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Posts Tagged ‘Brendan Matthew’

This show is in my top ten musicals, probably the best British musical, certainly the best British musical score, so I take every opportunity to see it and this was my ninth. It didn’t let me down and indeed moved me more than most productions.

Melvyn Bragg’s story is a great sweep of late 19th / early 20th century Cumbrian life as we follow two generations of the Tallentire family from the land to the pits to the First World War and back to the land, through marriage, births, deaths and infidelity. What makes Brendan Matthew’s production stand out is that its more animated than I’ve ever seen it before, with terrific choreography / movement, from dance to hand gestures, by Charlotte Tooth.

Howard Goodall’s score is very much in the British choral tradition and it’s packed full of gorgeous melodies, and it’s the quality of the choruses that makes or breaks the show, and this is another aspect this production nails – very rousing, as they should be. The solo work is more variable as they fight both the band and the aircon, which is so inefficient they’d just as well turn it off, though in all fairness the vocals shone through more as the show progressed. The ending was like an emotional wave I’ve rarely experienced with this show.

I liked Justin Williams & Jonny Rust’s wooden backdrop, which brought intimacy to the home scenes but also facilitated the effective creation of pubs, mines, trenches and of course the hiring ring. In a hugely talented young ensemble I much admired Sam Peggs’ very athletic Isaac and Jack McNeill’s believably young Harry. Ifan Gwilym-Jones and Rebecca Gilliland, both outstanding in Matthew’s recent premiere of My Lands Shore in Walthamstow, rose to the challenge of the meaty roles of John and Emily Tallentire.

I love this show so much, and I loved this production. If you haven’t seen Howard Goodall’s masterpiece, go, and if you have, go again!

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If any further proof were needed that Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre in Walthamstow is fast becoming the most ambitious fringe musical theatre venue, with the highest musical standards, here it is. The confidence that Christopher J Orton & Robert Gould, the writers of this superb new musical, sixteen years in the making, already nicknamed the Welsh Les Mis, have placed in the Walthamstow team for its world premiere is richly rewarded with passionate performances and glorious singing.  

Set in the South Wales valleys in 1831, in Merthyr Tydfil to be precise (20 miles from my childhood home in a another valley, though many years later, but that doesn’t make me biased!) it tells the story of the Merthyr Rising and its martyr Dic Penderyn. It was the culmination of years of unrest created by unemployment, wage reductions and price rises. Men can barely feed their families with their wages from the mines and ironworks and things come to a head when they try to organise to present their grievances, adding demands for representation and universal suffrage. At its heart is the personal story of Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) who takes on single mother Angharad and her eight-year-old son Jonathan. The political and and the personal stories eventually converge and we learn of the events leading up to Angharad’s pregnancy. The authorities, encouraged by the mine and ironworks owners, violently put down what they call a revolt. Troops kill innocent protestors and their leader Lewis Lewis and Dic are sentenced to hang.

It’s both an epic story and a very human one and the score is simply superb, full of beautiful melodies and rousing choruses. Aaron Clingham’s orchestrations are beautiful too, with strings and woodwind creating an evocative musical landscape. The singing does full justice to the score. There are too many fine performances to single any out – casting director Benjamin Newsome has found some extraordinary talent again, with a welcome proportion of actual Welsh talent! Director Brendan Matthew, a regular in this venue now, marshals his cast of eighteen very effectively given the space limitations. It’s hard to conjure up mountainsides, churches, mines and family homes in any space, let alone a room above a pub, but designer Joana Dias does very well with limited resources and help from the lighting designer Sky Bembury and costume designer Celestine Healy, though it’s crying out for a bigger space.

It left me as excited as when I first saw Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man over thirty years ago. A truly British musical and a very fine one indeed. I don’t believe for one minute we won’t see more of it and I suspect sometime in the future I will be reminiscing about seeing the world premiere. You have just two weeks to get yourselves to Walthamstow.

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This 1937 Rogers & Hart musical came three-quarters of the way through their prolific 22 year partnership, straight after On Your Toes, famous for it’s jazz ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. They were clearly still into ‘ballets’ as they inserted one into each act of this show. This is the original version, not the sanitised 1959 version which removed political references and two black characters subjected to racism.

Young Val is abandoned by his parents, off on a Vaudeville tour. As he is under 21, the local sheriff decides he must go to a work farm, but gives him a two-week stay of execution to attempt to put on a charity show with his friends and new girlfriend, who turned up one night when her car broke down! They squabble too much to succeed, so they all end up on the work farm. In a surreal plot twist, a French transatlantic pilot crash lands in Val’s family field which leads to the expectation of a prosperous future. It’s one of the daftest, most contrived plots in musical theatre, but it has a handful of standards including My Fully Valentine and The Lady is a Tramp, which is no doubt what attracts revivals.

Whatever you think of the show, you have to admire the chutzpah of this production. It’s chief strength is the outstanding dancing (choreographer Carole Todd), though the musical standards are as good as we’ve got used to here, but there’s sometimes a bit of a competition between the band, a (very necessary!) giant fan and some of the solo vocals. It’s an excellent energetic young cast, with Jack McCann and Ruth Betteridge very good romantic leads, Ruth making a fine job of both My Funny Valentine and The Lady is a Tramp. Beth Brantley delivers Johnny One Note with gusto. Gus Fielding, Jamie Tait and Alex Okoampa are particularly impressive in the dancing department.

Fine work up in Walthamstow again.

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Howard Goodall wrote this musical adaptation of Oliver Goldsmith’s restoration comedy for the National Youth Music Theatre 18 years ago (Sheridan Smith’s music theatre debut!). It’s the midpoint of his musical theatre catalogue, to date. It didn’t get a professional production until five years ago and now Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre in Walthamstow have matched and in some respects bettered that. It’s been great to see All Star Productions grow through the three Goodall shows they’ve done in the last 2.5 years (not counting the compilation show Love & War) to reach the quality they achieve here.

Charles Marlow is off to meet Kate Hardcastle, their fathers intent on a match. He’s accompanied by George Hastings who is going to have to elope if he is to wed his love, Kate’s cousin Constance, as she’s promised to Kate’s step-brother Tony Lumpkin. The mischievous Tony meets them en route and persuades them the Hardcastle home is an Inn, which results in much confusion as the story propels towards it’s inevitable happy ending.

Charles Hart made an excellent job of the book and lyrics, making it even funnier, though just as broad, and director Brendan Matthew’s time shift from the late eighteenth to early twentieth century makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of music and it’s an even better score than I remembered (like a lot of Goodall shows, there’s no recording) with particularly fine ensemble pieces. As usual at this venue, the musical standards under Aaron Clingham are outstanding, though the balance of unamplified band and voices meant that some lyrics were lost. It takes a while to take off, the Act One finale is a touch laboured and it could do with losing ten or fifteen minutes, but it’s a great show nonetheless.

It’s another terrific ensemble here, many new to the venue, with all seven leads well cast. The comedy honours belong to Andrew Truluck and Laurel Dougall as Mr & Mrs Hardcastle. Kira Morsley is excellent as Kate, with particularly fine vocals. I very much liked both David Zachary and Robert Metson as Marlow and Hastings respectively, as I did Emily Peach as Constance and Jacob Jackson’s cheeky chappie Lumpkin.

Another good reason to go to the very end of the Victoria Line. I think it’s time to place my order for the London premiere of Goodall’s Two Cities.

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Well, I certainly had to suffer for my art last night, the hottest day of the year in a stifling room above a pub, but All Star Productions managed to make me whoop with joy at their UK première of this 1932 Irving Berlin / Moss Hart musical.

Why on earth has it taken so long to get here? It’s a fun story of a Broadway producer putting on a show, but it’s the depression so he’s run out of gullible investors, until a chance meeting with the wife of the chief of police leads him to persuade the corrupt NYC police to launder the proceeds of their corruption in his show. There’s something of The Producers in this storyline, but it pre-dates the original film of that show by 36 years. The cops, and the chief’s wife, interfere in the show and the producer quits, leaving them to finish off the flop. After the first night, and predictable bad reviews, a cast member suggests spicing it up and it turns into a hit, which brings attention from the FBI.

It hasn’t got much of a book, but it’s good enough for a showcase of some great songs and ends brilliantly with the number Investigation. Though none of the songs are standards in the Berlin way, they’re better than many Broadway musicals and here they are played and sung exceptionally well. Designer Joana Dias has created an impressionistic NYC skyline on the walls of the room with a can of white paint. Some packing crates, wooden chairs and a rack of clothes complete the picture. The costumes are very good and it all looks great. Sally Brooks’ choreography is outstanding, making great use of the limited space to produce uplifting movement. Brendan Matthew’s staging is superb, respecting the period but with enough of its tongue in its cheek to laugh with it. Aaron Clingham’s 4-piece band are as good as ever.

They’ve assembled another crack cast (that man Newsome again). David Anthony and Laurel Dougall are suitably OTT as the chief cop Meshbesher and his wife Myrtle, the comic heart of the piece.  Samuel Haughton takes the acting honours as archetypal Broadway producer Hal Reisman. Joanne Clifton brought the house down as the streetwalker with her Torch Song and Joanna Hughes as Kit sang beautifully. There are also a couple of impressive professional débuts from Lewis Dewar Foley and Kirsten Stark.

Ye Olde Rose & Crown continues to produce outstanding fringe musicals and this is amongst its best. Only three more days to catch it.

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This isn’t a panto, but a made-for-TV musical by the masters of the form. It starred Julie Andrews and when it was aired in 1957, some 100,000,000 watched – 60% of the US population! Though it has been on stage before, outings are rare. I saw a lovely production at Bristol Old Vic almost exactly 8 years ago, but I’m not sure it has been in London in the 30 years I’ve lived here. So off to Turnham Green we go…..

They haven’t changed the age-old story, but it’s stripped down to nine characters, with an excellent Helen Colby here doubling-up as the Stepmother and the Fairy Godmother, and an ensemble of two! The music isn’t their best, but better than much (and certainly better than any panto version I’ve seen) and its played really well here by a 5-piece band (which sounds a lot bigger). Christopher Hone’s design is superb, working wonders with the tiny Tabard Theatre space in very inventive ways that themselves make you smile and Alex Young’s direction is very sure-footed indeed.

Kirsty Mann and Vlach Ashton are excellent romantic leads and Brendan Matthew & Sarah Dearlove very good as the King & Queen. I loved the interpretation of Cinderella’s sisters – Kate Scott as a somewhat manic Joy and Lydia Jenkins with rather more ‘attitude’ as Grace. The prince’s Steward Lionel was given a bit of a camp makeover by Josh Carter to good effect.

Given the time of year (and this was a matinée too), this somewhat sophisticated entertainment was played to rather too many young children I’m afraid and the seat kicking, crisp & sweet eating and fidgeting rather wore me down. This is far too good for kids (and in my opinion certainly not suitable for under 7’s) and maybe an evening performance would have been better. That said, congratulations to the Tabard for quality alternative seasonal fare.

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Perhaps it should be renamed ‘Flare Path – The Musical’ to cash in on that play’s recent success; it’s set in an RAF base during the second world war – though that’s just about where the similarity ends. Anyway, a second wish granted – another Howard Goodall revival – so soon after my wish for a Lionel Bart revival.

I was lucky to be working in the North West when this was premiered in Bolton 25 years ago. It was lovely; a worthy follow-up to his first musical, The Hired Man, which I had seen and loved in London two years before. Something happened when it transferred to the West End; it was nowhere near as good, but I couldn’t work out why. Seeing this first London revival at Ye Old Rose & Crown has answered that question – it really is a chamber piece which never belonged in the West End.

It’s a simple story of the love of two women for the same man, set against a backdrop of wartime sorties by the male pilots and parachute making by the girls at the base. There’s a touch of feminism and a nod to conscientious objection, but that’s about it story-wise. Even though it’s not sung-through, there’s not a lot of dialogue. That makes the music seem a bit repetitive and monotonous, lovely though it is. There are nice touches of humour though (Richard Curtis had a hand in it) and the characterisation is good, but I think the lack of depth and the music’s mono-style is its weakness.

The young cast of seven girls and two boys do very well indeed; it’s not an easy score to sing. The three that make up the love triangle – Mark Lawson, Harriet Dobby and Emma Manley – are particularly good. The production has an authentic feel (helped by uniforms with caps, stockings with seams and hairos with buns & copious quantities of hairpins!) and its beautifully sung. The five piece band (an unusual but effective line-up of piano, cello, clarinet, alto sax and trumpet) under MD Aaron Clingham provide lovely accompaniment (after a ragged opening); I didn’t think it over loud as others before me did, but I did sit as far away from the band as I could because I’d heard this!

It’s the musicality of Goodall shows that I love. He writes such good melodies and it all sounds so British; a breath of fresh air in a genre that almost always sounds American. All Star Productions succeed where it matters – musically – and it’s a long-awaited and very welcome revival. Great to see a full house in a room above a pub in Walthamstow on a Sunday afternoon for work like this, too. Well worth the schlep north.

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