Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Review: The Life, Southwark Playhouse

"I've done everything that a body can do.
But how goddamn much can a body go through?"

There's a moment early on in The Life where Sharon D Clarke's been-around-the-block-and-then-some Sonja has a moment akin to Jenna Russell's 'The Revolutionary Costume for Today' in Grey Gardens where she utterly and completely steals the show with an outstanding musical number, the likes of which will scarcely be bettered all year. Here it is 'The Oldest Profession', a world-weary but witty run through life working on the streets which is just bloody fantastic. But lest you worry that this is a musical to glamourise prostitution, all that good feeling is instantly shattered by a scene of brutal cruelty from her pimp which leaves you in no doubt as to how (melodramatically) serious The Life is.

Set on the seedier side of 42nd Street in 1980s New York, David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman's book remembers Times Square before it became tourist-friendly and follows a group of people just trying to get by in this callous world. Queen is turning tricks and saving money to move on out of this world but when her lover Fleetwood, a troubled Vietnam vet with a habit, blows half her stash on his stash, it's clear that something drastic needs to happen. Angered by new arrival from the sticks Mary, aided by longtime friend and co-worker Sonja, and abetted by the malicious Memphis, Queen is spurred onto a course of ambitious but tragic action.

Review: Adam & Eve….and Steve, King's Head

"It’s fine for Sweden but not for Eden"

If you were so inclined, you could rip into Adam & Eve….and Steve for its tendency towards dramatic inconsistency and slight musical blandness but as Beelzebub pops up to tell us early on, it's all "just a bit of heavenly humour". And given that the show has thrived on the festival circuit (including Edinburgh last year) and is now playing in the late slot at the King's Head, the temptation to take the Devil's advice is a strong one.

For Adam & Eve... is affable indeed, enjoyable (particularly with a pint in hand) without ever straining too hard, and unashamedly light entertainment with its revisionist take on the Creation myth. Chandler Warren's book posits a Garden of Eden where Eve's temptation by an apple is matched with Adam's temptation by an additional companion in Paradise called Steve, God's plans for the human race thus thrown into disarray by the gays.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Review: The Frogs, Jermyn Street

"Gods of the theatre, smile on us"

No matter the star quality of the names associated with The Frogs - Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver were in the original student company who performed it in a Yale swimming pool in 1974, Nathan Lane was one of the co-writers who expanded it for a Broadway run in 2004 - but there's no escaping the fact that it is one of Sondheim's rarely performed musicals. It's a descriptor that rightly causes a deal of trepidation - more often than not there's a good reason that works collect dust on the shelf and the hunt for worthy rediscoveries only rarely turns up a diamond.

Another way of looking at it is that you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince and if this isn't an outright amphibian, it's also by no means royalty. Loosely based on a 405 BC play by Aristophanes but sending up Greek comedy at the same, we follow Michael Matus' Dionysos and his slave Xanthias, played by George Rae, as they journey to Hades to find someone who can "enlighten the easily misled and coerced masses of Earth". They light on George Bernard Shaw as a saviour but Shakespeare has something to say about it, as do Herakles, Charon, Pluto and a chorus of frogs...

Angels in America - a fantasia on how to get tickets for a sold-out show.

Tickets for Angels in America sold out very quickly- a mark of the excitement for this 25th anniversary production of Tony Kushner's epic, but the folks at the National have come up with three ways that you can still catch the show and this bunch of jobbing actors (pictured by Helen Maybanks) have kindly re-enacted the experience of trying to get tickets for the show...

Sorry guys, but all the tickets for Angels in America have sold out 
What do you mean its sold out. I'm Nathan bloody Lane

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker

"O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains"

In light of Roman Tragedies reminding us of the vast potential of what Shakespeare can be rather than the tendency towards the ‘proper’ readings of his work that we tend to get here in the UK (vast generalisations I know, but can you really argue against it…), it’s gratifying to see directors, and venues, taking the opportunity to stretch those traditional notions. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, housed within Shakespeare’s Globe, isn’t the first place you’d think of to find such a production but in Ellen MacDougall’s interpretation of Othello, we have just that.

Text updated to the 21st century (dramaturgy by Joel Horwood), key characters regendered (Joanna Horton’s Cassio is an inspired move), a contemporary soundtrack that interpolates Lana Del Rey, it is enough to make any purist shiver and you kinda feel that’s the point. MacDougall refocuses the play on masculinity in crisis but it is also tempting to think that on a larger scale, there’s a smidgen of Emma Rice’s shaking of the branches of theatrical orthodoxy at play here too. With the post of Artistic Director of the Globe being advertised again, we can only hope such invention remains.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


An amusing tidbit from Paul Chahidi's Twitter takeover for the Donmar Warehouse, promoting his show Limehouse and the commitment its actors have to the art of the warm-up.



Friday, 24 March 2017

Preview - 42 reasons to see 42nd Street

"Where the underworld can meet the elite...
Naughty
Bawdy
Gaudy
Sporty
Forty-Second Street!"

I was lucky enough to be invited to the first preview of 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and whilst any official opinions about the show are under embargo until press night, I thought I'd give you all some hints and teasers and a little sneak preview (assisted by these beautiful photographs courtesy of Brinkhoff & Moegenburg) through these 42 reasons to see 42nd Street. 


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Notes on a second viewing of Roman Tragedies


"I arm myself with patience and await the higher powers"


Whilst sitting in the audience for Roman Tragedies on Friday night and before it had even finished, I took advantage of the free wifi and booked myself into Sunday's show, knowing I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see this most extraordinary of shows again. And instead of writing another review in which I'd just end up repeating myself, I thought I'd just jot down some of the thoughts that came to me both whilst rewatching and on reflection afterwards.
  • More shows should take the opportunity to provide in-show footnotes
  • Likewise, the dry voiceover dispensing witty advice in the interval pauses (don't walk into the glass panels...) - I'd love to have something similar subtly ripping the piss out of Old Vic audiences
  • I also loved that it was Hans Kesting on mike duty here for the first couple of hours, it really reminds you how much of an ensemble Toneelgroep Amsterdam are, everyone pitching in at all levels
  • Similarly, Chris Nietvelt building up to her devastating Cleopatra with earlier parts as a wry newsreader and a galloping Caska
  • It's interesting to note that both times the Guardian has reviewed RT at the Barbican, it has been Lyn Gardner on duty - what does Billington have against it?!
  • Second time around, I was much more up for taking photos and tweeting during the show; on Friday I was more concerned with making sure I didn't miss anything and getting the full range of onstage seating experiences by moving at every break. By contrast on Sunday, I only went onstage for Julius Caesar and watched the rest from my seat in the auditorium - it was nice to have the choice of so much variety
  • Volumnia really is a kick-ass role isn't it
  • Is one of the memes of the year going to be productions openly acknowledging how baffling Shakespearean dialogue can be - Twelfth Night did it with boxtrees, AMND did it with extempore, and here it was being likened to an osprey, I do enjoy this lack of reverence
  • Undoubtedly there is a conversation to be had about diversity and TGA - (the ensemble has predominantly been all-white I think) - but such dialogue must be accompanied by an understanding of the racial dynamics in the Netherlands and also the realities of signing actors up to year-long ensemble contracts. And lest we forget, van Hove has regularly cast actors of colour in his other productions - Sophie Okonedo as Elizabeth Proctor, Obi Abili in Antigone, Chuk Iwuji's Lovborg, Iwuji and Aysha Kala in the forthcoming Obsession...
  • A big shoutout has to go to videographer Tal Yarden whose efforts I gained a real appreciation for this time, in realising just how nuanced and intricate his design work is. Far from simply putting up a live relay (although that is done late on in a hilarious out-of-doors sequence with Enobarbus), Yarden creates tableaux which are just as concerned with toying with our perceptions of space as van Hove's concepts and Versweyveld's sets are. Scenes like the triumvirate in conference (pictured below), Coriolanus meeting Aufidius, Mark Antony wheedling his way back into Cleopatra's good books are given an alternative reality on screen as shots are spliced together to create a public image with a message versus the distance that is often there in reality - constantly thought-provoking work.


