Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre

A much welcome revival for Sasha Regan’s all-male Iolanthe, bringing Gilbert and Sullivan to Richmond Theatre as part of a UK tour

“What’s the use of being half a fairy?”

Delving into deep into your wardrobe can get you into all sorts of bother. With CS Lewis, you could end up in the wintry woods of Narnia and with Sasha Regan, you might find yourself in the dress-up fantasy world of light operetta. Of all of her all-male Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Iolanthe is the one which I remember most fondly (its transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall perfectly done) so the news that it was the choice for this year’s revival for a UK tour left me tripping hither and thither in excitement. 

And though I was a little apprehensive to revisit so beloved a production, this Iolanthe has stood up well. Mark Smith’s choreography with its suggestions of sign language for fairy speak, Stewart Charlesworth’s design making full use of the jumble box aesthetic, and Regan’s astute direction milking a show that’s more than a century old for all of its considerable comic potential and finding room for her own innovations as well. With MD Richard Baker controlling the music from his solo piano, this remains an arresting take on your G&S. Continue reading “Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Blondel, Union

“I’m a fool…just a fool”

There’s something admirable in the Union Theatre’s admirable determination to work its way through the dustier, neglected end of the musical theatre canon to see if anything comes up roses. I liked what they did with Anyone Can Whistle, less so with Moby Dick, and now its the turn of the lesser-known Tim Rice musical Blondel (the first he wrote after his Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborations) to get the revival treatment.

Sometimes though, when polishing a pebble in the hope that it turns into a diamond in the rough, it remains a pebble. Sasha Regan’s high-spirited, fun-loving production has a wonderfully playful energy about it, and the cast are clearly having a whale of a time, but it isn’t too hard to see why the show has rather languished in obscurity. Daftness can only take you so far (believe me, I know!) and Blondel (over-)runs at 2 hours 30 minutes. Continue reading “Review: Blondel, Union”

Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore, Hackney Empire

“The gentleman is quite right. If you please” 

If you have seen one of Sasha Regan’s all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, then you know exactly what you’re getting with HMS Pinafore; if you haven’t, then there’s many a pleasant surprise in store. This production of the evergreen show has been seen before, at the Union in 2013 and on tour in 2014 but is being reprised here for another UK tour stretching from Yorkshire to Cornwall and it remains as refreshing as a Fisherman’s Friend.

Regan’s approach sees Sullivan’s score stripped back to solo piano, musical director Richard Bates doing sterling work from the keys, and Gilbert’s book performed by a set of 16 strapping sailors, the conceit here being performance as a way of passing the time, to lift spirits flagging a little after receiving letters from their loved ones. It’s a canny framing device and one which works effectively with hardly any tinkering with the plot at all. Continue reading “Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore, Hackney Empire”

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: the dreaming, Union Theatre

“Link arms with those dreamers of midsummers past”

Kicking off a season of three Howard Goodall musicals, the dreaming actually marks the professional premiere of a show has been performed many times by youth theatre groups, commissioned as it was by the NYMT and premiered by them in 2001. Based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, book writer Charles Hart relocates the story to a Somerset village in an Edwardian society on the cusp of the Great War but maintains the vast majority of the original tale as Goodall weaves his inimitably English compositional magic around it.

And it is, in the main, an effective updating. The Rude Mechanicals becoming a group of morris dancer-esque mummers is a rural buffoon’s delight and if ‘The Banner of Saint George’ (in place of Pyramus and Thisbe) could have stood to be half the length, it is still chucklesome. And the starchy manners of the time translates amusingly to the quartet of lovers who run away to the forest and effectively to the parental figures who disapprove so, the silliness of the lovers’ quarrel in the songs ‘Jennifer’ and ‘Midsummer Madness’ is perfectly evoked. Continue reading “Review: the dreaming, Union Theatre”

Short Film Review #14

An Irish short from 2009 written and directed by Hugh O’Conor, Corduroy is a simply gorgeous piece of film. Inspired by a charity that teaches autistic children to surf, we dip briefly but powerfully into the life of Jessie, a young woman whose Asperger Syndrome has left her deeply depressed. With gentle encouragement from a support worker, she is introduced to the sea and all its power and possibly, just possibly, begins to hope that life might get a little brighter.

It’s extraordinarily acted by Caoilfhionn Dunne as Jessie, movingly understated and painfully authentic in its awkwardness, the glimmers of connection with Domhnall Gleeson’s Mahon are played just right. But it is O’Conor’s direction which is just superb, adroitly suggesting the different way in which people at different points on the autistic spectrum might see and hear the world – audio and visual effects employed with intelligence and compassion to offer insight, understanding, appreciation. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #14”

Review: Spamalot, Playhouse

 “We’re opera mad in Camelot
We sing from the diaphragm a lot”

Though Joe Pasquale may be joining the cast of Spamalot from the 17th June to play King Arthur for six weeks, I would say that now is actually a great time to go and see the show at the Playhouse Theatre, tucked away down by Embankment station. Though it may arguably lack a ‘star name’, what it does offer is an extremely strong piece of musical theatre, delivered excellently by bona fide musical theatre performers, and none more so than Robin Armstrong who makes for an utterly adorable central presence as the King of the Britons.

I only actually saw the show for the first time when it started its tour back in 2010 as since we never really watched Monty Python in our household as kids, the show held no fascination for me when it was in the West End. But its utter silliness and its determination not to take itself too seriously at all won me over and so I was more than happy to make a return visit, especially given the names that were popping up in the cast.  Continue reading “Review: Spamalot, Playhouse”

Review: Perchance to Dream, Finborough

“If you run out of words, just burst into song”

The Finborough Theatre in West London has had an excellent record in reviving British musicals as part of their “Celebrating British Music Theatre” series and marking the 60th anniversary of the death of composer Ivor Novello is Perchance to Dream, sliding into the Sunday/Monday slot there for the month of September. It is the first professional London production for 25 years of this show devised, written and composed by Novello himself, the only show for which he wrote the lyrics.

It is an unashamedly romantic musical, centring on the country pile Huntersmoon and the tangled love affairs of its residents as we glide from the Regency era, through Victorian times and to WWII as the ghosts of the past continue to haunt future generations. But it is the glorious music that commands the attention as Novello’s score incorporate such classics as ‘Love Is My Reason’, ‘A Woman’s Heart’ and ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’: classic songwriting close to its best. Continue reading “Review: Perchance to Dream, Finborough”