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Posts Tagged ‘Rose Theatre Kingston’

The soundtrack of my late teenage years was heavily influenced by John Peel, who introduced me to bands like Family, The Incredible String Band and Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose four albums I treasured, and still do (I’ve recently bought them on CD). Peel thought Bolan sold out when Tyrannosaurus Rex became T. Rex (a name change that was Tony Visconti’s idea, it seems). I fought this for a while, as Bolan was by now a musical hero of mine, but it wasn’t long before I was in agreement. It was all downhill from A Beard of Stars, the last Tyrannosaurus Rex album, a masterpiece. My view is that Bolan’s ego smothered and killed his genius, but I couldn’t resist this biographical show on my doorstep, well, in Kingston.

It’s a huge biographical arc, something like fifteen years, which is ambitious and at first seems rushed. They badly neglect the period from 1968 to 1970, the four folk / psychedelic / mystical albums, each bettering the last (well, I would think that, wouldn’t I). If I was nit-picking, there are a number of historical inaccuracies, like his audition piece for Simon Napier-Bell being a song he wrote three or four years later. Sometimes I thought Bolan was a bit tongue-in-cheek, like the infamous guitar lead in his back pocket on Top of the Pops, and the show sometimes has a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality about it too. It’s at its strongest musically, with a judicious smattering of other people’s songs that fit the story (who knew Helen Shapiro was a friend and early colleague?!); music director John Maher has done a great job.

The production values are a bit AmDram and the staging doesn’t flow well enough, with some scene breaks way too long. In truth, the Rose isn’t the right theatre for it. Unlike a proscenium theatre, there’s no hiding place. To be honest, I think they could do with a stage director, as John Maher also directs. It could also do with losing 10-20 minutes; it doesn’t really sustain its three hours. As is customary with this genre, it ends with a mini-concert, with the audience on its feet. Both the cast and band are good, with George Maguire (promoted from Ray’s younger brother Dave in the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon) perfectly flamboyant as Bolan, but please don’t get me on to the wig, or indeed the wigs in general.

It’s not up there with other bio-musicals like Jersey Boys, Beautiful and Sunny Afternoon, but I’m glad I caught it, though it was surreal looking around at T.Rex fans now in their sixties (senior concessions!) wearing their feather boas, pieces of which I was picking out of my jumper on the way home.

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A musical about an adventure playground in a suburb of Bristol in the 70’s doesn’t sound that promising, but its written by master playwright Jack Thorne, the man behind the Harry Potter plays, and directed by a directorial master, Jeremy Herrin. Stephen Warbeck’s score is so unconventional, I’d prefer to call it a musical play – think London Road, but not sung dialogue – and it’s anarchic and playful, with a great big heart. I loved it.

It’s based on Thorne’s dad’s real life experience in the Bristol adventure play movement. Rick, who we’d today call a teaching assistant, tries to recruit young teens to build an adventure playground in a troubled part of town. He works in the local secondary school, he visits parents and he tries to engage the kids. It takes a long while, but he makes it and six kids work with him creating something wild and fun. Even the head teacher approves (it’s on school land formerly earmarked for a maths block). It gets burnt down by vandals, so they rebuild it and take turns guarding it, until one of them is attacked and their world comes tumbling down.

The score is made up of short songs and snatches, played by just three musicians, but they do help tell the story. The set is, well, an adventure playground. The characterisations are terrific, with theee adults playing adults, including Calum Callaghan as gentle, empathetic Rick and six adults playing the kids, with feisty, cheeky Fiz at the centre, played superbly by Erin Doherty (who also impressed in a very different role in Wish List at the Royal Court recently). Fiz’s sister Debbie isn’t involved with the playground; she’s been following in her mother’s footsteps sleeping around, and is now pregnant by one of them, with two of the playground boys candidates! Seyi Omooba follows her auspicious professional debut in Ragtime with another very different but equally impressive performance as tomboy Tilly. Josef Davies is great as the skinhead who isn’t as hard as he looks, as is Enyi Okoronkwo as timid Talc with a crush on Fiz.

Sometimes the accents and kidspeak means words are missed, and there’s a lot of bad language, but that adds to the realism and authenticity. I thought it was original, edgy and captivating. Only one more week to catch it in Kingston.

 

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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The first Arthur Miller play I saw was Death of a Salesman, in Bristol, in a National Theatre touring production featuring Warren Mitchell, directed by Michael Rudman. It played a big part in my addiction to Miller and indeed theatre in general. Now here I am more than 35 years later seeing Rudman’s terrific revival of All My Sons in Kingston. It was like intravenous theatrical re-energising fluid. 

This was Miller’s third play, the first as a professional writer and his first hit. Every time I see it, it feels current and today the themes of business ethics and morals are as relevant as ever, if not more so. There’s a line where someone responds to a suggestion they’ve deceived for gain, to which they respond along the lines of how that makes them clever. Trump used that line in the first presidential debate a few weeks back without even knowing it.

