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Posts Tagged ‘Maureen Lipman’

As in ‘may the best man win’, this is a 1960 play by Gore Vidal about a fictitious 1960 US political party convention to select a presidential candidate (though some believe the protagonists are modelled on Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy). Though it has a sort of timeliness today, the lifeless first half lets it down.

The leading candidates are William Russell, intellectual and establishmentarian, in the current government, and Joseph Cantwell, a charismatic populist. See what I mean? Though Russell is leading, Cantwell has some dirt to dish out. Russell has some too, but he’s seemingly a more principled man who’s reluctant to use it. The behind-the-scenes activities in hotel bedrooms in convention city Philadelphia show the selection process to be flawed and broken. The candidates are surrounded by their campaign managers, wives and the press and we move between camps as the intrigue unfolds. Nothing much happens in the first half, which is the fundamental problem with the play. It does get interesting in the second half, when the two candidates confront each other in a high stakes game of dare, and the conclusion is a surprise, but its too late really.

The two contrasting candidates are well played by Martin Shaw and Jeff Fahey, particularly the latter, but the female roles are badly underwritten, even patronising, though they might genuinely represent attitudes at that time. Glynis Barber comes off best as Alice Russell, Honeysuckle Weeks is forced to play the supportive wife without a mind of her own and Maureen Lipman’s character, Mrs Gamadge, appears to be light comic relief. It’s good to see Jack Shepherd again, playing the outgoing ailing president who’s playing hard-to-get with his support. The play seems trapped in Michael Taylor’s hotel room set and Simon Evans’ staging feels rather conservative. It rarely comes to life, and though it resonates almost sixty years on, not enough to forgive its flaws, I’m afraid.

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I was very much looking forward to seeing two favourite actresses, both dames in waiting, in the revival of a play I have fond memories of first time around. It was the night after press night and the reviews hadn’t been great. The signs in the theatre said that Felicity Kendal was indisposed, the speech from the stage, somewhat differently, said personal reasons; perhaps she’d read the reviews! We were told they hadn’t scheduled understudy rehearsals until the following day, which seems like a lack of foresight to me, but her understudy Rachel Laurence had agreed to perform. You can probably guess what’s coming……word perfect and pitch perfect, she stole the show, and her generous co-star, Maureen Lipman, made a lovely speech at the curtain call.

Peter Shaffer’s 30-year-old play revolves around Lettice, a tour guide at a heritage property, with a background in acting, who is caught by her employer embellishing and exaggerating and is fired. Lotte, her employer’s Personnel Manager, feels guilty and subsequently visits Lettice to tell her that she can help her get a new job as a guide on Thames river boats, where embellishment and exaggeration will be fine. An unlikely but mutually satisfying relationship develops, where they meet to act out pieces of history, but it leads to an incident and a brush with the law over mistaken circumstances,

It has to be said that it doesn’t seem as good a play in revival. It makes one think how much of this is the passage of time and how much is the towering presence of Maggie Smith as the original Lettice. It’s an OK play and a serviceable revival, which for me probably benefitted from the extra frisson of the understudy situation. I remember going to a special afternoon understudy run of Jerusalem, to give them all a chance to play it at least once. Mark Rylance was the only one who wasn’t an understudy. It was the fourth time I’d seen it and some were better than those they understudied. Then there was Natasha J Barnes at this very venue……..I have respected this normally invisible lot ever since, and on Thursday it was good to cheer the achievement of just one of them.

 

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This appears to be the first London production of this Bernstein / Comden & Green musical comedy for thirty years. I think the last one was the the 1986 revival, which featured Maureen Lipman. There was a touring production with Connie Fisher and the Halle Orchestra no less, but the nearest that got to London was Woking, where I went to see it. I’m a bit surprised as it’s really a lot of fun.

Ruth & Eileen are sisters who arrive in Greenwich Village from Ohio intent on making their names, Ruth as a writer and Eileen as a performer. They get a poky, noisy apartment formerly occupied by a prostitute, and soon their circle includes neighbours Helen & Wreck, drugstore manager Frank, their landlord and sometime artist Appopolous, night club owner Valentin, editor Baker, newspaperman Chick and most of the local police, all Irish and all besotted with Eileen, as are Frank, Baker and Chick. They get into scrapes trying to get work, notably with most of the Brazilian navy, but eventually end up with a press card and a cabaret job respectively.

In this production they really play it for laughs, with some pretty broad performances, but it works as it’s not at the expense of the musical standards, which are as high as we’ve come to expect in this fringe venue. MD Aaron Clingham is flying solo at the piano this time, and that works too. There’s some cracking musical staging and choreography from director Tim McArthur and choreographer Ian Pyle, who throw in some Irish dancing by the policemen with Eileen, and some great ensemble work in Christopher Street and The Wrong Note Rag. Can there be another show with a conga in it? and here one which exits the auditorium at the interval, picking up audience members along the way.

Lizzie Wofford (who I first saw six years ago as a brilliant Mrs Lovett in the NYMT’s Sweeney Todd at the Village Underground) and Francesca Benton-Stace are both terrific as Ruth and Eileen respectively, and they have a fine young, enthusiastic, energetic supporting cast (casting by Benjamin Newsome again).

