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Posts Tagged ‘Above the Stag Theatre’

This 1995 play by Jonathan Harvey somehow passed me by when it was first staged at the Donmar, despite the fact he’d been on my radar since the first outing of Beautiful Thing, his most enduring play, a couple of years earlier, so this revival at Above the Stag (which isn’t any more) was a good opportunity to catch up with it.

Liverpudlian brothers Shaun and Marti, ten years apart, had until recently been estranged for seven years, since Shaun, the younger of the two, was sixteen in fact. Until then they had been very close, Marti a surrogate dad. We eventually learn the reason for the estrangement. They both now live in London and the play takes place in the bedsitter Shaun shares with his girlfriend Juliet, currently away at her dad’s funeral in Barbados. Shaun has a mobile hairdressing business and Marti sells stretch covers, reverse stereotypes given Marti is gay. The other characters are English teacher George (girl) downstairs, on the rebound from ex Malcolm, who clearly fancies Shaun, mad-as-a-hatter Clarine / Zoe / Sharon upstairs and Dean / Fifi, Marti’s trans friend whose love is also unrequited.

All of these relationships play out in the one room, superbly designed by David Sheilds, in an intimate traverse staging by Steven Dexter which is at times a touch melodramatic but enthralling nonetheless. Harvey’s characters sometimes veer towards caricatures, but they are well drawn and here very well performed by Tom Whittaker and Hal Geller as the younger and older brothers, Phoebe Vigor and Amy Dunn, upstairs and downstairs respectively, and Myles Devonte as Dean.

This was my first visit to Above the Stag’s plush new under-the-railway space, much better than their two previous homes.

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I didn’t see Jon Bradfield & Martin Hooper’s first show at the same venue last year, but this second musical comedy proves to be huge, infectious fun. It’s the story of a gay football team entering an international gay soccer tournament. As the title and subtitle, a musical with balls, suggest, it’s a gay romp.

New boy Joe, moving to London from the North West and leaving his boyfriend Charlie behind, joins the team of his Brazilian work colleague Will; their company are the team’s sponsors – one of their CSR initiatives. The other members are gentle giant Pete, their coach and former semi-professional player, Dom, Frazer, Liam and the outrageously camp Tayzr who learns of the tournament in Bilbao and persuades the others to enter.

In Bilbao they don’t take things too seriously, until they start winning. Joe reconnects with Charlie, who has a new rather possessive and clingy partner Marcus, Liam attempts to turn straight Norwegian Mathias, Pete meets a former semi-pro colleague Jase and goalie Tayzr continues his hedonistic lifestyle.

Bradfield has written some nice tunes, with witty lyrics, which MD Simon David plays gamely on solo piano. The small space is used to great effect in Robert McWhir’s sprightly staging (great to see him back after the demise of the Landor) with chirpy choreography by Carole Todd. It’s an excellent young cast who clearly love performing it, something which brings it to life and fills the auditorium with smiles.

Great fun.

 

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There’s a biography, a film and a play charting the relationship between playwright Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell, but I never thought I’d see a musical. As it turns out, Richard Silver & Sean J Hume’s show proves better at showing the complexity of their relationship, as well as being an impressive small-scale musical.

It follows the pair from their first meeting at RADA in 1951 through to Orton’s murder by a by now psychotic Halliwell 16 years later. The unlikely relationship takes us through 50’s drama school life, their hermit-like existence in a small Islington flat, Orton’s promiscuity, imprisonment for defacing library books and North African holidays with Kenneth Williams through to success in the 60’s, when Orton overshadows Halliwell as he becomes a darling of the glitterati. It’s a fascinating story and here it’s entertainingly told, yet still manages to convey the psychological depth of the relationship and its tragic ending.

I thought both Richard Dawes and Andrew Rowney (who appears to have had his head shaved in the line of duty!) were outstanding as Orton and Halliwell respectively. Valerie Cutko was excellent as both of the contrasting older women in their lives – landlady Mrs Cordon and literary agent Peggy Ramsay – and there’s a terrific turn from Simon Kingsley as Kenneth Williams. In an excellent small ensemble, Katie Brennan stands out.

It’s a very good score, full of great tunes and sharp lyrics. The book doesn’t veer from the other forms, though there were a few new facts (to me), most notably that Terence Rattigan invested in the original production of Entertaining Mr Sloane. Director Tim McArthur has done well to make the show work in such a small space and his staging has great pace, using the six doors of Andrew Holton’s design to great effect.

A fine new British musical that’s about to close, but will hopefully turn up again.

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