Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jermyn Street Theatre’

In 2011, Rattigan’s centenary year, Jermyn Street Theatre gave us the world premiere of Less Than Kind, the first incarnation of this play. It had never produced in this version because Rattigan de-politicised it, at the request of its star actors. This final version hasn’t been staged in London since 1945, despite the revival of interest in the playwright, though it turns out Trevor Nunn is actually giving us a hybrid of the two versions, putting some of the political edge back. 

It’s set towards the end of the Second World War. Widow Olivia Brown is co-habiting with millionaire industrialist Sir John Fletcher, separated from his much younger wife Diana, on secondment to the government to help with the war effort. Olivia’s son Michael returns from evacuation in Canada. He’s almost eighteen, he’s developed left-wing views and he takes against her mother’s new man and their relationship. Think Hamlet, to which Sir John occasionally refers. Michael tries everything, including involving Sir John’s wife, for whom he falls, to break them up. In the end Olivia is forced to choose, and she chooses her son. They return to humble Baron’s Court, from opulent Westminster, where Olivia transforms from extrovert socialite to drab and unhappy, devoting her life to looking after her son. He’s kept his job in Sir John’s ministry and still holds a torch for Diana. It all comes good, but I won’t spoil it by saying how.

Nunn starts each scene with war newsreels projected onto the curtain in front of Stephen Brimston Lewis’ excellent set, as he did in Flare Path, but even more effective here because the curtain is 90 degrees and translucent.. The transformation from the first to second scene in Act II is entertaining in itself, as the actors busy themselves changing the set from a Westminster drawing room to a Baron’s Court bedsit, diverting our attention from the newsreel. It’s a very well structured play with radical themes (for the time) of co-habitation and the politics are fascinating as  they prophesy post-war challenges, but the big surprise is how funny it is. Eve Best has long been a favourite dramatic actress, but the revelation of her performance as Olivia is how good she is at the comedy. I haven’t seen that much of Anthony Head on stage, but here he’s very impressive indeed as Sir John. I only know Edward Bluemel from the same period’s The Halcyon on TV, in which he was very good, as he is here as pouty Michael, prone to tantrums. Helen George is a vision in pink and mink, and a delight as goodtime girl Diana.

A treat for Rattigan fans (and others) which gets a well deserved transfer ‘up West’ so you have no excuse not to catch it. 

Read Full Post »

A musical based on a 2500-year-old Greek play featuring Shakespeare and G B Shaw as characters to be staged in a swimming pool. Well, you have to admire the ambition of Bert Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim. This later version was meant for theatres and here we are getting the UK professional premiere at Jermyn Street Theatre more than twenty years after Broadway and more than forty years after the Yale original.

Sondheim appears to have only contributed choruses to the Yale show, perhaps as a favour for Shevelove as by now he’d had success with Company, Follies and A Little Night Music, but wrote extra songs for Nathan Lane’s revision. The Yale original is now probably just as famous for featuring actresses Meryl Streep & Sigourney Weaver and playwright Christopher Durang in the cast.

It’s faithful to Aristophanes in that Dionysos, the god of drama, decides that there’s a desperate need for good dramatists and heads off to Hades to bring back George Bernard Shaw. He meets Shakespeare there too and decides to stage a contest to choose between them (Euripides and Aeschylus in the original). Unsurprisingly, Shakespeare beats the old windbag (Aeschylus wins in the original) and returns with Dionysos. A simple story, but with a timeless theme of the importance of the arts.

Lane’s version is a bit of a romp and, though far from Sondheim’s best score, there are some nice tunes and witty lyrics to propel the story, with cheeky contemporary references which delight. It’s well staged by Grace Wessels, with great use of Jermyn Street’s tiny space and nifty movement from Tim McArthur. The fun that the cast of just nine, let by Michael Matus as Dionysos and George Rae as his sidekick Xanthias, are clearly having is infectious and the musical standards under MD Tim Sutton were particularly high.

An unmissable opportunity for Sondheim fans. 

Read Full Post »

It’s twenty years since Stephen Daldry’s NT revival of An Inspector Calls renewed the theatre world’s interest in this oddest of British playwrights, who seemed very much out of his time in the last part of the first half of the 20th century. This very well cast 1937 rarity came halfway through his playwriting career, eight years before An Inspector Calls, and it again shows his preoccupation with time.

