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Posts Tagged ‘Betty Blue Eyes’

This is the second collaboration between British musical theatre team George Stiles & Anthony Drewe and American book writers Ron Cowan & Daniel Lipman and it’s just as quintessentially British as their previous offering, Betty Blue Eyes (a musical adaptation of the Alan Bennett film A Private Function). This musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel isn’t as good as the previous show, but it still has much to commend it.

I rather wish I’d had an Aunt Augusta; someone to lead you astray, show you the world and encourage you to live life to the full, as she does with her somewhat old, recently retired nephew Henry Pulling. Come to think of it, I didn’t really need an Aunt Augusta. Their adventures take them from London on trains, boats and planes to Paris, Milan and Istanbul, and even further afield to Argentina and Paraguay, where she is at last reunited with her former lover Visconti. It lends itself well to musical adaptation and the songs are particularly good at emphasising the location of scenes. I wouldn’t say it was a great score, but it’s OK. The feel of the novel is maintained and the characterisations are spot on.

Patricia Hodge is perfectly cast as Aunt Augusta – stern, strong willed and more than a bit naughty. She’s not really a singer, but her sung dialogue seemed in keeping with the character. Steven Pacey also perfectly captures the conservative Henry, more than a bit dull, torn between continuing to be stuck in the mud and being led astray, but plumping for the latter in the end. In a fine supporting cast, I particularly liked Hugh Maynard’s Wordsworth, the life and soul of the party. Colin Falconer’s clever design anchors it in an old-fashioned railway station, with the band in an elevated signal box, a waiting room that moves, destination board and those iconic cast iron pillars. His costumes are great too. Christopher Luscombe’s staging benefits from the intimacy of the Minerva Theatre.

I’m not sure why it doesn’t quite sparkle, but there’s enough to make it a worthwhile adaptation and a decent night out.

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Based on the 2002 film of the same name, this stage musical is completely faithful to the original, retains the period and adds original music by Howard Goodall to produce something even more feel-good than the film. I loved it, and have already booked to go again!

Jess is a bright British Indian 18-year-old who’s obsessed with football, and with her hero David Beckham. She’s spotted playing in the park with local Indian boys by fellow footballer and local women’s team member Jules, who invites her to try out for her team, which she subsequently joins. Her parents, who are knee-deep in preparations for their elder daughter’s engagement and subsequent wedding, don’t really approve and she continues her footballing in secret, but when the secret is out she is forced to stop.

What it is, of course, is the journey of many British born young people of Indian descent, trying to balance family and heritage culture with life in Britain. It uses the British Indian ability and willingness to find humour within, and use it to celebrate, its culture to great effect. Paul Mayeda Berges & Gurinder Chadha’s book and Charles Hart’s lyrics are very funny, but it’s also very moving and respects the underlying themes. The addition of music adds another dimension and it betters the film as a result. By interweaving Indian musical styles and incorporating heritage singers, Goodall has produced a score which retains his trademark melodic style but sounds different, rather unique and very much in keeping with the story.

Miriam Buether’s clever set has a semi-circle of seven panels which rotate to move us from home to playing field to changing rooms to park, and so on. Katrina Lindsay’s costumes are terrific, a riot of colour. Aletta Collins’ excellent choreography moves us from night club to Indian wedding, anchoring the piece wherever it is at that moment. This is director Gurinder Chadha’s first stage show but you’d never believe it. It’s clear how close she is to it; as she also co-wrote and directed the film, it’s probably running through her bloodstream.

Both Lauren Samuels and Natalie Dew are excellent, but it’s Dew who has to carry the emotional heart of the story and she does so with great warmth and charm. You find yourself sympathising with her and rooting for her to the point of having to resist the temptation to intervene on her behalf! Tony Jaywardena and Natasha Jayetileke are wonderful as Jess’ parents, themselves torn between keeping control and letting go. Preeya Kalidas was indisposed on Saturday, but having seen how good her understudy Sejal Keshwala was as Jess’ sister Pinky, I just can’t see anyone else being better. One of the few changes is that Jules mum Paula is here divorced, so the always excellent Sophie-Louise Dann has to carry all of the parental pressure and support on her shoulders and she’s great. There are too many other fine performances in this excellent ensemble to single out more.

The audience seemed to reflect the cultural mix on stage and they responded enthusiastically. Like those other British musicals Billy Elliott, Betty Blue Eyes and Made in Dagenham, it takes a heart-warming film and betters it. It’s a departure for Goodall, who has produced many other great shows but few commercial hits. Given the undeserved early baths that Betty and Dagenham got, lets hope this follows Billy as a British musical hit. For me, it already is.

 

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For a man who gave us one of the greatest musical productions ever (Guys & Dolls at the NT in 1982 and 1996), Richard Eyre hasn’t directed many musicals. I can only remember two more before this (Mary Poppins & Betty Blue Eyes) and both were great. The question you have to ask after a fourth gem is Why?

There haven’t been many ‘blue collar’ musicals either, so this one, about a labour dispute in the Sleep Tite pyjama factory, is unusual. It hasn’t had many productions (another Why?), the last in London at the indispensable Union Theatre five years ago. With a track record of four musical transfers in the last 2.5 years, I’ll be surprised if this terrific Chichester production doesn’t follow.

The factory is run by tyrant Hasler (an excellent Colin Stinton, who doubles up as the leading lady’s dad) who has employed new superintendent Sid, a go-getter from Chicago, the third in next to no time. His Time & Motion man Vernon (a superb Peter Polycarpou, back for his third Chichester musical in as many years) stalks the shop floor. Union president Prez and union rep Babe are pushing for a 7.5c rise and it looks like they’ll have to strike to get it. Then Babe falls for Sid and it all gets a lot more complicated.

From the opening number, Racing with the Clock, it goes from one showstopper to another. There are a couple of standards – Hey There (You With the Stars in Your Eyes) & Hernando’s Hideaway – but the whole score’s good. We move swiftly and slickly from factory to office to picnic to nightclub to Babe’s home with little time to catch your breath in-between. Designer Tim Hatley puts a two-story building at the back of the space, from which sewing and pressing work stations emerge for the shop floor, desks for the offices and a kitchen for the home. Stephen Mear’s choreography is bright and fresh and with Gareth Valentine in charge of the music it all sounds great.

For a musicals obsessive like me, it’s a bit of a shock to come across a leading man I’m not sure I’ve seen before and Hadley Fraser is simply terrific as Sid, with a particularly fine voice. Joanna Riding is a delight as icy, feisty Babe who melts in the hands of Sid. Alexis Owen-Hobbs is great as secretary Gladys, and Vernon’s unlikely love interest, who follows Hasler everywhere except when she struts her stuff in the Act II opener Steam Heat (with actual steam!) and there’s a delightful cameo from Claire Machin as Sid’s secretary Mabel.

An uplifting delight from start to finish, which benefits from the smaller space if the Minerva Theatre, and well worth the trip south.

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