So there we have it, one of the greatest theatrical experiences I've ever had the pleasure to witness and one which has stood the test of time in the 8 years since I originally saw it. I hope it isn't 8 more years until I see it again!


Deaths















Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Review: An American in Paris, Dominion

"Who could ask for anything more"

True to its name, An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the French capital to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway for another well-received (and Tony-winning) run there. It now rocks up at the newly refurbished Dominion Theatre, just ahead of another huge dance-heavy Broadway musical in 42nd Street, producers clearly banking on audiences wanting distraction from the realities of the outside world.

And that it certainly provides - director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's reinvention of the 1951 film (new book by Craig Lucas) is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. George and Ira Gershwin's score is beyond classic ('I Got Rhythm', ''S Wonderful', 'They Can't Take That Away from Me' et al) and sounds luscious in Rob Fisher's new arrangements musically directed by John Rigby, and Bob Crowley's set and costumes look divine in all their old-school charm.

Tuesday morning treat - Sunday in the Park with George


"I give what I give"

A little something to perk us all up on a Tuesday morning. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George is enjoying a Broadway revival at the Hudson Theatre (139-141 West 44th Street) and here's a few photographs of the show and its stars Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (in his Broadway musical debut) and Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford doing things in and around the show. 

Directed by Sarna Lapine, Sondheim and Lapine’s masterpiece follows painter Georges Seurat (Gyllenhaal) in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Consumed by his need to “finish the hat,” Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, spurns his fellow artists, and neglects his lover Dot (Ashford), not realizing that his actions will reverberate over the next 100 years. And if you're over the pond, Sunday In The Park With George runs through April 23, 2017. And as if that wasn't enough, there's also a video of Jakey singing 'Finishing the Hat' below the cut!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Review: Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory

"There’s no situation in the world that can’t be passed off with small-talk"

Overlord of all that is authentic in British theatre, Trevor Nunn is now further redefining authenticity by presenting us with a Terence Rattigan premiere, cobbled together from two pre-existing versions of the same play. Love in Idleness was originally known as Less Than Kind (which itself was seen at the Jermyn Street back in 2011) but was rewritten at the behest of its stars, a commercially minded decision which proved fatal to Rattigan's reputation. And rather than choose one or the other, Nunn has fashioned something new (but assumably still authentic), named for the later version.

Sadly, that sense of compromise lingers strongly here. Fans of Rattigan were utterly spoiled by pitch-perfect interpretations of After the Dance and Flare Path (also by Nunn) at the beginning of this decade and again last year with an excoriating The Deep Blue Sea, so knowing the emotional force with which he can devastate us can only leave you disappointed at the tonally strange and inconsequential comedy of sorts with which we're presented here. Only the long-awaited return of the marvellous Eve Best to the London stage imbues the evening with the quality it scarcely deserves.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Review: La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon

"It's rather gaudy but it's also rather grand"

It doesn't feel like that long since La Cage aux Folles was strutting its stuff in London as I made several visits to the Playhouse as it rotated its main cast on a regular basis (Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson, Philip Quast and Roger Allam, John Barrowman and Simon Burke) but it has a good few years. So the time is clearly ripe for a revival and Kenwright and co clearly agree as they've mounted the show's first ever UK tour.

And with John Partridge and Adrian Zmed at the helm, it remains as gloriously entertaining and heart-warmingly lovable as ever. A story about love and acceptance always has things to teach us, gay or straight, now more than ever and the story of St Tropez nightclub owners Georges and Albin is a touching one as through dealing with Georges' son's fiancée's parents' homophobia, they learn more about themselves and their own identities.