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Posts Tagged ‘Emma Rice’

This is the second production from Wise Children, Emma Rice’s new company, following the show also called Wise Children. It wasn’t scheduled to come to London, so I went to Cambridge, which probably guarantees it will now come to London!

It’s based on the first of Enid Blyton’s books of the same name, set in a girls boarding school in Cornwall soon after the Second World War. Six schoolgirls arrive for their first term, joined by another held back a year. Each represents an archetype – the bully, the bossy one, the class clown, the timid one and so on. The clash between these very different personalities is the source of much of the story, though there’s an unplanned adventure and a school play to put on. It became a bit darker, with an injection of feminism, in the second half, which I liked. We don’t meet any of the staff, though the Headmistress is represented in animation, voiced by Sheila Hancock.

There are songs, including a handful of new ones by Ian Ross & Emma Rice and standards like Mr Sandman, with live piano accompaniment from Stephanie Hockley, occasionally joined by members of the cast on other instruments. There are clever projections and animations onto the second, classroom, level of Lez Brotherston’s set, with the front stage the dormitory. The seven performers are excellent, perfectly capturing the archetypes and the period. Yet there’s something missing – it has less of the inventiveness we’ve become used to with Rice’s work, it’s a bit slow to take off and it lacks some sparkle. That said, there’s a lot to enjoy and it was a somewhat nostalgic, chirpy show, if not not vintage Rice.

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Though I wasn’t a fan of Emma Rice as Globe Theatre Artistic Director, I am a big fan of Emma Rice, theatre-maker, and this is something like my eighteenth show. It’s her first production since leaving Shakespeare’s Globe and the first for her new company, named after Angela Carter’s 1991 novel, on which this show is based, somewhat ironically inspired by Carter’s admiration for Shakespeare.

The story concerns a theatrical dynasty. Our narrators, twin sisters Dora and Nora Chance, look back to the generation which preceded them, and forward to the ones that followed. It starts on their 75th birthday, which is also their father Melchior’s 100th birthday. Flashing back, we meet him and his twin brother Peregrine, his various wives, daughters and son, the sisters half-brother and Grandma Chance. It’s a complex, and very adult, story involving ambiguous parenthood, incest, child abuse, suspected murder and more, interwoven with the everyday story of theatre folk, for which there is a troupe of singing actors.

You’d know it was an Emma Rice show within seconds. All of her customary ingredients are here – puppetry, music, dance, inventive staging, men playing women & vice versa and above all child-like playfulness – which was part of my problem with the show. It seemed to be recycling things she’s done before and therefore felt a bit stale. I also didn’t engage with the story and characters, which was the other problem. I’m afraid I felt I was at an Emma Rice show for people who’ve never seen an Emma Rice show and it wasn’t a patch on recent gems like Romantics Anonymous, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk and the revival of Brief Encounter. I suppose this is a problem when you have such a distinctive house style. In all fairness, most of the audience seemed to love it.

There’s no disputing the talent on show, including many Kneehigh regulars. Vicki Mortimer’s excellent design feels at home on the Old Vic stage, and though it’s probably the biggest theatre I’ve ever seen one of her shows in, I didn’t feel that was a problem. Etta Murfitt (who also plays Nora – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her act before) has choreographed it very well. I wasn’t so sure about the cocktail of original music with standards and contemporary songs; they did signpost the periods, but seemed a bit of an inconsistent rag bag.

A bit of a misfire for me, but don’t let me put you off, particularly if you’re new to Rice and Kneehigh.

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There are actually four Hans Christian Andersen tales adapted here. The rather sad Little Matchgirl bookends three lighter tales – Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea – two of which take up much more of the evening, a contrasting if odd combination.

Our narrator is Ole Shuteye and the five performers are collectively called Shuteyes (and the band The Swan Vestas!). The adaptations, by Emma Rice (who also directs) and Joel Horwood, have contemporary references, in particular in The Emperor’s New Clothes, where the weavers have become modern fashionistas and we get living designers name-checked and some Spice Girls music. Not all of this contemporary stuff works; it sometimes gets in the way of the magic of the fairy-tales and turns the show into posh panto for Waitrose customers, with Trump, Brexit and even cheating cricketers thrown in for good measure. It does work for the title tale though, where the contemporary spin involves war and homelessness.

Vicki Mortimer’s costumes are excellent and the original music by Stephen Warbeck, played by an onstage trio and one of the performers, is delightful. Niall Ashdown makes a cheeky and charming narrator as well as the gullible Emperor. Katy Owen and Guy Hughes were huge fun as the fashionistas and the latter made an excellent prince. Edie Edmundson’s puppet matchgirl melts your heart. It really does fit the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse like a glove.

There’s much to enjoy, but I do wish they’d reigned in the pantoesque stuff and concentrated on the magic of the fairy-tales, something Emma Rice does so well.

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This is what Emma Rice does best – creating theatrical magic. It’s her 4th such show in the last 2 years – Romantics Anonymous, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk and this revival of her 2007 masterpiece, four of the best of her seventeen shows I’ve seen. It’s back in the same cinema, just down the road from the location of the film’s world premiere in Regent Street seventy-two years ago.

It interweaves the film’s story of the relationship between Laura and Alec with playful scenes involving the other characters at the station – Asst. Station Master Albert and Refreshment Room Manager Myrtle and her assistants Beryl and Stanley, two other rather less serious couplings. It takes us from the moment Alec removes grit from Laura’s eye in the refreshment room at Milford Junction station, through their regular meetings at the station, in the cinema, the cafe & restaurant and in the flat of Alec’s colleague Stephen, to the crunch will-they-won’t-they denouement back at the station.

It flows beautifully from scene to scene, location to location, using film footage, songs with lyrics by Noel Coward and music by Coward and Stu Barker, and every trick in the inventive staging book. The cleverest thing about it is that the fun scenes don’t contaminate the love story, helped by the fact Isabel Pollen as Laura and Jim Sturgeon as Alec play it straight throughout. Lucy Thackeray’s Myrtle, Dean Nolan’s Albert, Beverley Rudd’s Beryl and Jos Slovick’s Stanley are all an absolute joy to behold, and if that isn’t enough they play another seven roles between them.

It’s a respectful homage to the film, which doesn’t for one moment send it up. The fun scenes add bucket-loads of charm and humour, and the two interwoven parts add up to one hell of an entertaining show. Though its hard to remember how you felt ten years ago, first time around, if anything I felt it was even better this time. Whatever you think of her two years at Shakespeare’s Globe, we’ve got Emma Rice back to create theatrical magic like this. I for one can’t wait for her next show.

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The smile didn’t leave my face for the duration of this chamber musical in the lovely Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. It’s got bucket-loads of charm and romance aplenty. Emma Rice’s staging is a delight, from the chocolates distributed before it begins to the badges as you leave, with an interval song in the foyer to keep that smile on your face. I defy anyone not to be charmed by it.

Based on the 2010 French-Belgian film of the same name (Les Emotifs Anonymes in French), it tells the story of desperately shy chocolatier Jean-Rene, who has inherited an ailing business from his father, and Angelique, the equally shy secret ingredient of competing chocolatier Mercier. After her employer dies and she’s out of a job, Angelique attends the shyness support group of the title, where an employee of Jean-Rene meets her and subsequently introduces her to her boss, who gives her a thoroughly unsuitable sales job. Fortunately, she talks herself into a role commensurate with her talents, rescues Jean-Rene’s business and navigates the difficult path to true love.

Emma Rice has adapted Jean-Pierre Ameris & Philippe Blasband’s screenplay of the sort of film only the French seem to be able to do these days (oh for a return of the Ealing comedies). American music & lyrics partners Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond are new to me, and the UK, and they’ve done a lovely job producing songs that suit the subject matter perfectly. The SWP is a design in itself, but Les Brotherston has added some neon signs (shock, horror!) which signpost locations and become a running joke in themselves. Etta Murfitt’s choreography adds much to Emma Rice’s inventive staging. Dominic Marsh and Carly Bowden are superb in the lead roles and there’s luxury casting in the ensemble, with includes Joanna Riding, Lauren Samuels and Marc Antolin no less, with multiple cameos from Philip Cox and Gareth Snook.

I left the theatre with a warm glow, which hasn’t really gone yet; it’s a delightful evening. It’s Emma Rice doing what she does best, a heart-warming evening, her last production here as AD. You have until early January and you know what you have to do…..

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I didn’t join in the debate about the early departure of Emma Rice from the Globe. It seemed to me the issues should have been thoroughly discussed and resolved (or not) before her appointment. I’m not a purist when it comes to Shakespeare productions and have enjoyed, even raved about, recent radical interpretations like Ivo van Hove’s Kings of War, the Almeida’s Hamlet and the NT’s Twelfth Night. I’ve liked Daniel Kramer’s work before, notably his excellent revival of Angels in America for Headlong.

First and foremost, a production has to serve the play, and that’s why this falls at the first hurdle. It doesn’t, hence the first half of this blog’s title. The other half of the title is because for the first time in maybe 100 visits since the very first production, it didn’t feel like Shakespeare’s Globe. Even though it was programmed before the departure was announced, it felt like they were putting two fingers up to an institution many of us have grown to love over the last twenty years, where there have been many other radical productions that have served their plays.

It’s one of the tackiest stagings I’ve ever seen. From the inexplicable missiles hanging above the stage to the white face make-up & black outfits and incongruous contemporary songs (YMCA during the Capulet’s masque, now fancy dress, party) to the Hindu Friar, it leaps from one gimmick to the next without pausing for breath. There is no sense of feuding families or love at first sight; indeed there isn’t an ounce of romance – in one of the greatest love stories ever told!

Daniel Kramer is the new Artistic Director of the beleaguered ENO. They once billed a Berlioz opera as ‘Terry Gilliam’s The Damnation of Faust’. The director is never king.

 

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I always thought Kneehigh would suit the Globe Theatre space, but it also turns out that Michael Morpurgo and Kneehigh is a match made in heaven. This is wonderful storytelling – funny, moving and captivating. I laughed and cried and had a lovely time.

The backdrop to Morpurgo’s story is a little known event leading up to the D-Day landings in 1944. US forces had arrived on the South Devon coast in order to rehearse on the beaches. In November 1943, local people were evacuated and five months later the preparations led to Exercise Tiger at sea. The lack of a second support vessel and cock-ups in communication led to the death of 946 men. This was hushed up and it was 40 years before the truth became public.

The story is told through the life of twelve-year-old Lily, who’s dad is away in the war. She lives with her cat Tips, mum and granddad on his farm in Slapton. When they are evacuated, London evacuee and Lily’s school friend Barry joins them. Their teacher is herself a Jewish French refugee. They are befriended by young Black American GI’s Adolphus and Harry, who become as fond of Lily as the family is of them. The show is bookended by contemporary scenes where an elderly Lily, now a grandma herself, loses her husband, which frees her to return to her past.

This is such a heart-warming story. The meeting of three cultures provides much comedy, but even more warmth and empathy. There is a lot of music, some original, some well-known songs, with ‘the blues man’ and his band above the stage and the cast joining in with instruments, bottles, spoons and vocals. Lez Brotherston’s design uses sandbags and tin baths to great effect. The telling of the tale of Exercise Tiger is particularly inspired in Emma Rice’s delightful staging (she also co-adapted with Morpurgo).

It’s an excellent ensemble with Kneehigh AD Mike Shepherd as granddad (and contemporary Lily!), Adam Sopp as chirpy cockney evacuee Barry (and contemporary grandson Boowie) and Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebhe charming as Adolphus and Harry respectively. Ewan Wardrop provides a superbly funny cameo as Barry’s mum. Katy Owen is simply terrific as feisty, cheeky Lily – and an ever so believable 12-year old.

A delightful, enthralling evening that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

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