Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, Curve

Emma Williams reconfirms her star status in this 80s musical adaptation of An Officer and a Gentleman at Leicester’s Curve Theatre ahead of a UK tour

“Way to go, Paula! Way to go!”

From its opening number (which provides an unsettling reminder that Status Quo actually had a decent tune or two), this major new musical of An Officer and a Gentleman shimmers with a sense of real quality. Some might demur at the notion of a movie remake peppered with a random assortment of pop songs from the 1980s but the resulting piece of theatre is highly enjoyable.

This is down to the integrity and craft of Nikolai Foster who rightly takes this source material (book by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen from his original screenplay) seriously. We may be in 1982 but there’s no jokey visual gags about that decade here, just an over-riding sense of life on the edge for the working class community of Pensacola, Florida, looking on at the US Naval Aviation Training Facility that dominates their city. Continue reading “Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, Curve”

The 2017 Ian Charleson Awards nominees announced – time for an update?

Nominees have been announced for the 2017 Ian Charleson Awards:

Ellie Bamber for Hilde in The Lady from the Sea, Donmar Warehouse
Daniel Ezra for Sebastian in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Tamara Lawrance for Viola in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Rebecca Lee for Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, Watermill, Newbury
James Corrigan for Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare Royal Shakespeare Company
Ned Derrington for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe
Sope Dirisu for Coriolanus in Coriolanus, Royal Shakespeare Company
Arthur Hughes for Lucius in Julius Caesar, Crucible, Sheffield
Douggie McMeekin for Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic
Natalie Simpson for Duchess Rosaura in The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse
Hannah Morrish for Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, Royal Shakespeare Company

The focus of the award is on roles in classical theatre – yours Ibsens, your Chehkovs, your overwhelming number of Shakespeares – but you do wonder whether there’s something about the kudos automatically granted here. Though there is diversity in the names selected here, the very notion of ‘classical’ as determined by the theatrical establishment seems to work against its actual ecology, at least as it relates to modern Britain.

I mean to not at all dishonour the legacy of Ian Charleson, but I do wonder whether the awards that bear his name recognise the bias that its limitations impose. If the Quentin Letts farrago shows us anything, it shows us how entrenched some of these attitudes are. But it also serves as a reminder that actors of colour (and women to some of the same extent) are ill-served by the ‘canon’.

I’m all for celebrating and highlighting the work of great young actors but I want all of them to be included. And yes, that makes the scope considerably wider but surely its time to acknowledge that there’re amazing actors who have never performed Shakespeare, and might never do Chekhov, but who are more than worthy of the kind of recognition offered here. 

Review: All I See Is You, Octagon Studio

Nowt so queer as gays up north – All I See Is You is an affecting period LGBT romance at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton 

“If I never walk again, I don’t care”

The Octagon are certainly getting their money’s worth out of Ben Occhipinti. In the main house, he’s directing East is East and down the stairs in their studio theatre, he is also helming the premiere of Kathrine Smith’s All I See Is You. And where the former is looking at mixed race families in Salford in the 70s, this play turns its focus on to the experience of gay men in the 60s.

Those men are Ciarán Griffiths’ Bobby and Christian Edwards’ Ralph, whose meet-cute takes place in a toilet cubicle and soon turns into a smouldering mix of sexual compatibility and serious potential as they tumble hard for each other. But in a world where homosexuality has yet to be decriminalised, where societal prejudice is so deeply ingrained, it’s clear this is a love that will have to be fought for. Continue reading “Review: All I See Is You, Octagon Studio”

Review: East is East, Octagon

A brilliant turn from Jane Hazlegrove anchors this powerful revival of East is East at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton

“Funeral’s on Friday, they’re having salmon…”

On the one hand,  it is great to see another production of Ayub Khan Din’s evergreen East is East, as sharply observed and comically astute as ever in this production at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre. But on the other, it is a sad indictment that the British theatrical establishment hasn’t been able to conjure up a similarly successful play that looks at race and multiculturalism in the 20-odd years since it was written.

Nevertheless, director Ben Occhipinti gets his revival just right, capturing much of the mood of a 1970s Salford where Pakistani father George and English mother Ella are raising their seven children who are all dealing differently with the unique pressures that come with a mixed race heritage. And he has cast it beautifully – Kulvinder Ghir’s George full of irascible pride, Jane Hazlegrove’s Ella brilliantly, expertly moving in her (almost) infinite patience. Continue reading “Review: East is East, Octagon”

Review: Spring Awakening, Hope Mill

Fresh faces do much to highlight the energy of Spring Awakening at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre

“You ain’t seen nothing yet – gonna teach you right”

In many ways, the teenage energy of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s Spring Awakening is a great match for the youthful verve of Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre. The creative upstarts of this fringe powerhouse are maintaining its burgeoning reputation extremely well and with this raucous take on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, look set to continue.

