Review: Abigail’s Party, Opera House Manchester

This touring production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party opts for comedy rather than tragicomedy at the Opera House Manchester, losing a little depth in order to find more laughs

“Let’s get pissed”

I spotted at least two people dressed up as Beverly at this matinée of Abigail’s Party at Manchester’s Opera House, a sure sign of cult status for any play. But it also means that their particular version of it can be stuck in aspic, making it difficult for any new interpretation to break through one’s own pre-programmed laugh track, to offer up a new reading of an oh-so-familiar text.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone – for me, ‘Demis Roussos’ is up there with ‘a handbag’ in terms of iconic lines – but Mike Leigh’s play has always struck me as a desperately sad one rather than an out and out comedy. Last year’s production at Hornchurch and the Menier’s 2012 production brought those sour notes but interestingly, Sarah Esdaile’s touring production opts for out and out farce. Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party, Opera House Manchester”

Review: Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker

“Fear no more the frown o’ the great”

You wait for a production of relatively little-performed Shakespeare play and then three come along in the same year. Melly Still is doing Cymbeline for the RSC in the summer, Emma Rice is reclaiming and renaming it Imogen for her inaugural season at the Globe and inside at the same venue, it is being performed as part of a run of the Bard’s late plays in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, directed by Sam Yates.

Ah yes, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I’ve not been much of a fan of this theatre, for purely practical reasons rather than artistic ones, but with this programming that has allowed me to tick off Pericles and see Rachael Stirling, Niamh Cusack and John Light onstage, I’ve succumbed to a rash of bookings. With that, I’ve opted to be brutally honest about the experiences as a paying customer. Continue reading “Review: Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker”

Review: Port, National Theatre

“It’s Stockport, it’s England”

He’s here, he’s there, Simon Stephens is everywhere. Between a prolific rate of new writing, adaptations of other texts and revivals of his older work, Stephens has been a remarkably constant presence on our stages for the past year or so and now it is the turn of the National Theatre to get in on the act as Marianne Elliott revives his 2002 play Port. Set in his native Stockport, it visits Racheal at roughly two-yearly intervals from the ages of 11 through to 24, as she grows up in a rough world. 

A victim of domestic violence, her mother leaves the family; a juvenile delinquent with a taste for robbing, her younger brother just can’t keep out of trouble; disillusioned with his lot, her father is still present but has checked out emotionally; against all of this Racheal plots to escape the narrow world of Stockport through hard work, through marriage, through whatever it takes but of course, life is never that easy as cold reality comes a-knocking at the door every time. Continue reading “Review: Port, National Theatre”

Review: Saved, Lyric Hammersmith

“Yer ain’t arf nosey”

Edward Bond’s Saved caused quite the hoohah when it premiered at the Royal Court in 1965, due to its unflinching portrayal of the total disillusionment of a whole slice of society but mainly because of a highly provocative scene of [spoiler alert] a baby being stoned to death in its pram. Sean Holmes of the Lyric Hammersmith has given it a rare revival at a point in time which seems eerily prescient given the riots that were experienced across the UK this summer.

Set around a South London household in which meaningless existences are played out: Pam sleeps around with the local bad boys and neglects her unnamed baby and her parents, with whom she still lives, haven’t spoken to each other in years. When they take in a lodger who seems to offer a faint ray of light in this dull world, his decency takes a battering but ultimately shows up the corrosive effect of a world that feels dead set against them. Continue reading “Review: Saved, Lyric Hammersmith”

DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer

“Do something special, anything special…”

This charity shop malarkey is proving to be a veritable treasure trove of theatrical goodies, of variable quality I should stress, but after the delights of Ms Paige – which will be continued shortly with an upcoming DVD review – I was given this DVD of the 1998 Cameron Mackintosh extravaganza Hey Mr Producer which cost a whole 99p from a British Heart Foundation shop in north west London. A benefit concert ostensibly put together for the RNIB but also honouring and celebrating the work of producer Mackintosh (although oddly he was involved in putting the show together – honouring himself…) by bringing together excerpts from many of the most famous shows he has been involved in and pulling together an extraordinary cast of the musical theatre glitterati, many of whom originated the roles, the like of which has rarely been seen since.

And it really does come across as something special, at times a little frustrating but it is often the way with concerts like these that tantalise with little glimpses of shows and when the calibre of performer is such as it is here, one barely minds as there is much pleasure to be had. It is impressive how much was packed into the single evening, multi-song sections from shows were interspersed with single songs from others meaning that over 20 shows were showcased here. Whether it was shows I love – Little Shop of Horrors, Oliver!, Les Mis, ones I’m ok with – Phantom of the Opera, Company or even ones I’ve never actually seen – My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre, Carousel – the sequences that had more than one song worked surprisingly well, getting across something of the flavour of the shows even with the rapid pace and semi-staging. I would have loved to have seen and heard more from Anything Goes, Godspell and The Boyfriend and for Salad Days, Mackintosh’s favourite show apparently, to have gotten a proper treatment, but then I guess the three hour show would have gone on for days. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer”