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Posts Tagged ‘Jack Shalloo’

John Gay’s The Beggars Opera may be the first ever musical, written almost 300 years ago. Though called an opera, it was actually a satire on opera, set amongst ordinary folk, in stark contrast to opera’s loftier subjects and settings. It’s had many revivals, notably one at the Lyric Hammersmith nearly a century ago that ran for almost 1500 performances, and adaptations, the most famous of which is Brecht & Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Now Kneehigh have given it a modern setting in our corrupt new world.

The Peachum’s own a pilchard canning business. Mrs Peachum is the power behind the throne and daughter Polly keeps the books. They have a loyal servant, Filch. Mr Peachum hires Macheath to kill the mayor (and his dog!) so that he can take over (via a corrupt election). Much to the Peachum’s horror, Polly falls for, and gets pregnant by, Macheath, who has impregnated quite a few ladies, including Lucy Lockit, the daughter of the police chief (who is also in Peachum’s pay). As Mayor he changes the law so that Macheath can be hung, but things don’t always turn out as planned.

Charles Hazlewood’s new score is a cocktail of many musical styles, from references to Gay’s original to heavy metal and punk! The cast double up as musicians. The setting is a giant metal frame sitting inside the chamber of Shoreditch Town Hall, reminiscent of earlier Kneehigh shows like Don John. It’s good to see some new faces to Kneehigh, particularly Rina Fantina as a terrific Mrs Peachum, the ever wonderful Beverley Rudd as Lucy Lockit and Jack Shaloo as an excellent Filch, jailer and prostitute (very versatile!).

It was inventive and contained many of the Kneehigh trademarks. I thought the first half could do with a bit of tightening, and maybe editing, but overall it was Kneehigh back on form, doing what only they can do.

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The most common criticism of this show seems to be ‘all spectacle, no heart’ which is a puzzle to me as I thought it had both heart and spectacle. It has always been one of my favourite stories so it had the potential to disappoint, but I thought they were spot on in this adaptation. I loved it.

Even though you don’t get into Wonka’s factory until the second half, the first didn’t lag. It focuses largely on Charlie’s word in the slums, with introductions to the four other silver spoon – golden ticket winners inside a giant TV. By the interval, you were in love with Charlie’s entire family. In the second half, the spectacle increases as we move around the factory and each of the four little monsters gets what they deserve. The Ompa-Loompas are brilliantly created in a surprisingly lo-tech fashion; in fact, the spectacle does have a charming retro feel to it that seemed to me completely in keeping with the material and its pedigree. I find it difficult to judge the score on first hearing, but there were a couple of stand-out solo numbers and some rousing choruses.

What impressed me most I think was the casting. Douglas Hodge captures the combination of eccentric, benevolent, mad and magical that is Wonka very well indeed. Nigel Planer is excellent as Grandpa Joe, the leader of a fine quartet of bed-bound grandparents. It was great to see Alex Clatworthy, who I first saw as (kiss me) Kate at the Guildhall School just two years ago, in such a high-profile role so soon and it was also good to see Jack Shalloo leap from the fringe (Departure Lounge & The Kissing Dance) to this; they were both great as Charlie’s parents. At our performance, Charlie was played with great confidence and charm by Louis Suc and the children playing the four less sympathetic characters were great too.

I actually enjoyed this more than Matilda, not only because the sound was a whole lot better, but because I thought it served Roald Dahl’s story better. It works equally well for children and adults of all ages – my younger adult companions adored it and for our 7-year old theatrical first-timer, well it may be all downhill from here!

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I’ve always been puzzled by the critical indifference to Howard Goodall’s musicals. For me, in the (short) list of great British composers of musicals he comes top and his first show, the Hired Man, sits with Les Miserables and West Side Story as one of my favourite musical scores.

Even though he has a very distinctive sound, which is distinctively British, it changes subtly to suit the subject matter. Only three of his nine musicals have been produced in the West End. 25 years ago, The Hired Man lost the Olivier Award to the highly unoriginal 42nd Street (leading lady ill, chorus girl’s big break, yawn…yawn…), soon after Girlfriends closed very quickly (though in fairness, the production didn’t live up to the Bolton premiere) and then we had to wait 24 years for Love Story, one of the best chamber musicals ever, which also got an undeserved early bath.

The Hired Man gets revived on a small scale fairly frequently, Days Of Hope (a lovely show set in the Spanish Civil War) occasionally but the 2nd World War Girlfriends, as far as I know, has never been revived. Two Cities (based on Dickens) was only seen outside London and the other four, like this one, were written for youth groups. Only The Hired Man and Days of Hope have ever been recorded, so you can’t even listen to the music to find out what you’re missing!

I fondly remember seeing the NYMT production of this 12 years ago (with recent Olivier Award winning Sheridan Smith in the cast) at the Lyric Hammersmith and its astonishing that it has taken so long to be revived and to get its professional debut. We’re awash with fringe productions of musicals, but none of them are British. I yearn to see Lionel Bart’s Blitz! or Maggie May or Goodall’s Girlfriends. OK, end of rant and on with the review!

There can’t be many musicals based on restoration comedies like this one based on Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. Moving it to the Edwardian period works; otherwise its faithful to the play and thanks to Charles Hart’s witty book and lyrics, even funnier. Goodall’s score is rich in lovely tunes and even more varied in style than most of his scores. It takes a little while to take off, but it proves to be a delight. It would have been even better to see it in a bigger space with better sight lines than the cramped and stuffy Jermyn Street Theatre.

Director Lotte Wakeham, who first impressed me with Austentatious at the Landor, has done a superb job on a simple set by Samal Blak (who worked wonders transforming the Cock Tavern for Pins & Needles) with elegant period costumes by Karen Frances. It’s partially in actor-musician mode, but Harriet Oughton at the piano has the primary musical responsibility and manages a bit of acting as well as playing the whole score!

Beverley Klein gives us another delicious musical comedy masterclass as Mrs Hardcastle. Ian Virgo (also in the original production, but as Lumpkin), Gina Beck, Dylan Turner and Gemma Sutton as the two couples at the heart of the story all act well and do full justice to Goodall’s music. It took me a while to warm to Jack Shalloo as Lumpkin (probably because I couldn’t get his terrific turn in Departure Lounge out of my head!) but he won me over.

A standing ovation for producers Peter Huntley and Charlotte Staynings for giving us this long-awaited opportunity to re-visit the show and for doing such a cracking job with it. Girlfriends? Blitz? Please!

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This is the second of the Edinburgh ones-that-got-away that I’ve caught up with back in London and boy am I glad I did!

It’s a musical where four lads in the departure lounge at a Spanish airport look back at their hedonistic week in the sun and reflect on life at the crossroads between school and university. I was expecting mere ladishness, but what surprised me was how much depth the rights-of-passage story has, the richness of the characterisation and how much it has to say about friendship.

In some musicals the songs seem artificially ‘slotted in’, but here Dougal Irvine’s excellent music is completely in keeping with the context, the tale and the characters. Accompanied by two acoustic guitars, the brilliantly funny lyrics are all clearly audible and the singing is first class – I was particularly impressed by the voice of Liam Tamne, but Chris Fountain, Jack Shalloo and Steven Webb also sang very well.

I felt a bit sorry for Verity Rushworth in the role of Sophie which is pivotal but a bit under-written, making her seem an ‘extra’, but she played it very well indeed. Spesh Moloney and the composer provided fine accompaniment.

This is an uplifting feel good show which I really hope has a life beyond this short run at Waterloo East Theatre (itself a welcome addition to the cultural landscape of SE1), but don’t wait, go now while you can.

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