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Posts Tagged ‘Vaudeville Theatre’

The international success of Mischief Theatre has been one of the theatre world’s great fairytales. The Play That Goes Wrong went from a room above a pub to 5 years in the West End, where it still runs, and almost a year on Broadway; I’ve lost track of the number of other countries it’s been staged in. There have been two more shows in the West End, with The Comedy About A Bank Robbery now in it’s 4th year and Peter Pan Goes Wrong back for Christmas, when they will have 4 shows in London running at the same time, with Magic Goes Wrong following this into the Vaudeville Theatre. They only left drama school c.10 years ago!

I was pleased they moved on from ‘goes wrong’ to have as much success with The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, a retro caper comedy that went straight into the West End, and they’re moved on again with this new show which, even though the trademark farce & physical comedy is still there, adds a lot of observational comedy. I really liked it.

The first act sees us in a primary school with five kids, played by adults in an oversized set, and the behaviour accurately reflects kids of that age; it’s very funny. In act two the same kids are teens in secondary school and we see how their archetypes have grown, if anything even funnier. In the final act we’re at a school reunion to see what they’ve made of their lives now that they’re in their early thirties. It’s still funny, but with more depth as we see how our early years mould us and make us, or not.

The five actors playing the kids growing up, all Mischief founders, are terrific at all three ages, with two other actors each playing two adult roles. On the night I went George Haynes was standing in for Jonathan Sayer, but you’d never know it. The set proportions get smaller as the characters get older and there are lovely running gags, most involving the school hamster. I thought it was an inspired idea to add a surprise performance after the curtain call. It might have a few less laughs than previous shows, but it’s got more depth, and I felt it shows the growth of the company as well as the characters they’re presenting.

The critical reception was lukewarm but the audience on Saturday seemed to love it. It may have improved since the press night (it appears to have lost 20 mins) and I would certainly recommend it. They’ve built up a loyal following and for me the secret of their success is that they combine consummate theatrical skills with good-time appeal to everyone of any age, offending no-one. Long may the fairytale continue.

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This final play in Classic Spring’s Oscar Wilde season seems to be dividing people on the basis of how broad the comedy is played, and the frisson between Algernon and Jack. I was happy with the former, but the latter did puzzle me, with the kissing seeming incongruous (especially with Lane, Algernon’s servant).

Wilde’s most famous and popular comedy was the fourth and last of his social satires, charting the relationships between Jack and Lady Bracknell’s daughter Gwendolen and Jack’s ward Cecily and Algernon, Gwendolen’s cousin, ending with the big reveal that Jack is more than Algernon’s friend and Gwendolen’s intended. Though these four are the main protagonists, when productions are announced, most are interested in who’s playing Lady Bracknell, in this case Sophie Thompson, who exceeded my expectations.

Designer Madeleine Girling’s palette of greens create a beautiful London flat and country house and garden, all adorned by hardly any furniture. Gabriella Slade’s period costumes are excellent. It builds in pace and interest to an excellent third act, though the story somehow felt even more contrived than usual. I assume director Michael Fentiman’s added frisson and kisses are meant to reference Wilde’s sexuality, but within the otherwise period comedy, they just jarred.

I thought relative newcomers Fehinti Balogun and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd had great chemistry and brought a youthful playfulness to Algernon and Jack respectively, and Pippa Nixon and Fiona Button both sparkled and shone as Gwendolen and Cecily. Sophie Thompson resisted her normal urge to overact and her Lady Bracknell was all the better for it, and Stella Gonet gave a fine performance as Miss Prism, particularly when her past emerges. Good casting has been a feature and a strength of this Wilde season.

I’ve enjoyed seeing all four over a relatively short period, in four very different productions. The plotting creaks a bit these days, but the dialogue still crackles.

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I’ve always thought this was Oscar Wilde’s best play, largely because it has more bite than his other social satires and because the themes of corruption, honour and morals are with us forever. Peter Hall’s 1992 production proved its enduring appeal on tour in the UK, on Broadway and in and out of the West End several times. It’s the third of the four plays in Dominic Dromgoole’s Classic Spring season, and it brings the season alive.

