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Posts Tagged ‘Nick Winston’

It’s 21 weeks since I attended a cultural event. Normally it would have been between 60 and 80 in that timespan. I queued, socially distanced of course, for a very short while. My temperature was taken and hand gel dispensed. I was led to a table where, after orderly ordering at the bar, my drink was brought to me. I scanned the QR code and registered for track & trace. Then I was led to my seat in the garden with another splash of sanitiser on the way. It was all done in a very professional, unhurried, slick way, so gold stars to the Garden Theatre at the Eagle Vauxhall for this, and for being the first off the mark on the London fringe.

Fanny and Stella were the alter egos for two men – Ernest Boulton & Frederick William Park – in Victorian London, who flouted the law by performing dressed as women, and staying in drag beyond that. Ernest had a ‘sugar daddy’, a peer no less, who treats him and refers to him as his wife, but Ernest also has a boyfriend in Edinburgh and has a dalliance with the American Consul based there. They finally overstepped the mark and after a period on remand in prison were somehow acquitted, perhaps because Frederick’s father was a judge!

The book and lyrics by Glenn Chandler, the creator of Taggart, one of Britain’s longest running police dramas, are witty and cheeky, littered with double entendres and, with Charles Miller’s chirpy score, create a music hall style which suits both the story and the venue. They’ve worked wonders with a few red curtains and potted plants to create a lovely garden theatre and David Shields design and costumes are a delight. MD Aaron Clingham, with his branded Fanny & Stella facemask, plays the score gamely on piano. Steven Dexter’s direction and Nick Winston’s musical staging are fresh and sprightly. Despite the lightness of the treatment, the serious side of the story isn’t lost.

Jed Berry and Kane Verrall are terrific as as Ernest / Stella and Frederic / Fanny, with excellent audience engagement. Kurt Kansley as Lord Arthur Clinton, Alex Lodge as friend Louis Charles Hurt and Joaquin Pedro Valdes as the American Consul provide great support, with Mark Pearce often stealing the show in a number of small roles, all delivered playfully.

I suppose you could think a theatre lover would fall for just about anything after a 21 week famine, but I can honestly say it was great fun, and an absolute tonic.

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This is the second of three January day-trips to catch musicals that aren’t scheduled to come to London, this time Hope Mill Manchester’s production of Mame visiting Northampton, a show the UK hasn’t seen since it’s premiere here 50 years ago, which is why I’ve never seen Jerry Herman’s iconic Broadway show.

Patrick Dennis’ novel Auntie Mame went from page to stage to screen before this musical adaptation, which was itself later filmed. It revolves around a New York socialite who loves life and likes to party. When her brother dies, her 10-year-old nephew Patrick comes to live with her, and she makes it her job to show him the world, sharing her Bohemian lifestyle. After losing all her money in the Wall Street Crash, she’s lucky enough to meet and fall for rich southerner Beauregard, who marries her and takes her on seemingly endless honeymoon, seeing even more of the world.

Patrick goes to boarding school, where conservative snobbery replaces fun living, and when the honeymoon ends in tragedy, with Beauregard’s death, Mame gets to see how her work has been undone. Patrick is about to marry into the rich but dull & tasteless Upson’s from Connecticut, but she is determined to prevent such a match. The hedonistic first half gives way to a clash of the party animals and the dull New Englanders, providing some sublime comedy.

Herman’s score has some great numbers, with superb orchestrations by Jason Carr, brilliantly played by Alex Parker’s terrific band. His lyrics, and Jerome Lawrence & Robert E Lee’s book, are sharp and witty. It’s scaled down from big Broadway / West End values, but with a cast of eighteen still fills the stage. You can see the dance background in Nick Winston’s slick and stylish direction and Philip Whitcomb’s art deco set and excellent 20’s costumes give it the perfect period feel.

The leading role needs a special actress and Tracie Bennett is perfect for the part, belting out those big numbers and squeezing every ounce of comedy from her dialogue, particularly in her scenes with her best friend, ‘Broadway baby’ Vera, superbly played by Harriett Thorpe. Patrick is a big role for a young actor, but Lochlan White was confident and assured, pulling it off with great aplomb. They are all part of a fine company who do the show proud.

I’ve seen and loved Hello Dolly, La Cage Au Folles and Mack & Mabel, so I’m so glad I finally got to see Herman’s other big show, thanks to Hope Mill, now an important part of the UK’s musical theatre landscape, plus Aria Entertainment and their hosts the Royal & Derngate in Northampton. Next stop Salisbury, then ?????

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I’ve seen just about every major musical, but not this one. It’s been filed in my too-twee-for-me compartment. January offers tempted me to give it a go, and I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It’s a touring production brought in to the West End but the production values and performances are no second best.

Orphan Annie is obsessed about finding the parents who abandoned her eleven years before. She escapes from Miss Hannigan’s cruel institution, but gets caught after a brief spell hanging out with the depression era homeless. Billionaire Warbucks decides to host an orphan for Christmas and his PA Grace chooses Annie, against Miss Hannigan’s wishes. Warbucks and his entire staff fall for her and he decides to adopt her, but when he presents her with a new locket she says she’d rather find the parents who gave her the old one, so he launches a search with the help of the FBI and the President (he’s well connected, this man). The only couple who come forward are fakes, so the adoption goes ahead and everyone is happy, except Miss Hannigan and her brother and his girlfriend, who get arrested.

