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Posts Tagged ‘Soutra Gilmour’

It seems to me that adapting Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels for the stage is hugely ambitious, not that I’ve read them, and though there’s much to enjoy in Melly Stills’ terrific production of April De Angelis’ adaptation, it didn’t quite come off for me.

It has an epic span of sixty years, with forty-six characters, combining the personal story of two women with the concurrent history of a city and the socio-political history of a country. Lenu and Lila are working class Naples girls, who we first meet when they are eight as they become best friends. Their lives diverge when Lila’s very traditional parents force her to leave school, whilst Lenu continues at school, then becomes one of the first in their neighbourhood to go to University.

Lenu moves into academia and becomes a writer, marries a professor, moves to Florence and has two children, but struggles to remain a successful author. Feisty Lila is much more of a rebel and leaves her marriage to ‘the boy next door’, a puppet of gangsters, for a rather wild life that starts with factory work but leads her to fighting for workers and women’s rights and brushes with terrorists and gangsters before she marries a local boy again and sets up a business. Their lives converge again when Lenu leaves her husband for a old flame, returning to Naples.

They’ve captured the edginess of Naples very well and Soutra Gilmor’s set of four movable steps with projections, shadows and silhouettes is impressionistic and very evocative. There’s so much story that it is inevitably episodic, but the staging is very inventive, using every trick in the book, including puppetry and stylised movement; the fights, riots, killings and an earthquake (!) are particularly well staged, some gruesomely. You have to keep your wits about you to keep. up, though, as it occasionally fails to signpost something that can derail you. An excellent cast of twenty-three actors play all forty-six roles, led by Niamh Cusack as Lenu and Catherine McCormack as Lila.

I admired the production and performances more than I liked the storytelling. I’m not sure they could have done a better job, except perhaps lengthening it and turning it from two parts into three. I’m glad I went, though. I admired the ambition and the inventiveness.

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This new jukebox musical comes twenty years after Mamma Mia, which of course featured the catalogue of Swedish group ABBA and is still running in London. This
latest one features the compositions and collaborations of another Swede, songwriter Max Martin, with a book by David West Read. I’m not the target demographic and I didn’t know many of the songs, but I thought it was huge fun, quite possibly the most successful non-biographical example of the genre since Mamma Mia.

The company are in rehearsal with William Shakespeare at the Curtain Theatre for the premiere of Romeo & Juliet when his wife Ann, visiting London, intervenes wanting to change the ending. From here we embark on Juliet’s ongoing story, written and rewritten live on stage by Will and Ann. The sixteenth century meets the twenty-first, in costume, language and behaviour, as the songs are fitted in with great skill to the narrative of this new tale with a contemporary spin by both Shakespeares.

One of the joys of seeing Mamma Mia for the first time was those delicious moments as you hear a song audaciously slotted in, and it felt the same here. It’s tongue is firmly in its cheek and you find yourself laughing and smiling with it. The play within the show takes us from Verona to Paris and has great pace and energy, propelling us to the happy ending that the first version doesn’t, with no less than four unions to celebrate.

Though it’s look is loud, gaudy and colourful, there are a lot of clever touches in the meeting of periods 400 years apart in Soutra Gilmour’s set and Paloma Young’s costumes. Howard Hudson lighting and Andrezej Goulding’s projections add to the pop concert aesthetic and Jennifer Weber’s pop video choreography completes the picture. This must be director Luke Sheppard’s biggest gig and he rises to the occasion with a slick, sassy, funny show, with has more depth and layers than you might expect in this genre.

Miriam-Teak Lee, in only her third West End show, is sensational as Juliet, with the complete ‘triple threat’ of acting, singing and dancing. Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson are a great pairing as Will and Ann, sparring affectionately with each other, and there’s another great pairing in David Badella and Melanie La Barrie, both of whom its great to see on stage again. The rest of the cast of twenty-five are brimming with talent and infectious enthusiasm. It was good to see the fine but hidden nine-piece band get an onstage curtain call.

The Shaftesbury Theatre hasn’t had that many long runners, but I suspect that is about to change. Great fun.

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A musical at the Open Air Theatre has been one of my summer institutions for decades. Evita is one of the few Andrew Lloyd-Webber shows I like, I hadn’t seen it for thirteen years and the director and designer are favourites of mine, but it didn’t catch my imagination and I didn’t book early as usual. The reviews suggested it was more of a rock concert and I hadn’t liked a similar treatment of Jesus Christ Superstar, so decision confirmed. Then in its final week, a free evening, sunny days, a few single tickets available, a dose of FOMO and no willpower…….

