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Posts Tagged ‘Joshua Carr’

If the nickname ‘The Welsh Les Mis’ hadn’t already been taken by My Land’s Shore (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/my-lands-shore), soon to have its Welsh stage premiere (www.mylandsshoremusical.com), it might be applied to this, though it’s more Les-Mis-meets-Oliver! Whilst half of Wales seemed to be watching rugby at the Millennium Stadium, the other half seemed packed into the Wales Millennium Centre last Saturday afternoon. We travelled from London and the journey was rewarded; there’s much to enjoy here.

It’s set in Cardiff docks at the beginning of the 20th century. This is the busiest port in the world, exporting coal to fuel industry worldwide, run by the world’s richest man, the Marquess of Bute, who lives in Cardiff Castle. It’s a backdrop of child labour, prostitution, the birth of trade unions and suffragettes in one of the world’s first melting pots, nicknamed Tiger Bay by Portuguese sailors. There are several story strands against this backdrop. The Marquess is obsessed with finding his former mistress Mary, who he believes has a son by him. His harbour-master is pursuing shop girl Rowena, but he’s also feeding his boss’ obsession and exploiting the workers and children. African labourer Temba is also attracted to Rowena, and he has a score to settle with O’Rourke.

It’s a blend of fact and fiction, and Michael Williams’ book needs some work to tighten it and shorten it, but it’s a good story for a musical drama. Though Daf James’ score sometimes seems derivative (you can hear echoes of Les Mis, even Sondheim’s Into the Woods) it has some cracking tunes and rousing choruses and we’re in Wales, so the singing is glorious. The producers, writers and directors have lots of experience, but not so much in musical theatre, and I felt they could have done with some help from someone who had, to turn a good show into a great one.

I loved Anna Fleischle’s design, dominated by a ship’s prow with similar metallic screens that move to create different settings, shadows created by Joshua Carr’s lighting often playing on them atmospherically. Melly Still & Max Barton marshal their cast of over 40 very well, though I felt dance was over-used, sometimes inappropriately or incongruously.

John Owen-Jones is a commanding presence as the Marquess, but the part wasn’t really big enough for his talents. Noel Sullivan was hugely impressive as harbour-master O’Rourke, as was recent RWCMD graduate Vikki Bebb as Rowena, both with superb vocals. Dom Hartley-Harris gave a passionate performance as Temba and local girl Suzanne Packer was terrific as Marisha. The show is a co-production with Cape Town Opera in their ongoing partnership with WMC and Busisiwe Ngejane and Luvo Rasemeni as Klondike Ellie and Fezile respectively, both veterans of the wonderful Isango Ensemle, continue in the roles they created in the Cape Town premiere.

Well worth the trip to Wales!

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Neil LaBute is one of the few modern writers I’ve yet to really get; he always seems too cynical, even for a cynic like me! I’ve tried hard with four of his plays, but fail to see what many others seems to see. Is he my modern Chekov or Pinter?

I never saw the first outing of this play 10 years ago and haven’t seen the film, so I come to this ‘site specific’ revival in an art gallery cold. Though the first scene takes place in an art gallery, I’m not sure that’s enough reason for staging it in one. It does achieve real intimacy, but I’m not convinced you couldn’t achieve that in a small studio theatre without a sore bum or aching back and legs.

Despite this, it’s the first LaBute play I’ve found fully satisfying. It’s difficult to describe without spoiling it for anyone who might like to go – and you should. An unlikely couple meet in an art gallery and a whirlwind romance develops. This later intertwines with another couple – the man’s best friend and his ex, now the best friend’s fiancée. There’s a terrific twist (which I never saw coming) that takes us to a deeper and fascinating discussion. I found it intriguing and compelling. Maybe I’ve at last got LaBute?

Young company Rhapsody of Words has done an excellent job staging it at The Gallery Soho – director Tom Attenborough (yes, the latest in the dynasty) and set, lighting, sound and video design team of Francesca Reidy, Joshua Carr, Victoria Wilkinson and Camilla Cadier. The use of video was excellent, the soundtrack highly effective and the simple white space was beautifully lit. Performance wise, I was particularly impressed by Andrew Nolan, who has a difficult journey as Adam, having to make a believable transformation that’s crucial to the success of the play. He was well supported by Lucy Marks (who came into her own at the denouement), Edward Rowett and Katy Marks.

The performance I attended was only the second preview, but it was in good shape and I suspect it will grow through the run. I’m looking forward to seeing much more from this company, though maybe in a seat next time?.

 

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