Posts Tagged ‘Katie Brayben’

I only know Jesse Eisenberg for his role as Mark Zuckerberg in the film The Social Network, but a quick look at his Wikipedia profile reveals he has acted in 34 films, 7 TV shows / series and 11 roles on stage. He’s voiced 8 audio books and written 34 short stories & 4 plays, of which this is the third. He’s 32!

He’s written himself a thoroughly unpleasant character in Ben, a highly-strung self-obsessed rich Jewish kid. Ben lives in a New York City flat bought by his dad. He bums around pretending to make arty films. His flatmate Kalyan, the only truly sympathetic character in the play, is an MBA student from Nepal. Kaylan’s girlfriend Reshma hates Ben with a vengeance. Ben’s primary school friends Ted and Sarah come back into his life shortly before their marriage to one another, and Ben realises he’s still in love with Sarah. His misguided and misjudged move on Sarah is spurned, and he unwisely takes it out on his best friend Kalyan.

It’s a well written play, though the first half is a touch long and the ending a bit lame, and it’s exceptionally well performed, but I’m afraid I didn’t like it. I couldn’t relate to or identify with the situation or any of the characters, and it revolves around a thoroughly unpleasant one. Maybe its my nationality or my age, because I was clearly in a minority. It’s sort of Woody Allen on speed.

Eisenberg is outstanding as Ben, as is Kunal Nayyar as Kalyan. Katie Brayben continues to show her range, hugely impressive as Sarah, and there’s an excellent stage debut from Alfie Allen as Ted. Annapurna Sriram completes the cast as an excellent Reshma. Sight Lines were disappointing from my expensive restricted view seat, but otherwise it seemed well staged by Scott Elliott and well designed by Derek McLane.

Impressive writing and performances, but not for me, I’m afraid.

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Charlotte Keatley’s play is apparently the most performed play in English written by a woman, translated into 22 languages, so it’s somewhat surprising that it has taken twenty-seven years to get a London professional revival. Still, lets be thankful that it has at last, and that if anything it has matured with age, or maybe that’s me, or both.

We follow four generations of women over almost fifty years, from the Second World War to the late eighties. Doris has a daughter Margaret who marries an American airman. Margaret has a daughter called Jackie who becomes the first generation to go to college. Three months after the (unplanned) birth of her daughter Rosie, Jackie asks Margaret to bring her up. Margaret decides that to do so Rosie must think she is her mother. Over the years they all become distant and their meetings irregular, two generations in London and two in Manchester. When Rosie is in her mid-teens and her real mother has matured and become successful, it’s time for some truth, and tears.

The scenes are not chronological, so its structure is like a jigsaw which you gradually put together. There are also childhood scenes which appear to be more generic than specific. The lovely relationship between Doris and her great-granddaughter is constant, the others fluctuate and strain. The backdrop is both the events of the period and the changing roles of women, so it’s a slice of social history as well as a personal story. I was captivated even more so than I remember being by the original production at the Royal Court back in 1989. Paul Robinson’s excellent new production uses onstage TV’s to show dates, locations and footage contemporary to the scenes, which I thought helped you unravel it.

Serena Manteghi is terrific as Rosie, perfectly capturing the energy and naivety of her at every age. It’s lovely to be reminded how good a dramatic actress Katie Brayben is; Jackie is her first role since wowing us as Carole King in Beautiful. Maureen Lipman gives one of her best ever performances as Doris, and as one of the four very believable children. Hilary Tones took over the role of Margaret at short notice, following the withdrawal of another actress, but you wouldn’t know it as she plays her with great skill and empathy.

Great to see this again, and particularly pleasing that the play and I have aged so well!

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Very late to the party with this one, but it was a lovely party. All the best ‘jukebox’ musicals are biographical stories of the songwriters / performers whose songs populate them – Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon and now Beautiful, the Carole King Musical. I was surprised when I realised this ended as she found fame as a singer-songwriter with the iconic album Tapestry, but in the end it made perfect sense. I also wasn’t expecting fellow songwriters Mann & Weill to feature so much, or indeed other songs from the age of the contract songwriters.

It is an extraordinary real life story. She wrote her first commercial song – It Might As Well Rain Until September – aged 16 and was immediately put under contract by Donnie Kirshner to write songs for acts like The Drifters and The Shirelles, pairing with school friend and wannabe playwright Gerry Goffin as lyricist. They also became an item, she became pregnant by Goffin and they married. They became good friends with fellow contract songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill but were also professional rivals. Goffin’s infidelity eventually destroyed both their marriage and their songwriting partnership, just as Mann and Weill’s long courtship finally resulted in their marriage. King found herself writing songs alone, with no-one in mind to sing them, soon realising they were her personal story and meant for her and there began her second career and the conclusion of the show.

It begins and ends on the Carnegie Hall stage at the concert which signposts this second extraordinary stage of her life. In between we follow her life chronologically. As songs are written (by both partnerships) they morph into performances by the artists for whom they are composed, as the show moves seamlessly from scenes at home into the office and the studio. Early on there’s a lovely Neil Sedaka running joke (he dated her at school and wrote Oh Carol about her. She was also at school with Paul Simon!) and lots of other nice touches, most classic New York Jewish humour. I very much liked Douglas McGrath’s book and of course the songs are wonderful.

Katie Brayben is sensational as Carole, a fine actress with a glorious voice and spot on Brooklyn accent who ages and matures before your very eyes. Her three co-stars, Lorna Want as feisty independent Cynthia, Alan Morrissey as the troubled Gerry and Ian McIntosh as hypochondriac Barry, are all excellent in both acting and vocal departments and Gary Trainor is very good in the non-singing but pivotal role of Donnie Kirshner, and there’s a nice cameo from Glynis Barber as Carole’s mom. They are supported by a fine ensemble of twelve paying multiple roles, eight dancers and a great sounding ten-piece band under MD Matt Smith (presumably not the Dr Who one).

This is a lovely heart-warming, feel-good show which is also a true story with an exceptional soundtrack that virtually defines the period from the late 50’s through the 60’s to the early 70’s. I’m so glad I caught up with it.

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I nearly gave up at the interval. The main reason I returned was to find out how you can have a second half of a musical with two characters when one has died just before the interval. I’m glad I did though, as things picked up considerably.

This 1995 chamber piece is penned by Andrew Lippa (with Tom Greenwald), whose latest show – The Addams Family – made it to Broadway last year. The first half tells the story of a brother and sister growing up six years apart, taking us from the birth of John in 1952 to Jen’s brief return from college 19 years later to announce her emigration to Canada with her draft-dodging boy friend. John goes to Vietnam and dies and we all wonder what on earth is going to happen in the second act……..well, Jen is now a single mother and has named her son….guess….John. The second act tells us the story of her relationship with her son from his birth until it’s his turn to go to college.

This second act has so much more colour and true depth to the characterisation. There is a particularly good scene where the teenage years are played out as a sequence of chat show appearances . If only the first half hadn’t been so monotone and pedestrian; you really didn’t care for the characters or their story until just before the interval. The music was also more distinguished in the second half, moving from mostly modern-day recitative to proper songs.

Katie Brayben carries the piece as a passionate Jen, playful as she grows up and filled with a mother’s anguish later on. Adam Rhys-Davies only has to age to late teens, but does so extremely well, capturing both the innocence of childhood and teenage angst well. David Randall & Lucinda Skinner’s piano and cello accompaniment is lovely.

If ony they could do something about the first half, this could be a real treat……by the way, the pretentious small j’s are theirs not mine!

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