Review: As You Desire Me, Playhouse

A study of memory and identity and how truth is often just relative, Luigi Pirandello’s As You Desire Me is one of his lesser performed works, but presented in a new adaptation by Hugh Whitemore and directed by Jonathan Kent, it has quite the casting coup with both Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins as part of the company.

We first meet Scott Thomas as Elma, a singer in a sleazy 1930s Berlin night-club and living in a sado-masochistic relationship with a man Salter and his lesbian daughter Mop who is also attracted to her. A man appears and tells her that she is, in fact Lucia, the wife of an Italian aristocrat. She was the victim of an appalling assault during the First World War and, as a result, lost her memory. But when she goes to Italy to pursue this dream new life, she finds unexpected problems and disappointments. Continue reading “Review: As You Desire Me, Playhouse”

Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre

From where preconceptions come I am not entirely sure, but I’ve never been a fan of Ibsen’s plays even when they come as highly recommended as this production of Pillars of the Community at the National Theatre. The play marks the centenary of Ibsen’s death and is apparently one of his lesser performed works, something that doesn’t always inspire the greatest of confidences.

The play centres around Karsten Bernick, an avaricious and deceitful man who has climbed the greasy pole to become something of a bigwig in his small Norwegian town and managed to create an allure of benevolence and good standing in the community. But skeletons in the closet have a way of re-emerging and when two members of his extended family, who know all of his dirty secrets, return from America, Bernick is challenged to discover just how far he is willing to go to protect his reputation and continue to ignore his conscience. Continue reading “Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre”

Review: A Few Good Men, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Perhaps better known for the Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson starring film, A Few Good Men was originally a 1989 play written by Aaron Sorkin, but is being revived here at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Rob Lowe making a rare stage foray in the role played by Cruise in the film.

It is a courtroom drama set in Washington DC, revolving around the trial of two US Marines who have been charged with the murder of a fellow Marine at a naval base and the tribulations of their lawyers as he prepares a case to defend his clients but comes close to unmasking a high-level conspiracy which threatens to unravel all their work. Continue reading “Review: A Few Good Men, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: As You Like It, Wyndhams

William Shakespeare’s As You Like It has been given quite the makeover here at the Wyndhams Theatre in a new production. The action has been relocated to 1940s France which makes for a great visual aesthetic with the appropriate costumery and scenery (I loved the Parisian café), and a strong Gallic flavour to the music that permeates this entire production, with newly composed ballads by Tim Sutton livened by some onstage accordion action from Lisa-Lee Leslie.

A large ensemble play, it broadly speaks of redemption and resolution after conflict and suffering and is stuffed full of squabbling brothers, dukes, cross-dressing women, lovesick men and quadruple weddings in the Forest of Arden, falling under the pastoral comedy genre but with hints of darkness in there too which suit this post-WWII setting. But David Lan’s production has focused mainly on the burgeoning relationship between Rosalind and Orlando, desperate to be together but forced apart by her banishment from court. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Wyndhams”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly

Though the big draw for this Donmar production of Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in the West End was Ewan McGregor, I was actually much more excited to see Jane Krakowski on stage. As the ditzy receptionist Elaine in Ally McBeal, she frequently stole the show for me and having displayed her vocal talents on the TV too, I was very much excited to see her. I hadn’t actually seen the show (or the film for that matter) before but it really was one of those where I discovered that I knew far more of the songs than I realised.

Set in 1950s New York, Nathan Detroit is an organiser of gambling tournaments whose long-suffering showgirl fiancée Miss Adelaide is determined to finally get him up the aisle. Sky Masterton is a gambler who is bet that he can’t get a woman of Detroit’s choosing to have dinner with him in Havana, but when he chooses missionary Sarah Brown, the unexpected happens for all of them. But the show is probably best known for Frank Loesser’s songs, a genuinely classic score full of amazing numbers. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly”

Review: Songs of Innocence, South Bank Centre

Part of the Meltdown festival being curated by Patti Smith this year was an evening so perfect it was almost picked from my personal wishlist of people I’d love to see on one stage. The loose theme was William Blake’s Songs of Innocence though it was expanded in reality to include songs from and about childhood and even wider than that, protest songs. But essentially, it was just an excuse to see some seriously amazing female singers (and a couple of men) whom I loved for ages and I never thought I’d see on the same bill.

Tori Amos’ 4 songs were a personal highlight, getting to hear ‘Silent All These Years’ and ‘Winter’ from Little Earthquakes was amazing, plus ‘Pretty Good Year’ and ‘Mother Revolution’ added up to an emotionally wrenching and intense set. Sinéad O’Connor was much more low key than expected,  a gently-strummed guitar backing a murmured, even placid collection of numbers of which only ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ really made the impact I wanted from her. Beth Orton’s endearing goofiness made her brace of songs highly engaging, returning later to deliver ‘Dolphins’ exceptionally well, and Marianne Faithful commanded huge presence especially with a scorching version of ‘Working Class Hero’. Continue reading “Review: Songs of Innocence, South Bank Centre”

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre”

Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre

Forming a six hour epic, Nicholas Hytner’s productions of Henry IV Part I and Part II take up residence in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. You can see them on the same day if you so desire (and your bum can take it) but we went on different days as a small thing called work got in the way!

The plays deal with the troubled reign of King Henry IV as he deals with rebellion and civil war, while his son and heir, Prince Hal, prefers to hang around East London with small-time criminals led by the aged, corpulent alcoholic Falstaff. They cover the whole breadth of English society at the time they were written, from aristocratic infighting right the way down to sleazy prostitution. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre”

Review: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Globe

This visit to the Globe came in Mark Rylance’s last season as artistic director and was to a rather experimental production of The Tempest. Exiled from his rightful place as Duke of Milan, Prospero is set adrift at sea with his young daughter Miranda. They eventually reach a remote island where they create a new life for themselves with the magical creatures that populate it. But fate strikes 12 years later as his enemies are shipwrecked on the same island, old scores are settled and new love is found.
Did I enjoy it? I honestly don’t know how I felt about it. Even now, a couple of days later, it still bemuses me more than anything. It was just so confusing. I know the play fairly well but got frequently lost as to what was going on, even my Aunty Jean who’s an English teacher and has taught the play for many years found it most difficult to keep track of who was talking to who and at this point one has to wonder for whom is this production being put on? It felt a bit too much like a vanity project than an essential piece of drama-telling.

It was a herculean feat by the three actors to be sure, and there were moments of beauty: Rylance’s mastery of Shakespeare’s verse means he was a highly affecting Prospero, Edward Hogg brings more humour to Miranda than I’ve seen before which was a nice touch and Alex Hassell’s sheer physicality as Caliban was just excellent. And they each covered their other ‘main’ character well: Rylance’s Stephano gave hilarious drunken comedy, Hogg’s ethereal Ariel had a wonderful connection to his Miranda, really helping to make sense of where the production was coming from in terms of everything being inside Prospero’s head, and Hassell’s Ferdinand is a masculine delight. But drilling down further led to brains hurting with the minor roles with Rylance having a conversation with himself at one point as two characters and Hogg having to shift completely to play drunken as Trinculo.

The staging didn’t really help matters either with the few props being used so effectively once or twice and then overused, seemingly simply because they were there. The chess pieces and the hanging rope did both have their moments but became tiresome by the end. The dancers in modern dress (well 80s inspired tbh) didn’t work for me, only really making sense when explicitly referenced as the spirits being called forth. As ‘invisible’ Fates, they were much less successfully integrated into the feel of the piece. And the six singers from on high, although sounding wonderful, even exquisite in places, added another layer of confusion, both visually with their costuming (Ancient Greek) and in terms of their role within the production. Ultimately, they are just distractions, intermittently entertaining, but distractions nonetheless in an already confusing experience.

And so ultimately it come across as something as a disappointment in the final analysis. No matter how well versed you are in this play or well-spoken this production is, it is too concept-driven and too experimental to come off as a truly successful adaptation and sadly for us, it didn’t really deliver as a piece of entertainment either.

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Some shows you just know are going to get bad reviews but these are quite often shows that certain people are going to love no matter what and so it was with me and Acorn Antiques The Musical. I loved Victoria Wood’s sketch show from the moment I remember seeing it (I’m northern, it is in the contract) and so when I heard that she was writing a musical based on it, there was no doubt what my request for a birthday present would be: tickets to see it at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, Wood took on sole responsibility for the show, writing book, music and lyrics and managed to persuade many of the original stars from the show to reprise their roles: Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and of course, Julie Walters. And when the show focuses on recreating the hilarity that was Acorn Antiques the show as we remember it, this has to be one of the funniest nights I have ever had at the theatre, I was helpless with laughter for so much of it. Continue reading “Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”