Jamie Lloyd’s reinvention of Evita at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre proves a storming success
“I could find job satisfaction in Paraguay”
If this was the production of Evita that was forever touring the UK, then we could all be a hell of a lot more enthused about the future of UK theatre. Bill Kenwright might have the business side locked down with dull predictability but at the Open Air Theatre, Jamie Lloyd is unleashing a torrent of creative genius which proves inordinately exciting to witness.
He offers up a complete reimagining of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical and one which feels sparkingly fresh in every single aspect. The open bleachers of Soutra Gilmore’s design which turns our focus to the human relationships here, the striking physicality of Fabian Aloise’s choreography with its haunting screaming faces and way-cool domino effect points to societal trauma and most crucially, Lloyd allows the shadow of populist politics to loom large. Continue reading “Review: Evita, Open Air Theatre”
Audrey II as a drag queen? Maria Aberg’s take on Little Shop of Horrors at the Open Air Theatre gives me life
“Oh, don’t you see?
Finally I’ll be
Somewhere that’s green”
It’s something of a relief when you’ve seen a version of a much-loved show that is nigh-on perfect, it really does take the pressure off those that follow. So I was able to visit a verdant Open Air Theatre to see Little Shop of Horrors – one of my all-time favourites, if not the actual one – excited by the prospect of what Maria Aberg had done, and secure in the knowledge that Derek Bond absolutely nailed it for the Royal Exchange a couple of years ago.
Chief among her innovations is giving Audrey II much more life than they’ve ever had before, by casting drag queen Vicky Vox in the role. So from twitching, voracious puppet plant (designed by Max Humphries with Tom Scutt) emerges a strutting shrub of sinful sass and it is an inspired choice. Making her a Mephistophelean figure who can prowl around the amphitheatre flips Audrey II into something as thrilling as threatening, Vox revelling in the lasciviousness of “feed me” and the most scathing raised eyebrow you ever did see. Continue reading “Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Open Air Theatre”
And whilst it remains impressive, it also remains elusive, caught between gig and theatre…
Meaning there wasn’t much to discover anew on second viewing (my review from last year).
Still worth a shot if you’ve not seen it though. All photos © Johan Persson
“Just when the fun is starting,
Comes the time for parting”
Fred Haig must have thought that this was his year after landing starring roles in two of the big musicals of the summer but during Monday evening’s performance, he sustained an injury to his foot which has now been confirmed as a fracture. Sadly, this means that he has had to withdraw from On The Town at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park (the second actor to do so after Jeremy Taylor withdrew during rehearsals due to injury) and will be replaced by his understudy Jacob Maynard. We’ll have to wait and see if he recuperates in time to play Young Buddy in Follies at the National.
It is a real shame for Haig as I was at the show on Monday, scarcely believing that we actually had lovely weather for the first musical this year at the Open Air. And Haig’s appealingly charismatic Chip, along with Lizzy Connolly’s vibrant Hildy, was among the highlights of Drew McOnie’s production and he seemed to be very much on top of the choreography. It is a dance-heavy show, and in McOnie’s hands doubly so and as so many in this venue, it is one that benefits from being seen as night falls, to behold the full beauty of Howard Hudson’s lighting which is gorgeously conceived. Continue reading “Get well soon Fred Haig aka Not-A-Review: On The Town, Open Air Theatre”
“Could you ask as much from any other man?”
Andrew Lloyd Webber sure doesn’t make it easy – for his support of new musical theatre in taking over the St James Theatre to making a transatlantic dash to the House of Lords to vote in support of tax credit cuts for the working poor, it’s hard to know where to stand. His status in the British theatrical establishment remains largely unchallenged though and it is to the 46-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar that the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park have turned for their big summer musical, directed this year by Timothy Sheader.
And how do you play a 70s rock opera for today? You bring onboard shit-hot creatives like Tom Scutt and Drew McOnie to reinvent it for 2016. Scutt’s design choices make a virtue of the timeless iron structure that edges the stage. The company arrive in luxury sportswear, its loose silhouettes and muted earth tones akin to a Kanye West fashion show with which McOnie’s contemporary choreography meshes perfectly. Later scenes feature the glitter-covered muscularity of something like a late night Brighton Pride, a smattering of Xerxes from the film 300 and all out Sink the Pink excess during the whipping sequence. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre”
“This revolt of thine is like another fall of man”
It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn’t newsworthy in and of itself but we don’t and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles – the intrigue of Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter’s Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.
Insofar as Robert Hastie’s modern-dress production has a conceit, it’s of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell’s Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role – and it’s hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry’s head. And from then, it’s a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle’s square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross’ movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre”
“Secretly they was overjoyed”
Rachel Kavanaugh’s glorious take on The Sound of Music two years ago for the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park was a wonderful thing indeed so it is little surprise to see her welcomed back to this venue to tackle another Golden Age classic, this time Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It’s a canny decision as her familiarity with the space shows, utterly unafraid to use its full width and depth for unexpected arrivals, slow reveals and thrilling chase sequences and of course, the coup de théâtre that is the pinnacle of Peter McKintosh’s design which is a real piece of old-fashioned theatre magic.
Kavanaugh also makes small but pointed attempts to address the dubious gender politics of the show, without ever sacrificing the spirit of fun that should always characterise such classic musical theatre. So from the first moment Adam and Milly clap eyes on each other, there’s no doubting that the erotic charge between them is mutual, her lustful glances perhaps even more overt than his. And the strength of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s performance is that she never lets us forget she’s a woman making her own choices, even if its just making the best of a bad lot. It’s not a perfect reconciliation of the issues but it feels enough for her, for now. Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre”
“Life in the country is just so bloody boring”
Someone wiser than I pointed out that the only way you could do The Seagull at the Open Air Theatre was to be thoroughly iconoclastic, ruffling those Chekhovian feathers into something brasher, bolder and less contained. And there is no doubting that that is what Torben Betts’ new version and Matthew Dunster’s directorial vision have set out to do here, ramping up the comedic elements (of the first half at least) but sacrificing much of the counterbalancing tragedy that customarily gives the Russian writer’s work its depth.
There’s some good work here – Janie Dee’s skittish Arkadina is a delight as she vainly tries to cling onto a long-gone girliishness (though impressive barre work!), Lisa Diveney’s Kirsten Stewart-ish Masha is well-realised in all her agonised inaction, and Jon Bausor’s striking design tilts a giant mirror at 45 degrees to the floor to both open up and expose the world of the tortured souls in this country estate. But the prevailing mood is one of something close to glibness, as the frivolity of the updating comes up hard against the traditional period setting. Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Open Air Theatre”
“I’m full of all commotion like an ocean full of rhum”
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (as it appears to be styled here, in case you confuse it with Jedward’s Porgy and Bess) made for a striking component of the Open Air Theatre’s programme this summer. More folk opera than musical, it is perhaps a more challenging choice than usual but none the worse for it, the musical and dramatic spectacle heightened by an impressionistically remarkable design by Katrina Lindsay and director Timothy Sheader’s resourceful production which hammers home its musical strength.
From its tragically inclined leads, Nicola Hughes’ sensational Bess with her substance abuse issues and Rufus Bonds Jr’s impassioned dignity as Porgy, through brilliant support from the likes of Golda Roshuevel’s Serena and Sharon D Clarke’s Mariah, to the polar opposites of Jade Ewen’s impossibly pure Clara to croons the iconic lullaby ‘Summertime’ and Cedric Neal’s sleazily cocky ‘Sportin’ Life’ who swaggers through ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ as he ensnares Bess with his wares, the sheer size and quality of this ensemble is truly something to behold. Continue reading “Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre”