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Posts Tagged ‘Francis O’Connor’

The 1971 film was a flop, as was the 1980 English language stage adaptation, though the film went on to become a cult hit and turned a profit twelve years later. There was also a French TV adaptation, which itself was adapted for the stage in Canada. It’s been described as a romantic black comedy, the romance being between an eighteen year old boy, with a bit of an obsession about death, and an eccentric 79-year-old woman.

Harold lives with his widowed mother in middle-class American suburbia. She’s a social climber who is set on finding Harold a wife using computer dating. He stages fake suicides and attends real funerals where he meets Maude, an Austrian Countess who lives a Bohemian lifestyle seemingly without money. Cautious at first, Harold is drawn in by her infectious love of life and they become good friends. After rejecting the three suitors his mother introduces, he realises Maude is the love of his life and plans to propose at the 80th birthday party he is planning for her, but she has other plans.

Michael Bruce has added musical accompaniment which the actors play live on instruments including double -bass, cello and accordion, in character, just like those actor-musician musicals, though it isn’t a musical. It gives it the feel of one of those charming French films. Francis O’Conner’s set has an equally lovely other-worldly quality and Jonathan Lipman’s costumes are a delight, Harold in seventies style, Maude in Bohemiana and Harold’s mother power dressed.

Sheila Hancock is perfectly cast as Maude, a beautifully judged, delicate performance, as light as air. Bill Milner’s transition from existential angst to love-struck teen is navigated superbly, with real chemistry with Hancock. Rebecca Caine is excellent as the controlling mother and Joanna Hickman is a delight as all three suitors. in an outstanding supporting cast, Samuel Townsend makes a great seal, as well as a cop.

Thom Southerland’s production is as quirky as the material, which is a touch absurd, a bit surreal, but rather captivating. I wasn’t entirely sold on the story but it’s hard to imagine a better production or better performances. Well worth a visit.

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If you accept that critics influence a show’s success, I wonder how much theatre producers consider what they will like when deciding what to put on. The average age of London’s top six critics is c.60. Is that why we get so much bloody Chekov and Shaw? What hope is there for a show that’s clearly aimed at an audience of the critics children and grandchildren? Loserville isn’t aimed at me (I’m the age of the average critic) but I admired and liked it. In fact, I wish my godchildren were still young enough to take to it.

It’s set in 1971 when the computer was younger than the show’s target audience and if you’d prophesied the internet they’d either laugh or section you. Our geek hero Michael is in a race to develop the concept of email against a nasty corporation who’s boss’ son Eddie is at school with him. When he falls for fellow geek Holly he gets closer – until Eddie blackmails Holly and Michael’s friend Lucas. Of course, it all ends happily.

The story is a perfectly good vehicle for musical comedy and Elliot Davis, co-writer of the much more grown up Soho Cinders, and Busted’s James Bourne have produced a good pop score which is played exceptionally well by the five-piece partly onstage band. Francis O’Connor’s design is colourful and clever and Nick Winston’s choreography is fast and witty. Director Steven Dexter’s speedy staging means it never lags and is fast enough to satisfy the shortest teenage attention span. The cast have great energy and charm, but it’s hard to mention anyone in particular because the four ‘indispositions’ resulted in nine role changes so I’m a bit confused (though that could of course be a senior moment).

The show provides well written, well staged and well performed fare for an audience that the West End hardly ever caters for and it’s sad that it hasn’t found its audience and is closing less than three months after it began. My speculation is that its the parents (and godparents!) who buy the tickets and they read the critics, so they’re taking them to Matilda instead. Frankly, I think they’d have more fun here.

It wasn’t meant for me but I’ll happily champion it.

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Maybe because it was my first theatrical day in over two weeks I was easily pleased or maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember Python first time round, but I rather enjoyed this somewhat indifferently received play about the 1975 US court case where the giant ABC network was challenged by the Pythons over the editing of its shows.

Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam travel to New York to persuade the network to restore much of its cuts and when they fail seek a legal injunction to prevent the scheduled broadcast. Starting and ending in Palin’s North London home, most of Steve Thompson’s play tales place in NYC – in a hotel room,  the network offices, the court and other locations. Along the way, it explores how humour is received differently depending on age and culture and the rights of creative people as well as the relationships between the Pythons (even those not on stage). It’s often very funny indeed.

Francis O’Connor’s design is an homage to the TV show and provides a superb surrealistic frame for the play. Edward Hall’s staging zips along and there isn’t a wasted moment. The cast is uniformly excellent. Harry Hadden-Paton broadens his range with a superb characterisation of Palin, starting as reluctant, moving to apologetic and later to indignant. Sam Alexander’s Gilliam excellently combines outrageousness with eccentricity. It’s great to see Clive Rowe in a non-musical role and he’s terrific as Python’s attorney, as is Matthew Marsh as the judge.

It’s not a great play, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting – and a lot more than most critics and other bloggers it seems.

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I’d love to report that Ed Hall’s first production as artistic director of Hampstead Theatre is a stonking success. His appointment at this beleaguered venue, which has never truly arrived in its new building,  is very welcome indeed, but I can’t lie – Enlightenment is at best OK.

Shelagh Stephenson isn’t a very prolific playwright but she has written some interesting plays, notably The Memory of Water. Her subject this time is the disappearance of a son whilst back-packing, using this story to explore themes of connectedness and unease in the post-09/11 world. What you get is a tale which is part thriller part mystery which doesn’t really go anywhere but passes a couple of hours you don’t necessarily regret but you won’t be talking about soon after leaving the theatre.

It’s fairly intriguing and occasionally funny, though a lot of the dialogue seems forced and clumsy, as if she really hadn’t believed in her own characters. Francis O’Connor’s design is outstanding – a minimalist home which easily morphs into other locations like an airport and a park with a few props and excellent projections on the walls and ceiling.  

The acting honours belong to newcomer Tom Weston-Jones, though he’s lucky to have the most interesting character. Julie Graham and Richard Clothier were unconvincing as the parents and Polly Kemp’s psychic and Daisy Beaumont’s documentary maker were mere caricatures. Paul Freeman makes a very believable politician / grandfather.

The rest of Hall’s  first season looks promising, though allowing three writers to direct their own work and letting Katie Mitchell, the queen of pretension, loose in the new studio may prove foolhardy!

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