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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Keates’

I’ve worked in China twice, on both occasions for British companies with operations there, both leadership and team development projects. The first was in 1999 and the second just over three years ago. Between the two, China’s rapid economic growth had changed the business world, bringing with it dubious ethics and poor management practices. By 2013, translation was being declined by executives lest they lost face; being known as someone who spoke English was key to career success. The consequential lack of comprehension brought huge issues. This play is about doing business in China and whilst I was watching scenes of poor translation leading to significant misunderstanding, I couldn’t help wondering how good the quality of translation and understanding of my words was!

Daniel is trying to sell signage for his ailing company in Cleveland, Ohio. He hires local Englishman Peter, teacher turned business consultant, and gets an opportunity to make a proposal to the Culture Minister & Deputy Minister of a large city. They are close to completing their new Arts Centre and will need bi-lingual signage, preferably without the translation gaffs of other projects. Daniel gets caught up in an extraordinary learning curve of misunderstanding, politics and corruption and only makes progress when he fires his consultant, gets lost in translation himself and does the counter-intuitive by exploiting rather than hiding his dubious past. It’s a very clever, and based on my limited experience, very authentic play, hugely entertaining, unpredictable and very funny. By using both English and Mandarin (with subtitles) you see exactly what’s going on, though Daniel doesn’t.

Tim McQuillen-Wright’s ingenious set allows the play to flow effortlessly from restaurant to office to hotel bedroom to home. Getting bi-lingual actor Duncan Harte to play a bi-lingual character is a real casting coup. Lobo Chan is totally believable as the minister, and Candy Ma is terrific as his Deputy, who goes on a very unexpected journey during the course of the play. There are lovely cameo’s from Siu-see Hung as the first incompetent translator and Winston Liong as the well-connected second translator, and Minhee Yeo has a fine turn in scene stealing facial expressions. It all revolves around Daniel, of course, with Gyuri Sarossy is on stage almost the whole time. It’s staged with great pace and attention to detail by Andrew Keates.

I’ve only seen one play by American playwright David Henry Hwang before, the sensational M Butterfly in 1989, long overdue for revival. He hasn’t written that many full length plays (nine in 30 years?) but we haven’t seen that many of them here. Two more weeks to catch this one at Park Theatre. Don’t miss it.

 

 

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The Union Theatre continues its role as London’s principal home of British musicals, this time with the world premiere of a show about the military’s treatment of its own in the First World War, together with attitudes to pacifism, homosexuality and class at that time. The show, the production and the performances combine to provide a very beautiful evening indeed.

Harry enlists, even though he’s three years below the minimum age, and finds himself in the trenches with fellow villager Peter and initially reluctant local squire Adam (he’s the recipient of the white feather of the title), immediately promoted to Captain because of his class. Harry’s sister Georgina looks after Adam’s estate in his absence and has to fire Edward, his secret lover who has feigned a disability to avoid the front. Harry is executed for dereliction of duty, considered to be equal to desertion, which sets Georgina on a course to clear his name. When the war is over, Georgina marries Adam but with the ghost of Harry and his sexuality hanging over him it doesn’t prove to be a long or happy affair. Though set primarily in East Anglia immediately before, during and after the war, we do jump forward to later periods right up to 2006, and to other locations. Given the time-hopping and the location changes it’s a remarkably lucid book.

The score contains many lovely songs, some very short, but all driving the narrative forward. I loved the arrangements for keyboards, cello and violin, played so well by MD Dustin Conrad’s trio that the audience stayed put throughout the play-out, and the unamplified vocals were a joy to hear. Tim McQuillan-Wright has created a simple but evocative set and Natasha Payne’s costumes anchor the piece in its period. Hot on the heels of her star turn in Bye Bye Birdie in Walthamstow, Abigail Matthews gives a very different performance of great dignity as Georgina. Adam Davey conveys Adam’s torment between public and private and duty and feelings very movingly. Harry Pettigrew captures the innocent patriotism of Harry and Zac Hamilton the sadness of Edward, who’s love for Adam can never be fully realised. Katie Brennan appears to have moved into the Union, following an outstanding performance in The Spitfire Grill with another terrific one here as Georgina’s friend Edith.

I was captivated by this lovely show. Andrew Keates had developed and directed it and co-wrote the book and he’s done a great job. Unmissable.

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I can hardly believe that it’s 30 years since the onset of AIDS. This was the first play to cover the events and issues of the time. However anchored in the period it was written or represents, if a play is good enough it will survive the test of time to speak to future audiences and so it is with As Is, which Arion Productions have brought from the Finborough to the West End.

The personal story of writer Rich provides the core of the play. He’s a New York City gay man, a writer, who’s partner Saul is a Jewish photographer. He cheats on him with his best friend Lily’s younger brother Chet and soon after is diagnosed with HIV. Saul remains loyal to Rich and cares for him throughout his decline in health. The play is so much more than this personal story though.

All of the issues the disease raised are interwoven in a series of masterly ensemble scenes. The first covers the attitudes, mostly uninformed and ignorant, to the ‘gay plague’ as it was labelled at the time and it shocks you. The gay scene and its rampant promiscuity is represented, we visit a group therapy session and there is a positively hysterical scene involving two men running a helpline. The scenes in the hospices are particularly moving. The play packs a lot into 80 minutes. Given the subject matter, you might be surprised to learn that it’s entertaining and often very funny.

The key to this revival’s success is a faultless cast led by Steven Webb as Rich and David Poynor as Saul. The other six actors (Natalie Burt, Bevan Celestine, Giles Cooper, Dino Fetscher, Jane Lowe and Russell Morton) play multiple roles, more than thirty in total. You’d be hard pressed to find a finer ensemble. Tim McQuillen-Wright’s design, with spot-on period costumes by Philippa Batt, excellent lighting by Neill Brinkworth and atmospheric music by Matthew Strachan, allows speedy movement from scene to scene. Andrew Keates direction in this intimate space has great pace and engages the audience throughout, helped by using the whole space and a small amount of highly effective direct audience contact.

Please don’t think a play on this subject must be earnest and dull because its far from it – it’s as much entertainment as it is storytelling. This West End run includes a whole host of ‘extras’ – post-show talks and Q&A’s, free HIV testing and people can write in remembrance on the theatre walls themselves. In a West End theatre. Brilliant! Though unplanned, I was lucky enough to be there on the evening playwright Martin Sherman no less joined the director and a couple of cast members after the show; a real bonus.

I can’t compare this revival with the original London production I saw all those years ago – my memory isn’t that good! – but it’s a must-see revival of an important play. Above all though, you should go because it’s bloody good theatre!

 

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Jacques Brel first appeared on my radar when Scott Walker recorded his songs in the late 60’s and he’s been on and off it ever since, but in truth more off than on. I’ve never seen this ‘revue’ before and was struck by how many of the songs were familiar (covers perhaps), how diverse they are and indeed how good.

They are miniature stories that lend themselves to staging, which is what director Andrew Keates has done; a series of little playlets set to music, or rather songs that become playlets. This works well by and large, though occasionally at the expense of the vocals or a touch too busy. The moments where they just sat at the front of the stage were lovely. We’re in a night club, which spills over to the front of the auditorium, with an onstage band on multi-level platforms with lots of different spaces for the singers. There are back projections, a handful of props and lots of costume changes so this is more of a show than a vanilla revue with people on barstools.

All four are singing actors, so they interpret the songs rather than just sing them. Brel songs often come alive more when they’re sung by people who look and sound like they’ve lived life and for this reason I thought Eve Polycarpou’s contributions shone most, but David Burt brought passion and Daniel Boys and Gina Beck enthusiasm and freshness. MD Dean Austin leads an excellent 5-piece band and even gets a turn or two on the vocals (and an opportunity to show off his French).

