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Posts Tagged ‘Greenwich Theatre’

I haven’t really got back into the swing of blogging theatre yet. I’ve already seen 10 shows (one twice) but have only blogged one, the actor-less Flight at the Bridge Theatre, so I thought I’d catch up. I have an interest in three of the rest, so I’ll just cover the remaining six, in one blog.

Call Mr. Robeson – Greenwich Theatre

It was almost three weeks after Flight, the actor-less one, before this one-man show, for one night only. I have to confess that even though I knew who Paul Robeson was, and was well aware of his historical significance, I didn’t know much about the man and his life. Tayo Aluko, who both wrote and plays Robeson, redressed that with a 90-minute whistle-stop biography with songs, accompanied by Roland Perrin. The vocals were sometimes shaky, and barely audible in the lower register – it was his first live performance for over a year – but it was a comprehensive and captivating biography of a fascinating life.

Out West – Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

It was another two weeks before my next outing, to not one but three one-person plays in one evening, the first of six consecutive days at the theatre. Tanika Gupta’s The Overseas Student told the story of Gandhi’s period in London qualifying to be a lawyer, his first exposure to the idiosyncrasies of the West. Both the play and Esh Alladi’s performance were utterly charming. In Simon Stephens’ Blue Water and Cold and Fresh, Tom Mothersdale’s Jack grapples with his relationship with his dad, whose racism comes to the surface when he embarks on a mixed race marriage which leads to a mixed race son, in a deeply moving tale. Favourite playwright Roy Williams completed the unrelated trio with Go, Girl, a lovely story of a single mum’s pride in her daughter, beautifully realised by Ayesha Antoine, an uplifting conclusion to the evening. Fine writing and fine performances all round.

Under Milk Wood – National Theatre

By now it was time for a stage full of people, a cast of 14 led Michael Sheen, a real favourite of mine, in one of the greatest literary works of my homeland, Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. It wasn’t written for the stage of course, though I’ve seen it presented successfully as such twice before, once in this very theatre, the National’s Olivier. This version is ‘framed’ by scenes in an old peoples home written by Sian Owen,where Owain Jenkins, a writer, visits his dad, seemingly desperate for reconciliation. The ‘play for voices’ emerges organically as if from the memories of the home’s residents, who play all the characters. I wondered if Owain, who becomes our narrator, was meant to be Thomas. In any event, his words were beautifully spoken by an excellent cast that included Sian Phillips no less, playing three characters.

Romeo & Juliet – Shakespeare’s Globe

This was less successful for me (so my search for a definitive R&J continues). Statements and facts about contemporary teenage mental health and suicide puncture the scenes of Shakespeare’s story of the star crossed lovers, underlined in neon above the stage. I felt it was aimed at a young audience, somewhat heavy-handed, and failed to engage me, despite some fine performances. It had its moments, but the choice of Juliet’s mode of despatch was the final straw for me, steering too far from Shakespeare for my liking. The ‘greatest love story ever told’ becomes a contemporary lecture on mental health.

Bach & Sons – Bridge Theatre

Nina Raine’s play focuses on Johann Sebastian’s family more than his music, as the title suggests, and in particular on the two sons who followed in his footsteps (of the 20 children he had with his two wives, only 10 of whom survived into adulthood). His favourite, Wilhelm, is a drunkard who lives with, and off, his dad. His younger brother Carl ends up working as a musician for Frederick the Great, with whom his relationship is somewhat ambiguous. A scene where JS visits Frederick only to be humiliated by him and his son for his obsession with counterpoint is the only time we see Bach away from home. Simon Russell Beale is perfect for the part and I enjoyed the play, though it was a bit slow and dark (lighting wise) in the first half. I felt it needed more than the 7 characters and more (live) music to animate it, in an Amadeus way, but Covid no doubt put paid to that.

Last Abbott of Reading – Reading Abbey Ruins

An outdoor treat from Rabble Theatre amidst the ruins of the abbey on the 900th anniversary of its founding. Staged very effectively in-the-round, it tells the story of Abbott Hugh Faringdon’s rise from nowhere to become a key religious figure and friend of Henry VIII, until the king, under Cromwell’s influence, closes the Abbey and has Hugh murdered. The Abbott’s mother Alice acts as a narrator, a device which worked really well. The costumes were excellent, the space atmospheric, the performances very good indeed; Beth Flintoff’s play was excellent storytelling. Well worth a trip to Reading.

It’s good to be back, and all venues took safety seriously and organised things well, but I can’t wait to be maskless, for me the one deterrent left to true enjoyment of theatre.

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Not to be confused with the film of the same name, this 2004 Broadway musical has a heart-warming pedigree; it was written by Barri McPherson after she reconnected and took in Mark Schoenfeld, an old friend she found sleeping rough. Unsurprisingly, its love story is framed and told by a group of homeless street musicians.

American musician Taylor falls in love with Faith when in Paris, but returns to the US, leaving behind half a tune and a pregnant lover. When Faith dies her daughter, named Brooklyn after her dad’s home, goes to an orphanage where she learns to sing. Years later, a hugely successful star, she uses a visit to NYC to try and find her father, armed with the half tune.

The street setting and pop-rock score contrasts with a somewhat schmaltzy fairytale story; in this way it reminded me of Rent. Justin Williams’ urban wasteland design serves it well. I like the songs, played superbly by Richard Baker’s band, but more vocal restraint and less volume would have served the lyrics better. They were sung well, but more as pop songs than musical theatre numbers there to tell the story. That said, the five performers are all excellent.

It was a bit overblown for me. I think the material would have benefitted from more subtlety, though there was enough to enjoy and admire to reward the trip to Greenwich.

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It’s 46 years since The Who released Tommy, one of the most ground-breaking albums of the 60’s (or any other decade come to that), the first ‘rock opera’. Like all great music, it still sounds fresh. I loved Pete Townsend & Des McAnuff’s stage musical when it was first staged in London in 1996 and its surprising that we haven’t seen it since. So a bucket-load of brownie points to Guy James (no relation!), Katie Lipson and Ilai Szpiezak for putting on this revival at Greenwich Theatre.

I’m sure everyone knows the story. Tommy is traumatised when he sees his father, unexpectedly returned from the war, kill his mother’s new man and becomes deaf, dumb and blind. He’s persecuted by his Cousin Kevin and interfered with by his Uncle Ernie. Searches for a cure seem hopeless, but one day he does indeed recover all three faculties and at first becomes a bit of a freak show and ultimately a sort of Messiah. It’s an extraordinary score and here its sung brilliantly by a top notch young cast of just ten. It has one of the best closing numbers of a musical – Listening To You – and they do it proud.

Director Michael Strassen, a Union Theatre regular where I’ve seen nine of his productions, uses a two-tier stage with triangular motifs, with most of the cast dressed in white, a handful of props and some striking lighting. I wasn’t convinced by the choreography, which didn’t seem in keeping with the material – too arty farty & balletic and not muscular enough! I also felt the band was too quiet much of the time – it is a rock musical, after all – though somewhat ironically were terrific in the play-out. It was a touch restrained in the first half, though it ended on a high with Pinball Wizzard, but came into its own after the interval.

I very much liked Ashley Birchall’s Tommy, particularly in the later scenes. I loved the characterisations of seedy Uncle Ernie by the excellent John Barr and the odious bully Kevin of Giovanni Spani. There wasn’t really a fault in the casting; the audience gave them a standing ovation on Thursday.

Definitely worth catching one of the last four performances of this rarely revived show with an iconic score.

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