It’s staged on eight large steps the width of the theatre with the band at the back in a corrugated roofed shed behind a giant EVITA sign. It isn’t long before the smoke and confetti bombs confirm the rock concert aesthetic, later joined by more of the same plus fire and fireworks. Even Fabian Aloise’s quirky, grungy choreography owes more to pop videos that musical theatre. Soutra Gilmour’s design palette goes from funereal black through greys to the Peronist pale blue, with at one point Evita’s white dress spectacularly coloured before our eyes.

Some of this works well, particularly big numbers like the opening Requiem, Act I’s closer A New Argentina, the European visit’s Rainbow Tour & the charity fundraising The Money Keeps Rolling In, but it doesn’t always serve the story well, with some of Tim Rice’s sharp lyrics inaudible. Somewhat ironically, presenting it as a rock concert emphasised how operatic it is, but opera really needs more subtlety and some restraint to go with its spectacle. This is a bit of a one dimensional Evita and I couldn’t help fondly recalling Hal Prince’s ground-breaking original in 1978 and Michael Grandage’s stylish revival in 2006.

I liked the all-shapes-sizes-and-colours ensemble very much, and Alan Williams’ band was simply terrific. Trent Saunders was an excellent Che and Ektor Rivera good as Peron. I felt Samantha Pauly was too shouty as Eva and her vocals sometimes shaky, though in all fairness it was a cool evening (I had a jumper and fleece on) and she was clothed in next to nothing, albeit under bright lights most of the time. I can’t help wondering why all three leads are American when we have many here, some no doubt unemployed, who would jump at and excel in these roles.

I enjoyed it more than Superstar, I respect and admire Jamie Lloyd for taking a fresh look and I don’t regret going, but can we move on from ALW revivals in concert and get back to business as usual please? Ah, Carousel next year – now you’re talking……

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This is the second Alexi Kaye Campbell play to be revived relatively soon after its premiere, eight years ago at the Bush in this case, both at the Trafalgar Studios, both directed by Jamie Lloyd, and I for one am glad they have been as I missed the first outings of both, despite the fact they originated at regular haunts.

Kristin is an American who has been living in the UK most of her adult life. She’s a product of the late sixties – idealist, feminist, liberal, even socialist, who believes everyone should be promoting change and giving back. She divorced her husband when their two sons were young, but took them with her to Italy, pursuing her career as an art historian – until her husband took them from her, something she seems not to have fought, even acquiesced to. The title means a formal defence of one’s opinions or conduct; in this case Kristin is about to be held to account by her sons for not mentioning them in her recent memoir.

It’s her birthday and sons Peter and Simon, their girlfriends and gay friend Hugh are coming to lunch. Peter has taken a contrasting career path as a banker specialising in Africa. He is besotted with his American girlfriend Trudi, a somewhat vacuous evangelical Christian, something Kristin doesn’t really approve of, though she turns out to have more depth than first appears. Simon’s girlfriend, soap star Claire, another career Kristin disapproves of, arrives before and without him. Hugh is her close friend, and her defender. There’s a lot going on here, and I loved the richness of the story and the narrative, and the very well drawn characters.

Soutra Gilmour’s design is conventional (for her) but anchors the play in a British country cottage. Jamie Lloyd gets great performances from his terrific cast, led by Stockard Channing as spiky Kristin, who navigates the complex combination of arrogance, determination and guilt with great skill. Joseph Millson’s challenge is to characterise two very different brothers, which he does very well. Laura Carmichael was a bit of a revelation as Trudi, with what seemed, to these Brit ears, a spot-on American accent. It appears to be Freema Agyeman’s stage debut and impressive it was too. It’s lovely to see Desmond Barit in a role which so suits him and he relishes some cracking lines, milking them for all they’re worth.

This exceeded my expectation by a big margin and now I’ve seen four good Alexi Kaye Campbell plays, he enters my list of must-see playwrights.

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I was wondering why I couldn’t remember anything (except earth) about David Harrower’s first play, the premiere of which I saw twenty-two years ago, then after I saw this revival at the Donmar, I realised that it was the stage equivalent of an impressionist painting – more about the setting and atmosphere it creates than the story it tells.

