Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre

Don’t you love farce? Well turns out I rather did like Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac at the Richmond Theatre

“But will the audience come?”

I do love a comedy that unexpectedly makes me laugh a lot. It is a genre, particularly when it leans towards farce, that can be a tricky one to get right and there’s nothing worse than being the only one stony-faced in a theatre full of people roaring their heads off (qv me at One Man Two Guvnors, or most Feydeau plays). But sometimes it works, sometimes there’s a Noises Off in there, and treading a similar-ish path is Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac as it tracks the on- and off-stage shenanigans of a theatre company whilst playwright Edmond Rostand struggles to write Cyrano de Bergerac for them.

And I have to say that I chortled merrily through Roxana Silbert’s production, which has popped around the country after a run at Birmingham Rep. It is thoroughly silly, doesn’t take itself seriously for a single moment, and is consequently most enjoyable if just a touch overlong. Freddie Fox’s Rostand is a struggling writer whose last show was a flop and with the bills mounting, is blocked. His artistic juices are only stimulated when his pal Léo commissions him to write a suite of love letters to seduce a new would-be paramour on his behalf and the spark of a new play ignites as life imitates art imitates life and opening night fast approaches. Continue reading “Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre”

Not-a-review: Sylvia, Old Vic

I’m opting not to review Sylvia but rather to haul the Old Vic over the coals for a bit of a shambolic handling of the situation

“Time’s up, there’ll be no more waiting”

Hindsight is a great thing but the team at the Old Vic will have to look back at how they handled the difficult genesis of Sylvia and take some severe lessons. Some things were unquestionably out of their control, like the disruption of cast illness, but others were not. The apparent development of the show from a dance-led piece to a full-blown musical did not happen overnight and so to cite that as an excuse for the piece not being ready, to reclassify the production as a work-in-progress midway through the run is disingenuous to say the least, especially when people are still being charged £45 to see it.

It is a piece that is bounding with potential, clicking into a theatre landscape in London which feels unusually switched on at the moment (Misty and Emilia to name but two kicks up its backside), but we do still feel like we’re in rough draft territory here, hence my decision not to review. (It has provoked some strange reactions in the press though – four stars from Billers? Time Out showing their ass about colour-blind casting?) The music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde and the book by Kate Prince and Priya Parmar both need substantial refinement from its baggy three hours plus, but you can see the work being put in, and which will continue to be put in until Sylvia re-emerges (next year apparently) better equipped to smash that patriarchy.

 

Review: Dick Whittington, Lyric Hammersmith


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“Are you fond of cake?
‘Definitely, I’m northern’”

How come there haven’t been any pantomime reviews on here this year?
I’m not going to go to any pantos this year.
Oh yes you are.
Oh no I’m not. Well, maybe one or two. This one is written by Tom Wells after all.
He’s behind you.
No he isn’t, he was sat in the stalls last night though and we were in the circle.
DICK!
Pardon me,

(thigh slap) DICK!
Oh I see, the panto was Dick Whittington and that was the audience had to shout whenever Andy Rush came on stage, fnarr fnarr.
Keep it clean please, that’s my job. BAPS!
Yes, that was the dame’s name. Stewart Wright wasn’t half bad actually – his Beyoncé…Knowles joke is still making giggle at the thought of it.
Dick Whittington has a cat doesn’t he?
Yes. And some other friends – trainee fairy Bauble and a budding London mayoral candidate called Sooz
So not exactly traditional then?
No, but that in itself has become the new tradition at the Lyric Hammersmith and after something of a shaky beginning last year, Wells feels very much at home here. DICK!
Oh, let it go.
Actually no, they didn’t perform that despite going to the North Pole. There’s a good mix of new and classic pop though.
Did they have sweets?
Not for people in the circle.
Did it snow?
Not on people in the circle.
 
