Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: The Lie, Menier Chocolate Factory

“People don’t really want to be told the truth”

Just as The Father comes along with The Mother, The Truth is followed by The Lie. British theatre’s amour fou for Florian Zeller continues apace with another of his comedies making it over to London but are we approaching diminishing returns as we delve deeper into his back catalogue? Director Lindsay Posner and translator Christopher Hampton clearly don’t think so as they return to the Menier Chocolate with The Lie but I’m not so convinced.

The production got off to a rocky start when James Dreyfus had to withdraw due to illness, though choosing Alexander Hanson as his replacement provides a little extratextual spice as he stars opposite his wife Samantha Bond as married couple Paul and Alice. As we meet them, they’re havering over a dinner party they’re hosting that is meant to start imminently – Alice wants to cancel it as she just saw Michel kissing a woman who wasn’t his wife Laurence but their early arrival takes the decision out of their hands. Continue reading “Review: The Lie, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Album Review: Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)

“Come see the show,
She will neither know nor care”

It is always fascinating to listen to the cast recordings of shows that are regarded to have flopped, to see whether the writing was always on the wall or if some reason was responsible for the magic not happening. Lasting just four months at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2008, Marguerite is one such musical, despite (or maybe because of) the weight of expectation behind its writing team.

With a book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent (from the the Alexandre Dumas, fils’ novel La Dame aux Camélias) lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, and music by Michel Legrand, the demands on these Gallic grandees were nothing short of recreating the exceptional success of Les Misérables (on which Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer collaborated) but it wasn’t to be. Continue reading “Album Review: Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)”

Album Review: The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)

“Today you have to learn to be a realist”

I wanted to love the London Palladium Cast Recording of The Sound of Music, I really did, but there’s just something missing, a magic ingredient or two gone awry which means that you can’t imagine it ever replacing the version of the score that you fell in love with, no matter which one that is.

This 2006 production was the first to use reality TV to cast its leading role – the BBC’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? proving to be a headline grabbing success and resulting in Connie Fisher winning the part of Maria, which she played for around 18 months in the end. She did experience the beginnings of vocal problems during the run, which have now pretty much put the kibosh on her musical theatre career, and it is hard not to feel that this recording does not capture Fisher at her best. Continue reading “Album Review: The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)”

Review: Committee… (A New Musical), Donmar Warehouse

“The objective of this session is not to conduct a show trial. We want to learn some lessons.”

There’s a rather lazy trope around ‘unlikely subjects’ for a musical which accompany any show that deviates from the apparent norm. Yet given that the Best New Musical Olivier award winners over the past few decades have covered Argentinian politics, Scouse twins, confused animals, missionaries in Africa and post-Impressionist painters, I’m not entirely sure what counts for normal here!

The latest show to use musical theatre to tackle an ‘unexpected’ topic is Committee… (A New Musical), written by Hadley Fraser and Josie Rourke with music by Tom Deering. To take its full name, The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall’s Relationship with Kids Company, it uses Parliamentary transcripts to interrogate the public inquiry into the 2015 collapse of the children’s charity along with the millions of taxpayer money it had been given. Continue reading “Review: Committee… (A New Musical), Donmar Warehouse”

Review: 42nd Street, Théâtre du Châtelet

“Musical comedy — the most glorious words in the English language!”

