Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Spend Spend Spend’

When his partnership with Andrew Lloyd-Webber ended, Tim Rice collaborated with the boys from ABBA to create this show about chess champions with a cold war political backdrop and plenty of love interest. I saw it, but somehow it has been erased from the memory – I can’t even remember whether I liked it or not! So off to Woking we go to find out……

I’ve loved most of Craig Revel Horwood’s actor-musician productions since he picked up the mantle at The Watermill Newbury from John Doyle. The best of them was 2009’s Spend Spend Spend and I even liked 2010’s Copacobana! They can breathe new life into weak shows like Sunset Boulevard. Here they scale up considerably with an onstage team of 29 and I’m afraid it doesn’t work. Here’s why:

1. The design is very clever, using light panels and projections. The costumes are good, but there are next to no props. With 21 scenes in 16 different locations, you’re given few references to help you follow the story. Apparently, at one point we were in the Temple of the Reclining Buddah in Bangkok; you’d never know it. It feels more like a staged concert than a show.

2. The sound design buries a lot of Tim Rice’s lyrics and given that it’s virtually sung through, that means burying some of the story too. The onstage musicians sound as if they are miming to a backstage band, so distant is the sound. The lead vocals are over-amplified above this, compounding the problem – it seems like they are on The X-Factor singing to a backing track.

3. With the actors doubling up as musicians, the stage is very crowded for most of the show. This is fine in a ‘big’ scene or chorus number, but completely distracting in a more intimate scene.

4. The show is clever, but maybe too clever for its own good. The slickness means you don’t really engage with the characters or their stories. Frankly, I didn’t give a shit about any of them and was completely unengaged and uninvolved – I found myself watching the stagecraft as if I was its producer taking a look at how my show was shaping up, preparing to give notes to the team.

5. For people who wrote some of the most iconic pop songs ever, the score has nothing remotely as good. It’s mostly sub-operatic mush, with I Know Him So Well the only showstopper. Tim Rice’s lyrical trademark is his wit, but there’s little of that too – though some may have got buried in the sound design.

6. The Theatre Royal, Woking isn’t The Watermill Theatre, Newbury!

The seven leads are fine – particularly Shona White as Florence, who sounds uncannily like Elaine Paige (the original Florence). Unfortunately, the production forces them to act and sing with little subtly. The chorus of clearly talented actor-musicians work very hard.

More is less I’m afraid – lots of talent and energy leading to little entertainment.

Read Full Post »

The show must go on spirit was alive at the Rose Theatre in Kingston last night when the actress playing Milady – a rather significant role – was taken ill at short notice. Their novel solution was for director Francis Matthews to read the part, script in hand, whilst composer George Stiles sang the part from the side of the stage.  The only braver stand-in I’ve ever seen was when writer / director Terry Johnson stood in for David Haig during the original run of Dead Funny at Hampstead Theatre – a part the writer / director had decided needed full-frontal nudity!

It was only the second preview, but the show is in good shape. The book by Peter Raby & the director and the lyrics of Paul Leigh tell the story well, with a good balance between serious story-telling and tongue-in-cheek humour. I’ve never understood why a composer as talented as George Stiles hasn’t had the success Just So and Honk suggested he would; his score for this is very good indeed. Simon Higlett has erected a multi-layered set with lots of entrances and exits which facilitates a pacy staging with plenty of swash and buckle. It’s choreographed by someone more experienced in plays than musicals and most of the time this helps, but the actors aren’t yet comfortable with the movement required of them. I think the best way to describe it is Les Mis Light – and that’s not a criticism!

I really liked Michael Pickering’s D’Artagnan, a combination of fearlessness and naivety. Hal Folwer, Paul Thornly and Matt Rawle are all excellent as the musketeers (the latter is clearly specialising in swash-buckling roles having given us Zorro fairly recently). Kaisa Hammarlund, with four Menier musicals under her belt, is perfect as the love interest, and Iain Fletcher and Kirsty Hoiles (straight out of Spend Spend Spend) make a fine King & Queen. In fact, it’s a great company with a great seven piece band.

This show will clearly grow; based on this showing I think the Rose have a hit on their hands and I hope the proposed West End transfer comes off. More than great seasonal fare, but great seasonal fare nonetheless.

Read Full Post »