Review: Abigail’s Party, Opera House Manchester

This touring production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party opts for comedy rather than tragicomedy at the Opera House Manchester, losing a little depth in order to find more laughs

“Let’s get pissed”

I spotted at least two people dressed up as Beverly at this matinée of Abigail’s Party at Manchester’s Opera House, a sure sign of cult status for any play. But it also means that their particular version of it can be stuck in aspic, making it difficult for any new interpretation to break through one’s own pre-programmed laugh track, to offer up a new reading of an oh-so-familiar text.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone – for me, ‘Demis Roussos’ is up there with ‘a handbag’ in terms of iconic lines – but Mike Leigh’s play has always struck me as a desperately sad one rather than an out and out comedy. Last year’s production at Hornchurch and the Menier’s 2012 production brought those sour notes but interestingly, Sarah Esdaile’s touring production opts for out and out farce. Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party, Opera House Manchester”

Review: Tell Me On A Sunday, Richmond Theatre

“Long lost feelings, stir inside me”

Like many a child of the 80s, or so I like to imagine, a cassette of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest hits was never too far from the car stereo, and so I’ve long been familiar with Tell Me On A Sunday and long been a fan thereof. Clearly others feel this way as the enduring popularity of the show means it has never been too far from our stages, with this latest iteration originating at Newbury’s Watermill before an extensive UK tour.

Perhaps with this sense of a classic in mind, Paul Foster’s production sticks with the original setting of the late 1970s and in Jodie Prenger, finds the ideal performer to convey the multiple romantic trials of this Englishwoman in New York – David Woodhead’s simple design evoking the period setting without overemphasising it. Prenger’s old-school charms suit the role perfectly, there’s something almost perverse in how watchable she is when playing heart-broken but crucially she invests Emma with an indefatigable quality of spirit that never seems to be truly broken. Continue reading “Review: Tell Me On A Sunday, Richmond Theatre”

CD Review: Spamalot UK Cast Album

“Now we can go straight into the middle eight”

Now that Spamalot has left the West End (again) (and may well pop up once again given its reliability as a stand-by for quickly vacated theatres), I thought I would give the soundtrack a listen, not least because it has languished on my hard-drive for a good couple of years now without me actually getting round to it. Recorded in 2010 at the Churchill Bromley, the album features the UK cast from that touring production of this Eric Idle and John Du Prez show.

It’s a live recording which means the first thing we hear is applause, something which annoys me disproportionately – why can’t, or don’t, they edit it out – as I don’t want to hear anything that isn’t the people on the stage. Likewise with the laughter throughout, I’m glad the audience were finding it funny but that’s not why people buy soundtracks, to hear others having a good time – is it too much to expect a recording unsullied by the great unwashed?! Continue reading “CD Review: Spamalot UK Cast Album”

Music Review: John Barrowman – John Barrowman

“So close to reaching that famous happy end”

I should be careful what I say about this week’s CD, John Barrowman’s album John Barrowman from 2010, as practically all the women in my family are ma-hoo-sive fans of his and so there could be recriminations. I don’t have quite the same feelings but enjoyed his turn in La Cage aux Folles and am a big fan of Torchwood so am generally favourably inclined towards him. Focusing on musical theatre but with a sprinkling of pop songs too, this is exactly how one would imagine a Barrowman album to sound and in some respect this is both its strength and weakness, appealing to his core audience and offering frustrating hints of what an interesting artistic album he could create.

In a nutshell, my opinion is that I like the first half of most of the songs where both vocal performance and arrangements remain simple and uncluttered, allowing Barrowman’s clear gift for interpretation to shine through. But almost invariably, grandstanding kicks in alongside key changes, long sustained notes and over-processed backing which creates a rather repetitive feel across the whole record. The opening of songs like ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ are just lovely but midway through lose what is making them special, robbing the subtleties that a little restraint would give, even if just to a couple of the songs. . A Celtic-infused take on ‘Memory’ from Cats actually emerges as the unexpected place where he curbs the excesses for the most part to interesting effect. Continue reading “Music Review: John Barrowman – John Barrowman”

Review: Spamalot, New Wimbledon Theatre

“In a thousand years, this will still be controversial”

I’ve never really been a fan of Monty Python and so had never felt the need to go and see Spamalot when it was running in the West End. But when a UK tour was announced, featuring a few interesting cast members, I decided to take the plunge and make my first visit to the New Wimbledon Theatre. 

Described as a new musical loving ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is a largely irreverent parody of the Arthurian legend with some self-parodic numbers about musical theatre thrown in for good measure. It features a new book and lyrics from Eric Idle with John Du Prez contributing to the music, but contains a couple of songs from the original film and also possibly the most recognisable song Monty Python ever came up with, ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’. But really, it’s not about the plot, or the killer rabbit, or the French people, or the flying cow, or Finland, it’s about the humour and the silliness and the sheer enthusiasm onstage. Continue reading “Review: Spamalot, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Winners of the 2010 What’s On Stage Awards

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Rachel Weisz – A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse (24.8%)
Alison Steadman – Enjoy at the Gielgud (12.8%)
Fiona Shaw – Mother Courage & Her Children at the NT Olivier (9.4%)
Helen Mirren – Phedre at the NT Lyttelton (21.60%)
Juliet Stevenson – Duet for One at the Almeida & Vaudeville (7.60%)
Lesley Sharp – The Rise & Fall of Little Voice at the Vaudeville (23.80%

