Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange

Aletta Collins’ new choreography is just one of the highlights of a most successful West Side Story at the Royal Exchange

“Sleep well and when you dream
Dream of me”

For an undoubted classic of the musical theatre, West Side Story really isn’t revived all that often but 2019 seems determined to rectify that. The Curve have announced it as their Christmas show, Ivo van Hove is reimagining it on Broadway, and Steven Spielberg is remaking the film for good measure. But getting the (beautifully balletic) jump on all of them is Manchester’s Royal Exchange, whose revival is the first to be performed with new choreography replacing the iconic moves of original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

And only naturally, Sarah Frankcom’s production soars when it puts Aletta Collins’ new moves front and centre. They are certainly recognisably inspired by Robbins but there’s an unmistakeable freshness that is just beautiful to watch and there’s something great about the fact they’re all doing it in Converse. The repeated ronds de jambe are iconic in their own way, an emotional grace is suffused throughout, and hints of contemporary nod to the physicality of two warring gangs, coiled bodies poised on Anna Fleischle’s climbing frame design. Fleischle has also maximised the floor space of the Exchange to great effect, the aesthetic is pure dance and it works. Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange”

Review: Abigail’s Party, Opera House Manchester

This touring production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party opts for comedy rather than tragicomedy at the Opera House Manchester, losing a little depth in order to find more laughs

“Let’s get pissed”

I spotted at least two people dressed up as Beverly at this matinée of Abigail’s Party at Manchester’s Opera House, a sure sign of cult status for any play. But it also means that their particular version of it can be stuck in aspic, making it difficult for any new interpretation to break through one’s own pre-programmed laugh track, to offer up a new reading of an oh-so-familiar text.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone – for me, ‘Demis Roussos’ is up there with ‘a handbag’ in terms of iconic lines – but Mike Leigh’s play has always struck me as a desperately sad one rather than an out and out comedy. Last year’s production at Hornchurch and the Menier’s 2012 production brought those sour notes but interestingly, Sarah Esdaile’s touring production opts for out and out farce. Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party, Opera House Manchester”

Review: Hair, Palace Theatre Manchester

This 50th anniversary tour of Hair the Musical does more than any to make me like the show, at the Palace Theatre Manchester

“Grab your blankets, and something to suck”

True story, I’m no real big fan of Hair. I’ve seen it a couple of times now and it just doesn’t grab me in the way that so many other classic musicals do. But when looking for a Wednesday matinée to complete my trip to Manchester, it was the only show in town. And given that this Aria Entertainment, Senbla and Hope Mill Theatre production was born here in Manchester, it seemed only right to give it another shot.

And I have to say, in its 50th anniversary year, it is beginning to win me over. The music (by Galt MacDermot) may not occupy a special place in my soul and the book (by Gerome Ragni and James Rado) remains chronically weak but there’s something so persuasive about Jonathan O’Boyle’s production that is entirely seductive, and feels even more so in the grander theatres in which it is now touring, as opposed to the more intimate spaces it has previously occupied. Continue reading “Review: Hair, Palace Theatre Manchester”

The 2018 Ian Charleson Awards nominees announced

I remain unconvinced we should be rewarding classical roles over the breadth of the theatre out there but hey ho, it’s not my award! A good selection of performances nominated here nonetheless – winner to be announced in May.

Daniel Burke for Diomed in Troilus and Cressida at RSC
Bally Gill for Romeo in Romeo and Juliet at the RSC
Heledd Gwynn for Katharine and Dauphin in Henry V by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory 
Tyrone Huntley for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Watermill, Newbury
Martins Imhangbe for Bagot and Aumerle in Richard II at the Almeida
Toheeb Jimoh for Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Crucible
Hannah Morrish for Octavia in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre
Luke Newberry for Malcolm in Macbeth at the RSC
Aaron Pierre for Cassio in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe
Ellora Torchia for Emilia in Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare’s Globe
Helena Wilson for Mariana in Measure for Measure at the Donmar Warehouse

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Album Review: My Fair Lady (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)

I succumb to the charms of My Fair Lady once again with this 2018 Broadway Cast Recording

“I’ll be off a second later and go straight to the theatre”

I wasn’t expecting to like this 2018 Broadway Cast Recording of My Fair Lady half as much as I did. Rumblings of discontent about Lauren Ambrose’s casting as Eliza stuck in my mind, as did the unlikeliness of Harry Hadden-Paton being her Henry Higgins, and who wants American versions of English accents? (I’m sure they feel the same!)

