Review: Amélie the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre

As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, the touring version of Amélie the Musical impresses me at the New Wimbledon Theatre

“Will there troubles?
I don’t know
Will there be sweet things?
I hope so”

As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, Amélie the Musical has lost none of its inimitable charm as it gears up for a considerable UK tour. I adored it at the Watermill but the intimacy there left me wondering how the show would fare in the significantly larger houses to which it will be touring. Turns out I need not have worried.

Michael Fentiman’s production has expanded perfectly to fill the space. A few more ensemble members here, a tweak to Madeleine Girling’s canny set design there, and the show has lost nothing of itself or its kooky Parisian whirl. If anything the actor-muso ensemble’s reinterpretation of Daniel Messé’s score sounds even better than before under George Francis’ musical direction. Continue reading “Review: Amélie the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre

A sensational adaptation of the film, Amélie the Musical completely captures my heart – see it now at the Watermill Theatre and then touring across the UK

“Maybe she’s just different”

In a week marked by the heartbreaking sight of Notre Dame aflame, the decidedly Gallic charms of Amélie the Musical arrive to offer a soothing balm. The show – music by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen and a book by Craig Lucas – didn’t fare so well on Broadway in 2017 but the creatives, along with director Michael Fentiman, have substantially reworked the material to great effect.

The result is something which cleaves much closer to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s original film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain in every inch of its spirit. From singing goldfish to licking stage blood off fingers, Elton John cameos to intimidating figs, there’s a wonderful weirdness to the world created here. It’s no wonder that the introverted Amélie struggles at first to find her place in this hyper-real version of Paris. Continue reading “Review: Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre”

Review: Pericles, National Theatre

Combining with the joyous feel of carnival with the sincerity of the most serious of dramas, this musical  Pericles proves a heart-lifting triumph at the National Theatre for their Public Acts programme

“Pericles likes to play
Pericles likes to woo
Pericles never pauses to think things through”

What is a national theatre for? You’d be forgiven for answering ‘complaining about’ given the amount of sniping regularly aimed at the institution. But with the launch of Public Acts, the National Theatre’s new national initiative, you feel that they’ve alighted on the answer. The desire to “create extraordinary acts of theatre and community” by collaborating with a range of organisations whose community reach is second to none, the first result of which is this production of Pericles which brings over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier Theatre.

Emily Lim’s production is thus a huge endeavour but one whose heart swells effortlessly to accommodate the full scope of its representation. The choice of Pericles is a canny one and Chris Bush’s adaptation loses none of its essentially random character, the introduction of music from Jim Fortune further democratising it and adding opportunities for participation. So as the titular Prince of Tyre is forced on a character-building journey for the ages, Tarsus becomes a land of kazoos and cheerleaders, Pentapolis rain macs and wry humour (“it’s a man-fish” ‘or a fish-man, it’s unclear’), Mytilene a party island presided over by a drag queen.  Continue reading “Review: Pericles, National Theatre”

News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

So much goodness announced here in the National Theatre’s near future – particularly excited for Nine Night’s transfer, what looks like a leading role for Siân Brooke and the prospect of Joanna Riding’s ‘Losing My Mind’. 

National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

Nine Night, Natasha Gordon’s critically acclaimed debut play transfers to the West End following a sold-out run at the NT

Further cast announced for Antony and Cleopatra alongside Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, playing from September

Cast confirmed for world premiere of David Hare’s new play I’m Not Running, including Siân Brooke, Alex Hassell and Joshua McGuire

Peter Brook returns to direct at the National Theatre for the first time in 50 years with The Prisoner, co-directed with Marie-Hélène Estienne

Following the acclaimed Consent, Nina Raine returns to the NT with her new play Stories starring Claudie Blakley

Anthony Neilson makes his NT debut with new play The Tell-Tale Heart, based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe

Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding to join the cast of Follies alongside Janie Dee and Peter Forbes, returning to the Olivier Theatre in February 2019

War Horse returns to the NT marking the centenary of Armistice Day

Antony and Cleopatra and I’m Not Running to  broadcast to 65 countries worldwide as part of NT Live

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in the UK gaining the right to vote, the NT stages Courage Everywhere; a series of rehearsed readings, talks and screenings Continue reading “News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019”

Review: Pinocchio, National

“Do you want puppets?”

No matter the weather, as you walk into the Lyttelton’s auditorium for Pinocchio, you’ll find that it is snowing. A simple trick but one that inspires just the right childlike wonder for an adaptation of such a popular fairytale, but it is also a sense of magic that John Tiffany’s production of Dennis Kelly’s adaptation sometimes struggles to hold onto, as darkly disturbing as it is exuberantly heartfelt.

