with an injection of feminism, in the second half, which I liked. We don’t meet any of the staff, though the Headmistress is represented in animation, voiced by Sheila Hancock.

There are songs, including a handful of new ones by Ian Ross & Emma Rice and standards like Mr Sandman, with live piano accompaniment from Stephanie Hockley, occasionally joined by members of the cast on other instruments. There are clever projections and animations onto the second, classroom, level of Lez Brotherston’s set, with the front stage the dormitory. The seven performers are excellent, perfectly capturing the archetypes and the period. Yet there’s something missing – it has less of the inventiveness we’ve become used to with Rice’s work, it’s a bit slow to take off and it lacks some sparkle. That said, there’s a lot to enjoy and it was a somewhat nostalgic, chirpy show, if not not vintage Rice.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »