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”

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”