Review: The Dog Beneath The Skin, Jermyn Street Theatre

Who knew that fascists could rhyme? WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood tackle inter-war Europe in The Dog Beneath The Skin at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London.

“Places sometimes look different when one comes back to them”

Proud Haddock’s production of Mrs Orwell was quite the success last year, earning a deserved transfer from the Old Red Lion to the Southwark Playhouse. And they continue their ethos of celebrating “unearthed stories from classical playwrights” with this revival of WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood’s 1935 play The Dog Beneath The Skin which rounds off the Jermyn Street Theatre’s Scandal season.

Mixing an almost fairytale-like quest with a stark warning to guard for the rise of fascism, it’s a fascinatingly drawn play. And Jimmy Walters’ production leans heavily into its curiosity with voiceover segments, drag cabarets and multiple songs (by Jeremy Warmsley) accompanying the lyrical twist of the rhyming couplets threaded throughout the script. With cleverly expressive movement work from Ste Clough, all this strangeness has a compelling quality to it. Continue reading “Review: The Dog Beneath The Skin, Jermyn Street Theatre”

Review: Woman Before A Glass, Jermyn Street

“Modern art is never an answer, it is a question”

Woman Before A Glass may be a one-woman show but what a woman it reveals to us. Peggy Guggenheim was born into one of the wealthiest New York socialite families at the dawn of the twentieth century and during a most unconventional lifetime, became a mainstay of the modern art scene. The art, and artists, that she collected made her Venetian palazzo one of the hottest spots to be seen and it is there that we visit her for the three key scenes of this play by Lanie Robertson.

The first is introduced with a wonderfully clever conceit – searching for an outfit to wear for an interview, she sifts through a pile of couture gowns, reminiscing about them all and thus giving us an instant insight into her existence – a strained relationship with her family both immediate and extended, an apparently insatiable sexual appetite, and a genuine love for the collection, protection and encouragement of the modern artists that she gathered around her. Plus she has a nifty way with a cocktail shaker. Continue reading “Review: Woman Before A Glass, Jermyn Street”

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… Continue reading “Review: The Frogs, Jermyn Street”

Review: I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road, Jermyn Street

“I’ll find my way again
And I will sing my song”

Written in 1978 by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, it’s a little bit depressing that I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road still has the resonance that it does nearly 40 years later. The show may not have been seen in the UK for nearly 40 years but its commentary on how the music business – indeed culture at large, even society as a whole – treats middle-aged women remains as incisive as it surely ever has done.

Heather Jones is a pop singer who has just turned 39 and is on the cusp of launching a refreshed act in front of a bunch of music biz luminaries in a New York cabaret club. The only problem is, her manager Joe isn’t keen on her new image, her new sound, her new lyrical honesty, he wants the safe, same old same old, unthreatening Heather back because he doesn’t believe he can sell a mature woman as a commercial prospect. Continue reading “Review: I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road, Jermyn Street”

Review: Off The Kings Road, Jermyn Street

“I am so lonely…”

Academy Award-nominated stars are appearing in the unlikeliest of places off-West End at the moment, but the key is to work out the connection. Fatal Attraction’s Anne Archer will soon be appearing at the Park in The Trial of Jane Fonda, which just happens to be written by her husband, and Jeff Bridges is now to be found at the Jermyn Street Theatre in Off The Kings Road, as a favour to his friend Neil Koenigsberg, a Hollywood publicist, manager, producer and first-time playwright.

To be clear, it’s an “e-appearance” from Bridges, via the medium of pre-recorded Skype interactions but the point still holds, it’s all about the connections. And you might wonder if those connections helped this production into theatres, for it isn’t necessarily the strongest piece of writing from Koenigsberg. Even with a company of just five, Off The Kings Road is too filled with uninspired stock characters whose hackneyed dialogue give them little chance to escape stereotype. Continue reading “Review: Off The Kings Road, Jermyn Street”

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.

Continue reading “Review: The Return of the Soldier, Jermyn Street Theatre”

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”