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Posts Tagged ‘Park Theatre’

American playwright Martin Sherman rose to fame with the play Bent, about the treatment of homosexuals in the holocaust, which starred Ian McKellen in London and Richard Gere on Broadway, then became a major film. He settled in London, where he had five high profile premieres over fifteen years in the 80’s and 90’s, attracting actors like Vanessa Redgrave and Olympia Dukakis to star in them, but he hasn’t been particularly prolific. It’s taken ten years since Onassis to get this new play, though in all fairness he is now 80!

It’s a reflection on the changes that have impacted the gay community over the years, told through the life of Beau, an American cocktail pianist who’s moved from New Orleans to San Fransisco and Paris, settling in London. In a series of monologues, we learn about the changes in gay life through his life, over forty or fifty years. These are interspersed with contemporary scenes, over another twelve years, from when he meets his much younger partner Rufus to when Rufus has left for a new life with his new younger partner Harry and Beau becomes a father, and grandfather, figure.

It’s a warm, gentle, understated piece, even when its reflecting on tough, challenging times. Rufus is somewhat conservative and loves all things retro, including his lovers it seems, so we get references to films and music from the middle of the 20th century when Beau’s career was in full swing but Rufus wasn’t even born. In particular, we hear about a British singer called Mabel Mercer, apparently a real life character, who’s career took her in the opposite direction to Beau, to cocktail bars in NYC, where Beau played for her.

Jonathan Hyde is excellent as Beau, with fine support from Ben Allen and Harry Lawtey. Sean Mathias’ sympathetic staging brings you slowly into these lives. It perhaps lacks some bite, but it tells its story well and really does make you realise how much things have changed in a relatively short time.

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Tom Wright’s dad-son role-reversal comedy seemed like an interesting idea, and I like the work of director Rikki Beadle-Blair, so I gave it a whirl. It didn’t really live up to expectations, I’m afraid.

William’s dad Dave is an alcoholic. He’s lost his job and mum Cath has moved out. William’s got a gap year job at her firm, but his dad wants him to have a hedonistic time and lose his virginity, so he tricks him and takes him to Thailand. William is the sober, conservative one and Dave the wild one. William meets and falls for Matias and moves in with him. Its not long before he’s a wild one too – drink, drugs and promiscuity – losing Matias in the process. Meanwhile, dad’s got himself a serious illness, and a ladyboy, Mae. Mum Cath is in regular phone contact with her son, initially encouraging him, while she’s having her own milder wild time back home.

It’s a bit frenetic and in yer face, performed on a platform with the audience on all sides, a bit like table dancing. It stretches plausibility when Cath finds her way to Thailand, locates Matias and Mae, as well as Dave & William’s flat, for the denouement, which is somewhat contrived. The performances were all rather loud in Rikki Beadle-Blair’s production, which has its moments, but didn’t really satisfy. For a comedy it wasn’t really funny enough. In all fairness, though, coming on the evening after a matinee of Our Lady of Kibeho in Northampton probably didn’t help.

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Well, its the fag-end of the panto season, so a play about a panto dame seems perfectly timely, much more so than its first outing at the Edinburgh fringe. Katie Duncan has written this monologue for her father Peter and it’s the perfect vehicle for his talents and experiences.

Panto dame Roy returns to his dressing room after the performance, in a theatre somewhere in the north. He’s undressing and removing make-up, talking directly to the audience most of the time. As he does, he looks back at both his own life and that of his profession, talking about his heroes. the clown Grimaldi, Dan Leno and Charlie Chaplin. His mum died when he was a child and he was brought up and put on stage by his bullying dad. We hear tales of seaside entertainments as well as panto.

Duncan is probably best known for Blue Peter, but he started at the National, has a significant body of stage work and this is a virtuoso performance, expertly staged by Ian Talbot. It moves between funny, nostalgic and poignant, occasionally uncomfortable or embarrassing. It’s more of a fictional memoir than a play, but I admired the artistry, it kept my attention and it didn’t outstay its welcome at just 60 minutes.

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Best New Play – The Lehman Trilogy*, The Inheritance* & Sweat*

I find it impossible to choose between these three extraordinary evenings (well, afternoon and evening in the case of the The Inheritance) but they were in very good company with a dozen other new plays in contention. Also at the NT, Home, I’m Darling* and Nine Night* were great, and also at the Young Vic The Convert* became a late addition in December. At the Bush, both Misty and An Adventure impressed (though I saw the former when it transferred to Trafalgar Studios).The remaining London contenders were The Humans at Hampstead Theatre, Pressure at the Park Theatre, Things I Know To Be True at the Lyric Hammersmith and The Wipers Times at the Arts, though these last two weren’t new to London, just me. The Edinburgh Fringe added two, Class* and Ulster American*, both Irish, both at the Traverse and both heading to London, so look out for them. The eight starred are either still running or coming back in 2019, so be sure to catch them if you haven’t seen them already.

Best New Musical – Hamilton*

It opened right at the end of 2017, but I didn’t see it until January 2018 (and again in December 2018). It certainly lives up to the hype and is unquestionably ground-breaking in the same way West Side Story was sixty years before. It was a good year for new musicals, though 40% of my shortlist were out-of-town, headed by Flowers For Mrs Harris at Chichester, with Pieces of String in Colchester, Miss Littlewood in Stratford and Sting’s The Last Ship mooring briefly in Northampton. Back in London, the Young Vic continued to shine with Fun Home and Twelfth Night and the NT imported Hadestown*. Tina* proved to be in the premiere league of juke-box musicals and SIX* was a breath of fresh air at the Arts. Only four are still running, or coming back.

Best Play Revival – The York Realist and Summer and Smoke*

Another category where I can’t split the top two. The former a gem at the Donmar and the latter shining just as brightly at the Almeida. I didn’t see the Old Vic’s glorious A Christmas Carol* until January, so that was a contender too, along with The Daughter-in-Law* at the Arcola and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in the West End. Then there were four cracking Shakespeare’s – The Bridge Theatre’s promenade Julius Caesar, the RSC’s Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu visiting Hackney Empire, Ian McKellen’s King Lear transfer from Chichester, and the NT’s Anthony & Cleopatra* with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okenedo. Another four still running / coming back.

Best Musical Revival – Company*

The leanest category this year, with Marianne Elliott’s revival of Sondheim’s Company exceeding expectations; I shall be back at the last night. Chichester brought yet more joy with Me & My Girl and right at the end of the year, the Mill at Sonning came up trumps for the third year running with a great favourite of mine, Guys & Dolls* Finally, The Rink at Southwark Playhouse, the only contender this year from the usually more prolific fringe. Two to catch if you haven’t already.

Theatre of the Year – The Young Vic

Though five of my thirty-seven contenders were at the NT, The Young Vic shone even more brightly with four, all new works. Only four originated in the West End, which further emphasises how crucial the subsidised sector and the regions are. You can still see half of them, but some close soon, so get booking!

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Playwright Torben Betts’ unique blend of black comedy & tragedy, veering towards melodrama, with a surreal twist, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine.

Caroline is a famous TV chef & domestic goddess, a Christian, married to a rich banker, with three children and a lovely London home. They are rehearsing the final show to be filmed in her kitchen before they sell up & downsize and move filming to the studio. After the rehearsal, they plan to celebrate left-wing, vegan son Leo’s 1st from Cambridge. Graham the carpenter has just finished his four-months work on the property. This seems like an idyllic family…….

….but Caroline has a drink problem, and her temporary PA Amanda discovers that the Mail are about to use some old photos of her out on the razz. Husband / father Mike, a bit of a lech and a philanderer, returns from golf having got a hole in one but also witnessed a death. Leo is disappointed Caroline hasn’t delivered on her promise to tell Michael his secret, and it looks likely Caroline & Michael’s plans for him might clash with his values. A potential buyer for the house turns up at a most inconvenient time. There’s a storm outside, but it’s nowhere near as fierce as the one that breaks out inside, as most of their worlds come tumbling down, as the secrets and lies unfold. It’s very funny, but also very dark. Underneath the black comedy, there are a lot of truths about families and relationships.

