Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)
Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre
The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions. A truly joyous and momentous occasion.
Theatre company Arrows & Traps came belatedly onto my radar with their rather stunning rendition of Anna Karenina earlier this year so I was keen to check out what they’d do next, which turned out to be Macbeth in the similar black box space of the New Wimbledon’s Studio. Adapted and directed by Ross McGregor, this modern Macbethcontinually builds on its interesting choices to deliver a final 10 minute sequence that is as achingly affecting as any version of the play I’ve ever seen.
And they are strong choices for the most part too. Arrows & Traps’ commitment to gender equality sees them offer up a company that has 6 women to 5 men, casually flipping Duncan (Jean Apps) and Banquo (an excellently badass Becky Black) into female roles and having the witches double up as murderers and soldiers. In some ways its a small thing but in others, it still feels radical; as pointed out, majority-female fight scenes as those seen here are few and far between. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, New Wimbledon Studio”
“And still we’re only dreaming for change, change, change…”
Any semi-regular reader will know the love I had for the latelamentedmusical of Made in Dagenham so my pleasure at a live cast recording being released was boundless indeed as I always thought that David Arnold’s score was one of the more under-rated parts of the production. And it is so nice to have this kind of full reminder of a much-beloved show although I have to say the first couple of times I listened to this soundtrack, I was still too filled with sadness at its early closing.
But now I’m fully in the appreciating stage and there’s lots to love here. This recording really emphasises the female voice(s) and picks out the sophistication of much of the harmony that wasn’t always immediately apparent at the Adelphi. The spit-wielding mothers of ‘Busy Woman’, the wary onlookers of ‘Storm Clouds’, the weary strikers of ‘We Nearly Had It All’, the depth of the female ensemble just sounds like a dream. Continue reading “Album Review: Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording 2015)”
So here we have it, barely six months after opening, the machinery at Ford Dagenham has ground to a halt for the last time and Made in Dagenham has played its final performance. To say I’m gutted is putting it mildly, this was a piece of shining musical theatre that I took to my heart from the first time I saw it and again on my subsequent two revisits. You can read Review #1Review #2 and Review #3. But the opportunity to see it one last time was one I couldn’t resist and if a show has to shutter, then the special energy of a closing night is probably the time to do it.
And I’m so glad that we went back for more (this is the first show I’ve ever dayseated twice and you can count the number of times I’ve dayseated on one hand!) as it was a truly special night. The occasion aside, it was a genuine pleasure to see and hear the show again and the cast were on fire to a (busy wo)man. Adrian der Gregorian has never sounded better than pouring all his heart and soul into ‘The Letter’, Sophie-Louise Dann tore up the stage and her colleagues’ tear ducts in ‘In An Ideal World’, Mark Hadfield’s Harold Wilson went even further over the top (if such a thing were possible), and Heather Craney’s goofy Clare became almost unbearably heart-breaking with such emotion on show. Continue reading “Review: the final night of Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”
“You can’t try and bamboozle me with choreography”
A third visit back to this most heart-warmingly lovely of shows and a fine festive occasion it turned out to be. Review #1 and review #2 can be read here and there’s little much to add that hasn’t already been said. There’s much aboutMade in Dagenham that is indubitably charming and the breadth of David Arnold’s score has a lovely distinct tunefulness that has really worked its way into my memory (meaning I’m the one humming along!).
Additionally the leading performances of Gemma Arterton and particularly Adrian der Gregorian have really blossomed into something quite touching – I’d always been impressed by Arterton’s Rita but der Gregorian seems to have found a new emotional level as her husband Eddie. It’s also interesting to see where the nips and tucks have come in the show – the quip about Sandra’s dad liking whiskey and Monty’s redemption are two I noticed, and Rita’s daughter’s bolstering presence during ‘We Nearly Had It All’ is also now sadly gone. Continue reading “Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”
Reader, I went back. Before it had even officially opened. A return visit to Made in Dagenham was never really in doubt and so that’s where I was on Saturday night (on the front row again, there’s really nowhere else to see the show from!) My original review can be read here and I’m pleased to report that the show really has settled into its skin to become something that ought to become a long-running success (though whether it will or not is anyone’s guess). An original British musical full of humour and heart, a little bit of Dagenham goes a long way indeed.
