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Posts Tagged ‘Ryan Dawson-Laight’

I first saw this ground-breaking Harvey Fierstein trilogy, more a three-act play in my view, when it premiered in the West End in 1985 with Anthony Sher in the lead role (which the playwright himself had played on Broadway). It was very long – well over three hours. It wasn’t revived here until 2012 at the Menier Chocolate Factory with David Badella, by which time it had lost an hour or so, but I was a bit less positive about it (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/torch-song-trilogy). Now it’s the inaugural production at the Turbine Theatre, a revised version without ‘trilogy’ in the title which was first staged in the US just two years ago, it’s lost another 30 minutes and it finds favour with me all over again!

Arnold is a drag queen, highly-strung, Jewish and insecure. We first meet him in his dressing room as he is about to begin a relationship with Ed, a bi-sexual teacher. This first act / play is a slice of NYC gay life in late 70’s / early 80’s New York. We then move forward five years or so to the visit of Arnold and his new young man Alan to now married Ed and his wife Laurel, where things start to get a bit sexually confusing and complicated for all three men. The third part sees the now ‘widowed’ Arnold with his precocious gay teenage foster son David getting visited by Ed, newly separated from Laurel, and his recently widowed mother, who struggles to come to terms with Arnold’s very modern life.

Strangely enough, it seemed less dated this time than it did seven years ago and if you forget the period clothes and settings, hardly dated at all. The first act promiscuity is certainly pre-AIDS, but Ed’s bi-sexuality and the fostering / adoption seem very contemporary and the sparring between mother and son timeless. Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design transforms well from dressing room to apartment with Part Two’s overlapping scenes in the same bed superbly staged by Drew McOnie. I would have preferred a more elevated stage, though – I had to move from the un-raked first four rows to see properly. Matthew Needham is excellent as Arnold, an emotionally charged performance that turns angry in the pivotal mother / son scene, as Dino Fetscher is as Ed, a less emotional, cooler character. There’s a superb third part cameo from Bernice Stegers as Ma and two impressive professional debuts from Rish Shah as Alan and Jay Lycurgo as David. Daisy Boulton completes this fine cast as Laurel.

The theatre is in a good location, easily accessible, with plenty of nearby eateries. It’s a bit noisier than other under-the arches theatres, like the Union (it is the mainline into Victoria, after all) but I suspect that’s something to get used to rather than rectify, but the air handling is good, unlike the Union! Anyway, it’s a welcome new venue, particularly for those of us us south of the river, and an impressive opening show.

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Well I’m pleased to report that the Union Theatre’s all-male Gilbert & Sullivan initiative still has legs. This is the fifth and it’s very well staged & performed and above all huge fun.

This was an early G&S, 135 years old, now but amongst the most popular of the ten or so still in the repertoire (there were c.15). It’s a navy setting for a satire on class and an illustration of how you could climb to the top of government without an iota of talent (nothing changes). Convention requires the captain’s daughter to marry the obsequious head of the navy rather than sailor Ralph who she loves. In true Shakespearean fashion, nothing is what it seems and it all ends happily (for some).

What struck me most about this production was the combined inventiveness of Sasha Regan’s staging, Lizzi Gee’s choreography and Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design. The action takes place aboard ship and the sailor’s quarters are created with a few metal bunks and the ship’s deck with a rope. The boys become girls with lifejackets transforming into costumes, a net used as a shawl and a shirt collar a headdress. The space is used brilliantly, with characters popping up all over the place (I jumped as one started singing behind me!).

The musical standards, under MD Chris Mundy on the piano, are as ever high, with diction particularly clear (important, given the story is told almost entirely in songs, which themselves contain so much wit) and the switches from low to high registers virtually seamless. This is a new crop of G&S boys and impressive they are too, with a handful of professional and London debuts.

The Union may have peaked with Patience, but this is fresh and clever and fully justifies the continuation of the five year project.

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