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Posts Tagged ‘Candida Caldicot’

Previous productions of this play, by Italian playwright Stefano Massini, have lasted five hours and had huge casts. Ben Power’s adaptation has a playing time of just under three hours, and director Sam Mendes has chosen to use just three actors to tell this epic story spanning 175 years. An inspired idea which delivers a captivating story of a dynasty, but also the history of capitalism and immigration to the USA.

The Lehman brothers are the sons of a German Jewish cattle merchant, the first brother Henry arriving in the US in 1844, Emanuel and Mayer following in the subsequent six years. Their business starts as a general store in Montgomery, Alabama, before they become cotton traders. After Henry dies, they move to New York City, where they expand into coffee trading, invest in railways and the Panama Canal, and eventually everything from airlines, cigarettes, films & armaments to banking.

It was not until 1965 that they move into trading investments, the business that killed them in 2008, something that the 1857, 1873 and 1929 financial crises, the American Civil War, two world wars and 9/11 didn’t. By then, there were no Lehman brothers left in the business that kept their name, the last dying in 1969. In the previous 125 years, six brothers from three generations had led the business, two for sixty years each.

Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley remain in the cloths in which they arrive in the mid-eighteenth century, but all play multiple roles of all generations & ages and both sexes absolutely brilliantly. It all takes place in Es Devlin’s glass-walled offices, representing where the company meets its demise in 2008, which revolve in front of a giant screen on which Luke Hall projects locations. The 2008 box files are used to create everything from shop counters to steps. It’s all in monochrome. Mendes’ staging is simple, enthralling storytelling, with the role-switching lightening it, providing some very funny moments. Live piano accompaniment at the side of the stage is also inspired, and brilliantly played by Candida Caldicot.

It all combines to create a wonderful unmissable theatrical feast.

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National Youth Music Theatre are celebrating their 40th anniversary with a programme of four shows, of which two have timely World War I themes – a revival of 2014’s Brass which I will be seeing in Hackney Empire in a couple of weeks time, and this ambitious new musical at the Rose Theatre Kingston – and its great to report that its ambition has really paid off with this one.

It’s 1916 and a group of kids are trying to figure out what they can do for the war effort when the eldest of them lies about his age and enlists. Those left behind eventually decide to build boat to sail to France and help, but a group of local bullies is intent on scuppering their plans. However, what they don’t have in might they more than make up for with ingenuity and bravery. It has a great children’s adventure story feel to it and its heart-warming stuff.

It has an outstanding score by Jenna Donnelly and Ethan Lewis Maltby, very melodic, with rousing choruses and some complex sub-operatic moments. It’s superbly played by a 12-piece band under Candida Caldicot and the young cast more than rise to the demands of the score with some terrific singing. Director Kate Golledge makes great use of the Rose’s wide apron stage, with a backdrop of maps and a handful of wooden boxes and towers by Diego Pitarch, whose costumes are excellent. Darragh O’Leary’s choreography and movement creates some great moments. Above all, though, its a stage brimming with talent that sweeps you away – twenty-seven young actors whose enthusiasm and energy is completely infectious.

I’ve been going to NYMT shows for many years (though not 40!) and this is as good as any. When you look at their alumni, the chances are very high that you’ll be seeing some of these on professional stages in the future. Only twenty years ago I was seeing Sheridan Smith in three shows. Stars are born indeed.

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