Birthday treats – poetry and post-show talks

Been a bit quiet on the show front whilst I’ve celebrating a particular anniversary (I turned 29, for the 11th time if anyone’s counting…) but I was pleased to have been treated to a couple of special evenings out with Helen McCrory and Helena Bonham Carter reading poetry and a return visit to West Side Story

“Time to look, time to care, 
Some day”

Front row tickets to something with Helen McCrory? It’s the stuff birthday dreams are made of, and so I was delighted to get to go to Allie Esiri Presents Women Poets Through the Ages at the Bridge Theatre. And not only was there McCrory action, there was a reunion of evil Harry Potter sisters Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange as Helena Bonham Carter was also on the bill.


Continue reading “Birthday treats – poetry and post-show talks”

Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange

Aletta Collins’ new choreography is just one of the highlights of a most successful West Side Story at the Royal Exchange

“Sleep well and when you dream
Dream of me”

For an undoubted classic of the musical theatre, West Side Story really isn’t revived all that often but 2019 seems determined to rectify that. The Curve have announced it as their Christmas show, Ivo van Hove is reimagining it on Broadway, and Steven Spielberg is remaking the film for good measure. But getting the (beautifully balletic) jump on all of them is Manchester’s Royal Exchange, whose revival is the first to be performed with new choreography replacing the iconic moves of original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

And only naturally, Sarah Frankcom’s production soars when it puts Aletta Collins’ new moves front and centre. They are certainly recognisably inspired by Robbins but there’s an unmistakeable freshness that is just beautiful to watch and there’s something great about the fact they’re all doing it in Converse. The repeated ronds de jambe are iconic in their own way, an emotional grace is suffused throughout, and hints of contemporary nod to the physicality of two warring gangs, coiled bodies poised on Anna Fleischle’s climbing frame design. Fleischle has also maximised the floor space of the Exchange to great effect, the aesthetic is pure dance and it works. Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange”

Not-a-re-review: Hamilton, Victoria Palace

“The plan is to fan this spark into a flame”

It’s not been a hot minute since I last saw Hamilton so just take a look at my original review for the deets.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Booking note – keep your eyes open for returns, of which there have been quite a few.  And check your browsers, the Ticketmaster site is most temperamental with the likes of Opera, Firefox and Chrome in my experience, Microsoft’s Edge has been most reliable for me

 

Review: Hamilton, Victoria Palace

It’s here! Hamilton finally arrives in the West End and lights up the newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre for the ages

“A bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists, 

Give me a position, show me where the ammunition is”

Change doesn’t just happen, it has to be ushered in by visionaries determined to shake up the status quo to allow the rest of us to shuffle in in their wake. This is true of many things but particularly when it comes to diversity in our theatres, which makes it pleasing that this first production of Hamilton outside of the US has maintained its commitment to multiracial casting in its depiction of the travails of ill-fated Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

Sure, shows such as Motown the Musical and Dreamgirls offer much-welcomed opportunities for performers of colour. But its the vision of the likes of Michael Buffong and Talawa casting an all-black Guys and Dolls and Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail making this decision that allows those performers to get the kind of credits on their CV that would otherwise never be gained. Continue reading “Review: Hamilton, Victoria Palace”

Review: Damn Yankees, Landor

“You gotta know what game to play and how to play it”

Faust via baseball, with songs – that’s Damn Yankees, the latest musical revival to hit Clapham North’s Landor Theatre, in a nutshell for you although the picture below gives a little more detail about the production… Hapless Joe Boyd blithely makes a deal with the devil to become Shoeless Joe Hardy who can save his beloved baseball team’s shockingly bad season even if it means leaving his wife behind. Sure enough though, as he helps the Washington Senators to victory after victory, suspicions about his sudden arrival are roused and it turns out he’s kinda missing his wife after all – can you go back on a deal with the devil?
It’s always a thrill to see choreography that tests the limits of this intimate space and Robbie O’Reilly’s work here is particularly striking in the group numbers – bringing to life the eternal conflict between obsessive sports fans and their spouses in the vibrant opening number ‘Six Months Out Of Every Year’, giving us the taut sensuality of a Latin dance club, or stripping the baseball team to their towels to show off their…ahem ‘Heart’. A show at the Landor also needs a director who understands the wide aspect of the stage and how to use it both efficiently and effectively.
Robert McWhir is of course that director (13 years and counting as AD) and there’s real skill in how he visualises scenes and stages them here – knowing exactly when to pull in focus or throw out wide (the staging of emotional trio ‘Near To You’ is particularly well done), how to move considerable groups of people around and still manage to get surprise reveals in there (keep your eye on the fireplace!) Aspiring directors could do a lot worse than come and get a masterclass in exploring and exploiting fringe stages here.
As in theatre as in life, the devil gets all the best lines (and songs) and whether in the Mephistophelean hands of Jonathan D Ellis’ Mr Applegate or the seductive allure of his able and willing assistant Lola as played by Poppy Tierney, it’s easy to see the appeal of some right good damnation. Tierney manages the not inconsiderable feat of bringing conviction to Lola’s journey through the show and Ellis is clearly at home as he chews the scenery up something rotten with devilish panache and a wicked sense of humour (as the gentleman who nipped to the loo midway through one of his songs soon found out).
Alex Lodge makes for a charming hero as the sweet-voiced younger Joe, a natural counterpart to Gary Bland’s older original, and Nova Skipp’s Meg – the ever-dutiful and way-too-understanding wife – has a beautifully straight-forward good-natured appeal and a lovely quality to her voice. Michael Webborn’s musical direction encourages this entirely straight bat from everyone which makes the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score really pop in a good old-fashioned way and unmiked as the singing is, it really does create a glorious sound. Something of a home run then for the Landor (see, I knew I could get a sporting pun in there!)
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2.50
Booking until 8th November
Note: the production is recognition of the 75th anniversary of US baseball player Lou Gehrig’s retirement from the sport after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (also known as ALS, they of the Ice Bucket Challenge, and actually as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the USA). Please do give generously if you can.