Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre

The highly anticipated musical Come From Away leaves me dry-eyed at the Phoenix Theatre despite a very strong cast

“There’s nothing to do, nothing to see
Thank god we stopped at the duty-free”

I didn’t check the merchandise stand at Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were seeing branded tissues, such is the weight of expectation that comes with this musical, set in the days after 9/11. But rather than New York, the show is set more than 2,000 kilometres away in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes with 6,579 passengers were grounded in the aftermath of the attacks. 

There, in a Canadian town that practically doubled in population overnight, we witness the unfolding of a tragedy but more significantly, the response of a community willing and able to do anything to extend the hand of friendship. Doors are flung open, shoulders proffered, bottles opened, an unquestioned barrage of hospitality seeking to envelop traumatised passengers who had been trapped for hours on their planes (in a pre-social media age remember), only to be released to find out the terrible news. Continue reading “Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre”

Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Noël Coward

Poster for the transfer of Girl from the North Country at the Noel Coward Theatre

“What did you expect?”

After a hugely successful run at the Old Vic, Girl From The North Country transfers to the Noël Coward with the majority of its cast and all of its melancholy soul intact. Seeing Sheila Atim transform ‘Tight Connection To My Heart’ into the most heartfelt of laments was one of my highlights of 2017 and seeing it once again made me feel like it could easily be one of the highlights of 2018 as well.

Her performance is symptomatic of what makes this show so fantastic. The secret weapon in Conor McPherson’s production is the arrangement of the Bob Dylan songs by Simon Hale, an interpretative masterstroke which weaves the music into the very fabric of these people’s lives. (Though whether that makes this a musical remains anyone’s guess.)

Continue reading “Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Noël Coward”

Review: Twelfth Night, National

“A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man”

There’s nowt so queer as folk, at least not in Simon Godwin’s version of Illyria here. A gender-swapped Malvolia longs after her mistress Olivia, hipster-fop Sir Andrew Aguecheek is entirely smitten by a flirtatious Toby Belch, Antonio follows up his snog with Sebastian by inviting him to a rendez-vous at local drag bar The Elephant. And that’s before we’ve even dealt with the sexual confusion that Shakespeare himself engineered in Twelfth Night, as shipwreck survivor Viola disguises herself as her presumed drowned twin brother and wreaks havoc on the libidos of Olivia and Orsino alike.

It’s a mark of the success of Godwin’s production that it wears this all so lightly. It’s a modern-dress version for a modern sensibility (if not for the audience member who gasped audibly at the first gay kiss) and one that is rooted in a real sense of playfulness, as an expertly cast ensemble just have a huge amount of fun with it. Phoebe Fox’s delicious Olivia, who gives new life to the phrase ‘dance like nobody’s watching’; Oliver Chris’ Chelsea playboy of an Orsino, in the throes of a mid-life crisis having just turned 40; Tim McMullan’s swaggeringly confident Sir Toby ever accompanied by Niky Wardley’s spirited Maria and the comic masterpiece that is Daniel Rigby’s Sir Andrew.  Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, National”

Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)

“He stinks of drink and urine
And thinks he’s so alluring”

One might have hoped that a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by the RSC with a cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Haydn Gwynne, Simon Callow and a Strallen (natch) would be an enjoyable thing to experience to but on listening to it, it’s clear there is abundant reason I was able to pick up the CD of the live recording for the princely sum of £1 in the RSC shop.

Paul Englishby’s score is an unholy mess of a pick’n’mix bag that someone else has chosen for you – its conflicting styles a dizzying confection that sprawls across the narrative rather than supporting it. Not knowing whether the next song is going to be a tango or a madrigal, take its cues from Big Band or Brecht, or recall Andrew Lloyd Webber or an East London music hall is a most bizarre experience and the cumulative effect is extremely wearying – I have to say it was a real struggle to listen to the whole album in one go. Continue reading “Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)”

Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I would lose my life rather than my honesty”

Anne Boleyn marks the first new play in this year’s programme at Shakespeare’s Globe. Written by Howard Brenton, it features Miranda Raison in the title role, continuing a character that she also plays in Shakespeare’s own Henry VIII, also playing in rep. This is a review of the first preview, so please bear that in mind whilst reading my thoughts below.
 
