Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre

A much welcome revival for Sasha Regan’s all-male Iolanthe, bringing Gilbert and Sullivan to Richmond Theatre as part of a UK tour

“What’s the use of being half a fairy?”

Delving into deep into your wardrobe can get you into all sorts of bother. With CS Lewis, you could end up in the wintry woods of Narnia and with Sasha Regan, you might find yourself in the dress-up fantasy world of light operetta. Of all of her all-male Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Iolanthe is the one which I remember most fondly (its transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall perfectly done) so the news that it was the choice for this year’s revival for a UK tour left me tripping hither and thither in excitement. 

And though I was a little apprehensive to revisit so beloved a production, this Iolanthe has stood up well. Mark Smith’s choreography with its suggestions of sign language for fairy speak, Stewart Charlesworth’s design making full use of the jumble box aesthetic, and Regan’s astute direction milking a show that’s more than a century old for all of its considerable comic potential and finding room for her own innovations as well. With MD Richard Baker controlling the music from his solo piano, this remains an arresting take on your G&S. Continue reading “Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Chicago, Phoenix

Chicago returns to the West End at the Phoenix Theatre but is this the ideal 21st birthday present?

“He had it coming”

There’s a lot to like in this revival of Chicago (Josefina Gabrielle, Sarah Soetaert) but not quite enough to get the heart pounding (an ill-at-ease Cuba Gooding Jnr). Take a read of my 3 star review for Official Theatre here.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Tristram Kenton
Chicago is currently booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 23rd June

Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male Mikado, Richmond

(c) Scott Rylander

“They are not young ladies…”

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Sasha Regan alighted on a winning formula with her stripped-back all-male takes on Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas and has toured the likes of The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore the length and breadth of the country and even to Australia. So it is little surprise to see her turn to The Mikado (or The Town of Titipu) to see if lightning can strike again with joyous shout and ringing cheer.

The production is set in the grounds of a 1950s-ish school camping trip, a canny move which neatly sidesteps some of the Orientalism issues and refocuses G+S’s satire on the English political establishment. And with the score for solo piano confidently played by musical director Richard Baker, the harmonious meld of the 16-strong company sounds like a dream, and don’t look half bad either delivering Holly Hughes’ effervescent choreography. Continue reading “Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male Mikado, Richmond”

Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Richmond Theatre

“We can’t make piracy pay”

Gilbert and Sullivan’s titular buccaneers may struggle with a lack of a ruthless edge but Sasha Regan’s sharp eye means that piracy definitely pays as her all-male interpretation of The Pirates of Penzance enters a fifth year of swashbuckling success. From its initial run at the Union Theatre in 2009 and subsequent transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall, it has toured Australia, played the Hackney Empire and now returns for a UK tour which runs through to the end of June.

And getting to gaily tread the measure one more time was indeed an especial pleasure once again. In the august surroundings of Richmond’s Victorian theatre, the set design may look a little spare but once the stage is filled with heaving bodies – whether preening with piratical glee, gambolling in corsets or patrolling a policeman’s lot, or indeed all three at the same time, the musical spectacle of these eighteen lads, plus pianist, is quite something to behold. Continue reading “Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Richmond Theatre”

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.

Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”

Re-review: Iolanthe, Wilton’s Music Hall

“I am not insensible to manly beauty”

Sasha Regan’s Iolanthe, as it has been billed, is the latest of the now regular all-male Gilbert & Sullivan productions that the Union Theatre has put on and following the cat-like-tread of Pirates of Penzance last year, this also makes the transfer to the glorious Wilton’s Music Hall, tucked away in East London. It ranked as my 20th best show last year, the 9th best musical and one of its performers, Matthew James Willis made it to second place in the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical category of the fosterIANs so it was no surprise that a return engagement would be made to the show.

My review of the original production can be read here and I won’t recap it as much of what I said then remains as applicable now in how wonderful this show is in capturing a gorgeously innocent feel, free of sneering or post-modern archness which is no mean feat given the number of men dressed up as fairies singing falsetto. There’s a deep sincerity to these interpretations that is maintained here so that whilst there may be other productions that are better sung technically, I doubt there are any which have the same reverential irreverence, in perfectly capturing what G&S is about whilst going about it in a radically different way. This post will concentrate mainly on the differences between the two productions, a compare and contrast exercise if you will, although I won’t be focusing on how few shuttlecocks there were here by comparison. Continue reading “Re-review: Iolanthe, Wilton’s Music Hall”

fosterIAN awards 2010

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMichelle Terry, TribesNancy Carroll, After the DanceZoë Wanamaker, All My Sons
Helen McCrory, The Late Middle Classes
Miranda Raison, Anne Boleyn
Sophie Thompson, Clybourne Park
Best Actor in a PlayJohn Heffernan, Love Love LoveBenedict Cumberbatch, After the DanceJacob Casselden, Tribes
David Suchet, All My Sons
Roger Allam, Henry IV Part I + II
Andrew Scott, Design for Living
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayRachael Stirling, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Rose, Kingston)Jemima Rooper, All My SonsJessica Raine, Earthquakes in London
Sylvestra Le Touzel, Les Parents Terribles
Clare Higgins, Hamlet (NT)
Madeleine Potter, Broken Glass
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRobin Soans, Palace of the EndNigel Lindsay, Broken GlassAdrian Scarborough, After the Dance
Eddie Redmayne, Red
Stephen Campbell Moore, All My Sons
William Gaunt, Henry IV Part I + II
Best Actress in a MusicalTracie Bennett, End of the RainbowEmma Williams, Love StoryCora Bissett, Midsummer
Sheridan Smith, Legally Blonde
Katie Moore, Salad Days
Kirsty Hoiles, Spend! Spend! Spend!
Best Actor in a MusicalSam Harrison, Salad DaysJon-Paul Hevey, Once Upon a Time at the AdelphiJohn Owen-Jones, Les Misérables
Alan Richardson, Iolanthe
Matthew Pidgeon, Midsummer
Dean Charles Chapman, Billy Elliot
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalHannah Waddingham, Into the WoodsJodie Jacobs, State FairKaren Mann, Spend! Spend! Spend!
Siobhan McCarthy, The Drowsy Chaperone
Jill Halfpenny, Legally Blonde
Twinnie Lee Moore, Flashdance
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalMichael Xavier, Into the WoodsMatthew James Willis, IolantheTom Parsons, Avenue Q
Michael Howe, The Drowsy Chaperone
Liam Tamne, Departure Lounge
Earl Carpenter, Les Misérables

2010 Best Actor in a Play & in a Musical


Best Actor in a Play

John Heffernan, Love Love Love
One of those risky occasions when I allowed expectations to rocket sky-high was with Love Love Love, a new play by Mike Bartlett, fast becoming one of my favourite new playwrights, and featuring the delectable John Heffernan, fast becoming one of my favourite actors, to which I ventured to Manchester’s Royal Exchange in order to see it. And fortunately it paid off in dividends with (to my mind at least) a stronger play than Earthquakes in London and anchored by a stunning central performance from Heffernan, anchoring the play in a solid reality that allowed Daniela Denby-Ashe to play off him with huge amounts of fun as his raucous partner but also provided a strong platform for Bartlett to present the counter-case defending the baby boomers. Heffernan managed the leaps in age extremely proficiently, delivered the sharp dialogue well yet still brought a beautiful subtlety to the role: combined with his own turn in the superb After the Dance, mark my words, he really is a name for the future. He will be playing Richard II at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol early next year, I shall of course be there!

Honourable Mention: Benedict Cumberbatch, After the Dance
Before coming to the attention of the nation in a huge way with Stephen Moffat’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch has been steadily building a strong reputation for himself which was further continued with this excellent performance in Rattigan’s After the Dance. As the emotionally repressed David, he continued his hedonistic lifestyle, blissfully unaware of the damage he was causing to others around him and seemingly incapable of change: a sterling performance in a cracking production. He is of course taking to the stage at the National again in February in Frankenstein, cross-cast with Jonny Lee Miller as the doctor and the monster.

