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Posts Tagged ‘Finborough Theatre’

This is the European premiere of a play by Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill. He’s written eight others, but I don’t think we’ve seen any of them here, plus five films and a book, and he isn’t even thirty! On this evidence, he’s one to watch. The most striking things about it are how much ground it covers in 75 minutes, how mature the writing is and how it doesn’t take sides in what is an emotive subject, cyber bullying.

Michael & Deborah’s only son Joel committed suicide a year ago aged 16, and fellow student Curtis is considered to be at least partly responsible. Deborah befriends Curtis’ mother Tamara and they agree to meet at Deborah & Michael’s home with their husbands and Curtis over dinner. Deborah has put together a collection of Joel’s achievements and both her and Curtis have written letters to be read at the dinner. It’s an uncomfortable encounter, as you would expect. Divisions between the couples on the objectives of the meeting and their views on accountability for the death are laid bare, including the argument that Joel may have provoked it, but divisions within the couples emerge too. In addition to the issue of bullying, the play covers issues of parenting and parental responsibility, forgiveness and grief.

Zahra Mansouri has created a very realistic dining room in this tiny theatre with seating on two sides and you really do feel you’re in the room with them. The performances are uniformly excellent. Lucy Robinson as Deborah navigates brilliantly from ice cool emotional suppression to anger and finally to a display of grief. David Leopold is superb as Curtis, initially defensive and withdrawn, a reluctant participant, before his true feelings emerge.

Another Canadian find for the Finborough. I can’t wait to see more of Tannahill’s work.

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This Arthur Miller play hasn’t had a professional production here in over fifty years and I’ve been waiting most of those years to see it myself, but it was worth the wait for Phil Willmotts’s excellent, timely production at the indispensable Finborough Theatre.

It’s set in a police waiting room in the French city of Vichy during the German occupation. Vichy is of course the centre of unoccupied France but German soldiers are present as part of the collaboration deal. The ten men are ostensibly there to have their papers checked but it’s clear they have not been selected randomly. They discuss what it must all be about, with some of the view it is just routine and others with more radical theories including racial selection. When ‘the professor’ and a German officer disagree loudly, the reason becomes clear – they are rounding up Jews.

The group includes a psychiatrist, painter, waiter, electrician, actor, gypsy and an Austrian prince. ‘The professor’ is accompanied by a French policeman as well as the German officer. The discussion extends beyond theories to options and issues of morality, notably the lengths people will go to in order to protect and save themselves. In the end both the German officer and Austrian prince show their humanity. It’s a tense and gripping ninety minute debate, set in a claustrophobic white box. The characterisations are finely detailed and the acting is outstanding. 

This was a mid-career Miller play, coming between After the Fall and The Price, 10-20 years after classics like All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible and A View From a Bridge. It’s a puzzle why it’s so rarely produced, but this is a very welcome opportunity to see it and the Finborough have done Miller proud.

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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As soon as this show started, you could sense the shock of the audience at the discordant music. To my ears, this was modern opera not musical theatre (and I’ve seen a lot of both). It took a long while to turn itself into something resembling a musical as we know it, perhaps too long, though the discordant start eventually seemed to make sense. It’s based on the 1923 play by Elmer Rice, a rather prolific American writer of some forty plays whose only work I knew was Street Scene, which Brecht and Weill turned into a musical / opera. This 2007 adaptation has music by Joshua Schmidt and a book by Schmidt and Jason Loewith. It’s original, rather audacious and full of surprises!

Mr Zero has worked as a number-cruncher for many years and is in a fairly loveless marriage with Mrs Zero. His boss announces that he is going to be replaced by an adding machine. This sends him off the rails and he murders his employer, resulting in arrest, trial, imprisonment and execution. This is where it turns, as he arrives in heaven (people sunbathing, reading and drinking at a swimming pool – in the Finborough!). He’s followed there by work colleague Daisy; they have been attracted to one another but it never came to anything, but she’s now committed suicide in the hope it will. From this point onwards it’s more of a musical, though far from an orthodox one.

I ended up admiring it, though never really forgave it for the challenge of the first part – even for someone seeped in modern opera. It’s a hugely impressive production by Josh Seymour with the audience on two sides of a raised platform in a clever design by Frankie Bradshaw, and a fine ensemble that includes Joseph Alessi as Mr Zero and Joanna Kirkland as Daisy. I’m glad I saw it, though I’m not sure I’d be queuing to see it again.

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Collecting rare plays by 20th British playwrights again, this time an oddly named Noel Coward that hasn’t been staged for 89 years (during which time, there have probably been thousands of Hay Fever’s and Private Lives’) at the Finborough Theatre. They’re really good at this here, and this is no exception.

Janet and Peter, very good friends, end up sharing a sleeper cabin through overcrowding on the train from the South of France. It crashes, though they survive unscathed, but the knowledge that they were together is interpreted by Janet’s husband Paul, mother and mother-in-law and Peter’s fiancé Mavis as adultery. Deeply offended, Janet & Peter play along and invent an affair which they keep running until other truths are revealed.   

