Review: The Art of Concealment, Jermyn Street

“One has to be careful about the things one reveals”

The Jermyn Street Theatre seem to be a little bit off with their timing here with The Art of Concealment. They were first off the mark in the capital last year in Terence Rattigan’s centenary year with their production of Less Than Kind, so importing a biographical piece like this one by Giles Cole now feels a little redundant, given how much of his work, and work inspired by his life, we were able to gorge ourselves upon. But still, he’s a figure I find fascinating and so I was more than willing to give this play a try.

The Art of Concealment plays for the most part like a simple biography of the English playwright. The older version, nearing death, recounts tales of his youth as he escaped the shadow of his father’s expectations to pursue a career writing in the theatre. As we see, he became quite the professional success with a string of successes on the West End stage, but this was countered by the secrecy of his private life as he remained desperate to keep his homosexuality a secret from his public, and more importantly from his mother, much to the chagrin of his lovers. Continue reading “Review: The Art of Concealment, Jermyn Street”

Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street

“What are you going to do, tap dance me to death?”

Burlesque is a new musical with book and lyrics written by Adam Meggido and Roy Smiles and music by Meggido as well. Adam Meggido might well be a recognisable face as he is part of the Showstopper! ensemble, a team that improvise a new musical from scratch every night, but he finally decided to write one down and over several years, Burlesque has developed into its current format at the Jermyn Street Theatre where it now has its world premiere. Set in 1952 America, it looks at how the culture of fear encouraged by McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunts impacted on the lives of a set of performers in a burlesque show.

At the heart of the story is Johnny Reno, a comic trying to keep his head down after being black-listed due to his father’s connections and his unwillingness to co-operate with the FBI. His girlfriend, one of the dancers, has just announced she’s pregnant, his comedy partner Rags is hitting the bottle way too hard and the lusty theatre owner Freddie is struggling to find financial backers whilst being distracted by one of his new recruits. With the pressure on him increasing on all sides in an increasingly paranoid society, Johnny is forced to decide what, and who, is most important to him. Continue reading “Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street”

Review: Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, Jermyn Street

Ev’ry Sunday afternoon we’ll be polite”

Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered is a musical revue, celebrating of the works of Rodgers + Hart, both those lesser known and more famous, in a similar way to how Classic Moments Hidden Treasures went through the Sondheim back catalogue last year. Eschewing any kind of formal narrative, it simply flows from song to song, some obviously paired up, some just left simply alone, as the cast of five in their louche 30s Hollywood costumes swirl elegantly around the intimate stage of the Jermyn Street Theatre.

In many respects, this was exactly how I imagined it would be: fairly traditional arrangements of a fairly traditional repertoire, sung professionally yet not quite reaching levels of inspiration that might make it a must-see, though it is charming. Stephen Ashfield brings an effortless class to all of his numbers, making his forthcoming entry into Legally Blonde seem an intriguing prospect; Katie Kerr injects some much needed personality into some of the quirkier numbers and Valerie Cutko’s beautifully subtle tone added an interesting texture. Continue reading “Review: Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, Jermyn Street”

Review: Danger: Memory!, Jermyn Street

“What you can’t chase, you’d better face or it’ll start chasing you”

Danger: Memory! is a double bill of Arthur Miller one-act plays showing at the Jermyn Street Theatre, offering the first chance to see these short works in London for over twenty years. Written in 1987 when he was in his 70s, the two pieces investigate the varying significance of memory and how we can use it to both comfort and protect ourselves.

I Can’t Remember Anything is the first play, a two-hander featuring a pair of elderly New England neighbours meeting for dinner as is part of their routine. Routine has become important as Leo, a retired engineer, is beginning to lose some of his mental sharpness, but Leonora’s memory is failing much more dramatically. Played by real-life husband and wife David Burke and Anna Calder-Marshall, there’s a really touching brittleness to the way in which they play off each other, constantly at odds and unable to agree on anything as their vibrant lives as are touched back on with varying degrees of lucidity, fading memory unable to destroy their beautifully easy rapport. Continue reading “Review: Danger: Memory!, Jermyn Street”

Review: Little Eyolf, Jermyn Street

“Is there something troublesome that gnaws in your house?”

My history with Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen has not been an easy one, I don’t think I have really enjoyed a single production of his work but yet I put myself through it time and time in the hope that something will click and I will finally see what it is that makes others acclaim him as one of the finest ever playwrights. Little Eyolf, playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre, is one of his lesser performed work although an updated (to the 1950s) version of it by Samuel Adamson, the little-loved Mrs Affleck, played at the National Theatre in 2009.

Eyolf is a nine year old boy on crutches, crippled after an accident as a baby. His father Alfred returns from a spiritual retreat to the nearby mountains, with a new determination to abandon his writing in favour of dedicating his life to his son. This new-found devotion drives his wife Rita to insane jealousy as she is already suspicious of his close relationship with his sister Asta. But when the mysterious Ratwife arrives at their house with her offer of cleansing them of ‘bad’ things, a devastating event follows which utterly changes life for everyone. Continue reading “Review: Little Eyolf, Jermyn Street”

Review: The Kissing-Dance, Jermyn Street

“I concluded from your airs and manners that you were bred in Tufnell Park”

The Kissing-Dance is a Howard Goodall musical with lyrics and book by Charles Hart which is based on the 18th Century Oliver Goldsmith classic comedy She Stoops To Conquer. Set over one long night in Nonesuch, somewhere in the English countryside on All Fools’ Eve, it’s a story of comic misunderstandings as a London suitor is fooled into believing his prospective father-in-law’s house is an inn by the cheeky Tony Lumpkin, causing his intended to test his honour with her own scheme to foil her mother’s plans for her, whilst other secret affairs are revealed, missing family jewels cause consternation and general mayhem ensues until the sun finally rises again.

Following on from the well-received but prematurely-closed Love Story, The Kissing-Dance reveals a slightly more playful side to Goodall’s composing, embracing an English pastoral influence which allied to the wit of much of Hart’s lyrics, makes this really quite a sprightly affair. There are moments that feel almost like Gilbert & Sullivan, especially in the multi-layered finale to Act 1 with its many counterpointed melodies creating a harmonious delight. It wasn’t always so successful though, the title song feeling a little out of place with the rest of the show and not helped by being sung by the servants oddly, a small thing but still a bump in an otherwise smooth ride. Continue reading “Review: The Kissing-Dance, Jermyn Street”

Review: Drowning on Dry Land, Jermyn Street

“He’s not a novelist, painter or artist…he’s a personality”

Drowning on Dry Land is the third Alan Ayckbourn currently playing in London (Season’s Greetings and Snake in the Grass being the other two) just opening at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Written in 2004, it is a look at the curious nature of Z-list celebrity, of people who are famous just for being famous, following professional celebrity Charlie Conrad, universally adored as a grand underachiever, whose security is revealed to be paper-thin as his wife is terminally unsatisfied, his jaded agent is looking for a way out and as it turns out, he is all too aware of the precariousness of his position. Things come to a head at the birthday party of one of his children in the grounds of their country mansion when he is caught in the most compromising of positions with one of his adoring fans who has her own agenda.

Part of the problem that I had with this show was ironically acknowledged in the show itself – one of the characters even says “six years is a long time in showbusiness” – and the way in which celebrity coverage through various forms of media has saturated the market means that there’s countless ‘real-life’ dramas in our day-to-day lives, should we wish to engage with them. Ayckbourn’s subject matter for this play has been overtaken by reality and resultantly presents little that is acutely observed or revelatory to us here, especially as we are all complicit in the understanding that so much of what is considered ‘celebrity’ these days is purely vacuous and talent-free.

Continue reading “Review: Drowning on Dry Land, Jermyn Street”

Review: Less Than Kind, Jermyn Street

“There’s not a single situation that can’t be resolved with small talk”

Getting in with the celebration of the centenary of Terence Rattigan’s birth (as they did with Sondheim last year), the Jermyn Street Theatre have managed the impressive feat of unearthing a hitherto unperformed play, Less Than Kind, which is therefore receiving its world premiere here. Written in 1944, it suffered the rather ignomious fate of being rewritten and reshaped into a fundamentally different play to please the all-powerful producer/actors who were financing the show. It changed so much as to be given a different name, Love In Idleness, but it seriously damaged Rattigan’s reputation as it revealed the extent to which he kowtowed to the commercial interests of the day at the severe expense of his original artistic vision. But fortunately a copy of the original play survived and that it what is being mounted here, directed by Adrian Brown.

The play is set in London in 1944 and centres around the return of Michael Brown, an idealistic teenager who was evacuated to Canada and is shocked to find on his return, that his mother is now living a life of luxury since she is the mistress of a wealthy businessman who has been co-opted into the War Cabinet to assist with the manufacture of tanks. Whilst abroad, Michael discovered socialism so his mother’s perceived betrayal is both a personal and political insult to him and so he sets about forcing his mother to choose between her son and her lover. Rattigan has stuffed the show with heaps of articulate, witty dialogue and it is a genuine hoot at times, I’m not too sure that the Hamlet references were hugely successfully integrated but the play stands up as a fairly strong piece of comic drama. Continue reading “Review: Less Than Kind, Jermyn Street”

Review: The Two-Character Play, Jermyn Street

“This still feels like a performance of The Two-Character Play”

So much of Tennessee Williams’ work bears the influence of his relationship with his beloved sister but nowhere is he more nakedly autobiographical than in The Two-Character Play, one of his later, rarely performed works from 1967. Featuring a brother and sister who endlessly re-enact a play about a brother and sister called The Two-Character Play; it is a highly introspective piece of work which is considerably more experimental than fans of his work might be used to, but surreally beautiful and recognisable as Williams.

Clare and Felice are abandoned by their theatre company, stuck in an emptying provincial theatre, yet the play must go on as they struggle to get through the performance, it having particular personal resonance to them. Both physically and emotionally in a no-man’s-land, this pair struggle for resolution yet are terribly scared of it: the portrait of confusion, the slow slide into madness, is all the more moving considering that both Williams and his sister ended up in mental institutions. Continue reading “Review: The Two-Character Play, Jermyn Street”

Review: Unrelated, Jermyn Street

“You think I can trust women?”

After three weeks on holiday, my theatregoing restarted with a gentle introduction with Unrelated, presented as part of the Summer Shorts Season at the Jermyn Street Theatre, where material is performed and tried out with a view to developing shows for potential full runs. Unrelated is a four-hander by Dan Horrigan, an excoriating attack on middle class attitudes and prejudices and the dangers inherent in personal desires, whether in is stifling them to please others or pursuing them with wild abandon.

The story is told through two pairings, Martin arrives at a classy prostitute’s Jean’s place with a view to becoming one of her regulars but it soon emerges that all is not as it seems and separately, his wife Annie is engaged in a conversation with journalist Rachel as she comes to terms with the actions of her husband: the action flits between the two developing relationships throughout as we come ever closer to the truth about what has happened and who these people really are. Continue reading “Review: Unrelated, Jermyn Street”