Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic

“A lot of folks say they like what I did but they don’t like the way I did it”

There’s much to admire about the Old Vic’s lavish production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, but ultimately I found little to really love as its three hours meander their way through its uneventful beginnings to a far-from-revelatory conclusion. Its big selling point is the return of Kim Cattrall to our stage, playing fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago who is in hiding in a Florida hotel after a disastrous movie premiere which was designed to be a grand comeback. Helping her over her trauma is a handsome gigolo named Chance who fancies himself as an actor but finding himself in his hometown, has to deal with the demons of his past.

The play feels scuppered from the start by the lengthy two-hander which dominates the opening. Cattrall is excellent, if a little too luminous to really convince as a past-it star, as Del Lago rails against the movie system that has made her who she is and can yet still spit her out at the merest hint of failure. The problem lies with the character of Chance, Williams’ predilection for martyrish tendencies not backed up with anywhere near enough depth of character to make us care for someone intended to be a tragic hero. Seth Numrich does well in layering in as much nuance as he can but never really convinces as far as the chemistry between the pair goes, a near-fatal mis-step for me and one from which the play never recovered.

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Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre

“Out of this wood do not desire to go”

As the first of Shakespeare’s works that I ever read and studied, I will always have a great affection for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and to this day, it has endured as probably my favourite of his plays. Something about its otherworldly (dream-like…) free-spiritedness really appeals to me, meaning there’s little of the suspension of disbelief often necessary to make the contrivances of his other comedies work, and it is a play robust enough to take many an interpretation, whether raucuous reinventions by Filter or Propeller, last year’s clever open air take by Iris Theatre or more classically inspired ones like the Rose Kingston’s Judi Dench-starring version from 2010. It is now the turn of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to revisit the show (though this was my first experience of it here) with a startlingly modern interpretation as it plays in rep with Ragtime, with which it shares much of its cast, over the summer.

First things first, this was a preview, the second I believe and due to the rain on Saturday, actually the first full run-through. Things begin with some pre-show business bustling about the trailer park set, reminiscent of the Dale Farm site with travellers squaring up to each other and to the encroaching building contractors, it sets the scene well but goes on a wee bit too long for too little effect in all honesty. But once the play proper starts with its arresting, punchy modernity, Matthew Dunster’s exceptionally well-balanced production clicks smoothly into gear, folding in classical references to this fresh new take and delving into some extremely dark places alongside the oft-times hilarious humour.   Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park

“Giving the nation a new syncopation”

Is there a greater opening number to a musical than the self-titled prologue to Ragtime? It surely has to be up there amongst the contenders as Stephen Flaherty’s music bursts open onto the stage at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park in a blaze of syncopated rhythms and choreographic glory with one of those melodies destined to worm its way into your brain for days to come. It could be argued that the show never really reaches the same heights again, but it certainly tries hard.

Director Timothy Sheader’s high concept, supported by Jon Bausor’s eye-catching design, is of a contemporary society in the midst of the collapsed American Dream, looking back to its beginnings at the turn of the previous century in the stories taken from EL Doctorow’s novel and moulded into the book here by Terrence McNally. So in the ruins of an Obama-supporting billboard and the detritus of broken bits of Disney, McDonalds and Budweiser merchandise, the company enact the intertwining tales of 3 groups – African-Americans, WASPs and Latvian immigrants – at a moment in time where it seemed that great change was just on the horizon. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park”

Review: Ragtime, Landor

“It was the music of something beginning…”

Earlier this year, it did seem that the Landor had a bit of a curse as a range of issues forced programme changes on more than one occasion, but they do seem to have hit their stride now. I didn’t catch Carousel but it seemed to go down well and that was followed an incomparable production of The Hired Man, probably one of the best shows of the year so far, so there was no pressure resting on the show following at all: Ragtime. Directed by Artistic Director Robert McWhir, Ragtime continues the Landor’s strong trend of delivering top-quality fringe musical theatre with unfeasibly large casts: over 20 people make up this ensemble! I caught a preview on a Sunday afternoon as a ticket for a tenner deal popped up on Twitter (if you’re on Twitter then think about following theatres you like as similar deals are frequently posted up there).

And I am pleased to report that Ragtime comes close to the heights of The Hired Man in creating a stunning piece of emotional drama, enlivened with some perky playfulness and all wrapped in a deliciously beautiful score (and funnily enough set in a similar time period). The opening number is a thing of pure joy, managing to cover the thematic scope of the play and fully introduce the three families around which the story turns. Terrence McNally’s book is based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow set at the turn of the twentieth century in a New York bustling with huge social change. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Landor”