Posts Tagged ‘John Logan’

The transformation of the Piccadilly Theatre for this show is extraordinary; from the moment you enter the auditorium, it takes your breath away. Based on Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film, the show itself is the ultimate juke box musical. Unlike others in the genre, it doesn’t use the songs of one artist / group or songwriter(s), but has 74 songs / extracts from artists as diverse as Rogers & Hammerstein, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Lady Ga Ga, Edith Piaf, Adele and Talking Heads. It arrives in London (late, like just about everything else at the moment) garlanded with awards, including ten of the fourteen Tony’s for which it was nominated.

It tells the story of the love of penniless American songwriter Christian for Satine, the star of the Moulin Rouge. The Duke has rescued the struggling venue, but at a price – he just about owns everything and everyone, including Satine, who he takes as a mistress, providing her with accommodation and showering her with gifts. With his friends Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago, Christian writes a new show, which is also part of the rescue plan, though it came about by accident in covering up Christian & Satine’s romance.The Duke interferes with this too.

The snatches of songs, sometime just one line, act as dialogue and recognising them is fun. Others are performed in full, some more than once. John Logan’s book is hardly relevant as, like the film, it’s all about the spectacle, which it delivers, with bells on! Brilliant sets, sensational costumes, superb lighting & effects, a cast of 38 and a 10-piece band. In the week of its return after cancellations, there were four understudies at the performance we attended, including the leading roles of Satine, The Duke and Toulouse Lautrec, and it’s a tribute to them that you wouldn’t know it without checking out the board in the foyer.

As much as I enjoyed the fun, energy and spectacle, there was something missing for me. Not enough depth or substance to the story and a lack of emotional engagement. I felt like the narrative was relegated to become the bits between the spectacle. There were boos for The Duke (the character, not the actor) at the curtain call which made me think ‘panto’ – but with set pieces and production values to die for.

Go for the spectacle and you won’t be disappointed. Expect to be thrilled rather than moved and you’ll probably have a lot of fun.

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I’m one of the few people who took against John Logan’s last play, Red, about Mark Rothko. The first hour was a rant by the artist, by the end of which I had lost the will to live. This play is a whole lot better.

Peter was one of five Llewelyn Davies boys who were befriended by J M Barrie and the source of his famous character, Peter Pan. Rev. Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll wrote his first Alice story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for Alice Liddell, having first told her the story on an outing. This is the fame they live with and share. In the play they meet on the centenary of Dodgson’s birth when they are 35 and 80 respectively. Davies, now a publisher, uses the opportunity to encourage Liddell, now Hargreaves, to write her memoirs, which sends us on a journey to meet the respective writers and their characters.

It’s a multi-layered play which tells the stories of these real people, whose lives were both touched by the tragedy of loss – Alice of two sons and Peter of two brothers – but also of their relationships with both the writers and their characters and the impact of their somewhat unusual fame. This opens the play up as we flash back in time and meet Carroll & Barrie plus the fictitious Peter & Alice. The writing isn’t entirely even – it does lag at times, despite the short 90 minute length, and Alice has all the best lines – but it’s an inspired idea and unfolds intriguingly.

One of the chief pleasures of Michael Grandage’s production is seeing Judi Dench, as captivating as ever, and Ben Whishaw, who has grown into such a fine actor. The age difference between the actors is almost the same as their characters. There’s excellent support from Nicholas Farrell as Dodgson / Carroll and Derek Riddell as Barrie. Olly Alexander & Ruby Bentall bring the fictional characters alive impressively. Grandage’s regular designer Christopher Oram has created a superb transformative design.

Alice is a role worthy of Dench’s talent (her last West End outing was the dreadful Madame de Sade!) and Peter is a role worthy of Whishaw’s first proper West End showcase. It’s great to see a new play open in the West End, with the real buzz of full house signs and autograph hunters crowding the stage door; most start life in the subsidised sector these days. It’s also the only new play in Grandage’s five-play first season, so success might help get us more new work next time.

In a delicious twist, both works of fiction were staged in this very theatre. Another fact new to me was that Logan also wrote Skyfall, in which both Dench & Whishaw of course acted. Adele didn’t do the music, though!

If you can get in, you should.

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