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Posts Tagged ‘Julian Fellowes’

Well, it looks like I’m going against the critical flow again on this one; I rather liked it, particularly the design, the songs and the infectious enthusiasm of the cast. Treating it as a family show might be the key.

It doesn’t have the storytelling quality of Alan Bennet’s iconic non-musical NT adaptation. It’s more character-driven, though there’s more of a story, well, caper, in the second half. Once we’ve established who’s who on the riverbank, the mysteries of the wild wood and Toad’s status, it’s basically about his imprisonment and escape and the takeover and reclaiming of Toad Hall. Julian Fellowes book isn’t up to much, but George Stiles catchy tunes and Anthony Drewe’s witty lyrics do enough plot driving to make up for it.

Peter McKintosh’s design is cute for the riverbank and grand and imposing for Toad Hall, with some excellent train, car and boat journeys in-between. The costumes help define the characters and I thought they were lovely. Aletta Collins choreography also adds much to the characterisations. Rachel Kavanaugh’s production has, above all, a lot of charm, helped by delightful performances like Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole and Gary Wilmot as Badger. I liked Rufus Hound’s very brash, loud, athletic (and green) Toad and Denise Welch’s Geordie mother Otter. Neil McDermott is a good baddie, a suitably oily weasel.

The 6 and 10-year-old seemed to enjoy it as much as the older members of my party and the producers get a gold star for the accessibility that the children-go-free policy provides. Much better than those cynical paid critics would have you believe.

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When I discovered the master of mush was going to adapt Richard Linklater’s 2003 film I was a bit baffled. Julian Fellowes also seemed an unlikely candidate for the book, and Glen Slater only a bit more likely as lyricist. Only when I read the reviews did I decide to give it a go.

The story concerns failed rock musician Dewey Finn, who impersonates his best friend and temporary landlord Ned Schneebly to get a teaching job at a prep school. He discovers the musical talents of his pupils and decides to mould them into a rock band and enter them into the Battle of the Bands, up against his old band, No Vacancy, which dumped him. He manages to cover up the fact his class have only been studying the history and practice of rock music and rehearsing the band until the day of the contest, when both the principal and the parents find them at it. Dewey disappears, but the kids won’t give up and they find him and persuade him to take yet another risk and perform at ‘the battle’, after which all is forgiven in a sea of goodwill. It follows a similar path as last Saturday’s Strictly Ballroom – allow kids to be themselves and their true talents will emerge.

It’s even more fun on stage than on screen, largely because of the talent and infectious energy of the thirteen kids and their pied piper Dewey. There’s something delightful about seeing pre-teenage kids playing cracking guitar licks, mean bass lines, thrilling drum solos and keyboard pyrotechnics on what sometimes seem like giants instruments, and the singing and dancing (mostly jumping!) is terrific. It’s also very funny, even more so than I remember the film being. I got the alternate Dewey, Gary Trainor, who was no second best – superb – as was Rosanna Hyland, covering the role of the school Principal, with sensational vocals. The kids were ridiculously good.

I surprised myself by how much I succumbed to the infectious charm of Laurence Connor’s excellent production. The master of mush has, at least for the moment, become the master of rock. Great fun.

 

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