Re-review: The Commitments, Palace

“Why don’t you get out of my life and let me make a new start?”

Cast and crew members across the West End may not agree but I do find it surprising that more shows haven’t gone for the variation of Sunday evening performances in their schedules. Particularly with tourists, it’s a ready-made and captive audience with little else to do in this bustling city and by the looks of the Palace Theatre last night, keen as mustard. That said, it can be something of a trial going out on a Sunday night when a work-filled Monday morning is looming around the corner.

For me though, the chance to see The Commitments one more time before it closes its doors after a run that has lasted more than two years was enough to tempt me out and I’m glad I did as it really is good fun. Technically speaking, it is less of a musical than I would strictly consider, the narrative quickly gives way to a mini-concert at the show’s end but with music as good as this, and an actor-musician cast as talented as this, such crowd-pleasing antics feel entirely forgivable. Continue reading “Re-review: The Commitments, Palace”

Review: The Commitments, Palace

“The Irish are the blacks of Europe”

In the ongoing search for the perfect recipe for a West End musical, The Commitments has done better than most since opening last October. Here, a hot-shot director (Jamie Lloyd) has been mixed with material that has already been a book and a film (written by Roddy Doyle, directed by Alan Parker) and tinkers with the jukebox format (using iconic US soul classics) to create an engaging piece of entertainment. The main surprise comes with how little story there actually is – the premise is simply that young gun Jimmy Rabbitte decides to put a band together and that is pretty much it.

So in place of narrative twists and turns, we get the slick movement of Soutra Gilmour’s ingeniously inventive set design; instead of depth of character, there’s a wide-ranging songbook which gives everyone a turn on the mike or a chance to rock out a solo and thus express themselves through music. It’s a curious interpretation which takes a little time to really gel, the opening 20 minutes or so struggles to make its mark as there’s little music and the surprising thinness of Doyle’s writing is at its most exposed – for all the time Jimmy spends in his house, his ma gets an appallingly small amount to say. Continue reading “Review: The Commitments, Palace”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

Review: Little Fish, Finborough

“I had never known what I was really like until I stopped smoking, by which time there was hell to pay”

I was looking forward to this, if only because it was my first trip to the Finborough Theatre: tucked away in Earl’s Court, this tiny fringe theatre has a sterling reputation and always has a highly varied programme, so off I went along the District Line to see what all the fuss was about. The play in question was Little Fish, advertised as the European premiere of a new musical by Michael John LaChiusa (a great name for a playwright, obviously I need to change mine so that I too can write musicals, Foster just ain’t exciting enough!)

The story is based on 2 short stories by Deborah Eisenberg, and revolves around a single New York gal, Charlotte, whose decision to give up smoking leads her down a path of startling self-realisation, as she comes to terms with her troubled past to try and deal with her current unhappiness and finally learn how to enjoy life in the city. It is presented in an episodic form, with key scenes from Charlotte’s past being interspersed throughout the modern day storyline of her trying to find activities to help keep her off the tobacco. I loved this portrayal of urban life as it felt so much more authentic than any number of television shows would have us believe, and the difficulties in maintaining friendships in the face particularly rang true.

Continue reading “Review: Little Fish, Finborough”