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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Evans’

Daniel Evans’ reign at Chichester begins with a rare revival of an early Alan Bennett play, almost fifty years old now, not seen in London since the 1968 premiere production. It might be flawed, and somewhat dated, but its given a fine production that’s well worth catching. 

It’s set in a boys public school where the headmaster is about to retire and pass the reigns to senior master Franklin, a more reforming figure, who has put together a play, to be performed by both staff and boys, and we, the audience, are the parents. The play-within-the-play weaves in and out and appears to be historical scenes from two world wars, plus satirical sketches involving contemporaries like T E Lawrence and the Bloomsbury set, and that’s the crux of the problem – it’s a bit of a muddle; well at least until the interval, when I did some belated research to understand what Bennett was getting at, which appears to be a review of changes in society since the end of the First World War, well, forty years on.

CFT has been turned into an authentic public school, dominated by a huge pipe organ and two big war memorial plaques in Les Brotherston’s superb design. There’s even organ accompaniment to rousing hymns and the school song which sounds like it’s coming from the onstage organ pipes, though it clearly can’t be. The apron stage is invaded by some fifty ‘extras’ in uniform, on one occasion straight from the rugby pitch, in addition to the ten actors playing named pupil roles, with just a handful of staff. It’s highly animated and oozes authenticity. The Headmaster has a lot of speeches and Richard Wilson is clearly reading some, but it doesn’t really matter; he has great presence and is every bit the old school head. In the supporting cast, I very much liked Danny Lee Wynter’s younger master, Tempest, a part originally played by Bennett himself.

The critical reception this has received is, in my view, a bit unfair and I was glad I caught it – but mug up first to get the most out of it.

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I’m late to the party with this one, which didn’t turn out to be as much of a party as I was hoping and expecting. Though I accept it is hugely important in the history of musical theatre, it’s very dated and I’m afraid I didn’t think Daniel Evans production did much to breathe new life into it.

It was the first musical as we know them today, the tale of the Hawks family, and in particular daughter Magnolia Hawks, staging shows aboard a boat which moved up and down the Mississippi river to find its audience. Magnolia becomes a leading lady by covering for someone else, falls in love with her leading man and heads for Chicago where they have a daughter, but he lets them down badly and disappears. She returns to her career and then to her home aboard the show boat where they are eventually reconciled many years later.

What was radical at the time was the race and segregation themes, plus alcoholism, gambling and prostitution. This was no song and dancing girls piece. I’ve seen it twice before – the RSC / Opera North at the Palladium around 25 years ago, and a spectacular in-the-round production in the Royal Albert Hall ten years ago – and my recollection is more positive than my impression last night. I can’t help comparing it with the European premiere of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro which I saw just five days ago and which is superior in just about every way – staging, choreography, band and sound in particular. I liked Lez Brotherston’s design, though.

I don’t think it was jaded after four months, in its final fortnight before its early bath, or because there were three understudies in leading roles, as they were all excellent. The reviews had been very positive and the audience reception on the night I went was enthusiastic, so maybe it’s just me……

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This 1975 early David Mamet play, his 4th (of 24!), certainly attracts star actors. I saw Al Pacino at the Duke of Yorks in 1984 and William H Macy (a pupil of Mamet) at the Donmar in 2000, both playing Teach, and now it’s Damian Lewis as Teach with both John Goodman and Tom Sturridge in the other roles! I suspect it’s more fun to play than to watch.

Set in a Chicago junk shop (brilliantly claustrophobic design from Paul Wills) it occupies a very man’s world of gambling and bravado, on the fringes of crime. Proprietor Don thinks he may have undersold a coin (which gives the play its title) and plots to rob it back (with others) with the help of friends Teach and Fletcher (who we don’t meet). It later transpires that his young gofer Bob may already have done so. The relationship between Don and Bob came over much more in this production, Don very fatherly with hints of perhaps more than that, and Teach is more larger than life, more comic. I’m not sure the play is wearing well, though. We see a lot more of this type of work today, so it seems less fresh and original. To be honest, I found it a bit dull this time around.

I thought both John Goodman and Tom Sturridge, in a very physical performance, were outstanding, but I felt Damian Lewis overacted a bit, stealing the centre of attention but not deserving of it. Director Daniel Evans staging is good, emphasising the subtlety and complexity of the relationships.

Good to see work like this, with such good actors, selling out on the West End; without them I couldn’t honestly say it would be a worthwhile revival.

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Will someone move Sheffield nearer to London, please? Sheffield Theatres reputation continues to rise and now they outdo the West End by touring probably the best production of Anything Goes I’ve ever seen. This is unmissable.

Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy is 80 years old now, but here it’s fresh and sparkles like new. The score is littered with classics like I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, It’s De-Lovely, Blow Gabriel Blow and of course the title song, with witty lyrics by Porter and a very funny book, originally by P G Wodehouse & Guy Bolton but revised twice so I’m not sure whose is in use now. Still, who cares, its fun aboard a liner crossing the Atlantic with gangsters disguised as evangelists, evangelists who’ve become nightclub singers, Wall Street businessmen, an American heiress and a British Lord. Singer Reno loves stockbroker Billy, who loves heiress Hope, who’s engaged to nobleman Evelyn but they all get their man / woman in the end, but not until we’ve had a lot of fun aboard ship.

Daniel Evans production has a lovely art deco set by Richard Kent, with the ship’s deck rising up to form the backdrop as well as the stage, and great period costumes. Choreographer Alistair David doesn’t have a lot of space, but works wonders with what he has. There’s a zippiness about the whole thing that lifts you up and sweeps you along. The 9-piece band sounds terrific, and a lot more than nine. Debbie Kurup is sensational as Reno Sweeney, the complete package of great dancer, beautiful singer and comic actress and Stephen Matthews is wonderful as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a clumsy but lovable toff. In addition to these star performances, there’s great work from Matt Rawle as Billy, Zoe Rainey as Hope, Hugh Sachs as Moonface Martin, Alex Young as Erma, Simon Rouse as Whitney and the lovely Jane Wymark as Hope’s mum. A fine ensemble of 18 ensure the set pieces sparkle.

The New Wimbledon Theatre isn’t the most suitable (vast) or welcoming (shameful latecomers policy and noisy audience), but with work this good, you’ve got to go where you can, though with hindsight I wish I’d gone to Sheffield, where it appears they outdo the West End regularly. Unmissable indeed.

 

 

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Contemporary Music

A friend suggested going to see Welsh harpist Catrin Finch & Senegalese cora player Seckou Keita at Union Chapel and what a brilliant suggestion it was. Their instruments blend beautifully and create an uplifting sound. It was the perfect venue, with a quiet respectful audience. Gorgeous.

I really don’t know what to make of Elvis Costello‘s concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Part of BluesFest (what?!). He brings Steve Nieve & they play 8 songs together, some in radical new arrangements. His song selections are eclectic and perhaps a bit quirky. He’s often uncharacteristically flat or off key. He talks a lot. It contained sublime moments, but not enough of them. It was certainly no crowd-pleaser and the audience reaction was distinctly underwhelming. Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, supporting, were great (though he talked a lot too). They played two songs together, one in each others’ set. I’ve seen almost every EC London outing in 30+ years and this was probably the least satisfying. Most odd.

Opera

The autumn Rossini pairing at WNO was amongst their best ever. Neither William Tell nor Moses in Egypt are typical Rossini (which may be why I liked them so much!); the latter more identifiably Rossini. Tell was the more satisfying all round – Moses was also a musical feast but the production wasn’t so good. Former MD Carlo Rizzi brought the best out of the orchestra and chorus (yet again) and there was no weakness in the soloists – just various levels of good to great.

The English Concert’s performance of Handel’s opera Alcina at the Barbican was a huge treat. A faultless cast was led by Joyce DiDonato & Alice Coote and the orchestra made a beautiful sound. I’d thought it might be a star vehicle for Joyce, but she was superbly matched by the rest and the audience showed their appreciation for them all.

I’ve seen a handful of Philip Glass operas, but until The Trial they’ve all been on a huge scale. What this chamber piece proves is how much more suited his music is to this smaller scale. It’s an absurdist, impenetrable story but it was superbly staged and performed by Music Theatre Wales in Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio.

Dance

Lord of the Flies is a big departure for New Adventures at Sadler’s Wells. With two-thirds of the large cast amateurs selected from workshops and open additions, there’s a freshness and energy thoroughly in keeping with William Golding’s story and contemporary dance is a suitable form to tell the tale. It was dark, but I loved it.

I don’t normally like mixed ballet programmes but Birmingham Royal Ballet‘s Shadows of War at Sadler’s Wells caught my imagination, largely because of the music. The first piece, to a Ravel piano concerto, was a bit frivolous for me, but the second was a fascinating re-staging of a Robert Helpmann work set in wartime Glasgow with music by Arthur Bliss and the third a lovely piece set to Malcolm Arnold and Benjamin Britten – and all at a half to a third of prices at the other Royal Ballet.

Cassandra is a rare modern dance piece from the Royal Ballet at the Linbury Studio. It was a nice combination of dance, music and film and it held me for 70 minutes, but in the end it was just OK. I think it was the lack of effective narrative drive / story that was its weakness.

Classical Music

I persuaded a friend who has recently taken up choral singing to go for one of those ‘scratch’ performances put together in one day. The choice of Elijah was ambitious, but they pulled it off. The soloists were terrific, particularly baritone Neal Davies, who gave it his all as if was at the Royal Albert Hall, and the orchestra of a handful of Philharmonia section principals with music students sounded great. It would have been good to see a much bigger audience – where were all the friends and families of the orchestra and chorus?

