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Posts Tagged ‘Theatre Workshop’

If they invent time travel while I’m still around, one of my first theatrical journeys will be back to the 50’s / 60’s to see a Theatre Workshop performance at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. For now, I’ll settle for this wonderfully alive, passionate, heart-warming, populist, campaigning piece which is as close to the spirit of Joan Littlewood as its possible to get.

This musical, with an appropriately diverse range of musical styles, is based on the true stories of a bunch of schoolgirls, their ‘schemie’ neighbours and teachers who campaign for their asylum seeking friends and neighbours who are being deported, back to allegedly newly safe countries. Though clearly partizan, the views of those that oppose them are also presented, and not as complete baddies. It also confronts the fact that, despite the noise they make, they are unable to halt the deportations, so it’s not entirely feelgood.

Staged in front of, and on, Merle Hensel’s incredibly realistic tower block, just nine actors play all roles – the girls, neighbours, teachers, press, politicians, police – with great energy and conviction. Clearly, it revolves around the six girls but in many ways the heart of the story lies with Callum Cuthbertson’s teacher Mr Girvan and Myra McFadyen’s neighbour Noreen (who I fell in love with and wanted to take home to become my neighbour!). Director / co-composer Cora Bissett and writer David Greig really have presented this story truthfully and effectively, without artifice or sentimentality.

The very young and very diverse audience were lively and noisy (an entire sweet shop was consumed in Stalls Row D alone) but in the end even they were silenced by the story and I am happy to have suffered the rustle because it meant they were there and they heard the story, far more important than an old man’s irritation! This is the sort of work TRSE have been doing for more than 60 years and it’s great to see them collaborating with comparative new-kids-on-the-block the National Theatre of Scotland, fast making their own name with the same balls TRSE has always had. It may be set in Glasgow, and the story could probably only unfold in Glasgow, but it is completely at home on the Stratford stage.

Terrific stuff, but you’ll have to move fast as it closes tomorrow!

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When I can travel in time, I will go to a lot of first nights of iconic shows. One of them will be in 1959 for the opening of Joan Littlewood’s original Theatre Workshop production of this show at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.

I’ve been banging on about the lack of revivals of British musicals, particularly those of Lionel Bart and Howard Goodall, and now we get one of each in successive months. In truth, this one is a bit light on story but it’s got good songs and makes you nostalgic for a singalong in an old East End boozer.

Having never seen the show, I don’t know how much is this production (depiction of the Krays?) and how much is faithful to the original, but given the original was partly improvised, it seems fair game to change it. It certainly comes up fresh, though the cockney’s are all now more caricatures and stereotypes.

When it transferred to the West End, they didn’t comply entirely with censor Lord Chamberlain’s demands for cuts and after he visited (according to Frank Norman, on whose book it is based,) he asked for the following:

  1. The interior decorator is not to be played as a homosexual
  2. The labourer is not to carry the plank of wood in the erotic place and at the erotic angle that he does
  3. Tosher is not to put his hand on Red Hot’s bottom with finger aligned as he does at the moment and not to push her backwards against the table when dancing in such a manner that her legs appear through his open legs in a manner indicative of copulation (this is a particular puzzle, as Red Hot as a male character!)

Well, a lot changes in 50 years and Phil Wilmot’s production at the Union Theatre seems to be more faithful to the pre-censored edition than the post-censored edition. It’s actually rather racy, probably more than it was but maybe as they’d have liked at the time.

We’re in a brothel in Soho, whose owner Fred has just left prison to find things in his manor somewhat different. His long-suffering girlfriend Lil has been keeping things running, but the power balance has changed. There are working girls, lovable rogues, a hapless thief, a camp interior decorator, a toff and a few harmless coppers. Fred sells the ‘club’ to the retiring police inspector and his working girlfriend and finally marries Lil. The characters Fred and Lil owe a lot to Nathan and Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, as indeed does the show –well, in a seedier and tackier way.

The staging really is spot on with excellent choreography from Nick Winston and Oliver Townsend’s design makes great use of the Union Theatre space. Hannah-Jane Fox and Neil McCall are great as Fred and Lil, with excellent chemistry, and have superb support from Susie Chard & Ruth Alfie Adams as girls, Jo Parsons as Tosher & Robert Donald as Red Hot and Hadrian Delacey as the police inspector. I’m afraid Richard Foster-King over-acted mercilessly as interior decorator Horace (which a cast member’s uninhibited granddad pointed out loudly at the time!). The East End boozer feel was helped at the performance I attended by granddad’s companions – a large group of a cast member’s cockney family and friends who whooped, screeched, cheered and, well, sang along.

This is a rare and very welcome revival that comes out fresh and funny and another feather in the Union’s cap.

 

 

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This anti-war satire packs as much of a punch in 2010 as it must have on its first outing in 1963. Created at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford East, it frames its scenes telling the history of the first world war inside a Pierrot show (which is probably the only dated thing about it) interspersed with the songs of that war.

Director Nona Shepherd and designer Takis have done an excellent job staging it in RADA’s Vanburgh Theatre with a canvas ‘roof’ to the stage suggesting a big top, side entrances from the auditorium and a stage platform coming forward the full length of the (albeit tiny) stalls. The Pierrot costumes are a little too pristine and the production does need a bit more edge, but it still does the job of presenting us with the horrors of war.

I’m a regular attendee at most of London’s drama schools and conservatoires and I have to say the RADA musical standards lag significantly behind The Guildhall and the Royal Academy – there was some dodgy singing and playing here – but the acting is, as you’d expect, first class.

I’ve seen the show a number of times before but I don’t recall the ending I saw here. After the curtain call, the cast turn their backs on the audience and quietly & slowly sing the satirical title song whilst watching images of all of the wars in the 92 years since this most brutal of all wards ended; it was impossible not to be moved and impossible to applaud once more. I broke down at the final image of an African boy soldier.

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