Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Richmond Theatre

“We can’t make piracy pay”

Gilbert and Sullivan’s titular buccaneers may struggle with a lack of a ruthless edge but Sasha Regan’s sharp eye means that piracy definitely pays as her all-male interpretation of The Pirates of Penzance enters a fifth year of swashbuckling success. From its initial run at the Union Theatre in 2009 and subsequent transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall, it has toured Australia, played the Hackney Empire and now returns for a UK tour which runs through to the end of June.

And getting to gaily tread the measure one more time was indeed an especial pleasure once again. In the august surroundings of Richmond’s Victorian theatre, the set design may look a little spare but once the stage is filled with heaving bodies – whether preening with piratical glee, gambolling in corsets or patrolling a policeman’s lot, or indeed all three at the same time, the musical spectacle of these eighteen lads, plus pianist, is quite something to behold. Continue reading “Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Richmond Theatre”

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: Pacific Overtures, Union

“Reviewing it from where we sit, the facts are irrefutable” 

Many of Stephen Sondheim’s musicals instantly gain the sobriquet ‘ambitious’ and so early productions suffered short runs. But where several have been revised and reworked into modern classics, 1976’s Pacific Overtures has remained one of his least produced works, languishing in relative obscurity. Which makes it ideal fodder for the musical theatre powerhouse of the Union Theatre to take on and revive, with Michael Strassen’s production garnering massive ticket sales before the run had even begun.

The show is set in mid-nineteenth century Japan where their isolationist policy has meant no visitors have been received to the country for hundreds of years. When an American ship arrives boisterously demanding an audience with the emperor and unwilling to have their colonial ambitions easily appeased, the Far Eastern nation is sucked slowly into the coils of Westernisation and opened up to ‘civilisation’. Based on John Weidman’s original play to which Sondheim added 12 melodically sophisticated songs, it isn’t too hard to see why it isn’t more often on our stages.  Continue reading “Review: Pacific Overtures, Union”