The play covers the life of Anne Boleyn from her time in court as one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting, through her developing relationship with Henry VIII and the ideals of Protestant reform, ideas that ultimately caused her downfall but also sowed the seeds for the huge upheaval that culminated in the Civil War. What Brenton has done though, is to couple this story with the story of James I trying to establish control over a sceptical kingdom and varied religious groupings, centring around his commission of a new translation of the Bible. James is haunted, literally, by Anne’s ghost and her legacy and the two combine to great effect. Continue reading “Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe

“You that thus far have come to pity me, hear what I say, and then go home and lose me”

Not having seen Henry VIII before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the second play in the Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe (this was the second preview) and as delightfully coloured cod-pieces and a mightily impressive heaving bosom (bosoms?) emerged in the course of the first act, I suspected we could be in for a right rollicking good time. This play takes place in the middle of Henry’s reign and follows the rise and fall of four important people in his life, the Duke of Buckingham, his first wife Katherine of Aragon, the Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer. It mixes up elements of history, tragedy and romance and wraps it all up in the opulent pageantry of the era but it also allows us to see behind the scenes, the gossiping, the politicking and those moments when the mask slips and we see glimpses of the real people behind the public personae.

It is full of stately pomp and circumstance and the set-pieces are visually stunning: Anne Bullen’s procession through the theatre at her coronation, Princess Elizabeth’s christening, even Katherine of Aragon’s trial, all are sumptuously mounted and there are some truly moving moments, especially at the moment of downfall of each of the above-mentioned players. But in truth, Henry VIII plays as a series of episodes rather than a long play and there’s surprisingly little interaction between many of the key characters. This could be to do with the much-debated true authorship of the play, it has been suggested that it was a collaboration between Shakespeare and another playwright John Fletcher, though my knowledge on this is limited to reading the programme notes so I couldn’t possibly come down on one side or the other. Either way, there is much unevenness in this play and as a result it is only fitfully engaging. Continue reading “Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic

“I don’t want to believe that we come from monkeys and apes, but I guess that’s kinda besides the point”

Inherit The Wind is a courtroom drama, based on the true life story of a Tennessee schoolteacher who was threatened with imprisonment for teaching Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution, in direct contravention of school policy. A highly strung court case then follows, pitching creationists against evolutionists, and bringing two legal titans to a small town in Tennessee to argue the case, the ramifications of which clearly extend beyond that classroom in the Deep South. Its timing seems uncanny: even on the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species, a highly recommended (by me at least) film Creation, about Darwin’s struggles with his own faith as he wrote it, has not been able to find a distributor in the US because it is considered too ‘controversial’ in a country where allegedly barely a third of the population actually believe in evolution.

The scale of this production really is admirably epic: the staging is superb, with the Old Vic’s stage being opened up to a great depth (you could probably fit the stage for Annie Get Your Gun on there 15 times over!), the already healthy cast is ably bolstered by a phalanx of supernumaries, bringing the total company to 50 bodies who bring an authentic air of claustrophobic small-town living to several scenes, most notably the prayer meeting just before the trial. The use of hymns sung by the company during scene changes further reinforces this strong sense of a community joined by the power of their faith. Continue reading “Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic”

Review: Avenue Q with Daniel Boys, Noël Coward

As you may be able to intuit from its regular appearance here, I have become more than a little obsessed with Avenue Q over the past couple of years as it fast became one of my favourite musicals and probably the best new musical I’ve seen full stop. I’ve taken many people, friends and family alike, to see it to near universal acclaim and the soundtrack is often on my iPod, although it has particularly been the London cast that has won my heart.

Change always encroaches though and a major overhaul of the cast meant that this visit, the first for a while, was filled with a little trepidation at how these changes would affect the show that has become so dear to me. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q with Daniel Boys, Noël Coward”

Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward

I suppose I’m getting close to groupie status now, but what can I say, I really love this show! Again, not a huge amount to report in how Avenue Q remains a completely guilt-free feel-good pleasure and still as funny as ever, look in the archive for more in-depth writing. It was, however, pleasing to see that whilst Clare Foster was covering for Julie Atherton, I really didn’t mind too much and ended up being quite impressed by her performance. The debutants in the cast didn’t fare quite as well for me.

Making her professional stage debut in the role of Christmas Eve, Jennifer Tanarez is having something of a baptism of fire and she does look a little overwhelmed. Her nerves were far too apparent, resulting in her missing too many comedic notes but as her accent is completely garbled and unfocused, she fails to capture the lyrical dexterity and emotion needed to really deliver ‘The More You Ruv Someone’ effectively and that song is the key to Christmas Eve. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward”