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Posts Tagged ‘Richmond Theatre’

Though Noel Coward wrote around forty plays, this is one of only a handful that are regularly produced today. This production originated in Bath and after a short tour is heading to the West End, which the last production left only five years ago. That was a star vehicle for the return to London of Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati. Now its Jenifer Saunders’ turn.

Writer Charles Condomine decides to hold a seance at his home as part of the research for his next book. He invites local medium Madame Arcati to conduct it, and friends Dr and Mrs Bradman as guests to join him and his second wife Ruth. On the night, the ghost of Charles’ first wife Elvira appears. Only Charles can see and hear her, but others can sense her. She hangs around and becomes a disruptive force in the household. When tragedy strikes, we acquire another ghost and disruption becomes war.

It’s an enjoyable concoction, well staged by Richard Eyre, and well performed, not just by the highly impressive Saunders, but by six other fine actors led by Geoffrey Streatfield – even Anthony Ward’s excellent set gets to perform – but it left me a bit cold. Perhaps this was because it came a couple of days after more substantial fare like Albion and Death of England, though I can’t help comparing it with the Old Vic’s Present Laughter, where they breathed new life into the piece. This seemed dated, somewhat conservative and perhaps overly reverential.

It’s a Coward play I hadn’t seen before and for this reason, plus Saunders in fine comic form, it was worth the visit, at suburban rather than West End prices!

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Well, we’ve already had biographical juke-box musicals about The Four Seasons, Carole King and The Kinks (all good, and all still running in the West End), so here is Wales’ contribution. The story of the early years of the septuagenarian from The Valleys with a 50+ year career and a voice that still sounds great at 75. He comes from a town over the hill in the next valley to me and I saw him perform in a local community centre in my early teens, so how could I resist this?

Actually, it’s not a juke-box musical as it only includes a few of his hits, as the closing number and the mini-concert encore. Though there is a fair bit of music, it feels more like a play with music than a musical, as it tells the story from his mid-teens, fatherhood and marriage at sixteen, through to his appearance on Top of the Pops when It’s Not Unusual (originally written for Sandie Shaw, it seems!) makes No.1.

We move from home at wife Linda’s mums in Trefforest to a variety of venues in the valleys, signing to Gordon Mills (a not so big shot from Tonypandy, it seems) and on to London for a six month struggle that he almost gave up on. Along the way he picks up a band called The Senators who become The Squires before Mills drops them for a different, brassier sound for the first big hit. 

The music is played live by the four actors playing The Senators / Squires – Daniel Lloyd, Tom Connor, John McLarnon and Kieran Bailey – who make a great sound. During the final scene and encore, Phylyip Harries who has been our excellent narrator Jack Lister adds sax, Elin Phillips (lovely as Tom’s wife) adds piano and Nicola Bryan (Tom’s mother) proves a dab hand at the trumpet!  I thought Kit Orton was outstanding as Tom, terrific voice and great at all those trademark moves. Just eleven actor-musicians tell the story and provide the music!

Mike James’ writing is lucid, economical and good humoured storytelling and Geinor Styles stages it very effectively on a simple set, where projections are used to great effect to take you from the Welsh valley locations to London locations. The show exceeded my expectations and proved to be a charming, and for me, nostalgic story.

It’s on a different scale (and budget, no doubt) to those other bio-musicals, but Theatr Na Nog are to be congratulated on producing something that oozes quality in every department and honours a Welsh legend great flair.

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The most striking thing about this stage adaptation of George Orwell’s novel is how freshly minted it feels; it’s very hard to believe it was written 65 years ago. It’s also surprising how few stage adaptations there have been of such a prophetic and dramatic story.

This one is ‘framed’ by some sort of book club in 2050, seemingly taking its lead from Orwell’s epilogue. Winston steps out of the book club and tells his story in flashback. It’s at its best when it’s at its most chilling – there are moments during his torture when you just have to look away – but it does lack pace a bit in the middle. It’s not in the slightest bit dated and almost completely plausible.

Headlong’s staging is as innovative as ever (Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan, who also adapted it), with big transformations and great use of video in Chloe Lamford’s striking design.  In a fine cast, Mark Arends is a stand-out Winston and Hara Yannas a fine Julia.

They announced its run at the Almeida the day I went to Richmond Theatre, which pissed me off as I’d rather have seen it there, but as much as I admired it, I’m not sure I want to see it again.

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I like a bit of what we used to call agit-prop! This 1968 Alan Plater play with music (Alex Glasgow) with additional material by ‘soul mate’ Lee Hall  (Billy Elliott, Pitman Painters) has been given a timely revival by Live Theatre Newcastle in a production by Samuel West now on tour courtesty of Northern Stage. Timely as a tribute to Alan Plater, who died a couple of years ago and who’s work we see all too rarely, and timely because of the troubled times we’re in.

It’s an unashamedly partisan presentation of the history of mining and miners in the UK from the mid-1800’s to recent times. Now that makes it sound really dry, but it isn’t. It’s told in ‘flashbacks’ by a North East family at home, contrasting the lives of two sons brought up by their grandparents (their parents having died), one a miner and the other at university. There’s a narrator who has fun with the concept of that role and a handful of other characters. The music is largely traditional music hall / folk songs (the man next to me was clearly a Geordie as he was singing along, somewhat irritatingly!).

It works on two levels – the story of the sons and how their lives diverge, as one follows dad and the other breaks free, and the telling of history.  It was entertaining, instructive, at times very funny and at others very moving. Even though it is Plater’s play, you can see Hall’s stamp on it, particularly with the updated ending. 

I think two intervals was a mistake, and there’s no obvious reason for them, as it slowed it down a bit. It also looked a bit lost in a theatre the size of Richmond and I’m not sure it’s one of Soutra Gilmour’s better designs….. but its well acted and well staged and well worth catching on tour.

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I’m fascinated by the work of J B Priestly, but we rarely get a chance to see more than a few of his plays. Stephen Daldry’s iconic NT production of  An Inspector Calls seems to be on tour permanently and When We Are Married gets wheeled out fairly often, but that’s about it. The NT gave us Time & The Conways a couple of years ago and Southwark Playhouse put on the very rare They Came to a City earlier this year. So here was a chance to catch this one on tour to Richmond.

It’s more conventional and less moralistic, political, radical and experimental than I’ve got used to from Priestly. They say it’s his most Chekovian, a comment likely to put me off I’m afraid. We’re in the Kirby household, where widower Dr. Kirby is looked after by daughter Lilian whilst son Wilfred is working in Nigeria and theatrical daughter Stella has been on tour now for eight years. Wilfred is home on leave when Stella springs a surprise visit and the family dynamics unfold. Lilian resents Stella leaving her as homemaker and being the subject of local boy Geoffrey’s infatuation whilst she has designs on him herself. Stella’s confession that she married a fellow actor secretly on tour enables Lilian to get her own back.

Laurie Sansom’s production is virtually faultless. He has a fine attention to detail and evokes Edwardian society brilliantly. I wasn’t convinced  by the backdrop of Sara Parks design, but her drawing-room was appropriately claustrophobic and spot on for the period (not that I personally remember 1912!). There isn’t a fault in the casting, with Charlotte Emmerson and Daisy Douglas particularly good as Stella and Lilian and an auspicious professional debut by Nick Hendrix as son Wilfred. Daniel Betts really came into his own in the terrific drunk scene in Act III.

This will never be my favourite Priestly – too Checkovian! – but I’m glad I saw it in a production it would be hard to better.

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The review below is from this production’s first outing 15 months ago. Now on tour, I caught it in Richmond. It’s lost a little of its fizz – partly because it’s in a much bigger theatre (which on Saturday night was shamefully less than half full) – but it’s still a lot of fun. Half of the original cast (including all three leads) are still with the show and the musical standards are, if anything, higher. Not to be missed.

Watermill Theatre, Newbury – August 2009

I’ve fond memories of the original West End production of this show, though it seems like an age ago, but this production is so good it wipes them out. This is the 6th of the Watermill Theatre Newbury actor-musican chamber musical revivals that I’ve seen – the third at their home base – and its amongst the best.

It’s the story of the notorious pools winner, Viv Nicholson, and it has a great score and a real 60’s working class sensibility. As it’s a musical comedy, they can have fun with the integration of the instruments, such as a xylophone doubling up as a hairdressers tray whilst it’s being played! The choreography is witty, incorporating stubbing out cigarettes (there are a lot of cigarettes!) and V signs (there are a lot of V signs, and I don’t mean Victory!). The design is terrific, full of period detail, enabling speedy switches from hairdressing saloon to bedroom to pub…..

Karen Mann is great as older Viv, narrating her story (and playing trumpet!) and Kirsty Hoiles is terrific as younger Viv, and they have as fine a supporting cast as you could wish for.

If this one doesn’t transfer to the West End, like three before it, there’s no justice. Wondeful stuff.

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How disheartening must it be for actors to look out into an auditorium which is not much more than 10% full on a Saturday evening – so it was at Headlong’s visit to Richmond Theatre.

Before it started I would have said that the good people of Richmond are an uncultured bunch more used to thrillers and farce, but by the end I wished I’d been with them watching Britain’s Got Talent or whatever else they were doing.

Why on earth did Oscar Wilde (for it is he) write a charmless, humorless ‘play’ based on a gory biblical scene? It’s more of a dramatised scene than a play and staging it seems rather pointless.

It’s been given a fresh dramatic interpretation on an elevated stage of oily mud (?) with striking lighting and despite the meager audience numbers the cast give it their all, though the shouting hand-ringing and physicality did become rather relentless.

You can try as hard as you like, but with material like this you don’t stand much chance of succeeding.

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