Review: The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse

Visually striking, an anarchic take on The Country Wife at the Southwark Playhouse

“Write as I bid you, or I will write ‘whore’ on your face”

A swift run through The Country Wife as it is finishing its residency at the Southwark Playhouse this weekend and I’m not too sure I got on with it all too well. Luke Fredericks’ vibrant production for Morphic Graffiti certainly has a muscular visual appeal but I’m not convinced it offers a case for a revival of William Wycherley’s play.

Originally a Restoration comedy, it has been updated to the world of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s. And in it, randy upper class people chase other randy upper class people and… well, that’s about it. Whether through the shift in era or something more deliberate, the women of the story find themselves front and centre, particularly pleasing as it is about them asserting their sexuality.

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Album Review: Gay’s The Word (Original 2012 London Cast)

“It’s bound to be right on the night”

I remember being thoroughly enamoured of Gay’s The Word at the Finborough back in 2012 and its leading lady Sophie-Louise Dann before I really knew who she was. Now I’m a full paid-up member of her fan club, I wish I had been able to appreciate how great (and rare) a leading lady performance it was. This 1951 Ivor Novello show received its first ever revival here but whereas sometimes one can tell exactly why something has been collecting dust on the shelf, Stewart Nicholl’s production revealed a hidden gem.

As with much of Novello’s work, it is sparkly and silly but sweetly and sincerely done so that its genuine warmth elevates the whole affair. It helps that he was poking fun at his own reputation for daffiness in his writing and the show-in-a-show conceit allows for a wider variety of musical styles to be incorporated. But it is classic, old-school musical theatre through and through with songs that sound as instantly recognisable as if they’ve been played over and over in music halls and theatres across the country for decades. Continue reading “Album Review: Gay’s The Word (Original 2012 London Cast)”

Review: Free As Air, Finborough

“A man’s life is longer if he lazes,
Make time last by wandering through the daisies”
 

Discovering the unalloyed joy of Salad Days through Tête-à-Tête’s recent Riverside Studios production has to be one of my all-time favourite theatrical moments so the marking of its 60th anniversary with a production of a rarely seen show by the same writers was right up my street. Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade’s Free As Air hasn’t been seen professionally since 1974 but in the sure hands of Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainments and Neil McPherson’s Finborough Theatre, director/choreographer Stewart Nicholls makes a compelling case for its revival.

Much of the joy of these musicals that the Finborough has resuscitated with their ‘Celebrating British Music Theatre’ series comes from the thrill of unamplified ensembles filling this most intimate of theatres with the joy of song. And with a cast of 17 here, Nicholls and musical director Ben Stock pitch it just right, capturing the endearing glee that comes from something so determinedly old-fashioned yet utterly sincere in its delivery – it would be easy to bandy the word ‘twee’ about but there’s a real emotional honesty to the playing here. Continue reading “Review: Free As Air, Finborough”

Review: Merrie England, Finborough

“No other land could nurse them”

The Finborough’s policy of celebrating neglected British musical theatre has unearthed much of interest for fans of the genre, though it is probably safe to say that there have been as many which will remain curiosities as there have bona fide successes worthy of further recognition and reappraisal. It is thereforemost pleasing to discover that their latest rediscovery, the comic opera Merrie England, is a genuine contender for the latter category and a scream of a success.

Written in 1902 by composer Edward German and librettist Basil Hood (a man who apparently died from overwork and undereating…), the show occupies similar territory to Gilbert and Sullivan in its operetta form, considerable lyrical wordplay and complete frivolity when it comes to matters of plot. For what its worth here, the play is set in the court of Queen Elizabeth I as she visits the Mayday celebrations in the village of Windsor, an event which sends the lovelives and rivalries of everyone from monarch to villagers into haywire. Continue reading “Review: Merrie England, Finborough”

Review: Gay’s the Word, Finborough

“On such a night as this”

The Finborough Theatre has long been well regarded as a powerhouse of intimate (not small!) theatre, developing a strong reputation on two fronts with its rediscoveries of old plays and in the promotion of new writing. But though the space above the rather lovely wine bar is petite, their productions never are and this revival of Ivor Novello’s Gay’s the Word, on for just six performances (now extended by two), features a cast of 19. Last year’s Perchance to Dream, another of Novello’s neglected works, was a genuine pleasure to watch – introducing me to the song ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ which has never since left my head – and so anticipation was indeed high for this.

This is incredibly the first professional revival of Gay’s the Word despite it being quite the success in the early 1950s. The plot is frothy nonsense, but a bit of candy floss is delightful now and then. Gay Daventry is a leading lady whose light is fading a little and when facing bankruptcy after an out-of-town flop, seizes on the chance bequest of a keen younger actress and opens up a drama school. But it isn’t plain sailing by any means as the money starts to run out, the doddery teachers grow frustrated with the lack of talent in the student body and some dastardly smugglers also arrive to cause further mayhem. Will Gay be able to save the day with some of her trademark vitality? What do you think 😉 Continue reading “Review: Gay’s the Word, Finborough”