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Posts Tagged ‘Simon Lipkin’

Well, it looks like I’m going against the critical flow again on this one; I rather liked it, particularly the design, the songs and the infectious enthusiasm of the cast. Treating it as a family show might be the key.

It doesn’t have the storytelling quality of Alan Bennet’s iconic non-musical NT adaptation. It’s more character-driven, though there’s more of a story, well, caper, in the second half. Once we’ve established who’s who on the riverbank, the mysteries of the wild wood and Toad’s status, it’s basically about his imprisonment and escape and the takeover and reclaiming of Toad Hall. Julian Fellowes book isn’t up to much, but George Stiles catchy tunes and Anthony Drewe’s witty lyrics do enough plot driving to make up for it.

Peter McKintosh’s design is cute for the riverbank and grand and imposing for Toad Hall, with some excellent train, car and boat journeys in-between. The costumes help define the characters and I thought they were lovely. Aletta Collins choreography also adds much to the characterisations. Rachel Kavanaugh’s production has, above all, a lot of charm, helped by delightful performances like Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole and Gary Wilmot as Badger. I liked Rufus Hound’s very brash, loud, athletic (and green) Toad and Denise Welch’s Geordie mother Otter. Neil McDermott is a good baddie, a suitably oily weasel.

The 6 and 10-year-old seemed to enjoy it as much as the older members of my party and the producers get a gold star for the accessibility that the children-go-free policy provides. Much better than those cynical paid critics would have you believe.

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This show, by Joe DiPietro & Jimmy Roberts, ran Off Broadway for 12 years / 5000 shows between 1996 and 2008 but has only managed three short runs in London. Though there are some unsung scenes, its really a song cycle for four actors, and it’s rather good.

It follows relationships from casual dating through serious courting, marriage, parenthood and empty nesting to divorce, death and back to dating! Four actors, two male and two female, play all of the nameless individuals and couples in various combinations, that represent stages in archetypal relationships. The songs are good, but its strength really lies in its humour, finding the truth in life’s twists and turns.

The great attraction of this production is four of Britain’s finest young musical theatre performers – Julie Atherton, Gina Beck, Samuel Holmes and Simon Lipkin – at the top of their game. Not only are they good delivering the songs, but they also prove very adept at the comedy, squeezing every laugh possible from the witty lyrics and sharp lines. Scott Morgan accompanies on an upright piano with no amplification which I liked, though I missed some lyrics when the performers weren’t facing me.

Staged in the small space Above the Arts Theatre by Kirk Jameson with movement by Sam Spencer Lane and just a few props but a lot of costume changes, it’s a delightful 80 minutes, though lengthened to almost two hours by an unnecessary interval and some bad timekeeping, which stretched the patience on a sweltering evening.

I took against the Arts Theatre’s new upstairs venue, Above the Arts, like a room above a pub for an open mic night, with no raking, no stage and no air, but I’m really glad I caught up with this show at last, especially with such fine casting. It deserves a better venue (St James Studio, Union Theatre, Landor Theatre….)and a longer run, though.

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This was always the most audacious of musicals. A show about nine men and women who tried to assasinate eight US presidents, four successfully, five not. Now it gets an audacious production by Jamie Lloyd at the Menier Chocolate Factory and it feels like it’s just been written. A lot of madness has passed under the bridge since the UK premier 22 years ago and it resonates much more today.

The show can sometimes feel more like a song cycle, with each assassin stepping forward to do a turn, but here it feels more like a show. The Proprieter, in gothic clown make-up referencing the American flag, presides over his fairground come shooting range, handing out guns and standing in for presidents. The thoroughly wholesome Balladeer, as American as apple pie, narrates through his song. Here he seems like a 60’s folkie, somewhat appropriate given the closing scene. Assassins tell their stories and commit their crimes whilst we struggle to comprehend their motivation, and this is where Jamie Lloyd’s production stands out, in the psychological depth that emerges. It’s a fascinating piece which subverts the musical form to great effect, not least in the final chorus of Everybody’s Got the Right.

