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Posts Tagged ‘Bronagh Lagan’

I was lucky to be working in the North-West in the summer of 1986 when this show had it’s world premiere. With the music of Howard Goodall’s first show The Hired Man still ringing in my ears, off I went to Oldham Coliseum. The cast were a bunch of then unknowns, many of who went on to become musical theatre royalty – Maria Friedman, Jenna Russell, Clare Burt, Andrew C Wadsworth….. I loved the show and the following year I was on the Olivier Awards panel when it re-opened the Playhouse Theatre in London, substantially re-cast. I was expecting to lead the campaign to nominate it as Best Musical, but it was a different show and for some reason had nothing like the impact it had in Oldham. I’ve never entirely understood why.

It was 24 years before its second London outing, this time at Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre (in a room above a pub in Walthamstow), and it proved to be a delightful chamber piece. So here we are another three years on and it’s the third in the Union Theatre’s Howard Goodall Season, with a production whose musical standards may well be the best. It sounds gorgeous.

Set in the the second world war in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), the ten ‘girlfriends’ are carrying out admin duties, parachute packing and tea making. We have just two airmen representing the RAF and one of them is caught in a love triangle with best friends Amy and Louise (the other one is trying hard to get laid). The former is toff Guy and the latter Welsh boy Gareth (co-incidence). Everything is told in song – there’s next to no dialogue – which often makes it feel more of a song cycle than a musical. The lack of a good book is its flaw (according to Goodall, Richard Curtis no less added to his research notes with ‘a rambling inventive script’) but the music is glorious.

The vocals here really are beautiful, in solos and ensembles with overlapping melodies. You don’t often here ten women’s voices in harmony and it’s a lovely sound, but the mens contributions, equally good vocals, provide some necessary colour and contrast. The accompaniment of two keyboards, winds and double bass under MD Freddie Tapner ( a professional debut!) is also excellent. The singers and players all do full justice to Goodall’s score and they look like they are having the time of their lives. Bronagh Lagan’s simple staging, with inventive movement and choreography by Iona Holland, suits the piece well. Nik Corall’s design focuses more on costumes than set and you know you’re in the forties by the girls hairdos alone!

It’s great to see this year’s Sondheim Student Performer Award winner Corrine Priest, who made an excellent contribution to the society’s ‘God’ revue, making such a terrific impression in the leading role like Amy, and Perry Lambert is an equally impressive the other leading lady Lou. Both of the boys, Tom Sterling and Michael Ress (a real Welshman, thankfully!), have exceptional voices and act brilliantly. There isn’t a weak link in this young, hugely talented cast.

Though I missed the first show because of my travels, this has been a fabulous Howard Goodall season, so I will end by placing my order for 2015…….Dear Sasha & Howard, the London premiere of Two Cities, please. Thank you. Love, Gareth.

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In a surprising co-incidence, the second full staging in the enterprising from Page to Stage season turns out to be covering similar ground as The Mistress Contract across the river at the Royal Court. It’s a 75-minute show which ‘illustrates’ the offer of a similar arrangement to 30-something New York girl Tess with the stories of four mistresses from history. It felt like work-in-progress rather than a finished piece; well it is part of a season of work in development after all!

The other mistresses are a 14-year old 12th century Chinese concubine, the mistress of a 16th century French king, an early 20th century New Orleans brothel madam and diarist of sexual exploits Anais Nin. We hear from them all; the trouble is we don’t hear enough from Tess, who seems more like a device for the other stories than a fully fledged character in her own right. I think Beth Blatt needs to flesh out her story and give it more substance.

Jenny Giering’s music is nice, though it lacked variety with just five female voices and a piano (gorgeously played by Caroline Humphris). Bronagh lagan’s staging and Eda Giray’s designs were both effective and elegant. The cast performed the material well; I was particularly impressed by Kara Lane and Nicola Blackman, but I felt Tess was a little under powered.

There’s a full show in there waiting to be brought out, but even as it is, I enjoyed it a lot more than the other one across the river!

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