Review: Committee… (A New Musical), Donmar Warehouse

“The objective of this session is not to conduct a show trial. We want to learn some lessons.”

There’s a rather lazy trope around ‘unlikely subjects’ for a musical which accompany any show that deviates from the apparent norm. Yet given that the Best New Musical Olivier award winners over the past few decades have covered Argentinian politics, Scouse twins, confused animals, missionaries in Africa and post-Impressionist painters, I’m not entirely sure what counts for normal here!

The latest show to use musical theatre to tackle an ‘unexpected’ topic is Committee… (A New Musical), written by Hadley Fraser and Josie Rourke with music by Tom Deering. To take its full name, The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall’s Relationship with Kids Company, it uses Parliamentary transcripts to interrogate the public inquiry into the 2015 collapse of the children’s charity along with the millions of taxpayer money it had been given. Continue reading “Review: Committee… (A New Musical), Donmar Warehouse”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

Review: Saint Joan, Donmar

“Must a Christ perish in every age to save those that have no imagination”

This
 is Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan but very much via Josie Rourke, as the medieval piety of the pre-show entertainment gives way to the uber-modernity of this interpretation with the opening flourish of a tablecloth being whipped away (more impressive than it sounds!). The gods being worshipped here are high finance and business as scenes are set in companies like Vaucouleur Commodities Brokerage and Dauphin Holdings, Evan Davies and Bloomberg news tickers give us regular updates and it is in the midst of all this that Gemma Arterton’s Joan arrives, the sole figure in period dress. 

Dealing with an amusing take on the egg crisis of the first scene, and using Skype to correctly identify Fisayo Akinade’s spoiled manchild heir of a Dauphin in the next, the modern take is clever but there’s a strange tension that never quite resolves. The text has been cut but not completely modernised, so talk of battles and forts sit alongside the rise and fall of stocks and shares and it doesn’t settle into an interpretation that didn’t leave me going ‘you what now’ until it starts to play the drama straight as in the English plot to bring about the downfall of the woman uniting the French against them. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, Donmar”

EP Review: Ramin Karimloo – The Road to Find Out South

“Surrendering to a love that’s pureWill save the soul of a man I’m sure”

It’s been a couple of years since Ramin Karimloo took The Road To Find Out – East and I was beginning to wonder if he’d gotten lost 😉 For the EP was announced as part of a series of 4, exploring the broadgrass fusion (Broadway and Bluegrass) that he has pioneered over recent years. But he’s found his way, he’s come back to us, and part 2 – The Road to Find Out – South “The Brooklyn Sessions” – has now been released. And following a similar musical path as “East”, it’s another entertaining collection.

Opening with Sheytoons (his folk-rock band with fellow thesp Hadley Fraser) track ‘Wings’ is again a statement of intent about where Karimloo’s heart lies, its plucked banjo strings and sing-along chorus full of rousing warmth. ‘Traveller’s Eyes’ feels equally at home in its dusty cowboy boots, though my favourite of the original tracks is the tender ‘Letting The Last One Go’, co-written with Victoria Shaw, a lovelorn tale of bruised and broken hearts. Continue reading “EP Review: Ramin Karimloo – The Road to Find Out South”

Review: Ramin Karimloo, London Palladium

 “Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind”

To the casual viewer, Ramin Karimloo might seem like your average, insanely buff leading man with a voice of honeyed gold, but his artistic vision lies far beyond musical theatre into the world of music at large. For he’s a singer/songwriter as well as a performer and as his tastes incline towards the folk and country side of things, the phrase Broadgrass has been conjured to capture his inimitable style – a portmanteau of Broadway and bluegrass doncha know!

And though a couple of less-well-informed reviewers were taken by surprise, it is far from a new venture in Karimloo’s career. His band Sheytoons, formed with fellow MT star Hadley Fraser has been going since 2010, and he’s released 2 EPs since then, The Road to Find Out East and The Road to Find Out South, so his commitment to the cause is most definitely sans doute and live at the London Palladium, it was abundantly in evidence.  Continue reading “Review: Ramin Karimloo, London Palladium”

Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Bristol Old Vic

“One day I found I could no longer call my soul my own”

There’s a lot of activity planned around the celebration of Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Anniversary but it is hard to imagine it being bettered than this stunning production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Eugene O’Neill’s emotionally gruelling autobiographical masterpiece of a play sees director Richard Eyre reunited with Lesley Manville whose last collaboration was the superlative Ghosts which was reason enough to visit Bristol, even before the small matter of Jeremy Irons being cast against her.

And so it turned out that, along with Rob Howell’s exceptional set design, is was Manville with the magic here. She plays Mary Tyrone, the matriarch of a family blighted both by the curse of addiction and an inability to talk about anything important. Her demon is morphine, her older son’s is alcohol and her younger son is seriously ill with tuberculosis but such is the rod of iron with which father James rules the roost, that these uncomfortable truths are rarely, if at all, confronted. Continue reading “Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick

“Which text are you using?”

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s opening salvo as his year-long residency at the Garrick begins is the Terence Rattigan double header of Harlequinade and All On Her Own. When originally performed, Harlequinade was paired up with another of Rattigan’s short plays The Browning Version to beef up the bill and the same thinking has been applied here. Taking advantage of Zoë Wanamaker’s presence in the company, Branagh has introduced one-woman 30-minute play All On Her Own (also known as Duologue) to the programme, playing directly before Harlequinade with nary an interval between them.

One can see the theoretical case for the decision, ensuring West End prices can still be charged but providing a much more slimline companion piece to the three hours of The Winter’s Tale but in reality, it’s an odd pairing that demonstrates little complementarity (apart from for Rattigan completists). All On Her Own is a grand showcase for Wanamaker, as her widow returns from a party somewhat tipsy and begins to reminisce about her dead husband, even talking to him. It’s a little bit funny, it’s a little bit sad, but it’s a little bit perplexing too, especially as it has no connection to the ensuing HarlequinadeContinue reading “Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick

“I do feel it gone, But know not how it went”

Perhaps one of the biggest lures of the newly established Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company and its year-long residency at the Garrick Theatre is the return of Dame Judi Dench to the stage, playing Paulina in their opening production of The Winter’s Tale. One of the pre-eminent Shakespeareans of this or any age, the run largely sold out in advance proving the astute business sense but with Branagh and Rob Ashford co-directing this oft-described problem play, does it make artistic sense?

And I’m not 100% sure that it does, this doesn’t feel like a production that one will remember as a classic of our time. It is undoubtedly a difficult play to mount, the chilly stateliness of the first act’s Sicilia contrasting strongly with the permissive post-interval (and 16 years hence) Bohemia and with a rambling plot full of statuesque tragicomedy, it’s a hard one to love. Branagh and Ashford keep things more or less traditional, and of course excellently spoken, but rarely soul-stirringly good. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick”

Album Review: The In-Between

“There are worlds that you’ve never dreamed of…“

Laura Tisdall’s self-penned musical The In-Between received the concept album treatment back in 2012 but has remained unproduced since then. An original story about 19 year old orphan Flick Wimple and the dilemma she faces when an unexpected move places her in the space between parallel worlds – The In-Between – and she’s given the choice to leave all her problems behind but at no small cost to the older sister who has raised her. Helping her on her way is Calicus, someone who has guided many along a similar path but sees something different in Flick.

Musically, it cleaves a little too close to the pop-rock genre for my personal taste. It’s also hard to replicate that sound effectively on disc and so the production can sometimes sound a little cheap, especially in the opening couple of tracks. That said, Dianne Pilkington and Cassie Compton bring a real sense of character to the feisty ‘She’s My Sister’. The more keyboard-based songs feel stronger – Lauren Samuels’ gorgeously evocative voice is an ideal fit for the stirring ‘Someone You’d Be Proud Of’ and as the song expands to an epic reach, it’s hard not to think she’d be a great Flick.  Continue reading “Album Review: The In-Between”