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Posts Tagged ‘Jon Bausor’

Before it even opened at the Manchester International Festival, this show was mired in an authorship dispute, which sadly got more coverage than the work itself; a great shame given the originality and quality of Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s creation. It’s a brilliant cocktail of drama, dance and music which successfully interweaves a personal story with the 20th Century history of the nation of South Africa..

Kaelo is the son of white South African woman Cezanne and black South African man Lundi, a worker on her family’s estate. Given the laws of South Africa at that time, she relocated to London, without Lundi, and brought up Kaelo on her own. As the story begins, we learn that she has recently died and Kaelo is planning to visit South African for the first time to find his father and scatter his mother’s ashes, staying with his grandmother Elzebe, but whilst there he also meets his half-sister Ofentse and learns a lot about the historical events that shaped everyone’s lives.

It’s played on a round stepped platform that revolves, stepped viewing areas replacing seats and a huge drum overhead with projections on the inside. As you arrive, the audience are on the stage dancing to a live DJ set, but leave it as the story begins. There is much dance and movement by the performers in what is a thrilling telling of this family’s story as well as its political and social context and a spiritual dimension which enables Kaelo to observe events he was nowhere near in time or location. In what is a very immersive production, the audience are involved, moving props, dancing and participating like extras, some even getting lines.

The seemingly omnipresent Jon Bausor has created another extraordinary environment incorporating sound and projections. Alfred Enoch as Kaelo performs with great passion and physicality, aided by dancers superbly choreographed by Gregory Maqoma. Joan Iyiola’s Ofentse is a force of nature, filling and commanding the stage. Kurt Egyiawan and Lucy Briggs-Owen bring Kaeola’s deceased parents alive, and Sinead Cusak is totally plausible as Elzebe, the Afrikaner grandmother who feels threatened by all around her.

I thought it was a highly inventive show which paired storytelling with actual history, informative and entertaining in equal measure, accessible to anyone used to or new to theatre, especially a young audience.

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This musical is based on the 1992 debut novel of American writer Robert James Waller. It sold 60 million copies and became one of bestselling books of the 20th Century. He probably couldn’t believe his luck. Clint Eastwood made it into a film three years later, starring himself and Meryl Streep. Jason Robert Brown’s musical adaptation got to Broadway nine years later, and now has its UK premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory, for which it has received the whole gamut of stars, from five to one; marmite indeed.

The story revolves around Francesca, who left Naples at the end of the Second World War, following American GI Bud Johnson to the US. In the brilliant opening number she tells us her story from wartime loss of boyfriend Paolo, the sea journey to New York and train across the US to her new life in Winterset, Iowa where she becomes a farmer’s wife, bringing up two children. When we join her there, the family head off to the State Fair in Springfield Illinois, where daughter Carolyn is showing her prize steer. While they’re away she meets and falls for National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid, who’s in town to take pictures of those bridges of the title. It’s a sort of mid-west Brief Encounter!

Jon Bausor’s brilliant design seems to enlarge the Menier space, with three huge barn like doors, onto which images are projected, and two revolves moving us from the main location of the family kitchen to the State Fair, a neighbouring home, the fields outside, one of those covered bridges and a truck on the road, though it’s sometimes a bit noisy, during as well as between scenes, with involuntary movements of furniture occasionally comic (oh, and they need to repair the fridge door!). That aside, it’s a truly evocative design matched by Trevor Nunn’s staging, which flows beautifully.

It seems to me that the different views on the show are probably driven by the score and your attitude to love stories. Well, I’m a sucker for the latter (yes, there were tears again) and I think the lush eclectic Americana score is gorgeous, an antidote to the bland formulaic pop of most contemporary musicals. The songs, and there are a lot of them, maybe a few too many, really do propel the story and develop the characters, keeping just the right side of sentimentality, well, until the very end. I liked the way many of the cast get a number that brings their character briefly to the fore, enabling them to showcase their talents, notably Shanay Holmes and Georgia Brown.