Did you enjoy being in the circle?
I did actually – safe from audience interaction and far away enough to get some real satisfaction from bellowing DICK! And BAPS! without traumatising too many children.
Would you recommend it?
I surely would. Freed from the baggage of star casting, you get the real sense of company camaraderie here bolstered by a cracking young supporting ensemble. There’s a genuine sense of real fun, a healthy dollop of barely-disguised smut, plenty of Wellsian touches to make it unmistakeably his work (truly, Hull becoming City of Culture in 2017 is the world’s gift to him), and there’s a Bon Jovi singalong.
DICK!
DICK! indeed.
Running time: 2 hour 20 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 3rd January

Review: Albion, Bush Theatre

“They killed your sister. They took over your karaoke night”

Chris Thompson had a big success with his first play Carthage at the Finborough Theatre which was a… WHY WHY WHY DELILAH. And now his follow-up play Albion has opened at the Bush…. SWING IT SHAKE IT MOVE IT MAKE IT WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE. It’s a bit of a challenging work as it plays with traditional structure to incorporate the fine art of karaoke as a storytelling device…HERE COMES THE HOTSTEPPER, MURDERER…(well, sometimes, and then sometimes it is just karaoke)…NAA NANANANAA NANANANAA NANANAA NANANAA NANANANAAA into its tale of how an extremist right-wing group takes root in an East End boozer.

In an interview about the show, dramaturg Rob Drummer speaks of how “the rise of the far right needs to be understood now more than ever” but it is never abundantly clear how this chosen format is an appropriate or effective one to enable such understanding. As you can see from the opening paragraph, it can be a little disarming to have characters break out into song in the middle of conversations, especially when there is a tenuous link at best but more frustrating is the lack of consistency in the way in which music is used. The interpolation of ‘The Rose’ into a key scene is a genuinely moving moment and with its verses scattered through the company, ‘Seven Nation Army’ becomes a brutally effective rallying call. Continue reading “Review: Albion, Bush Theatre”

Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium

“It’s a no, it’s a yes, it’s a no from me”

One of the most profitable television franchises in the UK, a much-loved comedian writing the book, a £6 million budget…there’s clearly considerable heft behind the latest musical to establish itself in the London Palladium. But the marriage of Harry Hill’s bizarre comic sensibility, Steve Brown’s bright if hollow score and the ITV juggernaut that is the X-Factor makes for uneasy bedfellows, Sean Foley’s garish production eschewing any kind of subtlety for the broadest kind of populist swoop.

I Can’t Sing is a show that constantly wants to have its cake and eat it. Faux-Dermot presenter Liam O’Deary gets a laugh by exasperating at one point “I don’t know why you might be charged” when the phone lines have closed, presumably the response “because they continue to make money for the production company” was mixed in previews. The TV show’s heavy reliance on tear-jerking backstories is a running gag yet nothing dispels the myth that that is the way to get noticed on a talent show. Likewise the qualifications of the panel to be judges of a popular music contest are skewered yet they remain feted as a special brand of celebrity. Continue reading “Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium”

Review: All My Sons, Royal Exchange

“This thing – this thing is not over yet”

A towering giant of the American dramatic canon, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons rarely lacks for productions on British stages but it can rarely have been delivered as well as it has in Michael Buffong’s production for his Talawa Theatre Company at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Though written and set in 1947, its story still resonates out across timelines, colour lines and borderlines as the horror of sending soldiers out to combat with sub-standard equipment remains a brutal reality even today. 

Don Warrington’s Joe Keller is a self-made businessman whose proudest achievement has been his gradual progression from humble beginnings to a man of means and thus status. But in order to get where he has, he allowed his business partner to take the rap for a fatal mistake in his factory which led to horrifically tragic consequences and though Joe and his wife have managed a life in denial, a change in their family circumstances forces them to confront the true ramifications of his actions. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Royal Exchange”

DVD Review: Small Island

“This island is too small if you have big dreams”

Andrea Levy’s 2004 novel Small Island was inescapable at the time, it seemed like everyone I knew had read and loved it but though it went on to win prizes, I wasn’t as big a fan of most of it. That said, I did love much of this television adaptation in 2009 which came just after Ruth Wilson’s superlative turn in the Donmar’s A Streetcar Named Desire as I began to realise how special an actress she really was. The story focuses on the experiences of two women – Queenie Bligh and Hortense Roberts – as the economic and social impact of World War Two ripples out through London and Jamaica.

Naomie Harris’ Hortense is a young Jamaican woman with heady dreams of becoming a teacher in what she sees as the idyllic land of England yet is devastated to find the gloominess of reality, alleviated only once she meets a man called Gilbert; and Ruth Wilson’s Queenie is a working class Yorkshirewoman who moves to London to escape the family farm but with little real prospects. When her job falls through, she accepts the marriage proposal of the attentive Bernard Bligh – Benedict Cumberbatch in full-on English mode – to avoid having to move back but when he leaves for WWII, huge changes are set in motion for all concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: Small Island”

Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre

“Ain’t nobody born that infallible”

Reader, I ovated. It is a rare occasion indeed that I actually give a standing ovation, more often than not I think about it and don’t do it but just occasionally, one bears witness to something in a theatre that is just irresistibly, incandescently amazing that the only response is to get on one’s feet. For me, it was Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s simply extraordinary performance as Sister Margaret Alexander that beats powerfully at the heart of The Amen Corner, a revival of a 1965 American play by James Baldwin, that fills the Olivier Theatre with the glorious sound of the London Community Gospel Choir.

 Jean-Baptiste’s Sister Margaret is the fiercely passionate leader of her local church in Harlem and living underneath with her sister Odessa and 18 year old son David, she leads her congregation with an iron fist of religious fervour. But trouble is brewing with discontent rumbling in the group of church elders who are looking for an opportunity to oust their leader and when her long estranged husband Luke turns up unexpectedly, they seize the moment as it turns out that their glorious leader may not be as blemish-free as she would have them believe. Continue reading “Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre”

Review: Shrek The Musical, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“An Ogre always hides, an Ogre’s fate is known, an Ogre always stays in the dark and all alone”

I hadn’t originally intended to go to Shrek The Musical, certainly not this early in the run, never having seen the films and having a somewhat mixed reaction to the lead casting. The Nigels, Lindsay and Harman, intrigued me but Amanda Holden (I’ve never seen Britain’s Got Talent either) and Richard Blackwood did not appeal. But when an offer appeared on the show’s Facebook page, for £40 tickets at the front of the Upper Circle at a ridiculously cheap price of £15, I snapped up a pair as a birthday treat.

A big-budget production of the show had a relatively short run of just over a year on Broadway but a much-revised version went out on tour across North America last year and it is a copy of this scaled-down production that is now previewing in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, directed by Rob Ashford and Jason Moore. It has a book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (also writer of the harrowing Rabbit Hole – talk about diversity!) and music by Jeanine Tesori, and according to my lovely companion for the evening, it cleaves very closely indeed to the first film in the franchise, right down to the same jokes being repeated. This is a review of an early preview, indeed there’s about a month of preview performances, so do bear that in mind as I have.  Continue reading “Review: Shrek The Musical, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review (or more of a love letter): the fourth-to-last Avenue Q, Wyndhams

“Everything in life is only for now”

There’s no show really that best typifies my love for the theatre, and specifically my love for London theatregoing, than Avenue Q. From its arrival at the Noël Coward Theatre in 2006, this was a show I fell head over heels for from the opening song and one that has provided constant pleasure to me ever since. Looking back, I think this counts up as my seventh visit to the show, plus one special Valentine’s Day cabaret show, and like every relationship it has had its ups and downs, but ultimately that’s only made my love for the show stronger and I was really pleased to be able to squeeze in one last visit to the final Friday afternoon show to bid it ‘furwell’. 

As if I couldn’t have loved this show more, the grace and humour with which the closing notices were announced just melted my heart. I’ve borrowed images of the set of posters from the Avenue Q Facebook page and posted them here to show you what I mean, I particularly love the ‘Available for Panto from 30 October’ line, it is so typical of the humour of the show and whoever has been in charge of the publicity should be commended for keeping a sense of humour throughout. The YouTube clip at the bottom is also well worth a watch.

Continue reading “Review (or more of a love letter): the fourth-to-last Avenue Q, Wyndhams”