Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner gives us an utterly inspired take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre, with Gwendoline Christie in stupendous form

“Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have”

You can tell a lot about a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the way it treats its Hippolyta. Possessed of so few words, her presence is nevertheless vital for setting the tone of the play and from the moment you walk into the Bridge Theatre, you just know Nicholas Hytner has got it right. This conquered queen is caged in a glass box, as if an artefact in some grotesque museum and as an impassive Gwendoline Christie fixes us with her  stare, it’s a definitive commentary on the gender politics here before we’ve even started.

But even once the play starts, her power is no less unremarkable. As Hermia claims she knows not by what power she is made bold, one look at Hippolyta’s hand against the glass leaves you in  no doubt of the source of her new found confidence. Small but powerful changes that set the scene perfectly for Hytner’s most striking innovation which, as it reveals itself in the following act, proved to be one of the most thrilling ways to re-infuse excitement into this oft-performed classic. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre”

Review: The Producers, Churchill Bromley

“Look at these reviews…”

There’s little point denying the economic realities of mounting a major tour of a big musical – famous faces sell tickets. That two of the faces on the poster for The Producers belong to Phill Jupitus and Ross Noble feels something of a stretch though, given that they’re playing the same role (the latter taking over from the former mid-May) something of a promotional sleight of hand there that perhaps betrays a lack of confidence in the production.

And you can’t help but understand why whilst watching it, and reckoning it is going to be a long four months of a tour. In all honesty, this felt like a misconceived, mis-cast and misunderstood mishap of a mess. Splashing the likes of Jason Manford, Louie Spence and the aforementioned Jupitus against this hugely well-received Mel Brooks musical ought to have been more effective but the Matthew White’s production misses the mark on so many counts. Continue reading “Review: The Producers, Churchill Bromley”

Review: Wind in the Willows, Vaudeville

“Let my creatures rise again”

Adding to the diversity of festive offerings on the stage, The Wind in the Willows was the Royal Opera House’s first venture into the West End last December and now returns for a second year of adventuring through the riverbank, the Wild Wood and beyond. It might not be the instinctive choice for a Christmas show – a dance version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel – but it has a gently persuasive charm that ought to appeal to all ages.
A wonderfully charismatic performance from Cris Penfold brings Toad to manic attention-seeking life – likewise Sonya Cullingford’s meek myopic Mole, Martin Harvey’s rakish rowing Ratty and Ira Mandela Siobhan’s bonny bright Badger – and through Will Tuckett’s expressive choreography and direction, their stories come to life. Solely through the medium of dance, all four offer a wonderful sense of character and camaraderie through their series of jocular japes and journeys.

They’re aided by a really rather nifty design from The Quay Brothers that feels like it might have fallen out of a pop-up storybook as rivers tumble from wardrobe doors, giant chairs are upended into prison cells, butterflies float through the air on gloves. With imaginative puppetry from the inspired Toby Olié and an evocative score that runs through the breadth of English folk music from Martin Ward, there is much that can captivate here.
A rather prosaic narration from Alan Titchmarsh, playing the role of Kenneth Grahame as storyteller, does sap the magic at times though, he never settles into a performative role and so always give the impression of just delivering his lines. It is left to the likes of Ewan Wardrop to lift the theatrical mood as the bawdy Gaoler’s Daughter (as well as Otter and Chief Weasel) and celebrate the playful spirit of this sometimes delightful production.
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th January

Review: Boy Meets Boy -Jermyn Street

“You’ve been free, now it’s time to get married”

Just a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus, the intimate Jermyn Street Theatre has quietly been building a reputation for quality productions with a focus on unknown and forgotten classics and recently scored a massive success with the stage premiere of Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall which subsequently transferred into the West End. And with blockbuster musicals like The Bodyguard and Viva Forever looming on the horizon, to follow that with a Broadway obscurity never before performed in the UK might have seemed a perverse choice but for his final production as Artistic Director of this theatre, Gene David Kirk has unearthed an absolute knock-out success in Boy Meets Boy

Written in 1975 by Bill Solly and Donald Ward, it is set in 1936 as a pastiche of the golden screwball era of Fred and Ginger but this is a world in which there’s a same-sexual equality which not even 2012 can match. For though our Fred is Casey O’Brien, a sozzled society journalist who has managed to sleep through the 1936 abdication crisis, and our Ginger is British aristocrat Guy Rose, who has just left playboy millionaire Clarence Cutler standing at the altar, no-one bats an eyelid. This is a world where equality is just a given, a natural part of high society who are happy to gossip about everyone, gay or straight. Such a simple innovation but one that is a genuine breath of fresh air that revels in its joyous freedom in a show that is unashamedly silly, sentimental yet superlative.  Continue reading “Review: Boy Meets Boy -Jermyn Street”

Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium

“And my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’

I could have quite happily given The Wizard of Oz a miss, it wasn’t ever really on my list of shows to see but the combined news of a visit from a family member who wanted to see it and Hannah Waddingham’s imminent departure from the ensemble meant that I found myself there on a Saturday evening… There’s something a little odd about its choice as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s third reality casting show, Over the Rainbow, as the show is not really a fully-fledged musical, no matter how famous some of the songs but he persevered nonetheless. What is even odder is his assembly of a strong musical theatre cast around the eventual winner, Danielle Hope, given the paucity of many of the roles around Dorothy.

Lloyd-Webber’s way around this has been to write new songs, with long-standing lyricist Tim Rice, to beef up the roles of characters like the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West and justify the casting of Michael Crawford and Hannah Waddingham respectively. But despite looking a picture with some tricksy staging and wirework, the end result is curiously banal, exceedingly bland and one which rarely excited me. The focus is so much on the stagecraft that the heart of the story is rarely engaged: Hope’s Dorothy is sweet but rarely interesting, there’s little of the ‘star quality’ evident this evening but then the role is not one that really encourages it; Michael Crawford made very little impact either as the Wizard or the cameos as Ozians and so it went, emotion taking second-place to spectacle. Continue reading “Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium”

Review: Rent Remixed, Duke of York’s

Many a musical has received a facelift, but none quite so dramatic or misguided as Rent Remixed, setting up shop at the Duke of York’s. William Baker (director) and Steve Anderson (musical arranger) are perhaps better known as part of the creative team behind Kylie Minogue but are responsible here for reinterpreting Jonathan Larson’s much loved Rent for a younger generation.

The original itself is a rough reworking of La Bohème, celebrating the lives of a group of sexually ambiguous, bohemian New Yorkers, eking out a living on the breadline and devastated by the arrival of HIV and AIDS. And whilst this is ostensibly the same show, the process of ‘remixing’ has ended up with curious results. Continue reading “Review: Rent Remixed, Duke of York’s”