Getting to see it a second time was a real privilege as it meant I was prepared for the few things that had bothered me first time round and also flagged up they weren’t ever really that bad. The broad sense of humour that permeates Richard Bean’s book and Richard Arnold’s lyrics perhaps owes a little to Victoria Wood, with something of the ensemble comedy feel of Dinnerladies in there plus the mention of one of her beloved Berni Inns. And knowing it is coming makes Harold Wilson’s bizarre treatment somewhat funnier in its complete randomness, Mark Hadfield clearly having a ball. Continue reading “Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”
“Rome may not have been built in a day but Dagenham sure was”
Based on the real-life tale of the Ford sewing machinists whose strike in 1968 kicked into motion a groundswell of a movement that shook Harold Wilson’s administration and culminated in the Equal Pay Act of 1970, Made In Dagenham is one of those rare beasts – a brand new big-budget British musical. William Ivory wrote the story up into a 2010 filmby Nigel Cole but here it is Richard Bean who has written the book, with David Arnold composing the score and Richard Thomas penning the lyrics, with Rupert Goold taking on directorial duties.
The show naturally has had a lengthy preview period (opening officially 5th November) and I saw it a week ago, not having intended to write about it, but after a couple of people emailed me to ask my opinion, I thought sod it, I’ll write it up! So take it all with a pinch of salt, I suspect the show may not be to the liking of some but I really rather enjoyed it, with its huge amiability, its cracking lead in Gemma Arterton and that crucial level of interest that comes from a true story (and one whose legacy continues today, somewhat unresolved). I’ll be going back soon but here’s what I thought first time round.
Between them, Bean and Goold seem to revel in making slightly off-kilter decisions. Making Harold Wilson an unreconstructed comedy character complete with end-of-the-pier routine with a bit of soft-show here and some salty humour there is simply bizarre, though Mark Hadfield makes a genuinely decent fist out of it. Another choice that seems rather random is the striking opening visual in the bedroom which doesn’t really play out as you think it might. Continue reading “Review: Made In Dagenham, Adelphi”
“Candy floss and caravans, kiss me quick and hold my hand”
I have long harboured a secret desire to go and see Dreamboats and Petticoats: not so much in a ‘I must go and see this rightaway’ kind of sense but more in a ‘I bet that’s actually quite good fun’ way. It is easy to be instantly dismissive of jukebox shows, I have been guilty myself of not seeing any for a long time and of those I have now seen, there’s been a mixed response in the Clowns household: the charm of Buddydone on the fringe won me over but the brash hard sell ofJersey Boys left me cold. Dreamboats… has floating around for a couple of years now, starting in the Savoy and subsequently finding a new home at the Playhouse; a concurrent touring production working its way around the UK too. But the main attraction for going now (alongside tickets falling into my hand) was the West End debut of Des O’Connor, virtually every appearance of whom was welcomed with screams and cheers of delight from the audience – I don’t think I got the memo but I think he may be a National Treasure now.
The show was famously inspired by a series of compilation CD of late 50s and early 60s hits and carries with it a rather lightweight book, centred on a group of teenagers at a youth club in Essex. Geeky Bobby wants to become the new singer of the band but is gazumped by the slick older Norman who also catches the eye of the buxom Sue for whom Bobby holds a candle. On the sidelines, Laura – a talented musician – pines after Bobby unnoticed but a trip to Southend and a song writing competition offer an opportunity to shake things up. It’s all sweet and wholesome with nary a knowing wink or nudge to be found. Continue reading “Review: Dreamboats and Petticoats, Playhouse”
“Is it foolish to wait for the day that will never come”
You have to admire the ambition currently on display at the Union Theatre. Writing a new musical is hard enough at the best of times, but when your source material is a Booker-Prize-winning novel which has already had a much loved film adaptation made, then there’s quite a challenge ahead. But that is what Alex Loveless has taken on with his adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.
Telling the story of Stevens in post WWII England, a long-serving butler to the late Lord Darlington who is struggling to deal with his new American employer, he identifies the solution as being retrieving a former colleague from Cornwall, Miss Kenton. As he sets off on a road-trip to try and persuade her, he also goes on a journey through his memories of the inter-war period where we discover that his employer was uncomfortably sympathetic to the Nazis and that his relationship with Miss Kenton ran far far deeper than that of just butler and housekeeper. Continue reading “Review: The Remains of the Day, Union Theatre”