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Posts Tagged ‘Lillie Flynn’

This is one of the less frequently revived Sondheim shows, but I’ve been lucky enough to see it four times since its UK premiere at the Donmar in 1992, and it always repays a fresh look, as it does again here.

Designer Simon Kenny has turned the Watermill into a distressed red striped barn, which creates the perfect intimate space for the nine successful and failed assassins to tell their stories and reveal their motivation. From Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, the father of them all, to more recent attempts on the lives of Regan, Nixon and Ford, some are deranged, some motivated by perceived grievances. It can sometimes seem like a series of individual stories, but in Bill Buckhurst’s production, connections are emphasised and common psychological themes revealed, and the handling of the final assassin’s story brings them together superbly.

The clever references to contemporary gun crime are chilling, with a vending machine and a surprise late arrival. The transformation to, and pivotal scene in, Dallas is deftly handled, with Alex Mugnaioni showing great presence as Booth. The balladeer is played by a woman for the first time, and Lillie Flynn sang the role beautifully. The staging of Garfield’s assassin Charles Guiteau’s hanging was brilliant, with Eddie Elliott making a great job of I Am Going To The Lordy. Steve Simmonds’ meltdowns’ as Nixon’s would be assassin Samuel Byck were terrific. The whole ensemble acts, sings and plays all of the the instruments brilliantly.

It’s only five years since I last saw it, but it resonated differently again, and it was great to see this small scale production in one of my favourite theatres. Too late for Newbury, but it’s heading to Nottingham, you lucky East Midlands peeps.

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Just before the interval in this show there’s a scene onstage in Cardiff where the conflict between The Kinks Mick & Dave comes to a head with an attack by one on the other. I was there! Hampstead Theatre can’t pass for Cardiff Capitol (now deceased), but a wave of nostalgia swept over me nonetheless. This bio-musical is much more than nostalgia, though, but it’s a particular treat for someone for whom The Kinks are part of the soundtrack of my life.

Covering just four years their their formation to Waterloo Sunset, Joe Penhall’s biography of The Kinks, with Ray Davies’ songs, takes us from Dave Davies’ band The Ravens, backing a stockbroker at posh parties, through their signing to not one but four managers, their disastrous US tour (where their refusal to toe the union line got them banned from the country), their signing by serial turnaround manager Alan Klein to the redemptive recording of Waterloo Sunset and the triumphant return to the US to play Madison Square Gardens. The music pervades it all, in snatches and full songs, a lot now iconic but many rarely heard.

I gasped when I entered to see Miriam Buether’s set of three walls of speakers. The auditorium has been reconfigured with a central platform thrust halfway into the stalls and a middle horizontal aisle and two side aisles which bring the action into the audience very effectively. The period feel is conveyed by the clothing, including those now infamous bright red suits – great retro style, looking completely authentic. Edward Hall’s staging, with choreography by Adam Cooper no less, is excellent.

The songs feel as if they belong with their scenes. Ray & Dave’s dad sings Deadend Street like he’s telling you his life story. Dedicated Follower of Fashion accompanies their first visit to the stylist who created those suits. Days is sung acapella as they look like they’re about to break up. Sunny Afternoon accompanies a summer of World Cup euphoria. Waterloo Sunset becomes their reconciliation and seems to be created for the first time before your very eyes.

It’s a great story and its great storytelling, with a soundtrack to die for of songs that seem to have been especially written. In his programme note, Penhall says he wants people to come out ‘profoundly moved, euphoric and transported’. Well, he succeeded for me. This is no juke-box musical; like Jersey Boys, it’s musical biography, but this one’s British and maybe easier to identify with. I adored it.

George Maguire looks every inch the pop star, spending most of the evening with bottle in hand and some of it in a frock! John Dagliesh’s Ray is more restrained and thoughtful as is the man himself, and the relationship between them feels very real. Lillie Flynn (Johnny’s sister!) is lovely as Ray’s child bride Rasa and Adam Sopp & Ned Derrington, as Mick & Pete respectively, complete the band with fine characterisations.

It’s still in preview, but it seems pretty ready to me – though the sound needs a bit of attention. Ray Davies’ music is like bottled London and potted Englishness. It’s the essence of living here, nostalgic but fresh and timeless. By the end I was on my feet, singing along, with a warm glow and a tear in my eye (and none of that bloody screaming at Cardiff Capitol). A triumph for all involved, but particularly for the bard of Muswell Hill. Time to book again, I think…..

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