Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), Lyric Hammersmith

The inimitable Kneehigh retool The Beggar’s Opera in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), now playing at the Lyric Hammersmith

“What is the world coming to?”

Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) was well received 5 years ago and so they’ve opted to revive it for a UK tour. Carl Grose’s reworking of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera has evergreen reference points with its corrupt political classes and mercenary business types and adorned with Charles Hazelwood’s songs, it makes for a striking experience on stage.

Macheath, the Peachums and the Lockits are all present and correct though in this more modern setting, Macheath is a contract killer who Mrs Peachum employs to bump off her husband’s political rival. He also kills his dog and that’s just in the opening scene. From there, there’s a raucous ride through a society turned entirely toxic by nastiness and greed and probably the puppets too. Continue reading “Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), Lyric Hammersmith”

Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Review: Jubilee, Lyric Hammersmith

Punk becomes very hard-going in a raucous but overlong Jubilee at the  Lyric Hammersmith

“Welcome to “Jubilee”. An iconic film most of you have never even heard of, adapted by an Oxbridge twat for a dying medium, spoiled by millennials, ruined by diversity, and constantly threatening to go all interactive. You poor fuckers.”

There’s a sense of Chris Goode’s adaptation of the 1978 Derek Jarman film Jubilee getting out ahead of itself as one of its key characters delivers the above speech pretty much as we begin. But no amount of self-awareness can give this production enough life to sustain its punkish attitude over a bloated running time.

Running at a reconfigured Lyric Hammersmith (design by Chloe Lamford) after playing the Royal Exchange late last year, there’s a definite statement of intent from the very beginning as the queer inhabitants of a squat take up residence. Cocks are waved, breasts are bared, queens are transported (Lizzie One Point Zero) and new kweens established, Travis Alabanza’s Amyl Nitrate. Continue reading “Review: Jubilee, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith

“You don’t get that quality of dance at Sadler’s Wells”
There’s something wonderfully political about the Lyric Hammersmith’s pantomime Aladdin this year. Not just in Joel Horwood’s script, which packs in the requisite Trump and Brexit jokes, plus a cleverly worked visual gag for Article 50, and has the land of Fulhammerboosh ruled over by the Emperor One Per Cent. But in almost every aspect of Ellen McDougall’s production, there’s the kind of astute decision-making that has made her a director to watch and whets the appetite even more for her forthcoming Artistic Directorship of the Gate Theatre.
So the first character we meet is Abanazer, played with lip-smacking relish by Vikki Stone as a cross between Mrs Overall and Grotbag, who pretty much steals the show. And our Aladdin is no clueless US import but rather Lyric regular Karl Queensborough, notching up his eighth performance at a venue where he was nurtured by their youth programme. And casting Malinda Parris as the genie not only releases her sensational powerhouse vocal but also further shows up how questionable Disney’s Aladdin’s gender politics are over at the Prince Edward Theatre.
Thus through these choices, this Aladdin feels refreshed and revitalised, an entirely appropriate piece of family entertainment for 2016. And it does this without ever losing sight of all of the traditional aspects of pantomime that we’ve come to love and expect. So there’s some fantastically saucy humour from James Doherty’s Widow Twankey which (should) fly over the kids’ heads along with the sweets thrown out, there’s tons of audience participation led by Arthur McBain’s excellently sensitive Wishy Washy, and an unflagging atmosphere of fun that never drops.
With a sprightly soundtrack featuring rewritten lyrics to some of the year’s pop hits, an impressively staged magic carpet ride, singalongs and snowfalls, Aladdin is undoubtedly a hit. But it is that it’s a hit very much on the Lyric Hammersmith’s own terms that is most remarkable, along with the message it is passing onto the next generation. You may not necessarily agree with its empire-abolishing politics (with a big P) but the politics (with a small p) of teaching our kids that girls can be genies too, that hard work pays off, that the magic of great theatre lies in the imagination, are irrefutable. Exciting and entertaining, this truly is panto for the 21st century.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th January
Originally written for LondonTheatre1

Review: Shopping and Fucking, Lyric Hammersmith

“The getting is cruel, is hard, but the having is civilisation” 

Shopping and Fucking. Shopping and fucking. Fucking fucking fucking. Even the venue staff at the Lyric Hammersmith have to buy into the censorship that sees Mark Ravenhill’s 1996 play coyly renamed Shopping and F***ing, referring to it as Shopping and Effing. Which makes it all the more ironic that Sean Holmes’ production places the emphasis firmly on the former part of that title.

From the minute you take your seat in the radically reconfigured auditorium (design by Jon Bausor and Tal Rosner), the cast are hawking merchandise and seat upgrades – they even need a coin for the slot machine to get the play ‘started’. It’s a whole lot of extraneous business, which continues into the production itself, which with the frantic use of green screen and multiple cameras proves most distracting. Continue reading “Review: Shopping and Fucking, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“Keith, KEITH, it’s just two fellas kissing”

There was a moment towards the end of this performance, as Ferdy Robert’s burly roadie of a Puck launched into his epilogue, that perfectly encapsulates just how brilliant Filter are and also what magical power theatre can weave over even the rowdiest teenagers. Roberts began “if we shadows have offended” and was interrupted by loud, almost nervous, laughter. He looked up, gently but unflinchingly at the young woman and her friend until they quietened down, and then continued, addressing them directly at first and then widening out to the auditorium as a whole, our entire attention rapt.

It’s no mean feat to keep a theatre full of schoolkids hooked in silence (I attended the final preview), especially when the nature of this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so raucous and riotous. It played the Lyric Hammersmith back in 2012 and if it doesn’t have quite the same multiple surprise element as before, it is still highly amusing second time round. Co-directors Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll have condensed the play right down with the company and reconstructed it in their own image, at once deeply respectful of Shakespeare yet also utterly anarchic in the way it is presented here. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

“I’ve got nothing to look forward to”

There’s something rather apt about members of the Bugsy Malone graduating onto other productions at the Lyric Hammersmith, emphasising the ensemble feel that has taken over the building under Sean Holmes’ stewardship. And in Max Gill (a sensational Fat Sam) and Sophia Decaro (the Tallulah I didn’t see), there’re two young talents deservedly getting the chance to explore a wider range of teenage experience in Holmes’ production of Simon Stephens’ 2001 play Herons.

A brutal look at teen violence and cycles of revenge, it’s a play that’s marked by a truly shocking scene of rape, the haunting sound of which is still echoing in my mind now. Set on the Limehouse Cut, a canal in London’s East End, the ugly desolation and desperation of this world is clear from the off, a world where 14 year old Billy spends his time hiding from bullies and fishing for whatever small fry he can. Though when he becomes the catch of the day, the extent of its viciousness is exposed. Continue reading “Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith

“How long have you wanted to be a singer?
‘Since I was a kid’” 

I don’t think even now I really believe that the kids in the film of Bugsy Malone aren’t actually singing – like with Father Christmas and the future for Wigan Athletic, I choose to believe. Fortunately, there’s no such doubt in Sean Holmes’ production of the show, written by Alan Parker with music and lyrics by Paul Williams, a mammoth run of which has been chosen to inaugurate the newly refurbished Lyric Hammersmith. It’s the first professional production in over a decade of this inimitable Chicago gangster classic and Holmes and children’s casting director Jessica Ronane have pulled together a group of exceptionally talented youngsters who sing live, dance, act and fire splurge guns aplenty

Having seen the show twice now, it is remarkable how different the energy was between the two sets of child performers I got to see, they’ve clearly been encouraged to establish their own mark on their roles and it’s a joy to behold. Max Gill’s Fat Sam is an absolute scene-stealing delight, absolutely nailing the comic timing and slapdash slapstick of this hapless boss whereas Sasha Gray captured more of the attention as a supremely confident Bugsy in his group; Thea Lamb’s achingly soulful voice fills her Blousey full of longing, compared to a perkier turn from Zoe Brough; and I couldn’t pick between Asanda Jezile and Samantha Allison as Tallulah, both shining as this most sardonic of songstresses. Continue reading “Review Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Othello, Lyric Hammersmith

“What, man! ’tis a night of revels”

At the hint of something daring and innovative in a production of one of Shakespeare’s plays, it is all too easy to fall back on the truism that it probably isn’t for purists – heaven knows I was guilty of it just last week. But whereas not all adaptations necessarily work that well, Frantic Assembly’s brutal and breathless reimagining of Othello – arriving at the Lyric Hammersmith after a UK tour – is exactly the type of thing that purists should be made to see as a thrilling example of how powerful and effective an interpretation can be.

And that is what this Othello is in the end. To start counting the characters who’ve been excised, noting which speeches are spoken by someone else or which plot details have been omitted is to utterly miss the point. Adaptors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett have brilliantly managed to take the play apart, capture its essence but then reconstruct it into something familiar but new. Full-length traditional productions (of variable quality) are two-a-penny but oh so rarely is Shakespeare this pulsating and compelling and visceral and modern. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Lyric Hammersmith”