The evening was marred for me by the man next to us in H3 who started to eat a takeaway meal as the curtain went up (with his fingers – he forgot to pick up a fork) and continued his feast through most of the first half. When he opened a bag of crisps three songs into the second half, as Eve Polycarpou was about to begin Ne Me Quitte Pas, I just had to move. The most extraordinary thing about it was that he appeared to be enjoying the show yet completely oblivious to the way he was spoiling others enjoyment!

The show originated in the US in 1968 and was first seen in London in the early 70’s (my companion saw it then) and has had few revivals since, so this is a rare and welcome opportunity to catch it.

 

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You have to hand it to Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty; each of their musicals takes you somewhere completely different. This one sees us in the Deep South in the mid-19th century, before the abolition of slavery. Based on Sherley Anne Williams novel, the central characters of Dessa Rose, a young slave, and Ruth, a Southern belle, tell their story in flashback from a prologue and epilogue in the 1920’s, by which time things have of course changed. It’s a dramatically rich story with an excellent score and, in this production, a stunning ensemble.

Dessa Rose is a young slave on the Steele plantation and Ruth, the same age, is the daughter of the wealthy Carson’s who has been brought up by their slave Mammy. Dessa Is feisty and rebellious and in defending herself against unacceptable treatment finds herself in prison at 16, pregnant and the subject of writer Adam Nehemiah’s research. Ruth marries farmer Bertie who all but abandon’s her, leaving her lonely on the farm. Dessa escapes from prison and becomes the de facto leader of a group of slaves determined to head to the more enlightened west to escape slavery. They find an unlikely refuge with Ruth, who befriends them and aids them in their venture.

It’s a very dense story, in truth a bit too dense – there’s a hell of a lot going on – but it does make for a dramatically rich narrative. The score is up there with their best show, Ragtime, with evocative melodic music and lyrics which drive the story. From the rousing opening chorus of We Are Descended (which also closes the show) it packs in a whole load of good songs and choruses and here they are played and sung beautifully. In a surprising move, Dean Austin’s excellent band is dispersed, with keyboards and cello on stage and winds and violin in the corners of the auditorium. It works aurally, even if you are directly in front of a saxophone!, though it does restrict the already small playing space.

Director Andrew Keates has his work cut out staging it on such a small stage (well, floor) but with much ingenuity he pulls it off. When all 12 are on stage, with the two musicians, the space between audience and actors disappears completely. I think it is crying out for a bigger theatre, though not one so big as to lose the intimacy we get here. They didn’t appear to be using the visible head mic’s so the vocals have a lovely purity to them, though I did lose a few words.

The cast is uniformly excellent (casting by Benjamin Newsome again), all equally good as actors and singers. Both Cynthia Erivo and Cassidy Janson shine in the lead roles. Erivo conveys Dessa’s defiance with great passion and soaring vocals. Janson has more of a journey to make and I loved the way her character aged and her personality changed. She invested a lot of emotion in her performance, also vocally strong, and with an authentic accent. There isn’t a fault in the rest of this stunning cast.

This is my 7th Ahrens & Flaherty show and it’s amongst their best. I’d love to see it in a bigger space, but this European premiere is a huge success – and it’s in the West End at fringe prices! Time to book to go again…..

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When I heard they were going to stage a rock musical at the Finborough (a space just twice the size of my living room) I feared hearing damage. So the first of many congratulations goes to Tom Hishman, whose brilliant sound ensures you hear every word and every note and don’t go home deaf!

This is the European premiere of a semi-autobiographical show by Scottish-American husband & wife team Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon about a songwriting / performing partnership in the late 70’s / early 80’s punk / new wave period (the last period of popular musical greatness!).

Ian and Monica meet when Ian’s brother, Monica’s university friend, suggests they co-write her Bat Mitzvah song commission. Monica’s a feisty red-head and Ian’s a recluse, Jewish and Catholic respectively, yet they hit it off and the professional partnership evolves into a personal one too. They win a pub talent show and head to London where they become part of the punk boom and get a Number One. Next stop New York City, where they discover they don’t both want fame and Ian returns to his Glasgow bedroom leaving behind more than just Marion.

