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Posts Tagged ‘Half a Sixpence’

This is more of a rediscovery than a revival, a 1980 musical which may well have remained lost but for the ever enterprising Finborough Theatre and Mercurius. Written by a man in late career, David Heneker, who’d done eight shows before, including Expresso Bongo, Half A Sixpence and Charlie Girl, and another, Warner Brown, in early career, it seems to have been a critical success but a commercial flop.

Like Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel, it’s set in the silent movie era and features real life characters like film-makers D W Griffith and Adolph Zukor of Paramount, actresses Mary Pickford and her friend Lillian Gish and the godfather of silent comedy, Mack Sennett. Over sixteen years, Griffith makes serious epics with Gish and Zukor populist fare with the eternally juvenile Pickford. As it ends, United Artists is born and talkies arrive. The personal relationships are interwoven with the history.

It’s a very good score and the book, in this scaled-down version, is excellent. They’ve reintroduced two songs that never made it to the West End, one which accuses Griffith of racism and the rather chirpier They Don’t Call ‘em Flickers too. MD Harry Haden-Brown plays the score alone on piano, which somehow suits the silent movie aesthetic. Jenny Eastop’s simple production, virtually without decor, allows the show to move and breathe.

I loved Matthew Cavendish’s Sennett, all his work with Mischief Theatre giving him great physical comedy skills, but a great voice too. Sophie Linder-Lee is a delight as Mary Pickford, who’s much more savvy than the girliness would have you believe. Emily Langham’s performance as the more serious and restrained Lillian Gish (who apparently attended the 1980 premiere), somewhat in awe of Griffith, is lovely too. Jonathan Leinmuller has great presence as Griffith, and there are five fine supporting performances, with the MD stepping forward to play a role.

A very worthwhile rediscovery given a fine production. Yet more gold stars for the Finborough.

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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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For the second time in a month, I am in awe of a talented team’s ability to breathe new life into a somewhat twee old warhorse. This is as much of a treat as Half a Sixpence.

It’s a love story set in a perfumerie in 1940’s Budapest. Amalia is in love with her pen pal ‘Dear Friend’ who’s closer to home than she thinks. One of the shop’s sales clerks is having an affair with owner Maraczek’s wife. Young delivery boy Arpad is desperate to become a sales clerk. It’s the third adaptation of Hungarian Miklos Laszio’s novel, following a James Stewart film and a Judy Garland film musical, originally staged in London in 1964. They don’t come sweeter than this.

I wasn’t that keen on the 1994 West End revival, in which life imitated art as it brought stars John Gordon Sinclair and Ruthie Henshall together, but I warmed to it in the Landor’s revival last year. Now, like Sixpence, a combination of perfect ingredients – venue, staging & choreography, design, and performances – combine to create what may prove to be the definitive production. There’s a terrific café scene to end Act I, and the second half is full of show-stopping numbers like Arpad’s Try Me, Amalia’s Where’s My Shoe, Georg’s title song and Ilona’s Trip to the Library

Let’s start with Paul Farnsworth’s stunning design, creating a beautiful period parfumerie (with a lot of bottles), with no less than four revolves, that smoothly turns into a cafe, bedroom and the street, and his gorgeous costumes. Rebecca Howell’s chirpy choreography is a delight, especially in the somewhat manic Twelve Days if Christmas. Catherine Jayes’ band plays brilliantly.

The whole cast is terrific, but Scarlett Strallen deserves a special mention, returning to the Menier after her success in Candide, as does Mark Umbers as Georg, returning to the scene of two previous triumphs in Sweet Charity & Merrily We Roll Along, as her love interest. Katherine  Kingsley provides another of her show-stealing turns as Ilona and 17-year-old Callum Howells is an absolute delight as Arpad. It’s staged to perfection by Matthew White, who already has three Menier hits under his belt.

This is an absolutely unmissable seasonal treat.

 

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It’s always good to see theatre tackling current issues, and it’s particularly good to see the Chichester theatres, home of musicals, revivals and ‘safe’ new plays, doing so; particularly as Fracking is also a local issue. On the whole, this was successful in presenting all sides of the arguments and does so entertainingly, though it comes off the fence in the end.

Deerland Energy is applying for a fracking permit, aided by a PR firm with some dubious methods. The local council appear to be about to cave in, but they haven’t accounted for the unlikely opposition of retired professor-turned-campaigner Elizabeth, who starts by outing a university professor in the pay of oil companies and continues by turning the planning chair’s sister against him by pointing out the chaos it would unleash on her quiet neighbourhood. She’s seen by the activists as a trump card and becomes so passionate she follows the path from campaigner to activist herself. Odious PR man Joe digs into his dirty tricks bag and the planning chair wavers.

It’s a satire and it’s often very funny. It’s very up-to-date, with some lines bringing the house down with their acid response to very recent events. That said, it does cover a reasonable amount of ground when it comes to scientific background and different perspectives. The environmental consequences are covered, but so are the NIMBY attitudes of the local hypocrites driving gas-guzzling cars. The endless switching from short scenes in Elizabeth’s home to the PR office and back, where most of the play takes place, became a bit irritating, but Richard Wilson’s production is otherwise well paced, and it held my attention throughout.

As always, Anne Reid is a pleasure to watch, and this is a very different role for her, one which she appears to relish. James Bolam is excellent as her put-upon husband who doesn’t share her passion and resents its intrusion into his quiet retirement. Oliver Chris is well cast as the PR man you love to hate, a real modern day baddie. Michael Simkins makes the energy company CEO sympathetic, at least initially, which helps give the play balance. They are well supported by nine other actors in multiple roles.

Following mediocre reviews, this exceeded my expectations again and, paired with Half a Sixpence, made for a great day out in Sussex!

 

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