Monday, 31 March 2014

Review: Eldorado, Arcola

“I don’t know anything about lobsters” 

Sadly not a sequel to the escapades of Pilar and Marcus, this Eldorado is the UK premiere of Marius von Mayenburg’s 2004 play, translated by Maja Zade. It is also the first production by new theatre company Mongrel Thumb and it makes for an ambitiously bold opening statement, albeit one that is likely to have as many detractors as it does fans. von Mayenburg’s work is inscrutably European in feel (Fireface at the Young Vic is my other experience of him) and Simon Dormandy’s production can only do so much to open it up.

Which means audiences at the Arcola will have to be, well, a little less British, a bit more adventurous in accepting von Mayenburg’s version of the world. His El Dorado is a modern day urban sprawl in which property is king, so much so that even though war is raging close by, investors are excited at the potential for building on the battlefields left behind. The rush for colonisation can’t hide the cultural malaise of a society on the edge of despair though, unhappiness manifesting itself in the strangest and most pervasive of ways – lobsters, cupboards, forests, piano lids.

TV Review: Silk, Series 3

“It's not what any of you want"

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom. 

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. 

Cast of Silk Series 3 continued

Cast of Silk Series 3 continued

Cast of Silk Series 3 continued

Competition: win 2 tickets to The Events

Because I am just that kind of guy, I have 2 tickets to give away for The Events on Saturday 5th April at Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre. The official blurb is as follows: 

"Awarded five stars from The Daily Telegraph, The Events tells a story of tragedy, community, reconciliation and our destructive desire to fathom the unfathomable. Originally developed by Actors Touring Company with Southbank Centre's Voicelab, The Events has moved audiences and featured local choirs throughout the UK since its premiere in August 2013. As part of our Chorus Festival, we’re bringing together 250 singers from all over the country to form an epic choir in a unique one-off performance."

The Clowns take on it can be read here - I saw the new production last week in North London and I have to say I thought it was even better second time round. And with the additional choral possibilities of a 250-strong choir here, this particular performance is bound to be something special.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes. 

Cast of Silk Series 2 continued

Cast of Silk Series 2 continued

Cast of Silk Series 2 continued

Cast of Silk Series 2 continued

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama.

Cast of Silk Series 1 continued

Cast of Silk Series 1 continued

Cast of Silk Series 1 continued

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Review: Dark Vanilla Jungle, Soho Theatre

“But then again, there’s a lot of sadness in life. Don’t you think? I do – Where was all this heading? Don’t tell me!”

In a shock development, Philip Ridley’s latest work is a conventional rom-com of a show with a happy ending… As if. It doesn’t even seem credible does it and without fail, Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle exists in the dystopian, fractured worldview of Andrea, a young woman whose desire for love, family and a sense of home crashes hard into an unloving society that sees her exploited and abused with tragic results.

What is different is that it is Ridley’s first monologue for over 20 years and in Gemma Whelan’s hands, it becomes a hugely exhilarating and exhausting experience even just to watch it. The emotional resources she must have to draw on, alongside the technical demands of an intricate, layered 35 page script, result in a sensational performance that strips things back right to raw emotion and impassioned feeling.

Review: The One, Soho Theatre

“Can you not…with the Wotsits” 

From its opening moments of one of the more unconventional sex scenes you’ll see this year, it is clear that Vicky Jones’ The One fits very much into the vein of work that she, and frequent collaborator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, has been mining for the last couple of years. Jones directed Jack Thorne’s Mydidae and Waller-Bridge’s own Fleabag – the latter also appearing in both – and along with The One, there’s something of a reclamation about the way we discuss sex and relationships, a frankness with a particularly feminist bent which has been most refreshing.

That said, I’m not too sure how I felt about The One - the fierce intensity of Jones’ writing not too well served by the oddly expressionistic touches of Steve Marmion’s production and another performance from Waller-Bridge that occupied much of the aforementioned territory once again, leaving me feeling a little disappointed. The audacity of the piece is often breath-taking as it constantly dares to say the unspeakable and is completely unconcerned with making itself likeable but amongst the desire to shock, I found little that it actually wanted to say.

CD Review: The A-Z of Mrs P – Original London Cast Recording

"Could you ever be happy mama?"

In a musical theatre landscape that often seems risk-averse when it comes to new writing, even in the face of the recent efforts of old hands Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice both closing early, it is always pleasing to hear new voices being championed. And that is exactly what producer Neil Marcus did in securing idiosyncratic British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert to write the music and lyrics for The A-Z of Mrs P, along with Diane Samuels for the book. The show recently premiered at the Southwark Playhouse in a production directed by Sam Buntrock, and the soundtrack has now been released by SimG Productions.

Herbert had never seen a musical before starting to write this show five years ago and there’s a definite freshness to the way she has approached the material. The show was inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, a woman who led a complex personal life but is best known for mapping and creating the famous A-Z streetmap of London that so many still use today. Her relationship with her map publisher father was a troubled beast though and so the canvas of the story widens out beyond the streets of London, to delve into the family history of Mrs P and how it proved a driving force for her whole life. 

Saturday afternoon music treats

Last week's post proved surprisingly popular so here's another one for you. You can find below Gary Wood revisting A Chorus Line with What I Did For Love, a preview from The Pajama Game with Michael Xavier & Joanna Riding singing Hey There, Shayne Ward & Louise Dearman giving their take on Falling Slowly from Once, Angela Lansbury showing why her reputation is as it is with a lovely rendition of Beauty & The Beast (though it still doesn't excuse the applause on entry and standing o's), and a clip of I Can't Sing which is mainly fascinating to those who have seen the show as it shows the amount of tinkering there has been.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Review: Grimm’s Tales – Shoreditch Town Hall, London

"If my mother tells me not to leave the path again, then that's what I'll do"

A shoebrush becomes a baby hedgehog, a repurposed umbrella a mournful songbird, a coil of rope Rapunzel’s long tresses. For the eight people roaming the nooks and crannies beneath Shoreditch Town Hall, anything they find can be co-opted into their storytelling, as they give us their versions of Grimm’s fairy tales, although some will be more familiar than others. And it is not strictly their version, as Philip Wilson’s production uses Philip Pullman’s adaptation of the stories to weave a subtle kind of magic.

The show describes itself as immersive, but it is a gentler kind of immersion than most, probably better described as site-responsive. For the audience are split into two groups and taken on a journey from room to room, through five performances which draw us into their orbit, yet ask little of us but our attention (in case the notion of interaction causes any anxiety). And it is hard not to be enchanted as the company weave their spell through the darker stretches of the imagination – happily ever after doesn’t always seem guaranteed in this world.

Review: Jane Eyre, Bristol Old Vic

“You are no better than an animal…”

It is hard to feel too inspired by the revivals that keep popping up in the West End – Coward has Blithe Spirit and Relative Values, Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest is set to return soon – knowing full well that they will well-acted (by and large) but conservatively directed, playing it safe in search of the widest audience but consequently lacking any form of real inspiration. Instead, one has to look elsewhere for the kind of innovation that gets me genuinely excited about the prospect of seeing a classic on stage, in this case, Sally Cookson’s production of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre.

The production is split into two shows but I opted for the marathon performance, the two spliced together, to minimise my travelling time and though it was quite the epic journey, I’m glad I did it as it really gave a sense of the grand sweep of the piece to do it in one go. Devised by the company, this highly musical and theatrically inventive interpretation has a wonderfully contemporary edge about it, presenting the narrative very much as we know it but teasing a freshness, a modernity of feeling about the whole affair which makes it a crying shame that it is so relatively short-lived here at the Bristol Old Vic.

Cast of Jane Eyre continued

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Review: The Events, Artsdepot

“There comes a point when you’re shooting people and you just realise how silly it is”

David Greig’s The Events turned out to be quite the success in 2013, deeply affecting audiences from the Edinburgh Fringe through to the Guardian critics who voted it their show of the year. So it is perhaps unsurprising to see Actors Touring Company resurrecting their production for a new tour in 2014 but what is more impressive is the reach that this piece of theatre has managed to achieve in so relatively short a space of time. A Norwegian production has just opened, a German translation has played Vienna and will go to Dammen, and this particular tour will revisit the Young Vic, amongst other places, before heading over to the USA.

So clearly, something is working in this quietly dramatic response to the atrocities committed by Anders Breivik when he slaughtered 77 Norwegians in the summer of 2011. With director Ramin Gray, Greig explores how a similar but fictional tragedy reverberates throughout a community - the differing individual responses from victims and those more tangentially affected, the communal reaction as a whole, even the experiences of the killer himself, as a liberal priest searches for answers as to why she survived the attack that left so many of her fellow choir-members dead. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Short film review #38


DeafBlind Trailer from Ewan Bailey on Vimeo.
There’s clearly nothing Maxine Peake can’t do (quite what she makes of Hamlet later in the year is a definite treat in store) but her performance in Ewan Bailey’s DeafBlind is something eerily spectacular. She plays Maggie, a deaf blind woman thoroughly isolated by her condition and also, as it turns out, by the attentions of a stalker who has taken up residence in her home completely unbeknownst to her. He seeks to control her existence and there’s a stunningly uneasy sequence as she slowly comes to suspect someone is there and reacts in an unexpected way… Peake is predictably excellent but James Young’s uber-creepy Ben is inscrutably brilliant too.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Review: The Merchant of Venice, St Leonard’s Church

“For in converting Jews to Christians you raise the price of pork!”

Though it is a play oft studied, The Merchant of Venice has been most infrequently performed in recent years. Unafraid of a challenge, Malachite Theatre have chosen this play to mark the 450th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s birth at St Leonard’s Shoreditch, very close to the site of the Theatre and Curtain where many of his early plays were premiered. This modern-day retelling trims the action down to a shade under two and a half hours and offers an interesting, though not unproblematic, reading of the text.

The church offers a highly atmospheric auditorium and it is something Benjamin Blyth’s production takes full advantage of. Lines of laundry are strung high above piles of rubbish scattered throughout the nave, representing a Venetian society riven by inequality as Bassanio and his blazer-wearing, loafer-sporting, Pimms-quaffing friends party on regardless. And when funds start to run low, the trust fund baby turns to his benefactor Antonio for more, oblivious of his own financial difficulties and forcing him into the clutches of money-lender Shylock.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sunday afternoon music treats

A completely random selection of tracks for your listening pleasure. Miss Trunchbull singing Miss Honey; a live performance of my favourite song from Molly Wobbly; a sneak preview of the new cast of Once; and a remix of a Sinéad O'Connor track featuring Kate Tempest.

CD Review: Love on 42nd Street

"Lost myself in the night"

Love on 42nd Street is an album of new music by composer duo Daniel and Laura Curtis, recorded by a stellar line-up of West End and Broadway performer, all in aid of raising money for the BBC’s Children in Need campaign. As performers, the Curtises are noted for their interpretations of Ivor Novello‘s works and the Great American Songbook, and these influences are plain to see in the set of eight songs that make up this collection.

Written specifically for these performers, the composers have deliberately chosen to span a range of genres but the feel is always reflective. Song construction, melody lines, string arrangements are relatively traditional, frequently stirring and soaring though rarely superlative. Part of the problem lies in its professionalism, several of the songs are presented with a radio-friendly polished sheen which lacks the passionate theatrical edge that would really make them stand out.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Radio review: Blood Wedding

“You have already thrown me away”

Ted Hughes’ reworking of Blood Wedding first aired in 2008 and won awards that year. It was re-broadcast as part of Radio 3’s season covering Lorca’s Rural Trilogy – this play, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. Productions of Lorca’s work often search for the elusive spirit of the duende, that magical ingredient that brings out the chills, and that is markedly present here due to Pauline Harris’ astute direction. 

Rather than try and create a taste of Spain, Hughes and Harris focus on the rural, evoking the timeless spirit of folkloric traditions that transcends nations. So the tale of two feuding families, locked in a death spiral of conflict even as they celebrate a marriage that should be uniting their houses, could be anywhere, not just the Almerian mountains where Lorca set it, and a multitude of British accents thus don’t sound out of place.

Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse

“Go on, do it…”

There’s a sense of budding potential in new musical The A-Z of Mrs P that doesn’t quite come to full fruition in this production at the Southwark Playhouse, but suggests that some assiduous rethinking and re-shaping could well see any future life be more bountiful. Diane Samuels’ book and Gwyneth Herbert’s music and lyrics tell a self-described “musical fable” inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, the woman who mapped out and created the A-Z Atlas to London.

But though this may be her main claim to fame, the rest of her life was full of additional drama too. A Hungarian map-drawing father and an Irish mother who ultimately died in an asylum, her parents had a troubled marriage which impacted hugely on her and her brother’s childhood and beyond, and her lovelife was marked by failures and an abortive marriage. All of this and more is packed into the show which strains under the pressure of delivering any of its narrative streams effectively.

