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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Crowley’

The 2003 stage adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was a highlight of Nicholas Hytner’s period at the NT, now the first book of his next trilogy is one of the best things the Bridge Theatre has done since it opened in 2017. Pullman has said the Book of Dust trilogy is not a prequel, the second part jumping forward twenty years, but this first part is. Bryony Lavery’s adaptation worked for a friend who’d read the book, another who hadn’t read any Pullman, and me – a devotee of HDM with this book waiting to be read, another lockdown failure.

It concerns the baby Lyra, daughter of Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel and the subject of a prophesy, and the battle for her guardianship / fate up to the point she takes refuge in Jordan College. Malcolm, the 12-year-old son of the landlady of the Trout Inn seeks to protect her, with the aid of the pub’s helper Alice, one order of nuns, rebel leader Boatwright, academics Dr. Relf & Lord Nugent, a good witch and her father, whilst the all powerful Magisterium, another order of nuns, a rogue academic and her mother have other plans! It races along, but I thought it was very clear storytelling.

Bob Crowley’s design relies upon the extraordinary projections of Luke Halls, which move you from pub to convent to college and many more locations, and create rivers, storms and floods that take your breath away. With a thrust stage and a back rake this is at times intimate and at times epic. A visual treat. The daemons are puppets, the smaller of which sit on their host, with the bigger ones manipulated by actors, some of whom speak.

The exceptional cast include actors of the stature of Dearbhla Molloy, John Light, Naomi Fredericks, Pip Carter, Holly Atkins, Nick Sampson and Julie Atherton (who gamely covered Malcolm’s daemon Asta on the night I went), but it’s Samuel Creasey as Malcolm and Ella Dacres as Alice who carry the play. This is Creasey’s stage debut, one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen, with newcomer Dacres shining alongside him. The chemistry between them is superb.

I thought it was a captivating evening of storytelling, family theatre at its best. Don’t miss.

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A hit new play at the Bridge Theatre? I’d say so. A proper play, too. Remember those? Stories, plots, characters. Something that takes you on an enjoyable journey to somewhere. It’s a stage adaptation of Harriett Lane’s novel by playwright Lucinda Coxon, and jolly good it is too.

Frances works for the arts supplement of a Sunday paper, specifically the Books section. She’s very put upon – fetching coffee, fixing couriers – someone always in the background. Returning home from Christmas with her family, she witnesses a fatal car accident, the last person to speak to its victim Alys, whose family ask the police if they can meet her. She declines at first, but when she discovers Alys’s husband is famous author Laurence Kyte, she changes her mind.

Frances’ boss Mary is surprised to bump into her at Alys’ memorial service where she is seen speaking to her family, as a result of which her currency at work rises sharply, and she gets books to review and functions to attend. At the same time, she inveigles herself into the Kyte family, at first as a confidante for Alys’ daughter Polly, but becoming much more. Underneath the cloak of invisibility lurks a rather cunning, determined, intelligent and somewhat manipulative person, who creates a future for herself and cleverly navigates the journey towards it.

Nicholas Hytner’s staging is very well paced, drawing you in and keeping you engaged with Frances’ story. Bob Crowley’s design, with video projections by Luke Halls, allows the action to move swiftly and fluidly from offices to rooms and gardens in a handful of locations. I thought Joanne Froggatt perfectly captured the seemingly unobtrusive Frances, revealing what’s really going on in her head by a subtle glance or a hint of a smile. The supporting cast are first class, with Sylvestra Le Touzel giving another of her nuanced performances as Mary, then turning up virtually unrecognisable as Audrey.

Five week run? I smell a transfer for this thoroughly entertaining tale.

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Alan Bennett’s last play, People, at the NT six years ago, was about the heritage ‘industry’. It tried to cover so many issues that it lost focus and proved a bit of a disappointment. He covers a lot of ground here too, but it’s more cohesive, a homage to the NHS with a swipe at the decline in our sense of social responsibility for good measure.

We’re in a Yorkshire general hospital, led by trust chairman and former Mayor Slater, that’s facing closure. They’re campaigning against it, and in the geriatric ward they’ve set up a choir as part of the campaign. There’s an omnipresent film documentary team, which Slater hopes will aid their campaign. Dr Valentine (anglicisation of his real name) is a caring doctor with a gentle bedside manner and genuine affection for his geriatric patients, but he’s facing deportation. Sister Gilcrest is old school, obsessed with continence and cleanliness. Nurse Pinkney is more focused on contentment and happiness. The real interest of Salter is his own career. Amongst the visitors, patient Mrs Maudsley’s family are predatory fortune hunters and coal-miner Joe’s son Colin is up from London, exorcising his fraught relationship with his dad; he’s a Management Consultant advising the Health Minister, an architect of closure plans. Just before the interval it takes a sinister turn.

Bennett’s acute observation of people shines again with finely drawn characterisations, delicious turns of phrase and a very clever unfolding narrative. I couldn’t stop smiling at the new ward names, changed at the suggestion of the minister. The twelve geriatric patients each have lovely back stories, which they share with us between songs. Our attitudes to the old, patient abuse, bed blocking and the obsession with targets, specialisation, outsourcing and privatisation are all covered. Of course, its very funny, but its also poignant and bang on target much of the time. Valentine’s final words direct to the audience pierced my heart.

The twelve patients are a delight, veteran thespians relishing such great writing. Deborah Findlay is brilliant as the cold but seemingly loyal, hard-working ward sister who becomes positively chilling. Sacha Dhawan has genuine warmth and empathy as Valentine. Samuel Barnett’s character Colin is rather unsympathetic, but he spars with Jeff Rawle’s brittle dad and both do eventually melt. There’s a lovely cameo from David Moorst as work experience affable Andy, who also turns unexpectedly. Peter Forbes makes a great job of the pompous self regarding Salter. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bob Crowley have worked with Bennett a lot, and they continue to serve his plays well.

I think the play divides people in many ways, with older audience members, NHS advocates and lefties the most positive. I loved it!

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It’s only four months since our own Carey Mulligan wowed with her one-woman show at the Royal Court, now on Broadway. American actress Laura Linney is premiering here, but I suspect she’s Broadway-bound too. They both gave virtuoso performances, but the stories they tell couldn’t be more different.

Rona Munro has adapted Elizabeth Strout’s 2016 novel. Laura Linney is Lucy Barton, but she plays her mother too. Lucy is looking back on a period when she was seriously ill in a New York hospital. Her husband and young children rarely visited, but her estranged mother turns up unexpectedly. This triggers childhood memories, when she felt as lonely as she does in the hospital. Her upbringing in rural Illinois was in a poor family with seemingly unloving parents, remote from her two siblings. We learn about these relationships, but also learn about her family life at the time she’s in hospital, her career as a writer and forward fifteen or so years to see how it unfolded.

It’s storytelling, and you know it’s good storytelling because you have vivid pictures of the characters and places in your head. Structurally, it hops around, back and fore in time, which is one reason why it engages you throughout. The other reason is the storyteller. Laura Linney moves around the space, engaging with her audience on three sides, and the Bridge Theatre shrinks in your imagination (not difficult for me in the front row!). The performer is as lonely as the character, which increases your empathy with both. It’s a big stage, with only a hospital bed and chair in Bob Crowley’s design, and projections by Luke Halls of the New York skyline through the hospital window, moving us to the streets of her New York neighbourhood and back to her rural homeland. I was captivated by it, and I’m renowned for not liking monologues!

I’ve been a fan of Laura Linney since the 1993 Tales of the City Channel 4 series and I have nothing but admiration for the bravery that must be required to play this role. Getting a novel adapted and on stage in another country in just two years is some feat, but with playwright Rona Munro and director Richard Eyre, you have a premiere league team to pull it off in style.

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It’s over three months since my last theatrical immersion and only eight months since one covering similar ground. Matthew Lopez’ play comes in at six hours without feeling anything like it.

Some have called it a sequel to Angels in America, exploring the lives of the generation that followed, as it does. That’s partially true, but it’s less edgy and less political, though it covers seven years either side of last year’s US election. It’s a gentler, more emotional and sentimental piece inspired by E M Forster’s Howard’s End. It’s best to forget the parallels with both, as it’s its own thing, though still an epic theatrical feast.

It centres around a group of thirty-something gay friends in New York City at the present time, at the centre of which are Democratic party campaign worker Eric, earnest and loyal, and writer Toby, self-obsessed and flighty. Their group of friends are young professionals like doctors and lawyers in a world living with AIDS rather than dying of it. The link with the previous generation is provided by neighbours Walter and Henry, who’ve been together for thirty-six years. Eric finds a soulmate in Walter and later an unlikely partnership with Henry. Forster is a character too, tutoring them all in writing the story at the outset, then acting as a narrator, commenting on and suggesting changes to the story as we go.

Eric and Toby’s relationship is derailed by the latter’s success adapting his novel for the stage and screen, propelling young Adam to stardom in the process. Adam rejects Toby in favour of the play’s director, and Toby starts seeing a lookalike Leo, who has another connection with the group. Others plan marriages and children, something the previous generation couldn’t contemplate. It’s like binge watching a drama that grabbed you in episode one and won’t let you go. I loved the structural ingenuity and variety, including Forster’s presence, flashbacks, direct to audience narration, and it sends itself up deliciously on occasion. It’s funny and moving in equal measure.

Stephen Daldry’s staging, on and around a platform which rises and falls occasionally, is simple but masterly, with an organic flow about it. Bob Crowley’s understated design allows the story to speak for itself, with just a few moments when the back-screen moves to signpost something significant. Paul Englishby’s music and Jon Clark’s lighting add much atmosphere.

The performances are universally committed and passionate. I’ve long admired Kyle Soler, but this is surely a career defining performance as Eric. Making his UK debut, Andrew Burnap is simply sensational as Toby and Paul Hilton is wonderful as both Morgan (Forster) and Walter. Two other American visitors complete the handful of superb leads – Samuel H Levine as Adam / Leo and John Benjamin Hickey as Henry. Then in the last 45 minutes, on comes Vanessa Redgrave to give the best performance I’ve ever seen her give in a cameo as Margaret, who lost her son to AIDS after which she devotes herself to caring for others.

Another unmissable theatrical feast at the powerhouse in The Cut. I left exhausted but exhilarated, as only live theatre can do.

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The third and last of my cheapskate January catch-ups, and you can certainly see where your ticket money goes with this one. Bob Crowley’s set and Gregg Barnes’ costumes are the star of the show, though you’d be forgiven if you decided to wear dark glasses.

The surprise of this Disney animation-to-stage show is the tongue-in-cheek humour, albeit largely broad and corny. Alan Menken’s score is rather good too, though there are only a dozen songs, half of which are reprised. Other than that its a pretty bog standard recycling of the age old tale, an eighteenth century French addition to the Middle Eastern folk tales Arabian Nights.

The big number is Friend Like Me, in an extraordinarily designed cave where they throw absolutely everything at it in a truly slick, spectacular scene that seemed in itself a homage to musical theatre, with added pyrotechnics. On a smaller scale, the magic carpet ride of its most famous song A Whole New World was indeed magical and you really couldn’t see how it was done.

Trevor Dion Nicholas has great presence as the Genie and terrific, cheeky audience engagement when he breaks the fourth wall. Matthew Croke is a fine romantic lead and has great chemistry with Nicholas. It’s a fine supporting cast whose sense of fun seemed completely genuine.

It’s only panto with a mega-budget, but it’s very well staged and performed and I was glad I caught up with it, though there’s more joy at the Hackney Empire panto.

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If Walt Disney hadn’t adapted this late nineteenth century Italian novel by Carlo Collodi for his second full-length animated film just before the Second World War, it would probably never have become the iconic tale it has, told around the world in many forms and languages. Here we are almost eighty years later seeing a stage adaptation at the National Theatre, and what a treat it proves to be.

The tale struck me as darker (the hand of playwright Dennis Kelly?) and more moralistic than I remembered, with a strong emphasis on the importance of values and truth. In learning these en route from being a puppet to being a boy, Pinocchio encounters a trio of baddies – a sly trickster Fox, puppet-master Stromboli and fairground-master The Coachman. These are juxtaposed with his loving dad, puppet-maker Geppetto, and the Blue Fairy, who adds that touch of magic.

John Tiffany’s staging doesn’t rely on technology, as much modern theatre does, but it is utterly charming and completely magical. Bob Crowley provides a simple, appropriately wooden design of benches, trees and ladders until we move to the puppet theatre’s proscenium and the fairground’s lights. The underwater scene is an understated marvel. Puppets are used for some of the main characters (except the puppet Pinocchio himself!) with Geppetto, Stromboli and the Coachman twice life size, with three handlers as well as the actor in identical dress; this gives the production a somewhat surreal quality and a period feel.

Tiffany’s regular movement collaborator Steven Hoggett creates an athletic child-like world. and the illusions by Jamie Harrison (whose work so impressed me at the Harry Potter plays recently) are brilliant (though there was a minor nose malfunction on the night I went!). Martin Lowe provides a wonderful score to supplement the film’s original five songs and inspired by its incidental music and Italian and Alpine folk music, including the recurrent standard When You Wish Upon a Star, which sounds suitably lush with a 15-piece orchestra under Tom Brady in the pit.

Mark Hadfield’s Geppetto is very moving (was that a real tear I saw at the end?) and Joe Idris-Roberts is an absolute delight as a very malleable Pinocchio. All three baddies deliver the required badness – David Langham’s Fox, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Stromboli and David Kirkbride as The Coachman. Audrey Brisson makes Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket a lovely companion and Annette McLaughlin is every bit the fairy of your imagination.

Younger kids might be a bit scared, but older ones will love it’s darkness and adults it’s timeless charm and glorious theatricality. One of the best Christmas shows at the National, adding to its impressive seasonal track record.

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How many producers and associate producers does it take to get a screen to stage adaptation onto a West End stage? Fifty-one! That’s about the same number as the total of performers and musicians combined. Do they each have their own producer?

Though it is new to the stage this, like the 1951 film on which it is based, recycles Gershwin songs like I Got Rhythm, The Man I Love and But Not For Me from stage musicals Girl Crazy and Lady Be Good 20-30 years before the film, songs from other Gershwin film musicals like Funny Face, plus piano concertos & preludes, rhapsodies and symphonic poems! Gershwin may have been the first real crossover composer and this may well be the ultimate mash-up!

Set at the end of the Second World War in Paris, obviously, it tells the story of two American GI’s who decide to stay, musician Adam Hochberg and artist Jerry Mulligan. Adam’s new Parisian friend Henri Baurel is a wannabe performer expected to continue the family business. His family have protected young Jewish girl Lise Dassin during the occupation and now she seems to feel she owes Henri her heart, though she’s fallen for Jerry (and Adam for her). All three end up involved in a new ballet – Lise dancing, Jerry designing and Adam writing the score, after which Lise is forced to choose and Henri get’s ‘outed’ to his parents.

It pulls all (both) of its punches in the second half with an extraordinary scene where a Paris jazz club transforms into NYC’s Radio City Music Hall and back again, and the ballet itself, though the opening transition from occupation to liberation is brilliantly staged too. I liked the rest, but it didn’t blow me away like the reviews and recommendations predicted. Despite all the exceptional components – good story and great score, Bob Crowley’s modern art inspired design with projections that make scene changes simply flow, Christopher Wheeldon’s light-as-air staging and choreography, a great orchestra under John Rigby (which sounded a lot more than fourteen) and a fine set of performances – it only occasionally swept me away. At times, I felt I was in a musical theatre museum admiring but not emotionally engaged with the show. Some of the French accents were a bit dodgy too!

For a ballet dancer, Robert Fairchild is a damn good singer as well as an exciting dancer; he stole the show for me. Fellow ballet dancer Leanne Cope was terrific too in her mostly dancing role, and David Seadon-Young was excellent as Adam. There’s a lovely cameo from Jane Asher as Henri’s stern mum, looking decades younger than her true age. I can’t fault the show, but it didn’t captivate me as I thought it would. Too big a theatre (and a stuffy one too)? An off night for me? Over-hyped? Who knows?…….but don’t let me put you off.

