Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Aretha Ayeh’

This new musical by The Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke and TV writer & producer Matt Jones takes a 360 degree view of gay marriage from the perspective of the families of both parties, as well as the couple and their friends.

Alex and Obi’s relationship has been a whirlwind ten months. Alex is an American working in London, though his employer intends to relocate him to the Middle East. Obi is British, of Nigerian decent, a successful advertising Account Manager. Their coming out stories couldn’t be more different. Alex’s mother Diane embraced his sexuality, joining him at Pride marches, his father Brian more reluctant but ultimately accepting. Obi was thrown out by his dad Kenneth when he was sixteen, his mother Grace forced to tow the line, his sister Chichi supporting him. He put himself through the rest of his schooling and both his degree and his masters.

They live together but decide to marry so that Alex can avoid his relocation and have leave to remain. They don’t plan to invite their families, but Alex breaks first, so Obi attempts a reconciliation and invite his. Alex’s parents arrive and his mom forces the issue by arranging a dinner where both families can meet. From here on it becomes an emotional roller coaster and skeletons come out of cupboards with gay abandon.

Robby Graham’s production has great pace and energy, propelled by superb dancing and movement. I really liked Okereke’s music, played by an onstage guitarist with a backing track. Some have called it a play with music, but in my book it’s a musical, as the songs move the narrative forward. The pivotal scene where the families meet over dinner is superbly staged. When current scenes are interwoven with flashbacks to Obi’s youth, the latter are cleverly staged in slo-mo. The final scene of simultaneous conversations between four couples is brilliant.

Tyrone Huntley & Billy Cullum are both terrific as Obi & Alex. Johanne Murdoch conveys the liberal, effervescent but somewhat controlling Diane superbly. Rakie Ayola is a very dignified Grace, Aretha Ayeh a feisty independent Chi Chi and Cornell S John a defiant Kenneth, all excellent, as indeed are the rest of the ensemble.

A very assured musical theatre debut, a highly original show that’s expertly staged and very well performed that’s very much to be recommended.

Read Full Post »

Within minutes of it starting, I knew travelling to Stratford (upon Avon) to see this was a good idea. I’m a big fan of Joan Littlewood, even though I never saw any of her work. When my Tardis arrives, one of my first journeys will be back to the late 50’s / early 60’s to visit her Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal in Stratford (East London). She revolutionised British theatre as much as people like Peter’s Brook and Hall, but isn’t recognised as much, though she does now have a statue outside Stratford East.

Writer Sam Kenyon uses seven Joan’s to tell her story, with the wonderful Clare Burt as Joan the narrator, encouraging and instructing the others to pass the baton, her trademark cap, to the next as she ages. It briefly covers her arrival in the world, school, an early trip to Paris and RADA, before political theatre in the North West, where she meets and marries future folk royalty Ewan MacColl (then Jimmie Miller). The whole of the second half covers the Theatre Workshop period in Stratford East, using the development of productions like A Taste of Honey, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be and Oh What A Lovely War to propel the story forward.

It’s warts and all, so though it’s a homage, it shows the negative too. Along the way we meet Victor Spinetti, Barbara Windsor, Shelagh Delaney, Lionel Bart, Hal Prince (that collaboration was new to me!), Murray Melvin (whose insight Kenyon benefited from, and who was in the audience at this performance) and John Gielgud playing Macbeth! All of these are played by the ensemble regardless of age, sex or race. Her reciprocal love of Gerry Raffles shines through.

Designer Tom Piper has put a gold proscenium arch and red velvet curtains at the back of the apron stage, much like Stratford East, above which there’s a strip of screen on which projections signpost places and productions, with the band in the gallery above that. There’s an anarchic, playful quality to Erica Whyman’s production which seems entirely in keeping with the story. It feels like it’s being created as we watch, in the same way Joan’s shows were developed. It isn’t perfect, but for the first production of someone’s second musical, it’s impressive.

In addition to Clare Burt as Joan and Solomon Israel as Gerry Raffles, an ensemble of ten play the other five Joan’s and more than thirty other roles. Sophie Nomvete and Emily Johnstone give great turns as Avis Bunnage and Barbara Windsor respectively. They also play two of the Joan’s, receiving / passing the baton (cap) from / to Aretha Ayeh, Sandy Foster, Amanda Hadingue and Dawn Hope, all excellent. I felt for Tam Williams, playing Murray Melvin with the man himself just feet away; he also gets give us Gielgud’s Macbeth!

Well worth the trip to Stratford, hopefully to have a life beyond The Swan.

Read Full Post »