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Posts Tagged ‘William Shakespeare’

I really enjoyed this play by South African actor and playwright John Kani, who also plays one of the two roles. He has lived in South Africa throughout the apartheid period and the twenty-five years since. His fellow actor Antony Sher was born in South Africa and lived there for twenty years during apartheid, and is now a great Shakespearean actor of similar age as his character. There can be no better pairing to tell this story.

Lunga Kunene is a nurse. He has switched from working in hospitals to providing live-in twenty-four hour care in the Johannesburg homes of seriously ill patients. His latest is Shakespearean actor Jack Morris, with stage four liver cancer. Despite his condition, Jack is rehearsing his lines to play King Lear in Cape Town later in the year. He has a long-standing drink problem and despite his condition continues to drink, with bottles stashed everywhere.

The one thing they have in common is a love of Shakespeare, Lunga since he learnt Julius Caesar in his native language in school, Jack having made a career playing his roles. Jack’s behaviour towards Lunga is disgraceful, indicative of the worst white attitudes during apartheid. Lunga fights back and tries to get Jack to understand apartheid from his perspective. They discuss their disappointment at the post-apartheid period.

Their very personal stories perfectly illustrate what apartheid did to a nation and how long it will take to heal. Though it covers serious issues, there is a lot of humour, but its also sometimes shocking, with the audience gasping, and at other times deeply moving. It’s a play of great humanity and I was captivated by it. Kani and Sher are both brilliant in their respective roles, the former assertive and dignified, the latter angry and troubled.

Great to see this co-production between Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre and the RSC in the West End, and to see these fine actors together again.

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It’s almost forty years since I first saw this show, in a Broadway revival, and it’s been in my top five musicals ever since, so I was excited to see what this new production by Nikolai Foster, without Jerome Robbins’ iconic choreography, would be like. The answer is ‘thrilling’.

The story is as timeless as the Shakespeare play on which it’s based, but it seems to resonate more in the UK today, given our struggle with gang culture and knife crime. Even though the setting and period, book and lyrics, remain unchanged, it has a contemporary feel and edgy aesthetic, Ellen Kane’s new choreography contributing greatly to this, which makes it feel very fresh. The design team of Michael Taylor (set), Edd Lindley (costumes) and Guy Hoare (lighting) have respected the period whilst somehow making it feel like now. A luxury fifteen piece band under MD George Dyer do full justice to Bernstein’s brilliant score.

It’s been a great pleasure watching Jamie Muscato grow into such a fine performer and here he is owning one of musical theatre’s great roles, with breathtaking renditions of Something’s Coming, Tonight and Maria. Maria is superbly played and sung by Puerto Rican Adriana Ivelisse, here to study musical theatre at the Royal Academy of Music, but looking like she doesn’t need to (note to self – RAM student productions in 2020!). Carly Mercedes Dyer is a terrific Anita, leading America with Abigail Climer’s Conesuela and Mireia Mambo’s Rosalia, who both also stand out in I Feel Pretty. Then there’s another fifteen in this superb cast, enhanced by a ‘young company’ of local trainees, who fill the stage, most notably during a rousing, moving Somewhere.

The Curve has been working with the police and the local community on the issues covered in the show (how often do you get a programme note by the Chief Constable?!) which underlines the ongoing relevance of this sixty-year-old show, here feeling like its brand new. Thrilling.

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American playwright Mike Lew gives us a version of Shakespeare’s Richard III set in a US High School. Disabled teenager Richard’s campaign to become Class President parallels Richard III’s quest for power, with all of the characters’ names referencing Shakespeare’s. I thought it was very clever and thought-provoking.

Richard Gloucester is a seventeen-year-old who believes his life is predetermined by his disability. His classmates include football captain Eddie Ivy, the current Class President, a magnet for the girls, and Eddie’s ex Anne Margaret, wannabe dancer and choreographer. Clarissa Duke is following her own evangelical path whilst Barbara Buckingham, also disabled, seems to be comfortable with who she is. Richard, Eddie and Clarissa are competing to be this year’s Class President. Richard is getting a helping hand from teacher Elizabeth York, initially trying to keep his candidature under wraps. Eddie is resting on his laurels and his popularity. Clarissa seems unlikely to be anything other than a niche candidate. Richard’s campaign unfolds, and proves to be as machiavellian as Richard III’s.

