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Posts Tagged ‘Laura Jane Matthewson’

Even though this isn’t a classic Tennessee Williams work, it’s the third major London revival in thirty years – Peter Hall’s with Vanessa Redgrave in 1988, Nicholas Hytner’s with Helen Mirren nineteen years ago, and now Tamara Harvey directing Hattie Morahan and Seth Numrich in a co-production by the Menier Chocolate Factory and Theatre Clwyd. It’s inspired by the Orpheus myth, but it’s an uneven play, with a dull first half and an action-packed second. It’s also not easy for modern audiences to swallow the racism, however authentic it is of the period. The production, though, is first class.

Lady is a southern belle of Sicilian descent. Her father, a street performer back home, came to the US and became a bootlegger in prohibition times. He was murdered when he crossed a line that was unacceptable to the white locals. After a relationship with David Cutere, who left her, Lady ends up marrying store owner Jabe Torrence. As the play begins, he returns from major surgery at the hospital in Memphis, but the prognosis isn’t good.

In comes drifter Valentine Xavier looking for work, and Lady employs him, the sexual chemistry obvious from the outset. The relationship develops whilst Jabe stays upstairs with his nurse and sisters, the locals gossip and David’s sister Carol, a persona non grata in this community, seeks to lure Val for herself. Other characters, including Jabe’s friends Pee Wee and Dog, Sheriff Talbott and his wife Vee and local gossips Beulah and Dolly, come and go and another, Uncle Pleasant, becomes a sort of narrator, who occasionally gives us TW’s stage directions.

The problem with the play is that the 75 minute first half is virtually all scene-setting, and plays out so slowly that it risks losing the audience. The second half is a complete contrast as Lady discovers more about her father’s murder, makes a confession of her own and Val, who just about every woman in the neighbourhood is now smitten by, is driven out of town by their men, as the play is propelled to its tragic conclusion.

With the audience on three sides and just the back of the shopfront as a backdrop and a few tables and chairs for props, the Menier space seems vast, and is used very well in this staging. The ensemble is uniformly outstanding, led by terrific performances from Hattie Morahan as Lady and Seth Numrich as Val, with great chemistry between them. Jemima Rooper is superb as Carol and Carol Royle makes much of the strange character of god-fearing Vee. The supporting roles are all well cast; I was particularly impressed by Catrin Aaron and Laura Jane Matthewson as gossips Beulah & Dolly.

Despite the play’s problems, the fine production and exceptional performances make it worth seeing again.

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It’s an unlikely premise for a musical – a bunch of jar heads on a bender the night before deployment in Vietnam! It took a while to prove itself, but prove itself it did. Southwark Playhouse seems to have another hit musical on its hands.

Benj Pasek, Justin Paul & Peter Duncan’s 2012 show is set in San Francisco in 1963, where a group of marines seek out girls for their last night party. It takes a while before we realise that it’s more of a cruel game than a farewell shag. Eddie’s waitress pick-up Rose gives as good as she gets when they’re rumbled, but by now Eddie has fallen in love with her. He rescues the situation with a romantic dinner, though he can hardly suppress his pent up anger at the world. When he leaves with Rose’s address, he promises to keep in touch. The show is framed by scenes of his homecoming in 1967 (this isn’t that clear) and in the second and final one we see his reception, both political and personal. Though I loved the music and Matt Ryan’s direction & Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography, by the interval I wasn’t so sure about the story or where it was going, but it’s nicely sown up in the second half.

It’s not a lot more than a love story, but it has a lovely score which is beautifully played by George Dyer’s largely acoustic six-piece band. The six voices of the marines sound great together and Jamie Muscato is a fine romantic lead as Eddie. Every now and again I find myself blown away by an outstanding performance and here Laura Jane Matthewson makes an extraordinary professional debut as Rose, with gorgeous vocals and a very believable transition from naive girl to feisty woman. More great vocals from Rebecca Trehearn as Marcy and a lovely cameo from Ananda Minihan (straight from playing a wonderful Nettie in the Arcola’s superb Carousel) complete a fine cast, something producer Danielle Tarento is renown for.

Like Southwark Playhouse’s last musical In The Heights, it’s staged with the audience on three sides and a two-story backdrop containing the band and entrances designed by Lee Newby (it’s only towards the end I realised what this represented) and the playing space is used to great effect, particularly in the thrilling ‘dance’ numbers. The sound needs a bit of attention to ensure full audibility of the lyrics throughout the auditorium, but that could be easily solved by press night.

Haven’t booked yet? Why?

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