Francesca provides yet another career high for Jenna Russell, as a very different character which she inhabits with conviction and authenticity. She’s well matched by Edward Baker-Duly as Robert, the finest performance I’ve seen by this actor, with a Glenn Campbell like velvet voice which so suited the songs. Dale Rapley provides fine support as Bud and there’s a lovely cameo from Gillian Kirkpatrick as neighbour Marge and an auspicious professional stage debut by the appropriately named Maddison Bulleyment as Carolyn.

Well, I’m with the four star gang. A lovely show staged and performed to perfection. Go and make your own mind up

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This wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Even though it features Take That songs sung by a TV cast band, the focus of Tim Frith’s story is the fans – aged 16 in 1993 and now. It took a while before I engaged with it, it was a bit too sentimental, but overall I was glad I caught it at my local theatre (before West End prices!).

We start with five sixteen-year old girls, obsessed with The Band, doing what sixteen-year-old fans do, before we leap forward to the present day, when one of them wins four tickets to see their idols’ reunion tour in Prague and gets in touch with the three remaining friends to join her. When we meet them she, and we, catch up with what they’ve been doing in the last 25 years. That’s about it, really.

Throughout the telling of the story, the five boys of The Band, pop up all over the place, sometimes as characters like airline attendants and cleaners, to sing the hits of Take That. I wasn’t a fan (I was never a sixteen year old girl and when I was sixteen the members of Take That weren’t even born!) but you’d have to have been in hibernation not to have heard their songs, which aren’t bad as pop songs go. Most of the audience clearly identified with the four female leads, so they had a fine time.

The songs were sung well, though the band was a bit rough at the edges and the sound not good enough. Jon Bausor’s designs did the job, given the number and variety of locations, but didn’t take your breath away like they usually do. Kim Gavin’s choreography was a bit stale and unimaginative, but it may have been recreating the original for all I know. His staging, with co-director Jack Ryder, was slick and well paced.

I’m clearly not the target audience, but its a decent touring show. How it will fare in the West End I’m not so sure.

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You never know what you’re going to get at a Simon Stephens play, in this case a collaboration with two others. A play about fathers, sons and fatherhood seems like a good idea. Using interviews as your source material seems like a good idea too. Having yourselves as characters and including members of your family and your friends as interviewees is probably a bad idea which, as one interviewee / character suggests, might be somewhat self-indulgent – and including that character’s comments doesn’t prove its sincerity.

Playwright Simon Stephens, director / choreographer Scott Graham and musician Karl Hyde are the three creators, played by actors. The interviews take place in their three home towns and the characters they meet and the quotes they use weave in and out of the story of its creation. The performances are fine. There’s sometimes great stylised ‘movement’ and excellent music. There’s a striking design by Jon Bausor and a chorus of extras adds impact.

The trouble is it doesn’t really tell you enough about fathers, sons and fatherhood. It’s a great production in search of something to say, a coherent narrative. Whatever the quality of the staging, there’s a vacuum at its heart. More a festival commission looking for an idea than a good idea getting a festival commission?

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Yet another occasion where the critical reception lowered expectations only for them to be exceed on the night! I saw the world premiere of this Manuel Puig play in the tiny (old) Bush Theatre in 1985, with Mark Rylance and Simon Callow no less, but this production of a new version by Jose Rivera & Allan Baker opens it up, and seems to me to have even more power in its coruscating examination of the evils of tyrannical regimes.

Valentin is a political prisoner in a Buenos Aires jail in 1975. He has clearly been tortured. His cellmate Molina is a gay window-dresser, imprisoned for alleged indecency, who the authorities are hoping to use to get information on Valentin’s activities and associates. As a result, Molina is given supplies after each supposed visit by his mother or lawyer, in reality meetings with the authorities, so that they don’t have to eat the vile prison food. In order to kill time, Molina describes his favourite movies, a ritual which initially irritates Valentin, but one he learns to embrace and enjoy. The unlikely relationship between the chalk-and-cheese cellmates becomes affectionate, and more.

Designer Jon Bausor has used the concrete of the Menier space to create the prison, with cell doors along a corridor above and around around the cell of our subjects. When Molina is outlining the stories of his films, sound and projections onto the prison walls illustrate the fantasies. The design, and Laurie Sansom’s staging, are effective in conveying the claustrophobic intimacy of the cell, bringing a cinematic quality to the fantasies and underlining the power of the opressive state. Declan Bennett as Valentin and Samuel Barnett as Molina are both outstanding, playing very different characters with different motivations, but also making their intimacy and affection for one another believable.

This is way better than the critics will have you believe; go and make up your own mind!

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Victor Hugo was fond of outsiders, and the grinning man seems to be the hunchback’s lesser known brother. Written in 1869, it has subsequently been adapted as a film six times and for the stage four times, twice as a musical, like this new one from Bristol Old Vic. He may also be the inspiration for Batman’s nemesis The Joker. Here the tale gets a suitably Gothic telling in a brilliant production by Tom Morris.

Set in 17th century England, young Gwynplaine’s mouth has been mutilated and now has a rather spooky perpetual grin. He rescues an infant girl when her mother is frozen to death and they are taken in by carnival proprietor Ursus, where Gwynplaine uses his misfortune to make his living in freak shows. The infant is named Dea and she’s blind. When she’s in her teens, they fall in love, but Gwynpaine is lured away to the royal court where he is destined to marry into royalty, but instead he returns to the carnival, which proves tragic.

Jon Bausor’s transformation of the problematic Trafalgar Studio I is terrific and his Gothic design and Jean Chan’s costumes combine to make a great look. Finn Caldwell & Toby Olie’s puppetry is highly effective, particularly Ursus’ pet wolf, where an actor seems to be a part of the animal. Tim Phillips & Mark Teitler’s music has a darkness to it and is unlike any other musical theatre score I’ve heard since The Tiger Lillies’ Shockheaded Peter almost 20 years ago. It’s a big book and Carl Grouse has done a fine job creating a much shorter, clear narrative.

Louis Maskell is excellent as Gwynpaine, though we never see his real face, and I loved Sanne Den Besten’s fragile, blind Dea. Their exit at the end took my breathe away. Julian Bleach as Barkilphedro and Sean Kingsley as Ursus are both outstanding and Mark Anderson brings a lighter touch to Dirry-Moir, the royal suitor Gwynpaine deposes.

It’s another breath of fresh air for the West End and I do hope it finds its audience there; on the night I went, they loved it, as did I.

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The story of the first global spy network 400 years ago is ripe for dramatisation, and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the perfect place to stage it.

Sir Francis Walsingham was Elizabeth I’s spymaster. He had an international network of spies and double-agents. He spread false rumours on a wholesale scale. He sanctioned torture and execution. The master of manipulation. We don’t know whether he was doing the (possibly paranoid) Queen’s bidding or whether he was manipulating her, and the play suggests he may in turn have been manipulated himself.

Anders Lustgarten’s play, directed by Mathew Dunster, doesn’t hold back on the profanity or violence, even humour and cheeky modern references, which is where he shoots himself in the foot. Its flippancy hijacks the drama and the Queen’s language, perhaps intended to change our perception of ‘good Queen Bess’, just feels childish and tacky. Though they are funny, the cheap quips about our popularity in Europe and success at tennis, attempts at contemporary resonance, don’t help. It’s such a shame, because there’s a great story screaming to get out.

Designer Jon Bausor has created a brilliant two-story backdrop by putting screens at the front of the gallery that match the lower half, and inserting lots of drawers for Walsingham’s files. Apart from some light from the corridors, it is largely candlelit, though with fewer than usual, so its often very dark, in keeping with the story. I loved Alexander Balanescu’s music, played by a trio behind an the opaque left side of the gallery.

Only three actors play a single role, the other six playing between two and four, and this is sometimes confusing, particularly in the dark! Tara Fitzgerald has great presence but her profane dialogue weakens the characterisation. Walsingham is a big role, and he goes on a big journey, and Aidan McArdle handles it well. It’s a fine supporting cast.

A great idea, the perfect space, but for me misguided in writing and execution.

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