Re-review: The Lorax, Old Vic

Two winters ago if you went to the Old Vic,
Your life would have been filled with something fantastic.
A musical treat fit for all of the fam’ly,
The Lorax is as good as such a show could be.

Returning for half-term with some new cast members,
The musical’s just as good as I remember.
It’s heartfelt and funny and really quite moving,
A powerful message but not too reproving. Continue reading “Re-review: The Lorax, Old Vic”

Review: Cover My Tracks, Old Vic

“People fall through the world all the time”

Former Noah and the Whale front-man and songwriter Charlie Fink is no stranger to the Old Vic, having composed the rather lovely score for The Lorax, but his return takes a rather unconventional form in the shape of Cover My Tracks. It occupies that strange place of ‘play with songs’, or ‘live gig and modern folk tale’, or ‘night of live music and theatre’, anything but call it a musical apparently – that probably wouldn’t fit with the brand that the Old Vic are trying to establish with their Lates programme.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, as the combination here is subtly beguiling. Reuniting with Lorax scribe David Greig, Fink plays Frank, a depressive young songwriter who has split with his band due to ‘artistic differences’ of a sort and Jade Anouka takes the role of Sarah, the hotel worker who intervenes in his life at a crucial moment, seemingly setting it on a new path. Frank though, is determined to find a uniquely 21st century route into rockstar immortality which involves disappearing completely. Continue reading “Review: Cover My Tracks, Old Vic”

Review: The Lorax, Old Vic

If Dr Seuss stories are what makes you tick,

Then this Christmastime you should hit the Old Vic.
The Lorax adapted by scribe David Greig
is so damn delightful for tickets you’ll beg.

Director Max Webster has served up a treat
with such charm no panto could ever compete.
A show for all ages, it’s also a musical,
I had my doubts but it’s something quite beautiful.

A magic tale that’s pro-environmental
hits corporate greed in a manner not gentle.
It’s clever and prescient (dates from ‘71),
pertinent as ever, these fights still not won.

Charlie Fink’s music may not sound like Dvořák
but it’s perfect for a show that is based on The Lorax.
He’s also the frontman of Noah and the Whale,
so diverse his songwriting but perfect to scale.

Girl-group style lawyers and rock-based tree-chopping,
there’re also some fast ones that’ll have your feet bopping.
Fink’s score is eclectic but enthusiastic,
while MD Phil Bateman makes it sound fantastic.

The cast is quite special, with two men named Simon.
While they are quite different,both sparkle like diamonds.
Paisley Day’s Once-ler is a fab green faux-villain,
he’s quite sympathetic though trees he be killing.

Now Lipkin’s a man who does love a good puppet
(to be scared of such things that would make you a muppet).
Helped by Laura Cubitt and the ace Ben Thompson,
the Lorax becomes a magnificent frontman.

He’s funny and grouchy, compassionate and wise,
it’s hard to be unmoved by such poignant eyes.
I also loved Richard Katz and Penny Layden
and hot pink La Barrie’s a bouncing good maiden.

Choreographer McOnie comma Drew,
makes dancing look elegant, beautiful too.
The set design’s cleverly done by Rob Howell,
it certainly hasn’t been done with a trowel.

The Lorax is moving and mighty good fun,
the interval sketch is hilariously done.
So book now while you can and don’t make a fuss,
this show is just perfect for ages six plus.

Review: Creditors, Young Vic

“You’re drawing my secrets from me. You’re pulling out my guts and when you go you’ll leave nothing but an empty shell around you.”

The Genesis Future Directors Award aims to nurture promising talent by plugging them into the creative network of the Young Vic and using this opportunity, 2015 winner Rikki Henry has chosen to present David Greig’s adaptation of Strindberg’s Creditors in the Clare Theatre there. Truth be told I’m not the biggest fan of the Swede and so I’ve never actually seen this play before but I know enough to know that Henry has tinkered with it to gay it up just a little.

So Tekla becomes a man and the play becomes a study of the corrosive effects of love gone awry, the love that used to dare not speak its name that is, refracted through the prism of gay marriage. Creative souls Adolph and Tekla are seemingly loved up but their marriage comes under scrutiny when the enigmatic Gustav appears on the scene whilst Tesla is away to successfully plant seeds of doubt in Adolph’s mind and expose what it truly means to give yourself to someone.  Continue reading “Review: Creditors, Young Vic”

Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“Beyond this door, surprises in store”

Third time lucky for me and the great glass elevator! The first time I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the climactic lift effect wasn’t ready, the second time it broke down before it even really started so if nothing else, it was great to finally get to see the sequence as it was intended. My main reason for revisiting the show though was the cast change, with favourites like Josefina Gabrielle and Richard Dempsey joining the company and Alex Jennings stepping into the role of Willy Wonka, replacing Douglas Hodge. 

And rather unexpectedly, I absolutely loved it. It was a show I had previously liked rather than truly enjoyed but it really seems to have settled into its skin now, subtle alterations helping with the pace (although I am sad to see the animated prologue having been removed) and a generally sharper feel to the whole proceeding. For me though, the best aspect was Jennings’ reinterpretation of Wonka, a completely new take on the character that works brilliantly and feeds into the fabric of David Greig’s book, based on Roald Dahl’s writings of course, in a more instinctive and convincing manner. Continue reading “Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: The Events, Artsdepot

“There comes a point when you’re shooting people and you just realise how silly it is”

David Greig’s The Events turned out to be quite the success in 2013, deeply affecting audiences from the Edinburgh Fringe through to the Guardian critics who voted it their show of the year. So it is perhaps unsurprising to see Actors Touring Company resurrecting their production for a new tour in 2014 but what is more impressive is the reach that this piece of theatre has managed to achieve in so relatively short a space of time. A Norwegian production has just opened, a German translation has played Vienna and will go to Dammen, and this particular tour will revisit the Young Vic, amongst other places, before heading over to the USA.

So clearly, something is working in this quietly dramatic response to the atrocities committed by Anders Breivik when he slaughtered 77 Norwegians in the summer of 2011. With director Ramin Gray, Greig explores how a similar but fictional tragedy reverberates throughout a community – the differing individual responses from victims and those more tangentially affected, the communal reaction as a whole, even the experiences of the killer himself, as a liberal priest searches for answers as to why she survived the attack that left so many of her fellow choir-members dead.  Continue reading “Review: The Events, Artsdepot”

Review: The Events, Young Vic

“If I’m going to make a mark on the world, I have to do it now”

The Events had a curious impact – Ramin Gray’s production for Actors Touring Company has the kind of sinuous mellifluousness that makes it the kind of show that lingers long in the memory, yet David Greig’s actual writing is ultimately a little bit frustrating in the final analysis. The combined effect though is something complicated and complex that takes a unique look at the way in which terrible atrocities affect the communities on which they are inflicted.

Greig has taken inspiration from Anders Breivik’s horrific rampage in Norway back in 2011 as a boy devastates a village choir rehearsal, shooting many of its diverse members dead. But his focus is on the aftermath, the way in which those who survive try to process what happened, as so we see choir leader and priest Claire (Neve McIntosh) searching for answers even though it seems that there may not be any forthcoming. Continue reading “Review: The Events, Young Vic”

Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“So we’ve lost a few children along the way, we’ve all learned something though”

One of the hottest tickets of the year is a golden one. London gets its second major adaptation of a Roald Dahl story into a big budget piece of musical theatre as the long-awaited Charlie and the Chocolate Factory finally opens its gates at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. And taking his cue from Willy Wonka, director Sam Mendes has mixed it with love and made it taste good, displaying, along with designer Mark Thompson, just as much wit and invention as the candyman himself in bringing this world to such entertaining life on the stage.

David Greig’s book remains largely faithful to Dahl’s novel, but expanding the poverty-stricken domestic set-up of Charlie Bucket and his extended family as the young boy dreams of finding one of five elusive passes into Wonka’s mysterious factory. As the tickets are found one by one in a series of vividly realised tableaux, his hopes recede but the presence of a shadowy tramp-like figure ensures that there’s soon a golden twinkle in Charlie’s eye and a life-changing journey can begin. Continue reading “Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“It’s the a-choc-alypse…no, it’s choc-mageddon”

What to do when a golden ticket is actually thrust into one’s hand?! A late invitation to a very early preview of new big budget musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meant a hurried trip to the newly refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane to see what has to be one of the most highly anticipated productions of the year with Sam Mendes directing, Peter Darling choreographing and Douglas Hodge taking on the role of Willy Wonka. Given the huge success of fellow Roald Dahl adaptation Matilda, the stakes on this multi-million production are substantial and a month long preview period is testament to how much the team want to test the show before opening night. 

