Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse

As unlikely a Proclaimers musical may seem, this gorgeous production of Sunshine on Leith at West Yorkshire Playhouse is probably the best thing I’ve seen this year

“Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness”

Is a jukebox musical still a jukebox musical when you don’t know most of the songs? You feel that most people would be hard pressed to name more than two songs by The Proclaimers and so it is part of the genius of Stephen Greenhorn (writer) and James Brining (commissioner and director) that they managed to fashion something so perfect, that somehow still feels so familiar, from the back catalogue of the Edinburgh brothers.

Sunshine on Leith was first seen at the Dundee Rep in 2007 and though it has toured Scotland a few times since, it has rarely been seen south of the border. So who else to revive it but Brining himself for West Yorkshire Playhouse. And what a straight-up, fantastic success it is. London has seen its fair share of big musicals open this month but none have made me cry, never mind feel so much as this. Continue reading “Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: Xanadu, Southwark Playhouse

“This is like children’s theatre for 40-year-old gay people” 

There’s something almost rather brazen about the way in Paul Warwick Griffin’s production of Xanadu fully embraces its highly camp nature and pushes it even further over the edge, highlighting its naffness and daring us to call its bluff. From the tongue-in-cheek manner in which Greek mythological creatures wind their way onto the stage in Morgan Large’s design to the completely rough-around-the-edges approach to delivering much of Nathan M Wright’s (earthbound) dance moves – it’s a whole lot of frothy nonsense but nonetheless, always enjoyable hokum. 

Because what sells the show is just how good the good bits are. The roller-choreography is excellently done and as its key exponent, Carly Anderson is just brilliant as Kira/Clio. On roller-skates more often than she is not, she floats ethereally in and around the stage like the goddess she is, descending to Venice Beach to inspire cutely musclebound Sonny to fulfil his artistic dream of opening a roller disco. Her human form takes a hilariously broad Australian accent and Anderson milks this expertly for all its comic potential as well as sounding like a dream when singing. Continue reading “Review: Xanadu, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Damn Yankees, Landor

“You gotta know what game to play and how to play it”

Faust via baseball, with songs – that’s Damn Yankees, the latest musical revival to hit Clapham North’s Landor Theatre, in a nutshell for you although the picture below gives a little more detail about the production… Hapless Joe Boyd blithely makes a deal with the devil to become Shoeless Joe Hardy who can save his beloved baseball team’s shockingly bad season even if it means leaving his wife behind. Sure enough though, as he helps the Washington Senators to victory after victory, suspicions about his sudden arrival are roused and it turns out he’s kinda missing his wife after all – can you go back on a deal with the devil?
It’s always a thrill to see choreography that tests the limits of this intimate space and Robbie O’Reilly’s work here is particularly striking in the group numbers – bringing to life the eternal conflict between obsessive sports fans and their spouses in the vibrant opening number ‘Six Months Out Of Every Year’, giving us the taut sensuality of a Latin dance club, or stripping the baseball team to their towels to show off their…ahem ‘Heart’. A show at the Landor also needs a director who understands the wide aspect of the stage and how to use it both efficiently and effectively.
Robert McWhir is of course that director (13 years and counting as AD) and there’s real skill in how he visualises scenes and stages them here – knowing exactly when to pull in focus or throw out wide (the staging of emotional trio ‘Near To You’ is particularly well done), how to move considerable groups of people around and still manage to get surprise reveals in there (keep your eye on the fireplace!) Aspiring directors could do a lot worse than come and get a masterclass in exploring and exploiting fringe stages here.
As in theatre as in life, the devil gets all the best lines (and songs) and whether in the Mephistophelean hands of Jonathan D Ellis’ Mr Applegate or the seductive allure of his able and willing assistant Lola as played by Poppy Tierney, it’s easy to see the appeal of some right good damnation. Tierney manages the not inconsiderable feat of bringing conviction to Lola’s journey through the show and Ellis is clearly at home as he chews the scenery up something rotten with devilish panache and a wicked sense of humour (as the gentleman who nipped to the loo midway through one of his songs soon found out).
Alex Lodge makes for a charming hero as the sweet-voiced younger Joe, a natural counterpart to Gary Bland’s older original, and Nova Skipp’s Meg – the ever-dutiful and way-too-understanding wife – has a beautifully straight-forward good-natured appeal and a lovely quality to her voice. Michael Webborn’s musical direction encourages this entirely straight bat from everyone which makes the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score really pop in a good old-fashioned way and unmiked as the singing is, it really does create a glorious sound. Something of a home run then for the Landor (see, I knew I could get a sporting pun in there!)
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2.50
Booking until 8th November
Note: the production is recognition of the 75th anniversary of US baseball player Lou Gehrig’s retirement from the sport after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (also known as ALS, they of the Ice Bucket Challenge, and actually as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the USA). Please do give generously if you can.

Review: the dreaming, Union Theatre

“Link arms with those dreamers of midsummers past”

Kicking off a season of three Howard Goodall musicals, the dreaming actually marks the professional premiere of a show has been performed many times by youth theatre groups, commissioned as it was by the NYMT and premiered by them in 2001. Based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, book writer Charles Hart relocates the story to a Somerset village in an Edwardian society on the cusp of the Great War but maintains the vast majority of the original tale as Goodall weaves his inimitably English compositional magic around it.

And it is, in the main, an effective updating. The Rude Mechanicals becoming a group of morris dancer-esque mummers is a rural buffoon’s delight and if ‘The Banner of Saint George’ (in place of Pyramus and Thisbe) could have stood to be half the length, it is still chucklesome. And the starchy manners of the time translates amusingly to the quartet of lovers who run away to the forest and effectively to the parental figures who disapprove so, the silliness of the lovers’ quarrel in the songs ‘Jennifer’ and ‘Midsummer Madness’ is perfectly evoked. Continue reading “Review: the dreaming, Union Theatre”