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This much lauded revival of Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical first hit has travelled from Harvard to Broadway & the Edinburgh Festival en route to the West End, with two of its original cast staying with it. The Director and Designer are our own John Tiffany and Bob Crowley. It’s my fourth production in just over twenty years and that may be why I’m less euphoric than most.

The Wingfield family have fallen on hard times since Mr Wingfield deserted them. They live in an apartment in St Louis. Mother Amanda is a southern belle, a former debutante, who forever reminisces about her past. Her children are both her whole life and a disappointment to her. Son Tom works in a warehouse and escapes regularly from the confines of his stifling home life to ‘the movies’. His sister Laura has a small disability, though she’s referred to as ‘a cripple’, and seems to be somewhat unstable. She dropped out of high school and college and now sits at home tending and playing with her collection of glass animals. Amanda is obsessed with marrying off Laura and is thrilled when Tom brings hime a ‘a gentleman caller’, his more successful colleague Jim. At first Laura is too shy and withdrawn to engage with them and join in the dinner, but Jim turns out to be an obsession from her past and things begin to go a lot better – until Jim drops a bombshell and upsets both Laura and Amanda and provokes Tom’s planned departure for pastures new.

Bob Crowley’s beautiful impressionistic set, gorgeously lit by Natasha Katz,  has a fire escape rising to the heavens with stairs down beneath the stage emphasising the location, though from the front stalls I didn’t fully appreciate his design coup until I walked to the front of the stage at the end. John Tiffany’s staging, with ‘movement’ from regular collaborator Steven Hoggett, has a light touch with the pivotal second half scene between Laura and Jim masterly, but I didn’t engage with it emotionally. Cherry Jones as Amanda and Brian J Smith as Jim are hugely impressive, perhaps because they are the two stayers. Though we only see him in the second half, I thought Smith lifted the production. Michael Esper, fresh from his star turn in Lazarus, didn’t quite do it for me and Kate O’Flynn’s Laura was sometimes too squeaky and overly fey.

It’s a better production than the misguided one at the Young Vic six or seven years ago and as good as the last West End outing directed by Rupert Goold’s and starring Jessica Lange a few years before that, but it doesn’t live up to Sam Mendes Donmar production (will anything ever?) just over twenty years ago and it looks like that’s my curse; it stops me joining in the euphoria, even though I much admired it. Still, I’m glad I caught it and would certainly recommend it.

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I blow a bit hot and cold with Tom Stoppard. At his best, his intellectual jigsaw puzzles sparkle and thrill like fireworks, but they can sometimes be damp squibs too. I’ve actually enjoyed his most recent work – the Coast of Utopia trilogy & Rock & Roll – more than the clever clogs stuff like Jumpers and Travesties, but I’m afraid this is a huge disappointment, devoid of any emotional engagement and, well, rather dull.

I thought reading the programme in advance might help, but it made my brain hurt before I’d even taken my seat. It’s familiar philosophical / scientific territory, this time the brain and consciousness. Psychology graduate Hilary gets to work at a world famous brain science institute which is funded by financier Jerry Krohl for ethically dubious reasons. The intellectual debate is between her and her teacher / lover Spike, competing scientist Amal, the institute’s senior researcher Leo and Krohl himself. There are three strands, as there is a somewhat contrived personal story and a mere brush with the world of finance as well as the core scientific debate, but they don’t combine to produce anything with enough substance.

Designer Bob Crowley’s creativity (and budget!) has gone on a brilliant light installation high above the action, which provides a nice distraction during the over-long and fairly frequent scene changes, but leaves the stage looking sparse during performance. There’s nothing wrong with the performances – the actors do the best they can with somewhat flimsy characterisations. It all seemed a bit half-hearted to me.

Perhaps it would have been better if Stoppard retired with the already impressive body of work he has behind him. My playwriting hero Arthur Miller endangered his legacy with weak late plays like Resurrection Blues and Mr Peter’s Connections and for me Stoppard is in danger of doing the same.

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