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Posts Tagged ‘Turbine Theatre’

The programme for this caught my imagination this year, so I booked for six of the eight showcases of new musicals at the Turbine Theatre. The first was cancelled, so I ended up seeing five. Each was around an hour long, with no set but some costumes and props.

I started with Jet Set Go!, not exactly new, a reworking of an eleven year old Edinburgh fringe show by Pippa Cleary & Jake Brunger, who went on to give us a superb adaptation of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole which I saw in Leicester, the Menier & the West End. It’s a very funny piece set on a transatlantic flight (and during their stopover in NYC) exploring the lives of the crew. Great fun, with a brilliant cast, in which Lizzy Connolly and Samantha Thomas shone with show-stopping comedy numbers.

The Assassination of Katie Hopkins wasn’t new either, having had a full production at Theatre Clwyd in 2018. I’m not sure this unstaged one hour version did it full justice, but the originality of the score and the suitability of the subject matter to the form left me wanting to see a full production. MD Mark Dickman did a fine job playing Mark Winkworth’s score on solo piano and the cast of six delivered Chris Bush’s lyrics with relish.

The festival hit a high note with veteran musical theatre partnership Stiles & Drew’s new musical adaptation of the film Soapdish, whose writer, Robert Harding, also responsible for the show’s book, made the transatlantic journey to be part of it. The premiere league cast included Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford, who squeezed every ounce of comedy from this hilarious piece about a soap star and her nemesis. It was great to see Alice Croft and Nic Myers, Arts Ed students who wowed me there in Freaky Friday last month, in this exceptional cast. I can’t wait to see a full production.

Another established writer, Jason Carr, better known as an orchestrator, arranger and accompanist, was responsible, with Poppy Burton-Morgan, for the fourth offering, Coldfront. This is a very different, original two-hander set on a park bench where an unlikely relationship unfolds. The songs were nice, but there was a little too much sung dialogue and the performances weren’t well matched, though it was good to see Anna Francolini again.

The final showcase wasn’t new either, the third iteration over 12 years of Craig Christie’s Eurobeat, a satire / homage to that contest. They weren’t able to camp it up as much as it needed, with no set and few costumes, though Daniel Jacob was excellent as the glittery drag host Marlene Cabana. The four entries – Spain, Ukraine, Norway and Vatican City (!) – were very good, but there were only four, plus one for the compere.

For some reason, I was expecting brand new shows as work-in-progress from people new to musical theatre, so with only two out of four shows not produced before and those from established writers, one which had been workshopped twice before, it didn’t really fulfil my expectations, though I didn’t dislike any of them, the performances were excellent and I had a lot of fun.

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I was very fond of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel. It seemed to me to be quintessentially British, so I was disappointed when it was relocated from North London to Chicago for the 2000 film. Though this musical adaptation retained its US setting for it’s Broadway premiere in 2006, it’s relocated back to London N7 for it’s UK premiere, though it is being staged south of the river!

The story of Rob, the nerdy record shop owner, and his love life felt retro at the time of the book and film, but seems even more retro today. This adaptation distills it into the tale of Rob and current girlfriend Laura, with nods to the lives of shop hangers-on Dick and Barry, and the music scene and record collector obsessions as a backdrop. There are song lists for things like break-ups and mixtapes with strict rules. Rob’s ex’s make regular appearances in a large number of flashbacks and fantasy & dream sequences.

Tom Kitt’s eclectic score has particularly good lyrics by Amanda Green and it’s extremely well played by Paul Schofield’s band (members uncredited, sadly) and very well sung by the whole cast. David Shields excellent design makes great use of the small space, with clever transformations from shop to flat and more. It’s an impressive musical theatre directorial debut from Tom Jackson Greaves whose choreographic experience shines through, and I liked his use of the space in front of the stage and the aisle. Oliver Ormson and Shanay Holmes are both very good as Rob and Laura and there’s a fine ensemble, with great cameos from Robert Tripolino as Ian, Carl Au as Dick and Robbie Durham as Barry. We even get turns from Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen (Joshua Dever)!

With all the to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic, it does appear to have lost its sense of place and time and become a bit of an indeterminate transatlantic anywhere, anytime. David Lindsay-Abaire’s American book has been adapted for London by Vikki Stone and it might be this, and the vanilla pop-rock musical styles, which contribute most to the loss of some of Nick Hornby’s charming source. I think it’s a very good production of an OK show. It doesn’t feel like a Broadway show and I can see why it was curtailed after 18 previews and 13 post-press performances (and why its taken 13 years to get here). I suspect it fares much better on this scale, more intimate, with a talented and enthusiastic young cast, and I was glad I caught it.

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I first saw this ground-breaking Harvey Fierstein trilogy, more a three-act play in my view, when it premiered in the West End in 1985 with Anthony Sher in the lead role (which the playwright himself had played on Broadway). It was very long – well over three hours. It wasn’t revived here until 2012 at the Menier Chocolate Factory with David Badella, by which time it had lost an hour or so, but I was a bit less positive about it (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/torch-song-trilogy). Now it’s the inaugural production at the Turbine Theatre, a revised version without ‘trilogy’ in the title which was first staged in the US just two years ago, it’s lost another 30 minutes and it finds favour with me all over again!

Arnold is a drag queen, highly-strung, Jewish and insecure. We first meet him in his dressing room as he is about to begin a relationship with Ed, a bi-sexual teacher. This first act / play is a slice of NYC gay life in late 70’s / early 80’s New York. We then move forward five years or so to the visit of Arnold and his new young man Alan to now married Ed and his wife Laurel, where things start to get a bit sexually confusing and complicated for all three men. The third part sees the now ‘widowed’ Arnold with his precocious gay teenage foster son David getting visited by Ed, newly separated from Laurel, and his recently widowed mother, who struggles to come to terms with Arnold’s very modern life.

Strangely enough, it seemed less dated this time than it did seven years ago and if you forget the period clothes and settings, hardly dated at all. The first act promiscuity is certainly pre-AIDS, but Ed’s bi-sexuality and the fostering / adoption seem very contemporary and the sparring between mother and son timeless. Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design transforms well from dressing room to apartment with Part Two’s overlapping scenes in the same bed superbly staged by Drew McOnie. I would have preferred a more elevated stage, though – I had to move from the un-raked first four rows to see properly. Matthew Needham is excellent as Arnold, an emotionally charged performance that turns angry in the pivotal mother / son scene, as Dino Fetscher is as Ed, a less emotional, cooler character. There’s a superb third part cameo from Bernice Stegers as Ma and two impressive professional debuts from Rish Shah as Alan and Jay Lycurgo as David. Daisy Boulton completes this fine cast as Laurel.

The theatre is in a good location, easily accessible, with plenty of nearby eateries. It’s a bit noisier than other under-the arches theatres, like the Union (it is the mainline into Victoria, after all) but I suspect that’s something to get used to rather than rectify, but the air handling is good, unlike the Union! Anyway, it’s a welcome new venue, particularly for those of us us south of the river, and an impressive opening show.

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