Review: The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre

Gorgeous new folk musical The Wicker Husband is perfectly situated at the Watermill Theatre and simply must be given more opportunity to soar post-crisis

“Once upon a withy on the edge of a deep damp swamp, nestled in the arms of a winding river, stood a pretty little town…”

Snuck in under the radar for this one as I’ve been looking forward to The Wicker Husband for a long time. Four years in fact, since I first heard a snippet of the score but as ever in the world of writing a new musical, the show has been in development for more than twice that time. Further upping my anticipation was the success of composer/lyricist Darren Clark’s last major project The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which was only my very favourite show of last year.

Together with book-writer Rhys Jennings, their adaptation of a short story by Ursula Wills-Jones has a bewitching quality that is eerily compelling and in the tradition of all the best fairy tales, has no problem in going very dark. Along with my mortal fear of eerily humanoid puppets, it makes for a much more chilling night at the theatre (for me, at least) but one which is ultimately beautifully human too, as Charlotte Westenra’s production reminds us why fables have endured for so long. Continue reading “Review: The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre”

Review: Lardo, Old Red Lion

“You’ll need a better leotard, that’s for sure”

There’s something genius about the way Finn Caldwell’s production of Lardo co-opts its audience into becoming willing and whooping wrestling spectators. Whether Haystacks is something Giant to you or something to find a needle in, there’s such a compelling warmth to the way in which we’re swept up into the atmosphere that you’ll find it impossible not to be chanting LAR-DO, LAR-DO, LAR-DO… Mike Stone’s play takes us into the realm of ‘Tartan Wrestling Madness’ where the likes of Wee Man and Whiplash Mary entertain Glasgow audiences hungry for a ruckus, and whose ranks aspiring wrestler Lardo is desperate to join.

Daniel Buckley’s inspired Lardo lacks in trimness, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm and unsurprisingly it isn’t long before he seizes his opportunity to get the celebrity he’s long dreamed of. But girlfriend Kelly (a gently persuasive Laura Darrall) has just found out she’s pregnant, rugged boss Stairs – a former wrestler himself – has dreams of upping the ante where the violence is concerned (Nick Karimi giving an outrageously charismatic performance), even whilst dogged health and safety officer Cassie (Rebecca Pownall) is determined to make him follow the rules. Stone has each of his characters test their limits and astutely asks us how far is too far in the name of entertainment.  Continue reading “Review: Lardo, Old Red Lion”

Review: Or You Could Kiss Me, National Theatre

“This…is…going to happen”

Maybe it is due to some as yet unexplored childhood trauma, but I really don’t like puppets, whether human or animal, I just don’t like ‘em. I can just about cope with Avenue Q type cuddliness, but more realistic ones by and large freak me out which is why I have never seen War Horse. So when a new play by the same company Handspring, was announced at the Cottesloe in the National Theatre, I decided to seize the bull by the horns or the puppet by its strings and go to see Or You Could Kiss Me. This was an early preview and I’m not sure what I was expecting, it wasn’t this.

More often than not I was confused. And when I wasn’t confused I was bored. Despite the rich opportunities, the story is practically non-existent with very few scenes of note as it pursues its fragmented memory play structure, the characterisation felt very weak for the leads and the role of the narrator was by turns baffling and infuriating. A constant presence on the stage (as the only non-puppeteer, Adjoa Andoh actually ends up working the hardest), she is story-teller but also interrogator, teasing the story from the actors, questioning their actions and also given to reciting poetry and prolonged discourses on the nature of memory and thought which all adds up to very little in the end despite Andoh’s best efforts. Continue reading “Review: Or You Could Kiss Me, National Theatre”

Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, National Theatre

I was pleased with myself when this play was announced because I paid attention in my piano lessons when I was 10 and I knew that the title was the mnemonic used for the notes of the treble clef (although I remembered it as football). Not being familiar with Every Good Boy Deserves Favour though, I found it quite a refreshing thing to watch, being something completely different to anything I had seen before. That said I am not sure if it was a complete success.

Joseph Millson plays a political dissenter locked up in a Soviet mental institution and shares a cell with another patient, played by Toby Jones, who believes he has a full orchestra in his head. The set-up with the orchestra being right there on stage is quite effective, and the sections where the characters interact with the orchestra were very funny, and the players played on very gamely in the face of some severe distractions. Where I felt this didn’t work however, was when the acting was just front-stage, the orchestra ended up being a distraction or vice versa. Continue reading “Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, National Theatre”

Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre

With Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw took the well-known story of Joan of Arc, a young peasant girl eventually sainted, who led the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years War and was repaid for her trouble by being declared a witch and burnt at the stake since she believed that she was being guided by the voice of God in her head, and created an all-too-human story filling in the gaps in the history with tales of conflicting institutions, personality clashes and a keen sense of humour of what her life must have been like.

The play is remarkably even-handed in that it presents all sides of the argument and never really comes down on the side of either Joan or her oppressors. There are no goodies and baddies here, just a girl who believes God is speaking to her and the machinery of Church and State who will do anything to ensure their power remains stable: Shaw’s message is that uncontrolled individualism threatens the established order and is rarely tolerated. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre”