Review: See What I Wanna See, Jermyn Street

“I only told you the truth…”

After directing its European amateur premiere back in 2006, Adam Lenson now presents the London debut of Michael John LaChiusa’s See What I Wanna See at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Formally challenging and musically experimental, this modern musical is based on three short stories by Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, all circling around the elusive nature of truth and how faith and deception can shift and skew its perspective.

Set in Medieval Japan, the opening tale of Kesa and Morito is split in two, acting as a prologue to both acts as a pair of lovers come to the end of a tumultuous relationship. R Shomon fast-forwards to a film noir version of 1951 New York where a murder has been committed but multiple versions of what happened are muddying the picture. And in Gloryday, a disillusioned priest in 2002 New York sees a hoax snowball way out of his control.  Continue reading “Review: See What I Wanna See, Jermyn Street”

Review: The Return of the Soldier, Jermyn Street Theatre

“War is hell
Why rebel
You can’t change things on your own”

There’s something simply exquisite about The Return of the Soldier, an intimate chamber musical tucked away into the Jermyn Street Theatre that might just be one of the best things I’ve seen this year. Granted, it may contain a checklist of some of my favourite things – the experience of women in wartime, a score for piano and cello, Laura Pitt-Pulford – but they combine into something above and beyond, a powerful meditation on the psychological effects of war on those not at the front, a valuable reminder in a year that commemorates the start of the First World War that the impact of war ripples through all levels of society.

Tim Sanders’ book adapts Rebecca West’s novel from 1918, a piece of literature that emerged directly from the author’s experience during wartime, to give us characters – but particularly women – with rich emotional lives. Captain Christopher Baldry has returned from the frontline with shellshock and instead of falling into the arms of his upper-class wife Kitty, his memory has obliterated her and so it is the earthier charms of early love Margaret that he craves. She’s stuck in an unfulfilling marriage herself so is faced with conflict when asked to help cure his amnesia, knowing full well that to do so will end her nostalgic fling.

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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. Continue reading “Review: Away from Home, Jermyn Street”

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. Continue reading “Review: Satan Sings Mostly Sondheim, Jermyn Street”

Review: On Approval, Jermyn Street

“Where do you bank?” – 
‘Anywhere; I simply don’t care’”

On Approval was written in 1926 by Frederick Lonsdale as a comedy of manners capturing the shifting dynamics in gender roles in a world where suffragists and the Great War had ushered in the potential for great change. Against this backdrop, Lonsdale posits a scenario with two wealthy woman – one a young pickle heiress, the other an older spoilt widow – seeking to test drive potential future spouses by taking them up to a Scottish country estate ‘on approval’ and spending a few weeks together to test their compatibility. But though the promise of a witty evening is often raised, its light-hearted nature too often feels insubstantial.

Anthony Biggs’ production polishes the play hard but never really comes up with the cut-glass sharpness needed to elevate the performances above the comic shortcomings of the writing nor the crispness of pacing that would create an irresistible forward momentum. The intimacy of the Jermyn Street Theatre doesn’t always help, leaving the quartet of actors frequently exposed at the lack of solid dramatic foundation and missing the gumption necessary to paper over the cracks.  Continue reading “Review: On Approval, Jermyn Street”

Review: The Living Room, Jermyn Street

“You won’t believe what a bad little sweetheart she could be”

Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Graham Greene’s first play The Living Room hasn’t been revived in the UK since opening in 1953 so Primavera’s revival for the Jermyn Street Theatre offers a rare chance to experience Greene the playwright. After the death of her mother, 20 year old Rose Pemberton is taken to live with her deeply Catholic elderly uncle and aunts by a 45 year old friend of her long-dead father, a married psychology professor named Michael. An illicit affair has started between the pair which throws them into direct conflict with the traditional views of her new household and the repercussions of the actions of all concerned result in catastrophic consequences.

At the heart of the story is the newly orphaned Rose, an accomplished stage debut from Tuppence Middleton with a lovely blend of cut-glass properness and spirited rebelliousness as she strains against society’s conventions in the single-minded pursuit of her ill-starred affair yet not so devoid of emotion that she disregards her only remaining family completely. Christopher Villiers as the professor feels a little miscast as he never really brings to bear any sense of what it is that might have ensnared Rose’s affections so, but his attempts to rationalise the behaviour around him and justify his own using the psychology he teaches have a pugnacious persuasiveness.  Continue reading “Review: The Living Room, Jermyn Street”

Review: Boy Meets Boy -Jermyn Street

“You’ve been free, now it’s time to get married”

