Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending may not be his greatest play but Tamara Harvey’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory proves most affecting in the end

“What on earth can you do on this earth but catch at whatever comes near you, with both your fingers, until your fingers are broken?”

Any project that tempts Hattie Morahan back onto the stage has to be worth checking out (qv Anatomy of a Suicide, A Doll’s House, but maybe let’s not mention The Dark Earth and the Light Sky). Orpheus Descending, a Menier Chocolate Factory & Theatr Clwyd co-production directed by Tamara Harvey, proves no exception, bolstered by the presence of the ever-excellent Jemima Rooper in the cast, plus a brooding Seth Numrich.

Orpheus… is something of a minor Tennessee Williams work (one I didn’t much enjoy when I saw it at the Royal Exchange a few years ago) but one which feels stronger here. Navigating the stifling heat and social strictures of smalltown Deep South in the 1950s, Lady seeks escape from her loveless marriage and small-minded neighbours. And in the arrival of handsome drifter Val Xavier, it seems she might have found it – doesn’t it? Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory

Penelope Wilton almost, almost, makes it worth seeing a David Hare play with The Bay at Nice at the Menier Chocolate Factory

“I know what life is and what it cannot be”

Oh, British theatre and your ongoing obsession with David Hare. I’ve never really got it, never had that experience with one of his plays that made me go ‘oh that’s what they’re talking about’. Indeed, I only really booked for The Bay at Nice for the opportunity to see the Great British wonder that is Penelope Wilton in the intimacy of the Menier Chocolate Factory.

And such is her exceptional talent, that she almost makes this an unmissable event. Her Valentina Nrovka is a strikingly captivating presence, a former pupil of Matisse called to authenticate a painting that might be one of his. Having left post-war Paris for revolutionary Russia, her artistic career has taken a back seat and motherhood has not proved anywhere near as fulfilling. Continue reading “Review: The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: Kiss of the Spider Woman, Menier Chocolate Factory

Samuel Barnett and Declan Bennett excel at the Menier Chocolate Factory in this beautiful new version of Kiss of the Spider Woman

“Sometimes that kind of behaviour can get in a man’s way”

Despite playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory, this version of Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman is not Kander & Ebb’s 1993 musical, just so you’re clear. What it is, is a beautifully calibrated and ferociously emotive study of love and loneliness and what, if anything, masculinity means. 

This new adaptation by José Rivera and Allan Baker casts right back to the original novel, jettisoning memories of the 1985 film too, to trace the burgeoning relationship between two cellmates. Political prisoner Valentin and sexual deviant Molina  have little in common but through their shared trials, something beautiful thrives. 

Continue reading “Review: Kiss of the Spider Woman, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: The Lie, Menier Chocolate Factory

“People don’t really want to be told the truth”

Just as The Father comes along with The Mother, The Truth is followed by The Lie. British theatre’s amour fou for Florian Zeller continues apace with another of his comedies making it over to London but are we approaching diminishing returns as we delve deeper into his back catalogue? Director Lindsay Posner and translator Christopher Hampton clearly don’t think so as they return to the Menier Chocolate with The Lie but I’m not so convinced.

The production got off to a rocky start when James Dreyfus had to withdraw due to illness, though choosing Alexander Hanson as his replacement provides a little extratextual spice as he stars opposite his wife Samantha Bond as married couple Paul and Alice. As we meet them, they’re havering over a dinner party they’re hosting that is meant to start imminently – Alice wants to cancel it as she just saw Michel kissing a woman who wasn’t his wife Laurence but their early arrival takes the decision out of their hands. Continue reading “Review: The Lie, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory

“You may be 13 but you’re still an adolescent boy”

After premiering at the Curve Theatre in 2015, Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger’s musical adaptation of Sue Townsend’s tale of Leicester’s most famous teenager has undergone its own version of puberty, re-emerging at the Menier Chocolate Factory for the summer. And those growing pains seem to have been worth it as The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ has matured beautifully, a powerful example of how musicals need to be allowed to develop, resulting in this case in a fantastic new British musical.

Luke Sheppard’s production certainly benefits from the intimacy of the South London venue but where it now excels is in its emotional intensity. The scenes between Adrian (played by Ilan Galkoff at this performance) and his mother Pauline, an achingly superb Kelly Price, are just heart-breaking, as he struggles to realise just how far her women’s lib-inspired independence will take her from him. I was reminded that reading this book was in fact was one of the main ways I learned about divorce and that scarce comprehension is captured perfectly here. Continue reading “Review: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo

“I hate her being the mistress of a rich, old voluptuary”

I wasn’t intending to revisit Love In Idleness, newly transferred to the Apollo Theatre for a limited 50 performance run, as first time round, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I got a little caught up in the strange genesis of the show and the fact that I was half-remembering the plot of Less Than Kind in real time, which proved to be rather distracting. But there’s no denying the sheer star quality of Eve Best and who am I to turn down any chance to see her.

And I’m glad I returned as I found myself enjoying the play a lot more second time round. Taking it for what it is, which is a Rattigan curiosity rather than a revelatory (re)discovery, this light-hearted comedy is actually an interesting addition to the West End’s early summer. Its main joy remains the relaxed but realistically palpable chemistry between Best and Anthony Head, as widow Olivia and government minister Sir John Fletcher whose relationship comes under strain when her son Michael returns from four years evacuated to Canada. Continue reading “Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo”

Review: Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory

“There’s no situation in the world that can’t be passed off with small-talk”

Overlord of all that is authentic in British theatre, Trevor Nunn is now further redefining authenticity by presenting us with a Terence Rattigan premiere, cobbled together from two pre-existing versions of the same play. Love in Idleness was originally known as Less Than Kind (which itself was seen at the Jermyn Street back in 2011) but was rewritten at the behest of its stars, a commercially minded decision which proved fatal to Rattigan’s reputation. And rather than choose one or the other, Nunn has fashioned something new (but assumably still authentic), named for the later version.

Sadly, that sense of compromise lingers strongly here. Fans of Rattigan were utterly spoiled by pitch-perfect interpretations of After the Dance and Flare Path (also by Nunn) at the beginning of this decade and again last year with an excoriating The Deep Blue Sea, so knowing the emotional force with which he can devastate us can only leave you disappointed at the tonally strange and inconsequential comedy of sorts with which we’re presented here. Only the long-awaited return of the marvellous Eve Best to the London stage imbues the evening with the quality it scarcely deserves. Continue reading “Review: Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: She Loves Me, Menier

“It’s high time, time that I awoke”

The Menier’s festive musical is always to look forward to and this year’s is no exception – a revival of the classic She Loves Me, based on Miklós László’s play Parfumerie which has been remade more than once as films The Shop Around The Corner, In The Good Old Summertime, and You’ve Got Mail. Recently seen on Broadway in a superlative rendition that was the first ever show to be live-streamed there, Joe Masterhoff’s book pits warring Budapest shop employees Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash against each other, little knowing that they are corresponding anonymously through a lonely hearts column – will they get together in the end? What do you think?

Matthew White’s production is as pretty as a picture, as a music box in fact, Paul Farnsworth’s luxe design emerging as an exceptional piece of work, using four mini revolves to great effect – the shop’s interior looks particularly stunning. And blessed with such cachet, and the strong possibility of a West End transfer, the venue once again attracts a top-notch cast. Mark Umbers and Scarlet Strallen alternately spar and swoon as the main lovers, real life couple Dominic Tighe and Katherine Kingsley play fellow amorous employees Ilona and Kodaly, even relatively minor roles like Ladislav get the likes of Alastair Brookshaw playing them. Continue reading “Review: She Loves Me, Menier”

Review: Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory

 
“I’m not nice, I’m just right”

Fiasco Theater’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s evergreen Into the Woods was a big success over in the US and its actor-muso ethos seems ideally suited for this transfer to the Menier Chocolate Factory. It’s also an approach that pays dividends with the material, Sondheim and James Lapine’s interrogation of the world of fairy tales and what happy ever after really means.

Stripped back and doubled up, Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld’s fully actor-musician production makes a virtue of the communal spirit and really makes you notice how much of an ensemble show it really is. Not just in how each of the storybook characters get their chance to shine (or not, as the case may be) but in the relationships, of both family and friends, with which we surround ourselves, just to save us from those moments in the woods. Continue reading “Review: Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory

“I guess we’re both happy, but maybe…we ain’t”

As recently demonstrated with Adele’s 25, there comes a point where commercial success just trumps critical response even before the reviews have been published and digested. The Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival of Funny Girl broke box office records in selling out its entire run in mere moments, announcing its transfer to the West End and then selling a vast majority of tickets for the Savoy all before the show had even opened, such is the draw of star Sheridan Smith.

So in some ways it doesn’t matter that Funny Girl really isn’t a great show, one unseen in the West End for nearly 50 years. Musically, Jule Styne’s score front-loads its hits fatally and dramatically, Isobel Lennart’s rather insipid book runs out of steam well before the end, even with Harvey Fierstein’s newly introduced revisions. And for all of the strengths of Michael Mayer’s production, there’s little it manages to do paper over these cracks. Continue reading “Review: Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory”