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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Denvir’

This new play, like the 1998 film of the same name, is based on Christopher Bram’s book Father of Frankenstein, a novel whose central character was real life film director James Whale, responsible for a whole bunch of iconic horror films as well as the film of the musical Showboat. The fact it’s a fiction that purports to speculate and recreate the final days of someone who actually lived doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me, though I much admired the production and the performances.

Whale’s story is a fascinating one. The son of a Dudley labourer who studied art before serving in the army in WWI, ending up in a prisoner of war camp where his interest in drama began. On his return, multi-tasking in the theatre, he ended up directing Journey’s End, which took him to the US – first Broadway, then Hollywood, where his film career started with the film of the same play. He lived with his male partner for over 20 years, but the play begins after he’s left and Whale is alone with his maid Maria, in poor physical and mental health, close to death, returning to art once more. From here, it speculates that he becomes a bit predatory, first with a student interviewer and then with the gardener. His early life painting and his war experiences are shown in flashback.

It’s exceptionally well staged, with well integrated projections and highly effective flashbacks. The acting is outstanding, led by Ian Gelder’s excellent performance as Whale. Will Austin and Joey Phillips make hugely impressive professional stage debuts as the gardner Clayton and student Kay respectively, with the latter also the young Whale in flashback. Lachele Carl beautifully captures both Maria’s love and affection for her boss and disapproval of his lifestyle and Will Rastall completes the cast as Whale’s doctor and the wartime Whale. Jason Denvir’s simple design allows the play to breathe whilst Russell Labey directs his own play with great delicacy.

I would have preferred pure fiction or pure biography (though impossible, I suspect), but there’s no denying this is première league theatre; quality in every department.

 

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We seem to be awash with great musical revivals on the fringe and back at Southwark Playhouse, Thom Sutherland has worked wonders again on this difficult show about Mack Sennett, the master of silent movies, and his on / off relationship with actress Mabel Normand.

The story is told in flashback from the time Sennett is forced to leave his studios. We first see him churning out films at a heck of a pace from his Brooklyn studios, where he comes across the natural talent of Mabel when she delivers a bagel! Keystone studios move to Hollywood ,where their pre-eminence continues, until talkies come on the scene and Sennett refuses to change with the times. This is the backdrop for the story of the pair, both as a working partnership and as a relationship.

The Vault at Southwark Playhouse is the perfect space for a show which largely takes place in film studios and set & costume designer Jason Denvir and lighting designer Howard Hudson have done a great job creating the backstage world and the early 20th century period with a pile of props and machinery at the back which is brought forward and moved around to create many different scenes. The period costumes are excellent and the lighting is hugely atmospheric.

I loved the way the show flowed, with intimate moments drawing you in and big numbers taking your breath away. Lee Proud’s choreography is fresh and often funny and Thom Sutherland’s staging captures the organised chaos of film making but allows the characterisations to shine through. You feel as if you’ve been given an insight into this world of movie making and into the hearts of its protagonists

Norman Bowman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are sensational as Mack and Mabel. Their attraction and relationship are totally believable and they sing beautifully. There’s a fine ‘supporting’ cast of 13, too many to mention but all worthy of it, and a large band of 11 (for the fringe) under Michael Bradley, who do full justice to Jerry Herman’s under-rated score.

This is a very different show to Herman’s hits Hello Dolly and Mame and more like his third hit La Cage Aux Folles in the merging of a unique world with a troubled love story. Despite its lack of commercial success, this production made me think that it’s a better show than the first two in so many ways. We don’t see it that often, and never to my knowledge on this scale, so it’s both an opportunity and a treat!

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Lyricist Richard Maltby & composer David Shire aren’t well-known here. They’re songwriters rather than writers of musicals – apart from this compilation of their songs, I think the only show we’ve seen here is Take Flight at the Menier Chocolate Factory a few years back. They may be best known for lyrical contributions to Miss Saigon and Song & Dance (Maltby) and songs for Saturday Night Fever (Shire)….but they write clever, witty and smart songs.

This ‘revue’ contains 24 of them, each of which is a little story – mostly middle-aged middle class angst – and the Landor Theatre is very lucky to have bagged four experienced performers at the top of their game who can do justice to these difficult pieces. Clare Burt, Ria Jones, Michael Cahill and Glyn Kerslake inhabit the characters and situations and bring these stories to sparkling life.

Director Robert McWhir, choreographer Matthew Gould and designers Jason Denvir & Jean Gray have created a stylish setting and elegant staging. There were some terrific moments, amongst them Ria Jones’ comic magic in You Wanna Be My Friend and Miss Byrd and Clare Burt’s deeply moving It’s Never Been That Easy.

I’m not a huge fan of these compilations; I often think they’re a lazy alternative to a proper show, but this one certainly isn’t – it was almost like 24 mini-musicals in a row. Not to be missed!

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