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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

When I left the first outing of this show, in Stratford 27 years ago, I had two questions – ‘What on earth were they thinking of, turning this into a musical?’ and ‘Why did the RSC get involved?’ I think my companions’ question was ‘Why the hell did he bring is to this?’

Some hot-shot American producer had persuaded the RSC to première a musical of Stephen King’s first novel (horror, obviously) with a book by the man for whom the screenplay for the film of the book was his debut and music and lyrics by people who’d never done a stage musical before (though they had written for Alan Parker’s film Fame). It was directed by Terry Hands, whose only previous musical was Pete Nichols brilliant satirical panto Poppy. They’d even persuaded Barbara Cook to come over (though she tried to exit after almost being decapitated on opening night with a close encounter with a piece of the set). Despite the poor critical reception, they still showered it with millions of dollars and took it to Broadway, where it closed three days later and went down in history as one of the greatest flops of all time. I never expected to see it again.

I don’t know whether it’s the passage of time, the subsequent cult success of the teen horror genre, re-working of the show or just a bloody good production and cast, but it’s a whole lot better in this Southwark Theatre revival. It’s still a bit incongruous, the music is fairly formulaic pop-rock and the production may be papering over the cracks in the story, but I think its well worth catching. It starts in the school showers as naive Carrie is shocked by the onset of her first period, leading to humiliation by her fellow students and ongoing bullying. Her bible-bashing mother knows she’s an ‘odd’ / ‘special’ girl and tries to prevent her socialising, but fellow student Sue, full of remorse for the humiliation, decides to make amends by loaning her boyfriend as her partner for the school prom, an offer she can’t refuse. Sadly, some of the other girls are determined to continue the humiliation at the prom, which unleashes Carrie’s considerable powers for revenge. Cue blood and carnage.

This is all very well staged by Gary Lloyd, with a very good design from Tim McQuillen-Wright and excellent special effects by Jeremy Chernick. The musical standards are high, with a great six-piece band under MD Mark Crossland. The young cast is outstanding, with fine leading performances from Evelyn Hoskins as Carrie, Greg Miller-Burns as Tommy and Sarah McNicholas as Sue and Gabriella Wiliams and Dex Lee as the baddies. Kim Criswell and Jodie Jacobs are both excellent in the adult roles of mother and teacher respectively.

It’s not a great show, but it is a fine production and producer Paul Taylor-Mills should be congratulated for giving it another chance, as he did recently with that other flop Batboy. Two more weeks to catch it, and you should. Oh, and the writer Lawrence D Cohen is writing a book about his Carrie experience and it’s going to be called ‘ What Were They Thinking?’!

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A shortened visit this year, to facilitate a ‘pit-stop’ back in London before I travel the Silk Road from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to Beijing! So, anything that I can see in London is automatically excluded – there still isn’t enough time, of course.

We started well with a new adaptation (from the Stephen King novella, rather than the film) of The Shawshank Redemption (****). It was well adapted by comedians Owen O’Neill & Dave Johns and the cast was also largely made up of comedians, led by Omid Djalili. In 100 unbroken minutes, it managed to bring out both the hopelessness of prison life and the depth of the friendship at its core. Simply staged (though elaborate for the fringe!) with five two-story metal towers and a handful of benches, with a brooding soundtrack, it packed quite a punch.

In a contrast typical of Edinburgh, we followed this with a concert from favourite Scottish folkie Karine Polwart (*****). I’d seen her with others but not doing her own show and it was a delight. She may be a folkie, but all of her songs are originals (except for a welcome tribute to another Scottish favourite Michael Marra, who died this year) and gorgeous they are, with backing by acoustic guitar and ‘percussion’. The Queens Hall was the perfect venue, with acoustics and atmosphere worthy of her talents.

Day Two saw me back at ‘second home’ The Traverse Theatre for the Abbey Theatre’s Quietly (****), where a catholic and a protestant meet in a pub during a Northern Ireland v Poland football international 36 years after one had killed the other’s father in a pub bombing during a similar match. It was a thought-provoking and original dissection of ‘the troubles’ at a psychological level and the addition of a Polish barman added a contemporary twist.

