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Posts Tagged ‘Janine Dee’

When I first heard about Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season – 20 of his one-act plays in seven groupings over six months – I thought it was laudable, brave and ambitious, but I’m not a Pinter fan (though Lloyd has recently lured me to a few revivals with fresh interpretations and exciting casting). I decided that it was all or nothing, and at West End prices, nothing won, but a spare evening and a great ticket deal lured me to this fourth, a pairing of plays 33 years apart, one I saw the first outing of and one I’ve never seen, and they couldn’t be more different.

In Moonlight, Andy is dying, lying in his bed with his wife Bel by his side. He reminices about events and people in his life. We also meet his estranged sons, though they don’t meet him, and two friends and a young girl also make an appearance. Lindsay Turner’s production has a dreamlike quality, but with scenes which are imagined or elsewhere played within the bedroom somewhat bewildering. I saw It at the Almeida in 1993 with a stellar cast that included Ian Holm, Anna Massey, Douglas Hodge & Michael Sheen and it seemed a very different play which this time round I didn’t find very interesting or satisfying.

Night School was a TV play and I’m not sure it’s been staged before. After the dullness of Moonlight, it seemed like a little comic gem and much more Pinteresque, or perhaps even Ortonesque. Wally returns from prison to find his family have let his room to a young teacher. He fails to get landlord Solto to loan him money to get back on his feet but he does persuade him to find out more about the new lodger, who turns out to have another occupation altogether. Brid Brennan (Bel in Moonlight) and Janine Dee are a terrific double-act as the aunts, Robert Glenister (Andy in the first play) is great as East End rogue Solto and Al Weaver (son Jake in Moonlight) excellent as Wally.

Very much an evening of two halves, only one of which I really liked.

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Playwright Torben Betts’ unique blend of black comedy & tragedy, veering towards melodrama, with a surreal twist, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine.

Caroline is a famous TV chef & domestic goddess, a Christian, married to a rich banker, with three children and a lovely London home. They are rehearsing the final show to be filmed in her kitchen before they sell up & downsize and move filming to the studio. After the rehearsal, they plan to celebrate left-wing, vegan son Leo’s 1st from Cambridge. Graham the carpenter has just finished his four-months work on the property. This seems like an idyllic family…….

….but Caroline has a drink problem, and her temporary PA Amanda discovers that the Mail are about to use some old photos of her out on the razz. Husband / father Mike, a bit of a lech and a philanderer, returns from golf having got a hole in one but also witnessed a death. Leo is disappointed Caroline hasn’t delivered on her promise to tell Michael his secret, and it looks likely Caroline & Michael’s plans for him might clash with his values. A potential buyer for the house turns up at a most inconvenient time. There’s a storm outside, but it’s nowhere near as fierce as the one that breaks out inside, as most of their worlds come tumbling down, as the secrets and lies unfold. It’s very funny, but also very dark. Underneath the black comedy, there are a lot of truths about families and relationships.

I’ve never seen such an elaborate set at the Park Theatre, a terrific uber-realistic kitchen by James Perkins. It’s the sort of play that requires precision staging, and it gets that in Alastair Whatley’s production. Above all though, there’s a set of superb performances, all in tune with the material. We’re more used to seeing Janine Dee in musicals these days, so it’s great to be reminded what a fine ‘straight’ actress she is, with pitch perfect comic timing (and boy can she do drunk well). Patrick Rycart’s old buffer Michael is a tour de force; he took my breath away when he fell. Charlie Brooks has to play a tragic figure with all the comic chaos going on around her and Jack’s Archer and Sandle have to play things relatively straight too as Leo and Graeme respectively, which they all do very well. Genevieve Gaunt is a delight as PA Amanda, with some very funny turns of phrase and mannerisms.

I really enjoyed this strange concoction, entertaining but thought-provoking too.

