Katy Brand’s 3Women plays at the Trafalgar Studios 2 but doesn’t quite live up to expectation
“Raise a glass to female family bonding and buried resentment”
I do love me a bit of Anita Dobson so I was pleased to see her name appear in the cast for 3Women, a new play by Katy Brand playing at the Trafalgar Studios 2. An intergenerational take on women’s experience over the last 60 years or so, it promises a lot but doesn’t quite carry through.
Set in a hotel suite on the eve of a wedding, Debbie Chazen’s Suzanne has cracked open the booze and settled in for the night with her mother, Anita Dobson’s gin-soaked Eleanor and her daughter, Maisie Richardson-Sellers’ gender-fluid Laurie. They have a lot to talk about. Continue reading “Review: 3Women, Trafalgar Studios 2”
Best Supporting Actress in a Play Daisy Haggard, You For Me For You
There’s no way to describe Haggard’s performance that could do justice to just how accomplished it is. Ostensibly just gibberish, the precise nature of the gobbledygook becomes apparent as her speech slowly modulates into increasingly recognisable English. And all the while as she’s speaking what is essentially another language, she never forgets to extract every exquisite comic detail – just brilliant. Honourable mention: T’Nia Miller, Eclipsed
As with Wright for Best Actress, it’s a tad invidious to separate out the ensemble of what was my favourite play of the year but the extra dimension that she brought to the show, adding the thoughtful complexity of class division to the mix was an absolute highlight.
Best Supporting Actress in a Musical Emma Williams, Mrs Henderson Presents
An actress who deserves to be much better known than she currently is, her latest superlative turn in a British musical might just be the one to push her through to the wider public consciousness, as deservedly so. At one point, a single sustained note from her brought tears to my eyes in seconds. Honourable mention: Amy Lennox, Kinky Boots
This was probably the closest run of these choices as I loved Lennox’s haplessly quirky turn as Lauren is the very definition of a scene-stealer, none more so than in the glorious ‘The History of Wrong Guys’.
“Pardon me madam. I was always willing to be amused. The folly of most people is rather an object of mirth than uneasiness.”
Restoration comedies fit the Theatre Royal Bath with the snugness of centuries-old comfort but even with Lindsay Posner updatingShe Stoops To Conquer to the 1920s, it’s hard not to feel that there’s something inherently dusty about this austere venue. Audiences in London have been spoiled for choice with witty reinventions of the genre – Jessica Swale’s brilliant revisionist work on shows like The Rivals and The Busy Body have enlivened the Southwark Playhouse and the National has had raucous takes on The Beaux’ Stratagem (still running) and this very Oliver Goldsmith play effervescently directed by Jamie Lloyd.
But Posner ‘s direction has a near-fatal lugubriousness in the first half which, already weighed down with a considerable amount of scene-setting and expositionary dialogue, makes for very hard going. Sad to say, things are just dull for too long and nowhere near light-heartedly entertaining enough to do justice to this cracking comedy. The tropes of mismatched love affairs, disguised paramours, mistaken identities and wonderfully ambitious women are all present and correct – London gents Marlow and Hastings mistaking the Hardcastles’ country pile for a country inn and have to go a country mile around the houses to undo the damage they inflict and ensure love wins the day. Continue reading “Review: She Stoops To Conquer, Theatre Royal Bath”
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary.
The material has been considerably reshaped for the screen – Moira Buffini assisting as script consultant – resulting in a much more straight-forward narrative through-line than was seen on stage. This linear development is reflected in Danny Cohen’s cinematography which tracks the wintry gloom of the beginning into the verdant bloom of the climax with a real visual grace. Straightening out the storytelling reduces the theatricality of the presentation too, making this feel much more like a piece of documentary realism.
Where the stage show had a cast of eleven each playing a resident and multiple other roles, each character is played by someone different here, meaning the focus is teased out a little from the tight circle of the London Road residents and their outrage about their street turning into a red light district, to give a more fully realised sense of the wider community. They consequently get more of their own voice heard – the nervy teenagers suspecting everyone around them, the sex workers shaken up by the attacks on their own, the journalists tiptoeing around the sensitivity of the issue whilst always on the lookout for a scoop.
The experience of the residents does remain central to the film though, Blythe digging back into her archive of interviews to find ways of ensuring at least of them appears in every scene and Cork rejigging the score where necessary too. And this is where the writing is at its strongest, in always showing the complexity of the collective response. Though the story moves towards a happy(ish) ending with the London Road in Bloom street party as the culmination of their efforts, there’s no pretence that a solution to the inherent problems has been found, they’ve just been moved away from their doorstep.
