Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

Review: The Mother, The Scoop at More London

“When I die I want to be able to say this, ‘I never did anything violent’”

Paired with Around the World in 80 Days as part of the free theatre season at The Scoop at More London, Brecht’s The Mother is a little performed play from 1932 telling of a woman living in a Russia on the cusp of revolution who is forced into a new world of political activism when she sees how her own activist son is treated by the authorities. As she meets with his friends and begins to engage with their agenda, she finds herself on a journey of personal growth, as she finally learns to read and as her political consciousness is awakened and becomes impassioned, she becomes a figurehead for the movement that her son is part of.

Though it is a story that is ultimately advocating Communism, the decision to keep the setting fairly loose and not tethered too tightly to its original time and location frees it up hugely and consequently scores a huge resonance in its examination of the issues around political dissidence and the right to demonstrate in public, particularly for young people. Ravenhill’s translation has a punchy directness and humanity that gives the political discussion a very relatable dimension through the figure of ‘The Mother’, played with tireless grace by Nicky Goldie, her concern for her son accompanied by a growing outrage at how she perceives society to be rotten and pushes for change. Continue reading “Review: The Mother, The Scoop at More London”

Review: Around the World in 80 Days, The Scoop at More London

“Everybody dreams of a little adventure”

As part of the free theatre available at The Scoop at More London which is now in its 9th impressive year, Around the World in 80 Days is a streamlined version of Phil Willmott’s original production for the Battersea Arts Centre 10 years ago which truncates the action in 75 swift minutes, accompanied by a suite of catchy original songs by Annemarie Lewis Thomas. It is freely adapted from Jules Verne’s novel and so whilst the shape of Phileas Fogg’s journey, the result of a wager to traverse the globe in an unheard-of 80 days, remains the same, the action is enlivened with highly recognisable figures from Victorian England passing comment on his progress.

It is fast and furious and lots of good-natured fun. Eugene Washington’s stern Fogg is tempered by the lovable antics of Joseph Wicks’ Passepartout, his able assistant, and when they rescue the Princess Aouda – a personable turn from Suzanne Ahmet – from an Indian funeral pyre, even Fogg’s stony heart begins to melt as his eyes are opened to the vast cultural influences to which he is exposed as they journey through Asia – helped memorably by a grumpy elephant through the Indian jungle, mounted with great style – and then through the USA – with a great song set in Salt Lake City which predates The Book of Mormon by at least a decade! – before trying to make it back in time to England to settle the bet. Continue reading “Review: Around the World in 80 Days, The Scoop at More London”

Review: Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

This review marks a momentous occasion as it features the first appearance of Aunty Jean, one of my most faithful theatre companions, despite living nearly 200 miles from me in Wigan. We try to see at least one thing every time she visits whether for pleasure or work, but it has been a while since she has been down so Oliver marked her first 2009 London theatrical trip.

Fortunately it was well worth it, as this show did not disappoint on any level (and many levels it did have!). The sets for this show were truly awe-inspiring: Fagin’s underground lair was cleverly constructed; the depth of the alleyway for the street scenes was huge so it gave a great sense of scale to the proceedings, one which has been sadly lacking in many large recent productions, cost-cutting I guess, and the lighting from scene to scene could not have been more different, yet still highly effective. This all combined to give great energy and movement to the show, which scarcely needs it due to the highly familiar and zippy score. Continue reading “Review: Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”