We’re at an inn on the Yorkshire moors on Whitsun weekend. Oliver, a young school headmaster, is recuperating from stress when he is joined by the Ormunds, a couple away for the weekend. There are connections between them and the landlord Sam and his widowed daughter Sally. Mr Ormund, a wealthy businessman, is a donor to, and governor of, Oliver’s school, which Sally’s son attends as a boarder, and Sam and Sally are shareholders in Mr Ormund’s business. Then an exiled German professor turns up; he seems somewhat mysterious, even psychic.

From here it’s a complex web of premonitions, alternative time tracks and deja vu, leading to a dramatic if inconclusive conclusion. Neatly staged on a curved platform with audience on both sides and three pieces of furniture that change position for each act, Anthony Biggs production has a mysterious quality to match the material. It’s not a great Priestly play, but it’s well worth catching if, like me, you’re interested in the playwright.

Read Full Post »

Whilst other students were doing what students do – getting pissed and getting laid (assuming it was the same in 1934) – the undergraduate Terence Rattigan, with help from his friend Philip Heimann, was writing his first play. In no time at all, it was causing controversy in the West End & on Broadway and Rattigan had given up his studies. It’s taken 80 years for it to get its second London outing, thanks to the enterprising and indispensable Primavera Productions.

Rattigan was writing from experience, setting his play in college lodgings with four student sharers. Tony is to play the leading role in the University drama society production of Anthony & Cleopatra and professional actress Margot has been invited to play alongside him (apparently this was not unusual at Oxford, with people like Peggy Ashcroft returning to OUDS). They fall in love, despite the fact she’s twice his age, and Tony’s ex Joan moves on to his friend David (before ending up with another friend, Bertie!). There is a thinly veiled suggestion that Tony & David are more than friends and the play primarily explores this unorthodox love triangle.

The first half was a bit light, dull and insubstantial for me (and not ‘uproariously funny’ as it has been billed) and if you didn’t know who wrote it, you might guess Noel Coward, but it transformed itself after the interval and became a much better play and very obviously Rattigan. The three short acts of this second half really were brilliant and it was fascinating to see the first work of this 20th century master.

Tom Littler has given it a fine production, and assembled an excellent cast. Neil Irish makes great use of the tiny Jermyn Street stage (floor), creating an evocative period living room which transforms effectively to a pub bedroom for one of the five acts. Caroline Langrishe is a superb Margot, drawn to the younger man and jealous of his other relationship. Philip Labey plays ice cold, somewhat manipulative David brilliantly and Gavin Fowler comes into his own in the second half when his role becomes more complex. It also features the impressive professional stage debut of Molly Hanson, the daughter of Alexander Hanson & Samantha Bond, as Joan.

At the interval I thought it was a mere collectors piece, but by the end I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to see the beginnings of Rattigan’s great and unique talent. The programme-script has an excellent essay by Dan Rebellato, who has pieced together this performing edition from the six versions extant, which added much to the experience. Gold stars to him, Primavera and Jermyn Street Theatre, whose new seating has greatly improved the comfort and sight-lines.

 

Read Full Post »

My review of 2012 takes the form of nine awards. There are none for performances as I find it impossible to choose and invidious to select from so much amazing talent. Here goes:

THEATRICAL EVENT OF THE YEAR – The Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, showing the world Britain at its theatrical best, and Globe to Globe, inviting the world to perform its greatest playwright on his ‘home stage’ – both once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Honourable mention to the The Bomb at the Tricycle, the latest in their deeply rewarding reviews of history, world events and global issues.

MOST EXCITING EVENING OF THE YEAR (or possibly my life!) – You Me Bum Bum Train, the most extraordinary adrenalin rush as you perform in 13 scenes from conducting an orchestra to operating a digger, travelling between them through pipes, holes & chutes.

SOLO SHOW – Mark Thomas’ autobiographical Bravo Figaro, funny and moving in equal measure.

BEST OUTSIDE LONDON – National Theatre of Wales’ CoriolanUs in an aircraft hanger at RAF St. Athan; the other highlight of the World Shakespeare Festival, part of the Cultural Olympiad. Wonderful Town is worthy of mention as the touring musical that really should have come to the West End.

NEW PLAYThis House at the Cottesloe, a play about British politics from 1974 to 1979 that was more enlightening than living through it (by a man who is too young to have lived through it), yet entertaining and funny. Honorable mentions to Red Velvet at the Tricycle, In Basildon at the Royal Court and Last of the Haussmanns & The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime – both also at the National, which at last found its new writing form.

PLAY REVIVAL – Desire Under the Elms at the Lyric Hammersmith, a stunning revival of an OK play in a year of many gems, amongst which I would single out A Doll’s House at the Young Vic, She Stoops to Conquer at the NT, Philadelphia, Here I Come at the Donmar, Cornelius at the Finborough,Vieux Carre at the King’s Head, A Long Day’s Journey into Night in the West End and both of the radical Julius Caesar’s – the African one for the RSC and the all-female one at the Donmar.

NEW MUSICALA Winter’s Tale at the Landor. The easiest category to call in a very lean year, with Soho Cinders, Daddy Long Legs and Loserville the only other contenders – but that takes nothing away from the gem that Howard Goodall’s show was.

MUSICAL REVIVAL – Sweeney Todd, though this is the toughest category with no less than 10 other contenders – Patience, The Fix and Call Me Madam at the Union, Gay’s the Word & Merrie England at the Finborough, Guys & Dolls Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Curtains at the Landor, Boy Meets Boy at Jermyn Street, Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier, Opera North’s Carousel at the Barbican and another Chichester transfer, Singing in the Rain, in the West End.

TURKEY OF THE YEAR – The NT’s Damned for Despair, though this year there were also a trio of visiting turkeys, all at the Barbican – Big & Small, Nosferatu and Forests – and a pair of site specific turkeys – Babel & The Architects.

2012 will be hard to beat!

Read Full Post »

A musical comedy set in 30’s London & Paris in the style of the period (Noel Coward, Ivor Novello) but where no-one bats an eyelid at same-sex relationships and marriage! Clever.

American journalist and playboy Casey O’Brien misses the story of Edward & Mrs Simpson, so instead chases the story of the forthcoming marriage of American millionaire Clarence Cutler to British Aristocrat Guy Rose, but in doing so he falls for Guy himself. If this was covert rather than overt, you really could be watching an undiscovered Ivor Novello show.

In addition to scenes in iconic 30’s London locations – the Savoy, The Dorchester – we also go to Paris where Guy’s aunt Josephine, black sheep of the family, is a racy entertainer at Les Folies, where Guy briefly entertains too. Casey gets his man and we end at the wedding.

It’s a great score and a good book and Gene David Kirk’s staging in the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre is nothing short of miraculous, as is Lee Proud’s brilliant choreography (including a tap-dancing bell-boy who brings the house down). Alice Walkling’s superb design enables them to create a hotel bedroom, church, restaurant, bar, club, station, dressing room and theatre and occupy them with 13 actors dancing in a space not much bigger than my living room!

Stephen Ashfield is excellent – and in great voice – as Casey, with a realistic American accent that no doubt benefits from his period in Jersey Boys. Ben Kavanagh has superb comic timing and gets more laughs from Clarence’s lines than are probably there on paper. Craig Fletcher makes a great transformation from geek to hunk by just removing his specs and rearranging his hair.

It was written in 1975 by Americans Bill Solly and Donald Ward and ran off-Broadway but not even Wikipedia can shed more light, so a huge thank you to MD Stefan Bednarczyk for buying the record and persisting for 27 years to bring this delightful show to us.

Read Full Post »

When I picked up my ticket, I saw I was in the back row – the last time I was in the back row at Jermyn Street Theatre I hardly saw a thing; such are their sight lines. When I entered the auditorium (a bit of an exaggeration for a basement room with 70 seats) I sighed with relief when I saw they’d put in a stage. When I left I asked if it was permanent and was told ‘no’ – dreadful decision, JST!

Anyway, to the play….a Samuel Beckett radio play that’s never been staged, no doubt because of the notorious Beckett estate’s protection bordering on paranoia. The solution seems to be to turn the theatre into a radio studio with hanging microphones, cast on chairs at the sides, everyone with scripts. The one concession was a cut-out car door needed to properly illustrate the very large Mrs Rooney (played by the ever so slight Eileen Atkins) getting in and out of a car. It would be tempting to close your eyes, but to do so would miss the great Dame’s extraordinary range of facial acting.

She’s on a journey to meet her blind husband and encounters seven other characters on the way. This is such ‘event theatre’ that these bit parts are played by premiere league actors (apart from the boy, who will no doubt dine out on this experience for the rest of his life). I’m not sure I entirely understand it (or if I’m supposed to) but the journey is charming, poetic, funny, poignant and engrossing. Michael Gambon’s Mr Rooney switches emotional state on the turn of his head in a virtuoso display of acting. The Dame and the Knight do not disappoint; if anything, liberated of the need for much stage business they shine more.

I’d now like to hear it on the radio so that I can see if the staging adds or takes anything away. A gentle and satisfying 80 minutes. Has director Trevor the-longer-the-better Nunn ever done anything this short?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »