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Posts Tagged ‘Theatre Royal Stratford’

When I booked for this months ago, I wasn’t expecting the world to be on the brink of yet another conflict in Ukraine. One hundred years on from the events depicted here and we’re still confronted with war on a daily basis. This timely and welcome revival also commemorates 100 years since the birth of its co-creator Joan Littlewood and 50 years since its ground-breaking first production, back where it all started at ‘a people’s theatre’ where it belongs.

It still winds up Michael Gove (something this production cheekily but appropriately recognises) so I can imagine the ‘conservative’ reaction in 1963. Presenting the First World War from the perspective of ordinary soldiers and making explicit how many millions of lives were lost as ‘a musical entertainment’ packs as much of a punch today as it must have done then. We’re told much of the true history of the war from the assassination which triggered it, interspersed with the satirical songs which would have been heard during it. Laughter pierced with moments of disbelief, horror and anger at how this was allowed to happen.

Terry Johnson’s production respects it’s heritage, most importantly the form of the Pierrot show. There’s an anarchic, ramshackle feel to it, particularly at the start and partly because of Lez Brotherston’s designs, but it achieves the right balance of entertainment and education / re-education. It zips along, changing from laughter to shock on the turn of an actor’s head. The audience are engaged and involved, which emphasises the populist nature underlying the piece.

I was delighted to learn that it is now a popular show to be performed in schools (up yours, Gove) because it tells a true story but also proves the power of theatre, something emphasised in original cast member Murray Melvin’s moving programme note recalling the show’s reception in Paris, which somewhat embarrassingly brought me to tears on the tube on the way home!

A fitting tribute to its subject and its creators and still a wake-up call 50 years on.

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If ever a title was likely to put you off a show, this one was…..but not me……

US composer John Adams is better known for his operas and this is his first (and only) attempt at ‘musical theatre’…..but it’s not really a musical…..or theatre…..or opera…..It’s a dramatised song cycle set at the time of the Northridge earthquake in 1994 Los Angeles. There are 22 songs sung by seven singers accompanied by eight musicians. Taken as a whole, they are a fascinating cocktail of pop, jazz & modern classical; much more accessible than Adams usual fare. Though there are connections between the characters and there is the earthquake itself in Act II, the lack of cohesive narrative means it doesn’t really amount to a ‘show’ though. 

There’s some lovely music here and I’m keen to hear it again. The seven performers are outstanding, delivering sometimes difficult music really well, and the band are terrific too. The staging did add value in a way, and it certainly didn’t detract, but it’s more illustration than story-telling and I think the songs would work almost as well without it. If the first half was a little shorter and as good as the second it would be a lot lot better.

A very worthy joint venture for the ever innovative Barbican & Stratford East though and deserving of a bigger audience – partly no doubt because only a handful of critics have headed east to review it and therefore publicise it – shame on you Evening Standard, The Independent, Daily Telegraph, The Stage & whatsonstage.com!

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