Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Noël Coward

Poster for the transfer of Girl from the North Country at the Noel Coward Theatre

“What did you expect?”

After a hugely successful run at the Old Vic, Girl From The North Country transfers to the Noël Coward with the majority of its cast and all of its melancholy soul intact. Seeing Sheila Atim transform ‘Tight Connection To My Heart’ into the most heartfelt of laments was one of my highlights of 2017 and seeing it once again made me feel like it could easily be one of the highlights of 2018 as well.

Her performance is symptomatic of what makes this show so fantastic. The secret weapon in Conor McPherson’s production is the arrangement of the Bob Dylan songs by Simon Hale, an interpretative masterstroke which weaves the music into the very fabric of these people’s lives. (Though whether that makes this a musical remains anyone’s guess.)

Continue reading “Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Noël Coward”

Cast for the West End transfer of Girl From The North Country announced

Conor McPherson’s Girl From The North Country was an absolutely glorious thing at the Old Vic this summer and I’m pleased to see that its relatively slow-burning success has translated into a West End transfer. It is also gratifying to see that many of the original cast of this Bob Dylan musical (or play with songs if you’re precious like that) are remaining with the production, especially Shirley Henderson and Sheila Atim, who I suspect we should be looking out for come awards season. Continue reading “Cast for the West End transfer of Girl From The North Country announced”

Review: Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

“What kind of man would you be without the theatre”

I can’t lie – I had rather low expectations when it came to the stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, not helped by rewatching the film recently and marvelling at how it managed to win 7 Academy Awards back in 1999. But I equally have to admit to being swept away by Declan Donellan’s production of Lee Hall’s adaptation which is set to open this week at the Noël Coward Theatre, it managing to find an identity of its own (after a relatively slow start) to try and recapture the hearts of audiences anew.

Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay saw Shakespeare as a jobbing playwright, tussling for commissions with friendly rival Kit Marlowe and dealing with a particularly sticky case of writer’s block. With his unhappily married wife and kids sequestered in Stratford-upon-Avon, he embarks on a forbidden affair with noblewoman Viola de Lesseps, who has her own battles to face in being denied the career on the stage that she craves and being married off to the obnoxious Wessex. Their romantic strife thus provides the creative spark for Will to write Romeo and Juliet.

Where the film did work for me was in the overload of Shakespearean puns worked into the script, often wittily suggesting that the bard took inspiration from all around him; where it did not was with the central romance which lacked any real sense of passion for me. Funnily enough, the converse was pretty much true here. Tom Bateman’s freshly appealing Will and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s hugely characterful Viola have enormous chemistry and theirs is a romance to root for.

Instead, the repeated gags of references to other Shakespeare plays prove to be something of a hindrance, occasionally interrupting the flow of the show –(the ‘out damned spot’ bit takes way too long of a set-up although the payoff is fun) – and often falling flat. Without them being cleverly worked in (like ‘tomorrow’ ‘and tomorrow’), they lose their impact, Will just declaring ‘oh brave new world’ as he schtups Viola doesn’t really mean anything at all. Equally, the delayed John Webster joke flew over the heads of the majority of this particular audience!

Fortunately there’s much more to the production as well. Paddy Cunneen’s highly atmospheric music is sung and played live onstage, Nick Ormerod’s inventive design allows for both the intimate and the grand, and the brightness of the supporting cast – David Oakes’ twinkle-eyed Marlowe, Ferdy Roberts’ Fenniman, David Ganly’s Burbage and Paul Chahidi’s Henslowe just to name a few, give real life to the Elizabethan theatrical world.

And this is where the show really works, a Noises Off-esque sequence that takes place backstage as a play goes on is really well put together, combining great humour and pathos, and the rivalries and relationships between the playwrights and theatre managers give rise to a wonderful sense of community, ending up as a love letter to the theatre as much to Shakespeare himself.

Photos: Johan Persson
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 25th October

Review: Macbeth, Crucible

“I go, and it is done”

They appear to be creatures of habit up in Sheffield. Just as big musicals pop up at Christmas, a high profile Shakespeare forms the centrepiece of their autumn schedules and powerless to resist once again, I made my way to the Crucible, this time for Macbeth. Last year’s Othello was an extraordinary success – John Simm’s Hamlet the year before somewhat less to my tastes – and the casting news of Geoffrey Streatfeild and Claudie Blakley whetted my appetite for what lay ahead in Daniel Evans’ production.

But part of the problem in investing too much expectation in anticipated performances means that one can end up blinded to the more general merits of a production through the haze of disappointment. And so it was here as the central casting just doesn’t seem to work. I have no problem at all with atypical interpretations of characters, such subversions often lead the way to sensational new insight, but I simply couldn’t get a handle on what was trying to be done here. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Crucible”

Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium

“And my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’

I could have quite happily given The Wizard of Oz a miss, it wasn’t ever really on my list of shows to see but the combined news of a visit from a family member who wanted to see it and Hannah Waddingham’s imminent departure from the ensemble meant that I found myself there on a Saturday evening… There’s something a little odd about its choice as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s third reality casting show, Over the Rainbow, as the show is not really a fully-fledged musical, no matter how famous some of the songs but he persevered nonetheless. What is even odder is his assembly of a strong musical theatre cast around the eventual winner, Danielle Hope, given the paucity of many of the roles around Dorothy.

Lloyd-Webber’s way around this has been to write new songs, with long-standing lyricist Tim Rice, to beef up the roles of characters like the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West and justify the casting of Michael Crawford and Hannah Waddingham respectively. But despite looking a picture with some tricksy staging and wirework, the end result is curiously banal, exceedingly bland and one which rarely excited me. The focus is so much on the stagecraft that the heart of the story is rarely engaged: Hope’s Dorothy is sweet but rarely interesting, there’s little of the ‘star quality’ evident this evening but then the role is not one that really encourages it; Michael Crawford made very little impact either as the Wizard or the cameos as Ozians and so it went, emotion taking second-place to spectacle. Continue reading “Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium”