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Posts Tagged ‘George Maguire’

The soundtrack of my late teenage years was heavily influenced by John Peel, who introduced me to bands like Family, The Incredible String Band and Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose four albums I treasured, and still do (I’ve recently bought them on CD). Peel thought Bolan sold out when Tyrannosaurus Rex became T. Rex (a name change that was Tony Visconti’s idea, it seems). I fought this for a while, as Bolan was by now a musical hero of mine, but it wasn’t long before I was in agreement. It was all downhill from A Beard of Stars, the last Tyrannosaurus Rex album, a masterpiece. My view is that Bolan’s ego smothered and killed his genius, but I couldn’t resist this biographical show on my doorstep, well, in Kingston.

It’s a huge biographical arc, something like fifteen years, which is ambitious and at first seems rushed. They badly neglect the period from 1968 to 1970, the four folk / psychedelic / mystical albums, each bettering the last (well, I would think that, wouldn’t I). If I was nit-picking, there are a number of historical inaccuracies, like his audition piece for Simon Napier-Bell being a song he wrote three or four years later. Sometimes I thought Bolan was a bit tongue-in-cheek, like the infamous guitar lead in his back pocket on Top of the Pops, and the show sometimes has a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality about it too. It’s at its strongest musically, with a judicious smattering of other people’s songs that fit the story (who knew Helen Shapiro was a friend and early colleague?!); music director John Maher has done a great job.

The production values are a bit AmDram and the staging doesn’t flow well enough, with some scene breaks way too long. In truth, the Rose isn’t the right theatre for it. Unlike a proscenium theatre, there’s no hiding place. To be honest, I think they could do with a stage director, as John Maher also directs. It could also do with losing 10-20 minutes; it doesn’t really sustain its three hours. As is customary with this genre, it ends with a mini-concert, with the audience on its feet. Both the cast and band are good, with George Maguire (promoted from Ray’s younger brother Dave in the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon) perfectly flamboyant as Bolan, but please don’t get me on to the wig, or indeed the wigs in general.

It’s not up there with other bio-musicals like Jersey Boys, Beautiful and Sunny Afternoon, but I’m glad I caught it, though it was surreal looking around at T.Rex fans now in their sixties (senior concessions!) wearing their feather boas, pieces of which I was picking out of my jumper on the way home.

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There have been countless productions and adaptations of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera since it was first performed in 1728, the most famous of which was Brecht & Weil’s The Threepenny Opera exactly two-hundred years later in 1928. It wasn’t an opera, but a musical satire on opera, and it is believed to be the first musical. Only last year Kneehigh gave us their take on it, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/dead-dog-in-a-suitcase-and-other-love-songs). Sixteen years ago it was adapted as The Villain’s Opera at the National, which did a great production of the original in the 80’s. Out Of Joint did a version called The Convict’s Opera seven years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/the-convicts-opera). The RSC did it in the 90’s. The Open Air Theatre did it five years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/the-beggars-opera). Now Dougal Irvine gives us his own modern take, set in London during the 2012 Olympics. Though I don’t share his cynical view of The Games, I did like his adaptation and I think its the best of the modern ones.

He starts by putting it in the context of the Gay original and Brecht & Weill’s adaptation in an opening explanatory scene, which helps an audience new to it. Macheath is the busker, wannabe rock star and former talent show contestant. He marries Polly Peachum, daughter of a newspaper baron, and impregnates Lucy Lockit, design goods obsessed daughter of the London Mayor, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the outdoing buffoon. Peachum’s sidekick Macheath and Polly are part of a protest group called 99%, intent on disrupting The Games and exposing London’s oppression of its underclass. It’s a clever adaptation, all in rhyming couplets, with a higher body count than I remember from other productions and adaptations.

One of its great strengths is the quality of Irvine’s music; he really does know how to write a good tune. He also writes sharp satirical, witty lyrics, though I did wonder if a book writer might have helped to give the show more shape. It’s other strength is in the casting. George Maguire, pretty much direct from his Olivier winning performance as Dave Davies in Sunny Afternoon, is perfectly cast as Macheath, with great charisma and swagger. Simon Kane’s Boris inspired Mayor is a hoot, aided by seeing it on the eve of the London Mayoral election. They are very lucky to have someone of the calibre and experience of David Burt, who delivers a rather sinister Peachum (he was Peachum in The Villain’s Opera and Macheath in the RSC’s production!). Lauren Samuels, herself direct from her superb performance in Bend It Like Beckham, is a sweet but feisty Polly and recent Mountview graduate Natasha Lockitt is in terrific vocal form as Lucy.