The play examines attitudes to, and the attitudes of, disabled people. Richard is on the receiving end of vile abuse, but he too is treating people with contempt. The American High School setting may seem a bit alien to a British audience, but the parallels with Shakespeare’s character may be even clearer in this world. Australian actor Daniel Monks invests masses of both physical and emotional energy into the role of Richard; a hugely impressive performance. With Susan Wokoma as the teacher, the only adult, Ruth Madeley as Buckingham, Alice Hewkin as Clarissa, Siena Kelly as Anne Margaret and Callum Adams as Eddie, he is surrounded by excellent performances.

I very much liked new Donmar AD Michael Longhurst’s production, and Chloe Lamford’s school gum setting, which was clever and entertaining, but had me thinking about the issues long after I left the theatre. Definitely one to catch.

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This new jukebox musical comes twenty years after Mamma Mia, which of course featured the catalogue of Swedish group ABBA and is still running in London. This
latest one features the compositions and collaborations of another Swede, songwriter Max Martin, with a book by David West Read. I’m not the target demographic and I didn’t know many of the songs, but I thought it was huge fun, quite possibly the most successful non-biographical example of the genre since Mamma Mia.

The company are in rehearsal with William Shakespeare at the Curtain Theatre for the premiere of Romeo & Juliet when his wife Ann, visiting London, intervenes wanting to change the ending. From here we embark on Juliet’s ongoing story, written and rewritten live on stage by Will and Ann. The sixteenth century meets the twenty-first, in costume, language and behaviour, as the songs are fitted in with great skill to the narrative of this new tale with a contemporary spin by both Shakespeares.

One of the joys of seeing Mamma Mia for the first time was those delicious moments as you hear a song audaciously slotted in, and it felt the same here. It’s tongue is firmly in its cheek and you find yourself laughing and smiling with it. The play within the show takes us from Verona to Paris and has great pace and energy, propelling us to the happy ending that the first version doesn’t, with no less than four unions to celebrate.

Though it’s look is loud, gaudy and colourful, there are a lot of clever touches in the meeting of periods 400 years apart in Soutra Gilmour’s set and Paloma Young’s costumes. Howard Hudson lighting and Andrezej Goulding’s projections add to the pop concert aesthetic and Jennifer Weber’s pop video choreography completes the picture. This must be director Luke Sheppard’s biggest gig and he rises to the occasion with a slick, sassy, funny show, with has more depth and layers than you might expect in this genre.

Miriam-Teak Lee, in only her third West End show, is sensational as Juliet, with the complete ‘triple threat’ of acting, singing and dancing. Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson are a great pairing as Will and Ann, sparring affectionately with each other, and there’s another great pairing in David Badella and Melanie La Barrie, both of whom its great to see on stage again. The rest of the cast of twenty-five are brimming with talent and infectious enthusiasm. It was good to see the fine but hidden nine-piece band get an onstage curtain call.

The Shaftesbury Theatre hasn’t had that many long runners, but I suspect that is about to change. Great fun.

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Despite writing lots of songs that have become standards, only two Cole Porter stage musicals have continued to be revived with any regularity – this and Anything Goes – and there have only been four West End productions of Kiss Me Kate since the UK premiere nearly seventy years ago. This is a hugely ambitious actor-musician production with a cast of just twelve, but it’s in the theatre that developed this form, with Chioma Uma, a graduate of the drama school actor-musician course it spawned, making an auspicious professional debut as Hattie no less.

The play-within-a-play idea was inspired. A theatre company touring Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with the relationship of the leading actors Lilli and Fred mirroring that of Kate & Petruchio. It provided lots of opportunities for Porter and his book writers Sam & Bella Spewack to include references to, and puns on, Shakespeare’s plays, notably the showstopper Brush Up Your Shakespeare, without making them in any way highbrow or inaccessible to the average musical theatre goer. It’s a very witty concoction with a lot of now instantly recognisable songs and it has two of the greatest act openers with Another Op’nin, Another Show and Two Darn Hot.

Though it’s a ‘big’ show, and all four productions I’ve seen have had more resources and bigger spaces, I’ve always wondered how it would work scaled down. As it turns out it adds to the touring production aesthetic, as does the actor-musician form. You don’t have to do much to the Watermill to provide stage locations, so designer Frankie Bradshaw does so with a backstage wall, a few fly-ins and a stage curtain, concentrating more on good period costumes. Oti Manuse’s choreography has limited space but comes into its own during Too Darn Hot, which was sizzling. Brush Up Your Shakespeare is tough to pull and make your own, but Sheldon Greenland & Robert Jackson made a great job of it, donning different hats for the two reprises. I don’t remember seeing the references to segregated audiences before, but it adds a wholly relevant period detail and a welcome serious note.