That darkness comes from several directions. The narrative cleaves closely to the moral instruction of a fable so Pinocchio’s struggle with the dark side is presented as a straight-up choice between good and evil – make the wrong choice in dealing with the Fox or the Coachman and things could end up pretty grim, as we witness in a particularly brutal bit of puppet mutilation (it shocked even me!). Continue reading “Review: Pinocchio, National”

New season at the NT: June 2017 to January 2018

Lots of exciting news in the National’s new season announcement, taking us up to January 2018, rather putting the lie to the cries of “crisis” that pop up far too easily when a less-than-well-received show (or two) takes up residency there.

Highlights for me include the perfection of this production pic:

The return of Barber Shop Chronicles:
Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton appearing in a thing together (this may or may not be their feet:
And of course the Ivo van Hove/Lee Hall/Bryan Cranston amazefest that will be Network (which will have some onstage seating!):

Review: La Strada, Richmond

“Ma che faccia buffa che hai! Ma sei sicura di essere una donna? Sembri un carciofo”

Most reviews of La Strada will doubtless start with a potted history of the film but I have to be entirely honest with you and say that despite its illustrious Oscar-winning status, it’s not one that has ever crossed my path. Apologies to Federico Fellini and co for that, and apologies to you readers too, for I see little point in pretending otherwise for the sake of some supposed authenticity.

So I come to La Strada with entirely fresh eyes but no small measure of excitement too for it is the latest show to spring from the extraordinary well of theatricality that is Sally Cookson. And with a writer-in-the-room devising with the company instead of a conventional book scribe, and a ensemble ever-present onstage made up of an international cast of multi-disciplinarians at hand, it is unmistakably and unforgettably Cookson.  Continue reading “Review: La Strada, Richmond”

Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

“In you, I found all the pleasure and pain I could ever hope to feel”

All the best birthday celebrations go on for a while and Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Anniversary programme has been no exception, featuring productions from each of the four centuries of the theatre’s life. I took in the Lesley Manville opus Long Day’s Journey Into Night earlier in the year and returned to the South West with great anticipation for the 21st century strand of work, which is the macabre, and excellent, new musical The Grinning Man

Based on the Victor Hugo novel L’Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs), the show tells the dark tale of Grinpayne, a young man mutilated as a child who scrapes a living as part of a carnival troupe with his adopted family. Grinpayne keeps the lower part of his face covered but the highlight of the fair comes when he reveals his scarred ‘smile’, a sight that moves people in unpredictable ways, not least the royal family in whose intrigues Grinpayne finds himself increasingly embroiled. Continue reading “Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Romeo + Juliet, Rose Kingston

“Were thou as young as I”

In Joseph Drake and Audrey Brisson, Sally Cookson’s Romeo + Juliet has a perfectly matched pair of pint-sized lovers to take to the stage at the Rose Kingston. And in creating a non-specifically modern Verona (as hinted by the format of the title which borrows from Luhrmann), Cookson creates the ideal setting in which to let her vivid imagination run riot over Shakespeare’s much-performed classic. Her bold vision may not be to everyone’s tastes but it delivers a unique pleasure. 

Katie Sykes’ multi-platformed urban playground of a set suggests an underbelly of a city akin to the undercroft of the Southbank Centre, recently saved for its skateboarders and under the tumble of fluorescent tubes that makes up Aideen Malone’s lighting design, there’s a highly charged sense of energy ready to explode. Benji Bower’s score carries much of the weight of the atmosphere though, an insistent presence throughout the production for better and for worse. Continue reading “Review: Romeo + Juliet, Rose Kingston”

Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 360 Theatre

“You know, Aslan, I’m a little disappointed in you”

Aiming to be one of the theatrical events of the summer (although it has always seemed more of a Christmassy story to me), Rupert Goold has turned his customary directorial flair to his own adaptation of CS Lewis’ quintessential English classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But in choosing to mount this production in the threesixty theatre in the grounds of Kensington Gardens, a rather unforgiving purpose-built circular tent, the show faces an uphill struggle from the start to try and create the sense of theatrical magic and wonder that is needed to transport us through the wardrobe along with the four Pevensie children. NB this was a preview performance.

The show is clearly aiming to be a family-friendly spectacular, the varied inhabitants of Narnia are evoked through a cross between Lion King puppetry and Cirque du Soleil physicality – imaginatively done if that’s your sort of thing, though readers of this blog will know it is not mine, at all – but the soulless atmosphere of the space leads to a rather sterile feel which the cast rarely overcome. Even Adam Cork’s music fails to get the pulse racing (the website says ‘the production is a play but does feature some live music and a pre-recorded fully orchestrated soundtrack’ so we’re clearly in “play with songs” territory rather than fully fledged “musical”) as the rather anodyne songs make little lasting impression and the muddy sound design meant there was precious little lyrical clarity. Continue reading “Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 360 Theatre”