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Posts Tagged ‘Young Vic Theatre’

The perfect start to Kwame Kwei-Armah’s tenure at the Young Vic – a great big populist hit. This 90-minute musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, which loses much of the verse but none of the story, is bursting with energy and fun, joyous and uplifting.

It’s a musical comedy, so the spotlight is on the antics of Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch, his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Olivia’s maid Maria and the trick they play on her steward Malvolio (the contemporary take on yellow stockings and crossed garters is delicious!), but the love triangle of Orsino pining for Olivia whilst she’s attracted to Viola as Cesario who is herself infatuated with Orsino is handled brilliantly. When Viola’s supposedly dead brother Sebastian turns up, and Malvolio uncovers the plot against him, the resolution is rather moving, despite the comedy.

Designer Robert Jones has built a whole Notting Hill street (with the Duke of Illyria its pub!) in the Young Vic auditorium; an absolutely brilliant set. The eleven Shakespearean characters are supplemented by a thirty strong community chorus who fill the stage and are so good you’d never know it wasn’t a professional one. Shaina Taub’s score is fairly vanilla pop, as is Lizzi Gee’s choreography, but they both do the job and its well sung, played and danced.

The performances are outstanding, led by Gerard Carey as Malvolio, one of the finest comic performances I’ve seen in a lifetime of devotion to theatre. Gabrielle Brooks is simply brilliant as Viola / Cesario, handling the frisson with Orsino superbly and her reunion with Sebastian movingly, with beautiful vocals. Natalie Drew and Rupert Young are both superb as Olivia and Orsino. The comic duo of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are finely played by Martyn Ellis and Silas Wyatt-Barke, and there’s a lovely Feste from Melissa Allan, who sings beautifully.

Oskar Eustis co-directs this captivating piece with Kwei-Armah, who co-conceived it with Taub. A treat.

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Last Monday, I visited the Museum of Musical Theatre, seeing the lavish but dated The King & I at the London Palladium. As if the musical theatre gods were intent on contrast, on Friday I visited this fresh, original new musical at the appropriately named Young Vic, and it swept me away.

Alison Bechel writes graphic novels (illustrated rather than graphic in the explicit sense!). Fun Home, though, was a memoir about her life growing up in Pennsylvania with her parents and two brothers, going to college and coming out and the tragic loss of her dad, who unlike her had lived a lie (with his wife’s full knowledge). She acts as a narrator, with her young self and her college self on stage. We see her childhood, tomboyish, playing with her two brothers, both in fear of and in awe of her dad Bruce, who teaches and runs the family business, a Fun(eral) Home. She spends more time with her dad as her mom Helen is an actress. Her arrival in college, realisation that she’s gay and coming out are interwoven.

It’s a deeply moving portrait of a life, expertly adapted by Lisa Kron with lovely music by Jane Tesori. It’s extraordinary how much you can immerse yourself in someone’s life story in just 100 minutes. It took me a short while to get into the rhythm of the piece, but I soon became captivated. It was funny and moving and ever so real, with stylistic and set changes altering its feel and tone. It’s beautifully staged by Sam Gold, with choreography by Danny Mefford which is particularly good at conveying the young kids playfulness. David Zinn’s design constantly surprises you as it morphs, not just to change location, but also to reflect changes in the story.

An unrecognisable Kaisa Hammerland plays Alison looking back, newcomer Eleanor Kane college Alison and, on the night I went, Harriett Turnbull young Alison and all three were terrific; you could really believe they were the same person at different stages of their life. In my head, Zubin Varla is still the RSC’s Romeo – where did all those years go! – but here he’s a middle-aged dad, a very complex character which he plays brilliantly. Helen the mother is by contrast a relatively underwritten part, as the real Helen seems to have been in Alison’s life, but she’s played by Jenna Russell, who can make something wonderful from just about anything.

David Lan’s final four years at the Young Vic have been extraordinary, with A Streetcar Named Desire, A View From the Bridge, Yerma, The Jungle, The Inheritance and surely this going on to continue their lives elsewhere, to be seen by more people. Another thrilling evening in The Cut.

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It’s over three months since my last theatrical immersion and only eight months since one covering similar ground. Matthew Lopez’ play comes in at six hours without feeling anything like it.

Some have called it a sequel to Angels in America, exploring the lives of the generation that followed, as it does. That’s partially true, but it’s less edgy and less political, though it covers seven years either side of last year’s US election. It’s a gentler, more emotional and sentimental piece inspired by E M Forster’s Howard’s End. It’s best to forget the parallels with both, as it’s its own thing, though still an epic theatrical feast.

It centres around a group of thirty-something gay friends in New York City at the present time, at the centre of which are Democratic party campaign worker Eric, earnest and loyal, and writer Toby, self-obsessed and flighty. Their group of friends are young professionals like doctors and lawyers in a world living with AIDS rather than dying of it. The link with the previous generation is provided by neighbours Walter and Henry, who’ve been together for thirty-six years. Eric finds a soulmate in Walter and later an unlikely partnership with Henry. Forster is a character too, tutoring them all in writing the story at the outset, then acting as a narrator, commenting on and suggesting changes to the story as we go.

Eric and Toby’s relationship is derailed by the latter’s success adapting his novel for the stage and screen, propelling young Adam to stardom in the process. Adam rejects Toby in favour of the play’s director, and Toby starts seeing a lookalike Leo, who has another connection with the group. Others plan marriages and children, something the previous generation couldn’t contemplate. It’s like binge watching a drama that grabbed you in episode one and won’t let you go. I loved the structural ingenuity and variety, including Forster’s presence, flashbacks, direct to audience narration, and it sends itself up deliciously on occasion. It’s funny and moving in equal measure.

Stephen Daldry’s staging, on and around a platform which rises and falls occasionally, is simple but masterly, with an organic flow about it. Bob Crowley’s understated design allows the story to speak for itself, with just a few moments when the back-screen moves to signpost something significant. Paul Englishby’s music and Jon Clark’s lighting add much atmosphere.

The performances are universally committed and passionate. I’ve long admired Kyle Soler, but this is surely a career defining performance as Eric. Making his UK debut, Andrew Burnap is simply sensational as Toby and Paul Hilton is wonderful as both Morgan (Forster) and Walter. Two other American visitors complete the handful of superb leads – Samuel H Levine as Adam / Leo and John Benjamin Hickey as Henry. Then in the last 45 minutes, on comes Vanessa Redgrave to give the best performance I’ve ever seen her give in a cameo as Margaret, who lost her son to AIDS after which she devotes herself to caring for others.

Another unmissable theatrical feast at the powerhouse in The Cut. I left exhausted but exhilarated, as only live theatre can do.

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This play is the second part of a trilogy but was the first to be produced here ten years ago, with part one, In the Red & Brown Water, a year later. We’ve yet to see the third. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney has had a couple of other plays at the Royal Court, Wig Out! and Choir Boy, but is most famous for his 2016 Oscar winning film Moonlight. This is a very early revival by the same creative team, led by director Bijan Sheibani.

The Size brothers are reunited when younger brother Oshoosi leaves prison and stays with elder brother Ogun, working with him in his car repair business. A visit from Oshoosi’s fellow prisoner Elegba, a bad influence, threatens the bond between them and their up-and-down relationship is played out before us over 80 minutes. It’s staged without set or props within a chalk circle marked out at the beginning, with red chalk thrown on the floor within it. The actors often announce entrances and exits and other stage directions direct to the audience and there’s very stylised movement and an atmospheric soundtrack. It’s very compelling, even hypnotic and mesmerising, though the apparent Yoruba mythology went over my head and I struggled a bit with the Louisiana dialect.

The three performances are captivating. Anthony Welsh as Elegba is excellent; he was in the original production. Sope Dirisu, after his Cassius Clay in One Night in Miami and Coriolanus for the RSC, continues to impress as Ogun. Newcomer Jonathan Ajayi is hugely impressive as Oshoosi, transitioning from ex-con to childlike young brother as the story unfolds.

It’s good to see it again, ahead of its time now as it was then. It’s a very short run, so catch it while you can.

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The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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The Young Vic main house has had another of its extraordinary makeovers; this time Miriam Buether has recreated Calais’ refugee camp, the so-called Jungle. We walked through one of its houses and a shop to reach our seats in the restaurant in a segment named Afghanistan. The audience are either at tables with benches, or on the sides looking in. The performers are all around, scenes popping up everywhere. This is something only theatre can do.

Though there had been makeshift camps there before, the play concerns the last incarnation, from 2014 to 2016, when the population were largely from Africa and the Middle East. The segments of the space are all named after the countries they come from, as were the sections of the camp. Playwrights Joe Murphy & Joe Robertson were there for seven months, setting up and running the Good Chance Theatre inside the camp, named after the words used for the regular attempts to reach the UK, and the piece feels completely authentic.

Starting close to it’s end, before moving back to its creation, we experience these people’s lives in vivid detail. I hadn’t really grasped before how this was a complete town, with church, mosque, school, shops and a restaurant. Five British charity workers and do-gooders from very diverse backgrounds contribute to the organisation, though there are representatives of the various communities who bring a kind of democracy and promote harmony.

We hear individual stories, witness conflicts, see friendships formed and bonded, understand their aspirations and how they are exploited and abused. It’s deeply moving, but there are many moments of warmth and humour. Both the good and bad in people is exposed, but never judgementally, though the failure of governments and other institutions is. How on earth could humanity allow this to happen?

Everything, from the writing, staging by Stephen Daldry & Justin Martin, all of the design elements and eighteen deeply passionate and committed performances contribute to bringing us the stark truth. I do hope it can be seen by many more than the Young Vic can accommodate by some sort of cinema or TV screening. Though the Jungle has been demolished, there are still refugees in Calais and elsewhere and their stories must be told, in the hope they will be heard by, and will prick the consciences of those who can bring about change.

Good Chance, the Young Vic and the National Theatre have collaborated to create urgent and important theatre.

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For an island with a population of only seventy thousand, Anglesey appears to have more than it’s fair share of theatrical eccentrics. First there was Shon Dale-Jones aka Hugh Hughes, ‘emerging artist’ and storyteller, now Seiriol Davis, the composer and lead performer of this quirky show about another Anglesey eccentric, Henry Paget, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey, a cross-dressing thespian who lost a fortune and died young.

With the assistance of Matthew Blake and Dylan Townley, Davies tells the story of the Marquess, and in particular his thespian career, performing Wilde and Shakespeare amongst others, touring the UK with his shows, featuring his idiosyncratic dances, and his early death in Monte Carlo after squandering his entire annual income (£11m at today’s value).

The songs are rather good and the whole thing is a quirky camp curiosity which seems to have the spirit of the man who inspired it. It has a cheeky, playfulness about it, a permanent twinkle in its eye, one long wink. All three performances are excellent and the design is a delight. It was impossible not to smile throughout.

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