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Posts Tagged ‘Garrick Theatre’

Cervantes was a contemporary of Shakespeare, starting as a playwright (without much success), making his name as a novelist with this, perhaps the first novel as such, certainly the first blockbuster. It’s been adapted many times as play, musical, opera, ballet and film and this is the 2016 stage adaptation for the RSC by James Fenton which has finally transferred to London with the same two leads.

It starts with Rufus Hound’s warm-up act talking directly to the audience, something he does very well, helped on the night I went by jokes at the expense of a sexual health worker in the front row and a woman who had recently been to Antwerp and The Hague! It takes a while before we meet the pompous, idealistic fantasist of the title, but it’s an enjoyably playful start which sets the tone of the evening.

From here it’s a succession of stops on the journey of Don Quixote as he seeks to return to the days of chivalry, of the Knights Errand, with his companion Sancho Panza, each a little story in itself. The novel is episodic, so its no surprise that its stage adaptation is just the same, which makes it more of an entertainment than a play, though quality entertainment as this the RSC after all. There’s much music, with nice songs by Fenton and Grant Olding, and the stage is designed to look just like The Swan.

I was as impressed by Rufus Hound in the musicals Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Wind in the Willows as I am here. He’s an expert at the comedy and is very likeable and engaging. David Threlfall makes an earnest Quixote and looks terrific. There’s an other-worldly quality to his interpretation and when the character is humiliated by some he meets, notably a Duke & Duchess, there’s a pathos which genuinely moves the audience. They make a superb double-act and are supported by a fine ensemble of sixteen.

I recently called the RSC’s Merry Wives TOWIE does panto, and this is a bit panto too, but Cervantes’ stories lend themselves more to the form than Shakespeare’s play does. Go expecting fun seasonal entertainment rather than a classic on stage and you’ll probably go home satisfied.

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The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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Apparently Laurence Olivier, the first Archie Rice, only took an interest in playwright John Osborne, asking him to write a play for him, because Arthur Miller told him he was good – he was working with his wife Marilyn Monroe on a Terence Rattigan screenplay at the time! I first saw John Osborne’s angry middle-aged man play (a follow on from his angry young man play Look Back in Anger the year before) when it was 30 years old (with Peter Bowles), then again when it was 50 (Robert Lindsay) and now on the eve of it’s 60th birthday with Kenneth Branagh. It’s one of only a handful, a third of his solo original plays that have been produced, that I’ve seen. Each time it has had less impact and today seems even more like a museum piece.

Music Hall entertainer Archie Rice is declining and failing, as is Musical Hall itself. His career has followed in the footsteps of his dad Billy, now an archetypal grumpy old man. His wife Phoebe works on the electrical counter at Woolworths and tolerates his infidelities. His daughter (not Phoebe’s) lives in London, has become an independent, politicised woman and left her fiancé Graham. Son Mick is away fighting in the Middle East (it’s 1956, the Suez crisis), a bit of a hero it seems. In contrast, his other son Frank was imprisoned for draft-dodging. A dysfunctional family and a metaphor for the decline of a nation.

The scenes in the cramped family digs are interspersed with Archie’s act, now a comic song & dance man in shows where nudity is the real attraction. They sit around talking, sometimes affectionately, sometimes angrily, drinking an awful lot of neat gin. Tragedy hits twice when Mikey doesn’t make it back from the war, then Billy goes to meet the great song & dance man in the sky. In 2016 it’s hard to swallow the racism, sexism, misogyny and homophobia, however ironic it was intended.

I found myself admiring the production but not really engaging with the play. Christopher Oram has designed a superb crumbling music hall within which the family living room sits. The performances are fine, particularly Gawn Grainger as granddad. Kenneth Branagh shows us again, as he did in Harlequinade and The Painkiller, that he has excellent comic timing and physical acting skills (his dancing here is excellent), but I’m not sure he captured all of the complexity of Archie Rice, and I’m not sure the camp touches fitted the character.

The Branagh season’s disappointment for me has been the choice of plays. Neither Harlequinade nor this were, in my view, worthy of revival, and The Painkiller, though enjoyable, was hardly ground-breaking. I didn’t see the two Shakespeare’s and had already seen the ‘afterthought’, Red Velvet, at The Tricycle. Both this, and the season, were a bit of a disappointment for me.

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This is a real love or hate show, though based on the audience reaction last night there’ll be a lot more in the former category. Farce has become somewhat unfashionable (notwithstanding the subversions of the form in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and Mischief Theatre’s ‘goes wrong’ series) and I’m not sure the West End has seen a farce as frenetic as this for a very long time, if ever. After some initial misgivings, I succumbed to it’s profound silliness but consummate skill.