I’ve come to very much enjoy my trips to Walthamstow, and this is no exception. It’s over now, but look out for their next show.

 

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Contemporary Music

It was obvious from the second number that Elvis Costello had a problem with his vocal chords, but he didn’t acknowledge it until two-thirds of the way through the main set. It’s a pity because the set for this London Palladium concert was new stuff and less obvious things from the back catalogue (only four or five crowd pleasers) which for me at least was very welcome. He was upstaged I’m afraid by two sisters from Atlanta going by the name of Larkin Poe who’s 30 min set as support was terrific. The evening partially redeemed itself by another 30 min set of Costello with the girls and a couple of crowd-pleasing solo encores, but in truth he should have postponed. There’s nothing sadder than seeing a hero die on stage.

Opera

How can you resist an opera set in a gay club with the toilet attendant played by Lesley Garrett?! As it turned out, Mark Simpson’s 70min 4-hander Pleasure at the Lyric Hammersmith proved rather good, and a hugely impressive operatic debut for this prodigious 28-year-old. The music suited a very dramatic story and the tension built well.

Many years ago I went to a shed in East London to see a bunch of mad Catalans perform a show in which they raced around wheeling supermarket trollies full of dead babies, throwing real liver around. That same company, La Fura Del Baus, are now at Covent Garden staging the UK premiere of Romanian composer Enescu’s only opera Oedipe, one of three 20th century operas based on the Oedipus myth and the most epic, telling the whole story from birth to death. Such is the world of opera in the 21st century. As it turns out, it’s a stunning production of a superb opera which was played and sung brilliantly. Why on earth has it taken 80 years to get here?!

Dance

I loved everything about the Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein. Liam Scarlett’s staging and choreography is excellent, there’s a great dramatic score from Lowell Lieberman and John Macfarlane’s designs and costumes are terrific. Pity the critics were so down on it. Why?

Film

Midnight Special is one of the best SciFi films of recent years. I was gripped throughout. The young actor playing the eight-year-old boy was extraordinary.

Eye in the Sky was another cinematic treat which I almost missed by reading the crits. Its edge of the seat stuff, but very objective in its examination of the ethics around drone attacks. One of Alan Rickman’s last roles, and he was great.

I have fond memories of Peter Quilter’s play Glorious, where Maureen Lipman played Florence Foster Jenkins, now played brilliantly by Meryl Streep in a film that is more poignant though also at times hilarious. A lovely film where even Corrie’s Mavis gets a bit part as a New York socialite!

The Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light was a good rather than great film, but it was well worth catching. Tom Hiddleston is excellent and I understand he does the singing himself, which makes it an even bigger achievement, as the segments when he’s onstage at the Grand Ole Oprey are particularly good.

Our Kind of Traitor is another good rather than great film, different from the normal spy movie, let down by an ending that was a bit too low key.

I went to see Everybody Wants Some!! on the strength of the director’s last film Boyhood and rave reviews for this. I’m afraid I was underwhelmed. It wasn’t exactly Porky’s 8, but it wasn’t far enough away from it.

Though its ending is somewhat implausible, Sing Street is a delightful Irish coming of age story, real feel-good stuff, with terrific performances from its young cast.

Art

Sicily: Culture & Conquests at the British Museum is a lovely presentation of the history of an island almost everyone visited, but most particularly the Greeks and Normans. It made me want to go back to Syracuse post haste.

I didn’t know much about the work of American photographer Paul Strand until the Strange & Familiar exhibition at the Barbican. In his retrospective at the V&A I loved his B&W portraits and films but the abstracts and B&W flora & fauna did nothing for me. Lots to like, though. Across the road at the Science Museum they look at the birth of photography with an exhibition featuring William Fox Talbot, who just about invented it. The thing that grabs you most is how much the art / science moved forward in its first decade; the difference between the 1834 pictures and the 1845 ones is extraordinary.

Other Worlds at the Natural History Museum was a spectacular exhibition of photographs of the planets taken from satellites and spacecraft then touched up in a real meeting of science and art. Across the road at the V&A again there was a hugely clever exhibition called Botticelli Reimagined which showed the influence of this 15th century artist on 20th & 21st century design, then on late 19th / early 20th century artists like the Pre-Raphaelites before leading you into the biggest collection of Botticelli ever seen in the UK. In this last section, I overdosed on Madonna’s and other religious subjects, but it was a highly original exhibition nonetheless.

Other

Trespass is the latest in the series of passionate, funny, campaigning shows from one-man opposition Mark Thomas. This one, visiting the Tricycle Theatre, looks at the erosion of our rights to roam this green and pleasant land. He was his own support, with different material. Great stuff. If only the real opposition could pack such a punch, as entertaining as they are!

 

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Charlotte Keatley’s play is apparently the most performed play in English written by a woman, translated into 22 languages, so it’s somewhat surprising that it has taken twenty-seven years to get a London professional revival. Still, lets be thankful that it has at last, and that if anything it has matured with age, or maybe that’s me, or both.

We follow four generations of women over almost fifty years, from the Second World War to the late eighties. Doris has a daughter Margaret who marries an American airman. Margaret has a daughter called Jackie who becomes the first generation to go to college. Three months after the (unplanned) birth of her daughter Rosie, Jackie asks Margaret to bring her up. Margaret decides that to do so Rosie must think she is her mother. Over the years they all become distant and their meetings irregular, two generations in London and two in Manchester. When Rosie is in her mid-teens and her real mother has matured and become successful, it’s time for some truth, and tears.

The scenes are not chronological, so its structure is like a jigsaw which you gradually put together. There are also childhood scenes which appear to be more generic than specific. The lovely relationship between Doris and her great-granddaughter is constant, the others fluctuate and strain. The backdrop is both the events of the period and the changing roles of women, so it’s a slice of social history as well as a personal story. I was captivated even more so than I remember being by the original production at the Royal Court back in 1989. Paul Robinson’s excellent new production uses onstage TV’s to show dates, locations and footage contemporary to the scenes, which I thought helped you unravel it.

Serena Manteghi is terrific as Rosie, perfectly capturing the energy and naivety of her at every age. It’s lovely to be reminded how good a dramatic actress Katie Brayben is; Jackie is her first role since wowing us as Carole King in Beautiful. Maureen Lipman gives one of her best ever performances as Doris, and as one of the four very believable children. Hilary Tones took over the role of Margaret at short notice, following the withdrawal of another actress, but you wouldn’t know it as she plays her with great skill and empathy.

Great to see this again, and particularly pleasing that the play and I have aged so well!

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There have been too few plays about contemporary generational issues, so another one was welcome. Sadly, it’s so underwritten, it falls flat on its face.

We open at the funeral of Joyce’s husband. So begins her journey of rebellion – against her 45 year marriage sentence, her mother Pearl and her daughter Fiona & idle husband Graham. The rebellion starts with a red coat but its focus is befriending stripper and single mother Candy. She deserts her mother even though she has dementia and becomes hospitalised; we learn that this is repaying her for what Pearl did to her early in her life. She treats her struggling daughter’s pleas for support and help with disdain. The trouble is playwright Sarah Wooley just skirts the fascinating issues which Mike Bartlett got to the heart of in Love Love Love.

I liked Tim Shorthall’s design idea of different wallpaper projected and lampshade dropped for each room, but that’s about all it is really. National treasure Maureen Lipman is playing Maureen Lipman; like Julie Walters, whatever her character, the real person can be seen. In the rest of the cast, I liked Tracy-Ann Oberman as Fiona and Nadia Clifford as Candy who tried their best to breathe life into the play, but not even director Terry Johnson could do that. It’s just a flat evening, let down by the mediocrity of the writing.

The Hampstead audience was even less diverse than usual – middle-aged, middle-class and uni-cultural – and they clearly liked it a lot more than me, or maybe they’re just more polite and easier to please……

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Our now annual outing to the lovely Watermill Theatre near Newbury turns out to be another treat – despite the fact it’s not a particularly good show. It’s amazing how you can breathe life into something by design, staging and performance.

It started as a film with music in 1967 and only became a stage musical, with this score,  in 2000.  I have less than fond memories of the West End transfer of the original 2002 Broadway production 9 years ago, featuring a wooden Amanda Holden as Millie and Maureen Lipman (uncharacteristically) doing comedy-by-numbers. With a fraction of the resources, this production is so much better.

Director Caroline Leslie and designer Tom Rogers were behind last year’s Radio Times (about to embark on a UK tour – don’t miss it!) and again they produce something fresh and funny with just enough of its tongue in its cheek. The design is a hugely inventive use of this pocket-handkerchief space. The backdrop, a black & white map of Manhattan, turns out to have two staircases which you don’t at first see. Doors, windows, curtains and office furniture slide in from the sides (not always smoothly at this third preview – the cast managed to get a few extra laughs from that!). The 30’s costumes are terrific and as they are also largely black & white, when we get splashes of colour they stand out brightly. They even manage to stage a skyscraper window ledge scene effectively!

It’s one of those ‘I’m-sure-I’ve-heard-it-before’ stories (Wonderful Town, anyone?) about a naive country girl (Kansas on this occasion) coming to NYC to start a new life. She has her eyes set on her boss as a husband but instead gets a lovable loser – or is he?  It doesn’t really matter, as it’s a good enough vehicle for lots of laughs (most coming from the superb Amy Booth-Steel as both Mrs. Meers and the office manager), dance routines and general chirpiness.

The now familiar Watermill house style sees the cast doubling up as the band, providing a sound that isn’t technically perfect but is good enough. After a shaky start, Eleanor Brown came into her own as Millie and was well matched by Lee Honey-Jones as Jimmy. Staging it with just 12 actor / musicians is nothing short of miraculous and they all deserve a mention.

The Watermill’s summer musicals prove consistently good, even though we’re now on the third (?) creative team. Well worth a trip west.

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