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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Brown’

This 1963 show was written as a vehicle for Tommy Steele, who also took it to Broadway and starred in the 1967 film. This is a substantial re-working, with a new book by Julian Fellows and new songs from Stiles and Drew. I thought it was a big old-fashioned populist treat!

It’s based on H G Wells semi-autobiographical rags-to-riches-to-rags-to riches-again novel Kipps. Getting a story from the Downton creator where the toffs are the baddies is a bit odd, but it’s a good book. Arthur Kipps is an apprentice draper until he inherits a fortune, falls in love with posh Helen Walsingham, is exploited and left penniless by her brother and mother, realises he doesn’t belong with the toffs and returns to his old world to marry his first love Ann. Working class meets upper class and wins. The characters are all rather stereotypical, but hey its musical theatre. Many of David Heneker’s original songs have been retained, with seven new ones added, including excellent ensemble pieces Look Alive, Back the Right Horse and Pick Out a Simple Tune.

The creation of the two contrasting worlds is brilliantly done by Paul Brown’s set, and even more importantly his superb costumes, and Andrew Wright’s choreography, which is amongst the best I’ve ever seen on any stage, light as air, athletic and witty. Director Rachel Kavanagh presides over this with staging of great flair. Whatever you think of the show, the production is masterly. With great vocals all round and a decent size twelve-piece band, it all sounds wonderful.

Charlie Stemp is a real find. His Arthur has bags full of charm coupled with innocence and naivety. He’s strong vocally and moves superbly. Devon-Elise Johnson and the great Emma Williams make a fine pair of romantic leads as humble Ann and silver-spooned Helen respectively. Arthur’s fellow apprentices Sid, Buggins and Flo are a delight as played by Alex Hope, Sam O’Rourke and Bethany Huckle, with John Conroy the suitably pompous boss Shalford. Vivien Parry, Jane How and Gerard Carey are all excellent as the ladies and gentlemen ‘upstairs’. Chitterlow is an odd character, a bit of an older H G Wells perhaps, but Ian Bartholomew gives another of his fine characterisations. It’s hard to imagine a finer cast.

I thought it was a delight and I predict it will be another big hit for the Chichester musicals machine.

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It’s not often you get to see the British premiere of a 138-year old play by a world-famous dramatist. In this case, it’s probably because few theatres have the resources (or the balls) to put on such an epic. Fortunately, we have the National Theatre.

It’s a fascinating 12-year slice of history, from the beginning of soon-to-be emperor Julian’s crisis of faith in AD 351 to his death in AD 363, soon after becoming Emperor. The 20-year old goes from Constantinople to Athens where he dumps christianity for paganism. He returns briefly, to Ephesus, before he’s despatched for a sortie in Gaul (France) from where he returns to become Emperor. Though he claims to champion religious freedom, in actuality he suppresses christianity. He heads off to war with Persia, where he meets his maker on the battlefield.

Ben Power’s adaptation makes all of this very clear and lucid, with modern dialogue peppered with wit. Jonathan Kent’s epic production makes full use of the Olivier drum & revolve with giant projections from Nina Dunn adding to the impact (though the inclusion of helicopters jarred with me). Paul Brown’s design is timeless and classic and allows the drama to unfold without smothering it with concept or detail and slowing it down. Jonathan Dove’s music, using four percussionists, adds atmosphere but I found Mark Henderson’s lighting occasionally too dark. Though there is real pace, a few judicious cuts to the early years in Constantinople and Athens would have sharpened it further and cut the running time by 10 to 20 minutes to a more accessible 3 hours.

The role of Julian is a real challenge but fortunately Andrew Scott is more than a match for it. He’s hardly ever off the stage and speaking most of the time he’s on it. He acts with great passion and evolves believably and seamlessly from troubled youth to troubled tyrant. There’s a fine supporting cast of 49 (half of them from drama schools getting an early shot at the Olivier stage) plus 4 musicians – the largest I think I’ve seen on this stage – which includes the excellent Ian McDiarmid in what I think is only his second National performance.

It’s not a great play, but I’d be surprised if it has ever had such a good adaptation and production and I think it’s part of the NT’s role to stage work that would never otherwise be staged. I’m glad I had the opportunity to see it.

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