Review: Mary Poppins, Prince Edward Theatre

Someone clearly has too much time on their hands…enjoy the wordplay in this review of this spectcular revival of Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre

“Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I”

Strallens to the fore,
umbrellas at the ready,
penguins…well we won’t mention them. Making its return to the Prince
Edward Theatre where it debuted in 2004, this
revival of
classic musical Mary Poppins
arrives at just the right time to
lift our spirits as the nights start to draw
in and politicians spout
falsehood after falsehood to further darken our nights. And there’s a
rollicking good time to be had here
as the show recalls the
good old days of easy-going entertainment.
In the
leading role, Zizi Strallen
is a constant delight as the
stern nanny with just the right amount of
twinkle in her eye as she alights upon the Banks’ household. Vocally, she
is impressive too, whether rebuffing
Charlie Stemp’s charmingly flirtatious Bert whose
enormous perma-grin may or may not be the result of
xanax
pills.
In the roles of the domestic staff, Claire Machin
and Jack North get many a
laugh and
if George Banks isn’t the  
dad of your dreams, Joseph Millson pretty much is.
Obviously
children play a big part
in this world and the pair
of tykes I saw this evening were
unusually
sweet and sour as their characters are much naughtier than the film. Continue reading “Review: Mary Poppins, Prince Edward Theatre”

Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker

“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains”

In light of Roman Tragedies reminding us of the vast potential of what Shakespeare can be rather than the tendency towards the ‘proper’ readings of his work that we tend to get here in the UK (vast generalisations I know, but can you really argue against it…), it’s gratifying to see directors, and venues, taking the opportunity to stretch those traditional notions. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, housed within Shakespeare’s Globe, isn’t the first place you’d think of to find such a production but in Ellen MacDougall’s interpretation of Othello, we have just that.

Text updated to the 21st century (dramaturgy by Joel Horwood), key characters regendered (Joanna Horton’s Cassio is an inspired move), a contemporary soundtrack that interpolates Lana Del Rey, it is enough to make any purist shiver and you kinda feel that’s the point. MacDougall refocuses the play on masculinity in crisis but it is also tempting to think that on a larger scale, there’s a smidgen of Emma Rice’s shaking of the branches of theatrical orthodoxy at play here too. With the post of Artistic Director of the Globe being advertised again, we can only hope such invention remains. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker”

Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith

“You don’t get that quality of dance at Sadler’s Wells”
There’s something wonderfully political about the Lyric Hammersmith’s pantomime Aladdin this year. Not just in Joel Horwood’s script, which packs in the requisite Trump and Brexit jokes, plus a cleverly worked visual gag for Article 50, and has the land of Fulhammerboosh ruled over by the Emperor One Per Cent. But in almost every aspect of Ellen McDougall’s production, there’s the kind of astute decision-making that has made her a director to watch and whets the appetite even more for her forthcoming Artistic Directorship of the Gate Theatre.
So the first character we meet is Abanazer, played with lip-smacking relish by Vikki Stone as a cross between Mrs Overall and Grotbag, who pretty much steals the show. And our Aladdin is no clueless US import but rather Lyric regular Karl Queensborough, notching up his eighth performance at a venue where he was nurtured by their youth programme. And casting Malinda Parris as the genie not only releases her sensational powerhouse vocal but also further shows up how questionable Disney’s Aladdin’s gender politics are over at the Prince Edward Theatre.
Thus through these choices, this Aladdin feels refreshed and revitalised, an entirely appropriate piece of family entertainment for 2016. And it does this without ever losing sight of all of the traditional aspects of pantomime that we’ve come to love and expect. So there’s some fantastically saucy humour from James Doherty’s Widow Twankey which (should) fly over the kids’ heads along with the sweets thrown out, there’s tons of audience participation led by Arthur McBain’s excellently sensitive Wishy Washy, and an unflagging atmosphere of fun that never drops.
With a sprightly soundtrack featuring rewritten lyrics to some of the year’s pop hits, an impressively staged magic carpet ride, singalongs and snowfalls, Aladdin is undoubtedly a hit. But it is that it’s a hit very much on the Lyric Hammersmith’s own terms that is most remarkable, along with the message it is passing onto the next generation. You may not necessarily agree with its empire-abolishing politics (with a big P) but the politics (with a small p) of teaching our kids that girls can be genies too, that hard work pays off, that the magic of great theatre lies in the imagination, are irrefutable. Exciting and entertaining, this truly is panto for the 21st century.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th January
Originally written for LondonTheatre1

CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)

“No… it can’t be… is it gravity I am feeling?”

It’s been a goodly time coming, just over two years since it opened actually, but the Original Cast Recording of The Light Princess is finally here. Finely crafted by writers Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson with the original cast from the National Theatre production and recorded entirely under studio conditions, this double CD a triumphant achievement. It simultaneously acts as a perfect tribute to a much-loved show (one I saw five times during its too-short run #1#2#3#4#5), it also advances the score, refining its musicality into a more intense yet accessible experience.

Right from the opening bars of the ‘Prologue: Once Upon A Time’, Katherine Rockhill’s piano playing sounds amazing and is rightfully forefronted here as the cornerstone of Amos’ wide-ranging compositions, the lushness of the strings sound pretty special too. And with Rosalie Craig’s astonishing performance as Althea – the light princess herself – liberated from the constraints of this most physically demanding of roles (both for her and for us too, goggling at the inventiveness with which her floating was essayed), her vocal interpretation deepens into something even more affecting, impossible as it may seem to anyone who saw her amazing work onstage.  Continue reading “CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)”

Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)

“Call for justice! We need justice!
Beat the bastard! Kill the bum!”

