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Posts Tagged ‘Will Stuart’

Welsh actor-writer Emlyn Williams wrote fifteen plays (including one adaptation) over a twenty year period between the mid 1930’s and 1950’s, many adapted into films. For some reason they are rarely revived; this is only the fourth produced in London during my forty or so theatre-going years here. I suspect this one could seem a bit stodgy more than eighty years on, but Dominic Cooke’s inventive production is very fresh, despite still being set in the same period.

Firstly, he brings the the playwright onto the stage from his 1930’s party, providing stage instructions, narrating and at one point changing the plot. Secondly, he adds a chorus of miners, a small group dressed like they’ve just completed their shift, who add a deeply emotional layer (well, for a Welshman at least) and tell you everything you need to know about the community in which the story is set. At first, without a set and just a few props, it’s a piece of storytelling, but it eventually transforms into a realistic room as if a painting was nearing completion, or indeed the production of a play evolving.

Miss Moffat is an English woman of means who chooses this community for her project to bring education to the working classes. There is resistance from the local squire, who scuppers her plans to turn a neighbouring barn into a school, but she recruits two locals to help her and sets up anyway on a smaller scale in a room in her rented home. Her pupils are young miners, one of whom stands out and he becomes a very specific and personal project, with the objective of getting him a scholarship to Oxford. By now, the squire has melted and the boy, Morgan Evans, becomes a beacon for advancement by the local community, who are now rooting for their boy. He makes it, but his plans are endangered by a ghost from his past. By now, though, Miss Moffat and her colleagues will do anything to ensure he makes the journey.

It’s clearly semi-autobiographical, a tribute to Williams’ own teacher and mentor Miss Cooke, which is partly why the inclusion of the writer, though initially uneasy, works well. The production draws you in to the point where you are rooting for Morgan too, virtually part of this community. I found it deeply moving at times, but that might be because I’m a miner’s son from the South Wales valleys, though if nothing else, the music will move anyone with a heart.

Nicola Walker is perfect as the emotionally controlled, even repressed, teacher, a contrast to the passion of Richard Lynch’s fellow teacher John Goronwy Jones, a lovely performance. Iwan Davies makes a superb professional stage debut as Morgan, capturing everyone’s heart. Gareth David-Lloyd (unrecognisable from his turn as Ianto in Torchwood – one of the few dead TV characters with a shrine, in Cardiff Bay!) is excellent as the 30’s society figure which Williams by then had become. There were a number of cast changes at the performance we saw, with two covers carrying their script, but this had no negative impact; if anything, given the production style, it seemed oddly appropriate. Will Stuart’s uplifting music makes more of a contribution than in any other production I can remember.

I’m probably biased, with shared heritage, albeit a few decades apart, but I loved both the play’s themes and this creative interpretation. The NT on great form.

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My third and final out-of-town day-trip, this time to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield for another of my top five musicals, Guys & Dolls, my 9th production / 13th performance. Another treat.

The show is based on a 1930’s story and characters created by writer / journalist Damon Runyon. Nathan Detroit organises a crap (dice) game which moves from place to place whilst dancer Adelaide, his fiancee of 14 years, does everything she can to pin him down to marriage, having told her mother she already is, and invented five children with another on the way as part of the story. Ace gambler Sky Masterson and Chicago gangster Big Jule head into town, and the world of the gamblers and the ailing Salvation Army mission threatened with closure collide, but happiness is just a couple of bets away. Runyon was so fond of the world of these lovable rogues and gamblers that he arranged for his ashes to be scattered on Broadway from a plane!

So what’s this production got going for it? Well, for starters I heard much detail in the orchestrations than I’ve heard before, partly because of new arrangements by Will Stuart, whose superb 14-piece band isn’t buried in a pit, but faces you above the action in a series of decorated ‘rooms’. Matt Flint’s choreography fills the stage with vitality and freshness, with the two Hot Box routines particularly good, and the street-life, Havana club, Luck be a Lady in the sewers and Sit Down you’re Rocking the Boat in the mission all uplifting. At first, I missed the usual Broadway billboards and neon lights in Janet Bird’s set, but her excellent costumes, and Howard Hudson’s terrific lighting, made up for them. Crucible AD Robert Hastie isn’t known for musicals, as his predecessor Daniel Evans was, which makes his staging all the more impressive, achieving the best balance between the comedy and the love stories that I can remember.

Natalie Casey was very impressive as Adelaide, bringing out every bit of her character’s comedy, but with real pathos to her love story, which moved me. Martin Marquez had all the charm and cheek Nathan needs, also melting by the end. I’ve followed Alex Young’s musical theatre career since student productions at RAM and for me her performance as Sarah is one of her career highs. Kadiff Kirwan invests Sky with a suave confidence and again the love story had more feeling than I’m used to seeing. TJ Lloyd was a great Nicely Nicely and Dafydd Emyr was larger than life and positively intimidating as Big Jule.

I’d been to the Crucible before, but not for a musical, and I thought the space was perfect for a big Broadway show like this. We are so lucky to have quality musical theatre productions like this around the country, and my day-trip, including travel, cost about the same as a top price ticket in the West End. Thank you, Sheffield.

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