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Posts Tagged ‘Cressida Carre’

I find it astonishing that the story of the Titanic has such a high-profile, now more than 100 years after its fateful maiden voyage. It’s equally astonishing that it has taken 16 years for this Maury Yeston musical to get a London production (sorry, Bromley, but you are in Kent!). It turns out that, in telling the tragic story, this musical is way better than the somewhat pompous and overblown film and this showcase is long overdue.

It tells the story of the tragedy very well, bringing out the conflict between the owner, the shipbuilder, the captain and other crew members, but it’s even better bringing out the personal stories of the passengers and crew through the ship’s own class system. Third class is full of hopeful immigrants, second class has social-climbing holidaymakers and the rich and famous occupy first class.

Thom Sutherland & Cressida Carre’s staging is simple but clever. I particularly liked the owner’s relentless pressure for speed staged as a series of dinners; the conflict between owner, builder & captain trading blame-laden one liners; the choreographed transfer of ladies into lifeboats and the eventual tilting of the ship. David Woodhead has designed an elevated ship’s deck in front of a metal wall, some movable steps and a handful of props which do everything that’s needed.

Yeston’s score is excellent, especially in the company numbers. It has a pleasingly unBroadway, somewhat British sound and the string-heavy band under Mark Aspinall played gloriously. Andrew Johnson’s sound is amongst the best I’ve ever experienced in musical theatre. Danielle Tarento’s casting is again outstanding and it would be invidious to single anyone out as there are so many fine performances and an ensemble that shines.

When will a commercial producer give Thom Southerland a big West End musical? As this shows, he’s as good as any – and Southwark Playhouse continues its indispensable contribution as a bigger-than-most fringe musical venue.

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There have been more operatic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays (most by Verdi) than there have musicals and they haven’t been as faithful to the bard as this Howard Goodall show (he also produced a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). It has none of the verse but every bit of the essence and the story. Add to this a beautiful score, wonderful performances and a brilliant production by Andrew Keates and you have another triumph at the Landor Theatre.

The two halves are very different. In the first it’s tragic – Sicilian King Leontes’ obsessive jealousy leads to the death of his wife, illness of his son, banishment of his baby daughter and loss of his best friend, Bohemian King Polixines, and loyal aide Camillo. It lightens in the second half as Polixines’ son Florizel falls for Perdita, daughter of a mere shepherd. We get a jolly sheep-shearing festival (I will reluctantly forgive the Welsh accents!) gatecrashed by an outraged King determined to prevent the marriage of his son to Perdita. They flee to Sicily where the truth emerges and it all ends happily (this is musical theatre, after all).

There’s a lot of story for a musical but the book by Nick Stimson and Andrew Keates delivers it with complete clarity (it has to be said – much more than the play!). I’d know a Goodall score if I heard just a few bars because his music is distinctive and unique with lush, sweeping melodies and glorious harmonies that are simply uplifting, and this is one of his best scores. The unamplified voices deliver it beautifully with just two keyboards and cello accompanying them. I’m not sure I heard one dud note last night.

As they did with the Hired Man, director Andrew Keates and choreographer Cressida Carre have made great use of the Landor space which doesn’t feel small even with 18 people on it! The production values are outstanding – Martin Thomas’ design is elegant, with a simple but brilliant transformation between locations, Philippa Batt’s costumes are terrific and Howard Hudson’s lighting bathes the space in warmth.

For once, I am not going to single out one performance in this faultless cast of 18; no-one stands out because everyone stands out. They were clearly loving this show as much as I was. From professional debuts to musical veterans, this is a company any producer would consider a privilege to have.

As a huge Goodall fan, I’ve been a bit over-excited about this premiere, so there was a risk I’d be disappointed. In the end, it delivered way beyond my expectations and I’ve already booked to go again. Howard Goodall is Britain’s greatest composer of musicals and here he’s got a production this wonderful show deserves. I’ve run out of superlatives……..you should know by now what you have to do…..

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When I first saw this Howard Goodall musical 26 years ago, it completely changed my attitude to musical theatre and opened my eyes to the possibilities of serious storytelling through music. It was a ground-breaking piece and the first British musical of its type (well, there haven’t been that many since). From the US, we’d had West Side Story of course and Rogers & Hammerstein’s attempts to tackle serious issues in their shows, but here was a very British story with a uniquely British choral score.

It’s so rarely produced that I grab any chance to see it. In 1992 there was a terrific concert version, some time later a lovely small-scale production at the Finborough, a shortened amateur one at the Edinburgh fringe and then four years ago a touring version from Eastern Angles which paid a visit to Greenwich; but here it was on my doorstep in Clapham at one of my favourite theatres. The rioters almost ruined my chances when the show I had booked for had to be cancelled, and last night was my only free night to catch it before the migration north for the Edinburgh festival.

Based on Melvyn Bragg’s book, the hirings of the title are where men and employers met and contracted with each other, and that’s where we start. The first half is set in rural Cumbria where they eke out a living on the land, some chasing a ‘better life’ in the mines where we see the beginnings of trade unionism. John & Emily are devoted to each other; their relationship even survives ‘a moment of madness’ when Emily strays with the bosses son Jackson whilst John is away. In the second half, we take in the first world war and a mining disaster before we return to the land and back to the hiring.

Last night it was as thrilling as that very first time. Andrew Keates terrific production fits the Landor so well. Freya Groves design oozes authenticity, creating fields, pubs, houses, war trenches and mines very effectively with bales of straw and barrels and simple period costumes. There’s excellent choreography from Cressida Carre and realistic fights directed by Andrew Ashenden. Even the dialects are good! It has the best score of any British musical and those choruses soared. The new orchestration for piano and string trio by MD Niall Bailey is excellent and the singing is outstanding. I can’t praise this fine cast enough; they brought great passion and commitment, shivers up my spine and a few tears to my eyes. It’s very hard to believe that Joe Maxwell as John and Catherine Mort as Emily have recently graduated (Guildford School of Acting should be very proud); they are as fine a pair of leads as you could wish for. Abigail Matthews is lovely as daughter May in the second half and amongst a uniformly fine ensemble, I much admired Ian Daniels as Jackson and Sean-Paul Jenkinson as John’s brother Seth.

My one regret is that I had to leave for Edinburgh 8 hours later so I can’t go back! This is a superb revival of a great show; a triumph for everyone involved.

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