Rebecca Trehearn captures the feistiness of Lilli / Kate perfectly, with great vocals. I’m less familiar with the work of David Ricardo-Pearce, but he turned in a fine performance as Fred / Petruchio, working the audience brilliantly in Where Is The Life That Late I Led? Kimmy Edwards was a bundle of joy as Lois and there was a great cameo from Tom Sowinski as rich and powerful Harrison, out to bag Lilli. Paul Hart marshals his limited resources but plenty of talent to great effect.

Our visits to Watermill’s summer musicals have long been a tradition and a treat, but this year we had the lovely Amelie preceding this, and the hotly anticipated Assassins to come. Our cups runneth over.

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The Bridge Theatre’s biggest success so far was probably their promenade Julius Caesar last year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/julius-caesar-bridge-theatre). This even more immersive promenade staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream proves how suitable the space is for this style of performance. I found it captivating from start to finish.

They’ve really cracked the promenade form at the Bridge, largely because of their ability to bring platforms up from the floor, and this time flying in the space above. There are no sightline issues for either promenaders or those looking on from the galleries, and the marshalling is very unobtrusive. This Dream starts in serious tone with Athenians dressed like puritans as Hermia’s arranged marriage is confirmed, emphasising its unacceptability like I’ve never seen before, before we’re whisked away to the forest.

The very acrobatic fairies swing above the promenaders and the lovers and royal couple move along platforms with leaf-strewn beds on. The simple change of spell from Titania to Oberon heightens the comedy greatly. The lovers are particularly feisty and modern, and Puck is a marvellous creation, looking like a punk, wicked, funny and brilliantly athletic. The use of music is terrific, with the promenaders, seemingly unprompted, breaking into moves in unison. They take a lot of liberties with Shakespeare’s words, and there are ad libs and audience involvement, but they are all completely justified by the result.

Gwendoline Christie has great presence as Hippolyta / Titanya, towering over Puck and the fairies in a long green dress. Oliver Chris brings his considerable gift for comedy to the role of Oberon; his scenes with Hammed Animashaun’s Bottom, as great a performance in this role as I’ve ever seen, are positively sublime. David Moorst continues to deliver on his early promise with a simply terrific Puck and a contrasting Philostrate. It was great to see half of the rude mechanicals played by women, with Ami Metcalf’s butch Snout feared by all.

The Bridge must do more in this configuration, with the unique possibilities the building affords. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bunny Christie have created a magical tale with a great sense of fun, a Dream for our times. Take every young person you know as it may convert them to live theatre for life. They were still partying as we left.

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The last time I went to Ally Pally was for an audience with the Dali Lama, a force for good. Now it’s for the personification of evil, Richard III. Alexandra Palace Theatre was opened in 1875 but never really found its place in the cultural life of London – too big, too far out, more music hall than theatre. It has now re-opened, restored rather than rebuilt, in a Wiltons kind of way, and its as much of a coup opening with Headlong’s touring RIII, as it is for Headlong to effectively inaugurate it. Win-Win.

It’s a very big space and the production is confined to a small stage, so it struggles to find any intimacy. I found it difficult to engage with the first half, which seemed a bit rushed and workmanlike, the verse sometimes failing to land, but in all fairness this might be partly due to being surrounded by American University students on their year ‘abroad’ (they appeared to find this extraordinary opportunity a sentence) who had yet to learn respectful theatre behaviour. It ramped up significantly in the second half, from my new seat, and by the end became positively thrilling. It’s modern dress, played in a circular space with seven mirrors which revolved to become doors and windows, and a second tier for the most regal scenes. I very much liked the look of it, designed by Chiara Stephenson.

I was very impressed by Tom Mothersdale’s take on RIII, the arch manipulator, evil laced with madness, dragging his contorted body around the stage. With some cuts and some doubling, it’s a small ensemble, but they all impressed. I’m not familiar with the work of director John Haidar, but notwithstanding my difficulty getting into it, I thought it was a fresh and largely exciting take. I loved the ghost of the first to die collecting those that followed him, and when they all returned to haunt Richard it was terrifically staged.

Though it was good to visit the oldest new theatre, I suspect it would have had more impact in other venues on the tour, such as Bristol Old Vic. Still, I enjoyed the spectacular night-time views of London, the good value pre-theatre tapas and a building which oozes history. In another ‘first’, there was a surreal moment in the second half with a heckler who disrupted the show shouting things like ‘This isn’t true. You know its not true’. Richard left the stage and walked up to him in contempt, crowning him and soliciting an even angrier response!

 

 

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