It may be in the English language but this production of 42nd Street is in a French theatre, the glorious Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris which, under Jean-Luc Choplin’s artistic directorship, has arguably entirely reshaped the Parisian relationship with musical theatre. He’s brought Sondheim there for the first time in a big way (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) and has staged a number of classic Broadway musicals like An American in Paris (soon to open in London after its New York transfer) and last year’s Singin’ in the Rain.
42nd Street actually marks Choplin’s final show here, as the theatre will soon shutter for a couple of years to undergo major renovations, and Stephen Mear’s production certainly has the visual flair of a fitting finale. With a company of over 40, the tap-dancing routines are a absolute vision, a joyously heart-swelling parade of well-drilled precision, the likes of which we see so rarely these days even in the biggest shows. Combined with dazzling visual effects and gorgeous costumes courtesy of Peter McKintosh, the lavish aesthetic is an absolute treat.
But there’s no hiding from the fact that Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book, from Bradford Ropes’ novel, is paper thin, lacking real humour or grit in its script or any real sophistication in its plotting. Set during the Depression, director Julian Marsh is launching his new show Pretty Lady and when his leading lady breaks her ankle just before opening night, will inexperienced chorus girl Peggy be able to step in and save the day? It’s all rather hackneyed and lacking in any kind of suspense, more of a problem than one might expect with a classic.
Played entirely straight as it is here, 42nd Street just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. An ironic edge might bring some humour, more earnestness might bring it real heart (although that’s questionable) and so it never catches fire as often as one feels it might. Monique Young’s Peggy sings and dances well without blossoming into the star she needs to be, Ria Jones and Alexander Hanson both play it a little too safe with their stagey characters, only Dan Burton of the leads really lives up to the star billing and Jennie Dale’s writer is a rare supporting character who stands out.
Musical director Gareth Valentine ensures his orchestra sound never less than superlative and even if you’re not buying the story, then the visual impact of Mears and McKintosh’s work is always on hand to bring the wow factor. With London getting its own production of the show next year though, directed by Bramble no less, I’d struggle to recommend making a trip especially to see this particular version, even with choreography delivered as well as this.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Marie-Noelle Robert 
Booking until 8th January

Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)

“Part of me is saying I should go”

Like many others, I imagine, I did not leave Stephen Ward thinking I particularly want to hear this score by Andrew Lloyd Webber again anytime soon and so three years later, this is the first time I’ve revisited this musical. And as the strange melody of opening number ‘Human Sacrifice’ started, I began to wonder if I’d been overly harsh, Alexander Hanson’s story-telling experience imbuing this prologue of sorts with real interest and setting me up for a potential reimagining of my opinion.

But then track number 2 ‘Super Duper Hula Hooper’ kicks in, that title makes me die a little inside every time I hear it, and you soon begin to realise why the show barely managed 4 months in the West End. Lloyd Webber may have been a teenager in the 60s but he’s looking back at them like a man in his sixties, the air of rose-tinted corrective lenses and musical tweeness proving fatal to conjuring any kind of authentic sense of the period. Continue reading “Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)”

Review: The Truth, Wyndham’s

“Don’t play those games with me”

In these post-referendum times, there’s something a little ironic in the whole-hearted manner withw which British theatre has embraced French playwright Florian Zeller. From The Father to The Mother and now to The Truth, from the Theatre Royal Bath to the heart of the West End, Zeller is clearly having un moment. A moment that has been extended by the Menier Chocolate Factory transferring their production of The Truth into the Wyndham’s Theatre for the summer.

Less inventive and affecting as his other two plays that we’ve seen, The Truth is more of an outright comedy, almost farcical at times, as the affair between Michel and his best friend’s wife Alice threatens to spiral out of control as his own wife seems to be getting closer to discovering what is going on, and who knows what Alice’s husband knows. But as ever with Zeller, it’s very difficult to ascertain exactly what we – or his characters – can believe, the truth is as slippery and unknowable as ever. Continue reading “Review: The Truth, Wyndham’s”

DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)

“For your love I pray you, wrong me not”

Any filmed adaptation of The Merchant of Venice is up against it for me as I adore the Al Pacino version from 2004 which makes so much sense of so many of the difficulties of the play. This Trevor Nunn production was a big success for the National Theatre, transferring from the then-Cottesloe to the Olivier, winning all sorts of awards and then filmed for the US’s Masterpiece Theatre.

And as is often the case with these stage-to-screen adaptations, it’s a little flat and disappointing, little concession made to the change in medium and so the abiding feeling is that one is left wishing one could have seen it onstage. Which is a shame, as Henry Goodman makes an excellent Shylock, viciously vengeful but clearly victimised too in this adroit resituating of the play to the 1930s. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)”