Review: Once Upon A Mattress, Union Theatre

“Flip your skirt, open, close…”

The Union Theatre’s festive show is this little US curiosity from 1959, Once Upon A Mattress. It’s a playful riff on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Princess and the Pea and its endearing silliness and the high campery of Kirk Jameson’s production makes it a whole bundle of festive fun. Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer’s book purports to tell an alternative version of events which sees Queen Aggravain come up with ever more difficult tasks for princesses to pass in order to win the hand of her beloved son Prince Dauntless. But when the unreconstructed Princess Winifred – a princess from the swamps – wins the heart of mummy’s boy Dauntless, the queen has to devise the hardest test possible.

Jamieson makes great use of his ensemble as courtiers constantly watching the action and so always on hand to sing and dance their way attractively through a range of random numbers. Mary Rodgers’ score really isn’t too memorable but Racky Plews’ choreography is so eye-poppingly vibrant that it almost doesn’t matter. The group scenes thus spark happily into life, none more so than in the dizzying routine of Spanish Panic which is witty as well as impressive.  Continue reading “Review: Once Upon A Mattress, Union Theatre”

Review: Babes in Arms, Union

“I love the theatre, but I never come late”

In some ways, this tale of the exploitation of unpaid interns working in a theatre could be considered a timely revival looking at the ethics of the industry. But though that is the pretext of Babes in Arms, it is a much more whimsical piece than that – a 1937 Broadway musical from Rodgers and Hart, frothily light in plot but musically superlative in places, brimming with standards like ‘The Lady is a Tramp’, ‘Johnny One Note’ and ‘My Funny Valentine’.

This production uses a revised book from 1959 by George Oppenheimer in which a team of bright young apprentices toil away at a struggling theatre, falling in and out of love with each other at the drop of a hat and secretly rehearsing a musical revue which they hope to put on. It’s undoubtedly a candy-floss ball of a plot but cheerfully and entertainingly staged in David Ball’s production with Sam Cable’s sharp 3-man band and splendidly enlivened by the interjections of Lizzi Gee’s suitcase-wielding and delightfully tap-heavy choreography. Continue reading “Review: Babes in Arms, Union”

Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male Patience, Union

“There is more innocent fun within me than the casual spectator might allow”

The all-male Gilbert and Sullivan adaptations at the Union Theatre have become something of an annual institution now and though we’ve been kept waiting a few more months than usual, the next instalment has arrived with Patience or Bunthorne’s Bride. Last year’s Iolanthe was exceptionally good and I rather enjoyed The Pirates of Penzance the year before so it was safe to say that expectations were rather high for this, but this was a show I knew nothing of beforehand – my love for G+S being mainly limited to the film of Pirates… which I watched over and over again as a child.

Patience is a satirical look at the aesthetic movement (yeah, me neither) which was a fashionable movement of the 1880s that preached devotion to the arts and lofty ideals of love as a duty rather than a pleasure. We follow Reginald and Archibald as they both pursue a milkmaid named Patience, whilst a group of ladies swoon over the aesthetically minded pair of gents and ignore the returning bumptious soldiers to whom they were engaged the previous year. Gentle fun is poked at everyone as attentions shift from man to man and the hapless soldiers are left trying to become aesthetes themselves in order to win back their feckless ladies. Continue reading “Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male Patience, Union”

Review: Dames at Sea, Union

“So sweet and soft and gentle,
My favourite Oriental”

The Union Theatre have definitely identified their niche in London’s cluttered theatre landscape: small-scale revivals of musicals that might otherwise have languished in obscurity with productions that are big on ambition. The latest show to get the Union St treatment is Dames at Sea, a 1966 parody of 1930s musicals with book and lyrics by George Haimshon and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise which much like The Drowsy Chaperone, grew from its beginnings as a short sketch into a full show.

Though it was entertaining enough, I couldn’t help but feel that this was the Union treading water rather than blowing our socks off with something great. The piece itself is a show about putting on a show – it feels like they all are at the moment! – the cast of a musical have to find a new venue as their theatre is being pulled down but the arrival of a ship full of sailors with connections to the chorus offers a solution. Stuffed full of clichés from the small-town girl arriving on Broadway with nothing but her dreams, the big diva who then feels threatened, the sailor who just happens to be an amazing songwriter, chance meetings with former partners a-plenty, the list goes on… Continue reading “Review: Dames at Sea, Union”

Review: Curtains, Arts Ed

“Critics! Who’d make a living out of killing other people’s dreams?”

I could have been on the stage. Indeed I was, briefly as a shy teenager, but playing the piano for shows was a much more appealing option for me and so the world was left sadly bereft of what could have been the definitive Hamlet for our generation. Fortunately though, we are not lacking in acting talent and it is being well-nurtured at drama schools like Arts Ed where I went to catch this undergraduate production of Kander & Ebb’s Curtains. I was particularly keen to see it as the choreography was done by Andrew Wright, the gentleman who did the deed for my favourite musical of last year, Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi and I thought I might be able to convince him to give me a tap dancing lesson in the interval.

Anyway, the show Curtains had a bit of a sad genesis. The original concept came from Peter Stone but he died before he completed the book so Rupert Holmes was brought in to rewrite it but when Fred Ebb also passed away before it had been finished, Holmes and Kander had to step in to finish off the lyrics. But it is not a melancholy show, far from it. It is a ‘musical comedy whodunit’, a send-up of murder mysteries set backstage at a theatre where a spectacularly bad leading lady is murdered after her first night in a Western version of Robin Hood. It is then up to a musical-theatre-loving detective to catch the murderer, save the show and fall in love with the girl of his dreams before the new opening night keeping the entire cast and crew and a rogue critic with far too much time on his hands, under suspicion. Continue reading “Review: Curtains, Arts Ed”