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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

The international success of Mischief Theatre has been one of the theatre world’s great fairytales. The Play That Goes Wrong went from a room above a pub to 5 years in the West End, where it still runs, and almost a year on Broadway; I’ve lost track of the number of other countries it’s been staged in. There have been two more shows in the West End, with The Comedy About A Bank Robbery now in it’s 4th year and Peter Pan Goes Wrong back for Christmas, when they will have 4 shows in London running at the same time, with Magic Goes Wrong following this into the Vaudeville Theatre. They only left drama school c.10 years ago!

I was pleased they moved on from ‘goes wrong’ to have as much success with The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, a retro caper comedy that went straight into the West End, and they’re moved on again with this new show which, even though the trademark farce & physical comedy is still there, adds a lot of observational comedy. I really liked it.

The first act sees us in a primary school with five kids, played by adults in an oversized set, and the behaviour accurately reflects kids of that age; it’s very funny. In act two the same kids are teens in secondary school and we see how their archetypes have grown, if anything even funnier. In the final act we’re at a school reunion to see what they’ve made of their lives now that they’re in their early thirties. It’s still funny, but with more depth as we see how our early years mould us and make us, or not.

The five actors playing the kids growing up, all Mischief founders, are terrific at all three ages, with two other actors each playing two adult roles. On the night I went George Haynes was standing in for Jonathan Sayer, but you’d never know it. The set proportions get smaller as the characters get older and there are lovely running gags, most involving the school hamster. I thought it was an inspired idea to add a surprise performance after the curtain call. It might have a few less laughs than previous shows, but it’s got more depth, and I felt it shows the growth of the company as well as the characters they’re presenting.

The critical reception was lukewarm but the audience on Saturday seemed to love it. It may have improved since the press night (it appears to have lost 20 mins) and I would certainly recommend it. They’ve built up a loyal following and for me the secret of their success is that they combine consummate theatrical skills with good-time appeal to everyone of any age, offending no-one. Long may the fairytale continue.

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Great to report that London’s newest theatre opens with a big hit, a song cycle by Dave Malloy, whose Preludes we saw recently at Southwark Playhouse, performed to perfection by a cast of four, which could have been written especially for this space.

It consists of interwoven stories that between them cover a contemporary subway murder, a quirky fairy tale, Scheherazade & jazz musician Thelonius Monk and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher! It’s like a jigsaw and I learned early on that trying to follow the narrative and complete the jigsaw got in the way of enjoying the music, so I immersed myself in the very eclectic selection of songs of many styles and shades, as songs

It’s in the round and you encircle a pile of musical instruments, all of which are played by the cast, and lots of props, some of which perform themselves. Bill Buckhurst’s staging carefully creates and changes moods with some lovely touches of audience engagement that included additional percussion and the consumption of whisky, with an inspired ending. Simon Kenny’s design is full of fascinating detail, and David Gregory’s sound is absolutely superb.

The four performers engage with each other and the audience, with moments when they sing or play out songs together, but most alone. They play a vast array of instruments and the vocals are simply gorgeous. It’s hard to imagine a better quartet than Zubin Varla, Carly Bawden, Maimauna Memon & Niccolo Curradi; they are all on fine form.

I loved the intimacy, flexibility and elegance of the space and it seemed to me to be the perfect opening show. Don’t miss it.

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It’s always good to welcome a new British musical, and this is a promising one, but as the great Stephen Sondheim says, musicals aren’t written they’re rewritten, so I approach this as work-in-progress.

Katharine Heath’s superb design turns the Union Theatre into The Green Fairy pub, where our protagonist Jo comes to see her estranged daughter Wendy perform at their Open Mic Night. From here, we flash back, courtesy of an actual green fairy, to a the moment Jo falls in love with Eliza but decides not to accompany her on her quest for fame in the USA. We then learn that she marries Daniel, the landlord of the pub, and they have a child, Wendy. From here we move back and fore to piece together Jo’s story, facilitated by the Green Fairy.

It’s a slow and shaky start, which risks losing the audience before it takes them in its hold. Jack Sain has written the book, music and some of the lyrics, with Stephen Libby, and also directed. In my view this is one job too many and, despite his directorial experience, that’s the chair he should have relinquished to ensure some healthy creative tension that could have tightened it. They have their moments, but neither the book nor the score are currently good enough, and not all of the unamplified singers win the battle with four or five instruments, so the storytelling is hampered because not all of the lyrics are audible.

It’s good to see Julie Atherton again, and she navigates the emotional roller-coaster role of Jo very well, with strong vocals. Georgina Hellier is outstanding as Eliza / the Green Fairy and the supporting cast – Emma Whittaker, David Perkins, Emma Kidney & Harry F Brown – are all very good. MD William Bullivant has made the short journey from Preludes at the Southwark Playhouse to helm this very successfully.

I do hope we get a second version, but that doesn’t stop me from recommending this first outing for musical theatre lovers.

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I think I would best describe this intriguing play by Ed Thomas as Samuel Beckett meets Dylan Thomas. It’s dialogue is poetic and it’s story is obscure, something I often turn against, but here I found it rather captivating.

John Daniel and his wife Noni are the last inhabitants of Bear Ridge. They’ve had to close their butchers shop. The post office has stopped delivering mail and their phone line has been cut. Their shop assistant & slaughter-man Ifan William has stayed with them. We don’t exactly know why Bear Ridge is being deserted, though it appears to be the result of a war of some sorts. Fighter planes occasionally fly overhead and an army man, The Captain, pays a visit.

