Review: Tiger Bay, Wales Millennium Centre

Rather fittingly, my first ever visit to the magnificent feat of civil engineering that is Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre was for new musical Tiger Bay (Y Sioe Gerdd). And not just any musical, one based in and on the very area where it is playing, the docklands of Tiger Bay at the turn of the century, when the industrial revolution sent shudders through every level of society. Socio-political unrest not being known for getting the crowds in though, book-writer Michael Williams has fashioned a multi-stranded narrative with truly epic ambitions.

So there’s coal men fighting to improve working conditions, African immigrant labour complicating the picture by undercutting them, racism emerging as an ugly thorn, child labour being abused, suffragettes agitating for the vote, and the richest man in the world (the Third Marquess of Bute) who has turned to crystal balls to try and find his missing son. What emerges is a prototype vision for a multicultural society in all its myriad complexities and inequalities, connected in an all-too-human way by circumstance and some stonking great choruses. Continue reading “Review: Tiger Bay, Wales Millennium Centre”

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”

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith,

“Merry Hammersmith-mas”

As panto season goes full steam ahead, it is the Lyric Hammersmith who make the early running in London with a new version of Jack and the Beanstalk by playwright du jour Tom Wells, who takes over writing duties from Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. The pair have established the Lyric as one of the go-to venues for modern panto in the capital, their irreverent humour bringing the classic stories bang up to date and locating them in the borough itself, so that audiences can experience a genuine Merry Hammersmith-mas. That is, if the evil giant in the sky Nostril doesn’t ruin Christmas for everyone by stealing everything good. 

And true to form, Wells’ script is full of contemporary and local references: Nando’s, library closures, Lyric Square, Miley Cyrus and the inevitable twerking all make appearances as does a friendly jab at the Hackney Empire’s panto, And the young playwright’s gift for character peeks through with a pairing of a Jack and a Jill you won’t be expecting, Joshua Tonks’ Jill is the kind of bashful young man we’ve come to expect from him and Rochelle Rose’s Jack is a confident and pragmatic hero whose determination seems set to save the day when those pesky magic beans give rise to an impressively green beanstalk. Continue reading “Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith,”

Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre

“But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past there must have been a moment of truth”

Despite never having seen it on the stage before, I hadn’t originally intended to go and see the Open Air Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music. But whilst on holiday, we watched the film on TV en famille whereupon I was reminded of its charms and hearing the good reviews of this production, duly set about booking tickets for an evening when I hoped the sun would shine. And I clearly had some good theatrical karma as a glorious summer’s evening set up what a simply delightful evening of old school musical entertainment.

It may not be the most adventurous of programming choices and Rachel Kavanaugh’s production plays a very straight bat but in many ways, this is why it is so successful. Its straightforward simplicity allows for a direct emotional hit, one which plays off the indubitable familiarity of so much of the material but also the opportunities offered by this open air venue and the freshness of a supremely talented cast. Charlotte Wakefield’s Maria and Michael Xavier’s Captain may initially seem more youthful than one might expect but together they work like a dream, combining with the whole company to create the kind of warmth that would brighten even the soggiest of September evenings (the run has extended by a week due to its success). Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Dames at Sea, Union

“So sweet and soft and gentle,
My favourite Oriental”

The Union Theatre have definitely identified their niche in London’s cluttered theatre landscape: small-scale revivals of musicals that might otherwise have languished in obscurity with productions that are big on ambition. The latest show to get the Union St treatment is Dames at Sea, a 1966 parody of 1930s musicals with book and lyrics by George Haimshon and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise which much like The Drowsy Chaperone, grew from its beginnings as a short sketch into a full show.

Though it was entertaining enough, I couldn’t help but feel that this was the Union treading water rather than blowing our socks off with something great. The piece itself is a show about putting on a show – it feels like they all are at the moment! – the cast of a musical have to find a new venue as their theatre is being pulled down but the arrival of a ship full of sailors with connections to the chorus offers a solution. Stuffed full of clichés from the small-town girl arriving on Broadway with nothing but her dreams, the big diva who then feels threatened, the sailor who just happens to be an amazing songwriter, chance meetings with former partners a-plenty, the list goes on… Continue reading “Review: Dames at Sea, Union”