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Posts Tagged ‘Alex Sutton’

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.

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More colourful than a river pageant and a whole lot more tuneful than a jubilee concert, if I were celebrating the jubilee, this 110 year-old musical / operetta would be my personal highlight. Apparently, at the time of the present queen’s coronation there were 500 productions around the UK! It’s so good, its hard to understand quite why it isn’t produced more often.

The stories of composer Sir Edward German and librettist Basil Hood are linked to Gilbert & Sullivan, to whom the show owes much in style. Hood wrote an operetta with Sullivan after Gilbert moved on and German completed an unfinished operetta with Gilbert after Sullivan’s death. Though neither German nor Hood achieved the fame of Gilbert & Sullivan, based on this show they clearly could have.

Set in the times of the earlier Queen Elizabeth, with the Queen a character (and a silent cameo from Elizabeth II at the curtain call!) the show takes place during a May Day festival where most of the male characters are besotted with the May Queen and everyone is convinced Jill-All-Alone is a witch. Somehow one of Queen Elizabeth’s  ladies in waiting and Sir Walter Raleigh, in love with one another but concealing  it from the Queen as she rather fancies him, turn up (this is musical theatre, after all), as does the Earl of Essex, who uses the opportunity presented by a lost letter to win the Queen for himself. It’s a simple, silly tale, but it provides a good showcase for much fun and some lovely music with very witty lyrics.

Played on the set of the Finborough’s other show with some simple painted backdrops and a handful of props, the design effort focuses on some excellent costumes (and particularly good footwear!) by Sophia Anastasiou. Benjamin Cox heroically plays the entire score on an electric piano and the musical standards are outstanding. I was particularly impressed by Michael Riseley as Raleigh, Nichola Jolley as Jill-All-Alone and Gemma Sandzer as lady-in-waiting Bessie Throgmorton. The comic honours belong to Daniel Crane, whose Walter Wilkins, actor in Shakespeare’s company, was a delight. The ensemble was superb and the choruses were terrific. Alex Sutton’s staging, with 18 actors in the tiny Finborough space, was excellent.

Like Gay’s The Word just a few months ago, this is another lost gem which deserves a much much longer run – one you’ll have to wait for as the present run is now over. Sorry!

 

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