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Posts Tagged ‘Seyi Omooba’

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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This Flaherty / Ahrens show, with a book by Terrence McNally based on the novel by E L Doctorow, has never really found its place in the musical theatre repertoire in the UK. Maybe it’s a bit too American, and a bit too sentimental. One hundred years on from its setting and 20 years on from it’s creation, in a deeply divided post-Brexit Britain, during an equally divided trumped up American election, maybe it’s found its time. It certainly resonated more with me than my three previous productions.

It interweaves the stories if a white liberal New England family with Latvian Jewish immigrant Teteh and his daughter and black singer Coalhouse Walker Jnr, his girlfriend Sarah and their baby son, which become entwined almost by accident. Teteh is trying to establish a new life in America, the black couple are trying to survive amidst the racism of the day and the New England family are largely sympathetic to both, standing out from the less welcoming crowd around them. There’s a bunch of historical characters like Henry Ford, J P Morgan, Emma Goldman and Harry Houdini to add social history to the personal stories. It’s got a great ragtime influenced score, with both choruses and solos shining through.

When Coalhouse is attacked and his girlfriend Sarah murdered by racist Irish fireman Clonkin (somewhat ironic given he too was an immigrant), it unleashes a wave of revenge and rebellion that contrasts with the more peaceful campaigning of black leader Booker T Washington. Our Latvian friend is busy inventing movies, the New England family’s ‘father’ is off exploring the world, ‘mother’ has virtually adopted Sarah’s son and her ‘younger brother’ goes to join Coalhouse’s campaign.

This excellent production by Thom Southerland seemed to me to place more emphasis on the racism and its responses, which gave the show more clarity and focus than I’ve seen before. The twenty-four performers really fill the stage and when they sing in unison it’s a glorious sound. I’m not sure if this team have used the actor-musician format before, but it works very well here, with MD Jordan Li-Smith at one of the two on-stage pianos. I really liked Tom Rogers & Toots Butcher’s barn like design and Jonathan Lipman’s costumes are very good indeed.

Anita Louise-Combe is superb as ‘mother’; her second act song Back to Before brought the house down. Ako Mitchell is outstanding as the defiant Coalhouse and Nolan Frederick and Jonathan Stewart invest great passion into Booker T Washington and ‘younger brother’ respectively. Jennifer Saayeng plays Sarah with great dignity and feeling and there’s a hugely impressive professional debut from Seyi Omooba, who leads the rousing Act I finale. On the night I went ‘little boy’ was superbly played by Ethan Quinn.

The Landor made a great job of it five years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/ragtime) but the Open Air Theatre, uncharacteristically, made a bit of a mess of it a year later (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/ragtime-2) This fine production is another jewel in the jewel-laden crown of the Tarento-Southerland team. Don’t miss.

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