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It’s thirty years since I saw a large-scale production of this show – it’s first, and only, West End outing – though there were three others in quick succession between 2002 and 2010 – a semi-staged version at the Royal Festival Hall, a delightful fringe production at the Landor and another in Walthamstow during Sondheim’s 80th celebrations. Along with A Little Night Music, it’s never been my favourite Sondheim show, though it contains some of his best songs, but just five days after a stunning revival of that other show in Newbury, here we are at the National being blown away by Dominic Cooke’s sensational production, taking us back to the original Broadway version without interval. Now, where did I put my superlatives thesaurus……

It’s a reunion at the New York theatre where the Weismann Follies were between the wars. It’s about to be demolished and the girls of the 30’s and 40’s have been invited back one last time. Nostalgia gives way to regret for lost love and lost opportunities, as the main characters Buddy & Sally and Ben & Phyllis reminisce. There have been follies in their lives as well as Follies in their careers, and we learn how their relationships were formed and how they progressed. All four have the ‘ghosts’ of their former selves onstage, as do ten of the other stars from the past. Interwoven with their story, and ‘character songs’ as Sondheim calls them, we have routines and turns reenacted and a pastiche called Loveland within which all four leads sing of their individual follies.

Imelda Staunton follows her Mrs Lovett, Rose and Martha with another stupendous performance as Sally. It’s wonderful to see Philip Quast again, on fine form too as Ben, and Janine Dee is a terrific acid-tonged Phyllis, a particularly fine dancer as it turns out. Peter Forbes is less of a musicals regular, but he makes a great Buddy. Another piece of surprising but inspired casting is Di Botcher as Hattie, delivering Broadway Baby as if she was. Tracie Bennett takes I’m Still Here hostage with a particularly ballsy rendition, and the duet between opera singers Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer as older and younger Heidi is another stand-out moment in a show full of them. Dawn Hope’s Stella gamely leads the veterans in a thrilling tap dancing number with their former selves. The National is saved from prosecution by the musicals police by casting a Strallen, Zizzi, as Young Phyllis. This teally is a stunner of a cast.

Dominic Cooke isn’t known for musicals, but teamed with choreographer Bill Deamer, he’s done a great job, an elegant staging which is brash when it needs to be, at other times restrained and often very moving. Vicki Mortimer has created an atmospheric set and fantastic costumes. The unbroken 130 minutes was packed full of showstoppers and by the time we got to Loveland, I was overwhelmed and deeply moved. I think my previous, less enthusiastic reaction is down to timing. I was too young and too new to Sondheim and wasn’t really ready for this show – until now.

To the 37 performers and 21 musicians on stage, and the 200 production staff, and of course Messrs Sondheim & Goldman, it was worth every second of your time and effort. Unforgettable.

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I’ve been a fan of Eugene O’Neill for a very long time, but I don’t recall a production of this play in London, which is rather baffling as it shows another side of O’Neill and is really rather good. It comes two-thirds through his playwriting career, but it’s much lighter than Morning Becomes Elektra and The Iceman Cometh, the plays immediately before and after respectively. I’m not sure I’d call it a comedy, as many seem to, but it does have plenty of funny moments – and a lot of fireworks; literally rather than metaphorically.

The story takes place on Independence Day and revolves around Richard, the Miller’s teenage middle son, and is really a coming of age tale. He’s a bright, very well read boy whose version of adolescence is at the intense, existentialist end of the spectrum. He’s in love with neighbour Muriel and walks around quoting literature, some considered so inappropriate that her dad David seeks to drive a wedge between them. His elder brother Arthur (Arthur Miller!) leads him astray and then abandons him at a bar frequented by prostitutes. When Richard comes home drunk, it challenges his otherwise tolerant parents. There’s a sub-plot involving the relationship between Richard’s paternal Auntie Lily and maternal Uncle Sid, which is deadlocked by the latter’s liking of a drink.

In Natalie Abrahami’s production, O’Neill himself is an ever present ghost, often mouthing the dialogue he wrote and perhaps emphasising that the play may be autobiographical. Dick Bird’s extraordinary design has sand pouring out of the waterfront house, with a bit if a coup d’theatre as water flows later. George Mackay is hugely impressive as Richard, capturing the the full range of teenage emotions. Janine Dee shows her versatility yet again as mum Essie Miller, and I was impressed by Martin Marquez (John’s lesser known brother) as dad Nat Miller. Dominic Rowan is very believable as a drunk and David Annen is excellent as the omnipresent playwright, neighbour David and bar tender George.

It took a while to take off, but I fell in love with it nonetheless. The Young Vic proving to be indispensable yet again.

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There was a time when I wasn’t interested in hearing songs from musicals performed out of context; now I can’t seem to get enough – this is the second of three evenings this month. There are five Sondheim compilation shows and this is one of the two most famous, but after it’s premiere run in Oxford 22 years ago (starring Diana Rigg, no less) it never got to the West End – well, until now. It’s been worth the wait.

It’s an unpredictable selection, with four from the film Dick Tracy, two from rarity The Frogs (which co-incidentally I will be seeing for the first time on Saturday) and numbers from the less well-known Do I Hear A Waltz? and Anyone Can Whistle and that’s actually part of its appeal. They are not just sung, they are performed by the characters for whom they were written by a quintet of seasoned musicals professionals – David Badella, Daniel Crossley, Janine Dee, Damien Humbley & Caroline Sheen. I loved the arrangements for piano, double bass, trumpet and three woodwind and they were played beautifully by an extraordinarily young band under Theo Jamieson.

As solos or in various combinations, these songs are interpreted with meaning and you savour every word of Sondheim’s incomparable lyrics. You know they’ve worked when you’re on the edge of your seat willing Janine Dee to make it through the manic Not Getting Married Today (which she does, to perfection), you’re laughing uproariously at Daniel Crossley’s hysterical take on Buddy’s Blues and Being Alive brings a tear to your eye just by being uplifting. There’s some sprightly choreography, a conceit that they’re all at a cocktail party and the only props are a chaise longue and a drinks table, but it’s the songs that make the show.

Producer & musical supervisor Alex Parker, director Alastair Knights & choreographer Matthew Rowland, like MD Theo Jamieson, have all graduated in the last 18 months and there’s a youthfulness, energy and freshness about the whole thing; a towering achievement indeed.

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To those of you not in the know (including me) it stands for Not Safe For Work – ‘online material which the viewer may not want to be seen accessing in a public or formal setting – such as at work’ but the play isn’t about that, so I’m not sure why that’s its title!

In the first scene we’re in the office of  lads mag Doghouse where everything is as you would expect – tackiness & tits, people being bullied and / or patronised. They’ve just published the best nude female ‘reader’ picture selected from 900 competition entries and they’re rather pleased with them selves – until it starts to unravel (the detail of which would be an epic spoiler). In the second scene, the issues are explored in a ‘negotiation’  between the editor and an aggrieved party in the presence of assistant Charlotte, who feelings are clearly at odds with her participation.

In the third scene we move to another magazine altogether – up-market ladies mag Electra – where the editor is interviewing Sam, an ex-employee of Doghouse. Electra is just as patronising but the bullying becomes more subtle power games. Editor Miranda describes her publication’s mission and values to Sam and lays out what will be expected of him should she decide to appoint him; not all of which is easy for Sam (or us) to stomach.

This behind-the-scenes glimpse at publishing, well this type of publishing, enables playwright Lucy Kirkwood to explore a number of interesting issues and she does so in entertaining fashion – and it’s a lot more topical than she probably thought it was when she wrote it!

The first scene is somewhat slight and clunky and the actors didn’t seem entirely comfortable at the performance I attended, but the second and third are a huge improvement – the second due to the power of the discussion / negotiation and the exceptional performance of Kevin Doyle as indignant Mr Bradshaw and the third due to cleverly written power play and a simply brilliant pairing of Janine Dee as the editor and Sacha Dhawan as the hapless but deeply sympathetic Sam.

This isn’t up there with some of the recent main house hits like Jerusalem, Posh and The Heretic, but it’s an entertaining and thought-provoking 90 minutes.

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