Review: Chess, London Coliseum

Nobody’s on nobody’s side – an all-star cast can’t save this game of Chess from itself, for me at least

“From square one I’ll be watching all sixty-four”

It’s taken over 30 years for Chess to return to the West End (though it was seen at the Union in 2013) and though it has a huge amount of resource thrown at it in Laurence Connor’s production for English National Opera, it doesn’t necessarily feel worth the wait. An 80’s mega-musical through and through with an intermittently cracking score from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Richard Nelson’s book hasn’t aged particularly well and bears the hallmarks of the  substantial tinkering it has had at every opportunity.

It’s not too hard to see why it has needed the tinkering. The mix of Cold War politics told through the prism of rival US and Soviet chess Grandmasters, love triangles and power ballads is a tricky one to get right and part of the problem seems to be just how seriously to take it all. On the one hand, the chess matches are backgrounded with montages of the real-life tensions of the 80s; on the other, scenes that take us through the various locations of the tournaments are a cringeworthy riot of cultural stereotyping that revel in their utter kitsch. Continue reading “Review: Chess, London Coliseum”

Review: An American in Paris, Dominion

“Who could ask for anything more”

True to its name, An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the French capital to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway for another well-received (and Tony-winning) run there. It now rocks up at the newly refurbished Dominion Theatre, just ahead of another huge dance-heavy Broadway musical in 42nd Street, producers clearly banking on audiences wanting distraction from the realities of the outside world.

And that it certainly provides – director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s reinvention of the 1951 film (new book by Craig Lucas) is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. George and Ira Gershwin’s score is beyond classic (‘I Got Rhythm’, ”S Wonderful’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’ et al) and sounds luscious in Rob Fisher’s new arrangements musically directed by John Rigby, and Bob Crowley’s set and costumes look divine in all their old-school charm. Continue reading “Review: An American in Paris, Dominion”

Review: McQueen, St James

“I came for a dress”

It has barely been five years since fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s death but 2015 has already seen Savage Beauty, a major retrospective of his work, open at the Victoria and Albert Museum and now McQueen, a biographical fantasia by James Phillips which is taking to the catwalk at the St James Theatre. And in keeping with the edgy energy of the runway shows for which he was renowned, this is no straight play but rather a highly theatrical production that tries to capture some of the imaginative artistry that characterised his work.

Model-like dancers strut their stuff on the stage in striking choreography by Christopher Marney, all made up ; fashionistas in exquisite headwear pose nonchalantly around them, a haunting pair of strange twins skip around the fringes and in the middle is Lee, a London lad done good but in serious danger of being overwhelmed by the empire he’s built around him. Into this mix, from the tree in his garden, comes the troubled Dahlia – maybe a girl, maybe a fairytale creature, either way she’s his companion on a night-time odyssey to get her a dress but which also forces them to confront the demons that haunt them both. Continue reading “Review: McQueen, St James”

Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, New Wimbledon

“That was some mighty fine dancing”

Seven young men enter a backwoods Oregon town, kidnap a woman each – with the intention of making them their wives – and escort them back to their mountainside home where a subsequent avalanche traps up there for the winter, leaving family and suitors unable to rescue them. Such is the premise, more or less, of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers but being a classic film musical of the 1950s, it is less a hillbilly horror flick and more of a rollicking romp of lumberjacking lotharios and one which now find itself in a tour of UK theatres. 

Director and choreographer extraordinaire Patti Colombo has worked her considerable magic on the show to make it a stunning visual treat, however there’s no escaping the huge improbabilities and weaknesses of the story. Of course, one shouldn’t be taking such a thing at all seriously, but it does impact on the way the show is delivered, whether the actors try to find the inner soul of a character and play it honestly or just go all out with a knowing smile and plenty of pizzazz. And I’m not too sure that this production really straddles that line all too well.  Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, New Wimbledon”