Review: Into the Woods, Cockpit

This production of Into the Woods at the Cockpit Theatre brings it into the 21st century, not a strictly necessary move

“To have, to wed, to get, to save, to kill, to keep, to go to the festival”

One of the main reasons that fairytales have endured as long as they have is that they are timeless, their messages recited as-is at bedsides since time immemorial. Recognising this, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods gives us a first half which takes us deep into this enchanted world as we know it and waiting until after the interval to show us what happens after happy ever after. 

So the notion of updating the show to a specifically 21st-century context is an intriguing one, as director Tim McArthur draws in influences such as The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea and Rab C Nesbitt. On the one hand, it offers a fresh take on well-known characters; on the other, it also provides a distracting layer onto characters that barely need it. The result is a well-performed interpretation that rarely feels essential. Continue reading “Review: Into the Woods, Cockpit”

Review: Play of Thrones, Union

“Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile”

Director and adaptor Phil Willmott has made something of a point of mixing things up when it comes to Shakespeare at the Union. He’s revived the rarely seen King John, unearthed the controversial Double Falsehood, cast a female Lear and there’s no exception with Play of Thrones. Taking George R R Martin’s inspiration of The Wars of the Roses as a starting point, Willmott has fashioned a free adaptation of the three Henry VI plays, using Part Three as the spine for a story of epic sweep of warring kings, bloody betrayals and fierce ambition that wouldn’t be out of place in Westeros.

So we see the Houses of Lancaster and York tussle again for England’s crown as the kingdom is fatally destabilised by the death of Henry V and the accession of his infant son, Henry VI. The rival dynasties scheme away making politically advantageous marriages, starting surreptitious strategic affairs, setting up any number of brutal murders, even invoking otherworldly spirits to ensure that they win the game. So far so Song of Ice and Fire and there is fun to be had in spotting familiar character traits – Ygritte’s warrior spirit, Cersei’s cold manipulations, Joffrey’s immature obnoxiousness, Tyrion’s tactical nous.

Continue reading “Review: Play of Thrones, Union”

Review: Finian’s Rainbow, Union Theatre

“Wanna cry, wanna croon,

wanna laugh like a loon”

Suspension of disbelief is par for the course with musical theatre, especially the type of obscure revivals that the Union Theatre specialises in, and Finian’s Rainbow is no exception in that respect. A leprechaun who is slowly turning into a human, a twinkle-eyed Irishman determined to grow a forest of gold, a mute girl who communicates solely through the medium of dance…this is unabashed hokum of the top order, but the sincerity of Phil Willmott’s sterling production makes it a genuine delight.

For what it’s worth, the plot concerns the twinkle-eyed Irishman Finian McLonegan’s efforts to make his fortune in the Deep South having borrowed a crock of gold from a leprechaun and marry off his granddaughter Sharon in the process. The community of tobacco pickers where they end up welcome them and their money with open arms but a corrupt and racist senator has other plans for the land on which they toil, putting their future in peril. E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy’s book contains much more dry humour than you might expect though, jabs about immigration and bankers showing how little things have changed in many respects. Continue reading “Review: Finian’s Rainbow, Union Theatre”

Review: Ushers: The Front of House Musical, Hope Theatre

“No-one moves to London with the dream of becoming an usher”

A Britney Spears jukebox musical with Marti Pellow as Kevin Federline and Michael Ball as Britney’s mum? Stranger things have happened on a West End stage but this is the (as yet fictional) set-up for Ushers: The Front of House Musical which follows the hope and dreams and frustrations and failures of a front of house team on a busy night at a West End theatre. And naturally it is playing at a fringe theatre, London’s newest in the form of The Hope Theatre, perched atop The Hope and Anchor pub on Upper Street and the only such theatre to be committed exclusively to new writing.

And with Ushers, it has alighted on something of a little delight. The story may be slight but it manages to pack a lot in in covering the travails of four long-standing ushers, a newcomer into their ranks and their overwrought supervisor. The new girl and the hot guy immediately fancy each other, the cute gay couple are struggling with one of their’s decision to take an acting job in Austria, another girl can’t keep from tweeting pictures of the cast and the supervisor has gone power-mad at the prospect of schmoozing with a major new potential investor. Continue reading “Review: Ushers: The Front of House Musical, Hope Theatre”

TV Review: Lightfields

“I feel like I’ve been running my whole life from this”

Cohu’s biggest TV show of recent times is probably Lightfields, conceived as a follow-up to the rather successful Marchlands of a couple of years ago, and occupying very similar ground of supernatural phenomena haunting the same property through different time periods. A remote farmhouse in Suffolk is the setting, the building named Lightfields, and as a young woman dies in mysterious circumstances in a wartorn 1944, the repercussions are felt by a mother and daughter who stay there for the summer in 1975 and also by the family who are running it as a bed and breakfast in 2012. The ghosts of the past weigh heavily on all concerned as in all three eras, the search for the truth as to what happened puts several people in danger.

I really enjoyed Marchlands so I was a little sceptical to hear that a sequel of sorts had been planned one which seemed to repeat the same format. And though it was mostly enjoyable to watch, I did find it to be not quite on the same level as its predecessor. For a start, it had far too many characters in the 1944 slot alone, I couldn’t get a bearing on who was who even when they were right in front of me, never mind when older versions of them appeared in the later time periods – I felt like I needed to write down a list of everyone as it always felt overly cluttered, with too many story strands feeding into both the 1944 and 2012 slots and leaving the overall feel of the programme as rather confused. Continue reading “TV Review: Lightfields”