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Posts Tagged ‘Sheffield Theatres’

This is a breath of fresh air for the West End, full of energy and life-affirming joy, and perhaps the first musical to be inspired by a documentary?

Sixteen-year-old Jamie wants to be a drag queen, and to wear a dress to the school prom. His divorced mum Margaret, her friend Ray and his bestie Pritti support him, but his dad, his school and some of his classmates don’t approve. He’s befriended and coached by Hugo, a former drag queen, now owner of a shop supplying drag outfits, and starts developing an act for an invited audience at the local drag club where three other drag queens also provide advice and support. The showcase goes ahead, followed by the even bigger challenge of the prom.

Dan Gillespie Sells score and Tom Macrae’s book and lyrics are excellent; they bring a fresh pop sound, rather than a bog standard musicals one, the style of songs changing to match the characters. Kate Prince’s choreography is simply terrific, again fresh rather than standard musicals movement. The school scenes in particular have extraordinary authenticity and high energy. I liked Anna Fleischle’s design, with projections by Luke Halls, and it’s staged with great pace by Jonathan Butterell.

It seems like a very happy cast, visibly enthusiastic, many of them transferring from Sheffield with the show. Lucie Shorthouse is outstanding as Pritti, comfortable with both her Muslim culture and Jamie’s personal choices. The relationship between Jamie and his mum is at the heart of the show and Josie Walker invests a lot of emotional energy into Margaret, with her big second act song feeling like a big hug from your mum. Mina Anwar is lovely as the ballsy Ray, who’s love for Margaret and Jamie knows no bounds. John McRea towers over all of this with a supremely confident, passionate performance; an astonishing West End debut.

I watched the documentary after seeing the show and it proves it’s very faithful to Jamie’s story. The show’s message of tolerance, of everyone being allowed to be who they are, comes over loud and clear in what is clearly a populist and critical success. Lets hope it’s a commercial success too, so that we can get more fresh air like this into the West End.

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I’m late to the party with this one, which didn’t turn out to be as much of a party as I was hoping and expecting. Though I accept it is hugely important in the history of musical theatre, it’s very dated and I’m afraid I didn’t think Daniel Evans production did much to breathe new life into it.

It was the first musical as we know them today, the tale of the Hawks family, and in particular daughter Magnolia Hawks, staging shows aboard a boat which moved up and down the Mississippi river to find its audience. Magnolia becomes a leading lady by covering for someone else, falls in love with her leading man and heads for Chicago where they have a daughter, but he lets them down badly and disappears. She returns to her career and then to her home aboard the show boat where they are eventually reconciled many years later.

What was radical at the time was the race and segregation themes, plus alcoholism, gambling and prostitution. This was no song and dancing girls piece. I’ve seen it twice before – the RSC / Opera North at the Palladium around 25 years ago, and a spectacular in-the-round production in the Royal Albert Hall ten years ago – and my recollection is more positive than my impression last night. I can’t help comparing it with the European premiere of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro which I saw just five days ago and which is superior in just about every way – staging, choreography, band and sound in particular. I liked Lez Brotherston’s design, though.

I don’t think it was jaded after four months, in its final fortnight before its early bath, or because there were three understudies in leading roles, as they were all excellent. The reviews had been very positive and the audience reception on the night I went was enthusiastic, so maybe it’s just me……

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As contemporary plays go, this is an unpredictable and complex piece by Deborah Bruce, which takes as it’s starting point the somewhat taboo subject of a mother leaving her children and explores how this tests her relationships with her girl friends. I liked it, despite the fact it leaves the reasons for desertion unexplained.

It’s set in Kate’s home in Brighton. She and husband Dewi (a Welsh name they irritatingly mispronounce continually) are new parents who’ve had to try hard to get a child. Her friend, single mum Alex, has come down from London so that she and Kate can help their mutual best friend Bea, who has returned to the UK inexplicably leaving her two children with her Australian husband Simon.

Bea can’t articulate why she left and her friends can’t understand why she could. The play explores issues of parenthood and friendship and it covers much more than the core issue. Alex’s 15-year-old son Liam had been left ‘home alone’ in Peckham but comes to Brighton fleeing the 2011 London riots. Dewi and Vinnie, his brother who is staying there, take parental duties whilst the girls talk during the course of the evening and night.

The play is framed by flashback scenes where Bea and Simon meet en route to Australia, but I’m not sure how much value these add. The inconclusive ending is a bit unsatisfying too. Nonetheless, it’s a good play with an excellent ensemble. It’s a tribute to Charlotte Lucas performance as Kate that I wanted to get out of my seat and tell her what I thought, and there’s a hugely impressive professional debut by Joshua Sinclair-Evans as Liam.

Good to see the Orange Tree and Sheffield Theatres combining to bring good new plays to both cities, and good to see it getting a second outing.