An assassin and a press photographer, unknown to each other, have adjoining rooms on the sixth floor of a hotel overlooking a court building where a well-known gangster is appearing. The assassin just wants to get the job done and get out of there. The photographer is spiralling into depression following his wife’s departure to live with her psychiatrist. Their situations become as linked as the rooms, as the hotel porter, a policeman, the wife and her psychiatrist get involved in the events unfolding, until the tables are turned.

Francis Veber’s play, adapted by director Sean Foley, is extraordinarily physical, exhausting to watch let alone play, and Foley’s production is very slick. Kenneth Branagh proved his comic timing credentials in Harlequinade earlier in this season, now he proves a master of physical comedy too. We’ve seen Rob Brydon play the hapless Welshman before, but here he adds physical comedy to great effect. Mark Hadfield has a great track record in comedy and here, without the physical demands of the others, he relies on body language, facial expressions and the odd movement to bring the house down. Alex Macqueen, Claudie Blakley and Marcus Fraser provide fine support. Alice Power’s excellent set also performs, as sets often do in farce.

Don’t go expecting culture, but do go prepared for and open to a thoroughly daft but thoroughly skilful example of a once popular but now endangered theatrical genre.

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Well, the panto season has started early, and what a stellar cast this one has. Terence Rattigan’s 1948 one-act comedy, usually paired with the more serious and earnest The Browning Version, is a clever curtain raiser for Kenneth Branagh’s Garrick Theatre season and has a curtain raiser of its own with the very odd monologue All On Her Own. Though I enjoyed the evening, it doesn’t really add up to enough to launch this venture, particularly at West End prices, though it does, somewhat appropriately, have a real theatre company feel.

Rattigan’s play features a company rehearsing Romeo & Juliet for a tour for the newly formed CEMA (which evolved into the Arts Council). Archetypal actor-manager Gosport is playing Romeo way over his age against his wife Edna’s Juliet. The rest of his cast are a combination of old pros and newbies keen to make their mark. Whilst in the first venue, Gosport is visited by someone who’s a product of his last visit some twenty years before and this forms the basis of the farce amongst theatre folk.

Rattigan had a small part in a university production of Romeo & Juliet directed by John Gielgud and his character is featured here having the same problems with his one line that Rattigan had. Branagh’s new venture is an actor-manger led company like the play’s so it’s a good show to launch such a venture. Rattigan’s views on arts funding, and in particular taking culture ‘to the people’, still resonate today. Despite these pleasing convergences, it still isn’t quite enough to carry the evening, though it does whet your appetite for the season.

The quirky 20-minute monologue which precedes it was written as a BBC TV commission. It features a widow returning from a party where she has met a woman who talks to her dead husband at the same time he died every evening. She proceeds to do the same as she drinks heavily, imitating or perhaps channeling him. Zoe Wanamaker performs it well, but it’s a slight and odd piece nonetheless.

Branagh has put together a fine company. In Harlequinade, Wanamaker shines as a theatrical Dame. Branagh himself reminds us what a good comic actor he can be. Miranda Raison is great pairing as Edna and Tom Bateman is excellent as company manger Jack Wakefield. There are so many good supporting performances, but it’s worth singling out John Shrapnel’s fine turn as George Chudleigh.

 

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Their other show, Potted Panto, was the biggest hit of all the show’s I’ve taken my youngest godson to, so this was a popular choice; I think we actually enjoyed it even more.

It takes its lead from the Reduced Shakespeare Company, who’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) first appeared over 30 years ago and really started the genre. That was 37 plays in 97 minutes. Potted Panto was 8 pantos in 80 minutes. This is all 7 Harry Potter books in 70 minutes – that’s the recession for you!

It’s a two-handed parody with no set but a lot of props (and extraordinary special effects!), with the audience participating in a Quidditch match. There’s a fair share of ad-libbing, which adds to the fun, and the humour is of the silly variety (with a welcome snipe at Michael Gove for dropping drama from the school curriculum!), but Dan & Jeff are very engaging and the show has bags of charm.

There are running gags about the show’s budget for actors and animatronics and exactly how many of the books Dan has actually read, Ron’s gone all ‘street’, Hagrid is suitably Scottish, and the train, snake, dragon and elf all make an appearance. The auditorium’s transformation into a Quidditch stadium is a hoot and snitch is simply extraordinary!

The real coup of the show is that it’s thoroughly enjoyable at any age – it was as much of a treat for me as it was for my godson and his chum – and that’s very unusual and very clever.

So what’s next? My vote is for all 11 Doctor Who’s in 110 minutes!

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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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