Their conversation ranges from their plight to reminiscences about a happier past and reflections on tragedy, when we learn that John Daniel & Noni’s son, and Ifan William’s best friend, went to university to study philosophy but was killed because he spoke ‘the old language’. The Captain, a clearly tortured soul, has his own tragic story to tell. I’m still trying to piece it all together, with an intriguing note in the play-script suggesting it is ‘semi-autobiographical’.

Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola are both terrific as the couple at the centre of the story, with fine support from Sion Daniel Young as Ifan William and Jason Hughes as The Captain. Cai Dyfan’s design is hugely atmospheric, the exit of the walls representing the decline, as is the music and sound design. The Royal Court’s AD Vicky Featherstone co-directs with the playwright.

National Theatre Wales has gone through a difficult time of late, but it’s good to see them back, and in London, with this Royal Court co-production. I suspect I will be processing it for some time yet.

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Arinze Kene’s play Misty was one of my favourite evenings last year, which made me keen to see this revival of an earlier play, in the unlikely venue of the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. I will try and control my superlativeitis!

It consists of three interwoven monologues by black teenage school-kids on the brink of adulthood, but what makes it so much more is that their individual stories are animated by movement, audience contact and the other actors characterising people in the stories as they prowl around the small round platform. You sometimes have to work to understand all of the uber-realistic street dialogue, but it is very poetic as it crackles and sparkles.

The unpredictable very physical movement by DK Fashola is so integral to the piece, which is brilliantly staged by JMK Award Winner Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu. The depth of characterisation is extraordinary; you get to know, understand and empathise with these three souls, even if they are poles apart from your own life experiences. The three actors, of course, contribute much to this; Ayebe Godwin, Rachel Nwokoro and Khai Shaw are all absolutely superb.

It’s rare that writing, staging and performances all come together to creat something so special. Though it probably doesn’t belong at the Orange Tree, their rousing reception made it all the more of a joy. Two more weeks. Be there.

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This David Greig play is based on Polish writer Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 Sci Fi novel. It’s been made into a film three times, in Russian, then Polish, and by Hollywood in 2002, but this is the first stage adaptation.

Solaris is an ocean planet, with no land, and we’re on a space station orbiting it, studying it. The two year mission is coming to an end when psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives by shuttle to find Commander Gibarian has died of cancer. She also learns of strange goings on suggesting the planet is intelligent. It appears to be probing their memories, thoughts and feelings and sending in clones of significant people from their past, and soon after her arrival her old flame Ray turns up.

It transfers to stage surprisingly well; we don’t get many Sci Fi plays. I was a bit irritated by so many scenes, with a screen lowered between them, as we moved back and fore between locations on the space station, but otherwise it held you in its grip, particularly in the second half, which unfolded like a thriller. We hear from Gilbarian on video (Hugo Weaving, no less) within the space station and sometimes see the ocean on video between scenes, a bit disorientating front stalls!

The sex of Kelvin has been changed and Polly Frame plays her really well. Ray is in many ways a tougher role which I thought Keegan Joyce navigated very well. Jade Ogugua and Fode Simbo complete a fine cast. It’s great to see an international co-production from three great theatre cities with Edinburgh’s Greig writing and Australian Matthew Dutton directing. Too late to recommend it as I didn’t make it until the penultimate day of the short London run, but good to record its success.

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I was very fond of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel. It seemed to me to be quintessentially British, so I was disappointed when it was relocated from North London to Chicago for the 2000 film. Though this musical adaptation retained its US setting for it’s Broadway premiere in 2006, it’s relocated back to London N7 for it’s UK premiere, though it is being staged south of the river!

The story of Rob, the nerdy record shop owner, and his love life felt retro at the time of the book and film, but seems even more retro today. This adaptation distills it into the tale of Rob and current girlfriend Laura, with nods to the lives of shop hangers-on Dick and Barry, and the music scene and record collector obsessions as a backdrop. There are song lists for things like break-ups and mixtapes with strict rules. Rob’s ex’s make regular appearances in a large number of flashbacks and fantasy & dream sequences.

Tom Kitt’s eclectic score has particularly good lyrics by Amanda Green and it’s extremely well played by Paul Schofield’s band (members uncredited, sadly) and very well sung by the whole cast. David Shields excellent design makes great use of the small space, with clever transformations from shop to flat and more. It’s an impressive musical theatre directorial debut from Tom Jackson Greaves whose choreographic experience shines through, and I liked his use of the space in front of the stage and the aisle. Oliver Ormson and Shanay Holmes are both very good as Rob and Laura and there’s a fine ensemble, with great cameos from Robert Tripolino as Ian, Carl Au as Dick and Robbie Durham as Barry. We even get turns from Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen (Joshua Dever)!

With all the to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic, it does appear to have lost its sense of place and time and become a bit of an indeterminate transatlantic anywhere, anytime. David Lindsay-Abaire’s American book has been adapted for London by Vikki Stone and it might be this, and the vanilla pop-rock musical styles, which contribute most to the loss of some of Nick Hornby’s charming source. I think it’s a very good production of an OK show. It doesn’t feel like a Broadway show and I can see why it was curtailed after 18 previews and 13 post-press performances (and why its taken 13 years to get here). I suspect it fares much better on this scale, more intimate, with a talented and enthusiastic young cast, and I was glad I caught it.

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