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Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Maynard’

This is the second collaboration between British musical theatre team George Stiles & Anthony Drewe and American book writers Ron Cowan & Daniel Lipman and it’s just as quintessentially British as their previous offering, Betty Blue Eyes (a musical adaptation of the Alan Bennett film A Private Function). This musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel isn’t as good as the previous show, but it still has much to commend it.

I rather wish I’d had an Aunt Augusta; someone to lead you astray, show you the world and encourage you to live life to the full, as she does with her somewhat old, recently retired nephew Henry Pulling. Come to think of it, I didn’t really need an Aunt Augusta. Their adventures take them from London on trains, boats and planes to Paris, Milan and Istanbul, and even further afield to Argentina and Paraguay, where she is at last reunited with her former lover Visconti. It lends itself well to musical adaptation and the songs are particularly good at emphasising the location of scenes. I wouldn’t say it was a great score, but it’s OK. The feel of the novel is maintained and the characterisations are spot on.

Patricia Hodge is perfectly cast as Aunt Augusta – stern, strong willed and more than a bit naughty. She’s not really a singer, but her sung dialogue seemed in keeping with the character. Steven Pacey also perfectly captures the conservative Henry, more than a bit dull, torn between continuing to be stuck in the mud and being led astray, but plumping for the latter in the end. In a fine supporting cast, I particularly liked Hugh Maynard’s Wordsworth, the life and soul of the party. Colin Falconer’s clever design anchors it in an old-fashioned railway station, with the band in an elevated signal box, a waiting room that moves, destination board and those iconic cast iron pillars. His costumes are great too. Christopher Luscombe’s staging benefits from the intimacy of the Minerva Theatre.

I’m not sure why it doesn’t quite sparkle, but there’s enough to make it a worthwhile adaptation and a decent night out.

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I’ve been apprehensive about seeing this new production lest it tarnishes my memory of multiple visits to the much loved original in the late 80’s / early 90’s, but a January offer saw me succumb and now I’m both relieved and happy that it has scrubbed up so well, reinvented for a new generation.

Of course it isn’t an original premise, it’s Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, but moving it from Japan to Vietnam and forward a century or so to the end of the Vietnam War is inspired. It’s very effective in telling the story of those effected by war, both local people and armed forces. The relationship of GI Chris with local girl Kim isn’t unusual, and their son is one of tens of thousands of bui doi, the children of such relationships, who weren’t recognised by the US until 13 years after the war ended, just before this show was first produced. The war still seemed recent then, but I suspect many seeing it today will be saying ‘what war?’. Above all of course it’s a love story and a personal tragedy, though I felt the backdrop had more of a visceral edge this time round. It’s also racier, with much more bare flesh on show!

I liked the design concept with bamboo spilling out of the proscenium and a realistic rather than idealised contemporary oriental feel. It’s a beautiful, lush (pucciniesque!) score and here it’s beautifully played by a 16 piece orchestra. There’s not much chance of a repeat of the controversy of Cameron Mackintosh’s original white casting – particularly Welshman Jonathan Pryce playing The (Vietnamese) Engineer! as it’s packed full of East Asian actors. Philipino Jon Jon Briones really is outstanding as The Engineer, though he’s in danger of overplaying what seemed to be occasional unscripted ad libs. This is Eva Noblezada’s professional debut, so we shouldn’t expect seasoned acting, but there’s no doubting the power and beauty of her singing. Both Alistair Brammer as Chris and Hugh Maynard as John deliver in both the acting and vocal departments, though I wish the latter would dump his X-Factor moment at the end of Bui Doi. We don’t see much of Thuy in the second half, but Kwang-Ho Hong impresses in the first half.

It impressed me more than it moved me, but Laurence Connor’s revival fully justifies it’s West End presence and it was good to see it again after all these years.

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