It packs a lot of story into 80 unbroken minutes and you really do get to know these characters well. What I liked about the music was how it served the story, not just lyrically but also in its changes of style to reflect the events it portrays. With the audience on two sides and the four-piece band and both performers on four platforms and a floor covered in wooden planks, it’s as intimate as the Finborough has ever been. Designer Philip Lindley has cleverly surrounded the space with walls of similar wooden planks with windows, lights and signs within them illuminating changing locations. There’s fine lighting too from Neill Brinkworth.

Cassidy Janson and Alexis Gerred perform with great commitment and passion, as if their lives depended on it. Their energy and enthusiasm are infectious and they make you believe in the story and the relationship. I’ve seen and enjoyed Cassidy before but this may be the best she’s done so far – a star if ever I saw one. Alexis is new to me and impressed greatly. There’s a terrific four-piece band led by Barney Ashworth who are tight enough to hold their own at a rock gig any day of the week. Director Andrew Keates has delivered a production as close to perfect as you’d probably ever get.

Yet another triumph for the Finborough. Only 14 performances left. Be at one of them.

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There have been more operatic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays (most by Verdi) than there have musicals and they haven’t been as faithful to the bard as this Howard Goodall show (he also produced a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). It has none of the verse but every bit of the essence and the story. Add to this a beautiful score, wonderful performances and a brilliant production by Andrew Keates and you have another triumph at the Landor Theatre.

The two halves are very different. In the first it’s tragic – Sicilian King Leontes’ obsessive jealousy leads to the death of his wife, illness of his son, banishment of his baby daughter and loss of his best friend, Bohemian King Polixines, and loyal aide Camillo. It lightens in the second half as Polixines’ son Florizel falls for Perdita, daughter of a mere shepherd. We get a jolly sheep-shearing festival (I will reluctantly forgive the Welsh accents!) gatecrashed by an outraged King determined to prevent the marriage of his son to Perdita. They flee to Sicily where the truth emerges and it all ends happily (this is musical theatre, after all).

There’s a lot of story for a musical but the book by Nick Stimson and Andrew Keates delivers it with complete clarity (it has to be said – much more than the play!). I’d know a Goodall score if I heard just a few bars because his music is distinctive and unique with lush, sweeping melodies and glorious harmonies that are simply uplifting, and this is one of his best scores. The unamplified voices deliver it beautifully with just two keyboards and cello accompanying them. I’m not sure I heard one dud note last night.

As they did with the Hired Man, director Andrew Keates and choreographer Cressida Carre have made great use of the Landor space which doesn’t feel small even with 18 people on it! The production values are outstanding – Martin Thomas’ design is elegant, with a simple but brilliant transformation between locations, Philippa Batt’s costumes are terrific and Howard Hudson’s lighting bathes the space in warmth.

For once, I am not going to single out one performance in this faultless cast of 18; no-one stands out because everyone stands out. They were clearly loving this show as much as I was. From professional debuts to musical veterans, this is a company any producer would consider a privilege to have.

As a huge Goodall fan, I’ve been a bit over-excited about this premiere, so there was a risk I’d be disappointed. In the end, it delivered way beyond my expectations and I’ve already booked to go again. Howard Goodall is Britain’s greatest composer of musicals and here he’s got a production this wonderful show deserves. I’ve run out of superlatives……..you should know by now what you have to do…..

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This chamber musical is a new spin on the love triangle. When advertising executive Tom and his wife Lucy, both unfaithful, split over Lucy’s affair with a bohemian artist things take an extraordinary turn. Tom at first stalks the artist, then becomes his flat-mate, then his friend. To say more would be to spoil the fun; suffice to say it turns full circle in a rather satisfying if implausible way – well, it is a musical, after all.

