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Posts Tagged ‘Christian Durham’

I so love these Finborough rediscoveries. This one is the sixty-year-old only play by a man better known as a translator / adaptor, literary manager and theatre critic and it’s another gem which makes you wonder how work of this quality can remain unproduced for so long while inferior work is revived with great regularity. It could only be staged at the time because it was produced at the Arts Theatre, then a club; theatre censorship was still in place and they would never have allowed it in a normal theatre.

It’s set in a public school, and in particular the shady world of sex, love and power. Housemaster Hallowes gives sex talks to the fifteen-year-olds whilst the seventeen-year-olds are ignoring them. House prefect Park takes an even stronger stance than Hallowes, which his deputy Tully ignores. Hallowes latest talk is too late for Tully’s fag Turner, but not for his contemporary Hamilton. The examination of the abuse of power by older boys echoes current events in film, theatre and politics. It’s examination of the difference between sex and love is altogether braver and more original. It’s a beautifully written piece, though perhaps a touch overlong in the closing scenes of each half.

Christian Durham’s impeccable production takes place on the set of the Finborough’s other play, but you’d never know it. All five performances are outstanding. Simon Butteriss’ Hallowes is a benevolent master with a clear moral code; his sex talk scene was a gem. Of the 17-year-olds, Oliver Gully’s stern and earnest Park contrasts with Harley Viveash’s gregarious and passionate Tully, whilst in the 15-year-olds, Jacques Miche’s cheeky and knowing Turner contrasts with Jack Archer’s naive and serious Hamilton; the latter’s facial expressions spoke volumes.

A great rediscovery given a fine production. Hopefully to be seen by more than the 600 that can fit into these twelve scheduled performances.

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Biblical musicals aren’t really my thing. I’m not at all fond of the Lloyd-Webber / Rice pair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, or Godspell by Stephen Scwartz, who also wrote this (which flopped when it went straight to the West End twenty-five years ago). Somewhat perversely, I prefer it to the other three – all hits – but that may have a lot to do with the chamber scale and high quality of this revival.

Based on the Old Testament Book of Genesis, it tells the stories of Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel and Noah, the first two in Act I and the latter in Act II. I thought the score was rather good, as were Schwartz own lyrics, better than his other shows like Godspell, Pippin and Wicked. John Caird’s lucid book provides a cohesive structure. Even for an unbeliever like me, these are good yarns.

The staging (director Christian Durham) choreography (Lucie Pankhurst), design (Kingsley Hall) and lighting (Nic Farman) all come together to create a fresh, energetic and attractive whole. The animals were conjured up brilliantly and the use of umbrellas was very clever. Musical director Inga Davies-Rutter led an excellent quartet with particularly lovely woodwind sounds. It was very pleasing on the eye and ear.

There was a lot of doubling-up in the excellent young cast of eleven performers. I was particularly impressed by Stephen Barry as Adam / Noah and Canadian Natasha O’Brien (in her first UK role) as Eve / Mama Noah. There were other fine leading performances from Guy Woolf as Cain / Japeth, Daniel Miles as Abel / Ham and Nitika Johal as Yonah, and an excellent ensemble. They deserved a medal for getting through with the distraction of a front row of kids consuming an entire sweetshop with their mothers two rows behind necking cans of lager!

A very pleasant surprise, well worth catching.

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This Olivier nominated show (7 noms!) was up against Mamma Mia and The Lion King for Best Musical, but it lost to Stiles & Drew’s Honk! It pre-dates Billy Elliott as a British working class musical and if I ever write the history of the great British musicals it will be up there with Billy and The Hired Man. The shows original choreographer, Craig Revel Horward (for it is he) directed a splendid small scale actor/musician revival at the Watermill in Newbury on its 10th anniversary and now we have a new young team ripping it up under the arches in SE1 and its a delight from start to finish.

Could there be a more glamorous and romantic setting than Castleford for this biographical show about pools winner Viv Nicholson (using her infamous press call quote as its title)?! It takes us from her youth, through the big win (which now seems not at all big), the exploitation by friends family and begging letters, the spending spree, the new home in a posh neighbourhood, the rejection by new and old neighbours and friends, the four husbands, her boutique venture and the inevitable bankruptcy – starting and ending in the hairdressing salon where Viv ended up, being visited by the forever inquisitive. The story is brilliantly told by Steve Brown & Justin Greene’s book and deliciously witty lyrics.

There’s a grittiness about it which I love and Katy Dean captures young Viv’s combination of naivety, greed, feistiness and defiance superbly. I loved Julie Armstrong’s older Viv, narrating the story of her rise and fall with resignation rather than regret. The show is packed full of catchy tunes and Christian Durham’s production has great pace and energy, with witty, quirky choreography from Heather Douglas and an excellent four-piece band. In a fine ensemble, Dave Haydn stood out as Viv’s dad, Tom Brandon as hapless first hubby Matt and newcomer James Lyne as second husband Keith.

Great to see it again, and in such a lovely production at the Union. Don’t miss!

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