After the now customary & mandatory visit to the International Photographic Exhibition (**** – but too many contrived, posed, stylised unnatural shots this year), the afternoon saw me in a stationary minibus with 13 others and a storyteller telling us about his recreation of one of  his granddad’s jaunts to Cape Wrath (***)  in the far north of Scotland. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did and proved to be a charming hour.

I’d heard good  things about the National Theatre of Wales new show, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (*****), but I wasn’t really ready for how good. It reminded me of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch – thrillingly theatrical, tackling something about as topical and relevant as its possible to be. It’s a fascinating real life story with a Welsh connection and I was captivated from beginning to end. NTW continues to lead the way.

The common feature of my favourite living artists – Howard Hodgkin, David Hockney – seems to be colour, and Peter Doig is another. His Edinburgh exhibition (****) is bigger than his relatively recent Tate one, and though some of the 36 paintings were at both, there was much new here – plus lots of sketches, prints and posters – and the NGS (former RSA) space was perfect, allowing them to breathe and enabling you to get enough distance from them.

Things took a dip after this with a play called Making News (**) about a scandal at the BBC. It was underwritten and under-rehearsed, with lots of dull patches between a few big laughs. This was another of those companies of comedians, but this lot couldn’t act so well – particularly Suki Webster, who was as wooden as an entire forest. The dip continued for John Godber’s Losing the Plot (**), a play about the mid-life crisis which was a touch implausible and with too many short scenes between long gaps for it to flow well. Not even Corrie’s Eddie Windass could rescue it! When I first came to Edinburgh in the mid-80’s, Godber’s work for Hull Truck (Up n’ Under, Bouncers, Shakers, Teechers…..) was compulsory viewing. I think I should have stuck with my memories.

Things picked up again when we boarded the coach Leaving Planet Earth (****), space ‘jumping’ to New Earth just before we got to the extraordinary Edinburgh International Climbing Arena. The pre-emails asking us for our pledges and for objects for the Old Earth Museum had made me a bit cautious and sceptical and it took a while for the narrative to settle, but when it did, I found the story of our exodus from our dying planet engaging and thought-provoking. Promenading to different scenes over four floors of this amazing venue, Grid Iron’s main festival show was a technical and logistical marvel and the venue truly was a star.

Our first (and last!) dose of classical music kick-started Tuesday with a wonderful, and wonderfully different, Queens Hall recital by a 13-piece (mostly) woodwind (inc. horn!) ensemble called Nachtmusique (****). The programme was entirely Mozart with pieces for various combinations of instruments ending in a 45 minute piece for the whole ensemble. Gorgeous!

What can one say about Coriolanus (***) in Mandarin with two on-stage heavy metal bands called Miserable Faith and Suffocated?! It was a bit gimmicky, but it just about worked in telling the story of the revenge of the scorned man. When the actors were allowed to get on with it unencumbered, they were great, though the acting of the large ensemble was somewhat ragged, with particularly wimpy fighting, making me speculate that they had been recruited locally (later proved correct). The surtitles were often odd, as if they used google translate back from the Mandarin translation, and oddly paced in that they didn’t always keep up! Still, good to welcome another overseas theatre company to give us their take on The Bard.

A few wee exhibitions (see, gone native) to start my final day, but none really excited. Conde Nast Photos (***) were good if you like your photos highly stylised, obsessively posed & very contrived, but I overdosed a bit on it all. The City Arts Centre’s companion exhibition Dressed to Impress (***.5) showcased dress in Scottish painting through history and was a bit more satisfying, with a few real gems. Across the road in the Fruitmarket Gallery, Gabriel Orozco (**) was all circles – too many circles!

David Harrower’s Ciara (***.5) is a monologue which I wouldn’t have booked if I’d known it was a monologue, but I was glad I did as it was extremely well written and performed brilliantly by Blythe Duff! We followed this with my final show – I’m With The Band (***.5) – about a band called The Union splitting up, a metaphor for – you guessed it – the union that is the UK. It was clever and the characterisations were very good, but it was a bit heavy-handed.

A 3.5* final day in a  4* festival. With a wimpy 12 shows in 5 days, will I be alllowed to return???

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