Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Phoenix Theatre’

I was in Newfoundland in 2016. It’s a lovely place and, surprisingly, just over four hours from London by air. In the days of refuelling on transatlantic flights, its airport at Gander was well used; not much since, though it still has a huge capacity. The town isn’t a Newfoundland highlight. I drove through it twice. Without stopping. If I’d known its people had shown so much humanity in a world wrought with anger and hate on 9/11, I’d have probably stopped to pay my own tribute. But I didn’t.

It became the destination for 38 planes containing 7000 passengers, diverted after the attacks. At first they stayed aboard, expecting to move on to their original destinations shortly. When it became clear this was more than a short stop, they disembarked. The population of Gander, not much more than the total of stranded passengers, mobilised to provide shelter, food, clothing, phones, eventually inviting them into their homes, virtually adopting them. Relationships developed, but five days later they were waving goodbye.

It was the 10th anniversary, when residents and passengers were reunited, that gave the writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein the idea to tell their story. They interviewed both locals and the once stranded and created this extraordinary musical telling some of their stories. You might wonder why the musical style seems Irish folk, think Once, but I remember hearing this sound on my travels. Many Newfoundlanders are of Irish descent, the province only joined Canada after the second world war, and it is unlike any other part of Canada. What’s surprising is how earnest the show isn’t, and how funny it is. Though it’s often moving, I didn’t find it too sentimental; in fact I would say its one of the most exhilarating, uplifting shows I’ve seen.

A very simple staging, with some trees representing the island and chairs to create every location, leave the twelve actors to tell the stories of the many more they play unencumbered. The music hardly stops and there’s great pace and energy to Christopher Ashley and Kelly Devine’s staging. It’s breathless, grabbing you quickly and never letting go for 100 unbroken minutes. It struck me that now was a good time to see it here, to remind us that there is human kindness in this divided, angry world.

A joyful experience born of tragic events. Very much a musical for our times.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

We’re used to screen to stage and play to musical transformations, but screen to play to musical? Before I went, I did wonder what a musical adaptation of Calendar Girls would add. 

Tim Frith has been behind all three versions of this true, heart-warming and charming story, partnering with musicals virgin Gary Barlow no less for this new adaptation. In the first half, it takes us through the illness of Annie’s husband John, which leads to the unorthodox fundraising idea, and the everyday lives and activities of the village’s WI ladies. They visit the WI National Conference to head off their new local leader’s spoiler motion, and then it’s all steam ahead to the calendar’s creation and surprising international publicity.

I found the back story more personal, intimate and moving in this form, and the photo shoot way funnier, so yes, it does add something. Barlow’s score is less a series of songs, more musical storytelling, with a distinctive northern sound, sitting comfortably with Firth’s witty book and lyrics. Firth also directs and it’s an impressive achievement for a team with limited experience in this genre. This, together with many of the cast having limited musical theatre experience, makes it refreshingly free of musical theatre clichés.

The casting is also key to its success. This is where it’s also very unorthodox for a musical, with parts for normal people of all ages, shapes and sizes. I can now see why the Olivier Awards panel has nominated all six leading actresses together; it’s the combination, contrast and chemistry that makes them a superb team. Joanna Riding, Claire Moore, Sophie-Louise Dann, Debbie Chazen, Claire Machin and Michelle Dotrice (continuing her late career flowering, hot on the hells of Nell Gwynn) are a combined delight, and very brave! There’s excellent support too, not least a charming pair of performances as schoolboy sons from Ben Hunter (another worthy Olivier nominee) and Josh Benson.

Like Billy Elliott, Betty Blue Eyes and Made in Dagenham, it’s a quintessentially British show, and oh so welcome when we’re surrounded by long runners, Broadway revivals and juke-box musicals. Definitely worth catching.

Read Full Post »

Best New Play – Violence & Son / Iphigenia in Splott

What a bumper year for new plays. I saw more than 80 and almost half of these made it onto the long list. The final cut saw a very diverse bunch competing. At the NT, a brilliant adaptation of Jane Eyre and a stunning ‘mash-up’ of three D H Lawrence plays as Husbands and Sons, a very radical adaptation of Everyman, the somewhat harrowing People Place & Things, the highly original Rules for Living and the expletive-loaded Mother*****r With the Hat. Two ‘minimalist’ Mike Bartlett contributions – Bull at the Young Vic and Game at the Almeida, both original and hugely impressive. The Young Vic also staged Ivo van Hove’s stunning Songs From Far Away. The Royal Court gave us Martin McDonough’s black comedy Hangman, Debbie Tucker Green’s distressing hang and a play about the NHS, Who Cares?, which took place all over the theatre. At The Donmar, Temple was a more conservative but beautifully written piece about the impact of Occupy outside St. Pauls on those inside. The Bush surprised with The Royale, a play about boxing, my least favourite sport, and The Arcola hosted one about rugby, the deeply moving NTW / Out of Joint verbatim collaboration, Crouch Touch Pause Engage as well as the lovely Eventide and Clarion. Jessica Swale graced the Globe with another superb historical play, Nell Gwynn, with the lovely Farinelli & the King next door in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I was much more positive than most about Future Conditional, a topical analysis of our broken education system, which kicked off the new regime at the Old Vic. Elsewhere in the West End only Photograph 51, Taken at Midnight (from Chichester), Oppenheimer (from Stratford) and Bad Jews made the cut. The Park continued to make itself indispensable with The Gathered Leaves and Theatre 503 punched above its weight with Rotterdam, a sensitive and very funny exploration of transgender issues. Southwark Playhouse found one of the best Tennessee Williams’s rarities, One Arm. Earlier in the year, Hampstead gave us the very underrated Luna Gale and topped this with Ian Kelly’s Mr Foote’s Other Leg, and even the late Arthur Miller was a candidate with the belated world premiere of his first play No Villain, but it was Gary Owen’s contributions that pipped everyone else at the post – Violence & Son, a striking modern family drama at the Royal Court Upstairs, and Iphigene in Splott, a Greek adaptation (but radical enough to be considered a new play) which packed more punch than most in a year abundant with Greek adaptations, which started in Cardiff and toured via the Edinburgh fringe ending up at the NT’s temporary space.

Best Revival – Les Liasons Dangereuses

I saw half as many revivals as new plays, and only a quarter of them made the long list. The best Shakespeare’s were both at the Young Vic – a shockingly modern Measure for Measure and a dance-drama Macbeth. The best of the Greeks were the Almeida’s Orestia and Stratford East’s Antigone, which out-shone the high profile Barbican-Van Hove-Binoche one. The Donmar pitched in with Patrick Marber’s Closer, embarrassingly better than his NT contributions this year, though the NT did shine with both Our Country’s Good The Beaux Stratagem, with particularly good use of music. The Globe gave us a very quick revival of Heresy of Love and the Open Air Theatre’s adaptation of Peter Pan was a triumph, but it was the long-overdue revival of Christopher Hampton’s masterpiece that ended the year with a theatrical feast.

Best New Musical – Bend It Like Beckham

Of the 50 musicals I saw in London, only 40% qualify as New Musicals and only seven made the final cut. I very much enjoyed wallowing in the nostalgia of both Carole King’s biographical Beautiful and the brilliantly staged Bert Bacharach compilation What’s It All About? (renamed Close to You for the West End). Xanadu was a hoot at Southwark Playhouse, which also hosted the very original Teddy, and the ever reliable Union pitched in with Spitfire Grill and The White Feather, a winner in any other year I suspect. Kinky Boots was great fun, but it was Howard Goodall’s brilliant Bend It Like Beckham, the a feel-good triumph which I’m about to see for the third time, that brought a breath of fresh air and a new audience to the West End.

Best Musical Revival – Grand Hotel

A better hit rate for musical revivals, with half of the 30 I saw in contention. The year started with a stunning revival of City of Angels which benefitted from the intimacy of the Donmar and ended with a very rare revival of Funny Girl which didn’t benefit from the intimacy of the Menier (but was still a highlight, and which I expect to be better at the Savoy, which hosted Gypsy which is also on on the list). It took two attempts to see the Open Air’s thrilling Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but well worth the return on a dry evening. Ye Olde Rose & Crowne in Walthamstow gave us notable revivals of both Face the Music and Bye Bye Birdie and the Landor chipped in with Thoroughly Modern Millie. A rare treat at the Royal Academy was Michel Legrand’s Amour and a unique experience at Belmarsh Young Offenders Institute where Pimlico Opera staged Our House with the residents and Suggs himself. I missed the same show at the Union, but did make three other revivals there – Whistle Down the Wind, Loserville and most especially Spend Spend Spend, my runner up. However, Thom Sutherland’s production of Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse was as close to perfection as you can get and made me look again at a show I had hitherto been underwhelmed by, and that’s what makes it the winner.

Read Full Post »

Based on the 2002 film of the same name, this stage musical is completely faithful to the original, retains the period and adds original music by Howard Goodall to produce something even more feel-good than the film. I loved it, and have already booked to go again!

Jess is a bright British Indian 18-year-old who’s obsessed with football, and with her hero David Beckham. She’s spotted playing in the park with local Indian boys by fellow footballer and local women’s team member Jules, who invites her to try out for her team, which she subsequently joins. Her parents, who are knee-deep in preparations for their elder daughter’s engagement and subsequent wedding, don’t really approve and she continues her footballing in secret, but when the secret is out she is forced to stop.

What it is, of course, is the journey of many British born young people of Indian descent, trying to balance family and heritage culture with life in Britain. It uses the British Indian ability and willingness to find humour within, and use it to celebrate, its culture to great effect. Paul Mayeda Berges & Gurinder Chadha’s book and Charles Hart’s lyrics are very funny, but it’s also very moving and respects the underlying themes. The addition of music adds another dimension and it betters the film as a result. By interweaving Indian musical styles and incorporating heritage singers, Goodall has produced a score which retains his trademark melodic style but sounds different, rather unique and very much in keeping with the story.

Miriam Buether’s clever set has a semi-circle of seven panels which rotate to move us from home to playing field to changing rooms to park, and so on. Katrina Lindsay’s costumes are terrific, a riot of colour. Aletta Collins’ excellent choreography moves us from night club to Indian wedding, anchoring the piece wherever it is at that moment. This is director Gurinder Chadha’s first stage show but you’d never believe it. It’s clear how close she is to it; as she also co-wrote and directed the film, it’s probably running through her bloodstream.

Both Lauren Samuels and Natalie Dew are excellent, but it’s Dew who has to carry the emotional heart of the story and she does so with great warmth and charm. You find yourself sympathising with her and rooting for her to the point of having to resist the temptation to intervene on her behalf! Tony Jaywardena and Natasha Jayetileke are wonderful as Jess’ parents, themselves torn between keeping control and letting go. Preeya Kalidas was indisposed on Saturday, but having seen how good her understudy Sejal Keshwala was as Jess’ sister Pinky, I just can’t see anyone else being better. One of the few changes is that Jules mum Paula is here divorced, so the always excellent Sophie-Louise Dann has to carry all of the parental pressure and support on her shoulders and she’s great. There are too many other fine performances in this excellent ensemble to single out more.

The audience seemed to reflect the cultural mix on stage and they responded enthusiastically. Like those other British musicals Billy Elliott, Betty Blue Eyes and Made in Dagenham, it takes a heart-warming film and betters it. It’s a departure for Goodall, who has produced many other great shows but few commercial hits. Given the undeserved early baths that Betty and Dagenham got, lets hope this follows Billy as a British musical hit. For me, it already is.

 

Read Full Post »