The 2018 Ian Charleson Award

I remain unconvinced we should be rewarding classical roles over the breadth of the theatre out there but hey ho, it’s not my award! A good selection of performances nominated here nonetheless – and Gill feels a worthy winner.

Winner

Bally Gill for Romeo in Romeo and Juliet at the RSC

Second place

Hannah Morrish for Octavia in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre

Third place

Luke Newberry for Malcolm in Macbeth at the RSC

Other nominees

Daniel Burke for Diomed in Troilus and Cressida at RSC
Heledd Gwynn for Katharine and Dauphin in Henry V by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory 
Tyrone Huntley for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Watermill, Newbury
Martins Imhangbe for Bagot and Aumerle in Richard II at the Almeida
Toheeb Jimoh for Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Crucible
Aaron Pierre for Cassio in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe
Ellora Torchia for Emilia in Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare’s Globe
Helena Wilson for Mariana in Measure for Measure at the Donmar Warehouse

Review: Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre

A sensational adaptation of the film, Amélie the Musical completely captures my heart – see it now at the Watermill Theatre and then touring across the UK

“Maybe she’s just different”

In a week marked by the heartbreaking sight of Notre Dame aflame, the decidedly Gallic charms of Amélie the Musical arrive to offer a soothing balm. The show – music by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen and a book by Craig Lucas – didn’t fare so well on Broadway in 2017 but the creatives, along with director Michael Fentiman, have substantially reworked the material to great effect.

The result is something which cleaves much closer to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s original film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain in every inch of its spirit. From singing goldfish to licking stage blood off fingers, Elton John cameos to intimidating figs, there’s a wonderful weirdness to the world created here. It’s no wonder that the introverted Amélie struggles at first to find her place in this hyper-real version of Paris. Continue reading “Review: Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre”

Review: Macbeth, Watermill

As good as the effort is here at the Watermill, I can’t help but feel it is time to give the Macbeths a rest – it ain’t all that as a play!

“What’s done is done”

Circumstances prevailed against me getting to see the Watermill’s Macbeth before its final day so I’m cheating by just firing up a mini-review. Truth be told, I only really booked for Paul Hart’s production on the strength of his track record in re-imagining Shakespeare so successfully – I had no real desire to see this particular play again, so soon after two major disappointments at the National and the RSC.

And as inventive the approach is here – music suffused throughout, an ensemble always split 50:50, adventurous creatives onhand – I can’t help but feel that Macbeth is oversold as a play. Any (if not all) attempts to update it seem doomed to some kind of failure as it really does resist modernisation. Billy Postlethwaite does a decent job as the Scottish king but I think I’ll be resisting seeing this play again anytime soon.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Pamela Raith
Macbeth is booking at the Watermill Theatre until 30th March

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: Twelfth Night, Wilton’s Music Hall

The Watermill Theatre’s 2017 production of Twelfth Night is revived to glorious effect in the atmospheric surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall

“If music be the food of love, play on…”

I was absolutely blown away by the Watermill’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in May, and so the news that their similarly actor-muso Twelfth Night from last year would be being revived at Wilton’s Music Hall was most welcome. And if it doesn’t quite live up to the magic of that first time for me, it is still a most enchanting and unmistakably bold take on the play 

Paul Hart’s production relocates Illyria to the 1920s, jazz is flourishing, prohibition is rife and the shadows of WWI haven’t quite yet dissipated. Katie Lias’ design concentrates the action in the Elephant Jazz Club and the historic atmosphere of Wilton’s proves perfect for this treatment. And without giving too much away, the dipping down into the audience is done brilliantly.  Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Review: Sweet Charity, Watermill

Fun, laughs and yes, a good time. You’ll sure get a tingle in your feet for this Sweet Charity at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury

“I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see”

You can never have too much charity it would seem, and as Rebecca Trehearn prepares to take on the role of Charity Hope Valentine in Nottingham next month, Gemma Sutton tackles it here at the beautiful Watermill Theatre in Newbury. Sweet Charity, the 1966 musical by Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields and Neil Simon is a curious choice for the constant revival it receives. Its sexual politics are askew, its dialogue cheesily dated, and these are issues that Paul Hart’s modernised take has to occasionally battle to address.