Luke Sheppard’s production hangs on its superb casting, drawing talent fresh from drama school (Darragh Cowley and Teleri Hughes) as well as a couple of more experienced hands (Ragtime’s Seyi Omooba) And the company fill the stage with a rough-edged vitality that marks out lots of potential for musicals to come. Continue reading “Review: Spring Awakening, Hope Mill”

Review: Codebreakers – Mission:Breakout, South Kentish Town Tube Station

In the atmospheric surroundings of the old South Kentish Town Tube Station, can you crack the codes and escape the room of Codebreakers – Mission: Breakout

It has been a little while since our escape-the-room group has actually tried to escape a room, rather than just meeting to drink gin-based cocktails, but a special offer in Time Out led us over to Kentish Town to the home of Mission: Breakout. 

Housed in the brilliantly quirky ghost tube station of South Kentish Town, the Mission: Breakout team have two games up for grabs – the brand spanking new The Lost Passenger which opens on Easter Monday and Codebreakers which was where we found ourselves. Continue reading “Review: Codebreakers – Mission:Breakout, South Kentish Town Tube Station”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, NST City Southampton

Chelsea Walker helms a blistering update of A Streetcar Named Desire in a co-production between Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Theatr Clwyd and English Touring Theatre 

“You can’t beat on a woman and then call her back”

If Blanche DuBois were around today, then of course her go-to tunes would be the likes of Madonna and Blondie, and a glitterball would take the place of her colourful paper lantern. And as the strains of ‘Material Girl’ gets most everyone up and dancing at the end of a fateful poker night, Chelsea Walker’s contemporary take on this Tennessee Williams classic finds its happy place.

Of course, it’s A Streetcar Named Desire so that happy place lasts for a moment of seconds before Patrick Knowles’ brutish Stanley reasserts himself. And what Walker’s clever updating does is to not let itself get bogged down in minor textual incongruities, but to firmly locate its troubling sexual dynamics in the gender politics of right now.  Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, NST City Southampton”

Review: The Secret Garden, The Barn Theatre Cirencester

A lively and emotional actor-musician production of The Secret Garden marks a fantastic debut for the brand new Barn Theatre in the Cotswolds

“I heard someone crying…
Maybe it was me”

After three years renovation and development work, the Barn Theatre in Cirencester opens its doors with a fresh and spirited actor-musician take on The Secret Garden. A passion project of artistic director Iwan Lewis (who once appeared in a youth production of the musical in the town), the 1991 Tony-winning musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s novel (book and lyrics by Marsha Noman, music by Lucy Simon) has been curiously under-served in terms of major revivals (I saw a fringe version back in 2013) and so proves a canny choice for a new venue seeking to attract an audience. 

It is clear to see that time and thought, and resources, has been invested into the Barn to make it to help it succeed. So Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner’s lighting design, with all its delightful hidden surprises, benefits from a properly swanky lighting rig that would be the envy of pretty much any off-West-End theatre; so too PJ McEvoy’s projections looking highly professional as they move us around Misselthwaite, from dusty, disused ballrooms to briar-filled nooks.

But for all the technical strength, this Secret Garden blooms because of the creative work that has been ploughed into it. The physical aspects of McEvoy’s design have a deliberately rustic feel, suiting time and place well, reflected in the nature of Elliot Ditton’s puppets. The evocation of an inquisitive robin is gorgeously done but it is the way in which Simon’s score has been thoroughly reinvented that reinforces how this production, and the venture at large, is about about mimicking the Great White Way than creating a new Cotswolds Way. Continue reading “Review: The Secret Garden, The Barn Theatre Cirencester”

Review: Circle Mirror Transformation, Home

Director Bijan Sheibani works wonders on Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation at Home in Manchester

“Slow down and start noticing everyone around you”

A cheeky trip up north for this criminally short run of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation at Home in Manchester, for a top-notch cast and a director – Bijan Sheibani – who when on form, is one of the country’s best. And here he really is at home in the unfussy naturalism and quiet intimacy of this deceptively striking play.

My abiding memory of the Royal Court’s 2013 production is not the amazing cast it also assembled – Staunton, Woolgar, Jones… – is that it was absolutely hotter than sin in the Rose Lipman Building where it was hosted. It was also a time when I didn’t really know who Annie Baker was. Or rather, a time before the hype around her wasn’t quite so overwhelming. Continue reading “Review: Circle Mirror Transformation, Home”

Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange

Frankenstein gets taken around the block one more time at the Royal Exchange in Manchester – Sun readers need not apply

“What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?”

It may have been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s magnum opus but let’s face it, no-one has ever needed an excuse to stage it before. A programme note for April De Angelis’ new version of Frankenstein for the Royal Exchange suggests there have been well over 50 adaptations and so there’s a job to make yours be the one to stand out.

Directed skillfully by Matthew Xia, De Angelis’ main superficial difference is to play up the storytelling device that frames the novel, using Captain Walton’s discovery of a bedraggled Victor Frankenstein on his expedition to the North Pole to be the mechanism through which scarcely believable events are described. And it’s a format that offers much potential – in emphasising the parallels (or differences) between the two, in exploring the role of an unreliable narrator, in making this version stand out. Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange”