Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre

Brass the Musical at the Union Theatre is a powerfully moving celebration of sacrifices made, of service offered, of music itself – beautifully done

“Just until our lads come back”

There’s a neat symmetry to the life of Brass the Musical thus far. Originally commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, its professional London premiere now marks the Armistice Centenary. Benjamin Till’s musical, with additional lyrics from Nathan Taylor and Sir Arnold Wesker, thus serves as a powerful tribute to those who served, both at home and on the frontline.

What is particularly gorgeous about Brass is how it is suffused with the joy of music. Its power to bring people together (as in the characterful ‘Forming a Band’), its potential to lift spirits (the marvelous storytelling of ‘Whistle Billy’), its ability to express something deeper beyond just words (the haunting vocalese at the trenches). And as an expression of the musical theatre form, it works beautifully in deepening an already profoundly moving piece of history.  Continue reading “Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre”

Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre

A much welcome revival for Sasha Regan’s all-male Iolanthe, bringing Gilbert and Sullivan to Richmond Theatre as part of a UK tour

“What’s the use of being half a fairy?”

Delving into deep into your wardrobe can get you into all sorts of bother. With CS Lewis, you could end up in the wintry woods of Narnia and with Sasha Regan, you might find yourself in the dress-up fantasy world of light operetta. Of all of her all-male Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Iolanthe is the one which I remember most fondly (its transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall perfectly done) so the news that it was the choice for this year’s revival for a UK tour left me tripping hither and thither in excitement. 

And though I was a little apprehensive to revisit so beloved a production, this Iolanthe has stood up well. Mark Smith’s choreography with its suggestions of sign language for fairy speak, Stewart Charlesworth’s design making full use of the jumble box aesthetic, and Regan’s astute direction milking a show that’s more than a century old for all of its considerable comic potential and finding room for her own innovations as well. With MD Richard Baker controlling the music from his solo piano, this remains an arresting take on your G&S. Continue reading “Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Just So, Tabard

“Why are those things you admire most in others the hardest to find in yourself?”
 

Stiles+Drewe occupy a funny place for me: a musical writing pair, I’ve several of their soundtracks in my collection as well as their West End concert and I’ve been to a charity gig they hosted this year but I have never actually seen a show they have written. Fortunately, the Tabard Theatre took it upon themselves to rectify this by putting on a production of Just So.

Written in the mid 1980s by George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics), this is actually the professional London premiere of this show after a successful 2006 revival in Chichester which featured Julie Atherton. Director Andrew Keates has aimed big with this production, the biggest ever at the Tabard, which celebrates both the 25th anniversary of the show and the Tabard itself.

Just So pulls together five of Rudyard Kipling’s famous stories into one epic journey through the jungle as the Elephant’s Child and the Kolokolo Bird, guided by the wise Eldest Magician, travel together to stop the evil crab Pau Amma from flooding everything and on the way meet all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures as they learn to face their fears, be truly courageous and the real value of friendship. With a live band and a cast of eleven, the story is brought vividly to life on the stage of the Tabard in what makes for a most entertaining family musical. Continue reading “Review: Just So, Tabard”

Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Wilton’s Music Hall

“’Stop, ladies, pray.
‘A man!’”

So just a few days after seeing the touring production of Pirates in Brighton, another production appears in London: for such a fan of this show as I am, heaven! This particular Pirates of Penzance is a transfer of the all-male Union Theatre production from last year which has been remounted at the atmospheric Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End, one of my favourite venues in London. And in a blatant attempt to make me fall yet further in love with the idea, preview ticket prices were set at £10, less than half the regular ticket-price.

To be honest, it did take me a little time to adjust to the different production: having seen (and completely loved) a highly professional version by an opera company so recently, this presents an interesting alternative take which was no less professional. What it perhaps lacks in the vocal side of things, it more than makes up for with a much greater sense of the comic potential contained within Gilbert & Sullivan’s work. And what makes this such an effective take on this show is that despite the conceit of an all-male cast, it actually has very little impact on the production itself. It is played as straight as a die, no (well, hardly any) camping it up or tipping the wink and so this becomes a refreshing new look at a musical already full of natural wit and genuine comedy, rather than being painfully self-aware and post-modern. Continue reading “Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Wilton’s Music Hall”