Nominations for 2014 Oliviers - Best Actor/Best Actress

Best Actor

Rory Kinnear in Othello – National Theatre Olivier
Henry Goodman in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – Duchess
Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus – Donmar Warehouse
Jude Law in Henry V – Noël Coward

Should win - Tom Hiddleston
Will win - Jude Law

Best Actress

Lesley Manville in Ghosts – Almeida / Trafalgar Studios
Hayley Atwell in The Pride – Trafalgar Studios
Anna Chancellor in Private Lives – Gielgud
Judi Dench in Peter and Alice – Noël Coward

Should win - Lesley Manville
Will win - Judi Dench

Nominations for 2014 Oliviers - Best Actor/Best Actress in a musical

Best Actor in a Musical

Gavin Creel in The Book of Mormon – Prince of Wales
Jared Gertner in The Book of Mormon – Prince of Wales
Douglas Hodge in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Kyle Scatliffe in The Scottsboro Boys – Young Vic

Best Actress in a Musical

Zrinka Cvitešic in Once – Phoenix
Rosalie Craig in The Light Princess – National Theatre Lyttelton
Jenna Russell in Merrily We Roll Along – Harold Pinter
Charlotte Wakefield in The Sound of Music – Regent's Park Open Air

Nominations for 2014 Oliviers - Best Actor in a Supporting Role/Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Jack Lowden in Ghosts – Almeida / Trafalgar Studios
Ron Cook in Henry V – Noël Coward
Mark Gatiss in Coriolanus – Donmar Warehouse
Ardal O'Hanlon in The Weir – Donmar Warehouse / Wyndham's

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Sharon D. Clarke in The Amen Corner – National Theatre Olivier
Sarah Greene in The Cripple of Inishmaan – Noël Coward
Katherine Kingsley in A Midsummer Night's Dream – Noël Coward
Cecilia Noble in The Amen Corner – National Theatre Olivier

Nominations for 2014 Oliviers - Best Supporting Role in a Musical

Best Supporting Role in a Musical

Stephen Ashfield in The Book of Mormon – Prince of Wales
Colman Domingo in The Scottsboro Boys – Young Vic
Josefina Gabrielle in Merrily We Roll Along – Harold Pinter
Nigel Planer in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Review: Molly Wobbly, Phoenix Artists Club,

"My dreams are as dead as this romance is"

Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory was originally scheduled to receive a full production at the Hackney Empire last year but a last minute financial crisis saw it cancelled. Now trimmed down to Molly Wobbly and slimmed down to a staged concert, it has resurfaced at the Phoenix Artists Club, with some of the cast returning together with some newcomers, to give Paul Boyd’s musical another chance at airing in London.

And it has to be said that the intimate venue feels a much better fit than the Empire would ever have been. The show clearly has visions of cult status, its bizarrely eccentric book incorporating boob jokes aplenty, cross-dressing angels and tales of sexual deviancy alongside the marital trials of three couples who live on Mammary Lane whose lives are changed with the arrival of a mysterious lime-green-haired stranger bearing a vial of orange potion.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Review: Hairspray, Curve

“’Cause just to sit still would be a sin”

For the longest time, I resisted the charms of Hairspray both on screen and on stage. It was only my niece and nephew falling in love with the 2007 film and making me watch it with them and made me realise how much fun it is and just how tuneful Marc Shaiman’s score manages to be. So having missed the boat with the West End version (and resisted the temptation to see its seemingly never-ending touring incarnation), I was most pleased to see that Paul Kerryson was creating his own interpretation for the Curve, especially given how successfully Chicago had been reinvented there over Christmas. 

And it appears that lightning really can strike twice. Kerryson clearly has the knack for reconceiving large scale musicals for this Leicester stage and focusing on the qualities that make them so successful and here, in that respect, there’s an embarrassment of riches. Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book captures a crucial moment in US civil rights history but one with an enduringly powerful message in how societal pressure can result in lasting change when focused through the right media channel. And Lee Proud’s wonderfully expansive choreography educates as well as entertains, speaking volumes about the changing ways in which we interact.

Cast of Hairspray continued

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Review: Les Fausses Confidences, Odéon

“J'aime avec passion, et c'est ce qui fait que je tremble”

So I am officially broken now – whereas I had previously managed to limit my theatregoing to the UK borders, last year saw me venture to Paris and Amsterdam to take in plays and sure enough, return trips to both cities have been booked for 2014, two in both cases… First up in the things I couldn’t possibly resist, Isabelle Huppert. She’s one of the most constantly exciting actresses I know, her film work endlessly exhilarating and it feels a surprise that the Barbican haven’t gotten her over to these shores in some form or other.

Thus off to the Odéon to Les Fausses Confidences I went. Marivaux’s comedy wouldn’t necessarily be my usual tasse de thé and my A-level French is rusty to say the least but neither mattered a jot, the joyous intensity of Huppert’s performance as rich widow Araminte transcending any linguistic barriers. In Luc Bondy’s modern-dress production, she is a vision of wealthy chic draped in Dior’s finest, wafting around doing Tai-Chi manoeuvres but soon comically undone by the revelation that her impoverished steward Dorante is in love with her.

Review: Other Desert Cities, Old Vic

“Families get terrorised by their weakest members” 

In a rare sighting of new writing at the corner of The Cut, Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities was a considerable success on Broadway after it premiered in 2011 and it now makes its way over the ocean to the Old Vic. Lindsay Posner’s production also sees the theatre transformed back into the round (it last reconfigured for The Norman Conquests which I missed and Dancing at Lughnasa which I did not) for a full season of plays of which this is the first - Clarence Darrow, The Crucible and Electra are to follow. 

First up though is this warped family reunion, five members of a wealthy family gather on Christmas Eve in the soulless Palm Springs showhome inhabited by Polly and Lyman Wyeth. Republicans both, they reside in relative exile, hiding from family secrets that have been swept under an expensive rug. But the arrival of their daughter Brooke, dealing with serious depression, triggers a reawakening as she’s written a memoir about the very thing they want to forget.

Review: Away from Home, Jermyn Street

“This isn’t about gay rights, this is about self respect” 

Can culture capture society at a tipping point? Looking at theatrical representations of football in London, the Bush, the Royal Court and now the Jermyn Street theatres have all put on plays dealing with the (sometimes) thorny issue of homosexuality in football suggesting that we might be ready for a change. But then last weekend saw torrid rumours of a Premiership footballer about to come out to a Sunday paper followed by wanton accusations, hasty denials and the ongoing childish obsession with whether the game can ‘cope’ with a player being open about his sexuality.

Previously seen last year in Manchester and now embarking on a UK tour, Rob Ward and Martin Jameson’s Away From Home takes a slightly different look at the subject, taking the form of a one man show focused on male escort Kyle. He may be out to his friends and family and thoroughly accepted as one of the footy-mad lads down the local but his professional life remains a secret, something which is tested when he is first hired by a well-known footballer, and then subsequently finds himself falling for him.

CD Review: Hood - Noble Secrets

"You won't survive a night in Sherwood Forest"

Spiteful Puppet’s debut audio drama revisits one of our most well-known folk heroes, Robin Hood, but in this origin story for the Merry Men, Iain Meadows has managed an adroit reimagining of the world of Sherwood Forest and beyond. Aided by a swooping orchestral score from Samuel Pegg, it rises from a slightly ponderous beginning to become a constantly surprising and interesting piece of drama.

The list of characters is familiar – Robin De Loxley, Little John, Will Scarlet, the Lady Marion… - but their actions not necessarily so. This is a fresh take on everything you think you know but never unnecessarily so and it is a clever technique that demands the attention of the listener, keeping us on our toes not least in making the central character Phillip De Nicholay, the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Mercury

“Time that the whole town was stirred up"

At a time when West End shows are closing left right and centre, this touring version of Betty Blue Eyes serves as a timely reminder that that isn’t always the end. Itself a victim of a curtailed run at the Novello back in 2011, this production emerges as a model of collaboration with 4 regional powerhouses co-producing – Mercury Theatre Colchester, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Salisbury Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse – a UK tour which currently stretches into August. 

Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman’s book adapts Alan Bennett and Malcom Mowbray’s witty story from the film A Private Function – a northern town’s determination to celebrate the Princess Elizabeth’s wedding is kyboshed by the unrelenting yoke of post-war austerity and rationing, though chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers and his social climbing wife Joyce have other plans. And the beautifully constructed music and lyrics are provided by British musical theatre stalwarts Stiles & Drewe.

Cast of Betty Blue Eyes continued

Short Film Review #37

Method Actor

A monologue by the silken-voiced John Shrapnel is something to look forward to no matter the format, and Justin Stokes’ short film Method Actor is a brilliant vehicle for it. Mere minutes long, it courses through the imagination of an ageing actor as he dispenses bitterly-won advice on how he has gotten where he has, Glenn Smith’s script cleverly weaving its way into unexpected places and DP John Lynch creating a gorgeously lush world for him to inhabit.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy

“He sang my name and it rang out just like some major chord.
If music be the food of love, he ate my Smorgasbord."

Things didn’t start off well. Applauding an actor’s arrival onstage is something I can’t ever imagine finding ok and when that actor is Robert Lindsay, well, it felt even more inexplicable. But then I never watched My Family so my main points of reference for him have been Onassis and The Lion in Winter, a dubious pair of plays indeed. Nor have I seen the film of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the musical adaptation of which sees him return to the stage, here at the Savoy after well-received out of town tryouts, so there was more than a little apprehension mixed in with my anticipation.

But any doubts were soon allayed by the effervescent energy of an old-school but fresh-feeling production by Jerry Mitchell. First seen on Broadway in 2004, Jeffrey Lane’s book and David Yazbek’s music and lyrics sits happily in the sun-kissed French Riviera where con men are two a penny. And in Beaumont-sur-Mer, the two are Lawrence Jamieson, the reigning king of the con, and Freddy Benson, the brash upstart who would take his crown. First they compete for tricks, scamming whoever they can for whatever they can, and then they unite to form a double act with, hopefully, double the profits as they identify the lucrative mark of US heiress Christine Colgate.

Cast of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels continued

Monday, 17 March 2014

Review: Satan Sings Mostly Sondheim, Jermyn Street

“We’re gonna have one hell of a show…”

Slotting into a late evening slot at the Jermyn Street Theatre due to the short running time of Away from Home, is this bizarre little comic curio, which feels like it may have gotten lost on the way to Edinburgh. Satan Sings Mostly Sondheim was created by Adam Long, fresh from a successful run of Dickens Abridged which he also wrote and directed, with contributions from Jo Cichonska on the music and it really does have that Festival feel about it, straddling comedy sketch, musical revue and energetic improve session.

The set-up, for what it’s worth, is that Satan came up from hell in the 60s, inspired by a great year for musical theatre, and became a star. But his fame is now on the wane and the unresolved issues with his earthbound father has led him to put on a one night only Sondheim special at the Palladium to revive his fortune. Thing is, as the poster says, “this show contains absolutely no music by Stephen Sondheim, and is not endorsed in any way by Stephen Sondheim or anyone who knows him” so Satan and his long-term agent Robert have to make do.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Review: West End Recast, Duke of York’s

“Here's to the girls who play smart"

There doesn’t seem to be a Sunday night that passes without some concert or another featuring a host of West End stars celebrating a composer or honouring a good cause and this weekend was no exception. West End Recast saw performers taking the chance to embrace roles that they would normally not be cast for, crossing gender and colour lines for a hugely entertaining couple of hours and some brilliant singing. The evening saw an interesting diversity of interpretations of the brief but predominantly, the feel was that it wasn’t so radical an approach – good songs are good songs no matter who sings them. 

Some performers went for straight-forward renditions (Daniel Boys’ 'Send in the Clowns', Katie Rowley-Jones’ impassioned Rent double header), several of the boys opted for costumey props with mixed results (Boys teaming up with Leon Lopez for a lovely low-key version of 'For Good' complete with tiara and green facepaint, Simon Bailey’s Ariel wig not proving as much as an obstacle to 'Part Of Your World' as his simpering delivery which flew in the face of the musical integrity pretty much everywhere else). But I have to say I preferred the moments that felt genuinely subversive with their gender-flips and the performances that exploded off the stage (or both at the same time).

Cast of West End Recast continued

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Review: Urinetown, St James Theatre

“You think you'll come in here and go for free?"

The sight of a grim-faced guard demanding 20p or so at the doors to public toilets may be nothing new to visitors to train stations and museums but what if they were the only conveniences at all that you could use. That is the scenario in Urinetown, a Broadway cult hit which has splashed its way over to the St James Theatre, which envisages a dystopian future where the water table is so low that private toilets have been banned and public toilets have been privatised, meaning the only way to go is to pay for the privilege.

When Assistant Toilet Custodian Bobby Strong from the least salubrious toilet in town decides to make a stand against this corporate greed led by Caldwell B Cladwell’s Urine Good Company (ba-dum-tish), he leads a rebellion which kidnaps Caldwell’s daughter and demands the right to “pee for free”, unprepared for the violent crackdown that follows. Elements of Malthusian philosophy about the sustainability of the human race are seeded throughout and much of the story is as dark as the sewers in which much of it takes place.

Cast of Urinetown continued

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Review: Secret Theatre 4, Lyric Hammersmith

“You clandestine peasant.
‘You curdled cock’”

Much of the buzz about Secret Theatre was the fact that audiences are kept in the dark about what it is they are booking for, placing their trust in the hands of an adventurous company looking to shake up the way theatre is created and commodified in this country. It makes for an entertaining evening, especially at the start as one waits to find out where in the theatre we’re going to be, and what delights are in store.

As it was, I got to the end of Show 4 without having worked out much to be honest. The post-show information told me it was a play named Glitterland, an adaptation of John Webster’s The White Devil by Hayley Squires but not being a play I am familiar with, that proved of little assistance. In a densely woven plot, the striking aesthetic of the company – directed here by Ellen McDougall – takes you a long way but not quite far enough into a satisfying dramatic experience. 

Review: A Tale of Two Cities, Royal & Derngate

“Repression is the only lasting philosophy”

Although not intentionally, this year I’ve been racing through the list of theatres (and towns) I haven’t been to before and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate is the latest to be ticked off. This production of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities marks the beginning of James Dacre’s tenure as Artistic Director there and though I have no way to compare it with what usually takes place on stage here, it feels like a hugely ambitious piece of work and a definite statement of intent.

Most of this comes from the team he has gathered. Mike Poulton’s sleek adaptation of the novel surely confirms him as the country’s foremost translator from page to stage, Oscar winner Rachel Portman provides a hugely atmospheric score which swells to fill the auditorium, and the use of a community ensemble gives credibility to the world of the play, creating a most effective baying mob in Mike Britton’s beautiful set which effortlessly switches location as the story dictates.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Review: Good People, Hampstead Theatre

“I never had anyone watching from a window for me. You got lucky."

As if there was any doubt that Imelda Staunton wouldn't be excellent… Though the way that she inhabits the part of Margie, a hard-bitten, working-class Bostonian single mother is simply quite astonishing. From the opening moments of this David Lindsay-Abaire play as she faces the prospect of losing the job that is barely keeping her afloat due to the desperation of forlorn hope etched on her face at the end, it is a sensational performance in the midst of a sensational production.

Jobs are few and far between in the tough neighbourhood of South Boston and the demands of caring for her disabled daughter mean Margie needs to seize the bull by the horns to get alternative employment. When she hears from a friend that Mike, an old flame is back in town - someone who has definitely gone up in the world to become a doctor - she batters down his door and procures a birthday party invite where apparently somebody might have something for her.

Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court

There’s something special about being allowed to take part in something unique and though Unusual Unions actually took place twice on the same day, it still counts as a one off in my book. Part of the Royal Court’s convention-busting The Big Idea stream of work, this was a collection of 5 short plays all responding to the ideas raised by Abi Morgan in her main house show The Mistress Contract, taking place in unexpected nooks and crannies of the theatre in wonderfully small groups.

From dressing rooms to stairwells, the space under the stage to meeting rooms with a view, it was a brilliant way of exploring a building which isn’t normally so open (Wilton’s Music Hall’s promenade version of Edmund fulfilled a similar purpose). And even if the subject matter seemed to veer off what one might have expected, given the sexual nature of Morgan’s play, it was still compelling stuff looking at the ways in which we connect (or not) with those around us. 

Radio Review: Pride and Prejudice, Radio 4

“I think the temptations will be too strong in Brighton”

Just a quickie for this 3 hour adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice which was spread over 3 weeks and so proved to be quite a drawn-out experience. Charlotte Jones' dramatisation, directed by Sally Avens, worked extremely well, thanks to a spiffingly high-quality cast. Current RSC darling Pippa Nixon ad Jamie Parker took on the leading couple, Samantha Spiro as Mrs Bennett, Toby Jones as Mr Collins, Fenella Woolgar as Miss Bingley...the list goes on. And narrated by Amanda  Root, it was practically tailor-made for me.

Which made the scheduling a tad frustrating, the week-long gaps a little too long for my apparent attention span these days whereas I would have rather binged on the whole thing in one go. But it was good. Parker taking a little getting used to as Darcy but getting there, connecting well with Nixon's vibrant Elizabeth. Lydia Wilson making a compassionate Jane, Michelle Terry the same with Charlotte Lucas, David Troughton's Mr Bennett resignedly pleasant against Spiro's over-exuberant wife. A genuine pleasure.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Review: Richard III, Blue Elephant

“Now is the winter of our discontent"

Lazarus Theatre’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s Richard III starts off in striking style in the Blue Elephant’s black box auditorium - a genteel drinks reception quickly turns into an all-out rave complete with glowsticks, from the midst of which Prince Plockey’s usurping monarch emerges to deliver “now is the winter of our discontent”. What follows doesn’t quite match up to this vibrant invention but Gavin Harrington-Odedra’s production does contain some lovely moments.

Harrington-Odedra has trimmed down the text to a mighty lean 100 minutes straight through which presents as many obstacles as it does opportunities. Richard’s rise to the throne is meteoric which robs us of much of his scheming character, and some of the remaining scene choices don’t always fly, Lady Anne’s seduction for one feeling a little too static. But the strong use of visuals works extremely well in this fast-paced world.

Cast of Richard III continued

Monday, 10 March 2014

Review: I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole, Gate

“If I am to lose sleep for a night, then let it bloody well at least be over a painting by Goya”

Putting on a new play in West London? Well, you’d better get yourself a wordy title. The Bush have just opened We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the GermanSudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884 – 1915 and now the Gate are going with the shorter but rather more obtuse I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole.

And obtuse really is the word. Rodrigo García’s one-man play, translated here by William Gregory, follows a father railing against the state of the world and its materialistic concerns, who decides to blow his life savings on a road trip with his two sons. He plans to take them to the Prado in Madrid to break in and stare at Goya paintings all night long, the only slight problem is that they would rather to go to Disneyland. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

CD Review: Ramin Karimloo – Within the Six Square Inch

“They used to tell me I was building a dream”

I’ve been working my way backwards through Ramin Karimloo’s back catalogue and so now I am at his 2004 self-released EP Within the Six Square Inch, where one can see interesting hints of how his career would develop and the relationships he has nurtured. The tension between musician and musical theatre star is also in evidence with a song selection that is far from intuitive and might help explain why it is so hard to track down the disc now.

The 8 tracks span a range of musicals from the better known (West Side Story) to the more obscure (The Last Session), a couple of Billy Joel covers and a folk standard. It gives an indication of the diversity of Karimloo’s musical background and the kind of recording artist he wanted to be but it makes for a curious mixture and the sequencing of the tracks doesn’t always help. But there are definite highlights in amongst the collection which make it worth tracking down.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Review: Visitors, Arcola

“If I could choose any life, I don’t think I’d have things very different from this”

Angela Lansbury may be getting audiences on their feet on Shaftesbury Avenue but for my money, you should be racing over to the Arcola to catch some of the most intensely fantastic acting currently happening. Visitors is Barney Norris’ first full-length play, for the Up In Arms theatre company he co-founded with Alice Hamilton (who directs here), and as a piece of restrained – though hugely affecting – realism, it is an absolute cracker.

Norris examines the corrosive impact of dementia on a Wiltshire farming family with huge skill, deftly exploring the ways in which people make their way through such situations, with love, compassion, comedy, fear, confusion, denial. Both in their 70s, Arthur and Edie are perfectly attuned to each other after many happy years of marriage but though they would happily continue as they are, her declining condition is proving impossible to ignore.

DVD Review: Made In Dagenham

“All over the country, women are getting less because they’re women”

I thought this would make an appropriate film review for International Women’s Day, it being a celebration of the sewing machinists whose ground-breaking 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham plant laid the basis for the Equal Pay Act of 1970, enshrining the right of equal pay for equal work. Nigel Cole’s 2010 film, written by William Ivory around the real life events, has been turned into a musical which will be opening at the end of the year, Gemma Arterton taking the lead role under Rupert Goold’s direction, but she has a lot to live up against the glorious Sally Hawkins and what is a rather lovely film.

It very much fits into the well-established working class Brit flick template – think The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Calendar Girls… - in that it is never particularly challenging, it revels in period cliché and can definitely be described as heart-warming. But also like those films, it does have a little grit at its base, realism (of sorts) is allowed to temper the optimism that drives this huge moment of social change, the individual struggles of these women co-existing with the collective battle to great effect and backed by a super cast, it is frequently moving.

Cast of Made in Dagenham continued

Women in Theatre – February 2014

So following on from the analysis of January’s theatregoing in terms of its gender split, I've decided that I will continue to do the same all year.It seems an appropriate decision on International Women's Day, and it will help in getting a clearer picture of just how the whole thing stacks up. This of course will hardly be an exhaustive report but the amount of theatre that I see means that the sample size will at least be a healthy one, albeit with wildcards from my trips outwith the M25 and beyond.  

The headline figures

% of women In the 27 shows seen in February

Actors: 43% (39% in January)
Writers: 50% (29% in January) 
Directors: 38% (40% in January)
Designers: 55% (29% in January)
Light: 23% (23% in January)
Sound: 5% (13% in January)