Review: Evita, Open Air Theatre

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”

Review: Knights of the Rose, Arts

Less a rock musical and more Now That’s What I Call Music 1066, Knights of the Rose at the Arts Theatre threatens a return to the dark ages 

“Would you tremble if I touched your lips?
Or would you laugh?”

The website for Knights of the Rose leads with the quote “is this the most epic rock musical?” and bold as that is, well, the answer is most definitively no. That  much is evident from the start as a bunch of medieval knights start doing some slo-mo running on the spot as they return from war. But even as they dream of the ale to be drunk, the Bon Jovi songs to be sung, the wenches to be laid and other such Olde Worlde fare, a Knight’s lot is never done and a new battle upends their world once again. Sacrifice! Betrayal! Bonnie Tyler! In a time when Bat Out Of Hell can come back, maybe the rock musical is having a moment.

But wait, what the hell is Enrique Iglesias doing in here? Not only is ‘Hero’ a fantastically misjudged choice of song, the way in which its first line is used to lead into the track snaps you right out of the world of the show, as evidenced by an audience rolling in the aisles. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a theatre this year made all the more so by the fact that it was not meant to be at all hilarious.  An edited snippet of No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’ feels similarly incongruous, ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’ pops up in a po-faced moment and overall, as the playlist starts to sound like Now That’s What I Call Music 1066, you begin to worry for the identity of this show which ultimately takes the idea of being a rock musical as seriously as fancy dress. Continue reading “Review: Knights of the Rose, Arts”

Review: Sunset Boulevard Curve, Leicester

“Smile a rented smile, fill someone’s glass
Kiss someone’s wife, kiss someone’s ass”

Ria Jones’ extraordinary history with Sunset Boulevard might well be entitled The Norma Conquests – from originally workshopping the role of Norma Desmond for Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black and Christopher Hampton (book and lyrics) in 1991 to her headline-grabbing stint as Glenn Close’s understudy in last year’s ENO staged concert version of the show to finally getting to play the leading role in her own right on this UK tour, premiering at Leicester’s Curve, some 26 years later.

And was it worth the wait? Jones certainly is making the most of her well-deserved moment, offering a different skillset for her markedly different interpretation. Jones is undoubtedly the better singer, the lushness of her voice soaring effortlessly to the impassioned heights of the score. And she’s a different kind of actress, offering a brasher, more manic kind of energy to this former movie star caught up in a fantasy world when a young screenwriter (Danny Mac) accidentally offers hope to her faded career.  Continue reading “Review: Sunset Boulevard Curve, Leicester”

Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)

“The world is hard, the world is mean

It’s hard to keep your conscience clean”

I hadn’t listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.

The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the ‘freak show’ elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there’s no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise. Continue reading “Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)”

CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)

“No… it can’t be… is it gravity I am feeling?”

It’s been a goodly time coming, just over two years since it opened actually, but the Original Cast Recording of The Light Princess is finally here. Finely crafted by writers Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson with the original cast from the National Theatre production and recorded entirely under studio conditions, this double CD a triumphant achievement. It simultaneously acts as a perfect tribute to a much-loved show (one I saw five times during its too-short run #1#2#3#4#5), it also advances the score, refining its musicality into a more intense yet accessible experience.

Right from the opening bars of the ‘Prologue: Once Upon A Time’, Katherine Rockhill’s piano playing sounds amazing and is rightfully forefronted here as the cornerstone of Amos’ wide-ranging compositions, the lushness of the strings sound pretty special too. And with Rosalie Craig’s astonishing performance as Althea – the light princess herself – liberated from the constraints of this most physically demanding of roles (both for her and for us too, goggling at the inventiveness with which her floating was essayed), her vocal interpretation deepens into something even more affecting, impossible as it may seem to anyone who saw her amazing work onstage.  Continue reading “CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)”

Review: Urinetown, St James Theatre

 

“You think you’ll come in here and go for free?”

The sight of a grim-faced guard demanding 20p or so at the doors to public toilets may be nothing new to visitors to train stations and museums but what if they were the only conveniences at all that you could use. That is the scenario in Urinetown, a Broadway cult hit which has splashed its way over to the St James Theatre, which envisages a dystopian future where the water table is so low that private toilets have been banned and public toilets have been privatised, meaning the only way to go is to pay for the privilege.

When Assistant Toilet Custodian Bobby Strong from the least salubrious toilet in town decides to make a stand against this corporate greed led by Caldwell B Cladwell’s Urine Good Company (ba-dum-tish), he leads a rebellion which kidnaps Caldwell’s daughter and demands the right to “pee for free”, unprepared for the violent crackdown that follows. Elements of Malthusian philosophy about the sustainability of the human race are seeded throughout and much of the story is as dark as the sewers in which much of it takes place. Continue reading “Review: Urinetown, St James Theatre”

Final review: The Light Princess, NT

 “See these tears flow, this H2O”

There’s not really much more to say than to bid a fond farewell to this most beloved of shows. Despite the fierce love it engendered in its devoted fans, I personally don’t think a transfer would have necessarily worked so well. There’s something wonderfully neat about its life at the Lyttelton, the length and nature of its run in rep meaning that Rosalie Craig was able to make every single performance – an impressive feat even before one touches on the extraordinary demands of the lead role. And getting to see the final show, with a large group of people who had been equally (if not more) touched by the work – and that includes the extraordinary cast and company, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much visible emotion at the end of a run – was a genuine privilege. 

Since the show shone so brightly, yet so briefly, it has left the kind of indelible impression that will be impossible to shift. I saw it five times in total – you can read about visits one, two, three and four – and each time, it surprised me, its densely complex nature revealing something new each time with different musical motifs becoming prominent, the various themes shifting in emphasis, the texture of the show almost malleable in its changeability. So now we have to wait for the soundtrack and dream of once upon a once a, once upon a time.

“What you have done, has brightened the world” 

 

Photos: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Re-review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

A review of the fourth time I went to see The Light Princess at the National? 

What I will say though, is that it was my first time seeing it from the circle and it really did give a different perspective to some of the more expansive scenes in the Wilderness, the illusion of flowing water much more effective. And Althea’s floating also felt different from afar, the magnificent facial hair less of a distraction from further away… Just one more trip booked now before it ends 🙁

Re-review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

“Ringing out, ringing out…”

Visit number three to this most lovely of shows for me, though I’m lagging way behind the super-fans who are surely up to double figures by now. Original review is here, taster preview post from my first viewing here, and given their exhaustiveness, there’s really little else to add. The Light Princess really is the loveliest of shows and its uniqueness and complexity, the very things that turned others of, is precisely what keeps me coming back (I’ve currently got two revisits booked in before it ends…). 

The lushness of the score, tangled as the forest that divides Sealand and Lagobel on first hearing, but richly rewarding repeated listens; the gobsmacking consistency of Rosalie Craig’s immensely physical performance replete with flawless vocal, the gorgeous romanticism of the whole production – you really should book if you haven’t done so already.

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

“You are, you are…Althea, you are…changing the world for me”

Long awaited and long gestated, Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson’s musical take on The Light Princess arrives at the National in a blaze of theatrical glory that makes it one of the shows of the year. Based on a Scottish fairytale, the teenage heirs of warring kingdoms are both mourning the loss of their mothers but their grief has affected them in different ways. Digby’s soul has become weighed down so heavily he has forgotten how to smile, whilst Althea’s protective mechanism has been to become to airily light that she literally floats above it all. As they rebel against their strict fathers, they each escape to neutral ground only to encounter each other and instant attraction. But emotional articulacy doesn’t come easily and political concerns threaten to tear apart their passion before it even really begins. 

Marianne Elliott’s direction pulls together the various elements of her huge creative team with exceptional skill, never losing sight of the sheer magic that the best theatre can bring and marrying a very modern aesthetic with the sometimes traditional feel – Althea’s movement (I don’t fly, I float!) is achieved through some amazing acrobatic work from a team of four with just a little help from some high tech flying rig. And in Rae Smith’s gorgeous designs, it all just looks superb; every movement catching an acute moment of emotion, whether the deft manipulation of a falcon into flight (Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié finally making puppetry make sense to me) or a girl literally raising the spirits of a boy (Steven Hoggett’s inimitable physical language once again heart-stoppingly good). Continue reading “Review: The Light Princess, National Theatre”