This ambiguity comes across particularly well in characters like Olivia Colman’s Julie and Nick Holder’s Ron, barely apologetic in their unspeakable thoughts yet rooted in small-town authenticity. Paul Thornley’s inscrutable Dodge, Linzi Hateley’s pragmatic Helen and Clare Burt’s dithering Sue remain a delight, Anita Dobson is daffily wonderful as June, Michael Shaeffer and Rosalie Craig’s journalists both stand out and the original Julie, Kate Fleetwood, plays the new role of Vicky, a haunting figure representing the spirit and presence of the working girls, both alive and dead.
And delving a little deeper, clever little touches abound in the production. The two schoolgirls singing ‘It Could Be Him’ (see clip below) are the daughters of Burt (Eloise Laurence) and Hateley (Meg Hateley Suddaby); Blythe and Cork both get cameos as a newsreader and a pianist respectively; and the final street party mixes real residents of both the real London Road in Ipswich and the fictional one in Bexley in with an ensemble that folds in any number of faces that seasoned theatregoers might recognise.
Elements of choreography by Javier De Frutos are used sparingly but most effectively to sprinkle pathos or humour into sequences as required, David Shrubsole’s sharp musical direction keeps the singing (nearly all done live) on point, and Norris’ direction constantly takes on inventive new directions to expertly but sensitively reshape the material for this new medium. I can’t imagine what it would be like to come to this film without prior experience of the show (and I’d be fascinated to hear from you if that’s you) but as a fan, it is undoubtedly a beautiful extension to one of the most innovative musical theatre experiences of the last decade.
Full cast list
Julie – Olivia Colman
Sue – Clare Burt
Kelly McCormack – Rosalie Craig
June – Anita Dobson
Seb – James Doherty
Vicky – Kate Fleetwood
David Crabtree – Hal Fowler
Helen – Linzi Hateley
Tim – Paul Hilton
Ron – Nick Holder
Councillor Carole – Claire Moore
Simon Newton – Michael Shaeffer
Rosemary – Nicola Sloane
Dodge – Paul Thornley
Terry – Howard Ward
Gordon – Duncan Wisbey
Mark – Tom Hardy
Hayley – Rosie Hilal
Natalie – Amy Griffiths
Colette McBeth – Gillian Bevan
Jessica – Anna Hale
Schoolgirl 1 – Eloise Laurence
Schoolgirl 2 – Meg Hateley Suddaby
Kath – Angela Bain
Margaret – Jenny Galloway
Alan – Sean Kingsley
Imelda – Jayne McKenna
Jason – Richard Frame
BBC Newsreader – Alecky Blythe
Grahame Cooper – Mark Lockyer
Harry – Barry McCarthy
Shop Assistant – Abigail Rose
Evening Star Girl – Maggie Service
Radio Techy – Alexia Khadime
Radio DJ – Dean Nolan
Stephanie – Ruby Holder
Alec – Calvin Demba
Stella – Helena Lymbery
Wayne – Mark Sheals
Graeme – Morgan Walters
Ivy – Janet Henfrey
Steve Cameraman – Jonathan Glew
Chris Eakin – Jason Barnett
Policeman – Andrew Frame
Anglia Newsreader – Rae Baker
Abby Rose Bryant, Adam Dutton, Adam Vaughan, Alan Vicary, Alicia Woodhouse, Alistair Parker, Amanda Minihan, Ameer Choudrie, Andrew Spillett, Andy Couchman, Anita Booth, Annette Yeo, Audrey Ardington, Barnaby Griffin, Basienka Blakes, Bob Harms, Carl Patrick, Carly Blackburn, Carol Been, Cassandra Foster, Charlotte Broom, Chloe Bingham, Chris Akrill, Clare Humphrey, Clemmie Sveaas, Connor Dowling, Coral Messam, Corinna Powlesland, Cornelia Colman, Courtney Crawford, Cris Penfold, Cris Snelson, Cydney Uffindell-Phillips, Daisy Maywood, Daniella Bowen, David Birch, David Stroller, Debra Baker, Don Gallagher, Edward Baruwa, Elaine Kennedy, Eleanor Clark, Ella Vale, Ellis Rose Rother, Emily Bull, Emma Brunton, Eva Lamb, Faye Stoeser, Frank Stone, Gary Forbes, Graham Hoadly, Haruka Kuroda, Hayley Gallivan, Helen Colby, Hendrick January, Ian Conningham, Ilana Johnston, Ilse Johnston, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Jack Edwards, Jackie Marks, James Ballanger, Jess Ellen, John Brannoch, Johnathan Fee, Jon Ponting, Joshua Lacey, Judith Paris, Julie Armstrong, Karianne Andreassen, Kayleigh Clayton, Laura Cubitt, Leah Ellis, Leah Georges, Leanna Wiggington, Lee Nicholas Harris, Linda Lewcock, Louis Fonseca, Louise Lee, Lucinda Shaw, Luke Fetherston, Lynne Wilmot, Marc Antolin, Margarita Reeve, Melanie La Barrie, Michael Fox, Michelle Wen Lee, Miles Mlambo, Miroslav Zaruba, Morgan Crowley, Natalie Victoria Dungan, Nathan Amzi, Nathan Harmer, Nathan Rigg, Nicholas Marshall, Oliver Roll, Paul Blackwell, Paul Bullion, Paul Shea, Perry Moore, Pete Meads, Philip Howard, Rachel Ann Davies, Rajesh Kalhan, Rebecca Scarott, Rebecca Sutherland, Rebecca Thomas, Reuben Williams, Rob Smithson, Sarah Heyward, Sarah Stanley, Sidney Livingstone, Simon Fee, Simon Humphrey, Stephanie Natufe, Stephen Webb, Steve Carroll, Steve Elias, Stuart Angell, Susan Fay, Susan Lawson-Reynolds, Tim Coldron, Tom Lyle Severn, Tomos James, Tony Pankhurst, Tony Timberlake, William Rossiter, Yinka Williams, Zoe Uffindell