Just a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus, the intimate Jermyn Street Theatre has quietly been building a reputation for quality productions with a focus on unknown and forgotten classics and recently scored a massive success with the stage premiere of Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall which subsequently transferred into the West End. And with blockbuster musicals like The Bodyguard and Viva Forever looming on the horizon, to follow that with a Broadway obscurity never before performed in the UK might have seemed a perverse choice but for his final production as Artistic Director of this theatre, Gene David Kirk has unearthed an absolute knock-out success in Boy Meets Boy

Written in 1975 by Bill Solly and Donald Ward, it is set in 1936 as a pastiche of the golden screwball era of Fred and Ginger but this is a world in which there’s a same-sexual equality which not even 2012 can match. For though our Fred is Casey O’Brien, a sozzled society journalist who has managed to sleep through the 1936 abdication crisis, and our Ginger is British aristocrat Guy Rose, who has just left playboy millionaire Clarence Cutler standing at the altar, no-one bats an eyelid. This is a world where equality is just a given, a natural part of high society who are happy to gossip about everyone, gay or straight. Such a simple innovation but one that is a genuine breath of fresh air that revels in its joyous freedom in a show that is unashamedly silly, sentimental yet superlative.  Continue reading “Review: Boy Meets Boy -Jermyn Street”

Review: All That Fall, Jermyn Street

“I’m left-handed on top of everything else!”

It is not surprising that the Jermyn Street Theatre’s production of All That Fall sold out in under three days: a rare Samuel Beckett play, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon, in a 70 seat theatre tucked away behind Piccadilly Circus. A radio play written in 1956, it has never before been staged despite luminaries such as Ingmar Bergman and Laurence Olivier applying for the rights, and so to maintain the integrity of the piece as it was originally intended, Nunn presents to us a staged reading of the play.

The actors sit to the sides of the stage, rising to take the floor as it is their turn to speak, scripts in hand and enacting any sound effects that accompany their arrival. For this is a piece of drama uniquely interested in the soundscape it is creating as a haunting picture of rural Ireland is evoked, laced through with a desolate humour, in which the spectre of death is never far away. Continue reading “Review: All That Fall, Jermyn Street”

Review: St John’s Night, Jermyn Street

“Don’t forget about the goblin in the attic”

Written early in his career in 1852, Ibsen’s play St John’s Eve (or St John’s Night as it has been retitled here in this translation by James McFarlane) was so poorly received that it was brushed under the carpet somewhat and not even included in his collected works. Following on from last year’s successful version of another neglected Ibsen piece Little Eyolf, director Anthony Biggs returns to the Jermyn Street Theatre to see if lightning can strike twice by giving St John’s Night its UK premiere. This may have been a preview but for me, I’m not so sure that it did succeed, instead reminding us why some plays are left to collect dust.

This is very much an example of the playwright-in-progress , being unlike any other Ibsen play that I know, as it is a fairy-tale comedy, taking influence from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream but putting a decidedly Nordic spin on it. The play is set on a Norwegian farm whose ownership is unclear after the death of Mr Berg. Berg’s second wife lives in one house and is trying to secure the inheritance for her daughter by finding a good marriage and she invites her chosen victim Birk, with two of his friends, to join in their midsummer revels. Berg’s ageing father and naïve daughter live in another, older house on the estate which happens to have a resident goblin upstairs and when the young people decide to take their party up to a mystical hill, the goblin – a Puck-like figure – spikes their drink with a potion that unlocks all sorts of hidden memories. Continue reading “Review: St John’s Night, Jermyn Street”

Review: Bloody Poetry, Jermyn Street

“I lifted my skirts. For the good of English poetry.”

Howard Brenton’s play Bloody Poetry explores the relationship that developed between Romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron with particular emphasis on the complex romantic entanglements with the women in their lives. We first see Shelley on the shores of Lake Geneva where he has fled scandal in the UK after abandoning his wife to live with new spouse Mary Shelley and her half-sister Claire Clairmont in a scandalous ménage-a-trois. Matters are further complicated by Claire’s liaison with Byron which has left her pregnant and so she sets up a meeting for the four of them in Switzerland which begins the intimate intertwining of their lives.

Brenton carried out vast amount of research for the play and it shows. Existing letters and journals mean that much is known about what happened and the emotions that were felt, but combined with interpolations of poetry – both from the men themselves and from rivals like Wordsworth – these lives are given vivid, passionate life as their determination to live a ‘free’ life unshackles their behaviour from the restrictions of English society but also comes at a cost. The play, directed by Tom Littler for Primavera, spans six years from their first meeting in 1816 until Shelley’s untimely death by drowning in an Italian lake. Continue reading “Review: Bloody Poetry, Jermyn Street”