Review: The White Feather, Union Theatre

“With principles come responsibilities”

It is perhaps a tacit admission of the complexity of the timeline (1914-2006) of new musical The White Feather that it is explicitly spelled out in the programme, each song accompanied by its time and place which isn’t always abundantly clear from the production, directed by Andrew Keates. Ross Clark and Keates’ book has an admirable scope in trying to draw together narrative strands around cowardice in the Great War, the condition we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder, female emancipation, closeted homosexuality, the comparative merits of Ipswich and Paris… but in this short space of time at the Union Theatre and with insufficient clarity, can’t quite do them all justice.

The main story focuses on sixteen year old Suffolk farmer lad Harry Briggs (a suitably petulant Adam Pettigrew) who enthusiastically signs up for the army in 1914, pretending he’s three years older in order to make the cut, but who is soon emotionally brutalised by the horrors of war and the inability of the armed forces to recognise the problem. Executed for cowardice, like over 300 other Allied soldiers, it is left to his sister Georgina (a focused Abigail Matthews) to embark on a lengthy fight for a posthumous pardon, one which also traces her own journey through the troubled times of a country at war and a society in the midst of great upheaval. Continue reading “Review: The White Feather, Union Theatre”

Review: Orton, Above the Stag

“A case of cock over cranium”

The tempestuous relationship between ground-breaking playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell has long been a source of fascination for writers and retellings of their story can be found in many formats. Including now, a musical, as Richard Silver and Sean J Hume’s Orton takes its own bow on the stage of the rehoused Above the Stag, a mere studded collar’s throw from notorious Vauxhall hangout The Hoist (in a touch which would surely have amused Orton).

The show simply follows the pair from the heady excitement of the day they met at RADA through to Orton’s untimely end at the hands of Halliwell and a hammer sixteen years later. But though there is a most macabre ending in sight, the journey there ends up being rather entertaining, impressively told with humour, intelligence and no little campery. And for a new musical, it has a pleasingly strong sense of its own identity, a small-scale triumph in its own right. Continue reading “Review: Orton, Above the Stag”

Review: The Glorious Ones, Landor

“Actors can never get enough love”

The Landor Theatre in Clapham scored a major success with the Ahrens and Flaherty musical Ragtime last year and subsequently have begun to explore some of the lesser performed shows from their repertoire. February saw their first piece Lucky Stiff getting an airing and now it is the turn of their most recent collaboration from 2007, The Glorious Ones, in its European premiere.

We follow a theatre group in Renaissance Italy as they ply their trade in commedia dell’Arte, enacting their ‘improvised’ scenes with their stock characters – from whom they are not so distinct any more – and so through these, we find out about their loves and lives as actors on the road. Flaminio Scala founded the troupe and is a master at the broad, bawdy comedy, but finds that tastes are changing as its crudeness is eschewed for a turn towards scripted theatre and younger players challenge his leading man status and struggles to deal with the change. Continue reading “Review: The Glorious Ones, Landor”