It’s all simple stuff and it’s very sentimental, but it surprised me by how much the Great Depression setting featured. There was also a touch of A Christmas Carol about it. Nikolai Foster’s production is slick and snappy, with excellent designs by Colin Richmond (the set has a touch of Matilda about it) and nifty choreography by Nick Winston. There wasn’t a weak link in the casting. Meera Syal made a great baddie and her strong voice was a revelation. Alex Bourne has great presence as Warbucks and great chemistry with Annie. On the night I went, Isobel Khan played Annie terrifically and you can’t help falling in love with her six fellow orphans, Team Madison that night. It seemed a particularly happy company, and their enthusiasm and joy was so infectious I melted and removed it from the too-twee-for-me compartment.

A delightful surprise.

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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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If you accept that critics influence a show’s success, I wonder how much theatre producers consider what they will like when deciding what to put on. The average age of London’s top six critics is c.60. Is that why we get so much bloody Chekov and Shaw? What hope is there for a show that’s clearly aimed at an audience of the critics children and grandchildren? Loserville isn’t aimed at me (I’m the age of the average critic) but I admired and liked it. In fact, I wish my godchildren were still young enough to take to it.

It’s set in 1971 when the computer was younger than the show’s target audience and if you’d prophesied the internet they’d either laugh or section you. Our geek hero Michael is in a race to develop the concept of email against a nasty corporation who’s boss’ son Eddie is at school with him. When he falls for fellow geek Holly he gets closer – until Eddie blackmails Holly and Michael’s friend Lucas. Of course, it all ends happily.

The story is a perfectly good vehicle for musical comedy and Elliot Davis, co-writer of the much more grown up Soho Cinders, and Busted’s James Bourne have produced a good pop score which is played exceptionally well by the five-piece partly onstage band. Francis O’Connor’s design is colourful and clever and Nick Winston’s choreography is fast and witty. Director Steven Dexter’s speedy staging means it never lags and is fast enough to satisfy the shortest teenage attention span. The cast have great energy and charm, but it’s hard to mention anyone in particular because the four ‘indispositions’ resulted in nine role changes so I’m a bit confused (though that could of course be a senior moment).

The show provides well written, well staged and well performed fare for an audience that the West End hardly ever caters for and it’s sad that it hasn’t found its audience and is closing less than three months after it began. My speculation is that its the parents (and godparents!) who buy the tickets and they read the critics, so they’re taking them to Matilda instead. Frankly, I think they’d have more fun here.

It wasn’t meant for me but I’ll happily champion it.

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When I can travel in time, I will go to a lot of first nights of iconic shows. One of them will be in 1959 for the opening of Joan Littlewood’s original Theatre Workshop production of this show at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.

I’ve been banging on about the lack of revivals of British musicals, particularly those of Lionel Bart and Howard Goodall, and now we get one of each in successive months. In truth, this one is a bit light on story but it’s got good songs and makes you nostalgic for a singalong in an old East End boozer.

Having never seen the show, I don’t know how much is this production (depiction of the Krays?) and how much is faithful to the original, but given the original was partly improvised, it seems fair game to change it. It certainly comes up fresh, though the cockney’s are all now more caricatures and stereotypes.

When it transferred to the West End, they didn’t comply entirely with censor Lord Chamberlain’s demands for cuts and after he visited (according to Frank Norman, on whose book it is based,) he asked for the following:

  1. The interior decorator is not to be played as a homosexual
  2. The labourer is not to carry the plank of wood in the erotic place and at the erotic angle that he does
  3. Tosher is not to put his hand on Red Hot’s bottom with finger aligned as he does at the moment and not to push her backwards against the table when dancing in such a manner that her legs appear through his open legs in a manner indicative of copulation (this is a particular puzzle, as Red Hot as a male character!)

Well, a lot changes in 50 years and Phil Wilmot’s production at the Union Theatre seems to be more faithful to the pre-censored edition than the post-censored edition. It’s actually rather racy, probably more than it was but maybe as they’d have liked at the time.

We’re in a brothel in Soho, whose owner Fred has just left prison to find things in his manor somewhat different. His long-suffering girlfriend Lil has been keeping things running, but the power balance has changed. There are working girls, lovable rogues, a hapless thief, a camp interior decorator, a toff and a few harmless coppers. Fred sells the ‘club’ to the retiring police inspector and his working girlfriend and finally marries Lil. The characters Fred and Lil owe a lot to Nathan and Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, as indeed does the show –well, in a seedier and tackier way.

The staging really is spot on with excellent choreography from Nick Winston and Oliver Townsend’s design makes great use of the Union Theatre space. Hannah-Jane Fox and Neil McCall are great as Fred and Lil, with excellent chemistry, and have superb support from Susie Chard & Ruth Alfie Adams as girls, Jo Parsons as Tosher & Robert Donald as Red Hot and Hadrian Delacey as the police inspector. I’m afraid Richard Foster-King over-acted mercilessly as interior decorator Horace (which a cast member’s uninhibited granddad pointed out loudly at the time!). The East End boozer feel was helped at the performance I attended by granddad’s companions – a large group of a cast member’s cockney family and friends who whooped, screeched, cheered and, well, sang along.

This is a rare and very welcome revival that comes out fresh and funny and another feather in the Union’s cap.

 

 

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