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Posts Tagged ‘Sean Holmes’

The origin of this show is fascinating. It was of course originally a film, made by a man who did adverts. Quite why he decided to make a gangster film with music, performed by children, is beyond me, but it worked and it’s maker, Alan Parker, went on to great things. He found time to write the book of a stage version who’s premiere in 1983, directed by The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz, was at Her Majesty’s Theatre (before Phantom moved in!). It wasn’t a huge hit then, but it is now, getting an unprecedented five-month run at the re-opened Lyric Hammersmith and based on the reviews and Tuesday’s full house & standing ovation, it’s a popular, critical and commercial success.

Bugsy is a fringe player in the gang war between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan. He falls for wannabe showgirl Blousey, but Fat Sam’s girl Tallulah has designs on him too. The money he can get from Fat Sam will help him get Blousey to Hollywood, if he can keep Tallulah at bay, Fat Sam ignorant of her affections and stay alive. Fat Sam runs a speakeasy, so there’s lots of opportunities for songs and routines, including auditions by Blousey and Fat Sam’s cleaner Fizzy. Paul Williams music is tuneful and accessible (and familiar – there was some singing along!). The gangsters use splurge guns and water of course, one of the show’s trademarks.

Unlike the film or the original stage production, director Sean Holmes uses young professionals in all roles but the seven leads, but he also has live singing rather than miming to offstage / off-screen adults as in the film and original production. Though I preferred the live music, it does lose something without a complete kids cast (though I understand the 2015 imperatives that drive this). The particular cast of youngsters we had (there are three for each role) were exceptional and the ensemble was terrific too. Drew McOnie’s choreography is fresh and exciting and Jon Bausor’s costumes a treat.

Though I wasn’t as euphoric as others, I still enjoyed it very much and it’s lovely to see such a show such a success for the Lyric, which does such wonderful work with young people on a regular basis.

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This isn’t one of Eugene O’Neil’s best plays, chiefly because it’s too melodramatic, though this production at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith is so good it makes it seem as if it is.

Seventy something Ephraim marries for the third time, to a girl who’s about the same age as Eben, his son by his second wife. Eben and the two sons by Ephraim’s first wife, Simeon and Peter (keep up!), can see their inheritance slipping away. For some reason, Eben buys out his brothers’ share of the farm on which they live (even though it looks like they won’t inherit it) and Simeon and Peter head west to join the gold rush. Eben stays to fight his corner, his dad and his new step-mother – until, that is, he falls for her and fathers her baby. Of course, it all ends in tears – well, wails really.

In the first 30 minutes, as the story is set up, we just see the three brothers. Mikel Murfi and Fergus O’Donnell are simply mesmerizing as hirsute elder brothers Simeon and Peter and its hard for Morgan Watkins to play the ‘softer’ Eben against this; he comes into his own though when Abbie arrives and his lust for her takes over. Finbar Lynch is a commanding Ephraim, at his best in the christening party scene where everything revolves around him (literally at times). Abbie is a complex character – defiant fortune hunter, passionate lover, lost soul – and Denise Gough plays her brilliantly. You’d be struggling to get five performances this good on any stage.

I wasn’t convinced by Ian MacNeil’s design at first. The house front disappears soon after the start, four mobile boxes open up to become rooms in the house, a screen at the back changes colour with the time of day and the stage rear and wings are in clear view. There’s also a platform jutting out half-way into the stalls with steps out to the side for entrances and exits. Somehow, though, it eventually made sense and its movement contributed much to the flow of the play (even though from the front stalls, entrances, exits and speeches from the platform were irritating).

Sean Holmes’ masterly direction, with brilliant music (Ry Cooder?) played live on guitar by Jason Baughan, brings this slice of 19th century New England to life and I was gripped throughout. A contender for the year’s best revival methinks and only 10 more days to catch it.

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One of the things I learnt when I was introduced to the work of Edward Bond by last year’s Cock Tavern Theatre season was that you don’t need the word ‘enjoy’ to describe his plays. You need ‘uncomfortable’, ‘challenging’, ‘bleak’, ‘intense’……but not ‘enjoy’. I don’t go to the theatre purely for enjoyment, which last night was just as well !

The relationship between Pam and Len, a one night stand who becomes a lodger, is at the heart of this play. He’s kind, tolerant and obsessed with her but she’s not interested. She has a baby by Fred, but he’s not interested in her (or the baby) either. Her parents ignore each other; in fact her father ignores everyone.

At the core of the play is the infamous scene of infanticide; a bunch of lads, including Fred, kill Pam’s neglected baby for no reason. Fred takes the rap and the play continues during and after his incarceration. He continues to treat Pam with disdain and Len continues to be besotted with her. There are other less cruel but equally tense moments in the play – a child allowed to cry and cry and a number of industrial scale arguments. The final scene is virtually wordless, yet it’s the scene which explains most. It was written to show us the post-war ‘broken Britain’ and is now being staged in the post-credit crunch ‘broken Britain’.

Though it’s occasionally funny, it’s mostly an uncomfortable ride, but to my surprise it kept my attention for over three hours; I was rarely distracted and never bored. This is largely because of the brilliant naturalistic dialogue, impeccable staging by Sean Holmes and superb performances. Lia Saville and Morgan Watkins are outstanding as Pam and Len, the crucial relationship at the centre of the play. Susan Brown and Michael Feast are also excellent as Pam’s dysfunctional mother and father. Callum Callaghan pulls off the difficult task of conveying Fred’s complexity.

Bond’s programme / play text essay makes it clear where he’s coming from. A lot of what he says makes sense, though in my view it’s a bit simplistic and one-sided. It’s too easy to blame the morally unacceptable on ‘society’; it’s people who commit such hideous acts and they can’t be let off the hook that easily. However, the play makes its point and hopefully will make people think, discuss and argue and theatre’s there for that as well as enjoyment. It was uncomfortable, challenging and bleak – but I’m glad I went.

A gold star to the Lyric Hammersmith for a timely staging.

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