Review: The Fix, Union

“It’s just me and me alone who knows the score”

The Union is dead, long live the Union. Southwark’s Union Theatre has now moved into its new premises just across the way and for their debut production there, have returned to their 2012 production of John Dempsey and Dana P Rowe’s The Fix. Michael Strassen returns to direct a new cast but I have to admit that I think this is just a show that I am not destined to ever get on with.

I struggled with it four years ago and this time round found it no less problematic, perhaps even more so given the current state of political affairs on both sides of the ocean. With the post-Brexit omnishambles and the continued rise of Trumpism so fresh in our minds, fictional political satire is barely needed and it would be flattering The Fix to label it so, for it’s much more pulpy than that, soap opera-like even. Continue reading “Review: The Fix, Union”

Review: The Boys from Syracuse, Union Theatre

“Keep your fingers under control”

As a Rodgers and Hart musical from the late 1930s, The Boys from Syracuse is naturally full of songs you didn’t know you knew – ‘Sing for Your Supper’, ‘This Can’t Be Love’, ‘Falling in Love with Love’ – but it is also a story that you may very well be familiar with. George Abbott’s book relocates the action to Ancient Greece and refocuses it firmly onto the romantic entanglements therein but the tale is Shakespeare’s story of identical Antipholi and Dromios let loose in Ephesus – it’s a rom-Comedy of Errors, with tunes.

Ben De Wynter’s production plays to the typical strengths of the Union Theatre – pulling together a sizeable ensemble full of youthful freshness, stripping back musical arrangements to their innate simplicity and creating choreography that pushes the intimate boundaries of this fringe venue. And it mostly succeeds in these three as mistaken identities abound with the arrival of Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse into the town of Ephesus, where their long-lost twins are in residence, causing mayhem with friends and family alike. Continue reading “Review: The Boys from Syracuse, Union Theatre”

Review: The Fix, Union Theatre

“Is it possible to be drunk and have a hangover at the same time”

Staged and directed at the Union Theatre by Michael Strassen, whose award-winning production of Assassins played here in 2010, the plot of The Fix follows the Chandlers, a Kennedy-esque dynasty of political players. When presidential hopeful Senator Reed Chandler pops his clogs in flagrante with a lady other than his wife, the family’s attention turns to Cal, his layabout playboy son. Mother Violet, a gin-sozzled matriarch, and uncle Grahame, a crippled gay Machiavelli, groom him to take up the family mantle but Cal is a reluctant politico, seeking refuge in drugs and extra-marital affairs. And as the stakes get higher the further into government he rises, the more dangerous it gets for those skeletons in the closet.  

Composed by Dana P Rowe and with book and lyrics from John Dempsey, the 1997 show unfortunately occupies an uneasy middle ground between trying to tell the story above, yet simultaneously make satirical digs at the political classes, and I am not sure that it does either particularly well. It is therefore to their credit that the lead players, under Strassen’s careful direction, manage to tease as much out of their characters as they do.  Continue reading “Review: The Fix, Union Theatre”

Review: Godspell, Union Theatre

“C’mere Jesus, I got something to show ya”

Godspell occupies a strange place in my personal history in that it is a show whose soundtrack I have known intimately for such a long time, I had it on cassette as a boy, we even sang songs from it in our primary school choir, and yet I had never seen it on stage until earlier this year in a theatre pub production in Walthamstow. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that one, but when the Union Theatre announced a production directed by Michael Strassen, I decided to give it another shot. That the highlight of the previous show was the sexy gay Judas (yes, I know he wasn’t really gay) and that I happened to notice there was another sexy potentially gay Judas in this one who I’ve seen naked recently had nothing to do with it.

It is the 40th anniversary of the show, conceived by John-Michael Tebelak with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, which is based on parables from the Bible and leading up to the end of Jesus’ life, set to a pop-rock soundtrack. I wouldn’t say it is overtly religious as much of the messages that it portrays are ones with universal meaning of love, compassion for others and the strength of community. As well as directing, Strassen is also responsible for the minimal staging which shears it of the 1970s flower-child feel which the show is often associated with, and in conjunction with Steve Miller’s lighting design, provides an arresting visual aesthetic with its use of stylised posing and shadows, and I loved the motif of the eclipsed sun which prefigured the darkness of the relationship between Jesus and Judas. Continue reading “Review: Godspell, Union Theatre”