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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Curtis’

I was lucky to be working in the North-West in the summer of 1986 when this show had it’s world premiere. With the music of Howard Goodall’s first show The Hired Man still ringing in my ears, off I went to Oldham Coliseum. The cast were a bunch of then unknowns, many of who went on to become musical theatre royalty – Maria Friedman, Jenna Russell, Clare Burt, Andrew C Wadsworth….. I loved the show and the following year I was on the Olivier Awards panel when it re-opened the Playhouse Theatre in London, substantially re-cast. I was expecting to lead the campaign to nominate it as Best Musical, but it was a different show and for some reason had nothing like the impact it had in Oldham. I’ve never entirely understood why.

It was 24 years before its second London outing, this time at Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre (in a room above a pub in Walthamstow), and it proved to be a delightful chamber piece. So here we are another three years on and it’s the third in the Union Theatre’s Howard Goodall Season, with a production whose musical standards may well be the best. It sounds gorgeous.

Set in the the second world war in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), the ten ‘girlfriends’ are carrying out admin duties, parachute packing and tea making. We have just two airmen representing the RAF and one of them is caught in a love triangle with best friends Amy and Louise (the other one is trying hard to get laid). The former is toff Guy and the latter Welsh boy Gareth (co-incidence). Everything is told in song – there’s next to no dialogue – which often makes it feel more of a song cycle than a musical. The lack of a good book is its flaw (according to Goodall, Richard Curtis no less added to his research notes with ‘a rambling inventive script’) but the music is glorious.

The vocals here really are beautiful, in solos and ensembles with overlapping melodies. You don’t often here ten women’s voices in harmony and it’s a lovely sound, but the mens contributions, equally good vocals, provide some necessary colour and contrast. The accompaniment of two keyboards, winds and double bass under MD Freddie Tapner ( a professional debut!) is also excellent. The singers and players all do full justice to Goodall’s score and they look like they are having the time of their lives. Bronagh Lagan’s simple staging, with inventive movement and choreography by Iona Holland, suits the piece well. Nik Corall’s design focuses more on costumes than set and you know you’re in the forties by the girls hairdos alone!

It’s great to see this year’s Sondheim Student Performer Award winner Corrine Priest, who made an excellent contribution to the society’s ‘God’ revue, making such a terrific impression in the leading role like Amy, and Perry Lambert is an equally impressive the other leading lady Lou. Both of the boys, Tom Sterling and Michael Ress (a real Welshman, thankfully!), have exceptional voices and act brilliantly. There isn’t a weak link in this young, hugely talented cast.

Though I missed the first show because of my travels, this has been a fabulous Howard Goodall season, so I will end by placing my order for 2015…….Dear Sasha & Howard, the London premiere of Two Cities, please. Thank you. Love, Gareth.

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Perhaps it should be renamed ‘Flare Path – The Musical’ to cash in on that play’s recent success; it’s set in an RAF base during the second world war – though that’s just about where the similarity ends. Anyway, a second wish granted – another Howard Goodall revival – so soon after my wish for a Lionel Bart revival.

I was lucky to be working in the North West when this was premiered in Bolton 25 years ago. It was lovely; a worthy follow-up to his first musical, The Hired Man, which I had seen and loved in London two years before. Something happened when it transferred to the West End; it was nowhere near as good, but I couldn’t work out why. Seeing this first London revival at Ye Old Rose & Crown has answered that question – it really is a chamber piece which never belonged in the West End.

It’s a simple story of the love of two women for the same man, set against a backdrop of wartime sorties by the male pilots and parachute making by the girls at the base. There’s a touch of feminism and a nod to conscientious objection, but that’s about it story-wise. Even though it’s not sung-through, there’s not a lot of dialogue. That makes the music seem a bit repetitive and monotonous, lovely though it is. There are nice touches of humour though (Richard Curtis had a hand in it) and the characterisation is good, but I think the lack of depth and the music’s mono-style is its weakness.

The young cast of seven girls and two boys do very well indeed; it’s not an easy score to sing. The three that make up the love triangle – Mark Lawson, Harriet Dobby and Emma Manley – are particularly good. The production has an authentic feel (helped by uniforms with caps, stockings with seams and hairos with buns & copious quantities of hairpins!) and its beautifully sung. The five piece band (an unusual but effective line-up of piano, cello, clarinet, alto sax and trumpet) under MD Aaron Clingham provide lovely accompaniment (after a ragged opening); I didn’t think it over loud as others before me did, but I did sit as far away from the band as I could because I’d heard this!

It’s the musicality of Goodall shows that I love. He writes such good melodies and it all sounds so British; a breath of fresh air in a genre that almost always sounds American. All Star Productions succeed where it matters – musically – and it’s a long-awaited and very welcome revival. Great to see a full house in a room above a pub in Walthamstow on a Sunday afternoon for work like this, too. Well worth the schlep north.

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