Review: Macbeth, Watermill

As good as the effort is here at the Watermill, I can’t help but feel it is time to give the Macbeths a rest – it ain’t all that as a play!

“What’s done is done”

Circumstances prevailed against me getting to see the Watermill’s Macbeth before its final day so I’m cheating by just firing up a mini-review. Truth be told, I only really booked for Paul Hart’s production on the strength of his track record in re-imagining Shakespeare so successfully – I had no real desire to see this particular play again, so soon after two major disappointments at the National and the RSC.

And as inventive the approach is here – music suffused throughout, an ensemble always split 50:50, adventurous creatives onhand – I can’t help but feel that Macbeth is oversold as a play. Any (if not all) attempts to update it seem doomed to some kind of failure as it really does resist modernisation. Billy Postlethwaite does a decent job as the Scottish king but I think I’ll be resisting seeing this play again anytime soon.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Pamela Raith
Macbeth is booking at the Watermill Theatre until 30th March

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: Twelfth Night, Wilton’s Music Hall

The Watermill Theatre’s 2017 production of Twelfth Night is revived to glorious effect in the atmospheric surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall

“If music be the food of love, play on…”

I was absolutely blown away by the Watermill’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in May, and so the news that their similarly actor-muso Twelfth Night from last year would be being revived at Wilton’s Music Hall was most welcome. And if it doesn’t quite live up to the magic of that first time for me, it is still a most enchanting and unmistakably bold take on the play 

Paul Hart’s production relocates Illyria to the 1920s, jazz is flourishing, prohibition is rife and the shadows of WWI haven’t quite yet dissipated. Katie Lias’ design concentrates the action in the Elephant Jazz Club and the historic atmosphere of Wilton’s proves perfect for this treatment. And without giving too much away, the dipping down into the audience is done brilliantly.  Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watermill

A brilliantly inventive, inclusive and entertaining take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a great success at the Watermill Theatre

“Shall we their fond pageant see?”

In a week when Shakespearean-inclined eyes are trained on the opening of Michelle Terry’s tenure at the Globe with a season that promises to be “gender blind, race blind and disability blind”, it is gratifying to see other theatres in the UK already delivering this. And unsurprisingly, this kind of approach is full of rich potential to shake up your Shakespeare anew, making the Watermill’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream an unalloyed pleasure.

Paul Hart’s production is full of innovative touches which work separately like a treat and also combine into something really special. It wears its actor musicianship lightly as music is used brilliantly to delineate the otherworldliness of the woods. If ‘I Put A Spell On You’ might seem overly literal for the dosing of love-in-idleness but lyrically it proves a remarkable fit the love/hate relationship of this Titania and Oberon, so too of Puck’s frustration at that latter father-figure. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watermill”

CD Review: MS. A Song Cycle

“I wish you didn’t have to be in pain” 
 
Multiple Sclerosis affects over 100,000 people in the UK alone. 

 

One of the accusations often levelled by detractors of musical theatre is that it is fanciful, frivolous stuff, unable of taking subjects seriously. And whilst the form undoubtedly can have its lighter moments, I’d challenge anyone to listen to this new song cycle inspired by women living with multiple sclerosis and remain unmoved. MS. A Song Cycle is the brainchild of lyricist Rory Sherman, who has worked with SimG Productions, musical supervisor Ellie Verkerk and 14 different teams of composers and performers to create a delicately but undeniably powerful collection of stories, that gain in that power from being sung so beautifully as they are here.
 
More than two to three times more women are affected than men
 

Review: Sunny Afternoon, Harold Pinter Theatre

 

To the tune of ‘Waterloo Sunset’

“First on in Hampstead, now Harold Pinter, this is a musical
‘Bout how The Kinks did, become a huge band, back catalogue got full
So a show, it got wrote
Joe Penhall’s book and, Ray Davies’ music, tell us their ups and downs

Brothers Ray and Dave and their friends Mick and Pete, oh
They really, really wrote some good music though, lots of it sounds the sameStalls in the theatre, have regular seating, apart from front and rear
Where seats are nailed down, round cabaret tables, chairs that don’t move are weird
But the show, it is strong
Three hours fly by, telling the story, most entertainingly
John Dagleish is good as Ray, George Maguire’s Dave too
But really, really Ed Hall’s cast is all fine, Dominic Tighe is mine

Went with my friend Chris, liked it but I wish, I could have brought my dad
Music is more of, his generation, would have made him feel glad
But I will, see him soon
And maybe I’ll take him, one day to this show, it’s bound to run and run

Sunny Afternoon’s fine.”

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd May
Photo: Kevin Cummins
NB: in all seriousness it is most enjoyable, even for someone who still can only really recognise 4 songs by The Kinks even though this is the second time I’ve seen the show. The accapella rendition of ‘Days’ is a spellbinding moment (pictured below) and I suppose it would have been nice to have had a little more of that musical invention though I’m just being extremely picky now. The soundtrack has been recorded by the cast and is available to buy here, feel free to buy me a copy đŸ˜‰

 
 
 

Review: Sunny Afternoon, Hampstead

“I am so lazy, I don’t want to wander, I stay at home at night”

I am the wrong age for a Kinks musical to make me particularly excited, nor were they really a part of my family’s soundtrack whilst growing up so there was little reason for me to get too excited about Sunny Afternoon at the Hampstead Theatre. Indeed, even my personal alert service notifying me that Dominic Tighe appears in a police uniform (albeit briefly) scarcely raised my attention which is most unlike me. But with the end of the run fast approaching, a rumoured transfer as yet unconfirmed and someone willing to queue, I found myself at the final show.

Where I enjoyed myself mostly. Aiming itself above the jukebox format but still coming across as a luxury version thereof, it is paper-thin stuff, clearly far too in reverence of its still-living protagonists (one imagines Joe Penhall writing the book with Ray Davies hovering over his shoulder). The focus is far too much on Ray rather than the band as a whole or even the excitement of 60s Britain and so one is left waiting for the songs, which are undoubtedly extremely well done. Miriam Buether enjoys the chance to reconfigure the auditorium once again with her design and Ed Hall keeps a pulsing energy about the piece although it would be nice to see a show like this that doesn’t force the jollity quite so much at the end… 

So whilst glad I caught it, my instinct that it was missable was on the nose. And for my money, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is a Cathy Dennis song (and I had the cassingle to prove it).

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 24th May

Re-review: Love Story, Duchess

“Life is molto bene when your pesto’s mixed with penne”

Coming in as one of my favourite shows of 2010, and in the top 2 musicals I saw all year long, it was no surprise that a return visit to Love Story was booked in order to introduce someone new to the wonders of this show. You can read my (something of a rave) review from my previous visit here: I don’t really have much more to add to it to be honest, other than I really do believe this to be one of the strongest and most beautiful new British musicals of recent years.

I cried more this time round, knowing what to expect and when to expect it usually does that to me, but having seen it before meant that I had much more sympathy for Michael Xavier’s Olly throughout the show. He is a rather bullish and brash character at first glance but Xavier brings much more depth to the character which for me, simply heightened the emotion in the moments when he cracks and sure enough, every single time his handsome face crumpled, my eyes welled up. Emma Williams delivered another sensational performance, even dealing with wayward pasta most professionally, singing all the while. Continue reading “Re-review: Love Story, Duchess”

Review: Love Story, Duchess

“What can you say…”

Where do I begin, to tell the story of how great a love can be? Well, by heartily recommending that you go and see Love Story at the Duchess Theatre. The musical version of the well-known film (and novel) by Erich Segal which premiered at the Minerva in Chichester earlier this year, it has transferred into London with the help of Michael Ball who has joined the creative team as an above-the-title producer. The show sees a welcome return to the West End for Howard Goodall as the composer and co-lyricist with Stephen Clark, who wrote the book. Things started off well as we entered the Duchess to see Stephen Ridley’s onstage band of a piano, guitar and string quintet, instantly indicating that this is going to be a classier affair with Peter McKintosh’s simple white column-based design adding to the dignified air.

It is the story of a rich blue-blood Harvard law graduate, Oliver Barrett IV and a less-well-off piano-playing Italian-American Radcliffe College woman, Jenny Cavilleri, who fall passionately for each other and are swiftly married despite their differences and opposition from their parents. We follow their young love as they start to build a life together, but fate has other plans… Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh with a remarkably restrained emotion, the focus really is on the love story rather than dwelling on the tragic ending, Jenny is only diagnosed with about 20 minutes to go as Stephen Clark’s heart-warming and tender book navigates sentiment without resorting to too much of the saccharine. Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Duchess”