Based on historical events from the turn of the last century in Atlanta, Georgia, Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Parade has been something of a slow-burning theatrical success – its original 1998 Broadway run criminally short, ending way before it won 2 Tonys, but later tours and overseas productions cementing its reputation as a sterling piece of new musical theatre. In the UK, Southwark Playhouse had a grand production in 2011 but 2007 saw the Donmar deliver a work of small-scale genius which was captured in its entirety on this double-disc recording.

Perhaps not the most likely of subjects for a piece of musical theatre, the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank – Bertie Carvel in the role here – for the rape and murder of a 13 year old employee Mary Phagan benefits hugely from the musical treatment. The trial caused a big media sensation in the US and forced an examination of the (not so) latent anti-Semitism in this southern state offering a wide range of opportunities to explore musical styles, estimably executed by Thomas Murray’s 9-strong band playing David Cullen’s new orchestrations.  Continue reading “Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)”

CD Review: Bugsy Malone (NYMT 1997)

“We could have been anything that we wanted to be”

The news that the Lyric Hammersmith will be reopening with a production of Bugsy Malone will have rightly gladdened the hearts of all right-thinking people and it also reminded me that I had the soundtrack to the show that I’d not gotten round to listening to yet. Where the film (featuring the likes of Jodie Foster and Scott Baio, as well as Mark Curry, Dexter Fletcher and Bonnie Langford) dubbed adult voices onto its child performers, the National Youth Music Theatre mounted an all-youth production that ended up in the West End and which had amongst its number, a certain Sheridan Smith.

There’s real interest in the soundtrack for musical fans as Paul Williams donated songs that were not included in the film, ‘That’s Why They Call Me Dandy’ and ‘Show Business’, the first of which is quite an adorable character number for Dandy Dan (sung here by Stuart Piper and the company) and the second of which is no great shakes (sung by Alex Lee, presumably the Lena Marelli character). And amongst the more familiar numbers are some lovely arrangements which bolster the tunes – the second half of ‘I’m Feeling Fine’ becomes a tender duet, the utterly beautiful ‘Tomorrow’ enhanced by company BVs. Continue reading “CD Review: Bugsy Malone (NYMT 1997)”

Final review: The Light Princess, NT

 “See these tears flow, this H2O”

There’s not really much more to say than to bid a fond farewell to this most beloved of shows. Despite the fierce love it engendered in its devoted fans, I personally don’t think a transfer would have necessarily worked so well. There’s something wonderfully neat about its life at the Lyttelton, the length and nature of its run in rep meaning that Rosalie Craig was able to make every single performance – an impressive feat even before one touches on the extraordinary demands of the lead role. And getting to see the final show, with a large group of people who had been equally (if not more) touched by the work – and that includes the extraordinary cast and company, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much visible emotion at the end of a run – was a genuine privilege. 

Since the show shone so brightly, yet so briefly, it has left the kind of indelible impression that will be impossible to shift. I saw it five times in total – you can read about visits one, two, three and four – and each time, it surprised me, its densely complex nature revealing something new each time with different musical motifs becoming prominent, the various themes shifting in emphasis, the texture of the show almost malleable in its changeability. So now we have to wait for the soundtrack and dream of once upon a once a, once upon a time.

“What you have done, has brightened the world” 

 

Photos: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Re-review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

A review of the fourth time I went to see The Light Princess at the National? 

What I will say though, is that it was my first time seeing it from the circle and it really did give a different perspective to some of the more expansive scenes in the Wilderness, the illusion of flowing water much more effective. And Althea’s floating also felt different from afar, the magnificent facial hair less of a distraction from further away… Just one more trip booked now before it ends 🙁

Re-review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

“Ringing out, ringing out…”

Visit number three to this most lovely of shows for me, though I’m lagging way behind the super-fans who are surely up to double figures by now. Original review is here, taster preview post from my first viewing here, and given their exhaustiveness, there’s really little else to add. The Light Princess really is the loveliest of shows and its uniqueness and complexity, the very things that turned others of, is precisely what keeps me coming back (I’ve currently got two revisits booked in before it ends…). 

The lushness of the score, tangled as the forest that divides Sealand and Lagobel on first hearing, but richly rewarding repeated listens; the gobsmacking consistency of Rosalie Craig’s immensely physical performance replete with flawless vocal, the gorgeous romanticism of the whole production – you really should book if you haven’t done so already.

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

“You are, you are…Althea, you are…changing the world for me”

Long awaited and long gestated, Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson’s musical take on The Light Princess arrives at the National in a blaze of theatrical glory that makes it one of the shows of the year. Based on a Scottish fairytale, the teenage heirs of warring kingdoms are both mourning the loss of their mothers but their grief has affected them in different ways. Digby’s soul has become weighed down so heavily he has forgotten how to smile, whilst Althea’s protective mechanism has been to become to airily light that she literally floats above it all. As they rebel against their strict fathers, they each escape to neutral ground only to encounter each other and instant attraction. But emotional articulacy doesn’t come easily and political concerns threaten to tear apart their passion before it even really begins. 

Marianne Elliott’s direction pulls together the various elements of her huge creative team with exceptional skill, never losing sight of the sheer magic that the best theatre can bring and marrying a very modern aesthetic with the sometimes traditional feel – Althea’s movement (I don’t fly, I float!) is achieved through some amazing acrobatic work from a team of four with just a little help from some high tech flying rig. And in Rae Smith’s gorgeous designs, it all just looks superb; every movement catching an acute moment of emotion, whether the deft manipulation of a falcon into flight (Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié finally making puppetry make sense to me) or a girl literally raising the spirits of a boy (Steven Hoggett’s inimitable physical language once again heart-stoppingly good). Continue reading “Review: The Light Princess, National Theatre”