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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Chevara’

This world premiere of an unfinished Lionel Bart musical is a real coup for The Kings Head Theatre, even more so since their staring point was a rough book and a CD of songs put together to woo potential investors.

You wouldn’t expect Bart to write a show like this – everything he did was quintessentially British; indeed quintessentially London – but as soon as you hear the music you know it’s him; the melodies are distinctively his – and there are some lovely songs in this show.

Seven ladders covered with cobwebs and a clever loft, designed by Christopher Hoe, make up the Paris of the hunchback on this tiny stage. Jonathan Lipman’s punk gothic costumes add an appropriately seedy quality. Quasimodo, abandoned as a child, brought up by a priest, occupies the bell tower of Notre Dame. He’s treated as a freak by all he meets and as a possession by the priest, who’s fondness for him is more than a bit creepy. When Esmerelda is pursued by the lowlife of Paris, he takes her in, protects her and falls in love with her.

Though it’s a roughly drawn book by Christopher Bond (also responsible for the original Sweeney Todd at Stratford East, which inspired Sondheim to write his), director Robert Chevara has done well to make something of the story and most importantly to showcase the lovely music, which is beautifully played by Peter Mitchell’s small band of piano, accordion and clarinet and sung by a cast in fine voice. Steven Webb is very good as Quasimodo and amongst a small but exceptional supporting cast, Zoe George shines as Esmerelda, particularly in the vocal department.

Though it’s clearly still an unfinished work, it’s definitely worth seeing if you are a lover of musical theatre and a must for Bart fans. He was a great, and underrated, composer who was a whole lot more than Oliver! but who may only be remembered for it.

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Every now and again you see a neglected play by an established playwright and wonder why on earth it’s neglected. Last night was one of those occasions. This late Tennessee Williams play hasn’t been seen in London for 34 years, but boy has the Kings Head Theatre production made up for it.

The world seems to have given up on TW twenty years before he stopped writing, when The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore flopped on Broadway. He went on to write another 16 plays, of which this is one. Though a Streetcar comes along frequently and you don’t have to wait long for The Glass Menagerie or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to turn up, these late plays are rare indeed. What’s fascinating about them is that he was now able to write freely and naturalistically, without having to mask or disguise his themes, yet the writing is in a poetic southern dialect with a modern vocabulary.

This play is set in a New Orleans rooming house where a writer (and our narrator) is trying to come to terms with his craft, his sexuality, his poverty and his health. The landlady Mrs Wire is eccentric verging on barking, treating her black maid ‘Nursie’ and her lodgers with disdain. The boarders include Nightingale, a painter and predatory old queen: Jane, a fallen woman and Tye, her bit of rough, and two old ladies who now can’t afford to eat as well as pay rent. The themes are not unusual for TW – breaking free, the artists’ plight, abuse in relationships, sexuality, drink & drugs – but the characterisations are superb and the ‘slice of life’ absolutely fascinating. I was captivated from beginning to end.

The Kings Head Theatre’s intimacy and claustrophobia are perfect for the play. With three beds, a grand piano and a kitchen crammed into this tiny space, they’re almost falling over one another and you’re in there with them. Director Robert Chevara and designer Nicolai Hart Hansen have used the space brilliantly and created the New Orleans French Quarter before your very eyes.

Though their accents sometimes get lost, the excellent cast do full justice to TW’s characters and his prose. Tom Ross-Williams as the Writer combines the character’s vulnerability with excitement at life’s possibilities and adventures. Nancy Crane’s Mrs Wire is eccentric and vituperative on the outside but frail on the inside. You wince as David Whitworth’s Nightingale makes his advances, but your sympathies are with him too. Samantha Coughlan (a double for Lindsay Duncan if ever I saw one!)  plays Jane like a TW femme fatale should be played – a touch mannered, as the lost soul who would rather be loved and abused than not loved at all. Such was the realism with which Paul Standell played her abuser Tye, I wanted to get out of my seat and stop him as he  raped her. There are lovely cameos from Eva Fontaine as Nursie, Anne Kirke & Hildegard Neil as the old ladies and Jack McMillan in a trio of roles.

This is a superb production of a sadly neglected play. How many of the other 15 are as good as this, one wonders? I feel a Kings Head TW season might be in order! I’ll be the first in the quenue for a season ticket. Gold stars are covering the sky over Islington…..

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