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Posts Tagged ‘Hoxton Hall’

What better way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first women to get the vote than a show where the entire cast and all the creatives are women. What’s more, it’s about female gang warfare in Victorian London, set twenty years before the Suffragettes!

The Oranges rule the East End from Bethnal Green and the Elephants South of the river from Walworth Road. The former have Jewish heritage and the latter Irish heritage. Not only do they clash over turf, Ada in the Oranges and Nellie in the Elephants (yes!) both fancy naive Mary, newly arrived from the Black Country. It’s a melodrama within a Music Hall show, with the MC acting as narrator and singalong organiser! The icing on the cake is that it’s being staged in Hoxton Hall, a Victorian Music Hall complete with a high proscenium stage, two wrought iron balconies on three sides and a fireplace with mantelpiece and mirror in the stalls.

Chickenshed’s Jo Collins has written some great songs and Lil Warren’s book and lyrics are deliciously rude and bawdy. The look is perfect in Sara Perks design, with excellent lighting by Joanna Town and a quiet, atmospheric soundscape of street-life and transport by Yvonne Gilbert. The only fault I found in Susie McKenna’s staging was that the music hall and narration interjections do sometimes get in the way of the narrative flow, but the idea is too good to take them away. The cast is outstanding, switching effortlessly from chirpy to cruel, all in fine voice, playing instruments to supplement Jo Collins, MD and performer as well as composer, on piano.

I’m puzzled by the lukewarm critical reaction. I thought it was original, inventive and great fun, in the perfect venue.

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My first show in LIFT 2016 is a short piece based on the true story of nineteenth century cross dresser Ernest Boulton. He was apparently adventurous, indeed reckless, visiting the West End as a raging queen (in the 1860’s!), sometimes assuming the persona of a prostitute. As the more refined Stella he took female roles in touring shows. He even had an aristocratic Tory MP as a lover.

It’s told in two interwoven monologues by a 21-year-old Stella and an older Ernest. Both are waiting – the younger for his lover and the older for admission to hospital. The younger is boasting of his unorthodox and exciting lifestyle. The older is sadly contemplating its end. A mute attendant is sometimes present. It’s a bit static for someone like me, known for not liking monologues, but it does convey both ends of an extraordinary life well, and played in a 19th century music hall, the venue could not be better.

It’s beautifully performed by Richard Cant as Old Stella, virtually motionless, welling up with sadness, and Oscar Batterham as Young Stella, cheeky, playful and full of life. It’s simply staged with a couple of chairs, the venue itself anchoring the piece in its time. I wasn’t sure what to make of the occasional use of dramatic light and sound, particularly at the outset.

Neil Bartlett writes and directs this 70-minute piece and it’s good to have him back in the theatre after what seems like an age. Well worth trying to be cool in Hoxton!

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NEW PLAYS

Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court

SHAKESPEARE

2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.

OTHER REVIVALS

Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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Three short plays by favourite playwright Eugene O’Neil with favourite actor Ruth Wilson in the lovely Hoxton (music) Hall. I was seriously over-excited going in, but deeply satisfied coming out.

This is a perfect match of play(s) and venue. Hoxton Hall is tall but narrow, with a wrought iron balcony on three sides. They’ve put in rickety old chairs for this production, and the multi-tier stage recedes some way, making the performance area look surprisingly big. Richard Kent’s design makes full use of the space, with perfect period costumes, superb lighting by Neil Austin and a six-piece jazz band. The atmosphere of apartments in an early 20th century US city is brilliantly created.

The first play is virtually a monologue by Wilson as a woman whose world is in decline after marrying an unfaithful loser. She takes a short while to get into her stride, but becomes mesmerizing as the story unfolds. The plays are linked by terrific songs from Nicola Walker as the stage is reset. In no time, we’re with prostitute and single mother Rose, suffering with TB and abused by her lover / pimp. She’s rescued by neighbour and bank robber Tim, but not for long. The third play takes us to a black family where the mother is dying and son Dreamy is on the run. He has to choose between dying mom’s bedside and escape.

Though best known for his lengthy epics, O’Neil is able to pack a lot of drama into these three short plays which, even with musical interludes, add up to less than 90 minutes. I’ve had my eye on director Sam Yates since a pair of superb productions at the Finborough in 2011-12 (Cornelius & Mixed Marriage) and his staging of the first two of these is outstanding. Ruth Wilson, wonderful in the same two plays, directs the third very well. There are two excellent performances from Simon Coombs, both criminals, both on the run, and Zubin Varla is great as Steve in the second play, and plays a mean sax too.

They’ve taken over the whole ground floor, with a period design bar named after O’Neil’s sometime NYC haunt. I don’t know who Found Productions are, but they are to be congratulated on a magnificent evening of drama and first class theatrical craftsmanship. Brilliant.

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Hoxton Hall might be a bit of a schlep for us South West Londoners, but it’s the perfect venue for Morphic Graffiti’s music hall take on Leslie Bricusse’s musical comedy. A surprisingly small hall with a high proscenium stage and two levels of tiny balconies with wrought iron railings held up by thin pillars. Gorgeous.

The musical is ‘framed’ by a music hall show with the cast in period costumes telling us that there’ll be magic, puppets and singalongs. The musical itself opens with a puppet show of the ending of the Reichenbach Falls adventure where both Holmes and Moriarty perish, but we soon meet him back at Baker Street to find he didn’t die at all. After solving a couple of cases, including the disappearance of the House of Commons mace, the evening’s main story starts and Holmes finds himself pursued by a mysterious woman with a big grudge.

It’s tongue-in-cheek fun, made more so by the clever idea of the music hall framing and the appropriateness of the venue. Bricusse’s music, though probably not his best, also suits the idea / setting well. The puppets provided an appropriate prologue, the magic was very good and there were lots more clever touches. I normally prefer small-scale musicals unamplified, but in this high venue with a 5-piece band (including percussion) to the left and in front of the stage, it meant some of the lyrics of solo numbers were lost, though this didn’t really spoil the fun of the evening.

Stepehn Leask as Inspector Lestrade, John Cusworth as Watson and Andrea Miller as Mrs Hudson seemed most at home with the style, though the whole ensemble gave their all and Nathan Jarvis’ band played very well. There’s some sprightly choreography from Lee Proud and Stewart Charlesworth’s design and costumes are terrific. Like their Jekyll & Hyde at the Union Theatre last year, Luke Fredericks staging is inventive and fresh.

Morphic Graffiti have built on an impressive start with Jekyll. They had Bricusse on board for this and have nabbed a Stage One new producer bursary at a very early stage. Definitely a show to catch and definitely a company to watch.

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