With it’s theme of adultery, it must have been quite shocking in its time, but to a modern audience it’s much less  so, and comes over as a delightful, cheeky comedy unlike any other Coward play I’ve seen. Martin Parr’s beautiful traverse staging has so much attention to detail and sensitivity to the material and the period. I loved the Noel Coward songs between scenes, very well sung by Robert Hazie as Pallett the Butler, which fade into authentic radio versions. Rebecca Brewer’s excellent design transforms from Janet & Paul’s living room to Peter’s bedroom and back and Charlotte Espiner’s costumes are superb.

There isn’t a fault in the casting, with eight other fine performances. Janet and Peter are both feisty and cheeky, brilliantly played by Zoe Waites and Richard Dempsey. I loved the mothers, Polly Adams and Joanna David, and Claire Lawrence Moody was outstanding, particularly good at love-struck, mock shock and indignant. 

It may feel like a period piece, but I doubt it could get a better production, and I’m again thrilled to have caught up with a rarity by an important 20th century playwright. The fringe at its best. Catch it while you can.

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This new musical is based on the true story of a West Country vagrant who fooled ‘society’ into believing her to be an exotic princess. It was the subject of a 1994 film (co-written by John Wells, no less) and a 2012 novel by Catherine Johnson, but I’d never heard of it! It was intended for a big-scale production in Bristol, but that never materialised, so the Finborough Theatre has the privilege of presenting its world premiere.

An Iberian sailor introduces the ‘princess’ to benevolent aristocrats Sir Charles & Lady Elizabeth Worrall. She reminds them of their dear departed daughter and they ‘adopt’ her and introduce her to society. Their destitute nephew Eddie returns from his travels at sea and attempts to decipher her language, in the process of which he falls for her and she for him. His old school chum, now Lord Marlborough, a better catch, also courts her, though his attraction seems to be more lust than love. She is eventually found out and her benefactors humiliated by The Times revelations of the truth. She returns to poverty before finding her escape route.

It’s good subject matter for a musical and Phil Willmott has done a very good job adapting it for the stage, though the opening is a bit muddled as we’re presented with an illustrated ‘lecture’ by Worrall, with scenes played out by his staff. The lecture as narration might work better on its own without the play-within-a-play idea. The shows strongest point is a lovey, tuneful score by Willmott and Mark Collins, here very well sung (though occasionally a touch more vocal restraint by some would have made it even better) with excellent orchestrations played by a trio of keyboards, violin & winds led by MD Freddie Tapner

You can see how it would work on a bigger scale, though it works perfectly well on this scale, with ten performers playing all of the roles. Choreographer Thomas Michael Voss even manages to get some effective dance & movement in this tiny space. The production values are very good, with a simple uncluttered design by Toby Burbridge, making particularly good use of a large mirror and models of houses and ships, and Penn O’Gara’s costumes are excellent. It’s a fine cast without a weak link. Phil Sealey and Sarah Lawn were delightful as the Worrall’s, Christian James made a charming Eddie and Nikita Johal a fine Princess. I was particularly impressed by Oliver Stanley as Marlborough, as close to a baddie as we get in this show.

It’s refreshing to have a new musical whose setting isn’t contemporary, which has more than four characters and which isn’t Sondheimesque! I’m sure this won’t be its last outing, but anyone interested in musical theatre should head for the Finborough in the next two weeks.

 

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I’ve waited 33 years for a revival of this show, which I first saw at The Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester in 1982, with Tom Courtney no less in the title role. It transferred speedily to The Aldwych in London, though it lost something in the new space, but hasn’t been seen since. After seeing it as part of the Finborough’s occasional Celebrating British Music Theatre series, I’m baffled as to why. It’s charming and funny (though more than a touch politically incorrect for today’s audience) and has some terrific tunes. It’s crying out for a bigger production and a longer run.

There aren’t that many shows based on a comic strip and this may be the only British one. Reg Smythe’s iconic character started in the northern edition of the Daily Mirror but eventually swept the world, featuring in 1700 newspapers in 14 different languages. With a book and lyrics by actor Trevor Peacock, who went on to create some classic TV characters, and music and lyrics by former Animal Alan Price, it’s very true to its source, capturing the world of work-shy Andy and his put-upon wife Flo, but revolving around the marriage of friend Elvis Horsepole to Raquel Scrmmett. Some of the sexist and misogynistic sentiments caused gasps from the audience, but they are what they were. There are lots of great tunes, most notably the ensemble pieces We’re Waiting, Good Evening and It’s Better To Be In Simple Harmony, which I recognised instantly and was singing all the way home (alone in the car, thankfully).

It’s a tough call to stage this on another play’s set in a tiny theatre, and it sometimes seems a bit cramped and crowded on stage, but Jake Smith pulls it off and the shows wins you over with it’s nostalgic charm, cheeky humour and above all uplifting music. They’ve assembled an excellent ensemble for just eleven performances. David Muscat is excellent as singing-narrator Geordie, as Price was in the original production. Roger Alborough and Lynn Robertson Hay are great as Andy and Flo. Paddy Navin brings the house down as Mrs Scrimmett, as does Terence Frisch as her husband, when he transforms from hen-pecked and mute to the man-in-charge during his daughter’s wedding.

I had a hunch it was a little gem waiting to be rediscovered and the Finborough has proven this conclusively.

 

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