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Posts Tagged ‘Jae Alexander’

Nothing beats the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park on a lovely summer evening and when the show benefits from the combined imaginations of directors Timothy Sheader & Liam Steel and designer Jon Bausor magic can actually happen. This captivating re-imagining of Peter Pan fits perfectly in the OAT and magic it certainly is.

The story starts in a First World War army hospital. The Llewelyn boys, who inspired J M Barrie, may have been in one. A nurse finds a copy of the book under the pillow of a patient and begins to read it. She becomes Wendy and two of the patients John & Michael Darling and so the adventure begins, as Peter Pan whisks them away to Neverland.

The staging is extraordinary and the characterisations wonderful. Things like beds, bedding and floorboards transform into locations, props and creatures, characters emerge from nowhere and everywhere, Tinkerbell is a fabulous puppet creation and the flying is thrilling. A singer comes and goes with lovely renditions of WWI songs. Before you know it, we’re back in the hospital, packing up at the end if the war, but in between you are captivated by Peter’s adventures with the lost boys amongst the pirates, in a timeless lo-tech marvel.

Hiran Abeysekera is a charming and athletic Peter and Kae Alexander a loving nurse and a delightful Wendy. Beverly Rudd is a great old school hospital matron before she transforms into a hysterically funny Smee. All of the adult actors playing boys are terrific but I had a soft spot for Thomas Pickles’ Slightly. As an ensemble they are much more than the individual performances; a real team of boys and a group of hapless pirates.

I loved every moment of this show, which ended poignantly with much of the audience (well, me, anyway) in tears as the great war ends. It was greeted by a fully justified spontaneous standing ovation. I’ve had countless great evenings at the OAT but none have bettered this. Ends this week, but must surely return next year.

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This Peter Nichols play with music (Dennis King) was first seen at The Aldwych Theatre in 1977, the then London home of the RSC, when the playwright was very much in their favour. A year before he became Artistic Director of the Donmar, director Michael Grandage  staged it there (with Roger Allam, Malcolm Sinclair and the relatively unknown James McAvoy and Nigel Harman). Now, he’s staging it back in the West End (at the very appropiately named Noel Coward Theatre) as the first in his 5-play season, just after leaving the Donmar.

It’s an autobiographical piece set just after the second world war in a forces entertainment troupe in South East Asia. The rag-bag of performers is led by as-camp-as-they-come (Acting Captain!) Terri Dennis. We see them rehearse and perform, plus backstage relationships, banter and abuse. There are two mute locals whose sinister demeanor tell you they are more than servants to these extraordinary masters.

If you’ve got a decent seat it works well, though not quite as good, in a bigger space – though it has aged a bit and seemed a little overlong this time. It’s a fascinating period and situation though with all sorts of issues explored and the music is completely at home given the context.

The chief reason for seeing it is a superb cast and chief amongst those is Simon Russell Beale with yet another career high. He has the uncanny capacity to act with every part of his body, striking poses that bring the house down, breaking into facial expressions that have you laughing out loud. Angus Wright is perfectly cast as the pompous Major, as is Mark Lewis Jones as the somewhat unsympathetic Sergeant Major, and John Marquez is great as the unlikely Corporal. Joseph Timms, Sam Swainsbury, Harry Hepple and Brodie Ross make a great quartet of singing & dancing soldiers. 

Designer Christopher Oram appears to have re-cycled and roughed up his design for Evita, but it works well as the frame for various South East Asian locations. Grandage’s staging is as always impeccable and there’s a fine band under Jae Alexander hiding in the upper tier on the right.

If you’ve seen the play before, go again to see a fine cast. If you haven’t, go to see a highly original play by one of Britain’s most underrated playwrights. Whatever, you have to go to see Simon Russell Beale at the height of his powers – again!

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