Lockdown TV review: The Dresser (2015)

Sirs Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins do much to banish my bad memories of Ronald Harwood in a spectacular version of The Dresser

“One Lear more or less in the world won’t make any difference”

Despite its stellar casting and excellent notices, it has taken a while to bring myself to watch the TV version of The Dresser.  In advance of the 2016 production which toured before hitting the West End, playwright Ronald Harwood took precisely no prisoners and gave exactly no shits in giving a series of interviews (#1, #2) which, to put it lightly, did not endear him to me. And rightly or wrongly (only being human), I let that colour my appreciation of his art.

A little distance has softened me though and I have to say, I found much to appreciate in this televised version, not least the presence of Sirs Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins  and Ian McKellen in the two central roles of an ageing Shakespearean and his manservant. Its the middle of the Second World War and their production of King Lear is still touring the regions, even though its leading man is perilously close to losing his faculties. Continue reading “Lockdown TV review: The Dresser (2015)”

Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording

“He has magic fingers”

Before it came to an untimely end, the cast of Betty Blue Eyes were able to put down their vocals for an official live cast recording which provides something of a legacy for this Stiles + Drewe show. I went to see the show two times – reviews here and here – and loved it on each occasion as a fine exponent of a truly British new musical, but I have to admit I didn’t race to buy the soundtrack when it was first released. Part of it was due to the free taster CD that was released with the Evening Standard one Friday afternoon which meant I already had just under half the songs and though I enjoyed listening to it a couple of times, it was not one to which I returned.

Though I found it to be musically a very strong show, for some reason it doesn’t quite come across as well on the recording. Whether it was the lack of accompanying visuals to up the ante or the fact that I’d seen the show quite recently, the joy I got from watching the show didn’t quite translate into the listening experience I thought it would be. In its entirety, I found it to be so retro-infused and nostalgic as to almost be too much to listen to in one go, it doesn’t quite hit the same spot although there are moments of individual brilliance in some of the songs. Continue reading “Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording”

Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Pig! No pig!”

Not too much to say about revisiting Betty Blue Eyes as most everything I wanted to say was covered in my original review, and although I’m sad to say there was no Liza at this performance, I was joined by someone even better! I really enjoy watching shows I love with people experiencing them for the first time and seeing what they respond to and I was pleased to hear Aunty Jean chuckling away next to me for most of the show. But it was also interesting to see that there were sections I’d forgotten (one of the dangers of having an album sampler rather than the whole show I think) and how my emotional reactions differed: ‘Magic Fingers’ brought proper tears down my cheek and being somewhat prepared, I was able to look a bit more at the pig without being too freaked out 😉

Aside from the replacement of the lightsabers with paint brushes in ‘Painting By Heart’, I can’t say I noticed any significant changes since the preview I saw. I can’t even really say that I thought the cast looked more comfortable or polished onstage as they were in pretty good shape when I saw them. There’s still the slight feeling that a couple of the roles could be sung by stronger voices, but I would wager that it would rob the show of much of its quirky charm. Continue reading “Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”

Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Another little victory for little England”

With a book by Ron Cowen + Daniel Lipman, adapted from the story of the film A Private Function by Alan Bennett + Malcolm Mowbray and with a score by George Stiles + Anthony Drewe and marking a rare excursion back into producing from Cameron Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes is a new musical at the Novello Theatre with a lot of names credited on the poster! Set in Shepardsford, a Yorkshire town in 1947 at the height of post-war austerity (and previews, which this was, are being sold at austerity prices!), the plot follows Gilbert Chilvers a chiropodist and his frustrated wife Joyce, chafing under the restrictions of the time and who yearns to be accepted into the higher echelon of society where she believes they belong. They are not having much joy until they happen upon a secret plot by the town council to hold a feast for this elite in honour of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s impending marriage at which an illegally kept pig will be the star of the banquet. So, this being a comedy, they steal the pig.

But it is about something more too, over and above the farcical shenanigans with Betty the pig, especially in the more reflective first half. This is a society struggling to come to terms with the enduring impact of the Second World War, the melancholy ‘Magic Fingers’ in particular looking at the wives left behind, as rationing hits hard, threatening to dampen the spirit of those just trying to carry on living in hard times yet still nurturing their own dreams and ambitions. And this is where Stiles + Drewe’s score comes into its own, suffused with a beautiful warmth: it really is stuffed full of tunes, their comical songs are deliciously witty whilst advancing the story, there’s simple but affecting emotion in the balladry and more than once, I found myself just swaying along with a grin on my face (and not just because Liza Minnelli was just a couple of seats away from us). It all has that kind of nostalgic feel that makes for easy recognition and it is a score I wanted to hear again from the moment the show finished. Continue reading “Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”

Review: Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“We don’t dance. We defend ourselves to music”

Last night’s trip to Sweet Charity at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (with Aunty Jean, for my birthday treat!) actually marks the first time that I have seen a show that has transferred from a small venue into the West End in both of its incarnations. My original review can be read here about Charity Hope Valentine’s romantic misadventures and her continued search for her dream man in the face of constant setbacks and dastardly lotharios, and much of what I loved about it then holds true now as it is still as excellent a show.

Little has actually been changed about the production, everything is just a bit bigger really and the transitions a lot smoother, the only real difference was the fairground scene with Charity and Oscar and her vertigo where they make use of the more advanced facilities to sit on a suspended seat. Where the production does benefit from the transfer though is in the extra room for the choreography, Rich Man’s Frug and I’m A Brass Band in particular both luxuriate in the additional space offered by the Theatre Royal and Stephen Mears’ superb choreography has unfurled beautifully, maintaining the huge level of energy and vitality it pushes into the show. This is probably best exemplified in Hey, Big Spender, such a different number to the familiar Shirley Bassey version, the girls at the club sprawl over high stools, selling their wares half-heartedly with deliciously bored expressions, it is abundantly clear that this is no glamorous life and one can immediately see why Charity is so keen to escape. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Sweet Charity, Menier Chocolate Factory

“You know, for a broad, you’re real classy”

Continuing their run of reviving classic musicals for Christmas, the Menier Chocolate Factory have turned their attentions to Sweet Charity this year. Stuffed full of instantly recognisable songs like ‘Big Spender’ and ‘Rhythm of Life’ by Cy Coleman and Bob Fosse’s inimitable choreography, the story of Charity, a girl trying to escape her life as a dancehall hostess and find a decent man is one of the classic movie musicals and so my expectations were high. And I am pleased to say they were largely met.

Tamzin Outhwaite is a revelation here, (to me at least) never having watched anything with her acting I’d had my doubts, but she really is very good here. A brilliant comedic actress, her scenes trapped in the closet and at the diner were laugh-out-loud funny, but she was also effective at conveying the joie de vivre that gets Charity through the trials of life without being at all cheesy. Her singing was consistently good plus she has some great dancing skills.

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Review: Hello, Dolly!, Open Air Theatre

Ending this year’s run of shows at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is a revival of the Jerry Herman musical Hello, Dolly! It is a classic piece, and its presentation here is respectful of that and delivers a straight up rendition mercifully free of irony. Hello, Dolly! is not for people who claim that they don’t like musicals. It is old-school Broadway singing and dancing through and through and about as much fun on a stage as you could imagine: there is no place for cynicism here.

Admittedly, I did not see it in the heights of summer when one might expect a slightly better chance of sunshine, but one did start to question the methods of the Open Air Theatre on rainy days, as the stagehands were made to work extremely hard, wiping down the stage diligently four times in 45 minutes before the actual start of the show. One began to feel so sorry for them as it seemed every time they finished a new shower would begin. Fortunately, the sheer joy of the production meant that the conditions were soon forgotten.

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