The third of the Composer Portrait series at St John’s Smith Square was the best so far. Reverie was about Debussy whose writings were spoken by Simon Russell Beale no less. Pianist Lucy Parham played his gorgeous music beautifully and it was a captivating couple of hours.

Film

As much as I loved Pride, the casting of so many English and Irish actors as Welsh characters did irritate me – though I suppose you need Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton to sell films like this. I was surprised I never knew the true story behind it, but maybe it didn’t get much news coverage at the time. It’s certainly the most heart-warming, feel-good film for a long long time.

Dylan Thomas centenary

I found out about the Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia festival very late on, by which time the diary was choc a block with other stuff, but I did manage to fit in some. A Warring Absence was readings of writings by him and his wife about one another by Daniel Evans & Sian Thomas with accompaniment by the Bernard Kane Players as a Platform performance in The Olivier Theatre and it was original and fascinating.  I’d never heard the Stan Tracy Jazz Under Milk Wood before – read excerpts accompanied by jazz which somehow works brilliantly; again original and fascinating. The final Gala Concert I had known about and this proved a real treat. An eclectic selection of Welsh music played by Camerata Wales (including world premieres) with readings of letters and poems by Sian Phillips, Tom Hollander, Griff Rhys Jones, Robert Bathurst, Lesley Manville, Jonathan Pryce and Owen Teale and songs from Welsh tenor John Owen-Jones and old folkie Ralph McTell. Two of the pieces combined Thomas’ works with music very successfully. For an Englishman, Tom Hollander’s reading of Fern Hill was almost as good as Dylan’s own!

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Closing shows quickly is common practice on Broadway but much rarer here, where producers usually hang on in there trying to build an audience. Pulling this terrific show so soon is shameful. Perhaps to prove them wrong, it’s been tough to get a decent ticket in this last week, there’s little discounting and even the midweek matinee, the only show I could make, was packed. It’s great to report though that the cast & crew, working their notice, were way more professional than the producers and put on a great show regardless and deserved their standing ovation.

I couldn’t spot writer Simon Beaufoy’s changes to his 1997 film. Thankfully, the late 80’s setting is rightly kept, because the heart of the play is Thatcher’s Britain. When he sees how much money the Chippendales are making at the local Conservative Club, Gaz mobilises others at his Job Club to take up stripping for cash so that he can pay child maintenance and keep access to his son. You probably know the rest. Suffice to say it works better on stage as a live experience. It’s very funny and deeply moving and for a miners son brings out all sorts of emotions, but it is above all supremely entertaining.

Robert Jones has built an extraordinary abandoned steel works that takes your breath away when the corrugated iron screen rises. The crane moves and sparks fly and there are some seemingly dangerous moments as they manipulate a giant steel girder. Other locations are played out effectively stage front with speedy scene changes. I’ve seen Daniel Evans act a lot but this is the first thing I’ve seen that he’s directed and I think its masterly. He has a brilliant cast with not a weak link in it. I particularly liked Roger Morlidge’s Dave and Simon Rouse as Gerald, and there’s a truly stunning performance by one of the young actors who plays Gaz’s son Nathan.

If Sheffield Theatres had a more committed commercial partner (the actual one is surprisingly uncredited in the programme), I am convinced this could have a long run. The timing is perfect, the production couldn’t be better and, like Billy Elliot has proven, there’s an appetite for entertainment that’s also gritty social realism.

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The catch-up continues with this revival of Michael Frayn’s 9-year-old play (only 9?!) about Germany in the cold war and in particular the infiltration of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s office by a spy from the east and the relationship that develops between them. It’s not as dry as it sounds!

There aren’t many (any?) plays set in Germany in the cold war, so on that level it proves a fascinating insight into the time, but it’s the evolution of the relationship that is the most fascinating thing about it. Brandt and Gunter Guillaume are drawn to one another and become good friends, which gives the deceit and betrayal so much more impact.

It might sound odd, but I found the longer first half slow and less engaging, yet the story seemed rushed. The second half, as the deception is revealed, is a cracker though. Simon Daw’s design loses the first four rows of the stalls to provide more intimacy but perhaps too much extra space for director Paul Miller to consider in his staging. I was hugely impressed by an unrecognisable Aiden McArdle as Gunter and found Patrick Drury captured the man-of-the-people charisma of Willy. There isn’t a weak link in the suporting cast of eight actors (all men!).

It’s great to see something from Daniel Evans’ regional powerhouse in Sheffield finding its way to London (but why not Othello or Company?!) and it was well worth taking another look at one of Frayn’s best plays.

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