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Posts Tagged ‘Janet Bird’

My third and final out-of-town day-trip, this time to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield for another of my top five musicals, Guys & Dolls, my 9th production / 13th performance. Another treat.

The show is based on a 1930’s story and characters created by writer / journalist Damon Runyon. Nathan Detroit organises a crap (dice) game which moves from place to place whilst dancer Adelaide, his fiancee of 14 years, does everything she can to pin him down to marriage, having told her mother she already is, and invented five children with another on the way as part of the story. Ace gambler Sky Masterson and Chicago gangster Big Jule head into town, and the world of the gamblers and the ailing Salvation Army mission threatened with closure collide, but happiness is just a couple of bets away. Runyon was so fond of the world of these lovable rogues and gamblers that he arranged for his ashes to be scattered on Broadway from a plane!

So what’s this production got going for it? Well, for starters I heard much detail in the orchestrations than I’ve heard before, partly because of new arrangements by Will Stuart, whose superb 14-piece band isn’t buried in a pit, but faces you above the action in a series of decorated ‘rooms’. Matt Flint’s choreography fills the stage with vitality and freshness, with the two Hot Box routines particularly good, and the street-life, Havana club, Luck be a Lady in the sewers and Sit Down you’re Rocking the Boat in the mission all uplifting. At first, I missed the usual Broadway billboards and neon lights in Janet Bird’s set, but her excellent costumes, and Howard Hudson’s terrific lighting, made up for them. Crucible AD Robert Hastie isn’t known for musicals, as his predecessor Daniel Evans was, which makes his staging all the more impressive, achieving the best balance between the comedy and the love stories that I can remember.

Natalie Casey was very impressive as Adelaide, bringing out every bit of her character’s comedy, but with real pathos to her love story, which moved me. Martin Marquez had all the charm and cheek Nathan needs, also melting by the end. I’ve followed Alex Young’s musical theatre career since student productions at RAM and for me her performance as Sarah is one of her career highs. Kadiff Kirwan invests Sky with a suave confidence and again the love story had more feeling than I’m used to seeing. TJ Lloyd was a great Nicely Nicely and Dafydd Emyr was larger than life and positively intimidating as Big Jule.

I’d been to the Crucible before, but not for a musical, and I thought the space was perfect for a big Broadway show like this. We are so lucky to have quality musical theatre productions like this around the country, and my day-trip, including travel, cost about the same as a top price ticket in the West End. Thank you, Sheffield.

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I gasped as I read in the programme that it was 20 years since this was first produced at the NT. I suppose the need for a cast of 24 and a mighty fine actor to play George III must be the reasons for a lack of revivals, so well done Theatre Royal Bath, who originated this production, for the opportunity.

I have to confess it isn’t the masterpiece I remembered, but it’s still a good play. Alan Bennett tells the story of a period of madness for the king, during which he gets a whole series of excruciating but conflicting treatments from four doctors (who in reality don’t have a clue) and Tory PM William Pitt almost loses office to Whig Charles Fox (with the support of playwright turned MP Sheridan!) whilst the playboy Prince of Wales almost becomes Prince Regent.

It’s a fascinating study of madness, royalty and politics – darker, more disturbing but less funny than I remember. The second act is better than the first, which is slower and a little uneven, but there are some brilliant moments to savour in Christopher Luscombe’s production. With so many scene changes it’s a design challenge, but Janet Bird has captured the period and the regal (though I think the walls with empty picture frames are a mistake).

David Haig is terrific as George III and is in my view the real reason for seeing this revival. His transition from pompous but lovable to manic & disturbed and back again is a tour de force which is always captivating and occasionally thrilling. Perhaps because the character and performance of the King are so dominant, the rest of the ensemble make less impact and few stand out. I did like Christopher Keegan’s Prince of Wales, though it is a touch too much caricature, and Nicholas Rowe’s Pitt.

Haig’s performance will be a highlight of 2012, which is a good enough reason to go, so do!

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