Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual.  Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre”

Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead

With the magnificent Sharon D Clarke at the helm, Caroline, or Change transfers to the Hampstead Theatre London with all its power intact

“Dressed in white and feelin’ low,
talkin’ to the washer and the radio”

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s complex and challenging civil rights musical Caroline, or Change makes its long-awaited London return to the Hampstead theatre, more than a decade after its well-received National Theatre production took the Olivier for Best New Musical but found no further life.

Michael Longhurst’s production was first seen in Chichester last May (here’s my review) and whilst it is a shame that that original cast aren’t all present here (the glorious Nicola Hughes, Gloria Onitiri, Jennifer Saayeng all now elsewhere), it holds on to the titanic talents of Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibideaux. Continue reading “Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Royal Exchange

“The passengers were bound to resist”

Michael Buffong’s reinterpretation of Guys and Dolls, a co-production between the Royal Exchange and Talawa Theatre, is just that, a bold re-envisioning of the classic musical that consequently comes up with something different. That’s the point. So it may take a second to recalibrate, to adjust to these portrayals of familiar characters but in doing so you get to embrace something fresh and new and really rather exciting.

Moving the show from Times Square to the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in 1939 allows Buffong to employ an all-black cast, infuse Frank Loesser’s score with jazz and gospel (new orchestrations by Simon Hale) and introduce a vibrant choreographic vision (by Kenrick Sandy) that draws on several decades of dance history. The result is less-concept heavy than you might expect and often, explosively good fun. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Royal Exchange”

Cast for the Royal Exchange’s Guys and Dolls announced

The Royal Exchange in Manchester have really been upping the ante as far as their Christmas musicals are concerned. Last year’s Sweet Charity was a stonker, their Into the Woods was something special, and 2014/15’s Little Shop of Horrors was basically perfection. This year see them tackle Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in a co-production with Talawa Theatre Company and by the crin (as my Aunty Mary would say – a bit of Wigan dialect for you there…) just take a look at this bushel and a peck’s worth of beauties!  Continue reading “Cast for the Royal Exchange’s Guys and Dolls announced”

Review: Queer Theatre – Wig Out, National

#2 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“Here
Where one night can leave you legendary
Or a subsidiary”

The world has changed just a little in the decade or so since Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote Wig Out. McCraney is now an Oscar-winning writer after the phenomenal success of Moonlight (based on one of his unproduced plays) and RuPaul has dragged drag into the mainstream by its charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. So to see the play now is an entirely different prospect than its 2008 production at the Royal Court and an interesting example of how cultural touchstones shift.

Wig Out feels intimately connected to Paris Is Burning (if you’ve not seen it, to Netflix with you now) in its focus on ball culture in the black and Latino gay communities of New York and we get to see it fully turned out as the House of Light take on their rivals in the House of Diabolique. The ball scene is an unalloyed pleasure as outré performance follows outré performance (Craig Stein and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith took the honours for the night) and really make you want to see a fully fledged production.

Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Wig Out, National”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

 

 

Albany Launch Campaign to Provide a Free Theatre Ticket to Every Child in Lewisham
 
A Theatre Trip for Every Child, Lewisham is a new giving scheme to provide a free theatre ticket for every 5-year-old in the Borough of Lewisham. ‘Every Child’ enables businesses and individuals to give a local child the chance to experience the magic of theatre.
 
Jude Law has been revealed as patron for the campaign, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England, and with the support of founding sponsors, L&Q. A parallel project will launch simultaneously at ARC in Stockton-on-Tees. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

“Household rules and small decrees unsuspecting bring us these secret little tragedies”

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre’s longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is…). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst’s direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven’t quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she’s a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it’s a difficult one to resist despite – or maybe because of – all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents. Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva”

Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

“Tale as old as time”

It’s taken me a little time to get round to writing this review, which is rarely a good sign, as I was struggling for anything entirely constructive to say about this film. The 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast was Disney close to its best but these days, nothing is left alone if it has even the merest hint of cash cow about it. So it has previously hit the stage as a musical and following the success of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it now has a cinematic live-action remake.

Which is all fine and good but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And at no point does Bill Condon’s film ever convince us that the world needed this version of Beauty and the Beast, there’s rarely any sense of it bringing something new and insightful to the story. Plus the contortions it (and star Emma Watson) has had to make to try and convince of its feminist credentials scarcely seem worth it in the final analysis. Continue reading “Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)”

Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2

“Who does she think she is?”

Based on the novel of the same name by Sherley Anne Williams and premiering off-Broadway in 2005, this is a show that has taken its time to reach our shores. And reflecting the hugely diverse nature of their back catalogue, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Dessa Rose adds another multi-layered account of a key moment in US history (see Ragtime) to their account, in the tale of the diverse but complementary journeys of a young black woman and a young white women in the Deep South.

It’s 1847 and Dessa is reaping the results of her wilful temperament as a love affair with a fellow slave has left her pregnant and behind bars. But try as she might to assert her independence, she has to learn to accept the kindness of others, chief among whom is Ruth, a former Charleston belle whose marriage has gone awry due to her husband’s gambling problem. Alone on the plantation, she welcomes runaway slaves and altogether, through their difficulties, they dare to dream of a brighter future.  Continue reading “Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: The Color Purple, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Somebody gonna love you”

The Broadway production of the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple was no great success and so it may seem an unusual choice for the Menier Chocolate Factory to bring to their Southwark home. Nor does the story of Celie, a young woman forced to bear two children by her violent stepfather who then sent them away and then married her off to a brutal partner, necessarily seem one ideal for this genre. But with the focus being on survival, on the road to self-actualisation against racial and sexual pressures, and a score blending many aspects of black music into a smooth melange, it is surprisingly effective.   

There’s much potential for this to be a highly overwrought piece, but where John Doyle’s production comes into its own is in achieving a Zen-like state of calm for the show, a clean simplicity which permeates every aspect and focuses the intensity of the emotion.  Doyle’s own design reconfigures the Menier to great effect, stripping it back to bleached wood and a collection of chairs; Ann Yee’s choreography finds huge elegance in as simple a movement as walking forwards and then back; and at the heart of it all, is a performance of immense grace from Cynthia Erivo as the much-maligned Celie. Continue reading “Review: The Color Purple, Menier Chocolate Factory”