July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

Review: Sweet Charity, Donmar Warehouse

Nowhere near enough charm in this Sweet Charity for my liking. Josie Rourke’s farewell to the Donmar Warehouse is grey rather than silver

“I’m always looking for an emotional experience”

When the light lands just right on Robert Jones’ set for Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse, it sparkles like silver; the rest of the time, it is rather grey. Sadly, that’s pretty much rather true as a whole for Josie Rourke’s production here, her farewell as Artistic Director here.

Those bright spots are dazzling. Debbie Kurup and Lizzie Connolly are superb as Charity’s pals and co-workers Helene and Nickie, dreaming their dreams with real circumspection. Martin Marquez’s velvety smoothness is charm personified as movie star Vittorio Vidal. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Sweet Charity, Nottingham Playhouse

A sparkling lead turn from Rebecca Trehearn, and brilliant choreography from Alistair David, enliven this Sweet Charity at Nottingham Playhouse

“Your game makes very good sense”

So pleased to have managed to squeak into Nottingham Playhouse’s Sweet Charity before it finished, this is what everyone uses their annual leave for, right…?! The second major production of the show in recent months following the Watermill’s strong actor-muso interpretation this summer, it is one which makes a bold move in introducing Alistair David’s choreography to give this 1966 musical a fresh lick of paint.

It’s the only real sense of updating that Bill Buckhurst’s production provides but it is an impactful one, David reimagining almost wholesale and invigorating the almost-too-familiar sounds of Cy Coleman’s classic score. In takis’ podium-based design, it looks a dream and more than justifies new AD Adam Lenson’s decision to reintroduce musicals to the programme here after an absence of more than a decade. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Nottingham Playhouse”

Review: Into The Woods, Royal Exchange

“Let the moment go, don’t forget it for a moment though”

As with Shakespeare, plenty of people have strong ideas about how Sondheim ‘should’ be done, so I’m always interested to see a director striking out a little to establish their own vision. Inspiration often comes from the local surroundings – memorably so with Into the Woods at the Open Air Theatre a few years back and intriguingly so with Matthew Xia’s production of the same show for the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Taking Sondheim and James Lapine’s conflation of well-known fairytales and their unseen epilogues and relocating it to a contemporary here and now, this enchanted forest may have lost a little of the overtly magical but gains plenty in an evocation of Mancunian community spirit.

It may not have been the most precisely sung version of the show I’ve ever seen but the depth of performance here with all its colour and heart more than made up for it, rooting these characters perfectly in Xia’s landscape. ‘Agony’ has indeed been camper but Marc Elliott and Michael Peavoy’s modern-day Princes make you listen to the intricacy of the lyrical references like never before, Gillian Bevan’s Witch – a woman truly released from her curse – grows in impressive vocal stature throughout the show, and Natasha Cottriall (who in the interests of full disclosure, is my mother’s cousin’s wife’s sister’s daughter) brings real pathos as well as petulance to her Little Red Riding-hood. Continue reading “Review: Into The Woods, Royal Exchange”

Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall

“Flawless charmers
Every one”

An early birthday from my Aunty Jean saw me get to revisit those wonderfully swiveling seats at the Royal Albert Hall for the matinée of Follies in Concert, a semi-staged version of the Sondheim show directed by Craig Revel-Horwood for just two performances with an all-star cast, featuring none other than Diane Lockhart herself, Christine Baranski. Having never seen the show before, I have nothing to compare it too but after hearing the score played by the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by the inimitable Gareth Valentine, I suspect I may never need to hear another version! 

The set-up of a reunion concert for an old theatrical troupe as per James Goldman’s book works wonders for the show and especially this production. There seemed to be real joy and appreciation amongst the company as they watched their colleagues each take their turn to reprise their former glories – Anita Harris and Roy Hudd’s light-hearted skip through ‘Rain on the Roof’, Stefanie Powers’ glamorous swish through ‘Ah, Paris!’, Lorna Luft’s quirky take on ’Broadway Baby’, Betty Buckley raising the roof with a soaring ‘I’m Still Here’ – whether the onlookers were acting or not, seeing them give each turn hugs, kisses and standing ovations felt real. Continue reading “Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall”

Re-review: Merrily We Roll Along, Harold Pinter

“Me with music and you the words“

Menier Chocolate Factory Christmas musicals have a habit of making the leap into the West End and given the rapturous reception that Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along received last year, it was no surprise to hear that it would make the well-deserved transfer into the Harold Pinter Theatre for a 12 week engagement. My original review of the show can be read here and perhaps not unexpectedly, very little has changed of my feelings about this rather magnificent production. But more surprising was how little I felt it had changed in the considerably larger space of this new theatre. 

It’s a good six months since I saw it so perhaps my memory isn’t too reliable but it really does feel very similar indeed, Soutra Gilmour’s design slots into the theatre in a similar fashion and the staging – although expanded to fill the space – moves around it in the same way. Not that this is a bad thing, but rather that I’m not exactly sure about how it might play from further back or up in the theatre than you’d ever be in the Menier. Where the lack of discernible difference is a definite boon though is in the performance level. Continue reading “Re-review: Merrily We Roll Along, Harold Pinter”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

Review: Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory

“We go way back, never forward”

Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along famously flopped on Broadway when it opened in 1981 but now refined and reappraised, it is considered amongst his finest work and this Menier Chocolate Factory production serves to bolster that reputation. Directed by Maria Friedman, no stranger to Sondheim’s work as an actor but making her professional directorial debut here, the story traces the fortunes of Franklin, Mary and Charley, three writer friends buzzing with creative energy and determined to make their mark on the world. Real life intervenes though and the mistakes, sacrifices and compromises made in their lives as success changes them in unexpected ways are highlighted and heightened by a reverse timeline which sees Sondheim and book writer George Furth move scene by scene from 1976 to 1957.  

It is Franklin who lies at the heart of the story. An unsympathetic figure who we meet as the height of his unlikeability in the midst of a soulless Hollywood party, it is to Mark Umbers’ immense credit that he makes this man such an intriguing person, transcending the limitations of the book which provides little clue as to his motivations. Umbers’ Franklin sparkles with a seductively easy charm that makes him understandably hard to resist and suggests that it not with malice that he rides roughshod over others, but rather that his head is simply too easily turned by the next new bright thing. Jenna Russell’s Mary’s slow self-destruction as unrequited love eats her from the inside is just devastating to watch, all the more so for being played in reverse and realising just how long she has held a flame for her friend, and Damian Humbley’s well-judged Charley has a geeky reticence that explodes in fine style with a delicious rip through ‘Franklin Shepard, Inc’. Continue reading “Review: Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: Into the Woods, Open Air Theatre

“This was just a moment in the woods…”

The final show in this year’s season at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is yet another entry into Stephen Sondheim’s anniversary calendar with a production of Into The Woods. And what a well-suited choice as the multi-level set sits in the real trees and bushes around the auditorium, swaying in the wind, leaves beginning to fall and providing the perfect backdrop for the show.

Told by a narrator, here a young boy (Ethan Beer last night), the story mixes together characters from many familiar fairytales all living their stories as we know them, in their various searches for happiness, wealth, fulfilment, all their hearts’ desires and reaches the conclusions we have come to know as the characters secure their happy endings. However, this only takes us to the interval and the second half takes a decidedly darker turn as Sondheim and Lepine investigate what happens after ‘happy ever after’ and the dangers in having your wishes granted. Continue reading “Review: Into the Woods, Open Air Theatre”