Review: The Boy Friend, Menier Chocolate Factory

As light as a madeleine and as frivolous as a macaron, Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend proves a festive treat at the Menier Chocolate Factory

“Clap-a your hands and slap on your thighs
Grin like a goon and roll up your eyes”

As light as a madeleine and as frivolous as a macaron, Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend belongs in the same delightfully daft bracket of musical theatre as the likes of Salad Days and as such, is the perfect kind of frothy fun that offers a little respite from the darkness of winter nights and politicians’ empty promises. Written in the 1950s as an homage to the 1920s and with a plot that can be summed up in one character’s aside “poor little rich girl”, Matthew White’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory sees him renew a richly fruitful relationship which has included such successes as She Loves Me and Sweet Charity.

Keeping the original three act structure, complete with two intervals, pushes the evening a little towards the episodic, but any sense of slightness is banished by the thrilling choreographic content from Bill Deamer (also associate director). From the gobsmacking elasticity and unflagging energy of Jack Butterworth and Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson’s first act charleston, to the explosive passion of Bethany Huckle and Matthew Ives’ fiery carnival tango, the quality of the dancing really is second to none. And as the full company join in time and again, it’s hard not to be swept up in the joyous atmosphere and just join in with their beaming grins. Continue reading “Review: The Boy Friend, Menier Chocolate Factory”

10 questions for 10 years – Tom Littler

Artistic Director of the Jermyn Street Theatre, Tom Littler tackles the 10 questions challenge with some real gusto

Tom Littler became AD and EP of the Jermyn Street Theatre in 2017 but his relationship with the theatre goes back way further. And when I asked him to about his memories of Anyone Can Whistle which I noted as my favourite of his productions, this was his response: 

“I’m slightly perturbed that you think I peaked in 2010…! That was a memorable time. I remember the three leads, Issy van Randwyck, David Ricardo-Pearce and Rosalie Craig, very clearly. David had a song called ‘Everybody Says Don’t’ – a hymn to anarchy and breaking the rules, but most of all to trying: ‘Tilt at the windmill, and if you fail, you fail.’ That often feels pretty relevant in art and life.” 

  • Where were you 10 years ago?

    I was opening a play at the Arcola called Origin of the Species by Bryony Lavery, with Clare-Hope Ashitey and Marjorie Yates. It’s about a prehistoric woman who comes to life. We buried Clare-Hope in sand and the audience had no idea she was there until Marjorie excavated her.

    Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Tom Littler”

Album Review: Dirty Dancing (2006 London Cast Recording)

“Not a stress or strain is found here for it must be said
Here at Kellerman’s you gladdened, stomach, heart and head”

Would that Kellermans was able to gladden anyone who has bought this cast recording of Dirty Dancing… This album is a bizarre hodge-podge of original songs from the film in their original recorded versions combined with studio recordings of tracks from the musical adaptation, onto which audience noise has been spliced to give the impression of ‘liveness’. And the result is about as good as you might imagine such a thing to be.

 

Not-a-review: Four Weddings in a Funeral reading, Hampstead

“Fuck-a-doodle-doo”
 
It is slightly terrifying to think that it is 23 years since Four Weddings and a Funeral was released – the world will insist on reminding me I’m getting older… And though I don’t think I’ve actually seen it in about 20 years, the prospect of a reading of the film as part of the Hampstead Theatre Festival had quite the allure. Mainly because of John Heffernan and Jemima Rooper in the cast if we’re being honest, and they were worth it, but I’m low on time so I’m leaving it at that.

 

 

Film Review: The Danish Girl

“Is there something you’d like to tell me?
‘Is there something you’d like to know'”

Though it is the striking image of Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe that dominates the publicity for this film, it is actually Alicia Vikander who emerges as the star of The Danish Girl. As Gerda Wegener, a mildly successful painter in mid-1920s Copenhagen, her emotional journey as a woman coming to terms with her husband’s Einar’s realisation that she’s a transgender woman offers the film’s most fully rounded character and in Vikander’s hands, a sense of raw, unpredictable emotion that is gorgeous to watch as the very limits of her tolerance and understanding are tested.