Mrs Cheveley, recently returned from Vienna, attempts to blackmail politician Sir Robert Chiltern, threatening to make public a letter proving he leaked information to enable someone to gain by the timely acquisition of shares, unless he speaks favourably in parliament about a project she and her friends have a vested interest in. She embroils his wife, a former school friend who takes a moral stance, and his friend Viscount Goring, a bit of a playboy with designs on Chiltern’s sister and ward, who tries to wrong-foot her. It’s very well plotted and littered with clever, witty lines from the second most quotable playwright, after Shakespeare.

I loved Frances Barber as the manipulative Mrs Cheveley, relishing her Machiavellian scheming, and I was very impressed by Freddie Fox as Viscount Goring, a role that fits him perfectly. Having his real dad Edward Fox play his stage dad gave the father and son sniping an added frisson. I haven’t seen Sally Bretton on stage and I wouldn’t have expected this to be her sort of role, but she plays Lady Chiltern really well. It’s a big supporting cast, most of whom we only see in the first act, within which it was lovely to see Susan Hampshire as Lady Markby. As with the previous two plays, there’s music between scenes, this time with Samuel Martin, Viscount Goring’s footman, playing Jason Carr’s music superbly on violin.

Simon Higlett’s versatile gold set is beautiful and his costumes gorgeous. Jonathan Church’s staging gave the play more edge and pungency than I remember. The whole production oozes quality and propels the season to another level altogether.

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Oscar Wilde was a much less prolific playwright than you might think. He only wrote nine plays and only four of his social satires are still staged, two regularly and two, including this, less so. First produced 125 years ago, it must have been a bit shocking at the time. Now it feels a bit awkward and old-fashioned, despite the feminism and trademark bon mots. There are some fine things about this production, but it doesn’t quite breathe life into a museum piece.

Lady Windermere is a young bride and new mother. Busy-body The Duchess of Berwick tells her Lord Windermere visits another woman, Mrs Erlynne, on a regular basis. She confronts her husband, but he insists it is all innocent, even inviting Mrs Erlynne to their party that evening. At the party she greets other men she already knows, sowing seeds of suspicion in other society ladies, and more than holds her own with them, even making a friend of one, in her pursuit of a welcome into society. Lord Windermere’s interest turns out to be protective of his wife, but it may never be known.

Paul Wills set and costumes are bright, colourful and gorgeous. Grace Molony impresses as Lady Windermere in her West End debut. Samantha Spiro is well suited to the role of Lady Erlynne, assertive and defiant, and Jennifer Saunders as the Duchess of Berwick is a pleasant surprise, given that she only appears to have done one other play, 20 years ago. As they did in A Woman of No Importance, there’s an entr’acte song (only one here, though) which enables her to show off her comedic talent and for those in smaller roles to showcase theirs. It’s a big cast for the West End, sixteen in total, and director Kathy Burke marshals them well.

I’m not sure the play is worthy of all the talent and resources. It’s creaking at the seams a bit and as much as it makes for a moderately pleasant and not overlong diversion, you can live perfectly happily without it. Classic Spring’s season now moves to the two best known plays – an odd sequence, as you might have expected them to build an audience with those first – but it’ll be good to have seen all four together.

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This is the first of four Oscar Wilde plays in Dominic Dromgoole’s Classic Spring Theatre Company’s year-long residency at the Vaudeville. It’s a lesser performed Wilde play and it’s good to see it, and to be reminded if how sparkling Wilde’s dialogue is, and there’s the bonus of a superb cast.

Though it’s mostly set in Lady Hunstanton’s home and garden, it revolves around her friend and neighbour Mrs Arbuthnot & her son Gerald. Widow Lady Hunstanton is entertaining various members of society, including an MP, a vicar, two Lord’s, two Lady’s and a Knight! Lord Illingworth announces that he has employed Gerald as his Secretary, but when his mother turns up after dinner they realise they have history and baggage that gets in the way. What starts as a social satire gets deeper and more moralistic. A visiting American Puritan girl, Miss Worsley, gives a lecture, which doesn’t go down well with everyone, but she proves crucial to how events turn out.

