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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Kavanaugh’

Well, it looks like I’m going against the critical flow again on this one; I rather liked it, particularly the design, the songs and the infectious enthusiasm of the cast. Treating it as a family show might be the key.

It doesn’t have the storytelling quality of Alan Bennet’s iconic non-musical NT adaptation. It’s more character-driven, though there’s more of a story, well, caper, in the second half. Once we’ve established who’s who on the riverbank, the mysteries of the wild wood and Toad’s status, it’s basically about his imprisonment and escape and the takeover and reclaiming of Toad Hall. Julian Fellowes book isn’t up to much, but George Stiles catchy tunes and Anthony Drewe’s witty lyrics do enough plot driving to make up for it.

Peter McKintosh’s design is cute for the riverbank and grand and imposing for Toad Hall, with some excellent train, car and boat journeys in-between. The costumes help define the characters and I thought they were lovely. Aletta Collins choreography also adds much to the characterisations. Rachel Kavanaugh’s production has, above all, a lot of charm, helped by delightful performances like Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole and Gary Wilmot as Badger. I liked Rufus Hound’s very brash, loud, athletic (and green) Toad and Denise Welch’s Geordie mother Otter. Neil McDermott is a good baddie, a suitably oily weasel.

The 6 and 10-year-old seemed to enjoy it as much as the older members of my party and the producers get a gold star for the accessibility that the children-go-free policy provides. Much better than those cynical paid critics would have you believe.

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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 took me two visits to get to see this right through; on Wednesday, we hadn’t even Gone Courtin’ before rain stopped play. Boy am I glad I went back, on what turned out to be a glorious Friday evening. This is such fun.

They probably didn’t blink an eye at the dubious sexual politics when the film came out in 1954. Some might have been a touch offended by the sexism and misogyny when it hit the stage in 1982. Today it just seems nostalgic for less politically correct times and all in fun!

Adam’s courtship of Milly lasts an implausible five minutes. He’s come to town to do some trade and bags himself a wife while he’s at it. He doesn’t tell her about his six brothers though, so when she finds out their marriage gets off to a rocky start, but Milly soon sets about civilising the uncouth mob, coaching them in courtship and taking them to the town dance where each is fancied by a girl, much to the consternation of the local lads. Girls is sparse in these lands.

Back home’ pining for their new loved ones, Adam suggests that the boys kidnap them. When they return with their hostages, Milly kicks off, resulting in Adam heading off to spend the winter in the hills. By spring, the girls are intent on staying, but the townsfolk turn up with other ideas. A clever ruse ensures the girls get their guys and Adam and Mlliy are reconciled, with an addition to the family, in time for the customary happy ending.

The stage is surrounded by trees (extra ones supplementing the real ones), on which designer Peter Mackintosh has placed two large buildings which transform from town square shops to home & barn brilliantly. Director Rachel Kavanagh uses the auditorium to great effect, with a coup d’theatre in the second half. Gareth Valentine’s new orchestrations are terrific and the band sounds great. It’s lovely to see two favourites like Alex Gaumond and Laura Pitt-Pulford in the lead roles and they both deliver with bells on. The large ensemble is uniformly excellent.

The Open Air Theatre again proves its versatility, turning itself into Oregon for a right old hoedown. Last week. Don’t miss!

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A day trip to sunny Chichester. Laughter and tears – the perfect combination. Bliss!

Yes, Prime Minister has been updated – VERY updated, with references to coalitions and hung parliaments – by writers Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn (who also directs), but retains much of what made the TV series one of the very best comedies ever to grace our screens. The references may now be climate change, economic crises and the euro, but the intrigue and manipulations are just the same and Sir Humphrey’s soliloquies are masterpieces of verbose obfuscation!

Britain holds the presidency of the EU during a climate change summit and is close to brokering a deal when the Kumranistan foreign secretary makes personal demands that are morally difficult for the British to concede. On stage it’s rather broader and closer to farce than the knowingness and subtlety on TV, probably because the medium (and particularly a big theatre) requires this. However, it survives and provides lots of politically incorrect laughs.

David Haig, Henry Goodman and Jonathan Slinger make the characters of PM Jim Hacker, Sir Humphrey and Bernard their own. The ‘Special Advisor’ is more prominent (as she should be in 2010) and the appearance of the BBC DG facilitates a whole bucketful of cheeky satirical swipes at the organisation which gave us the TV series in the first place. 

I’ll be surprised if this isn’t in the West End before the summer’s out. Great fun!

I must be one of the few people who never saw the film (or read the book) of Love Story but it seems to me it could have originated as a musical, so comfortable is the story framed in this new show from Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark . Goodall’s music is simply gorgeous, his best score since The Hired Man, and Clark’s book and lyrics convey the all too short love with an intensity and humour that moved me from laughter to tears but ultimately left me uplifted. Goodall’s own orchestrations for piano, acoustic guitar and string quintet are beautiful and singing is crystal clear.

Rachel Kavanaugh directs with a deftness and elegance on a simple white set. With the audience on three sides, there are occasions when your sight lines and audibility are challenged, but not enough to damage your enjoyment.

Emma Williams and Michel Xavier are excellent as the young couple. Williams, in particular, delivers her self-deprecating New York humour wittily and believably. The rest of the small cast of ten give very good support in a variety of roles and as a chorus.

This was a glorious 100 minutes. I can’t wait to hear the music again. If there’s any justice, it won’t end its life in Chichester and wherever it goes, I’ll be following.

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