Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre

The highly anticipated musical Come From Away leaves me dry-eyed at the Phoenix Theatre despite a very strong cast

“There’s nothing to do, nothing to see
Thank god we stopped at the duty-free”

I didn’t check the merchandise stand at Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were seeing branded tissues, such is the weight of expectation that comes with this musical, set in the days after 9/11. But rather than New York, the show is set more than 2,000 kilometres away in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes with 6,579 passengers were grounded in the aftermath of the attacks. 

There, in a Canadian town that practically doubled in population overnight, we witness the unfolding of a tragedy but more significantly, the response of a community willing and able to do anything to extend the hand of friendship. Doors are flung open, shoulders proffered, bottles opened, an unquestioned barrage of hospitality seeking to envelop traumatised passengers who had been trapped for hours on their planes (in a pre-social media age remember), only to be released to find out the terrible news. Continue reading “Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre”

Review: Queer Theatre – Wig Out, National

#2 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“Here
Where one night can leave you legendary
Or a subsidiary”

The world has changed just a little in the decade or so since Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote Wig Out. McCraney is now an Oscar-winning writer after the phenomenal success of Moonlight (based on one of his unproduced plays) and RuPaul has dragged drag into the mainstream by its charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. So to see the play now is an entirely different prospect than its 2008 production at the Royal Court and an interesting example of how cultural touchstones shift.

Wig Out feels intimately connected to Paris Is Burning (if you’ve not seen it, to Netflix with you now) in its focus on ball culture in the black and Latino gay communities of New York and we get to see it fully turned out as the House of Light take on their rivals in the House of Diabolique. The ball scene is an unalloyed pleasure as outré performance follows outré performance (Craig Stein and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith took the honours for the night) and really make you want to see a fully fledged production.

Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Wig Out, National”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

 

 

Albany Launch Campaign to Provide a Free Theatre Ticket to Every Child in Lewisham
 
A Theatre Trip for Every Child, Lewisham is a new giving scheme to provide a free theatre ticket for every 5-year-old in the Borough of Lewisham. ‘Every Child’ enables businesses and individuals to give a local child the chance to experience the magic of theatre.
 
Jude Law has been revealed as patron for the campaign, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England, and with the support of founding sponsors, L&Q. A parallel project will launch simultaneously at ARC in Stockton-on-Tees. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, Birmingham Rep

“Let’s get together and feel all right”

There’s much to enjoy in One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, not least the joyous celebration of some of the most enduringly famous music in the world. And writer and director Kwame Kwei-Armah does a decent job at balancing the populist demands of a jukebox musical with something more dramatically satisfying. The result has been a sell-out success for the Birmingham Rep and I only just managed to squeak this into the schedule before it closes at the weekend,

Using 20 or so of Marley’s songs, Kwei-Armah takes us through an eventful few years in the singer’s life as the success of his artistry launches him from an accomplished reggae musician to international icon, pushing his concerns from simply getting records out to matters of national diplomacy as he finds himself intertwined in Jamaican politics. He also has internal conflicts with his band and a turbulent personal life to deal with, as well as converting to Rastafarianism. Continue reading “Review: One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, Birmingham Rep”

Review: Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange

“Life will be frozen peaches and cream”

 
I’ve seen a couple of comments questioning whether Sweet Charity is an appropriate choice for the Royal Exchange’s festive musical – I assume they avoided last year’s Into the Woods and the year before’s Little Shop of Horrors, neither show hardly known for their jazz hands and perma-smiles. For the joy of great musical theatre, of any theatre, is when it can find shades of darkness and light in its storytelling, finding a way to reflect the richness of life in its downs as well as its ups.

Director Derek Bond (whose Little Shop… remains a stunning high point) acknowledges all of the problems inherent in Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ tale of a dancer, the titular Charity Hope Valentine, and her repeated, desperate lack of luck in her romantic life and through his interpretation and the directness of Aletta Collins’ choreography, also takes it seriously. Anchored by a properly star-making and heart-breaking performance from Kaisa Hammarlund, it just works. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange”

Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre

“This revolt of thine is like another fall of man”

It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn’t newsworthy in and of itself but we don’t and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles – the intrigue of Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter’s Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.

Insofar as Robert Hastie’s modern-dress production has a conceit, it’s of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell’s Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role – and it’s hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry’s head. And from then, it’s a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle’s square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross’ movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre”

Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“Keith, KEITH, it’s just two fellas kissing”

There was a moment towards the end of this performance, as Ferdy Robert’s burly roadie of a Puck launched into his epilogue, that perfectly encapsulates just how brilliant Filter are and also what magical power theatre can weave over even the rowdiest teenagers. Roberts began “if we shadows have offended” and was interrupted by loud, almost nervous, laughter. He looked up, gently but unflinchingly at the young woman and her friend until they quietened down, and then continued, addressing them directly at first and then widening out to the auditorium as a whole, our entire attention rapt.

It’s no mean feat to keep a theatre full of schoolkids hooked in silence (I attended the final preview), especially when the nature of this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so raucous and riotous. It played the Lyric Hammersmith back in 2012 and if it doesn’t have quite the same multiple surprise element as before, it is still highly amusing second time round. Co-directors Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll have condensed the play right down with the company and reconstructed it in their own image, at once deeply respectful of Shakespeare yet also utterly anarchic in the way it is presented here. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern, Watford Palace

“If she’s innocent, we’re simply sending her to God early”

The most powerful image of Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern comes courtesy of the centrepiece of James Button’s design, a timber structure illuminated as a church cross on one side and extending as a noose-bearing gallows on the other. It encapsulates the central thesis of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play – that twisted symbiosis between the Church and the witch-hunts that scarred society for so long – with an eloquence that characterises much of Ria Parry’s production, which is about to embark on a considerable UK tour.

An Out of Joint, Watford Palace Theatre and Arcola Theatre co-production, in association with Eastern Angles, Lenkiewicz based her drama on real-life events in a Hertfordshire village, an all-too-recognisable tale of society seized by collective fervour. It’s been several decades since any witch hunts but when tragedy falls on the village of Walkern, suspicion quickly falls upon the local cunning woman Jane Walkern and her herbal remedies amid whispers of the return of witchcraft, stoked by new priest Samuel Crane who is determined, quite literally, to get his woman. Continue reading “Review: Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern, Watford Palace”

TV Review: That Day We Sang

“We want all the spirit of Lancashire, but not the accent” 

One of the most anticipated bits of TV this Christmas was surely Victoria Wood’s adaptation of her musical That Day We Sang, featuring a Sweeney Todd reunion with Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball taking on the lead roles of Enid and Tubby. The show is a wonderfully heart-warming tale of extraordinariness coming out of the ordinary as Wood does so well, following two lonely middle aged Mancunians who dare to dream of love when life offers them a second chance.

They’re initially brought together at a special event in 1969 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Manchester Children’s Choir recording Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds (a real life event). Having lost touch and been ground down by the drudgery of life, each puts a long awaited sparkle in the other’s eye though as ever, the path of true love ne’er did run smooth. And Wood contrasts this story with a 1929 narrative that follows the experiences of the choir as they build up to their momentous day. Continue reading “TV Review: That Day We Sang”