Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Aldwych Theatre’

Best New Play – The Lehman Trilogy*, The Inheritance* & Sweat*

I find it impossible to choose between these three extraordinary evenings (well, afternoon and evening in the case of the The Inheritance) but they were in very good company with a dozen other new plays in contention. Also at the NT, Home, I’m Darling* and Nine Night* were great, and also at the Young Vic The Convert* became a late addition in December. At the Bush, both Misty and An Adventure impressed (though I saw the former when it transferred to Trafalgar Studios).The remaining London contenders were The Humans at Hampstead Theatre, Pressure at the Park Theatre, Things I Know To Be True at the Lyric Hammersmith and The Wipers Times at the Arts, though these last two weren’t new to London, just me. The Edinburgh Fringe added two, Class* and Ulster American*, both Irish, both at the Traverse and both heading to London, so look out for them. The eight starred are either still running or coming back in 2019, so be sure to catch them if you haven’t seen them already.

Best New Musical – Hamilton*

It opened right at the end of 2017, but I didn’t see it until January 2018 (and again in December 2018). It certainly lives up to the hype and is unquestionably ground-breaking in the same way West Side Story was sixty years before. It was a good year for new musicals, though 40% of my shortlist were out-of-town, headed by Flowers For Mrs Harris at Chichester, with Pieces of String in Colchester, Miss Littlewood in Stratford and Sting’s The Last Ship mooring briefly in Northampton. Back in London, the Young Vic continued to shine with Fun Home and Twelfth Night and the NT imported Hadestown*. Tina* proved to be in the premiere league of juke-box musicals and SIX* was a breath of fresh air at the Arts. Only four are still running, or coming back.

Best Play Revival – The York Realist and Summer and Smoke*

Another category where I can’t split the top two. The former a gem at the Donmar and the latter shining just as brightly at the Almeida. I didn’t see the Old Vic’s glorious A Christmas Carol* until January, so that was a contender too, along with The Daughter-in-Law* at the Arcola and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in the West End. Then there were four cracking Shakespeare’s – The Bridge Theatre’s promenade Julius Caesar, the RSC’s Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu visiting Hackney Empire, Ian McKellen’s King Lear transfer from Chichester, and the NT’s Anthony & Cleopatra* with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okenedo. Another four still running / coming back.

Best Musical Revival – Company*

The leanest category this year, with Marianne Elliott’s revival of Sondheim’s Company exceeding expectations; I shall be back at the last night. Chichester brought yet more joy with Me & My Girl and right at the end of the year, the Mill at Sonning came up trumps for the third year running with a great favourite of mine, Guys & Dolls* Finally, The Rink at Southwark Playhouse, the only contender this year from the usually more prolific fringe. Two to catch if you haven’t already.

Theatre of the Year – The Young Vic

Though five of my thirty-seven contenders were at the NT, The Young Vic shone even more brightly with four, all new works. Only four originated in the West End, which further emphasises how crucial the subsidised sector and the regions are. You can still see half of them, but some close soon, so get booking!

Read Full Post »

I’m surprised that there’s been little or no mention that this is the second Tina Turner jukebox musical, the first just six years ago, transferring from Hackney Empire to the Savoy Theatre for a short summer run (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/soul-sister). The previous one had much to enjoy, but this is on another level altogether. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who virtually invented the modern day jukebox musical with Mamma Mia, seen in 40 countries, still running in London after 19 years, now almost next door to this, returns with what might be its pinnacle.

Like those other great jukebox musicals – Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon & Beautiful – it’s biographical. Tina’s story begins in her childhood church in Tennessee with a brilliant gospel version of Nutbush City Limits. She’s abandoned by her mum, then her dad, and lives with her grandma until her death, after which she goes to live with her mother and sister in St. Louis. Here she meets Ike and so begins the years of success, and abuse. When she finally plucks up the courage to leave him, he continues to exert control over her repertoire and she ends up lost and broke in Las Vegas. Her only hope is new material, and she finds that by following young Aussie Roger Davies to London. The rest, as they say, is history.

Katori Hall has made a great job of telling the story through her excellent book and the production oozes quality in every department, from Anthony van Laast’s choreography, recreating some of Tina’s somewhat quirky moves, Mark Thompson’s designs, Bruno Poet’s lighting and Nevin Steinberg’s sound to Tom Kelly’s terrific band. The show ends with the now customary mini-concert, allowing the audience to indulge in the singing and dancing they’ve been suppressing for 2.5 hours, during which there was a lovely moment when Tina duets with her childhood self.

Adrienne Warren is the embodiment of Tina in a sensational performance; she has the same extraordinary audience contact Tina had. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who I last saw as Laertes in Hamlet (!) is a revelation as Ike, though he did veer towards caricature occasionally. In a superb supporting cast, I really liked Ryan O’Donnell as Davies, Madeline Appiah as Tina’s mum and Lorna Gayle as grandma.

A show that lives up to the hype, and more.

Read Full Post »

I’ve waited 33 years for a revival of this show, which I first saw at The Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester in 1982, with Tom Courtney no less in the title role. It transferred speedily to The Aldwych in London, though it lost something in the new space, but hasn’t been seen since. After seeing it as part of the Finborough’s occasional Celebrating British Music Theatre series, I’m baffled as to why. It’s charming and funny (though more than a touch politically incorrect for today’s audience) and has some terrific tunes. It’s crying out for a bigger production and a longer run.

There aren’t that many shows based on a comic strip and this may be the only British one. Reg Smythe’s iconic character started in the northern edition of the Daily Mirror but eventually swept the world, featuring in 1700 newspapers in 14 different languages. With a book and lyrics by actor Trevor Peacock, who went on to create some classic TV characters, and music and lyrics by former Animal Alan Price, it’s very true to its source, capturing the world of work-shy Andy and his put-upon wife Flo, but revolving around the marriage of friend Elvis Horsepole to Raquel Scrmmett. Some of the sexist and misogynistic sentiments caused gasps from the audience, but they are what they were. There are lots of great tunes, most notably the ensemble pieces We’re Waiting, Good Evening and It’s Better To Be In Simple Harmony, which I recognised instantly and was singing all the way home (alone in the car, thankfully).

It’s a tough call to stage this on another play’s set in a tiny theatre, and it sometimes seems a bit cramped and crowded on stage, but Jake Smith pulls it off and the shows wins you over with it’s nostalgic charm, cheeky humour and above all uplifting music. They’ve assembled an excellent ensemble for just eleven performances. David Muscat is excellent as singing-narrator Geordie, as Price was in the original production. Roger Alborough and Lynn Robertson Hay are great as Andy and Flo. Paddy Navin brings the house down as Mrs Scrimmett, as does Terence Frisch as her husband, when he transforms from hen-pecked and mute to the man-in-charge during his daughter’s wedding.

I had a hunch it was a little gem waiting to be rediscovered and the Finborough has proven this conclusively.

 

Read Full Post »

Best New Play – Violence & Son / Iphigenia in Splott

What a bumper year for new plays. I saw more than 80 and almost half of these made it onto the long list. The final cut saw a very diverse bunch competing. At the NT, a brilliant adaptation of Jane Eyre and a stunning ‘mash-up’ of three D H Lawrence plays as Husbands and Sons, a very radical adaptation of Everyman, the somewhat harrowing People Place & Things, the highly original Rules for Living and the expletive-loaded Mother*****r With the Hat. Two ‘minimalist’ Mike Bartlett contributions – Bull at the Young Vic and Game at the Almeida, both original and hugely impressive. The Young Vic also staged Ivo van Hove’s stunning Songs From Far Away. The Royal Court gave us Martin McDonough’s black comedy Hangman, Debbie Tucker Green’s distressing hang and a play about the NHS, Who Cares?, which took place all over the theatre. At The Donmar, Temple was a more conservative but beautifully written piece about the impact of Occupy outside St. Pauls on those inside. The Bush surprised with The Royale, a play about boxing, my least favourite sport, and The Arcola hosted one about rugby, the deeply moving NTW / Out of Joint verbatim collaboration, Crouch Touch Pause Engage as well as the lovely Eventide and Clarion. Jessica Swale graced the Globe with another superb historical play, Nell Gwynn, with the lovely Farinelli & the King next door in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I was much more positive than most about Future Conditional, a topical analysis of our broken education system, which kicked off the new regime at the Old Vic. Elsewhere in the West End only Photograph 51, Taken at Midnight (from Chichester), Oppenheimer (from Stratford) and Bad Jews made the cut. The Park continued to make itself indispensable with The Gathered Leaves and Theatre 503 punched above its weight with Rotterdam, a sensitive and very funny exploration of transgender issues. Southwark Playhouse found one of the best Tennessee Williams’s rarities, One Arm. Earlier in the year, Hampstead gave us the very underrated Luna Gale and topped this with Ian Kelly’s Mr Foote’s Other Leg, and even the late Arthur Miller was a candidate with the belated world premiere of his first play No Villain, but it was Gary Owen’s contributions that pipped everyone else at the post – Violence & Son, a striking modern family drama at the Royal Court Upstairs, and Iphigene in Splott, a Greek adaptation (but radical enough to be considered a new play) which packed more punch than most in a year abundant with Greek adaptations, which started in Cardiff and toured via the Edinburgh fringe ending up at the NT’s temporary space.