Additional Choral ADR Group
Bethan Nash, Callum McIntyre, Daisy Maywood, Edward MacArthur, George Ikediashi, Hannah Genesius, Patrick Tolan, Perry Moore, Steve Rostance, Toby Webster,
An early birthday from my Aunty Jean saw me get to revisit those wonderfully swiveling seats at the Royal Albert Hall for the matinée ofFollies 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”
As Jean-Baptiste took her bow at the end of The Amen Corner, I found myself in that wonderful state of involuntarily rising to my feet – it doesn’t happen very often at all but it is a mark of the kind of acting that strikes deep into my soul. As she blazed across the stage in all her unshakeable fervour and blinkered righteousness, this marked a much-welcomed return to the theatre for this most excellent of actresses and I sincerely hope we get to see her back on the boards sooner rather than later.
We always knew Terry would make an excellent Titania but the real surprise came with the huge impact she managed to make as Hippolyta, making the character register in every scene in which she appeared and anchoring the production with a clear sense of just how much the path of true love never runs smooth no matter one’s status.
One of those performances that has to be seen to be believed, Craig demonstrated core strength like no other performer on the London stage as the princess Althea, unwavering in a show of immense physicality supported by a team of human puppeteers to help her to float. Add to that a flawless vocal and a pitch-perfect portrayal of a young woman struggling to come to terms with her place in the world and you have the kind of memorable amazingness that will linger long in the mind.
If nothing else, Erivo deserves plaudits for a literally show-stopping performance, having to deal with the practicalities of the mid-song ovations that often greeted her. Whereas they may not have been welcome in these quarters, Erivo’s ascendance to leading lady status certainly was.
Little is it known that Paris actually has 21 districts. And that in the 21e arrondisement, humans and animals live side by side. And that in that corner of Paris, they put on a show every day – the Carnival of the Animals. But the animals are tired, they’ve lost their enthusiasm for the theatre, their star turn has gone missing and they can’t stop arguing. It is only when a chimpanzee, a zebra, a parrot and a lioness arrive breathlessly in the square, determined to join the carnival, that they decide to carry on, but the newcomers are hiding a secret. And watching over all of them is neighbourly dress-shop owner Mademoiselle Parfait, who despite her friendly demeanour perhaps isn’t quite all she seems either.
Inspired by Saint-Saëns’ musical opus of the same name, thisCarnival of the Animals maintains a similar family friendly ambience to create a really rather charming piece of musical theatre. Andrew Marshall’s book weaves a likeable story about finding one’s own self-worth and appreciating others’ differences in with the slightly darker sub-plot – nothing too sinister, think pantomime villainry – and the whole thing is peppered with a bunch of amiable songs from composer Gavin Greenaway and lyricist Roger Hyams. Continue reading “Review: Carnival of the Animals, Riverside Studios”
I think I only made it Stratford once last year, partly a consequence of so much of the RSC’s work playing in London as part of one festival or another, but once the casting was announced forThe Merry Wives of Windsor, I knew I would be making the trip to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre once again. This production of Shakespeare’s comedy of middle-class trials and tribulations is in modern dress but the reference point is closer to the British sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s and as with many of those television shows, it has its high points and its low points.
Alexandra Gilbreath and Sylvestra Le Touzel were thankfully the production’s highlight as Mistresses Ford and Page respectively. I’ve long been a devotee of Gilbreath and she remains an utter joy to watch on the stage. Superficially she’s something of an Essex wife here but we soon see the playful intelligence that lies behind the animal print and there’s much to enjoy as she deploys her flirtatious verve and feminine wiles – her final costume nearly converted me I tell you. And the contrast against Le Touzel is well worked: though a doughtier figure born of country life, they make believable firm friends and there’s a lovely constancy to the emotiveness with which she speaks, she touches the heart just as effectively as she tickles the ribs. Continue reading “Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”