Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Henderson’

This is the second production of this show at Chichester in a decade. Given there have only been two in the West End (originating in Leicester in 1980 and the NT in 1998) in the 70 or so years since it’s UK premiere, that’s quite something. Is there some affinity between Sussex and the state of Oklahoma that I’ve missed?

It was the first of of eleven collaborations between Rogers and Hammerstein during their sixteen years writing together, including the more frequently revived Carousel, South Pacific The King & I and The Sound of Music. It was ground-breaking in so many ways, but now we can look back on their whole career it seems to have somewhat less depth than what followed. Still, how can you resist a hoe-down with some cowboys and their gals and tunes like Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, The Surrey with the Fringe on Top and the title song, and what other show can boast a song that became a state anthem.

It’s really a simple love story revolving around whether the farmer or the cowboy wins the heart of young farm owner Laurey. Revivals have tended to emphasise the darker side of one suitor’s jealousy and disappointment leading to rage and violence, as they do here. The lack of native American characters or references is a bit glaring, given it’s set on the eve of the statehood of Oklahoma, created from their territory and reservations, but hey, this is 75-year-old musical theatre.

Robert Jones’ set, Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes and Mark Henderson’s lighting combine to give it a terrific look, propelling you several thousand miles west and more than a hundred years back in time. There’s a windmill, giant barn doors and plenty of bales of straw. Matt Cole’s athletic choreography takes your breath away and the set pieces and dream ballet are thrilling. It’s a big fifteen piece Chichester band again, this time under MD Nigel Lilley, and they sound great. Director Jeremy Sams is the master at marshalling big resources and making something old feel as fresh as new, as he’s done with other R&H shows, and does again here.

Much of the success of the production is age appropriate casting of early career talent. Hoyle O’Grady, Amara Okereke and Emmanuel Kojo are terrific in the love triangle roles of Curly, Laurey & Jud respectively, all with fine vocals, which is the other key to the show’s success, in just about every role. Isaac Gryn and Bronte Barbe are fine too as the somewhat intellectually challenged Will and Ado Annie, and there’s a brilliantly funny cameo from Scott Karim, who makes much of the role of Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler who becomes intertwined with them.

As fine a revival as you could wish for. Given that it hasn’t has a West End outing for over twenty years, it would be good to see this one make the 70 mile journey north-east where I for one would be sure to see it again.

Read Full Post »

I’ve never seen the film, I’m not that fond of the music of Whitney Houston and I don’t know much about leading lady Beverley Knight. ‘So why did you go, and 14 months into the run too?’ I hear you ask. Well, it’s the ‘January sales’ (36% off best seats & no fees), it’s January (nothing much happens) and the Sharrock-Hatley creative team are favourites of mine. Enough of the excuses; it’s rather good.

Celebrity diva Rachel Marron is being stalked, so ‘her people’ hire a bodyguard but don’t tell her why. When he starts restricting her movements, she rebels, but she soon learns why she’s got a bodyguard and not only accepts this, but falls for him too. Rachel’s sister Nicki fancies him as well, but he’s just another one of the things Rachel gets that she doesn’t. Their brief dalliance is ended by the bodyguard as he realises he can’t be both boyfriend and bodyguard successfully. The stalking continues to its tragic conclusion.

It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff, but it gets a production way beyond the one it deserves. Thea Sharrock is an unlikely choice of director, but she does a terrific job, handling both the romance and the tension equally well. Tim Hatley’s design is superb, moving from LA mansion to back-of-beyond log cabin via clubs, theatres & concert venues ever so slickly. Mark Henderson’s lighting is simply brilliant.

You can tell Beverley Knight is a singer rather than an actor, but given the demands of these songs, that’s just as well; I thought she was excellent. Tristan Gemmill plays the non-singing role of the bodyguard as ice cool professional with great presence. I loved Carole Stennett as sister Nicki, and the boy who plays Rachel’s 10-year old son (one of four, so I know not who) does so with great confidence.

For a show that has been going this long, it’s remarkably fresh (though this cast is fairly new) and it’s way better than other film-to-stage shows like Dirty Dancing. A rather pleasant January surprise.

Read Full Post »

Oh I do love a Greek tragedy – and I don’t mean an economic one – and it ceases to amaze me how fresh a 2500 year old play can be. This modern staging of the third part of Sophocles trilogy is no exception.

We’re in a present day tyranny like Syria, where the new leader Creon decrees that one of Antigone’s recently deceased brothers, Polynices, won’t be given the honour of a burial, which destines him to go to hell. She’s had a pretty shit life, what with her dad Oedipus blinding himself and sent into exile after discovering he’d killed his father and married his mother by mistake, and her mother committing suicide when she found out. What would Jeremy Kyle have made of it?

Of course, she defies Creon, which leads to her death and that of her intended, Creon’s son Haemon, the news of which leads to Creon’s wife taking her own life, all before Creon has had a chance to make things right after the seer Teiresias warns him that the gods are more than a bit pissed off. Sadly, all the death’s take place offstage.

Polly Findlay’s production has great pace and some welcome restraint (Greek tragedy is often OTT) and Soutra Gilmour’s set creates a government office complex with walls that match the NT’s own concrete. There’s superb lighting from Mark Henderson and a great soundscape from Sound & Fury’s Dan Jones.

Christopher Eccleston and Jodie Whittaker are excellent as Creon and Antigone and there’s very good work from Luke Norris as the soldier who brings the news of defiance and later responsibility for it and from Jamie Ballard as the blind Teiresias.

It might be 2500 years old, but it’s a completely believable story of tyrannical rule much like we still see in the world today on an all too regular basis. It fits the Olivier like a glove and makes for a crackingly dramatic 90 minutes. Loved it.

Read Full Post »

It’s not often you get to see the British premiere of a 138-year old play by a world-famous dramatist. In this case, it’s probably because few theatres have the resources (or the balls) to put on such an epic. Fortunately, we have the National Theatre.

It’s a fascinating 12-year slice of history, from the beginning of soon-to-be emperor Julian’s crisis of faith in AD 351 to his death in AD 363, soon after becoming Emperor. The 20-year old goes from Constantinople to Athens where he dumps christianity for paganism. He returns briefly, to Ephesus, before he’s despatched for a sortie in Gaul (France) from where he returns to become Emperor. Though he claims to champion religious freedom, in actuality he suppresses christianity. He heads off to war with Persia, where he meets his maker on the battlefield.

Ben Power’s adaptation makes all of this very clear and lucid, with modern dialogue peppered with wit. Jonathan Kent’s epic production makes full use of the Olivier drum & revolve with giant projections from Nina Dunn adding to the impact (though the inclusion of helicopters jarred with me). Paul Brown’s design is timeless and classic and allows the drama to unfold without smothering it with concept or detail and slowing it down. Jonathan Dove’s music, using four percussionists, adds atmosphere but I found Mark Henderson’s lighting occasionally too dark. Though there is real pace, a few judicious cuts to the early years in Constantinople and Athens would have sharpened it further and cut the running time by 10 to 20 minutes to a more accessible 3 hours.

The role of Julian is a real challenge but fortunately Andrew Scott is more than a match for it. He’s hardly ever off the stage and speaking most of the time he’s on it. He acts with great passion and evolves believably and seamlessly from troubled youth to troubled tyrant. There’s a fine supporting cast of 49 (half of them from drama schools getting an early shot at the Olivier stage) plus 4 musicians – the largest I think I’ve seen on this stage – which includes the excellent Ian McDiarmid in what I think is only his second National performance.

It’s not a great play, but I’d be surprised if it has ever had such a good adaptation and production and I think it’s part of the NT’s role to stage work that would never otherwise be staged. I’m glad I had the opportunity to see it.

Read Full Post »