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Posts Tagged ‘Anoushka Lucas’

This transfer from the US has been hailed as a radical interpretation of Rogers & Hammerstein’s first show together, eighty years old next year. I saw the NT’s 1998 production and Chichester’s 2019 revival and even though these brought out the darkness, in comparison it is. It seems to me it was always a play with music rather than a musical as such and that’s certainly what we have here.

Chief amongst the reinventions is new orchestration and instrumentation featuring banjo, mandolin, pedal steel guitar, fiddle and accordion, creating a wholly appropriate Americana sound. It’s scaled down for an eight-piece band (plus actor-musician Arthur Darvill) in an onstage pit, and a cast of twelve. It’s more tense, such as in the wedding scene, funnier (just about any scene featuring lovable but dim Will), and above all sexier. When it’s rousing, notably the title number, it’s very rousing. The auditorium looks great, covered in light wood panelling with one wall a sort of sepia landscape mural and gun racks containing 72 guns on the other walls. The playing area is surrounded by party tables at which audience members sit opposite cast members. There are decorations, and later lights, above.

It has its problems, though. The first half lacks pace, two scenes in complete darkness – encounters between Curly & Jud and between Laurey & Jud – are baffling, Laurey’s dream sequence has been moved to open the second half and she’s replaced by a dancer doing freeform to the shows tunes in the style of Jimi Hendrix (this didn’t really work for me) and I found the new ending, at the wedding, before the trial, problematic. That said, the positive innovations outweigh the negatives.

One of the production’s big strengths is excellent casting. Darvill is a bit of a revelation as Curly, with good vocals and a cowboy swagger. Patrick Vaill is a charismatic, brooding presence as Jud. Anoushhka Lucas is terrific as Laurey, with a beautiful voice which does full justice to her songs. Lisa Sadovy has crossed the Thames from her Olivier Award winning performance in Cabaret to give us a fine Aunt Eller. There’s excellent support in the sub-plots, notably Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie, who first wowed me as an ‘alternate’ lead in Dreamgirls and went on to impress in Waitress & the Hairspray revival, James Davis as Will, Stavros Demetraki as Ali and Rebekah Hinds as Gertie, whose laugh is a solo performance in itself.

Despite my misgivings, I admire them for taking such a fresh look and I enjoyed enough of the reinvention to make the visit more than worthwhile. Musicals purists, like those next to us who left at the interval, might not agree, though. Make your own mind up.

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It’s title is a term for an artist’s treatment of light and shade and it’s a 1986 play by the current Scottish poet laureate Jackie Kay about four women of colour and their search for identity. The Bush Theatre’s new artistic director Lynette Linton has turned it into a piece of gig theatre, with music by Shiloe Coke, who also plays Beth.

The four women are recording songs in a studio. Aisha is the singer and her heritage is Punjabi, the other three play guitar, keyboards and drums between them. Beth is gay and her family are from the Caribbean, Yomi is a single mum and her family are Nigerian and Opal is mixed race and coming to terms with her sexuality. Between songs they tell their individual stories using a significant object from their lives as a starting point, even a talisman. They form relationships and friendships, but there’s also tension.

I really liked Shiloe Coke’s songs and she played Beth beautifully, with superb timing and great passion. Preeya Kalidas’s Aisha also acts as a narrator or anchor and she sings the songs very well. Gloria Onitiri plays the spiky, brittle Yomi with just the right amount of edge and when she reveals her homophobia as Beth & Opal’s relationship develops it shocks. Anoushka Lucas’ performance as Opal makes you feel that she has the longest and most transformative journey. Fine performances all round.

I did feel the narrative lacked depth, of both characterisation and story, but it’s difficult to do that in 85 minutes including songs. Instead, It leaves you with thoughts and impressions and an idea of the roads to be travelled to uncover and establish identity.

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The Park Theatre seems to be finding its feet, and its audience. This was one of two packed shows, and two packed bars, on Saturday night. It was my first visit to the smaller theatre, Park 90, a black box space with seats on three sides. Only two actor-singers, a multi-instrumentalist and two stools, but a very original and powerful play with music.

Klook has a past, but his life takes a positive turn when he meets much younger single mum Vinette in, of all places, a Californian whole-food shop. They fall in love before our very eyes. We follow the relationship as it grows, with feelings laid bare and passion out in the open, learning about their respective pasts. The songs, by Omar (Lyefook) & Anoushka Lucas with lyrics by writer / director Che Walker, are lovely and beautifully sung with either a piano, acoustic guitar or double-base for accompaniment – all three by versatile musician Rio Kai.

There’s a great mood to the piece – film noir meets jazz in a passionate embrace – and there’s an extraordinary chemistry between Ako Mitchell and Sheila Atim. It ends tragically, and this is all the more shocking after an hour of love. It’s soulful and sexy, dramatic and dangerous, and completely original. Every component fits together brilliantly – Walker’s crackling naturalistic dialogue, songs that propel the story forward and performances that feel ever so real.

Do not miss this!

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