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Posts Tagged ‘Jessie Buckley’

Given it’s iconic status in musical theatre, I’m surprised this is only the fourth major London revival since I moved here forty years ago. Sam Mendes also turned his theatre, the Donmar Warehouse, into the Kit Kat Club for his 1993 production, albeit less dramatically. This transferred to Broadway, where it ran for six or seven years, returning less that ten years later for another year. Rufus Norris’ 2006 revival was a radical production on a conventional stage. Now Rebecca Frecknall’s is a complete reinvention within an elaborate reconfiguration of the Playhouse Theatre. There was so much to take in, which might be why I’m still struggling to write about it four days later.

It must have felt extraordinarily ground-breaking when it was first staged on Broadway 55 years ago; it felt pretty much the same now – a musical set in 30’s Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party featuring prostitution, drugs and homosexuality, the Kit Kat Club at the heart of all the decadence. It starts when you enter, walking through the bowels of the theatre to emerge in what used to be the foyer where the ‘prologue cast’ were performing. Then you enter the auditorium, where the club vibe continues, with the audience on two sides of a round playing area which revolves and rises, and the band above in the two boxes that once housed audience members. It’s actually a small playing area, though Frecknall and choreographer Julia Cheng use it brilliantly, switching from the club to all other locations with few props very speedily.

In addition to Tom Scutt’s physical design, his Kit Kat Club costumes have a distinct aesthetic too, a sort of surreal punk fantasy, never more so than with Eddie Redmayne’s Emcee, which he invests with an extraordinary physicality and a manic stare. One of the striking things about this production is how all of the roles come to the fore; it isn’t just Sally & the Emcee’s show, the audience waiting for their next entrance. This cast rise to that challenge superbly. Lisa Sadovy is terrific as landlady Fraulein Schneider, her relationship with Elliot Levey’s excellent Herr Schultz growing, exuding warmth, before it crashes so sadly. Omari Douglas continues to impress with a very subtle and sensitive Clifford, struggling with his sexuality. It’s great to see Anna-Jane Casey back where she belongs investing prostitute Fraulein Kost with such exuberance. Then there’s Jessie Buckley, conquering yet another peak in a short career that has demonstrated extraordinary range. Her Sally Bowles balances confidence and vulnerability perfectly.

It’s an unsettling, dark show and this production is often chilling. Perhaps because of the recent passing of Stephen Sondheim, the parallels between him and Kander & Ebb struck me. They both tackled subjects unusual to musical theatre before, and each show was completely different. Cabaret will go down in history as a show which made a great contribution to the evolution of the form in the last half of the 20th Century and this production will be remembered for proving the point that great shows evolve and change, reflecting the period they are performed in and the talent that creates and performs them. I’m so glad I was there to experience this one.

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Until last night I’ve always considered this pay to be a fairly straightforward gung- ho slice of patriotic revisionist history. In this production, it seems to have more depth and complexity.

The young king puts his wayward past behind him and, goaded by the French Dauphin, sets off to teach them a lesson or two. An unlikely defeat of the much stronger French army (well, more of them, anyway) leads to the unification of the two nations by the marriage of Henry to the French king’s daughter. The depth and complexity come in the changing attitudes to war.

I found the first half uneven (as much the play as the production), but after the interval, as the British forces leave these shores, the production really takes off. The scene where Henry inspires his forces is brilliant and his wooing of Catherine is wonderfully staged. Where the production succeeds is in coping with the contrasts and contradictions – love & war, compassion & hate, poignancy & humour.

Christopher Oram’s design seems inspired by his earlier one for Lear at the Donmar – a semi-circle of rough wood painted roughly which takes its shape from the ‘cockpit’ of the prologue. Unlike the NT’s recent modern setting, save for the chorus / narrator in modern dress (a terrific Ashley Zhangazha, who continues to impress – I’m already getting excited about seeing his Othello!) it’s in period and the costumes are superb.

It’s been great to watch Jessie Buckley put the Oliver TV casting show I’ll Do Anything behind her; in just five years, she’s played Sondheim for Trevor Nunn at the Menier / West End, been to RADA, played a couple of shows at Shakespeare’s Globe and is now speaking French and snogging Jude Law in a very impressive performance as Princes Katherine! Matt Ryan is excellent as Fluellen, complete with real leak, and Ron Cook gives us another great turn as Pistol, eating the said leak.

I’ve only seen Jude Law a handful of times since Les Patents Terribles at the NT 19 years ago (where you saw quite a lot if I remember correctly) but he has impressed on each occasion. Here, he handles the various Henry’s very well – the lad with new-found responsibility, the patriot, the warmonger, the leader, the statesman, the lover…..it’s a fine performance.

This is a lot better than the Michael Grandage Company’s other crack at Shakespeare and ends the season on a high. It’s been good to see a 5-play season of such quality succeed in the unsubsidised West End, like Jamie Lloyd’s shorted 4-play season. In the spirit of competition and to encourage a rematch, Lloyd wins though!

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You have to admire the ambition of Shakespeare’s Globe. A year after they produce all of the Bard’s plays, each in a different language, they announce a 2-year Hamlet tour to every country in the world – all 205 of them! This show is also ambitious, albeit on a smaller scale than the other two projects, and though they don’t quite pull it off, I still admire the way it stretches the Globe yet again.

I’m not sure why the play is called Gabriel. It isn’t in fact a play, it’s an ‘entertainment’ that includes a number of playets written by Samuel Adamson and a lot of music. The tales involve characters from the late 17th century, including Purcell whose music they use, and appear to be based on true stories. They also include Queen Mary and her nephew the young Duke of Gloucester, trumpeter Matthew Shore and his sons and theatre producers Rich and Betterton. The trumpet is the key as it apparently came about when trumpeter Alison Balsom (who appears / plays) expressed a wish to appear at The Globe and here is the crux of the problem – it appears to be a bit of a vanity project, and you can see the artifice.

There is a much to enjoy. The music is gorgeous and the period trumpet seems entirely at home on this stage. Some of the tales are very funny; I particularly liked the first scene involving the watermen, brilliantly characterised as the black cab drivers of their day, and a satire on opera audiences (nothing changes, it seems). It’s often racy – I can’t even begin to tell you how Kate is rewarded for giving an acting lesson – and an infectious bawdiness lingers over the proceedings. It even contains the most original use of the trumpet – using its bell to cover a man’s private parts! It has clearly been well rehearsed and the idea of staging the sort of semi-opera of the period is an excellent one. Sadly, it doesn’t produce a cohesive evening. The tone changes too dramatically at times, it comes over as a bit of a rag bag and at 2 hours 45 minutes, it’s about 30 mins too long.

The musicians play well whilst moving around and there are some fine performances, in particular from sometime Nancy Jessie Buckley who sings Purcell’s songs beautifully and acts well (including when she’s getting her reward for an acting lesson!). Jonathan Fensom’s period costumes and design are excellent and the space is well used, with a platform jutting out at the upper level, linked to the stage by a staircase. The stage itself has grown three oval wings, which opens up the action (albeit at the expense of the grounding’s space).

This was only the third performance and Dominic Dromgoole’s staging was a bit ragged at the edges, particularly with the dance and movement, but it will have to sharpen and shorten significantly to be a real success. They also need to look at the audibility issues, as some dialogue is lost when there is music in the background. That said, I don’t regret going and admired its ambition and originality, the music and the humour.

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