Setting it in contemporary New York has its pros and cons. Notions of metropolitan isolation and the trials of working in a gig economy are more resonant than ever. But without lyrical updating, ideas of female aspiration remain rooted in the last century – you win some, you lose some. The casting of Sutton (so very good recently in The Rink) is a definite win though, a bright splash of colour in a mostly monochrome world and it is nigh on impossible not to be enchanted by her determination to find love in a cruel world. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Watermill”

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”

Review: A Little Night Music, Watermill

“It’s but a pleasurable means
To a measurable end”

Sondheim’s reputation as one of our finest living composers rests not only on the delicious complexity of his music but also on the superlative performances that it draws from actors who must delve extraordinarily deep to rise to its challenges. Not every performer is able to ascend these heady heights but it gives me enormous pleasure to report that Josefina Gabrielle delivers one of those utterly transcendent moments with a nigh-on perfect interpretation of Desiree Armfeldt at the Watermill. 

As a once-famed actress not quite getting the gigs she believes she should, she presents the facade of ‘The Glamourous Life’ beautifully – a touch self-deprecating, two touches self-assured, she knows how to rule a room. But try as she might, she can’t always rule the hearts of others as evinced in the bittersweet ‘Send In The Clowns’ which is made to feel brand new here, Gabrielle finding fresh textures and feeling (the startled emotion of ‘I thought that you’d want what I want’ seems to surprise even her) to completely and utterly break the heart (the song’s final line has never been delivered more affectingly, and I’m including the Dench in there!). 

Given the name of this blog, it should come as little surprise that I find it hard to resist productions of A Little Night Music, even when they’re in deepest Berkshire. But Paul Foster is a director I admire and actor-musician productions are often superb in their ingenuity. And so it proves here, Sarah Travis’ arrangements for this company of 13 (playing piccolos to double basses) are meticulously done, losing none of the music’s majesty even as it is considerably reconfigured in some parts. Continue reading “Review: A Little Night Music, Watermill”

Review: Far From The Madding Crowd, Watermill

“I am not morally yours”

Truth be told, after a dodgy time with The Woodlanders in an English Lit elective at uni, I’ve pretty much kept my distance from Thomas Hardy. So it might be a little surprise that I ventured to the wilds of West Berkshire and the Watermill Theatre to see this adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd but Jessica Swale is the kind of delightful director who is worth travelling for, plus she has a predilection for casting Sam Swainsbury in things which means she is my lobster 🙂

This actor-musicianish production is really cleverly staged as Philip Engeheart’s versatile and movable set design evokes an appropriate sense of rural charm with witty and ingenious touches allowing memorable representations of key events such as the harvesting of the wheat and untold business with sheep and lambs (where even this hardened soul had to admire the skill of the puppetry). With Catherine Jayes’ music underscoring much of the action, the pastoral atmosphere feels just right. Continue reading “Review: Far From The Madding Crowd, Watermill”

Review: The Witches of Eastwick, Watermill

“If I said that I would listen, might that ease the doubt?”

A theatre I hadn’t been to before and a musical I hadn’t heard before – the offer to go and see the Watermill’s adaptation of the 2000 West End show The Witches of Eastwick seemed like a no-brainer. But though I am glad to be able to tick both of those boxes, I have to admit to being rather disappointed with the show and such disillusionment is only magnified when one has made a not inconsiderable effort to go out of town to see a show. As with many of the productions at this venue, it is an actor-musician led revival, directed here by Craig Revel-Horwood and so one is habitually left in awe at the amount of talent being displayed on this cramped stage, I’m just not convinced that this musical is worth it.

Written by John Dempsey and Dana P Rowe from John Updike’s novel of the same name, the story focuses on three New England women unhappy with their lot in life who get swept up into the influence of newcomer Darryl Van Horne, whose demonically charming ways transform all their lives as he seduces them one by one. But though it may be better the devil you know, the changes he wreaks threaten to go too far and it proves no easy task to put this particular genie back into the bottle. Tom Rogers’ set design works wonders in such an intimate space, not least with a well-executed flying scene, too many aspects of the production felt problematic to me.  Continue reading “Review: The Witches of Eastwick, Watermill”