But there’s something rather delicious about this recording that makes it really shine. It helps of course to have a score and lyrics as gloriously evergreen as Lerner and Loewe’s, MD Ted Sperling’s treatment of the original orchestrations making them feel as fresh as a cockney sparrer, and his orchestra sound like a dream. – you really could listen to them all night.  Continue reading “Album Review: My Fair Lady (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)”

Album Review: Summer – The Donna Summer Musical (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)

Is there a market for cast recordings from uninspired jukebox musicals. On Summer – The Donna Summer Musical’s evidence, I find it hard to think so.

“Enough is enough is enough is enough”

Yeesh. Summer – The Donna Summer Musical may have wasted no time in releasing a cast album but it really does point up some of the problems with the market’s increasingly reliance on jukebox musicals. As good as the performances by the likes of LaChanze and Ariana DeBose are and make no mistake, they are two sensational singers who fully deserve their Tony nominations, who is a record like this really aimed at?

It’s no great leap to suggest that fans of Donna Summer will always turn to her albums. For there’s nothing here in the vocal arrangements or the instrumentation that actually elevates it above and beyond a conventional covers album. There’s no narrative through-thread that can be gleaned from the sequencing, no startling insight that makes you reconsider the music anew, it all feels – sadly – rather pointless. Continue reading “Album Review: Summer – The Donna Summer Musical (2018 Broadway Cast Recording)”

2019 What’s On Stage Award nominations

As we move towards the year end, so award season gets into full swing and What’s On Stage have now revealed their nominations celebrating everyone who works in theatre apart from sound designers and musical directors. As ever, these awards tend to work around which fanbase can weaponise the strongest and so there’s lots of love for shows which might not necessarily be troubling many other shortlists…

Still, am liking the recognition for Milly Thomas and Dust, Es Devlin’s luminous set work for Girls & Boys, and Six and The Grinning Man getting into the cast recording category (though can’t quite work out how Come From Away fits into there as well…). And it’s a bit sad that the way their eligibility period works means that Hamilton comes up against Company, making the supporting actress/actor categories ridiculously difficult to choose between.

You can vote here until 31st January, and winners will be announced on 3rd March.

Continue reading “2019 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse

I like almost everything about The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse Theatre apart from the main performance…

“I am not going out of my mind, my mind is going out of me”

Mark Gatiss has been getting rave reviews for his performance in The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse but for me, there was just a little bit too much of
for my liking. There’s lots to love in Adam Penfold’s production, particularly in key supporting roles like Adrian Scarborough’s Dr Willis and Debra Gillett’s Queen Charlotte, and some of the smaller parts like Nadia Albina’s Fitzroy and Jack Holden’s Greville.

And I enjoyed that Penfold cast several of the ostensibly male parts with women, allowing the likes of Louise Jameson and Stephanie Jacob. Throw in a lusciously opulent design from Robert Jones and strikingly dramatic lighting from Richard Howell, and it’s a real theatrical treat, a real statement of intent from this nicely ambitious artistic director.  Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse”

Review: Heart of Darkness, Birmingham REP

A hugely thought-provoking, contemporary retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness from innovative theatre company imitating the dog

The story is impossible to tell, but it must be told”

Are some stories just too problematically complex to tell in today’s society? Or is there value in trying to pick them apart, to get to the heart of them in an attempt to understand? imitating the dog clearly cleave to the latter point of view as they forensically dissect Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (“it’s of its time, and that time is racist”) in this hugely thought-provoking production which creates a film noir-inspired adaptation in front of us.

Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks’ reworking is breath-taking in the formal invention of its scope, exploring the intersection of theatre and technology as well as thoroughly interrogating the text. So discussions about the inherent problems of the story smash up against striking effect-laden work on a green screen, spoken stage directions nestle next to a lip-synced Francis Ford Coppola. It’s a sensory overload. Continue reading “Review: Heart of Darkness, Birmingham REP”