You enter the theatre through the mouth of a clown into what seems to be a disused gothic fairground, with a dodgem and bits of rides, in a traverse setting (design by Lloyd’s regular collaborator, Soutra Gilmour). The success (or otherwise) of each assassination is cleverly marked. It’s louder, brasher and more in-yer-face than any other production I’ve seen. It’s not entirly comfortable and not at all safe, as I think it should be. It can jar with lovers of tradition in musicals. It seems as radical today as it did in 1992.

Jamie Parker, hot on the heels of his Sky Masterson in Guys & Dolls at Chichester, is outstanding as the Balladeer (and his other role!), as is Simon Lipkin (one of the best things about the ill-fated I Can’t Sing) as the Proprietor; they anchor the piece whilst the stories of the assassins unfold and interweave. Andy Nyman is terrific as a manic, unhinged Guiteau, who kills James Garfield because he won’t make him Ambassador to France. Aaron Tveit is a fine John Wilks Booth, assassin of Lincoln and father of them all, with great presence and in fine voice. I worried about the casting of Catherine Tate, but she suited the character of dotty Sarah Jane Moore. Stewart Clarke as Zangara and David Roberts as Czolgosz also impress, with excellent characterisations.

This has been a good year on the fringe and off-West End for Sondheim lovers – brilliant Sweeneys in Twickenham and Tooting, Pacific Overtures at the Union, Into the Woods in Walthamstow, the compilation shows Putting it Together & Marry Me a Little at St. James Theatre and now this to end the year – an Assassins for our times, a fresh look at an underated show.

 

 

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Any new musical is a big risk, which is why we don’t get many. Go straight to the West End, into the UK’s highest profile theatre, with a writer, director and choreographer with no musicals credits and a composer with one, and you significantly increase the risk. It’s midway through previews, still being rewritten, with cancellations, lengthened intervals and a half-time abandonment behind it and it’s clearly not ready yet BUT I thought it was great fun and I think they’re going to pull it off.

There’s a great opening scene as we see the ambition of a young Simon (brilliantly played by one of four young actors, I know not which). Then we meet X-Factor hopeful Chenice, her Grandpa and dog Barlow, in the family caravan under a London flyover. She has the back story to end all back stories. Another hopeful, Northern plumber Max, is just passing by. Later, we are introduced to other contestants – Welsh supermarket checkout girl Brenda, Irish duo The Alter Boys, Hunchback and Vladimir. In the first half, its the live auditions and a whistle-stop trip through to the live final which is the focus of the second half, on and off stage.

I liked Steve Brown’s songs (as I liked his score for Spend Spend Spend), lyrically funny with particularly good ‘big numbers’. There’s a somewhat haphazard, anarchic quality to the staging, perhaps because of a lack of readiness, but somehow adding to the fun. There’s a lot of cheeky references, clever parodies and some topicality in Harry Hill’s book and the targets are well and truly sent up, but in a friendly rather than a malicious way. It does lag at times and needs tightening up, but that’s doable. Like The Book of Mormon and The Commitments, it’s a different sort of musical aiming at a different audience and I think it succeeds.

Nigel Harman seemed a bit hesitant as Simon, perhaps because the real Simon was in the audience or perhaps due to his prosthetic teeth and high trousers! Cynthia Erivo certainly can sing, with bells on, and is terrific as Chenice. Alan Morrissey is also in fine voice as loveable Max and Simon Lipkin almost steals the show as Barlow the dog with a crush on Simon. The parts of judges Louis and Jordy (guess!) seemed underwritten to me, but Ashley Knight & Victoria Elliott do their best with what they’re given. Charlie Baker is unrecognisable, and also in fine voice, as Hunchback and I liked both Billy Carter’s camp producer and Simon Bailey’s host Liam, who has a song sung entirely whilst hugging Max!

Designer Es Devlin pulls a lot out of the bag, all of which worked the night I went, but I can see why it takes some breaking in. It’s not as slick as Mormon, but it’s also less cynical and more warm-hearted. If you know what they are parodying and just go for a fun night out, you are unlikely to be disappointed. A full house, the previous night’s aborted performance and the real Simon in the audience probably added a certain frisson, but fun was had regardless.

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