It’s an old-fashioned play that gets a suitably old-fashioned production, but the dialogue does sparkle and Wilde’s plotting is very good. I liked the musical numbers between scene changes where Anne Reid showed off another talent, accompanied by four of the supporting cast on guitar, violin & clarinet. Reid is excellent as Lady Hunstanton, as is Eve Best as the more serious Mrs Arbuthnot. Eleanor Bron almost steals the show as Lady Caroline, one of the greatest nags ever written. Dominic Rowan continues to impress as baddie Lord Illingworth and Emma Fielding is terrific as feisty Mrs Allonby.

It’s a good, if conservative, production of a play worthy of revival. Hopefully, the season will up its game as it goes along.

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The 20(ish)-year revival rule applies again for this Terry Johnson play, which I first saw at Hampstead Theatre in 1994. Natural justice was served that night when David Haig was indisposed and the playwright had to step in to play a role he wrote for a middle-aged man with a paunch who has to get his kit off!

The play follows members of a society which celebrates the classic British comedy of the 1960’s to 1980’s. They meet to reminisce, recollect and relive classic characters and shows, in this case the recently departed Benny Hill and, as news of his death arrives during the play, Frankie Howard. Couple Nick & Lisa, singleton Brian and host Richard are all committed members, but Richard’s wife Ellie isn’t. During the play we learn that Richard & Ellie are having problems having sex (and a baby) and Nick hasn’t really taken to his new-born, for reasons that emerge.

It does start slowly, with few laughs at first, and this time around I felt there was an imbalance between the light comedy of the first act and the significantly darker and much better second half. It’s natural audience is British people of a certain age and there were a number in the audience (young or foreign!), who missed many of the references, including my Icelandic companion, even though he was of a certain age and brought up in a country and at a time when British TV was plentiful. This is a homage to the comedy families used to stay in and watch together on a Saturday night and that narrows its demographic significantly.

You can’t fault the performances or the staging by the playwright or the design of a 90’s suburban living room by Richard Kent. Katherine Parkinson is particularly good as Ellie, having to play against the flow, a role played by Zoe Wanamaker in the original production. I don’t really know the work of Rufus Jones, but he too was impressive as Richard, having to be believable as a surgeon who likes Benny Hill! Steve Pemberton handles the impressions best as Brian, perhaps because he started in TV comedy, as well as his touching revelation towards the end.

I was glad I revisited it, but it wasn’t the classic I thought it might be. I suspect this is partly due to the passage of time, partly due to its suitability for my companion (though he loved the second half) and partly due to the fact that James Graham’s recent Monster Raving Loony (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2016/06/13/monster-raving-loony) is a better and more comprehensive homage to the same British comedy, even though it’s actually a biography of a politician, albeit a comic one.

 

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Potted Panto and Potted Potter were such big seasonal hits with old and young that booking this was a bit of a no-brainer (even though the same gang already had another Christmas treat in the diary). Though there is much to enjoy in this third outing of the formula, it didn’t really live up to the other two and left me wondering if the Potted franchise is running out of steam.

On this occasion they attempt all 60 Arthur Conan Doyle stories in 80 minutes (plus a completely unnecessary interval, no doubt inserted by Nimax Theatres for reasons of a profiteering nature). This means that some are relegated to lines in a song or brief mentions and others given the normal Potted treatment, particularly The Hound of the Baskervilles, which spanned the somewhat intrusive interval. This is much less satisfying that the ‘miniatures’ that the previous show contained.

There is no doubting the charm and engagement Dan & Jeff create, but this year they’ve added a third performer, Lizzie Wort, and though she is perfectly capable, and has good chemistry with the boys, this somehow changes the dynamic without really adding much value. There are fewer characters than usual, which provides less opportunity for comic characterisation, and the set and props seemed less inventive. The biggest impression it left was that it was still work-in-progress rather than a fully developed show.

We had fun – and in all fairness the godson (AKA target audience) was laughing aloud a lot – but not as much as we expected. On this form, the godfather (AKA the grumpy old man, me) probably wouldn’t do a 4th. Methinks those Mischief Theatre boys & girls might have eclipsed Dan & Jeff with their ‘…..goes wrong’ series, but they haven’t got to three yet!

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