Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘David Bamber’

I wish I’d had a blog 20 years ago so that I could compare what I thought about this then with what I think about it now. In the absence of a blog, I have my less reliable memory, which tells me that I thought it was a good, very funny play, though the post-AIDS promiscuity and unprotected sex was a bit shocking. It seemed to me to be a play of its time and I wasn’t sure it would have the same impact today. As it turns out, it passes the test of time and proves to be more great than good. Sadly, writer Kevin Elyot didn’t get to see this first major revival himself, dying days before rehearsals began.

We don’t meet Reg, though the play revolves around him. His partner Daniel is one of three thirty-something university friends who we join at the flat-warming of another, conservative home-maker Guy, virtually celibate with unrequited love for the third, rich boy John, who has been absent squandering his inheritance and sleeping around. They are joined by newer friends from the pub – Bernie & Benny. Decorative decorator young Eric, also from the pub, is just finishing painting the conservatory. As the play progresses, we attend two wakes and learn why everything revolves around Reg, as Eric joins this circle of friends.

American playwrights responded to AIDS with angry, political plays like The Normal Heart and Angels in America. This was British theatre’s first response – a comedy about friendship, love and sex with two deaths! It has some of the sharpest, funniest dialogue you’ll ever hear and it is truly funny – it won both the Olivier and Standard Best Comedy Awards (also a peculiarly British response) – but it has much more depth than that. The characterisations are superb and there isn’t a wasted moment or an unnecessary word; it really is brilliantly written. This was the third of only six original stage plays Elyot wrote (there were also three adaptations) over a period of 22 years. Later ones, like Mouth to Mouth in 2001 and Forty Winks in 2004 were also good plays, but this was his masterpiece.

The Donmar have done him proud with this fine revival. The space is bigger than the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs where it started, but it’s just as intimate. This is director Robert Hastie’s first ‘big’ high profile show and he more than rises to the challenge with impeccable staging. The casting is faultless. I haven’t seen much of Jonathan Broadbent’s work, but he steps into David Bamber’s shoes and makes Guy his own. Geoffrey Streathfield sweeps in and commands the stage as a charismatic Daniel. I think I’ve only seen Julian Ovenden in musicals and he’s a revelation here as complex John, a character who makes the biggest transition. Richard Cant and Matt Bardock are excellent as the unlikely couple Bernie & Benny. Lewis Reeves, in only his second West End role, is a very impressive Eric (originally played by Joe Duttine, now Sally’s boyfriend in Coronation Street!).

This exceeded my exceptions in so many ways and it was wonderful to see it revealed as a modern classic. A clear favourite for 2014’s Best Revival.

Read Full Post »

It’s hard to believe it’s taken 10 years for this Marvin Hamlisch show to get to the UK, a delay no doubt resulting from its lack of success on Broadway in a production by our very own Nicholas Hytner. It may be on the fringe, but the production feels very West End; a bit too slick maybe?

It’s set in 1952 (a good year!) in the manipulative, machaeavelian world of gossip columnist JJ Hunsecker. A mere mention in his column and you hit the bigtime or disappear into obscurity. Venues and people employ press agents specifically to get them into his column and he befriends one such agent, Sidney Falcone, in a club where Sidney poses as JJ’s sister Susan’s friend in order to cover up her relationship with jazz pianist Dallas – though he hasn’t even met her. JJ’s relationship with his younger sister is possessive, obsessive and rather unhealthy. They propel Dallas to stardom, but when JJ and Dallas discover the truth the shit hits the fan bigtime.

The seven piece band under MD Bob Broad makes one of the biggest sounds I’ve ever heard in the theatre and you jump as they hit the first notes. Fortunately, Ed Borgnis’ sound design maintains perfect balance with the vocals and it all sounds great. The new Arcola studio has seats on three sides and three galleries – one long one for the audience, a smaller one for the band and an even smaller performance space. Most of the action takes place on the unelevated stage floor, though the arrival of the chorus at the back in a space that has something to do with the building’s former use is ingenious. A few neon signs and some furniture constitute the minimalist but effective design by Mark Bailey – there are 17 scenes in 14 different places!

I was hugely impressed by Adrian der Gregorian as Sidney; great characterisation and superb singing. Stuart Matthew Price was in fine voice as Dallas and Celia Graham gives a lovely cameo as Sidney’s girl Rita. I thought David Bamber was good though he didn’t blow me away like Der Gregorian did. Caroline Keiff’s seemed to be singing uncomfortably high as Susan. There’s an excellent ensemble who are well choreographed by Nathan M Wright. Mehmet Ergen’s production is super-slick and that for me was a bit of a problem. The show is a bit cold and cynical (typical of book writer John Guare), failing to engage on an emotional level, and the production’s slickness just adds to that rather than trying to balance it. Perhaps coming just two nights after Howard Goodall’s deeply moving musical of  A Winter’s Tale at the Landor didn’t help.

Still, as impressive an outing as the show is ever likely to get and just 3 months after Hamlisch’s sad demise. Off to Dalston you go…..

Read Full Post »

Time to reach for the superlatives thesaurus…..

This musical comedy is based on Alan Bennett’s film A Private Function which featured Maggie Smith & Michael Palin (that’s three national treasures in one sentence!). It’s set in post-war Britain, with rationing still in place and a royal wedding about to take place (sounds familiar?). The (mildly) corrupt local councilors and businessmen are fattening an illicit pig for a banquet to mark the occasion whilst normal folk (this is ‘up north’ after all) can’t even get a pork chop, partly due to an eager meat inspector who keeps closing down the butchers. It’s pretty faithful to the film (though it’s a long time since I saw it last) with the notable exception of the ending.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed and smiled so much at a musical. Americans Ron Cowan & Daniel Lipman have produced a thoroughly British and extremely funny book perfectly matched by Anthony Drew’s deliciously witty lyrics. George Stiles music is also thoroughly British – but also completely infectious (copious whistles from the audience as they left the theatre). Richard Eyre hasn’t directed that many musicals but his staging for this one is up there with his Olivier Guys & Dolls, still the definitive production of this show, this time with the benefit of Stephen Mears’ witty choreography – yes witty choreography! Tim Hatley’s simple sets allow the show to zip along.

You’d have thought Sarah Lancashire has spent her whole life on a West End stage, such is her confidence and presence, with knowing smiles that seem to be directed to you personally – but it’s actually only her third time in the West End. She has a great voice, moves fluidly with such grace and you just fall in love with her within minutes – for me, she’s got the 2011 awards in the bag already. One of those slips of paper fell out of the programme as we entered – leading man Reece Shearsmith wasn’t performing and it was to be understudy Neill Ditt first performance. Well, I refuse to believe Shearsmith is better; apart from a few minor glitches and with some discreet help from his colleagues, he delivered an extraordinary performance of great charm and distinction that perfectly matched his leading lady. This must surely be his career high – and he got the biggest ovation of the night!

Singling out others in this wonderful company is going to be tough, but I have to mention octogenarian Ann Emery delivering another gem to match her grandma in Billy Elliott, Adrian Scarborough’s delicious cartoon baddie meat inspector, Jack Edwards great turn as pig loving Allardyce and another brilliant baddie from David Bamber as local doctor and head of the council.

I’ve waited twenty years (since Just So at the Tricycle) for Stiles & Drew’s masterpiece and here it is. I consider Billy Elliott the greatest British musical of all time; I think this might be this is the greatest British musical comedy of all time. Though apparently not intentional, the timing of the opening couldn’t have been better and Cameron Mackintosh has a stonking great big hit on his hands. I’ve booked to go back and I’m already seriously over-excited. Bliss.

Read Full Post »