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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Webb’

I can hardly believe that it’s 30 years since the onset of AIDS. This was the first play to cover the events and issues of the time. However anchored in the period it was written or represents, if a play is good enough it will survive the test of time to speak to future audiences and so it is with As Is, which Arion Productions have brought from the Finborough to the West End.

The personal story of writer Rich provides the core of the play. He’s a New York City gay man, a writer, who’s partner Saul is a Jewish photographer. He cheats on him with his best friend Lily’s younger brother Chet and soon after is diagnosed with HIV. Saul remains loyal to Rich and cares for him throughout his decline in health. The play is so much more than this personal story though.

All of the issues the disease raised are interwoven in a series of masterly ensemble scenes. The first covers the attitudes, mostly uninformed and ignorant, to the ‘gay plague’ as it was labelled at the time and it shocks you. The gay scene and its rampant promiscuity is represented, we visit a group therapy session and there is a positively hysterical scene involving two men running a helpline. The scenes in the hospices are particularly moving. The play packs a lot into 80 minutes. Given the subject matter, you might be surprised to learn that it’s entertaining and often very funny.

The key to this revival’s success is a faultless cast led by Steven Webb as Rich and David Poynor as Saul. The other six actors (Natalie Burt, Bevan Celestine, Giles Cooper, Dino Fetscher, Jane Lowe and Russell Morton) play multiple roles, more than thirty in total. You’d be hard pressed to find a finer ensemble. Tim McQuillen-Wright’s design, with spot-on period costumes by Philippa Batt, excellent lighting by Neill Brinkworth and atmospheric music by Matthew Strachan, allows speedy movement from scene to scene. Andrew Keates direction in this intimate space has great pace and engages the audience throughout, helped by using the whole space and a small amount of highly effective direct audience contact.

Please don’t think a play on this subject must be earnest and dull because its far from it – it’s as much entertainment as it is storytelling. This West End run includes a whole host of ‘extras’ – post-show talks and Q&A’s, free HIV testing and people can write in remembrance on the theatre walls themselves. In a West End theatre. Brilliant! Though unplanned, I was lucky enough to be there on the evening playwright Martin Sherman no less joined the director and a couple of cast members after the show; a real bonus.

I can’t compare this revival with the original London production I saw all those years ago – my memory isn’t that good! – but it’s a must-see revival of an important play. Above all though, you should go because it’s bloody good theatre!

 

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This world premiere of an unfinished Lionel Bart musical is a real coup for The Kings Head Theatre, even more so since their staring point was a rough book and a CD of songs put together to woo potential investors.

You wouldn’t expect Bart to write a show like this – everything he did was quintessentially British; indeed quintessentially London – but as soon as you hear the music you know it’s him; the melodies are distinctively his – and there are some lovely songs in this show.

Seven ladders covered with cobwebs and a clever loft, designed by Christopher Hoe, make up the Paris of the hunchback on this tiny stage. Jonathan Lipman’s punk gothic costumes add an appropriately seedy quality. Quasimodo, abandoned as a child, brought up by a priest, occupies the bell tower of Notre Dame. He’s treated as a freak by all he meets and as a possession by the priest, who’s fondness for him is more than a bit creepy. When Esmerelda is pursued by the lowlife of Paris, he takes her in, protects her and falls in love with her.

Though it’s a roughly drawn book by Christopher Bond (also responsible for the original Sweeney Todd at Stratford East, which inspired Sondheim to write his), director Robert Chevara has done well to make something of the story and most importantly to showcase the lovely music, which is beautifully played by Peter Mitchell’s small band of piano, accordion and clarinet and sung by a cast in fine voice. Steven Webb is very good as Quasimodo and amongst a small but exceptional supporting cast, Zoe George shines as Esmerelda, particularly in the vocal department.

Though it’s clearly still an unfinished work, it’s definitely worth seeing if you are a lover of musical theatre and a must for Bart fans. He was a great, and underrated, composer who was a whole lot more than Oliver! but who may only be remembered for it.

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This chamber musical is a new spin on the love triangle. When advertising executive Tom and his wife Lucy, both unfaithful, split over Lucy’s affair with a bohemian artist things take an extraordinary turn. Tom at first stalks the artist, then becomes his flat-mate, then his friend. To say more would be to spoil the fun; suffice to say it turns full circle in a rather satisfying if implausible way – well, it is a musical, after all.

Jimmy Roberts’ score is somewhat Sondheimesque and for me (this may sound odd) has a little too much music, which makes it feel a bit ‘stuffed’; this isn’t at the expense of narrative or character development though and there are some nice songs. The good book and sharp witty lyrics are by Joe DiPietro, who wrote the very funny book for Nice Work If You Can Get It, which I saw last month in new York. It’s perhaps overly slick in that way American shows often can be to British sensibilities, but even so there’s a satisfying roundness to it all.

Andrew Keates excellent staging, on a functional but elegant set by Martin Thomas, has its tongue in its cheek. It zips along and characters sometimes appear to come from nowhere. The chorus of two, who play all 24 other roles, is a great device and in the hands of Steven Webb and Lucyelle Cliffe, is far from a supporting feature. Webb in particular relishes every cameo and many of these were the highlight of the evening, most particularly his one-man double-act as both the French maitre ‘d and American server in a poncy restaurant.

Peter Gerald is very good as an arrogant philandering ad man who becomes more humble, even nice,  as the story unfolds. Kate Graham was in particularly fine voice as lovestruck but-not-as-innocent-as-she-seems Lucy. John Addison’s opposite journey from laid back bohemian to sold-out for love was well played. There’s a lovely three-piece band (piano, cello and reeds) who’s gentle playing enable you to hear every word without the harshness of amplification.

This is a fun evening – a clever show expertly staged and performed; something we’re getting used to at the Landor.

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This is the second of the Edinburgh ones-that-got-away that I’ve caught up with back in London and boy am I glad I did!

It’s a musical where four lads in the departure lounge at a Spanish airport look back at their hedonistic week in the sun and reflect on life at the crossroads between school and university. I was expecting mere ladishness, but what surprised me was how much depth the rights-of-passage story has, the richness of the characterisation and how much it has to say about friendship.

In some musicals the songs seem artificially ‘slotted in’, but here Dougal Irvine’s excellent music is completely in keeping with the context, the tale and the characters. Accompanied by two acoustic guitars, the brilliantly funny lyrics are all clearly audible and the singing is first class – I was particularly impressed by the voice of Liam Tamne, but Chris Fountain, Jack Shalloo and Steven Webb also sang very well.

I felt a bit sorry for Verity Rushworth in the role of Sophie which is pivotal but a bit under-written, making her seem an ‘extra’, but she played it very well indeed. Spesh Moloney and the composer provided fine accompaniment.

This is an uplifting feel good show which I really hope has a life beyond this short run at Waterloo East Theatre (itself a welcome addition to the cultural landscape of SE1), but don’t wait, go now while you can.

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