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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Hoggett’

Joel Horwood’s stage adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel, inspired by his own childhood, proves to be enthralling storytelling, inventively staged and beautifully performed, and much darker than I was expecting.

It’s a complex story which starts at a funeral, where a mysterious old woman reminisces with a man, before we are taken back to his childhood home where he lived with his widowed father and younger sister. The family, particularly the boy, is shattered when their lodger commits suicide. He befriends Lettie, a neighbour who lives with her mum and grandma, all who seem to have special powers. Lettie and the boy take an adventure into the woods, which contains all sorts of weird creatures, and the boy gets bitten when he wanders off. Back at home, he finds that they have a new lodger, the very controlling Ursula, who he takes an instant dislike to. From here, the conflict between them escalates and he asks Lettie’s family to help him find a solution. Ursula is vey sinister, the creatures in the wood scary and it’s a very dark tale.

Samuel Blenkin is simply extraordinary as the boy, on stage virtually throughout, in a role that is both physically and emotionally challenging. Jade Groot as his feisty younger sister and Marli Siu as Lettie are both terrific too, all three totally believable as young kids. In fact, the whole cast are excellent, including an ensemble dressed in black who make scene changes captivating, brilliantly choreographed by Steven Hoggett; they even move people around the apron stage, which itself gives an intimacy to the storytelling. Fly Davies and the rest of the design team weave their magic with relatively simple but creative components that spark your imagination. I’m not familiar with the work of director Katy Rudd, but I was greatly impressed by her staging.

A great addition to the NT repertoire, which I think is going to be a big hit.

 

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Writer Jack Thorne has covered a very wide range of subjects in his stage and TV work, including adaptations of other’s material. This one is inspired by his own family history and I liked it a lot, but it could be that it resonates more with my generation.

It takes place at three points in time, each ten years apart, in the shabby chic home of David & Sal near Newbury. On each occasion their three children are either living there or visiting, and a meal is being prepared or delivered. They are idealistic lefties, old labour, regularly protesting or supporting causes. They’ve tried hard to pass on their values to their children whilst at the same time encouraging independent thought.

In 1997, just after the general election which elected New Labour, daughter Polly is home from Cambridge where she’s studying law, son Carl brings home his posh new girlfriend Harriet and wayward teen Tom is late home from school where’s he’s been in a drug related detention. The focus of this act is Carl & girlfriend Harriet’s bombshell. In 2007, Carl, who is now part of his father-in-law’s hotel business, comes with Harriet but without their children. Polly has sold her soul to corporate law and Tom is even more troubled. They’ve been called home to discuss their inheritance, but Tom becomes the centre of attention when his troubled soul erupts. In 2017, they’re there for a funeral, Polly now an associate partner in her law firm, Carl & Harriet’s marriage in trouble and Tom still trying to find his way in the world.

In between acts, the intervening years are signalled by changes of props, items and the calendar, with highly effective dance and movement staged by Steven Hoggett. The play tells the story of one family’s journey from the point at which the children leave the nest, whilst at the same time charting the concurrent political and social changes and in particular the differences in values and attitudes between the generations. The dialogue sparkles and the characters are well drawn. It all felt very authentic to me, perhaps because I’m of the same generation as David & Sal.

Leslie Sharp’s Sal and Kate Flynn’s Polly are occasionally overplayed. David Morrissey was more restrained and ultimately moving as David. I really liked Sam Swainsbury and Zoe Boyle as Carl and Harriett and Laurie Davidson was particularly good at conveys the three very different Tom’s. John Tiffany’s finely tuned direction and Grace Smart’s superb design bring the story alive.

Thorne yet again proves both his talent and his range, one of the most exciting of this extraordinary new generation of playwrights.

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If Walt Disney hadn’t adapted this late nineteenth century Italian novel by Carlo Collodi for his second full-length animated film just before the Second World War, it would probably never have become the iconic tale it has, told around the world in many forms and languages. Here we are almost eighty years later seeing a stage adaptation at the National Theatre, and what a treat it proves to be.

The tale struck me as darker (the hand of playwright Dennis Kelly?) and more moralistic than I remembered, with a strong emphasis on the importance of values and truth. In learning these en route from being a puppet to being a boy, Pinocchio encounters a trio of baddies – a sly trickster Fox, puppet-master Stromboli and fairground-master The Coachman. These are juxtaposed with his loving dad, puppet-maker Geppetto, and the Blue Fairy, who adds that touch of magic.

