Review: The Comedy of Errors, Propeller at Sheffield Lyceum

“Men, all divine, the masters of all these”

It is not often that I start off reviews with a negative comment but it must be said that Ed Hall and his Propeller company are naughty, naughty boys. When they announced their tour of their new productions, London was not among the cities and towns being visited so schedules were looked at, train timetables checked and we duly booked trips to Guildford to see Richard III and to Sheffield to see The Comedy of Errors. They then of course announced a short stop at the Hampstead Theatre which would have cut down on my travelling time somewhat. But, they don’t play there until the end of June and having seen both these shows now, I don’t think I could have coped with the anticipation waiting that long as they are sensationally good.

Ephesus has been re-imagined as a Costa del Sol type resort in Michael Pavelka’s design, full of football-shirt wearing blokes, geezers selling fake watches and flirtatious policemen and the air is filled with music, played live by the company who frequently break out into song, mostly snippets of cheesy 80s tunes which are brilliantly done and never outstay their welcome. Most of the ensemble remain onstage throughout, slipping out of their main role and into this group to provide a raft of sound effects straight out of a cartoon which are ridiculously funny and creating amusing moments in group scenes. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, Propeller at Sheffield Lyceum”

Review: Matilda – A Musical, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“My mother says I’m a miracle”

For their festive family show over the 2010/11 winter, the RSC went for an adaptation of the Roald Dahl story to create Matilda, A Musical which has been, by all accounts, a runaway success for them. Dennis Kelly was responsible for the book but the production’s masterstroke has been to employ Tim Minchin, whose impish charm is wholly suited to the show, to do the music and lyrics. Directed by Matthew Warchus, the slightly tweaked story follows the prodigiously talented young girl Matilda, as she battles against the cruel indifference of her parents and the fearsome child-hating headmistress of her new school.

The employment of Minchin is a perfect fit, his anarchic wit feels like something Dahl himself would have approved of but pleasingly Minchin has not dumbed down at all in his songwriting, he has simply removed the profanity. His lyrics are absolutely sensational at times: incredibly witty on multiple levels (the kids to the left of me looked over a few times as I dissolved in hysterics at humour that thankfully flew over their heads) and stuffed full of intricate but engaging wordplay which fit the occasion perfectly: the alphabetic progression of ‘School Song’ being perhaps the best example of a seemingly simple conceit which is just bursting with invention. Continue reading “Review: Matilda – A Musical, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”

Review: Me and My Girl, Sheffield Crucible

“We play the Lambeth way, not like you but a bit more gay”

For its festive musical, Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre has taken on the 1937 classic Me and My Girl with music by Noel Gay and book and lyrics by L Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber. Stephen Fry’s revised book from 1985 is used here, with additional contributions to the revisions by Mike Ockrent, these adding a raft of terrible puns and a modern knowingness to what is a brilliant set of songs. The story is pure musical theatre hokum: East End barrow boy Bill Snibson is uncovered as the long-lost heir to an aristocratic fortune but must prove himself to be ‘fit and proper’ before he can inherit as his new-found relatives try to make him behave like a lord and encourage him to ditch his one true love, Sally Smith: will love conquer all? What do you think!

This is director Anna Mackmin’s first musical and her canniest decision has been to employ Stephen Mears as choreographer as he really is one of the best working in the field, as he proves yet again here. Whilst there is nothing quite as delightfully jaw-dropping as the train sequence from Hello, Dolly!, the Act I finale The Lambeth Walk comes preciously close with a brilliantly conceived and superbly executed routine, spilling with energy and invention and whipping up the audience into singing and clapping along with pure joy. The Sun Has Got His Hat On was another stand-out moment but this show is just full of winners and they are matched by a superlative production and some top quality performances. Continue reading “Review: Me and My Girl, Sheffield Crucible”

Review: Richard III, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

“Thus it is when men are ruled by women”

I have not been lucky enough to catch Propeller, Edward Hall’s all-male Shakespeare company, in my theatregoing thus far and it was only the perseverance of a new friend at Boycotting Trends that convinced me to make the trip (also my first) to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford in order to catch Richard III, the first of their two plays that they will be touring for the next several months in rep with The Comedy of Errors. And boy am I glad that he did, for this reimagining of the history play into a post-modern gothic Victoriana-fest is pretty close to being unmissable.

The story of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, youngest son of his Plantagenet family yet possessed of a burning ambition to be King and utterly ruthless in his bloodthirsty, backstabbing, blackmailing and brutal climb to the throne, is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays but Edward Hall along with Roger Warren has adapted and re-edited the text into something more dramatically compelling than I remember this play ever being, mainly through incorporating an outrageously comic, even vaudevillian approach to the dastardly deeds that are carried out. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre”

Review: Antony & Cleopatra, Liverpool Playhouse

“The triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool”

After playing the role herself in 1974 for the RSC, Janet Suzman returns to Antony and Cleopatra but this time as its director and has pulled off one of the canniest casting coups of the year in persuading Kim Cattrall to return to the city of her birth to head up the cast alongside Jeffery Kissoon at the Liverpool Playhouse. The ultimate tale of the trouble caused when the personal and the political are so inextricably entwined as Cleopatra and Mark Antony tumble into a passionate affair regardless of the fact that their infatuation threatens to destroy the world around them.

 Feisty yet graceful, powerful yet passionate, Cattrall’s portrayal is simply superb. A highly intelligent woman, one can see the calculations behind her eyes as she weighs up each decision that will affect her so hugely but she also plays the comedy well and her touching vulnerability when seized by thoughts of love is beautiful: the recollection of their salad days is exceptional. Kissoon’s Antony is clearly a relic of a passing age, moody and tinged with madness from the outset. His battles come from his uncertainty at his place in this world as much as they do from his doomed affair and so he is a more shambolic leader. Continue reading “Review: Antony & Cleopatra, Liverpool Playhouse”

Review: The Lady From The Sea, Royal Exchange

“What is it you long for?”

The second part of my double bill at Manchester’s Royal Exchange was the production in the main theatre Ibsen’s The Lady From The Sea. Presented here in a new version by David Eldridge, using a literal translation by Charlotte Barslund, it marks the third time Eldridge has delved into the Nordic playwright’s work, this time working his stuff on one of his lesser-performed works. Just as a quick aside, I can highly recommend the blueberry cheesecake muffin from the bar at the theatre, it was a little piece of heaven!!

Set in a small fjordside Norwegian town, living a passive half life between sea and mountains, Ellida broods over her past love, despite having settled into a comfortable marriage of convenience with Doctor Wangel. Her reluctance to play the role of doting wife and stepmother results in Wangel bending over backwards to try and please her by inviting a man from her past to stay and cheer her up yet a web of misunderstandings and frustrations, that stretches all the way throughout this household, as the pull between domesticity and emotional freedom is explored. Continue reading “Review: The Lady From The Sea, Royal Exchange”

Review: Love Love Love, Royal Exchange Studio

“We love each other but something has gone wrong; we live in Reading, something has gone wrong”

After taking the soon-to-be-renamed-Dorfman Cottesloe at the National Theatre by storm this summer, Mike Bartlett has another new play in theatres, Love Love Love. A co-production between Paines Plough and the Drum Theatre Plymouth, it is currently touring smaller spaces in some of the country’s top regional theatres: I saw it in what marked my first visit to The Studio at Manchester’s Royal Exchange.

Three acts, set in 1967, 1990 and 2011, take us through a relationship born in the heady world of the baby boomers ready to change the world, to their struggle to deal with the mundane responsibilities of middle-aged family life, through to the oblivious contentment of retirement. Bartlett’s sharp eye is focused here on responsibility, both social and personal, ultimately pitting generations against each other as today’s have-nots place the blame for the state of the world today on their predecessors’ shoulders, as an unfulfilled daughter rails about unfairness against her parents. Continue reading “Review: Love Love Love, Royal Exchange Studio”

Review: Hamlet, Crucible

“For some must watch, while some must sleep”

So part two of the Hamlet week saw me making my first ever visit to Sheffield to the Crucible Theatre where director Paul Miller has reunited with frequent collaborator John Simm in tackling Shakespeare’s epic. I have resisted making any comparisons with the two productions in this review and tried my best to approach the writing of this review as if I had not seen the other.

This Hamlet is very much back to basics, very few props and frippery onstage, so that quite often what we are seeing is simply just a group of actors acting. And whilst on the one hand that was nice to see, on the other, it did mean that there was a whole lot of just standing around and the limited emotional palette with which they had to work meant that too often the connections just weren’t there between the characters, Ophelia and Laertes might as well have been strangers for example. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Crucible”

64th Tony Award winners

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Denzel Washington – Fences as Troy Maxson
Jude Law – Hamlet as Hamlet
Alfred Molina – Red as Mark Rothko
Liev Schreiber – A View from the Bridge as Eddie Carbone
Christopher Walken – A Behanding in Spokane as Carmichael

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Viola Davis – Fences as Rose Maxson
Valerie Harper – Looped as Tallulah Bankhead
Linda Lavin – Collected Stories as Ruth Steiner
Laura Linney – Time Stands Still as Sarah Goodwin
Jan Maxwell – The Royal Family as Julie Cavendish

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
Douglas Hodge – La Cage aux Folles as Albin
Kelsey Grammer – La Cage aux Folles as Georges
Sean Hayes – Promises, Promises as Chuck Baxter
Chad Kimball – Memphis as Huey Calhoun
Sahr Ngaujah – Fela! as Fela Kuti Continue reading “64th Tony Award winners”

Review: Pygmalion, Royal Exchange

“You have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being…”

A fortuitous set of circumstances combined to enable me to go see Pygmalion at the Royal Exchange with Aunty Jean and my father, being up near Manchester for the weekend, and how glad am I that I did. I used to visit the Royal Exchange quite often when younger but it is years since I have been and I was also quite intrigued to see the play itself, never having seen it before, only in its adapted musical form as My Fair Lady. (I was on the lookout for the links between the two in particular around the songs, but the only song title I picked up from the dialogue was ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face’).

When Henry Higgins makes a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn a cockney flower girl into a lady, he sets out to change Eliza Doolittle completely and equip her for life in high society – but he reckons without the spirit and strength of Eliza herself. It is a scathing comment on the class structure of Britain at the turn of the century and a surprisingly modern take on the gender politics of the time, but above all highly entertaining and really rather funny. Continue reading “Review: Pygmalion, Royal Exchange”