Jacob Casselden, Tribes
David Suchet, All My Sons
Roger Allam, Henry IV Part I + II
Andrew Scott, Design for Living

7-10
Antony Sher, Broken Glass; Tom Goodman-Hill, Earthquakes in London; Matt Zeremes, Holding the Man; Richard Clothier, Richard III

 

Best Actor in a Musical

Sam Harrison, Salad Days
For a while John Owen-Jones was in the running for this award for finally making me like the character of Jean Valjean who, despite me loving Les Mis like nothing else, has always been rather annoying to me! But when Salad Days swept me away on a gloomy Sunday afternoon to an altogether happier place and I realised just where I recognised the leading man from, the award moved into Sam Harrison’s hands. For it was he, amongst others, who helped me to fall right back in love with Avenue Q after I had had a bit of overkill, but in an understudy-heavy performance, he reminded why I loved that show so much. And going to see Salad Days with no idea what to expect, he brought his huge likeability to bear in a beautifully old-school take on his character, harking back to musical stars of old with nifty moves, strong pipes and a straight earnestness that was just so refreshing to see. Salad Days continues at the Riverside Studios through February.

Honourable Mention: Jon-Paul Hevey, Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi
Another unexpected pleasure came in Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi which became one of those shows that I texted everyone about as soon as I left the theatre, such was my enjoyment of it. Helped immeasurably by the classically handsome Jon-Paul Hevey (I swear he is a shoo-in for Sex and the City the musical!) as cheeky chappie Thompson and demonstrating the charm and vitality that sustained Alice’s love for such a long time and for good reason.

John Owen-Jones, Les Misérables
Alan Richardson, Iolanthe
Matthew Pidgeon, Midsummer [a play with songs]
Dean Charles Chapman, Billy Elliot The Musical

7-10
Michael Xavier, Love Story; Roger Rowley, The Buddy Holly Story; Lee Greenaway, Just So; Chris Fountain, Departure Lounge

Review: Iolanthe, Union Theatre


“He’s a fairy down to the waist, but his legs are mortal”

Sasha Regan’s All-Male Iolanthe marks the third Gilbert and Sullivan show to receive the Union Theatre treatment in what is fast becoming an annual tradition of great quality. Last year’s Pirates of Penzance was hugely well-received transferring to both Wilton’s Music Hall and the Rose in Kingston so expectation was high for this lesser-known (by me at least!) show. What is it about? Well, the Lord Chancellor of England is in love with Phyllis, his shepherdess ward who loves Strephon, the half-fairy shepherd whose mother, Iolanthe, was condemned by the Fairy Queen to live at the bottom of a river for marrying a mortal, who is none other than the Lord Chancellor. Thus the House of Lords and the legal profession come in for a bit of a battering as the fairies wreak their mischievous havoc in order to ensure everyone gets their happy ending.

With such a convoluted plotline and a considerable number of characters in the ensemble, I can’t imagine there’s much room for manoeuvre in putting an effective, individual interpretation on the show but Sasha Regan really has done a fabulous job here in choosing a framework which neatly sidesteps a whole world of difficulties but provides its own emotional reference points, complemented beautifully by Stewart Charlesworth’s design . When the fairies first arrived, there was a collective intake of breath as we worked out whether it was OK to laugh or not but after just a couple of beats, as it suddenly becomes evident what the framing device is (look at what the costumes are made from…), everyone relaxed into the genial mood. Yes, the constant references to fairies and mentions of a midnight assignation in St James’ Park caused many a titter from the audience but the tone is always an affectionate one, it is silly but not too silly, it is camp but not too camp, above all it is rip-roaring great fun. Continue reading “Review: Iolanthe, Union Theatre”