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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Pask’

A play about the no win-no fee compensation culture has been a long time coming. Playwright Nick Payne’s Constellations was one of the most original plays of recent years and one of last year’s big hits. The Donmar is a great, intimate space for new plays. My expectations were going to be difficult to live up to and so it was. They make the best of the material, but the material isn’t really good enough.

Barry and Andrew are no win-no fee merchants, though there is clear ethical blue water between them. Kevin, an old school chum of Andrew (married to his first lay) lures him into serial fake claims. One target decides to defend which, unusually in these cases, leads them to court. It becomes much more than a claim as the relationship between Barry and Andrew is strained to breaking point and the relationship between Andrew and Kevin’s wife is recalled.

In the first half, we’re in the solicitor’s offices and in (most of) the second half we’re in court – something I wasn’t expecting until I returned to the theatre after the interval to see the extraordinary transformation. The problem is that the issues are touched on but not fully explored, so the play lacks depth. I liked the introduction of personal stories, but again they are glimpses. It was often just too slow. Scott Pask’s designs are superbly realistic, though the configuration of the courtroom means some actors have their backs to you much of the time (a bit like a court, really!).

The performances are uniformly excellent. Daniel Mays & Nigel Lindsay’s characterisations of Andrew & Barry compensate in part for the writing; their relationship evolves satisfyingly. Marc Wootton is brilliant as Kevin, the chancer you love to hate but can’t help loving. Monica Dolan and Peter Forbes make delicious transformations from Kevin’s co-conspirators in the first half to barrister and judge in the second. Niky Wardley brings Kevin’s put-upon pregnant wife to life, complete with courtroom vomiting (!) and Joanna Griffin and Isabella Laughland’s cameos are terrific; the latter so good she gets a round of applause as she leaves the witness-box.

It felt like an unfinished pay to me; edited and rewritten I suspect it would be a much better play. As it is, it’s down to superlative performances to make the evening worthwhile.

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This is the perfect show to fill Chichester’s temporary ‘Theatre in the Park’. It’s an up-market, comfortable big-top with a great atmosphere and the show’s about 19th century American circus legend Phineas T Barnum. I don’t think it has been seen in the UK since it’s UK premiere 30 years ago and its a lot better than I remembered.

In truth, the story of Barnum’s life has little depth. We follow his relationship with his wife, his fling with Swedish soprano Jenny Lind and his business dealings with Brit Julius Goldschmidt and eventual partner James A Bailey, but this is family entertainment and on those terms it succeeds. There’s singing, dancing, acrobatics, clowns and marching bands. Cy Coleman’s music has a lot of numbers you didn’t think you knew and is often rather rousing.

Scott Pask’s design and Paul Willis’ costumes are superb. There’s a two-tier backdrop with the band hidden on the second tier and twin spiral staircases that revolve! Performers enter from the back, the auditorium and down ropes from above. Liam Steel & Andrew Wright’s choreography has people becoming props and doubled-up to play one person. The arrival of a giant elephant is simple but breathtaking and the acrobatics even happen in the auditorium. Director Timothy Sheader, moonlighting from the Open Air Theatre where he has had much musical theatre success, does a cracking job pulling this together into a cohesive entertainment that lifts you up and keeps you on a high.

Given this country is awash with musical theatre talent, I’m not sure why they’ve had to import their Barnum from the US (or his wife from Australia, come to that), but Christopher Fitzgerald is hugely impressive and very hard-working. Walking a tightrope whilst singing a song can be no mean feat. The extraordinarily good-looking, athletic and energetic ensemble is outstanding.

I can’t imagine a better revival or a more appropriate space. With Cameron Mackintosh on board as co-producer, I think we should expect a London outing (bringing the theatre with it when it finishes its time here at the end of September or, with a few changes, Mr Sheader could take it to his Open Air Theatre next summer?). This continues Chichester’s important role in musical theatre. They’ve transferred Singing in the Rain, Sweeney Todd, Love Story & Kiss Me Kate in the last few years, so why not Barnum?

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