Family theatre in August

A rare summer in the city for me means I can take in some of the family shows on in the West End right now – Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical, The Scarecrow’s Wedding, Where is Peter Rabbit? and Monstersaurus 

“Microscopic Bobby was my wife”

Photo © TheOtherRichard

The world of Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical (suitable for 7yrs+) as imagined by director Amy Hodge and designer Georgia Lowe is a fantastically bizarre one, full of warm and witty touches that shoud delight children and adults alike. Tiny gingerbread professors, menacing sunflowers, dancing doughnuts, a rainforest of umbrellas, it is an impressive and inventive take on imaginative world-building that perfectly suits Andy Stanton’s storytelling.

All things told, it is a fairly slight tale – bears, beers, butchers, you know the usual, but there’s just such a sense of fun about the whole proceedings. The cast revel in non-sequiturs aplenty (Helena Lymbery, Steve Furst and Gary Wilmot particularly impress), Jim Fortune’s eclectic score builds in post-modern layers that further pique the interest, and the show even manages to sneak in some pretty powerful messaging among all the madness. Recommended. Continue reading “Family theatre in August”

Album Review: Janie Dee at the BBC

“Je veux changer d’atmosphère”

30 years or so into a career that has seen her win two Olivier awards (so far – I’d watch out for her to be at least nominated for Follies, if not more), it seems remarkable that Janie Dee at the BBC is actually Dee’s debut album. But though there may not be recorded evidence, she is a highly accomplished and experienced cabaret performer among her many skills, and it is from these shows that the material has been drawn for this record.

Recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios with Auburn Jam Records, the track-listing thus embraces a broad array of songs and styles, all connected by the smooth consummate skill of one of our more under-rated Dames-in-the-making. From Kander and Ebb to Bacharach and David, Stevie Wonder to Spike Milligan, Dee takes us on a journey of hugely sophisticated charm that proves mightily hard to resist, marshalled by MD Steve Clark.

Continue reading “Album Review: Janie Dee at the BBC”

Review: The Norman Conquests, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’ve learned though bitter experience that the last thing to do with Norman is take him seriously. That’s exactly what he wants.”

What to do with theatre vouchers? Trying to find the kind of theatrical experience that I might not normally have splashed out on isn’t always the easiest, so Chichester Festival Theatre’s announcement that their staging of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests would be in the round, and that onstage ‘terrace’ seating would be available, a plan fell into place. And so for two of the three plays, I was up onstage (in different seats) and for the third, down in the stalls.

Seeing the plays from different perspectives felt appropriate as that is the nature of Ayckbourn’s trilogy written in 1973. Three times we visit the same group of six characters over the same weekend but based in a different part of the house. So (in the order I saw them on this trilogy day, a couple of days before press night I should add), Table Manners is set in the dining room, Living Together in the living room, and Round and Round the Garden is in the attic*. Continue reading “Review: The Norman Conquests, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Brexited Review: How The Other Half Loves, Duke of York’s

How The Other Half Loves indeed…

A rather unexpected transfer for this Alan Ayckbourn play (losing Tamzin Outhwaite in the process) and apt for these post-Brexit times – Ayckbourn’s enduring popularity acts as a salutary reminder that there’s plenty of folk out there who don’t think like I do… 😉   Continue reading “Brexited Review: How The Other Half Loves, Duke of York’s”

Review: Things We Do For Love, Richmond Theatre

“Generally…I just look at them, generally”

And so once again I find myself drawn to the theatre to see an Alan Ayckbourn play despite the fact I know it is most likely to be a big mistake. The assembly of a good cast is something I’ve always found hard to resist – in this case it was the glorious Claire Price and Ed Bennett, plus the slightly left of the middle choice of Natalie Imbruglia, making her stage debut here. Plus there was the general assertion that the near-twenty year old Things We Do For Love is ostensibly one of his better plays, though on this evidence I don’t quite know why and thus I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong impression, this play left me far from satisfied.

Starting today at Richmond Theatre after a tour that has taken in many a UK city, Laurence Boswell’s Theatre Royal Bath production is certainly handsomely mounted in Giles Cadle’s perfectly designed set which reflects the demands of one of Ayckbourn’s rare forays into specifically end-on work. Set in the Fulham home of frustrated career woman Barbara which has been partitioned into three flats, we see the entirety of her middle floor home but only a couple of feet into those of her tenants – creepy handyman Gilbert below and old school friend, and new affiancéed, Nikki. Continue reading “Review: Things We Do For Love, Richmond Theatre”

Review: A Small Family Business, National Theatre

“Everybody else works little fiddles, because that’s what the system is designed for”

Who knows what hold Alan Ayckbourn has over the theatrical establishment but by heavens, it is a strong one. As prolific a playwright as they come, the appetite for his plays is seemingly insatiable with what must be a constant stream of productions – I imagine one would be hard-pressed to find a week where there isn’t at least one of his plays being performed somewhere in the country. But his charms have never really worked on me, it is with a heavy heart that I hear there’s a new Ayckbourn somewhere with a cast I can’t resist (although I did only see one of his plays last year) and this time round, it is all Nigel Lindsay’s fault.

A Small Family Business is a 1987 play that was hailed as a searching examination of how Thatcherite values eroded societal links through the experience of one man realising that the family furniture business he has inherited is rife with corruption. But in 2014 it feels a little neutered, what once might have appeared daring has been nullified by a quarter century of rapacious capitalism and so what is left is the well-trodden farcical shenanigans that Ayckbourn loves so much, accompanied by an attempt at a darker side that sits very awkwardly indeed with the dated comedy. Continue reading “Review: A Small Family Business, National Theatre”

Review: Relatively Speaking, Wyndhams

“I can’t say I’m very taken with this marmalade”

It does seem that Alan Ayckbourn has been officially anointed national treasure status by the critical establishment but his charms have largely eluded me, appealing more to a middle-aged greying sensibility that trips merrily down the middle of the road. But the ease with which I was able to get one of the cheaper tickets for the balcony of the Wyndhams theatre, one of the more intimate West End houses and so a great bargain tip, for the final day of the run of Relatively Speaking meant a cheeky matinée was in the offing.

The story is one of his archetypal mistaken identity farces – Ginny has decided that Greg is the man for her even though it has only been a month and so she nips off to the country to end her affair with an older man. But she tells Greg she is going to visit her parents and in a moment of passion, he decides to follow her in order to ask for her father’s hand. What follows is confusion at the enduring mix-ups, exacerbated by the English reticence to confront the obvious and thus avoid social embarrassment.  Continue reading “Review: Relatively Speaking, Wyndhams”