Where Charlie might suffer, unlike Matilda, is in the enduring memory of the iconic film version from 1971. When Hodge appears at the door of his factory, you can sense the sigh of relief as he looks ‘right’, as in definitely inspired by Gene Wilder’s take on the character; when the doors open on the Chocolate room, there’s a slight sense of disappointment which is perhaps inevitable as the logistics of creating a chocolate waterfall and river come up hard against what appears to be a giant curly-wurly (hopefully there’s more to be done here). Continue reading “Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: Glasgow Girls, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Our story is mostly about photocopying”

Many a theatrical production lays claim to being unique but few can genuinely live up to that billing. Cora Bissett’s Glasgow Girls – playing at Theatre Royal Stratford East after an initial run at the Citizens in Glasgow – really is like nothing else you’ve seen before, a true-life story about a group of teenagers who fought for the rights of the children of asylum seekers in their city set to an eclectic score that incorporates electronic grime, Balkan music, reggae-dub, folk/rock and much more besides. 

The show is based in Drumchapel, an archetypally grim Glaswegian estate of high-rises, where in 2005, a group of seven schoolgirls were awarded the “Best Public Campaign” at the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards. As an area where many asylum seeker families had been located while waiting for their claims to be processed, a wait of several years in some cases, groups of friends clustered together from varying nationalities and when one from this particular group – a Kosovo Roma girl called Agnesa – was snatched in a dawn raid and detained for deportation, their resulting campaign to have her released and returned gathered such momentum that elements of the immigration system were changed as a direct result. 


And it is this remarkable journey that Bissett and book writer David Greig have alighted on. It’s a hugely significant thing that they achieved on a political level, but of just as much importance was the personal development in these young women as the enthusiastic political activism that took root in them spread to the community at large, building the kind of social conscience that ought to be the mark of any civilised society. And as revealed in the post-show discussion, this impact has been lasting as the real life women are now about to graduate to a range of socially aware professions (and indeed one declined to be involved in this show, hence the six rather than seven main characters). But though nominally a weighty subject, there’s a deftness of touch to the material, a strong vein of comedy to counterbalance the seriousness and of course as a musical of varying forms, it has the widest selection of songs at its disposal.

It seems only right that the score about such a multi-cultural group should embrace such diversity and the show admirably bucks convention at every turn. Bissett’s Celtic-tinged tunes rub shoulders with Sumati Bhardwaj’s reggae, more mainstream songs from the Kielty Brothers and the punchily strident urban oeuvre of Patricia Panther, who also stars in the show as a number of characters, often baddies. The constant shifts in style are something of an acquired taste but the energetic verve with which they are delivered is most persuasive. Amiera Darwish, Stephanie McGregor, Roanna Davidson and Amaka Okafor all impress as the girls who have made Glasgow their adoptive home and they’re matched beautifully by Joanne McGuinness and Dawn Sievewright as the Scots who form the rest of the group – Okafor and particularly Sievewright shining through a strong company. 

The show’s main weakness, insofar as it has one, comes from the singularity of its focus. There is undoubtedly much joy from seeing the story through the exuberant eyes of its teenage protagonists, feeling the deepest lows just as keenly as the joyous highs, but there’s no other perspective on offer. The police are an amorphous body of riot-shielded menace; First Minister Jack McConnell’s ineffectual trip to the policymakers of Westminster dismissed as weak-willed; asylum is such a complex, multi-layered issue that it feels wrong not to acknowledge that, but Bissett and Greig should be commended for teasing out a simplicity in the narrative that is as strong-minded as the girls themselves.

The sprawling teenage enthusiasm of much of the productions may not be to everyone’s taste initially, but it really does have a seductive quality that is worth investigating and sticking with. And it fires strongly on all cylinders: MD Hilary Brooks presides over a classy band; Merle Hensel’s set of high-rise concrete looks dramatic, especially in the well-lit deportation scenes;  and as a variety of adults in the story, Callum Cuthbertson and Myra McFadyen are huge value for money, McFadyen’s Noreen pretty much stealing the show as a fourth-wall breaking deadpan granny. Insightful and inspirational, Glasgow Girls really is a unique piece of British musical theatre. A little flawed perhaps but fearless with it and make no mistake, this is the best example of girl power on the London stage at the moment.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval) 

Programme cost: £1.75
Booking until 2nd March