THE CAPITAL BREAKS BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Jude Law – Hamlet, Donmar West End at Wyndham’s (40.80%)
David Harewood – The Mountaintop at Theatre 503 & Trafalgar Studios 1 (6.00%)
Dominic West – Life Is a Dream at the Donmar Warehouse (13.60%)
Ken Stott – A View from the Bridge at the Duke of York’s (14.90%)
Mark Rylance – Jerusalem at the Royal Court Downstairs (13.90%)
Samuel West – Enron at the Royal Court Downstairs (10.80%)
Continue reading “Winners of the 2010 What’s On Stage Awards”

fosterIAN awards 2009

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayRachel Weisz, A Streetcar Named DesirePhoebe Nicholls/Lisa Dillon, When the Rain Stops Falling; Chris Nietvelt, The Roman TragediesImelda Staunton, Entertaining Mr Sloane
Juliet Stevenson, Duet for One
Anna Chancellor, The Observer
Best Actor in a PlayHans Kesting, The Roman TragediesJude Law, Hamlet (Donmar)Dominic Rowan, The Spanish Tragedy
David Troughton, Inherit the Wind
Dan Stevens, Arcadia
Henry Goodman, Duet for One
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayRebecca Hall, The Winter’s Tale (Bridge Project)Kate Fleetwood, Life is a DreamJessie Cave, Arcadia
Michelle Dockery, Burnt By The Sun
Alexandra Gilbreath, Twelfth Night
Ruth Wilson, A Streetcar Named Desire
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayAndrew Scott, CockSimon Paisley-Day, Entertaining Mr SloaneMark Dexter, Inherit the Wind
Tom Goodman-Hill, Enron
Ethan Hawke, The Winter’s Tale (Bridge Project)
Barnaby Kay, A Streetcar Named Desire
Best Actress in a MusicalSamantha Spiro, Hello, Dolly!Julie Atherton, The Last Five YearsMelanie Chisholm, Blood Brothers
Donna King, Frank’s Closet
Patina Miller, Sister Act
Tamzin Outhwaite, Sweet Charity
Best Actor in a MusicalSimon Burke, La Cage aux FollesCarl Mullaney, Frank’s ClosetRoger Allam, La Cage aux Folles
Mark Umbers, Sweet Charity
Aneurin Barnard, Spring Awakening
Tony Sheldon, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalJosefina Gabrielle, Hello, Dolly!Sheila Hancock, Sister ActJosefina Gabrielle, Sweet Charity
Tiffany Graves, Sweet Charity
The Lovely Debbie McGee, Frank’s Closet
Jodie Prenger, Oliver!
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalOliver Thornton, Priscilla Queen of the DesertDaniel Crossley, Hello, Dolly!Rowan Atkinson, Oliver!
Clive Carter, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
John Marquez, Annie Get Your Gun
Jason Pennycooke, La Cage aux Folles

2009 Best Supporting Actress in a Play/in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Rebecca Hall, The Winter’s Tale
Make no mistake about it, Rebecca Hall is destined for great things, she is a fantastic actress and proved this in her Bridge Project turns this year. I plumped for her Hermione over her Varya as it was a slightly better role for her with more opportunity to showcase her heartbreaking treatment. Mark my words, this woman will become huge!

Honourable mention: Kate Fleetwood, Life is a Dream
Stealing the show somewhat for me, Kate Fleetwood’s Rosaura provided a welcome light-hearted comic relief to this darkly-hued play and kept the attention on what felt like a slightly superfluous sub-plot.

Jessie Cave, Arcadia
Michelle Dockery, Burnt By The Sun
Alexandra Gilbreath, Twelfth Night
Ruth Wilson, A Streetcar Named Desire

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Josefina Gabrielle, Hello, Dolly!
As widowed milliner Irene Molloy, Josefina Gabrielle’s turn in Hello, Dolly! was sweet of voice, nimble on the dancefloor, nicely comic and the perfect foil for Samantha Spiro’s lead role. And appearing now in
another sterling supporting role (or two!), I hope it is not too long before she returns to head up a good musical.

Honourable mention: Sheila Hancock, Sister Act
Following on from her well-received turn in Cabaret, Sheila Hancock visited another musical with her presence, this time Sister Act in the role of Mother Superior and boy what fun she has and so in turn do we. Neither the best singer or dancer, it matters not a jot, in fact it enhances her performance as the senior nun and lends a nice gravitas to this show. For an actress in her late 70s, her energy levels and creative choices are a lesson to us all.

Josefina Gabrielle, Sweet Charity
Tiffany Graves, Sweet Charity
The Lovely Debbie McGee, Frank’s Closet
Jodie Prenger, Oliver!

2010 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Rachel Weisz – A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse 
Alison Steadman – Enjoy at the Gielgud 
Fiona Shaw – Mother Courage & Her Children at the NT Olivier
Helen Mirren – Phedre at the NT Lyttelton 
Juliet Stevenson – Duet for One at the Almeida & Vaudeville
Lesley Sharp – The Rise & Fall of Little Voice at the Vaudeville 

THE CAPITAL BREAKS BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Jude Law – Hamlet, Donmar West End at Wyndham’s 
David Harewood – The Mountaintop at Theatre 503 & Trafalgar Studios 1 
Dominic West – Life Is a Dream at the Donmar Warehouse 
Ken Stott – A View from the Bridge at the Duke of York’s 
Mark Rylance – Jerusalem at the Royal Court Downstairs
Samuel West – Enron at the Royal Court Downstairs  Continue reading “2010 What’s On Stage Award nominations”