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Posts Tagged ‘Park Theatre’

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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The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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The fact that we’re seeing a play that revolves around one speech to ninety people forty years ago tells you something about the significance of that speech. Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ had, and still has, such impact, perhaps more-so today than at any time since it was given.

Chris Hannan’s play moves between 1967, when the speech was made, and 1992, when a young girl (a fictional character) affected by it is now an eminent historian writing about it. In 1967 we see how it isolates him, in particular the profoundly negative affect on his relationship with best friends Clem & Marjorie Jones. We also get a glimpse of the effect on people in his constituency. In 1992, one of those people, then a child, now a professor of history, seeks to collaborate on a book about it, somewhat implausibly with someone she helped hound out of academia for alleged racism, with the hope and aim of confronting Powell himself, a final scene which comes a bit too late and doesn’t really last long enough.

We seem to have an appetite for plays about recent history, with Oslo, Ink & Labour of Love all running in the West End. This is more uneven, more earnest and less entertaining, but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless. It shows Powell to be an intelligent man and a great orator, seemingly channelling what his constituents think. My problem with that is that a lot of his constituents were from ethnic minorities, whose views he certainly wasn’t channelling, and he was after all a politician, who may well have been making a cynical grab for attention, even power, which misfired, isolating and ostracising him – think Boris and Brexit.

It has it’s flaws, but it makes you think and provokes debate, and at its centre is a mesmerising performance by Ian McDiarmid, which alone is a reason to see it.

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