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Posts Tagged ‘Bruno Poet’

Danai Gurira’s play is set in what was Rhodesia, the country in which she was brought up as Zimbabwe, but late in the 19th century. It’s look at colonialism is more left field, doing so by examining the impact of missionaries on the local communities, and it has as fine a set of performances as you’ll find anywhere. I was captivated.

Chilford is a convert, given an English name, now going about converting others. When his housekeeper Mai Tamba’s niece seeks refuge from her uncle, who is trying to marry her off following her father’s death, he takes her in, names her Esther and she becomes his next target, and if anything a more passionate convert. When protests break out in the country, the head of their church is killed, and Chilford’s colleague Chancellor takes refuge too, but we soon realise he is much less principled.

The play examines how the community is divided between the converted and those that stick to their heritage and beliefs. Set in Chilford’s home, we hear of events outside, as people come and go, until events inside become as dramatic. The simplicity of the design, in the round with a platform, a few bits of furniture and gauze walls that rise and fall, beautifully lit by Bruno Poet, provides intimacy and ensures you focus on the story. Above all, it’s stunningly performed by a terrific company led by Paapa Essiedu as the earnest Chilford and Letitia Wright as Esther, and both are mesmerising.

Another great night at the Young Vic.

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I’m surprised that there’s been little or no mention that this is the second Tina Turner jukebox musical, the first just six years ago, transferring from Hackney Empire to the Savoy Theatre for a short summer run (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/soul-sister). The previous one had much to enjoy, but this is on another level altogether. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who virtually invented the modern day jukebox musical with Mamma Mia, seen in 40 countries, still running in London after 19 years, now almost next door to this, returns with what might be its pinnacle.

Like those other great jukebox musicals – Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon & Beautiful – it’s biographical. Tina’s story begins in her childhood church in Tennessee with a brilliant gospel version of Nutbush City Limits. She’s abandoned by her mum, then her dad, and lives with her grandma until her death, after which she goes to live with her mother and sister in St. Louis. Here she meets Ike and so begins the years of success, and abuse. When she finally plucks up the courage to leave him, he continues to exert control over her repertoire and she ends up lost and broke in Las Vegas. Her only hope is new material, and she finds that by following young Aussie Roger Davies to London. The rest, as they say, is history.

Katori Hall has made a great job of telling the story through her excellent book and the production oozes quality in every department, from Anthony van Laast’s choreography, recreating some of Tina’s somewhat quirky moves, Mark Thompson’s designs, Bruno Poet’s lighting and Nevin Steinberg’s sound to Tom Kelly’s terrific band. The show ends with the now customary mini-concert, allowing the audience to indulge in the singing and dancing they’ve been suppressing for 2.5 hours, during which there was a lovely moment when Tina duets with her childhood self.

Adrienne Warren is the embodiment of Tina in a sensational performance; she has the same extraordinary audience contact Tina had. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who I last saw as Laertes in Hamlet (!) is a revelation as Ike, though he did veer towards caricature occasionally. In a superb supporting cast, I really liked Ryan O’Donnell as Davies, Madeline Appiah as Tina’s mum and Lorna Gayle as grandma.

A show that lives up to the hype, and more.

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This new musical is full of superb ingredients. Soutra Gilmore’s design is brilliant. Javier de Frutos choreography is thrilling. Tamara Harvey’s staging is impeccable. The ensemble and the five leads are all excellent. Yet there’s something missing.

We start and end on a ship leaving Hawaii after Pearl Harbour. We spend the 2.5 hours in between with the American military back on the island in the days leading up to the Japanese attack in 1941. Two love stories intertwine – First Sargent Warden’s affair with Captain Holmes’ wife Karen and Private Prewitt’s love for prostitute Lorene. Prewitt has just arrived with high hopes he’ll boost both the boxing and musical credentials of G Company.

In the first half, the focus is on the development of these relationships and Prewitt’s reluctance to box or play and the show fails to engage or come alive. The second half is much grittier as the pressure mounts on Prewitt and choices have to be made by all of the lovers. There’s a realism to the situation (the late James Jones, on whose novel it is based, was there at this time) but Bill Oakes’ adaptation doesn’t entirely work. Stuart Brayson’s score is a bit uneven, but there are some good songs (the choruses are particularly good) and I very much liked David White’s orchestrations. If I hadn’t known Tim Rice was the lyricist, I don’t think I’d have noticed; it seems to lack his trademark sharpness and wit.

You can’t question the craftsmanship, though. The location and period are perfectly evoked in an impressionistic set based on a post-Pearl Harbour theatre and barracks with excellent projections by Jon Driscoll and lighting by Bruno Poet. De Frutos does the same as he did in Rufus Norris’ Cabaret – original and fresh choreography with a contemporary dance feel, which works particularly well in a barrack room scene, a boxing match and the air attack. Tamara Harvey’s staging has so much more intelligent detail than most musicals and the finale is hugely impressive.

Darius Campbell has great presence as Warden and real chemistry with Rebecca Thornhill’s Karen. Robert Lonsdale plays Prewitt with an appropriate edginess and great passion and is well matched with Siobhan Harrison as Lorene. Ryan Sampson first impressed me in DNA at the NT, then Canary at Hampstead, followed by The Kitchen Sink at the Bush (also directed by Tamara Harvey). He showed us his musicals potential in Floyd Collins at Southwark Playhouse and here he almost steals the show with a superb performance in the pivotal role of Angelo. The ensemble – all shapes and sizes, like the real world, for a change! – is uniformly excellent.

It’s a shame it doesn’t quite come together, but this is quality British musical theatre which is to be welcomed nonetheless. Only the lyricist and orchestrator have a strong West End Musicals track record and maybe that’s the crux of it – it brings a freshness of approach but doesn’t have the combined experience to quite pull it off. A bit like The Light Princess, really, and like that, you should still go.

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