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Posts Tagged ‘Park Theatre’

Given the pedigree of its creators (music by Annie’s Charles Strouse, lyrics by Godspell’s Stephen Schwartz and book by Fiddler on the Roof’s Joseph Stein) this musical had a troubled life, surviving only three nights after its Broadway opening. Though there have been excellent drama school productions (I saw it at both GSMD & RAM in recent years), Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre gave it its UK professional premiere, in a revised version with a book by David Thompson, last year, and have now brought it to London, substantially recast.

It’s the story of the American immigrant experience, in this case Jewish refugees fleeing the East European pogroms at the beginning of the 20th Century. Rebecca and Bella meet and bond on a  ship bound for New York. Rebecca and her ten-year-old son David are seeking a new life, Bella is joining her widowed father, who emigrated two years earlier to join his brother. Rebecca is unable to pay her entrance fee on arrival, so Bella persuades her father to vouch for her, then her uncle to house and employ her. From there, their lives are intertwined as they navigate sweat shop exploitation and anti-semitism and get caught up in labour disputes. Rebecca chooses the wrong man whilst Bella chooses a good one.

Bronagh Lagan’s production flows beautifully on a set by Gregor Donnelly defined by suitcases, like the 2016 RAM production, and lines of washing, with excellent costumes underlining the heritage and period. In an ensemble packed with fine performances, Carolyn Maitland shines as Rebecca, with beautiful vocals, passionately delivered. Dave Willetts is on fine form as Avram, Bella’s father, Alex Gibson-Giorgio is excellent as Italian union man Sal, and there’s a terrific performance from a boy actor as David. Two ‘Americans’, played as vaudevillians, pop up regularly to illustrate the ‘welcome’ these immigrants receive and. a four-piece Klezmer band do likewise to emphasise the Jewish roots.

This is the second Hope Mill / Aria Entertainment production I’ve seen in four days. Their march for domination of regional and touring musical theatre continues with five more productions between them in the first half of 2020. Long may it continue.

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I thought Islington only had one claim to fame in modern history – the meeting between Blair and Brown in Granita Restaurant which laid the foundations for the next sixteen years of British politics. It turns out another meeting twenty-two years later, over dinner in Boris Johnson’s home, may have sealed the fate of the recent referendum. Ironic that it took place in what is probably a remain stronghold.

The first half of Jonathan Maitland’s play seeks to re-enact the dinner where the Johnson’s were joined by the Gove’s and Evgeny Lebedev. His date Liz Hurley didn’t show up, apparently. Boris is yet to decide on Leave or Remain, a complex decision concerning his career more than the fate of his party and country. Everyone else is egging him on to go for Leave, though he is visited by three ghosts, two of which – Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill – favour Leave and Tony Blair Remain. Lebedev is too busy name-dropping, including a cheeky moment where the theory that he intervenes in the Evening Standard theatre awards gets promulgated, to have much of an opinion about such a trivial issue. We get a couple of interviews with Huw Edwards bookending this act. The second act leaps forward to 2029. Boris has a new wife and a knighthood, Gove has a new career and Lebedev is still dropping names with wild abandon. We continue to be visited by the three ghosts. To say much more would spoil it, so I won’t.

The first half pulls more punches, the satire is on the light side, but it’s often very funny, it’s superbly performed and it pandered to my prejudices (though not vicious enough for me!) and there’s a coup d’theatre from designer Louie Whitemore that was particularly dramatic from the front row. Will Barton is outstanding as Boris, relying on speech, mannerisms, hair and disheveled clothing rather than physical similarity. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart captures Gove’s obsequious oiliness brilliantly. Steve Nallon almost steals the show as Maggie, but he’s been playing her since Spitting Image, so he’s had a longer rehearsal period. Tim Wallers gets to switch between a newly beardless Lebedev, Blair and Huw Edwards. Annabel Weir is very good as Gove’s wife Sarah Vine and Churchill (!) and Devina Moon plays both Mrs Johnson’s very well indeed.

It’s light entertainment rather than biting satire, but in the 34th month of the shit-storm it proved to be a therapeutic fun night out. If you go in liking the two main protagonists, it probably won’t change anything. If, like me, you think they are self-serving careerists with no interest in their country, or even their party, who history will look back on as two of the biggest post-war political assholes, you’ll walk out feeling just the same!

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This show takes its title from a song in Mary Poppins sung by Mr Banks, played by the actor David Tomlinson, the subject of the play. A one-man biographical memoir featuring Miles Jupp, and its rather good.

Tomlinson had a very successful career playing the archetypal English gent. Though he worked on stage and TV, it was his prolific big screen career, some fifty films, for which he was best known. Walt Disney was apparently initially reluctant to cast him as Banks, but must have warmed to him as he later also cast him in Bedknobs & Broomsticks and The Love Bug, a trio of films which made him recognisable to a generation of children, and their parents & grandparents.

In addition to his film career, we learn about his difficult relationship with his domineering father, who led a double life, and the contrasting close relationship with his autistic son, one of four he had with second wife Audrey. These moving moments alternate with extremely funny ones of English eccentricity, somewhat lost in translation in Hollywood. Lee Newby’s Magrittesque pale blue set provides the perfect backdrop. Jupp plays Tomlinson engagingly, with great audience contact, warmth and charm.

It appears to be comedy writer James Kettle’s first play; an impressive achievement indeed. Perhaps Jupp is so comfortable with Kettle’s lines because he writes them for the News Quiz too. There’s a delicacy and lightness of touch about the writing, staging and performance that makes for a delightful evening, well worth a couple of hours of your time.

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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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