I’ve never seen such an elaborate set at the Park Theatre, a terrific uber-realistic kitchen by James Perkins. It’s the sort of play that requires precision staging, and it gets that in Alastair Whatley’s production. Above all though, there’s a set of superb performances, all in tune with the material. We’re more used to seeing Janine Dee in musicals these days, so it’s great to be reminded what a fine ‘straight’ actress she is, with pitch perfect comic timing (and boy can she do drunk well). Patrick Rycart’s old buffer Michael is a tour de force; he took my breath away when he fell. Charlie Brooks has to play a tragic figure with all the comic chaos going on around her and Jack’s Archer and Sandle have to play things relatively straight too as Leo and Graeme respectively, which they all do very well. Genevieve Gaunt is a delight as PA Amanda, with some very funny turns of phrase and mannerisms.

I really enjoyed this strange concoction, entertaining but thought-provoking too.

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For me, history at school ended before the Second World War, so my knowledge of it has always been weak. The first I knew of the importance of Scottish meteorologist James Stagg was watching the film Dunkirk last year. David Haig’s play pre-dates this film, taking us through his story in great depth and it’s both fascinating and entertaining.

Stagg was given the military rank of Group Captain and sent to work for allied commander General Eisenhower, alongside his American meteorologist Colonel Crick, three days before the proposed D-Day landings, which they’d been planning for three years. Crick’s forecasts were based on historical patterns, but Stagg was more scientific, in particular taking into account upper air movements like the then less well known jet-stream. They clashed and contradicted one another and Eisenhower was faced with choosing between them.

Though we know he chose to follow Stagg’s local experience and scientific approach, which turned out to be a pivotal choice in the outcome of the war, the telling of the story has you on the edge of your seat nonetheless, a testament to Haig’s expert writing and Jonathan Dove’s well paced direction. Two other parallel stories – the relationship between Eisenhower and his British aide and confidente Kay Summersby and Stagg’s wife’s impending confinement with complications – add two additional layers, which gives the play even more depth.

Haig plays the dour, earnest Scot himself, delicately balancing his seriousness, professionalism and passion for his science, under intense pressure, knowing his decision will affect 300,000 lives. Malcolm Sinclair has great presence as Eisenhower, likeable at first, his sincerity becoming questionable. Laura Rogers is outstanding as the loyal, assertive chauffeur and aide Kay, who plays a key role that could be easily forgotten. It’s a first class ensemble that includes some impressive doubling-up, notably Michael Mackenzie as an Admiral and an electrician (which I’d never have realised without the programme), and an auspicious professional stage debut from Bert Seymour as young meteorologist Andrew.

A thoroughly satisfying night at the theatre, where a true story, excellent writing, expert staging and fine performances come together to provide enthralling storytelling. It’s transferring to the West End, so be sure to catch it there if you miss it at the Park Theatre.

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This was the ninth and last show from the team most famous for Fiddler on the Roof. It had two runs in New York, in 1970 as The Rothschilds and in 1990 in this reworked version, both running over a year. The first garnered nine Tony nominations and won two. This is its UK premiere, with two leads from the 1990 production and both director and designer crossing the Atlantic with it.

It tells the story of the beginning of the Rothschild dynasty, from shopkeeper Mayer Rothschild arriving in Frankfurt, trading old coins with the Prince to whose bankers he becomes agent, until he usurps them to begin his financial empire. He sends his five sons across Europe to collect the Prince’s debts and he underwrites the bonds that fund the war against Napoleon in exchange for a bill of rights for Jews at its successful conclusion. The Prince rats on the deal but when it comes to future transactions, the Rothschilds take the upper hand, the title Baron and begin a successful financial house that continues until the present time. Though it’s the family’s story, the plight of Jews in Europe at this time is the heart of the piece

It’s a fascinating true story. I’m sure the book by Frederic Morton on which it’s based is a good read, and I think it would have made a good play, but I’m not sure a musical is the right form. Jerry Bock’s score is serviceable but rather dull, with a classical crossover style which doesn’t always feel comfortable. Sherman Yellen’s book and Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics do tell the tale well, though. The production seemed a bit lifeless, with both design and staging little more than pedestrian, as if they weren’t really confident in the material. In a good cast, I particularly liked Gary Trainor as son Nathan, who heads to London, and Tony Timberlake’s cameos as two contrasting princes.

One to add to my musicals collection, but that’s about it for me.

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