I felt Lotte Wakeham’s production was a bit rough at the edges, but I liked its chutzpah and edginess and would certainly recommend it. Next up is the National’s revival of The Threepenny Opera, newly adapted by Simon Stephens, later in the month; if only Gay knew what he’d started……

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Just before the interval in this show there’s a scene onstage in Cardiff where the conflict between The Kinks Mick & Dave comes to a head with an attack by one on the other. I was there! Hampstead Theatre can’t pass for Cardiff Capitol (now deceased), but a wave of nostalgia swept over me nonetheless. This bio-musical is much more than nostalgia, though, but it’s a particular treat for someone for whom The Kinks are part of the soundtrack of my life.

Covering just four years their their formation to Waterloo Sunset, Joe Penhall’s biography of The Kinks, with Ray Davies’ songs, takes us from Dave Davies’ band The Ravens, backing a stockbroker at posh parties, through their signing to not one but four managers, their disastrous US tour (where their refusal to toe the union line got them banned from the country), their signing by serial turnaround manager Alan Klein to the redemptive recording of Waterloo Sunset and the triumphant return to the US to play Madison Square Gardens. The music pervades it all, in snatches and full songs, a lot now iconic but many rarely heard.

I gasped when I entered to see Miriam Buether’s set of three walls of speakers. The auditorium has been reconfigured with a central platform thrust halfway into the stalls and a middle horizontal aisle and two side aisles which bring the action into the audience very effectively. The period feel is conveyed by the clothing, including those now infamous bright red suits – great retro style, looking completely authentic. Edward Hall’s staging, with choreography by Adam Cooper no less, is excellent.

The songs feel as if they belong with their scenes. Ray & Dave’s dad sings Deadend Street like he’s telling you his life story. Dedicated Follower of Fashion accompanies their first visit to the stylist who created those suits. Days is sung acapella as they look like they’re about to break up. Sunny Afternoon accompanies a summer of World Cup euphoria. Waterloo Sunset becomes their reconciliation and seems to be created for the first time before your very eyes.

It’s a great story and its great storytelling, with a soundtrack to die for of songs that seem to have been especially written. In his programme note, Penhall says he wants people to come out ‘profoundly moved, euphoric and transported’. Well, he succeeded for me. This is no juke-box musical; like Jersey Boys, it’s musical biography, but this one’s British and maybe easier to identify with. I adored it.

George Maguire looks every inch the pop star, spending most of the evening with bottle in hand and some of it in a frock! John Dagliesh’s Ray is more restrained and thoughtful as is the man himself, and the relationship between them feels very real. Lillie Flynn (Johnny’s sister!) is lovely as Ray’s child bride Rasa and Adam Sopp & Ned Derrington, as Mick & Pete respectively, complete the band with fine characterisations.

It’s still in preview, but it seems pretty ready to me – though the sound needs a bit of attention. Ray Davies’ music is like bottled London and potted Englishness. It’s the essence of living here, nostalgic but fresh and timeless. By the end I was on my feet, singing along, with a warm glow and a tear in my eye (and none of that bloody screaming at Cardiff Capitol). A triumph for all involved, but particularly for the bard of Muswell Hill. Time to book again, I think…..

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Well, it did. The true story of a couple of young psychopaths who kill a boy for thrills may not seem promising or appropriate material for a chamber musical, but it actually works – and it tells the story with more psychological depth than Patrick Hamilton’s play ‘Rope’ on the same subject, recently revived at the Almeida.

These two young men started getting their kicks from arson and robbery, but it wasn’t long before they concocted the ultimate crime of murder. The show tells the story as flashback from Leopold’s parole board hearing 34 years after imprisonment; this is a very clever idea. The attraction of Loeb to Leopold is clear from the outset but whether it is reciprocated is ambiguous, which adds to the intrigue of the story. Leopold’s true motivation isn’t revealed until the end.

Writer Stephen Dolginoff handles the psychological complexity very well, with the help of his own excellent score and lyrics. Simply but effectively staged by Guy Retalllack, in close proximity the two actors – Jye Frasca and George Maguire – convey all the manic intensity of their characters and their vocal performances are outstanding; their experience in musicals shows and pays off. Musical Director David Keefe plays the dense score on piano brilliantly.

With so much theatre-going, it’s amazing that I still manage to visit new venues like Tristan Bates Theatre; I think they need a publicist (or a better one, if they have one!) as this excellent show – which has taken a long time to come here after 50 productions in 4 other countries – hasn’t had anywhere as much publicity as it deserves. You have 2.5 more weeks to see what I mean…..

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