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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Hadfield’

If Walt Disney hadn’t adapted this late nineteenth century Italian novel by Carlo Collodi for his second full-length animated film just before the Second World War, it would probably never have become the iconic tale it has, told around the world in many forms and languages. Here we are almost eighty years later seeing a stage adaptation at the National Theatre, and what a treat it proves to be.

The tale struck me as darker (the hand of playwright Dennis Kelly?) and more moralistic than I remembered, with a strong emphasis on the importance of values and truth. In learning these en route from being a puppet to being a boy, Pinocchio encounters a trio of baddies – a sly trickster Fox, puppet-master Stromboli and fairground-master The Coachman. These are juxtaposed with his loving dad, puppet-maker Geppetto, and the Blue Fairy, who adds that touch of magic.

John Tiffany’s staging doesn’t rely on technology, as much modern theatre does, but it is utterly charming and completely magical. Bob Crowley provides a simple, appropriately wooden design of benches, trees and ladders until we move to the puppet theatre’s proscenium and the fairground’s lights. The underwater scene is an understated marvel. Puppets are used for some of the main characters (except the puppet Pinocchio himself!) with Geppetto, Stromboli and the Coachman twice life size, with three handlers as well as the actor in identical dress; this gives the production a somewhat surreal quality and a period feel.

Tiffany’s regular movement collaborator Steven Hoggett creates an athletic child-like world. and the illusions by Jamie Harrison (whose work so impressed me at the Harry Potter plays recently) are brilliant (though there was a minor nose malfunction on the night I went!). Martin Lowe provides a wonderful score to supplement the film’s original five songs and inspired by its incidental music and Italian and Alpine folk music, including the recurrent standard When You Wish Upon a Star, which sounds suitably lush with a 15-piece orchestra under Tom Brady in the pit.

Mark Hadfield’s Geppetto is very moving (was that a real tear I saw at the end?) and Joe Idris-Roberts is an absolute delight as a very malleable Pinocchio. All three baddies deliver the required badness – David Langham’s Fox, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Stromboli and David Kirkbride as The Coachman. Audrey Brisson makes Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket a lovely companion and Annette McLaughlin is every bit the fairy of your imagination.

Younger kids might be a bit scared, but older ones will love it’s darkness and adults it’s timeless charm and glorious theatricality. One of the best Christmas shows at the National, adding to its impressive seasonal track record.

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I thought Jim Cartwright’s 80’s slice of working class life might have become a period piece, but despite it’s foundations in Thatcher’s Britain and the period clothes, props and references, it’s themes are not in the slightest bit dated, and it’s time may have well come again, along with the food banks! John Tiffany’s fresh look proves that it was, and is, ground-breaking theatre.

It struck me last night how poetic it is, so how appropriate that our narrator is poet Lemn Sissay, who glues it all together brilliantly. He presides over a series of scenes which take place over one night in the houses of and on the unnamed road, in the unnamed northern town. We meet fourteen of the residents, going about their business, domestic chores, reflections and escapes. It has an extraordinary ability to switch from uproarious comedy to bleakness and sadness. A number of scenes take place in a glass box which rises from below the stage and these prove particularly voyeuristic. The piece really gets under your skin.

When I saw it 31 years ago, it was a promenade staging and though it was more immersive, the performances were less subtle and nuanced than they are here by a superb ensemble of eight actors playing the fourteen roles, with some of the best drunken scenes I’ve seen anywhere! Michelle Fairley creates three extraordinary larger-than-life characters. I’m not sure I’d have known Mike Noble played both the Skin-Lad and Eddie if I hadn’t seen it in the programme, outstanding characterisations of roles that are poles apart. Mark Hadfield has two very different roles as well, both superbly handled. Liz White was a revelation in roles unlike any I’ve seen her in before. June Watson gives another pair of acting masterclasses; such a fine actress. Faye Marsay makes an auspicious stage debut in her two roles and Shane Zaza and Dan Parr excel in their solo turns.

John Tiffany has an ability to animate a play and tease terrific performances from his cast, and so it is here. Sometimes hilarious, somewhat bleak, but brilliant, timeless theatre.

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This is a real love or hate show, though based on the audience reaction last night there’ll be a lot more in the former category. Farce has become somewhat unfashionable (notwithstanding the subversions of the form in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and Mischief Theatre’s ‘goes wrong’ series) and I’m not sure the West End has seen a farce as frenetic as this for a very long time, if ever. After some initial misgivings, I succumbed to it’s profound silliness but consummate skill.

An assassin and a press photographer, unknown to each other, have adjoining rooms on the sixth floor of a hotel overlooking a court building where a well-known gangster is appearing. The assassin just wants to get the job done and get out of there. The photographer is spiralling into depression following his wife’s departure to live with her psychiatrist. Their situations become as linked as the rooms, as the hotel porter, a policeman, the wife and her psychiatrist get involved in the events unfolding, until the tables are turned.

Francis Veber’s play, adapted by director Sean Foley, is extraordinarily physical, exhausting to watch let alone play, and Foley’s production is very slick. Kenneth Branagh proved his comic timing credentials in Harlequinade earlier in this season, now he proves a master of physical comedy too. We’ve seen Rob Brydon play the hapless Welshman before, but here he adds physical comedy to great effect. Mark Hadfield has a great track record in comedy and here, without the physical demands of the others, he relies on body language, facial expressions and the odd movement to bring the house down. Alex Macqueen, Claudie Blakley and Marcus Fraser provide fine support. Alice Power’s excellent set also performs, as sets often do in farce.

Don’t go expecting culture, but do go prepared for and open to a thoroughly daft but thoroughly skilful example of a once popular but now endangered theatrical genre.