We’re in medieval times, though the period and location are no more specific; rural north England, perhaps. A nameless young woman lives with Pony William, the local ploughman, who doesn’t have a lot to say and whose intimacy is confined to perfunctory and speedy sex. When she takes their grain to Gilbert Horn, the miller, for processing, the attraction seems to be more than just sexual. He’s a reader and a writer and she is interested in the world this opens up to her.

I can see why director Yael Farber was attracted to it as it suits her visual style. Designer Soutra Gilmour, with help from Tim Lutkin’s striking lighting and Isobel Waller-Bridge & Christopher Shutt’s brooding music and sound combine to create something earthy and sensuous within which we get a limited amount of narrative but a lot of atmosphere. As much as I loved the visual imagery, I did feel it was light on story. The three performances are excellent – Judith Roddy, torn between Christian Cooke as strong, silent Pony William and Matt Ryan as strong, more cerebral Gilbert Horn.

It holds your attention for an unbroken ninety minutes, its sometimes mesmerising, and it leaves you feeling you’ve travelled back to peek voyeuristically into this medieval world, but I’m not sure its the modern classic some claim.

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This fascinating play by Rajiv Joseph is set in the mid-17th century in Agra, as the Taj Mahal nears completion. Two guards, Humayun and Babur, are posted outside with their backs to the building, forbidden to turn around and see it. They have been friends since army days and they pass the time reminiscing and fantasising. Humayun is earnest and law-abiding; his dad holds a senior position in the Emperor’s court. Babur is more rebellious and cheeky. The play is based on the myth that the Emperor is determined that a more beautiful building is never built and takes drastic action to ensure this is the case.

In the first part, we get to know these two guards as they stand in position engaging in conversation, even though they are supposed to be mute. They talk about the building, a mausoleum for the Emperor’s favourite wife which has taken 20 years to complete, and its architect. They reflect on the Emperor’s life and in particular his harem. They look back fondly to their army days, specifically when they built a tree platform for protection. In the second part, we see the aftermath of the work they had to do at the Emperor’s bidding to ensure nothing as beautiful would ever be built again, one resigned to following orders, the other wracked with guilt. They share thoughts and flights of imagination as they disagree. In the third, they are divided when Humayan is forced to follow his father’s orders.

It’s hard to describe. Though it’s a duologue, it’s mesmerising and completely captivating. In Jamie Lloyd’s gripping production, Soutra Gilmour’s design is complemented by striking lighting from Richard Howell and an atmospheric soundscape by George Dennis, but above all it’s the compelling performances of Danny Ashok and Darren Kuppan which draw you in.

A great way to re-open the Bush Theatre and good to see Jamie Lloyd working on the fringe for the second time this year.

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It’s a long way from my first introduction to Twelfth Night, for something that used to be called ‘O’ levels, to this – 50 years and 130 miles to be precise. This is the freshest production of this play I’ve seen since; it positively sparkles.

When Tamsin Greig was cast as Malvolio, I assumed it was just gender blind casting, but in fact she’s playing Malvolia; the character has had a sex change. This gives the attraction to Olivia another dimension altogether. In fact, one of the striking things about this production is the believable sexual frissons – between various combinations of Orsino, Olivia, Cesario (Viola) & Sebastian as well as Malvolia and Olivia. Another is the success of both the high comedy and the pathos in a production with an extraordinary attention to detail – visual, gestural, postural and linguistic. There are so may lovely touches.

The outstanding cast is high on established comic performers. Oliver Chris brings a humour to Orsino I’ve rarely seen. Tim McMullan and Daniel Rigby are as fine a double-act as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek as you’ll find anywhere. Doon Mackichan’s take on Feste is delightful. Tamsin Greig creates a frumpy Malvolia dressed in black, with a bob hairstyle, that brings the house down and makes her humiliation all the more tragic. Tamara Lawrence and Daniel Ezra are both excellent as the shipwrecked twins and Phoebe Fox brings a cheekiness to Olivia. Somehow, Maria seems to play a much bigger role in the humiliation of Malvolia and is brilliantly played by Niky Wardley. The whole ensemble gels perfectly.

Soutra Gilmour’s design has a central feature which moves us between locations as it moves itself. There are cars, scooters and bikes and her costumes are witty and colourful. Though there are songs in the play, director Simon Godwin appears to put more emphasis on the music (as he did in The Beaux Stratagem) and Shelley Maxwell’s movement contributes a lot to heightening the humour of the piece. It all sits very comfortably on the Olivier stage.

It’s a while since I saw this play, so perhaps that added to my enjoyment of what is indeed a fine revival.

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