Best Revival – Les Liasons Dangereuses

I saw half as many revivals as new plays, and only a quarter of them made the long list. The best Shakespeare’s were both at the Young Vic – a shockingly modern Measure for Measure and a dance-drama Macbeth. The best of the Greeks were the Almeida’s Orestia and Stratford East’s Antigone, which out-shone the high profile Barbican-Van Hove-Binoche one. The Donmar pitched in with Patrick Marber’s Closer, embarrassingly better than his NT contributions this year, though the NT did shine with both Our Country’s Good The Beaux Stratagem, with particularly good use of music. The Globe gave us a very quick revival of Heresy of Love and the Open Air Theatre’s adaptation of Peter Pan was a triumph, but it was the long-overdue revival of Christopher Hampton’s masterpiece that ended the year with a theatrical feast.

Best New Musical – Bend It Like Beckham

Of the 50 musicals I saw in London, only 40% qualify as New Musicals and only seven made the final cut. I very much enjoyed wallowing in the nostalgia of both Carole King’s biographical Beautiful and the brilliantly staged Bert Bacharach compilation What’s It All About? (renamed Close to You for the West End). Xanadu was a hoot at Southwark Playhouse, which also hosted the very original Teddy, and the ever reliable Union pitched in with Spitfire Grill and The White Feather, a winner in any other year I suspect. Kinky Boots was great fun, but it was Howard Goodall’s brilliant Bend It Like Beckham, the a feel-good triumph which I’m about to see for the third time, that brought a breath of fresh air and a new audience to the West End.

Best Musical Revival – Grand Hotel

A better hit rate for musical revivals, with half of the 30 I saw in contention. The year started with a stunning revival of City of Angels which benefitted from the intimacy of the Donmar and ended with a very rare revival of Funny Girl which didn’t benefit from the intimacy of the Menier (but was still a highlight, and which I expect to be better at the Savoy, which hosted Gypsy which is also on on the list). It took two attempts to see the Open Air’s thrilling Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but well worth the return on a dry evening. Ye Olde Rose & Crowne in Walthamstow gave us notable revivals of both Face the Music and Bye Bye Birdie and the Landor chipped in with Thoroughly Modern Millie. A rare treat at the Royal Academy was Michel Legrand’s Amour and a unique experience at Belmarsh Young Offenders Institute where Pimlico Opera staged Our House with the residents and Suggs himself. I missed the same show at the Union, but did make three other revivals there – Whistle Down the Wind, Loserville and most especially Spend Spend Spend, my runner up. However, Thom Sutherland’s production of Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse was as close to perfection as you can get and made me look again at a show I had hitherto been underwhelmed by, and that’s what makes it the winner.

Read Full Post »

Very late to the party with this one, but it was a lovely party. All the best ‘jukebox’ musicals are biographical stories of the songwriters / performers whose songs populate them – Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon and now Beautiful, the Carole King Musical. I was surprised when I realised this ended as she found fame as a singer-songwriter with the iconic album Tapestry, but in the end it made perfect sense. I also wasn’t expecting fellow songwriters Mann & Weill to feature so much, or indeed other songs from the age of the contract songwriters.

It is an extraordinary real life story. She wrote her first commercial song – It Might As Well Rain Until September – aged 16 and was immediately put under contract by Donnie Kirshner to write songs for acts like The Drifters and The Shirelles, pairing with school friend and wannabe playwright Gerry Goffin as lyricist. They also became an item, she became pregnant by Goffin and they married. They became good friends with fellow contract songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill but were also professional rivals. Goffin’s infidelity eventually destroyed both their marriage and their songwriting partnership, just as Mann and Weill’s long courtship finally resulted in their marriage. King found herself writing songs alone, with no-one in mind to sing them, soon realising they were her personal story and meant for her and there began her second career and the conclusion of the show.

It begins and ends on the Carnegie Hall stage at the concert which signposts this second extraordinary stage of her life. In between we follow her life chronologically. As songs are written (by both partnerships) they morph into performances by the artists for whom they are composed, as the show moves seamlessly from scenes at home into the office and the studio. Early on there’s a lovely Neil Sedaka running joke (he dated her at school and wrote Oh Carol about her. She was also at school with Paul Simon!) and lots of other nice touches, most classic New York Jewish humour. I very much liked Douglas McGrath’s book and of course the songs are wonderful.

Katie Brayben is sensational as Carole, a fine actress with a glorious voice and spot on Brooklyn accent who ages and matures before your very eyes. Her three co-stars, Lorna Want as feisty independent Cynthia, Alan Morrissey as the troubled Gerry and Ian McIntosh as hypochondriac Barry, are all excellent in both acting and vocal departments and Gary Trainor is very good in the non-singing but pivotal role of Donnie Kirshner, and there’s a nice cameo from Glynis Barber as Carole’s mom. They are supported by a fine ensemble of twelve paying multiple roles, eight dancers and a great sounding ten-piece band under MD Matt Smith (presumably not the Dr Who one).

This is a lovely heart-warming, feel-good show which is also a true story with an exceptional soundtrack that virtually defines the period from the late 50’s through the 60’s to the early 70’s. I’m so glad I caught up with it.

Read Full Post »

Having failed to revitalise his flagging career with the Phantom sequel, Lloyd Webber returns to the docu-musical style of Evita, which was probably his best show. Sadly, Stephen Ward is nowhere near as interesting as Eva Peron and the music isn’t a patch on the earlier show. That notwithstanding, the creative team and performers do their best and there’s enough to enjoy to keep you interested for a couple of hours.

ALW’s premise is that Ward was the fall guy for those more powerful than him. The show takes a swipe at politicians, police, lawyers & the gutter press which is fine by me as they’re amongst my least favourite people. I don’t know how true it is, but it sounds plausible and is interesting but hardly fascinating or riveting.

I never thought I’d hear an ALW score containing a reggae song or a chorus number set in a sex party. It’s good that he’s moved on from the pompous pucciniesque pop opera mush (though he can’t resisit an overuse of ‘incidental’ music behind dialogue), but he’s replaced it with a score that’s a ragbag of musical styles. Wheras his music used to sound like other people’s (you know what I mean!), it now sounds like he’s re-cycling his own tunes. Christopher Hampton & Don Black have provided some witty lines and sharp lyrics, but they don’t rescue it.

A lot rests on Alexander Hanson’s performance as Ward, on stage virtually all of the time, and he is very good indeed. In an excellent supporting cast, Joanna Riding’s huge talent is underused in a small role as Profumo’s wife with just one song, though possibly the show’s best, and Ian Conningham is great as Yevgeny Ivanov, a journo and a copper.

I’m enjoying Richard Eyre’s late flowering as a director of musicals (Mary Poppins, Betty Blue Eyes & the Pajama Game) and he stages this very well, with choreography by Stephen Mear & excellent designs by Rob Howell featuring Jon Driscoll’s projections. The 24 scenes on 15 different locations are slickly handled.

For me, a great production of mediocre material. It has just extended by three months though on a Friday night with best seats discounted by over 40% (one of the reasons I went!) it was a far from full house, so it’s difficult to see why.

Read Full Post »

The problem with this stage premiere of the 1939 Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers RKO picture is that’s its way too reverential. Most new stagings of 30’s shows (Anything Goes, Girl Crazy, On Your Toes, Babes in Arms…..) have scrubbed up fresh, but this feels like a visit to the RKO Musicals Museum.

It’s typical musical comedy fare. American hoofer Jerry Travers falls for Dale Tremont during a London run, but she thinks he’s producer Horace Hardwick. The mistaken identity unravels and resolves during a visit to Horace’s wife in Venice, where a rather cartoon Italian dressmaker Alberto Beddini gets caught up in the plot. It all ends happily (except for Alberto).

From Hildegard Bechtler’s lovely art deco sets & Jon Morrell’s accompanying costumes to the perfect wigs & make-up to the period choreography to the permanent smiles, it’s as if they set about recreating the film in colourful 3D. It felt like you’d dozed off on the sofa watching the movie in B&W on a Sunday afternoon and awoke disorientated with these people live in colour in your living room.

I found the leads a bit wooden; Charlotte Gooch is new, so she could be excused, but Tom Chambers has been doing it for 15 months. The smaller parts fared better, particularly Vivien Parry as Madge Hardwick, Stephen Boswell as Bates and understudy Paul Kemble as Horace Hardwick.

Director Matthew White has produced exciting revivals of Sweet Charity and Little Shop of Horrors at the Menier and choreographer Bill Deamer has produced fresh choreography for shows like The Boyfriend and Lady Be Good at the Open Air Theatre, so I’m a bit puzzled why they chose to be so conservative here. A disappointment.

Read Full Post »