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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Wright’

Our annual outing to the lovely Watermill Theatre near Newbury for the second wild west musical of the month and it turns out they’re a little bit connected. Calamity Jane was also real and toured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the subject of Annie Get Your Gun. If I catch the tour of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers when I get back from my own wild west tour, that’ll be the complete set. This one of course started as a film musical in 1953, with Doris Day in the title role, and was adapted for the stage, with extra songs, in 1961. We don’t see it anywhere near as often as we should; I think the last time was ten years ago with Toyah Wilcox in the lead! In 1979 it was Barbara Windsor!!

The wood-slatted barn-like Watermill is the perfect venue for this show – hang a few of those iconic semi-circular coloured banners from the gallery and the design job’s done, though Matthew Wright went one better and built a pocket-sized proscenium stage for the saloon theatre. The cast of thirteen actor-musicians feels like a lot more in a rumbustious production in such a small space. Choreographer Nick Winston works wonders staging hoe-downs with next to no space. Nicolai Foster’s staging has great energy and enthusiasm and the cast seem to be having a ball, as the audience did. This is the same creative team that gave us NYMT’s terrific Hired Man at St. James Theatre earlier in the month.

Dedwood’s saloon owner Henry Miller gets his E’s and I’s mixes up and books a male Francis in error, causing a near riot amongst his male patrons. Calamity Jane (Calam to her friends!) heads to Chicago to fetch a replacement and returns triumphantly with Miss Adeleide, but she got the performer and her maid Kate mixed up and gets the latter in error, the right sex but without the talent. Kate’s given a chance, redeems herself and stays on as Calam’s room-mate. At this point, they both discover their love for Danny and all hell breaks loose, but its musical theatre so it all comes good and we end with a customary double wedding. The score includes The Deadwood Stage and The Black Hills of Dakota (which prompted a spontaneous singalong!) and Secret Love, which we know more out of context because of red-lipped Kathy Kirby’s 60’s hit (a bit like You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel).

The title role is very dominant and Jodie Prenger is well suited to it, with fine vocals and bucket-loads of warmth and charm. She’s well supported by two excellent leading men in Alex Hammond as Danny and Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok. There are lovely performances in smaller roles, most notably Anthony Dunn as Miller and Rob Delaney as Francis.

It’s embarking on a tour after this run in Newbury, but I suspect it won’t be as much fun as it is here. Terrific entertainment.

 

 

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I have to admit that I thought The Hired Man might be overambitious for NYMT, though on reflection I don’t know why as they’d done such a terrific job with Sweeney Todd four years ago. As it turned out it was thrilling and deeply moving in equal measure and an absolute triumph for this young company.

The Hired Man & I have been firm friends for thirty years now, but this is only the seventh staged production I’ve seen – though the third in as many years. Given WWI looms large in the second act the timing of this revival, in this 100th anniversary week of the outbreak of that war, is particularly poignant – something that wasn’t lost on an audience watching young people of a similar age perform last night.

Based on Melvyn Bragg’s epic novel of early 20th century Cumbrian life, we follow the Tallentire family from the land to the mines and the war and back to the land, with much tragedy along the way. It’s also a piece of social history, showing us the hirings of the title, where people bargained with potential employers, the horrors of mining & the beginnings of the union movement and of course the devastation of the first world war. The personal and social stories work seamlessly together and the show takes you on a captivating emotional journey.

Howard Goodall’s score is British through and through, with uplifting melodies and soaring choruses in keeping with both folk and choral traditions. With a cast of over 30, the choruses soared as well as they ever have and there were some lovely solo vocals too. MD Sarah Travis virtually invented the actor-musician approach and it works particularly well here, with a third of the cast doubling up. Dominic Harrison (17 years old!!!) brought great passion and energy to the lead part of John Tallentire and Amara Okereke (also 17!!!) as Emily sang beautifully. I loved Jacques Miche’s interpretation of Isaac and Will Sharma’s characterisation of Seth. Naomi Morris and Charlie Callaghan gave confident and moving performances as the Tallentire children, May and Harry – unlike most of the cast playing at or younger than their ages. Joe Eaton-Kent was an excellent Jackson and seemed way older than his 18 years.

So many of the scenes were handled well in Nikolai Foster’s superb staging, with very physical, muscular choreography from Nick Winston. Matthew Wright’s beautiful evocative set has a broken stone and grass ground, rising up through the hills to the sky. NYMT are lucky to have such a first class production team. The mine, the union meeting and the war scenes were particularly well staged. The St James space was opened up by removing the wings and the front two rows so even with a big cast there was plenty of room to move and for the show to breath.

Another wonderful production of this wonderful show and such an extraordinary achievement for a company in which only two have left their teens. Just two performances left and if you’re reading this on Saturday 16th August 2014 you should be there!

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