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Will someone move Sheffield nearer to London, please? Sheffield Theatres reputation continues to rise and now they outdo the West End by touring probably the best production of Anything Goes I’ve ever seen. This is unmissable.

Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy is 80 years old now, but here it’s fresh and sparkles like new. The score is littered with classics like I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, It’s De-Lovely, Blow Gabriel Blow and of course the title song, with witty lyrics by Porter and a very funny book, originally by P G Wodehouse & Guy Bolton but revised twice so I’m not sure whose is in use now. Still, who cares, its fun aboard a liner crossing the Atlantic with gangsters disguised as evangelists, evangelists who’ve become nightclub singers, Wall Street businessmen, an American heiress and a British Lord. Singer Reno loves stockbroker Billy, who loves heiress Hope, who’s engaged to nobleman Evelyn but they all get their man / woman in the end, but not until we’ve had a lot of fun aboard ship.

Daniel Evans production has a lovely art deco set by Richard Kent, with the ship’s deck rising up to form the backdrop as well as the stage, and great period costumes. Choreographer Alistair David doesn’t have a lot of space, but works wonders with what he has. There’s a zippiness about the whole thing that lifts you up and sweeps you along. The 9-piece band sounds terrific, and a lot more than nine. Debbie Kurup is sensational as Reno Sweeney, the complete package of great dancer, beautiful singer and comic actress and Stephen Matthews is wonderful as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a clumsy but lovable toff. In addition to these star performances, there’s great work from Matt Rawle as Billy, Zoe Rainey as Hope, Hugh Sachs as Moonface Martin, Alex Young as Erma, Simon Rouse as Whitney and the lovely Jane Wymark as Hope’s mum. A fine ensemble of 18 ensure the set pieces sparkle.

The New Wimbledon Theatre isn’t the most suitable (vast) or welcoming (shameful latecomers policy and noisy audience), but with work this good, you’ve got to go where you can, though with hindsight I wish I’d gone to Sheffield, where it appears they outdo the West End regularly. Unmissable indeed.

 

 

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Closing shows quickly is common practice on Broadway but much rarer here, where producers usually hang on in there trying to build an audience. Pulling this terrific show so soon is shameful. Perhaps to prove them wrong, it’s been tough to get a decent ticket in this last week, there’s little discounting and even the midweek matinee, the only show I could make, was packed. It’s great to report though that the cast & crew, working their notice, were way more professional than the producers and put on a great show regardless and deserved their standing ovation.

I couldn’t spot writer Simon Beaufoy’s changes to his 1997 film. Thankfully, the late 80’s setting is rightly kept, because the heart of the play is Thatcher’s Britain. When he sees how much money the Chippendales are making at the local Conservative Club, Gaz mobilises others at his Job Club to take up stripping for cash so that he can pay child maintenance and keep access to his son. You probably know the rest. Suffice to say it works better on stage as a live experience. It’s very funny and deeply moving and for a miners son brings out all sorts of emotions, but it is above all supremely entertaining.

Robert Jones has built an extraordinary abandoned steel works that takes your breath away when the corrugated iron screen rises. The crane moves and sparks fly and there are some seemingly dangerous moments as they manipulate a giant steel girder. Other locations are played out effectively stage front with speedy scene changes. I’ve seen Daniel Evans act a lot but this is the first thing I’ve seen that he’s directed and I think its masterly. He has a brilliant cast with not a weak link in it. I particularly liked Roger Morlidge’s Dave and Simon Rouse as Gerald, and there’s a truly stunning performance by one of the young actors who plays Gaz’s son Nathan.

If Sheffield Theatres had a more committed commercial partner (the actual one is surprisingly uncredited in the programme), I am convinced this could have a long run. The timing is perfect, the production couldn’t be better and, like Billy Elliot has proven, there’s an appetite for entertainment that’s also gritty social realism.

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The catch-up continues with this revival of Michael Frayn’s 9-year-old play (only 9?!) about Germany in the cold war and in particular the infiltration of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s office by a spy from the east and the relationship that develops between them. It’s not as dry as it sounds!

There aren’t many (any?) plays set in Germany in the cold war, so on that level it proves a fascinating insight into the time, but it’s the evolution of the relationship that is the most fascinating thing about it. Brandt and Gunter Guillaume are drawn to one another and become good friends, which gives the deceit and betrayal so much more impact.

It might sound odd, but I found the longer first half slow and less engaging, yet the story seemed rushed. The second half, as the deception is revealed, is a cracker though. Simon Daw’s design loses the first four rows of the stalls to provide more intimacy but perhaps too much extra space for director Paul Miller to consider in his staging. I was hugely impressed by an unrecognisable Aiden McArdle as Gunter and found Patrick Drury captured the man-of-the-people charisma of Willy. There isn’t a weak link in the suporting cast of eight actors (all men!).

It’s great to see something from Daniel Evans’ regional powerhouse in Sheffield finding its way to London (but why not Othello or Company?!) and it was well worth taking another look at one of Frayn’s best plays.

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