Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre

A hugely fascinating new musical from the RSC, Miss Littlewood impresses at the Swan Theatre – might we see it London before too long?

“I’ve come about the theatre”

The last musical to come out of the RSC is a little know thing that is still kicking around somewhere, Matilda I think it’s called… So Miss Littlewood might have a little expectation carrying on its shoulders, although it is clearly a completely different kettle of fish.

In the Swan Theatre, Sam Kenyon (book, music and lyrics) tells us the story of Joan Littlewood. Or rather, given the format of the show, hands the reins over to Joan to tell her story. Clare Burt stars as an older Littlewood who acts as a narrator, a maestro, as she directs six other performers, all of whom take turns in donning the blue cap to embody this most totemic figure of British theatre.  Continue reading “Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre”

Review: This Little Life Of Mine, Park

“Come on don’t you keep me waiting
Today’s the day I’m ovulating”

The clunkiness of the above rhyming couplet is a little symptomatic of This Little Life Of Mine, a well-meaning but mis-intentioned new musical receiving its premiere here at the Park. Written and directed by Michael Yale and scored by Charlie Round-Turner, it follows the regular lives of regular London couple Izzy and Jonesy and that really is just about it. Self-described as a “musical drama”, there’s a singular lack of the latter here which means that the show just ends up dull.

Finding the magic in the mundane is the stock in trade of many an insightful piece of writing but ultimately, all This Little Life… manages to do is extract the ordinary out of the extraordinary. Yes, there’s chuckles to be had in recognising some of the more exasperating aspects of modern life in the capital, extortionate house prices and needlessly expansive coffee menus to name just a couple, but a show that aims to show just how regular life can be needs to aim higher than replicating said regularness (regularity doesn’t seem right there…). Continue reading “Review: This Little Life Of Mine, Park”

CD Review: Thérèse Raquin (2014 Original London Cast)

“You are not still, you are not still Thérèse”

There are times when listening to cast recordings can sometimes feel like a chore, and others when they are a glorious reminder of shows gone by. For me, hearing the utterly gorgeous waterfall of voices on ‘You Are Not Still Thérèse’ from Craig Adams’ Thérèse Raquin is very much in the latter category, one of those moments of musical theatre perfection that work as music, as drama, as theatre, as pure art.
Adams and Nona Shepphard’s adaptation of Zola’s novel played at the Finborough in 2014 and then transferred to the larger Park in one of those really sensible moments theatreland sometimes has. Musically complex and dramatically interesting as a radical interpretation of the book, it delved deep into Thérèse’s psychology and aided by a stunning performance from Julie Atherton, worked beautifully.

The score stands up well on disc, its through-sung narrative clear as a bell and really assisted by the introduction of a sonorous Greek chorus of Claire Greenway, Ellie Kirk and Lucy O’Byrne who provide commentary and alternative takes on the tragic events. Atherton connects viscerally with illicit love Laurent, a virile Greg Barnett and contemptuously with husband Jeremy Legat’s Camille to bring real fire to their love triangle and its consequences, the climactic ‘If I Had Known’ is just devastatingly good.
But it’s the combination of them with the complex choral work of the company that really makes this an extraordinary musical, rich and evocative in a way that is all too rarely seen in new musicals, certainly on larger stages, and so it’s a real boon to have this recording to remember the show by and hopefully spearhead a fine set of revivals to come.

Review: NotMoses, Arts Theatre

“It’s fair enough to ask the Our Father what on earth he’s been playing at”

Comedies can be difficult to review, what makes other people laugh doesn’t always tickle my funnybone – hence my dislike of much farce – and also vice versa, but I have to be honest with you and say that NotMoses made me laugh, a lot. A revisionist Biblical comedy in the vein of The Life of Brian, Gary Sinyor’s new comedy is utterly irreverent, eye-wateringly funny and as close to the boundaries of good taste as you can possibly get (and some will undoubtedly find that it strays over them). You can read my 4 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets here and remember, thou shalt not eat an owl.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Darren Bell
Booking until 14th May

Album Review: Zorro (Original Cast Recording)

“Djobi djoba
Cada dia te quiero mas”

2008 musical Zorro lasted nine months in the West End, which may not seem a fantastic run but in retrospect, it lasted longer than From Here To Eternity, Stephen Ward, I Can’t Sing…any number of big musicals. Written by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson from Isabel Allende’s origin story, the tale positions the pulp legend as a folk hero and romantic lead, and is aided in the task by a highly atmospheric score from the Gipsy Kings and John Cameron.

Recorded live, the score has a slight feel of probably being much more fun to experience live than simply listening to in your living room. the flamenco rumba of the instrumentals impressively played but would be unquestionably improved with its accompanying choreography. So too the set pieces of pre-existing Gipsy Kings tracks Bamboléo and Djobi Djoba – both led by a fiercely charismatic Lesli Magherita – being exhorted to “baila, baila” just doesn’t quite work on record.  Continue reading “Album Review: Zorro (Original Cast Recording)”

Re-review: Thérèse Raquin, Park Theatre

“They are drawn by the inescapable promptings of their flesh!”

A well-deserved transfer for this hit Finborough musical although coming a few months after that original run, the production has had to be recast a bit along with being reconceived for the larger space of the Park Theatre. On a personal note, whilst I loved being able to listen to the pleasingly textured score once again, it was also interesting to come back to the show with a much greater knowledge of the story, having recently seen both a play and a film of Thérèse Raquin, thus enabling me to compare and contrast adaptations.

This version hedges its bets from the beginning by describing itself as a “radical adaptation” by Nona Shepphard but what is interesting is that Shepphard is the only one who tries to replicate something of Thérèse’s interior life, which is so richly portrayed in the novel, by using a chorus of three river women. It works both dramatically and musically, creating additional layers to the vocals and these hints of Greek tragedy with its chorus passing commentary is used effectively elsewhere, most notably in reporting the news of Camille’s tragic ‘accident’.

Continue reading “Re-review: Thérèse Raquin, Park Theatre”

Review: Swallows and Amazons, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Better drowned than duffers”

Originally a big success for the Bristol Old Vic last Christmas, Swallows and Amazons was revived for this festive season and has just spent a month in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre ahead of an extensive UK tour. Starting off here in Chichester, Arthur Ransome’s 1930 novel has been adapted by Helen Edmunson, sprinkled with songs from The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and directed by Tom Morris, it emerges as a delightfully inventive and highly imaginative production.

It works so well because it captures a long-lost spirit of play so very genuinely. From beginning to end, the show exudes a joyous playful spirit that almost immediately makes us forget we’re watching adults pretending to be kids. As the four Walker children set off to set up camp on an uninhabited island near their holiday home, they are whisked into a thrilling adventure beyond their wildest imagination and we are there with them for every beautifully-realised step. Continue reading “Review: Swallows and Amazons, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Spend Spend Spend! Richmond Theatre

“I was surprised at how much it affected me”

In 1961, Viv Nicholson won the equivalent of the lottery jackpot on the pools with her husband Keith in Castleford. Spend Spend Spend is a musical that tells the story, adapted from Nicholson’s own book, of how it was subsequently all frittered away, how money doesn’t always bring happiness and certainly doesn’t grant immunity from tragedy. The action is narrated from the perspective of the older Viv, reflecting back on her life as she rebuilds her life in South Yorkshire as a hairdresser. Originated at the Watermill, this actor-musician production is directed by Craig Revel Horwood and is reprising a successful UK tour this year.

Steve Brown’s score is solid, cohesive despite picking influences from a range of English music styles; Diego Pitarch’s design is simple, an effective replication of a Yorkshire pub which flexibly turns into a bedroom when needed; Revel Horwood’s choreography is attractive though not particularly adventurous, but this really is a show where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s a perfect confluence of each element, there’s not a huge amount of dancing for example which makes the routine to the title number an absolute blast and lending it a greater impact. And with its straight-forward direction and the no-nonsense approach to life that Viv and Keith espoused, the shows rockets through the ups and downs of life with remarkable candour in its portrayal of a flawed but aspirational woman. Continue reading “Review: Spend Spend Spend! Richmond Theatre”