Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watermill

A brilliantly inventive, inclusive and entertaining take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a great success at the Watermill Theatre

“Shall we their fond pageant see?”

In a week when Shakespearean-inclined eyes are trained on the opening of Michelle Terry’s tenure at the Globe with a season that promises to be “gender blind, race blind and disability blind”, it is gratifying to see other theatres in the UK already delivering this. And unsurprisingly, this kind of approach is full of rich potential to shake up your Shakespeare anew, making the Watermill’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream an unalloyed pleasure.

Paul Hart’s production is full of innovative touches which work separately like a treat and also combine into something really special. It wears its actor musicianship lightly as music is used brilliantly to delineate the otherworldliness of the woods. If ‘I Put A Spell On You’ might seem overly literal for the dosing of love-in-idleness but lyrically it proves a remarkable fit the love/hate relationship of this Titania and Oberon, so too of Puck’s frustration at that latter father-figure. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watermill”

News: Cast and creative team announced for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York

There’s always a new or different way to do things, no matter how ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ London-based commentators get, and so the news of Europe’s first ever pop-up Shakespearean Theatre – SHAKESPEARE’S ROSE THEATRE feels like a good thing to me. Taking up residence in York this summer, the Rose looks set to replicate something of the Globe experience, groundlings and all, for a whole new audience.

The 10-week season will consist of four plays, performed in repertory by two companies of actors 

  • A tragedy – Macbeth
  • A comedy – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • A tragic love story – Romeo and Juliet
  • A history – Richard III

Romeo and Juliet and Richard III will be directed by the award-winning Lindsay Posner, while York Theatre Royal’s Olivier Award-winning Artistic Director Damian Cruden will direct Macbeth, and Associate Director Juliet Forster will be putting her stamp on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And particularly pleasing to see is that even in this setting which might be perceived as traditional as it gets, there’s a playfulness to the approach to the plays (from Cruden and Forster at least). Antony Bunsee and Amanda Ryan play Theseus and Hippolyta but in a bit of a switch, will also play Titania and Oberon respectively. There’s a female Puck too, plus Amy Lennox as Hermia which leaves me in no doubt as to which of these will be my priority to see! Continue reading “News: Cast and creative team announced for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York”

Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse

As unlikely a Proclaimers musical may seem, this gorgeous production of Sunshine on Leith at West Yorkshire Playhouse is probably the best thing I’ve seen this year

“Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness”

Is a jukebox musical still a jukebox musical when you don’t know most of the songs? You feel that most people would be hard pressed to name more than two songs by The Proclaimers and so it is part of the genius of Stephen Greenhorn (writer) and James Brining (commissioner and director) that they managed to fashion something so perfect, that somehow still feels so familiar, from the back catalogue of the Edinburgh brothers.

Sunshine on Leith was first seen at the Dundee Rep in 2007 and though it has toured Scotland a few times since, it has rarely been seen south of the border. So who else to revive it but Brining himself for West Yorkshire Playhouse. And what a straight-up, fantastic success it is. London has seen its fair share of big musicals open this month but none have made me cry, never mind feel so much as this. Continue reading “Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

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”

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: 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”