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Posts Tagged ‘Felicity Kendal’

I wasn’t planning to see another production of this Cole Porter show. Three great ones in 32 years, the last just 6 years ago, seemed like enough for now, but I have no willpower. The rave reviews and a desire to check out the acclaim for the London debut of Broadway’s Sutton Forster and the next thing you know you’re lying in bed on a Sunday morning booking for that afternoon on your iPad.

It is a great musical comedy, amongst the greatest, and this is a definitive production. You can tell it’s staged by a choreographer (Kathleen Marshall); it seems to glides and flow, and for once the Barbican Theatre feels like the most intimate of venues. The set, aboard a liner travelling from the US to the UK, and costumes are gorgeous and the band sounds terrific. This all serves the show well – the great tunes, the witty lyrics and the daft but hysterical story. Then there are the performances…..

A trio of national treasures with an average age of 70 – Felicity Kendal, Robert Lindsay & Gary Wilmott – are clearly a draw, and they all deliver. Lindsay in particular seems to be the epicentre of an infectious team spirit, perhaps the most nimble septuagenarian song & dance man, perfect for the role of lovable rogue Moonface. As always, he’s such a natural that you’re never quite sure how close he’s staying to the script. Sutton Foster redefines the triple threat – a superb dancer, a fine actor with exquisite comic timing and lovely vocals. No disrespect to Megan Mullally, but her injury appears to have provided us with an opportunity to glimpse this extraordinary talent, and she’s given a rousing welcome to these shores.

There are many other great performances, with Haydn Oakley as Evelyn, Samuel Edwards as Billy, Nicole-Lily Baisden as Hope, and especially Carly Mercedes-Dyer as Erma, who also brings the house down, but it was hard to take your eyes off the leading lady, simply mesmerising.

This is my third musical theatre treat in eight days. I don’t know how much of my euphoria is down to a 16 month famine, or the boundless enthusiasm of the performers and musicians back to doing what they love, but I’m enjoying the ride anyway. A good Sunday morning decision leading to a delightful Sunday afternoon.

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I was very much looking forward to seeing two favourite actresses, both dames in waiting, in the revival of a play I have fond memories of first time around. It was the night after press night and the reviews hadn’t been great. The signs in the theatre said that Felicity Kendal was indisposed, the speech from the stage, somewhat differently, said personal reasons; perhaps she’d read the reviews! We were told they hadn’t scheduled understudy rehearsals until the following day, which seems like a lack of foresight to me, but her understudy Rachel Laurence had agreed to perform. You can probably guess what’s coming……word perfect and pitch perfect, she stole the show, and her generous co-star, Maureen Lipman, made a lovely speech at the curtain call.

Peter Shaffer’s 30-year-old play revolves around Lettice, a tour guide at a heritage property, with a background in acting, who is caught by her employer embellishing and exaggerating and is fired. Lotte, her employer’s Personnel Manager, feels guilty and subsequently visits Lettice to tell her that she can help her get a new job as a guide on Thames river boats, where embellishment and exaggeration will be fine. An unlikely but mutually satisfying relationship develops, where they meet to act out pieces of history, but it leads to an incident and a brush with the law over mistaken circumstances,

It has to be said that it doesn’t seem as good a play in revival. It makes one think how much of this is the passage of time and how much is the towering presence of Maggie Smith as the original Lettice. It’s an OK play and a serviceable revival, which for me probably benefitted from the extra frisson of the understudy situation. I remember going to a special afternoon understudy run of Jerusalem, to give them all a chance to play it at least once. Mark Rylance was the only one who wasn’t an understudy. It was the fourth time I’d seen it and some were better than those they understudied. Then there was Natasha J Barnes at this very venue……..I have respected this normally invisible lot ever since, and on Thursday it was good to cheer the achievement of just one of them.

 

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Let me first confess that Shaw is one of my three problem playwrights (the others being Chekov and Pinter) who I’ve always considered to be a bit of a windbag. A revival needs to be timely, revelatory or well crafted for it to be worth(my)while.

This play was clearly rather shocking in its day and though some aspects of Shaw’s moralistic treatment of prostitution still ring true (hypocrisy in particular) it isn’t a particularly timely revival, so it fails that test.

It’s a rather old-fashioned and conventional production which doesn’t say anything new or say anything in a new way, so I’m afraid it fails the revelatory test.

The design is simple, clearly made for a play with four settings that’s touring. There are some good performances – Felicity Kendal is always watchable (and here seems to have morphed into a miniature Joan Plowright), David Yelland always gives an intelligent reading and the youngsters (Lucy Briggs-Owen and Max Bennett)  show much promise. I’m not sure what the point of the character Praed is (unless it’s to have at least one non-judgemental person) so it’s hard for Mark Tandy to impress. The production seems to me to be straight off the revive-a-classic-with-someone-off-the-telly production line and fails the craftsmanship test.

I can’t say I was bored, but I can’t say I was gripped. Indifference probably best sums up my view and I suspect, like Ghosts, it’s in for an ‘early bath’ in 4-6 weeks time; there’s no room for mediocre revivals in the West End at £60 a pop top price.

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