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Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Darvill’

Directors are often afraid of messing with classic musicals and they end up way too reverential, failing to show them through contemporary eyes. Well, you couldn’t accuse Josie Rourke’s revival of Sweet Charity of that. Her 60’s New York is sleazier and edgier, which seems to me a more honest way to portray the life of a dancehall hostess in search of love, something her degrading profession makes it harder to find.

From the minute you take your seat, you realise you’re in the New York of Andy Warhol. The metallic walls and furnishings of a warehouse littered with painted Brillo boxes, Lou Reed playing in the background, uber-cool people dressed all in black, chilling and posing. The Warhol references continue throughout in Robert Jones’ clever design.

We meet Charity Hope Valentine straight away, in the park, where her latest flame steals her handbag and pushes her into the lake, the police rescue her and she heads back to the Fandango Club where her colleagues greet her with sympathy but little surprise; they’ve got used to her endless disappointments with men.

After a brief encounter with Italian film star Vittorio, her next flame is mousy, nerdy accountant Oscar, and it looks like she may have found ‘the one’. Their whirlwind love-at-first-sight romance takes us via evening classes, the Rhythm of Life church and Coney Island, to her farewell party at the club, but this is one musical comedy without a happy ending.

This is Anne-Marie Duff’s first musical. In truth she doesn’t have a strong voice, but she makes up for it with a performance that perfectly combines gullibility, charm and vulnerability, interpreting the songs rather than just singing them, a sort of sung-speech style – think Judi Dench Send in the Clowns – which actually works, and with a real talent for comedy. Arthur Darvill superbly captures the nervous innocence and fear of Oscar.

In a fine supporting cast, Martin Marquez is excellent as Vittorio, as is Debbie Kurup, who could easily be in the lead role, as fellow hostess Helene. The guest ‘priest’ on the night I went was Adrian Lester (a wonderful Bobby in Sondheim’s Company on the same stage 23 years ago), which was a real bonus for me.

There’s no room for the ten-piece band, who have taken over the stalls bar and are heard through speakers in the auditorium. The pace is occasionally slow, but the strength of the production is to bring the lives of these exploited women to the fore with a truth I’ve never seen before, without losing the comedy, somewhat surprisingly perhaps. The pathos of the ending said it all.

Traditionalists might not like it, but I thought it was a fresh and inventive take on a 50-year-old show. Oh, and I want Adrian Lester’s glitter shirt. A bigger size, obviously.

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Hir is an unofficial, socially-constructed, gender-neutral pronoun, an alternative to he or her. Playwright Taylor Mac is a polymath American artist who challenges conformity and categorisation; someone once described him as Ziggy Stardust meets Tiny Tim. As you can by now imagine, this is a surreal ride.

Isaac returns from three years in the war, as a marine in the mortuary service. He’s had a dishonourable discharge for drug use. While he’s been away, there have been dramatic changes in the family. After years of abusing his wife and children, dad Arnie is ill and now on the receiving end of the abuse. Isaac’s sister is in the process of becoming his brother, encouraged by his mother Paige, who has gone all new age and politically correct and stopped cleaning completely. The house is a tip. Isaac struggles to believe or accept it all and a power struggle with his mother develops.

I’m not entirely sure what the playwright is getting at, but it’s fascinating and expertly staged and performed. Ben Stones’ design has to be seen to be believed. Nadia Fall’s staging continually shocks and surprises. All four performances are outstanding, with favourite Ashley McGuire so extraordinarily matter-of-fact as Paige, contrasting with Arthur Darvill’s highly strung and fragile Isaac.

It wasn’t to everyone’s taste (there were lots failing to return after the interval) but it held and intrigued me, and I’m still processing it.

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The National Theatre has a strong track record staging great family shows at Christmas in the Olivier – Wind in the Willows, His Dark Materials, Coram Boy, Was Horse – most of which have returned in subsequent years and one of which will be on 5 stages in 4 countries this Christmas. The last five years or so have seen less rich pickings, and I’m afraid that trend continues.

Many of the ingredients of this production are outstanding. Lizzie Clachan’s design – from the make-up and tattoos of Bill Bones through the punk-gothic costumes to the stage which transforms from inn to port to ship to island – is terrific. There are some great special effects. Jon Tams has provided some lovely songs. The characterisations – particularly the pirates – are excellent. Yet despite this it has no real sense of adventure, which is a bit of a problem for an adventure story! The way the story is told is a bit patronising and somehow at odds with the style. The actors were trying hard, maybe too hard. The fighting is completely lame. It all seemed ever so half-hearted. Byrony Lavery’s adaptation seems to have removed all of the magic from a classic which has captivated children for 130 years and inspired many other successful adaptations.

Director Polly Findlay has decided to cast women as Jim Hawkins and Dr Livesey. I’m not sure why (though the line ‘girls like adventures too’ is a clue) but it didn’t bother me and both performances, by Patsy Ferran and Helena Lymbery, were excellent. Gillian Hanna was delightful as Grandma and Aidan Kelly positively terrifying as Bill Bones. I thought Nick Fletcher’s Squire Trelawney was too much of a caricature and Arthur Darvill just seemed to be going through the motions as a very low energy Long John Silver, almost devoid of swash and buckle.

At the curtain call, they didn’t look like a particularly happy company – Arthur Darvill couldn’t raise a smile (or even a baddie’s sneer), just a ‘get me out of here’ expression. I felt much the same – much admiration for the craftsmanship, but not in the slightest bit captivated by the story.

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Given the number of theatrical turkeys this week, you’d be forgiven for thinking you slept through to Christmas. This one at The Globe trumps the others in that it also qualifies as panto.

It’s based on The Bacchae, an excellent 2400 year-old Greek play, but this isn’t an excellent play; in fact, it’s a dreadful play. Playwright Che Walker has added in characters destroyed by Dionysus (The Lightning Child aka Bacchus) like Billie Holiday and a pair of London junkies. For some reason, astronaut Neil Armstrong also appears, and there’s a Jamaican ladyboy MC! It’s a real mess.

There’s completely unmemorable music by Arthur Darvill (poorly sung), tacky costumes, twerking (a new word I learnt this week!) and gratuitous f & c words that seem to be part of a strategy to shock you. Yawn. Add to this a handful of audience members who seemed to think they should join in and you have an interminably dull 80 minutes – and that’s just to the interval, by which time my inner voice was screaming ‘HOME! STIFF GIN!’

You have been warned. Don’t even think about it.

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