Posts Tagged ‘Hope Mill Theatre’

I can’t think of any other true crime musicals, or any other musicals with just two actors and a musician come to think of it. Stephen Dolginoff’s show is based on the real case of a 1924 kidnap and murder, labelled at the time ‘the crime of the century’, which Patrick Hamilton adapted for his 1939 play Rope, made into a 1948 Alfred Hitchcock film. Later adaptations followed, including three novels, another play and an episode of a TV series. A lot of people seem obsessed with this story!

The pair were law students who liked the excitement committing crimes, mostly arson and robbery, brought them. There was a sexual relationship between them, more of an obsession for Leopold. Their compulsion drove them to escalate the seriousness of their crimes to the kidnap and murder of a young boy. Leopold left his glasses at the crime scene, which led to his arrest. This may have been intentional, because he did a deal with the prosecution, ostensibly so that the pair could spend the rest of their lives together locked up in a cell. The story is told in flashback from Leopold’s parole hearing 34 years later, by which time Loeb had died in prison, during which he confesses in full.

It covers a remarkable amount of ground in just 80 minutes, with a surprising degree of psychological depth. This is helped by outstanding performances from Bart Lambert as Leopold and Jack Reitman as Loeb. Lambert brilliantly conveys Leopold’s obsession with Loeb and Reitman Loeb’s powerful hold over Leopold. Benjamin McQuigg plays the intricate score superbly on solo piano at the side of the stage. In such a small space, it was an intimate storytelling experience, often chilling, and I was enthralled.

This is another transfer from Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, a pioneering theatre, particularly with musicals. Director Matthew Parker and designer Rachael Ryan have adapted it for the Jermyn Theatre space, which it fits like a glove. As much as I enjoyed the UK premiere in 2011, this production improved on it significantly.

This theatre, one of the few offering some socially distanced performances for those not yet ready to take the full house plunge, is fast becoming a favourite of mine, one of the most welcoming in London. Check this out.

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This musical theatre adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel by Jason Howard, Allan Knee & Mindi Dickstein is sixteen years old now, though it didn’t get to the UK until four years ago, at that new musical theatre powerhouse The Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. That same production now gets its London premiere. I never read the novel, and have only seen one of the handful of stage, opera, TV & film adaptations in my lifetime, but it was only three years ago so I didn’t come to this completely cold.

The little women are sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, living in New England with their mother while their dad is serving as an army chaplain in the American Civil War. Wannabe writer Jo has gone to the big apple to try and get published and each act starts at her lodgings there before the main story back home in flashback. Their neighbour Mr Lawrence and his son and the March’s maiden aunt are important parts of the extended family. Jo hopes to travel with her aunt, but she switches her favours to younger sister Amy and takes her to Europe. Both Meg and Amy get married and Beth becomes seriously ill. It looks like Jo may be left ‘on the shelf’.

The book of the musical seems faithful to the novel, though I thought the two scenes enacting Jo’s latest stories before the flashbacks were a bit ambitious for a small stage. The second half is way more successful than the first, which really needs some cuts and an increase in pace. Like the story, the score took time to gain momentum and both were a bit twee and sentimental for my taste, but it won me over with some lovely tunes, excellent string orchestrations beautifully played by Leo Munby’s band, and Bronagh Lagan’s staging.

It’s a very strong ensemble, showcasing a number of new graduates, with the four sisters – Hana Ichijo, Lydia White, Anastasia Martin & Mary Moore – developing their very different characters extremely well. Savannah Stevenson provides an emotional anchor as Marmee, with particularly fine vocals. The supporting cast are all very good, with Bernadine Pritchett having great fun with Aunt March and Ryan Bennett coming into his own as Professor Bhaer as the role develops.

It needs a bit of work on the first half and it could do with losing 15 minutes or so, but its still well worth seeing in its present form nonetheless, provided you can stomach a bit of quintessentially American sentimentality.

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