Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Hairspray, Orchard Dartford

“You can try to stop my dancin’ feet”
This mahoosive new tour of Hairspray started in the middle of last month and stretches right through to June 2018 and it certainly feels like it has the potential to be a great success. There are some cracking performances which really elevate Paul Kerryson’s production of this most effective of shows (music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan) and choreography from hot-shot of the moment Drew McOnie.
And given how dance heavy Hairspray is, it is an astute move from Kerryson as McOnie’s inventive use of movement establishes and reinforces so much of the febrile mood of simmering racial tension and potential societal change. In the hands of the likes of Layton Williams’ Seaweed and an effervescent ensemble, it’s hard to keep a smile from your face as the sheer toe-tapping enthusiasm of it all as fabulous group numbers shake and shimmy their way across the stage.
Slight reservations about men taking women’s parts aside (*cough* Craig Revel-Horwood *cough*), Matt Rixon’s Edna is sensitively portrayed in locating real heart within the broader character moments, and Gina Murray’s Velma is a vivacious villain against her. And it is hard not to be thoroughly impressed by Brenda Edwards’ ferocious vocal performance as Motormouth Maybelle – really selling the weight of the socially conscious material. 
But for all that I enjoyed, I couldn’t help but feel that the central couple here are still feeling their way into the show. Rebecca Mendoza is making her professional debut as Tracey Turnblad and she does do well in establishing a genial stage presence. Her singing voice doesn’t quite match up to the full breadth of Tracey’s ballsy confidence at the moment, similarly Edward Chitticks doesn’t have the full measure of Link Larkin’s innate charisma yet – as the tour progresses though, you can imagine they may well yet both grow further into their roles.
Given the length of the tour, I can easily see myself going back to reassess Mendoza and Chitticks, such is the joy of the production around them. And it is a real pleasure to see the work of one of our brightest choreographers in Drew McOnie proudly taking centre stage across the country, not just in a London where his reputation is deservedly fixed.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 9th September,then touring to…
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin 11 September – 16 September 2017 
Winter Gardens, Blackpool 18 – 23 September 2017
Sunderland Empire Theatre 25 September – 30 September 2017
King’s Theatre, Glasgow 2 October – 7 October 2017
Birmingham Hippodrome 9 October – 14 October 2017
Leicester Curve 16 – 21 October 2017
Buxton Opera House 23 October – 28 October 2017
Belfast Grand Opera House 30 October – 4 November 2017
Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury 6 November – 11 November 2017
Sands Centre, Carlisle 13 November – 18 November 2017
Bradford Alhambra 20 November – 25 November 2017
G-Live, Guildford 27 November – 2 December 2017
Theatre Royal Plymouth 15-20 January 2018
Mayflower Southampton 22-27 January 2018
Sheffield Lyceum 29 January – 3 February 2018
Eden Court, Inverness 5-10 February 2018
Theatre Royal, Nottingham 13-24 February 2018
Wolverhampton Grand 26 February – 3 March 2018
Bristol Hippodrome 5-10 March 2018
Edinburgh Playhouse 12-17 March 2018
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen 19-24 March 2018
Opera Theatre, Manchester 26 March – 7 April 2018
Milton Keynes Theatre 9-14 April 2018
Liverpool Empire 16-21 April 2018
Hull New Theatre 23-28 April 2018
Venue Cymru, Llandudno 30 April – 5 May 2018
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury 8-12 May 2018
Cliffs Pavilion, Southend 14-19 May 2018
Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe 21-26 May 2018
Cheltenham Everyman 29 May – 3 June 2018

Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“I’ve a smile on my face”

As unlikely as it may seem, you could easily make the case that some of the best musical theatre happening in London right now is taking place above a pub in Highgate. John and Katie Plews’ Ovation Productions have a sterling record in small-scale smash-hit musicals at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre and their festive shows are usually the pick of the bunch. This winter sees them take on the perennial classic Singin’ in the Rain and naturally, it is a gloriously resounding success. And yes, of course there is rain – you gotta go to see how they do it though.

The key to the Plews’ triumph lies in the uncanny ability to both distil and reimagine Broadway classics perfectly for this 120-or-so seat space and often in traverse. That means choreography (from Chris Whittaker) so audacious that audiences applaud mid-song, that means design (by Sarah June Mills) that hits all the key notes – a lamppost to lean on, steps to hop up and down on, seats to tip back – without cluttering the stage, that means musical direction (from Matt Ramplin, leading a band of six) unafraid to just exude Broadway pizzazz as it delivers the superbly evergreen score. Continue reading “Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”

Review: Korczak, YMT at Rose Kingston

“What should we do when everyone acts less than human? We must act more than human.”

The true life story of Janusz Korczak a Polish Jew who protected some 200 children from some of the worst horrors of the Second World War may not seem a likely subject for a piece of musical theatre but strange as it may seem, it works with a devastating precision. It was written in 1998 for youth theatre groups by Nick Stimson (book and lyrics) who also directs here and Chris Williams (music) but this version is presented here by Youth Music Theatre – the UK’s leading national music theatre company for young people – at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.

In Liz Cooke’s stark, wire-caged design with occasional shots of video, the story moves from the orphanage Korczak set up in the Polish countryside, inspired by those he saw in England, where he attempts to shield the children from the war that is ripping their country apart, to the Warsaw ghetto where they are eventually shipped off to as the Nazis’ Jewish solution took hold. But rather than focus on the sadness and horror, the writers tell the stories of these children, the various ways in which they react to the challenges posed to their everyday lives and getting on with the business of growing up, learning about love, humanity and responsibility even as the shadows grow ever darker. Continue reading “Review: Korczak, YMT at Rose Kingston”