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The reviews had lowered my expectations of this collection of Michael Frayn playlets and sketches, which may indeed have increased my enjoyment of them. Though it’s a mixed bag, there’s enough creativity, wit and fine performances to make an enjoyable couple of hours.

Given there are 24 of them and a playing time of 100 minutes, you can see how short they are. Some are more successful than others, but even the less successful ones aren’t long enough to outstay their welcome. I particularly liked Sleepers, the awakening of a couple on a tomb in a church, and Contraphonium, which featured a player of this seemingly fictitious brass instrument in an orchestra pit waiting an age for his few bars. There’s some fun with the form, notably an illustration of in-the-round techniques, a memorial for the interval and a lovely piece featuring stage hands changing scenes. It ends with a brilliant satire on corporate sponsorship, taking sponsor participation to its ultimate conclusion.

The theatre has been successfully re-configured again, this time properly in-the-round with five entrances, one from below, providing speedy transitions between the pieces, and there’s nifty staging by Hamish McColl. Six excellent actors – Esther Coles, Tim Downie, Mark Hadfield, Chris Larner, Felicity Montagu & Nina Wadia – play all of the roles in various combinations.

It’s an unusual form today and in that sense very welcome, and there’s just enough of Frayn’s genius and excellent execution to make it a worthwhile venture.

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Like Billy Elliott before it, they’ve taken a great British feel-good film and made it into an even better musical. Though the lyricist has written musicals before, the book writer and composer haven’t, which makes the achievement hugely impressive.

Of course, it’s the true story of the Ford Dagenham sewing machinists who took on the multinational, the UK government and their male colleagues over equal pay. It was a landmark in equal opportunity, with the Equal Pay Act following two years later. Many would argue that we still haven’t got true equality today, but the Ford women’s strike was the first big step on the journey. The triumph here is that they respect the true story, which is both stirring and moving, whilst injecting it with boundless energy and humour. Richard Bean’s first musical book is as funny as his plays and it propels the story well, Richard Thomas has produced lyrics that are sharp, witty, naughty and sometimes just a little bit shocking and David Arnold has come up with some great songs – some funny, some moving – and rousing choruses. Bunny Christie’s design seems to be inspired by a model aircraft kit and transforms into a busy factory floor, machine room, family home, hospital ward, Westminster office and the TUC conference in Eastbourne! The costumes are retro joy – the multi-coloured world of the swinging sixties. It’s all pulled together by director Rupert Goold with his usual inventiveness and pizzazz.

Gemma Arterton is very impressive and sweet voiced in her first musical role as Rita. It’s wonderful to see Adrian der Gregorian centre stage in the West End at last and he’s great as Rita’s husband Eddie. There are so many other excellent performances, but I have to single out Sophie Stanton, whose performance as foul-mouthed Beryl continually brings the house down, Sophie-Louise Dann who is a terrific Barbara Castle, Mark Hadfield’s hilarious Harold Wilson (though he needs to do a bit more work on the accent) and Naomi Fredericks, who has to play serious amidst all the hilarity and pulls it off brilliantly. Steve Furst plays Tooley, the American sent in the sort out the Brits, with great brash panache and there’s an excellent cameo from Scott Garnham launching the new Cortina in song with dancing girls.

There was a great buzz in the full house and a spontaneous standing ovation. The show again proves that our social history can be staged as entertainment whilst respecting the events and characters portrayed. We don’t yet know what the Dagenham ladies think, but my guess is they’ll think it as much fun as the rest of last Thursday’s audience. It’s only halfway through previews but its already in great shape and any lover of musical theatre will book now while they can. I’m certainly going back!

 

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I was seriously over-excited about this evening. I was convinced that a show and a theatre had never been so well matched. I’d booked for the final performance and as it approached I began to get worried that if it was rained off I’d never see it, so I accepted a free ticket for a matinée on a sunny day last week as an insurance policy – the Open Air Theatre is not a daytime venue, but I was thinking ‘better than nothing’. In the end, there was just the tiniest sprinkle towards the end of Act I which, if I believed in god, I would consider his little joke.

Well, I’m thrilled to report that it exceeded expectations. It’s a wonderful reinterpretation of one of Sondheim’s cleverest shows. In the first half, the tales of Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel are woven together with the tale of a baker and his wife desperate for a child. It all ends happily at the interval, then the giantess decides to get her own back.

Designer Soutra Gilmour has created a multi-level set of walkways with lots of entrances by stairs and ladders which gives the show a terrific pace (even if your eyes are darting everywhere). Director Timothy Sheader’s idea of making the narrator a child – the baker’s child, in fact – makes so much sense and gives the darker second half so much more emotional impact.

They’ve assembled a great cast. Hannah Waddingham is unrecognisable as the witch – even when she turns back into a woman, because of the jet black hair; she sang Last Midnight like it was the last time ever (maybe it was, but lets hope not). I absolutely loved the way Beverly Rudd turned Little Red Ridinghood into a cheeky tomboy excited by the wolf’s sexual magnetism. As always, Jenna Russell sings beautifully and balances her character’s determination and sadness with ease. I loved the Russel Brand style princes of Michael Xavier and Simon Thomas whose trademark synchronised entrance and exit prances make you smile every time. Mark Hadfield is a weaker singer than the rest of the leads, but he makes up for this with a passionate acting performance as the baker.

When everything comes right (as it so often has here) there is nothing more magical than a musical at The Open Air Theatre and this really was the show that had to be seen here. Now they’ve stopped A Midsummer Night’s Dream as an annual outing, maybe we can have Into The Woods annually for a while. Please!

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