Review: All My Sons, Open Air Theatre

“This thing – this thing is not over yet….”

Ivo van Hove’s revelatory approach to Arthur Miller’s work has set the bar almost impossibly high for other directors and so it’s perhaps a little unfortunate that Timothy Sheader is first up with All My Sons, the opening production in this year’s season in the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. It’s not that it’s a bad production, not at all, but rather it just feels a little pedestrian, too traditional to really make the heart beat faster in the way brilliant theatre should, and in the way previous productions have done.

There are elements that work well – the span of the play over a day is perfectly suited to the night that slowly falls over the park, the planes that fly noisily overhead add a piquancy of their own and the well-cast company are excellent. Tom Mannion’s Joe Keller is the patriarch whose collusion in a terrible fraud hangs ominously like a cloud over his family, Charles Aitken and Amy Nuttall are moving as son Chris and his intended (with strings) Ann and Bríd Brennan is fearsomely fantastic as the delusional Kate. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre

“I’ve got the evacuee to prove it”

Now that Blood Brothers has now finished its lengthy London run, the Phoenix Theatre is opening up its doors to new productions: Midnight Tango and Once will come in the new year but first up is Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Goodnight Mr Tom ahead of a UK tour. Michelle Magorian’s novel belongs to the similar strong tradition of children’s literature as Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War, that contextualises the Second World War evacuee experience for many children. And David Wood’s adaptation wisely does not attempt to sugar the pill, though billed as a family show and with a beautifully sensitive story of personal awakening at its heart, there is no escaping the brutal shadow of war which ensures the production is never in danger of becoming twee. 

The story brings out a wonderful sense of the potential for emotional growth at any age: Oliver Ford Davies’ gruff but kind Tom encourages the bruised soul that is Will, played here by Ewan Harris (one of three young actors sharing the role), to come out of his shell as the young Londoner is billeted to a Dorset village where he experiences the countryside for the first time, learns to read and write and generally flourishes now away from the troubled, abusive mother left in London. But Will provides a similar service for Tom, releasing him from the emotional paralysis that has gripped him for nigh on 40 years and Ford Davies’ depiction of the slow release of his suppressed paternal instinct is just beautiful to watch. Continue reading “Review: Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre”

Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park

“Giving the nation a new syncopation”

Is there a greater opening number to a musical than the self-titled prologue to Ragtime? It surely has to be up there amongst the contenders as Stephen Flaherty’s music bursts open onto the stage at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park in a blaze of syncopated rhythms and choreographic glory with one of those melodies destined to worm its way into your brain for days to come. It could be argued that the show never really reaches the same heights again, but it certainly tries hard.

Director Timothy Sheader’s high concept, supported by Jon Bausor’s eye-catching design, is of a contemporary society in the midst of the collapsed American Dream, looking back to its beginnings at the turn of the previous century in the stories taken from EL Doctorow’s novel and moulded into the book here by Terrence McNally. So in the ruins of an Obama-supporting billboard and the detritus of broken bits of Disney, McDonalds and Budweiser merchandise, the company enact the intertwining tales of 3 groups – African-Americans, WASPs and Latvian immigrants – at a moment in time where it seemed that great change was just on the horizon. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park”