The Keller family are stalwarts of the community, with a successful manufacturing business and one of those homes the neighbourhood revolves around, everyone forever popping in. Both of their sons fought in the Second World War but only one came back, though his mother won’t accept that her son is dead. During the war the factory produced aircraft parts and when a faulty batch results in deaths both business partners are arrested. Keller is eventually freed and partner Deever takes the rap. Youngest Keller son Chris now wants to marry Anne Deever who has disowned her father, but Chris’ mother won’t have it. Anne’s brother George turns up. He too had disowned his father but after a reluctant visit to see him in prison he makes revelations that start a chain reaction that brings the world of the Keller’s tumbling down. It unfolds like a Greek tragedy, it grips throughout and its conclusion is devastating.

Designer Michael Taylor has solved the Rose Theatre’s problem of a lack of intimacy for this kind of drama by bringing the stage forward to house the Keller’s garden, where the whole play takes place, and building a three-story wooden house with patio behind it, with high level trees coming out of the theatre’s back wall; it’s a superb design. It’s also a superb cast, with David Horovitch as Joe Keller, living with his lies, wracked with guilt, and Penny Downie as his wife Kate, in denial, still grieving three years on. I was hugely impressed by Alex Waldmann as son Chris and Francesca Zoutewelle as his intended Ann, and in an excellent supporting cast there’s a great performance from Edward Harrison as her brother George. Rudman’s direction is impeccable.

This is my fifth production of this play and it’s as good as any. World class theatre in Kingston. Go!

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National Youth Music Theatre are celebrating their 40th anniversary with a programme of four shows, of which two have timely World War I themes – a revival of 2014’s Brass which I will be seeing in Hackney Empire in a couple of weeks time, and this ambitious new musical at the Rose Theatre Kingston – and its great to report that its ambition has really paid off with this one.

It’s 1916 and a group of kids are trying to figure out what they can do for the war effort when the eldest of them lies about his age and enlists. Those left behind eventually decide to build boat to sail to France and help, but a group of local bullies is intent on scuppering their plans. However, what they don’t have in might they more than make up for with ingenuity and bravery. It has a great children’s adventure story feel to it and its heart-warming stuff.

It has an outstanding score by Jenna Donnelly and Ethan Lewis Maltby, very melodic, with rousing choruses and some complex sub-operatic moments. It’s superbly played by a 12-piece band under Candida Caldicot and the young cast more than rise to the demands of the score with some terrific singing. Director Kate Golledge makes great use of the Rose’s wide apron stage, with a backdrop of maps and a handful of wooden boxes and towers by Diego Pitarch, whose costumes are excellent. Darragh O’Leary’s choreography and movement creates some great moments. Above all, though, its a stage brimming with talent that sweeps you away – twenty-seven young actors whose enthusiasm and energy is completely infectious.

I’ve been going to NYMT shows for many years (though not 40!) and this is as good as any. When you look at their alumni, the chances are very high that you’ll be seeing some of these on professional stages in the future. Only twenty years ago I was seeing Sheridan Smith in three shows. Stars are born indeed.

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NEW PLAYS

Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court

SHAKESPEARE

2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.

OTHER REVIVALS

Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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This is the third Peter Nichols revival I’ve seen in the last five months and three things strike me most – how different every play is to the last (and these three were only 14 years apart), how much better they are than the plays of his contemporary Harold Pinter in the same period and how way ahead of his time he was. This black comedy about bringing up a disabled child is radical in 2013; I can’t begin to imagine what an audience made of it in 1967.

We start with teacher Brian talking directly to us as his pupils, clearly partly improvised with ‘audience participation’. He soon steps into Simon Higglett’s superb, somewhat surreal living room set, is joined by wife Sheila and they begin their story about bringing up their 10-year-old wheelchair-bound daughter Joe. She appears and we realise just how severe her disability is; in addition to the lack of mobility, she can’t talk and can hardly see. For much of the first act, Bri & Sheila step out of he play to talk to us directly about her birth, diagnosis and early life.

In the second act, Sheila returns from Am Dram with colleague Freddie and his wife Pamela and we glimpse the discomfort and clumsiness others demonstrate around Joe; though this is played in an exaggerated comic way, it is no less uncomfortable for the audience. Freddie is well-meaning if somewhat patronising but Pam fails to hide her repulsion. Brian’s mum Grace pops in and behaves as if everything is normal, which is just as uncomfortable as patronising and repulsion. Things return to Bri & Sheila’s version of normal when the others leave, but in between we begin to understand the parental traumas, tough choices and agonising decisions and how all-consuming it is to bring up a chid like Joe. By now this must be sounding like a tragedy, but it’s liberally peppered with Nichols’ dark humour so as he makes you think, he makes you laugh too.

I thought Ralph Little was a revelation as Brian, revealing the agony of the man beneath the jokes. Rebecca Johnson brings real warmth to Sheila, and the chemistry between them is palpable. Owen Oakenshaft and Sally Tatum play Freddie & Pam brilliantly, as grotesques that have come straight from Abigail’s party. It’s wonderful to see Marjorie Yates again after such a long time and her portrayal of Grace is masterly. Jessica Bastick-Vines has the difficult task of playing Joe and does so beautifully. Stephen Unwin, who like Nichols has personal experience to call on, directs with great sensitivity, and by bringing the stage forward, compensates for some of the Rose Theatre’s distance, vastness and emptiness.

Long may the Nichols revival continue. I would now like to place my order for The National Health, followed by Poppy, followed by ………

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