John Tiffany’s staging doesn’t rely on technology, as much modern theatre does, but it is utterly charming and completely magical. Bob Crowley provides a simple, appropriately wooden design of benches, trees and ladders until we move to the puppet theatre’s proscenium and the fairground’s lights. The underwater scene is an understated marvel. Puppets are used for some of the main characters (except the puppet Pinocchio himself!) with Geppetto, Stromboli and the Coachman twice life size, with three handlers as well as the actor in identical dress; this gives the production a somewhat surreal quality and a period feel.

Tiffany’s regular movement collaborator Steven Hoggett creates an athletic child-like world. and the illusions by Jamie Harrison (whose work so impressed me at the Harry Potter plays recently) are brilliant (though there was a minor nose malfunction on the night I went!). Martin Lowe provides a wonderful score to supplement the film’s original five songs and inspired by its incidental music and Italian and Alpine folk music, including the recurrent standard When You Wish Upon a Star, which sounds suitably lush with a 15-piece orchestra under Tom Brady in the pit.

Mark Hadfield’s Geppetto is very moving (was that a real tear I saw at the end?) and Joe Idris-Roberts is an absolute delight as a very malleable Pinocchio. All three baddies deliver the required badness – David Langham’s Fox, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Stromboli and David Kirkbride as The Coachman. Audrey Brisson makes Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket a lovely companion and Annette McLaughlin is every bit the fairy of your imagination.

Younger kids might be a bit scared, but older ones will love it’s darkness and adults it’s timeless charm and glorious theatricality. One of the best Christmas shows at the National, adding to its impressive seasonal track record.

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I’m sure no-one is interested in my view, fifteen months after the show opened, but I shall record it nonetheless. What could have been cashing in on, or spinning out, a franchise is nothing like it. Though it is clearly a license to print money, its also some of the best storytelling and stagecraft I’ve ever seen. From page to screen to stage, Harry Potter proves to be the most enduring phenomenon.

Let’s start with the writing. J K Rowling, director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne’s story begins nineteen years later, when school friends Harry, Hermione and Ron are married and parents themselves. This is an inspired idea, though it is the same as the epilogues of both the final book and final film, so Rowling may already have had the idea, if not the form. It enables us to return to Hogwarts with the next generation and to see the development of the generation we’ve grown up with, with flashbacks to their time in school, and even further. It’s densely plotted but completely lucid. Brilliant storytelling, just like the books.

Tiffany’s staging is fast-paced, with beautiful movement by regular collaborator Steven Hoggett, and it flows like a dream. Jamie Harrison’s special effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen on stage; to say more about them would be a spoiler. Christine Jones’ design manages to make us believe we’re in Kings Cross Station or Hogwarts’ Great Hall, but also smaller spaces like offices and libraries, even under the stairs at the Dursley’s. It’s brilliantly lit by Neil Austin, crucial to many of the illusions, and Imogen Heap provides a suitably atmospheric soundtrack.

This is the second cast, but they all seemed top notch to me, with Jamie Glover even looking like Jamie Parker! The trio of friends have grown up as you would expect – serious Harry (Glover), earnest Hermione (Rakie Ayola) and joker Ron (Thomas Aldridge) – all excellent, but I particularly liked Aldridge’s characterisation of Ron. In the next generation, Samuel Blenkin is terrific as young Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco and a Hogwarts contemporary of Harry’s son Albus (Theo Ancient – very good). In what must be the biggest ever company for a West End play (38!), David Annen and Elizabeth Hill make excellent contributions in their multiple roles, Annabel Baldwin shines in her transformation and April Hughes gives a lovely cameo as Moaning Myrtle.

Late I may be, but terrific to report that it’s such a welcome and high quality addition to the London stage, about to become an export success too.

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This much lauded revival of Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical first hit has travelled from Harvard to Broadway & the Edinburgh Festival en route to the West End, with two of its original cast staying with it. The Director and Designer are our own John Tiffany and Bob Crowley. It’s my fourth production in just over twenty years and that may be why I’m less euphoric than most.

The Wingfield family have fallen on hard times since Mr Wingfield deserted them. They live in an apartment in St Louis. Mother Amanda is a southern belle, a former debutante, who forever reminisces about her past. Her children are both her whole life and a disappointment to her. Son Tom works in a warehouse and escapes regularly from the confines of his stifling home life to ‘the movies’. His sister Laura has a small disability, though she’s referred to as ‘a cripple’, and seems to be somewhat unstable. She dropped out of high school and college and now sits at home tending and playing with her collection of glass animals. Amanda is obsessed with marrying off Laura and is thrilled when Tom brings hime a ‘a gentleman caller’, his more successful colleague Jim. At first Laura is too shy and withdrawn to engage with them and join in the dinner, but Jim turns out to be an obsession from her past and things begin to go a lot better – until Jim drops a bombshell and upsets both Laura and Amanda and provokes Tom’s planned departure for pastures new.

Bob Crowley’s beautiful impressionistic set, gorgeously lit by Natasha Katz,  has a fire escape rising to the heavens with stairs down beneath the stage emphasising the location, though from the front stalls I didn’t fully appreciate his design coup until I walked to the front of the stage at the end. John Tiffany’s staging, with ‘movement’ from regular collaborator Steven Hoggett, has a light touch with the pivotal second half scene between Laura and Jim masterly, but I didn’t engage with it emotionally. Cherry Jones as Amanda and Brian J Smith as Jim are hugely impressive, perhaps because they are the two stayers. Though we only see him in the second half, I thought Smith lifted the production. Michael Esper, fresh from his star turn in Lazarus, didn’t quite do it for me and Kate O’Flynn’s Laura was sometimes too squeaky and overly fey.

It’s a better production than the misguided one at the Young Vic six or seven years ago and as good as the last West End outing directed by Rupert Goold’s and starring Jessica Lange a few years before that, but it doesn’t live up to Sam Mendes Donmar production (will anything ever?) just over twenty years ago and it looks like that’s my curse; it stops me joining in the euphoria, even though I much admired it. Still, I’m glad I caught it and would certainly recommend it.

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I think the first Burt Bacharach song I heard was Anyone Who Had A Heart, in the version by Cilla Black (My first crush and I wasn’t even a teenager. Just). More than 30 years later I was still listening to his songs, this time in a superb collaboration with new musical hero Elvis Costello. More than 15 years on again this glorious homage opens with that first song, just days after we lost Cilla, so it was a bittersweet but beautiful opening to a faultless show, with the penultimate song Alfie, from which the show’s title is taken, also forever linked with Cilla. I absolutely adored it.

Over the course of ninety minutes we get around 30 songs – complete ones, medleys, mash-ups, individual song lines and melodies weaving in and out, and there isn’t a dud amongst them. They’ve been arranged in a variety of different styles including rock, regaee & blues, as solos, ensemble pieces and various combinations of the seven performers. It’s captivating. A veritable musical feast.

The Menier stage seems huge. It’s covered in a patchwork of carpet, littered with standard lamps and table lamps. There’s sofa and easy chair seating at several levels at the sides and sofas elevated at the back, with musical instruments hanging between. There are even two revolves! I smiled when I first saw Christine Jones & Brett J Banakis design and it brought a great intimacy and cosiness to the evening.

Steven Hoggett’s staging and movement is inspired. It makes the evening flow as one. Every movement is carefully choreographed, yet it seems completely natural, as if the lyrics propel the movement. There is a moment where the change of a guitar becomes an embrace which continues as a dance as the song is sung. It’s hard to describe such an intuitive and organic show except to say it’s as beautiful to watch as it is to hear.

Four of the US cast have been joined by three British / Irish newbies and they’re all brilliant. Not only has he conceived the show and arranged the music, Kyle Riabko is MD, multi-instrumentalist and lead singer. He must have performed this more than a hundred times but it felt like he was doing it for the first time. A towering performance of his own inspired arrangements.

This was one of the most perfect evenings I have ever spent in the theatre and when we got outside we were greeted by the cast busking a ukulele version of Raindrops Keep Falling On Your Head; a lovely way to send us home. Don’t even think about missing this.

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Teenage vampire love stories aren’t exactly one of my genres. I haven’t read the book and I didn’t see the film, but I was hugely impressed by this stage adaptation by Jack Thorne for the ever enterprising National Theatre of Scotland, now at the Royal Court en route to bigger audiences I understand.

The stage is a snow-covered forest where ghastly murders are committed; an excellent design by Christine Jones. Other scenes are played out with a few props in front of it, most involving teenager Oskar, who’s mum & dad are separated and he’s being bullied. He befriends mysterious neighbour Eli who never goes to school and friendship becomes romance (of a fashion). Oskar starts to fight back, which brings the wrath of one of his bullies elder brother which in turn brings the wrath of Eli on the bullies.

It’s a superbly atmospheric production with a terrific soundtrack by Olafur Arnalds and stylised movement by Steven Hoggett and great special effects by Jeremy Chernick. John Tiffany’s staging really is masterly and it grips throughout. I jumped out of my seat once and had to turn away a few times. Martin Quinn, in his professional stage debut, is superb, as is Rebecca Benson as Eli. In the rest of a very good cast, Ewan Stewart is a menacing Hakan, Eli’s dad, and Graeme Dalling utterly convincing as bully Jonny.

This is a brilliant show to introduce teenagers to theatre and this ageing teenager thoroughly enjoyed it too.

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