Jimmy Roberts’ score is somewhat Sondheimesque and for me (this may sound odd) has a little too much music, which makes it feel a bit ‘stuffed’; this isn’t at the expense of narrative or character development though and there are some nice songs. The good book and sharp witty lyrics are by Joe DiPietro, who wrote the very funny book for Nice Work If You Can Get It, which I saw last month in new York. It’s perhaps overly slick in that way American shows often can be to British sensibilities, but even so there’s a satisfying roundness to it all.

Andrew Keates excellent staging, on a functional but elegant set by Martin Thomas, has its tongue in its cheek. It zips along and characters sometimes appear to come from nowhere. The chorus of two, who play all 24 other roles, is a great device and in the hands of Steven Webb and Lucyelle Cliffe, is far from a supporting feature. Webb in particular relishes every cameo and many of these were the highlight of the evening, most particularly his one-man double-act as both the French maitre ‘d and American server in a poncy restaurant.

Peter Gerald is very good as an arrogant philandering ad man who becomes more humble, even nice,  as the story unfolds. Kate Graham was in particularly fine voice as lovestruck but-not-as-innocent-as-she-seems Lucy. John Addison’s opposite journey from laid back bohemian to sold-out for love was well played. There’s a lovely three-piece band (piano, cello and reeds) who’s gentle playing enable you to hear every word without the harshness of amplification.

This is a fun evening – a clever show expertly staged and performed; something we’re getting used to at the Landor.

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When I first saw this Howard Goodall musical 26 years ago, it completely changed my attitude to musical theatre and opened my eyes to the possibilities of serious storytelling through music. It was a ground-breaking piece and the first British musical of its type (well, there haven’t been that many since). From the US, we’d had West Side Story of course and Rogers & Hammerstein’s attempts to tackle serious issues in their shows, but here was a very British story with a uniquely British choral score.

It’s so rarely produced that I grab any chance to see it. In 1992 there was a terrific concert version, some time later a lovely small-scale production at the Finborough, a shortened amateur one at the Edinburgh fringe and then four years ago a touring version from Eastern Angles which paid a visit to Greenwich; but here it was on my doorstep in Clapham at one of my favourite theatres. The rioters almost ruined my chances when the show I had booked for had to be cancelled, and last night was my only free night to catch it before the migration north for the Edinburgh festival.

Based on Melvyn Bragg’s book, the hirings of the title are where men and employers met and contracted with each other, and that’s where we start. The first half is set in rural Cumbria where they eke out a living on the land, some chasing a ‘better life’ in the mines where we see the beginnings of trade unionism. John & Emily are devoted to each other; their relationship even survives ‘a moment of madness’ when Emily strays with the bosses son Jackson whilst John is away. In the second half, we take in the first world war and a mining disaster before we return to the land and back to the hiring.

Last night it was as thrilling as that very first time. Andrew Keates terrific production fits the Landor so well. Freya Groves design oozes authenticity, creating fields, pubs, houses, war trenches and mines very effectively with bales of straw and barrels and simple period costumes. There’s excellent choreography from Cressida Carre and realistic fights directed by Andrew Ashenden. Even the dialects are good! It has the best score of any British musical and those choruses soared. The new orchestration for piano and string trio by MD Niall Bailey is excellent and the singing is outstanding. I can’t praise this fine cast enough; they brought great passion and commitment, shivers up my spine and a few tears to my eyes. It’s very hard to believe that Joe Maxwell as John and Catherine Mort as Emily have recently graduated (Guildford School of Acting should be very proud); they are as fine a pair of leads as you could wish for. Abigail Matthews is lovely as daughter May in the second half and amongst a uniformly fine ensemble, I much admired Ian Daniels as Jackson and Sean-Paul Jenkinson as John’s brother Seth.

My one regret is that I had to leave for Edinburgh 8 hours later so I can’t go back! This is a superb revival of a great show; a triumph for everyone involved.

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