After a year where transgender issues came to the fore, it seems only natural that a film about Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, should be an apparent front-runner for this year’s award season. At the same time though, one can’t help but wish that Tom Hooper’s film hadn’t been made with two eyes fixed on the Academy Awards. His glossy and ultimately quite superficial approach – based on David Ebershoff’s novel which is a fictionalised version of Lili’s life – thus feels like a missed opportunity, as artificial an image as Caitlyn Jenner’s Annie Leibovitz-assisted cover.  Continue reading “Film Review: The Danish Girl”

Review: A Further Education, Hampstead Downstairs

“We come here to learn things we don’t know”

Right now, there’s more women onstage at Hampstead’s downstairs theatre than there are in the current and next main house shows (The Moderate Soprano and Hapgood, both written and directed by men too) combined – a sorry record indeed for any establishment. Which isn’t the note on which I intended to start this review of A Further Education (which is directed by a woman at least) but it’s something I wanted to say which I think needs to be recognised more widely.

But to the matter at hand. A Further Education is Will Mortimer’s debut professional play and is something of a gentle comedy, its rather warm ideal ideal for these darkening nights. It’s the start of a new year at university and Josh and Lydia’s English Lit tutorial is blown open by the arrival of mature student Charlotte Swift. Seemingly an academic genius wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, her insights even knock the socks off lecturer Chris yet try as they all might to get her to open up, Charlotte’s personal circumstances remain a closed book. Continue reading “Review: A Further Education, Hampstead Downstairs”

CD Review: A Little Night Music (NT vs Broadway Revival Cast recordings)

“Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve?”

I always assume that people know where the name of this blog came from but for those that don’t, it is a lyrical reference from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Which gives a seamless segue into this post about two cast recordings of the show – the first from the 1995 National Theatre production and the second from the 2010 Broadway revival. The first is most notable for capturing one of the greatest moments in musical theatre, possibly even theatre full stop.

Judi Dench’s extraordinary rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns’ may be close to becoming a party trick (if there’s a gala, she’ll be there) but it truly is a remarkable thing. The cracks in her voice are a perfect match for the ageing star that is Desirée and the speak-singing style allows her to act the hell out of the song – the way in which she sighs ‘weeeellllll’ near the end is just spine-tingling. 4 minutes 23 of pure perfection.   Continue reading “CD Review: A Little Night Music (NT vs Broadway Revival Cast recordings)”

Review: Raving, Hampstead Theatre

“He’s such an insensitive git. Loves having a go at you lefties.”

What price a laugh? How far should the boundaries of taste be pushed to achieve comic objectives? And how complicit are we in wanting to find things funny? Simon Paisley Day’s play Raving sets out its unreconstructed stall early on from its first dubious gay jokes to the co-opting of the phrase ‘batty boy’ which garnered a disturbing number of titters from the Hampstead Theatre audience. But putting the tastes of the audience to one side, this actor-turned-playwright hits on the nose across the spectrum – post-natal depression and something perilously close to sexual abuse are used as joke-filled hooks on which to hang his farcical machinations and for a play with pretensions of being a contemporary comedy, it just doesn’t fly.

Paisley Day’s premise is the stuff of a many a sitcom. Three middle class London couples rock up at a cottage for a weekend away in deepest Wales but instead of leaving their troubles behind, chaos erupts on a near-hourly basis. Briony and Keith are having their first break away from son Finn, their first three years of parenthood not having proved easy; über-perfect Ross and Rosy live what appears to be a charmed life, only a constant stream of au pairs causing a minor wrinkle; and last minute additions Charles and Serena are the embodiment of blithe hooray-Henryness, in possession of an anarchically raucous teenage niece who further stirs the pot once a drug and alcohol-fuelled rave is discovered in a neighbouring field. Continue reading “Review: Raving, Hampstead Theatre”

DVD Review: Christopher and His Kind

“As far as I know, Lenin said nothing about buggery”

I was told that I simply must watch Christopher and his kind after really enjoying I Am A Camera at the Southwark Playhouse, as it covered similar ground in recounting novelist Christopher Isherwood’s residency in Berlin in the early 1930s as his search for boy-fuelled hedonism comes up hard against the ugly rise of National Socialism. The film’s timespan and geographical scope also extends well beyond that of the play to create a neat companion piece which is also notable for featuring current Doctor Who Matt Smith in the sexually adventurous lead role.

It is pleasingly frank in its depiction of the gay sexuality that was missing from the play: Isherwood’s first stop upon arriving in Berlin is to be squired to the Cosy Corner, an underground gay bar of sorts, by Pip Carter’s wonderfully glacial Wystan, or WH Auden as he is better known and few blushes are spared with sex scenes (wouldn’t have imagined he was a top tbh) and deliciously scathing humour. The relationship between Auden and Isherwood is beautifully played by Carter and Smith and I wish we had seen more of it as their encounters are wonderfully scripted – the banter about…size is genius – but I guess that was the whole point about their general reticence of emotional intimacy.   Continue reading “DVD Review: Christopher and His Kind”