Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse

“Go on, do it…”

There’s a sense of budding potential in new musical The A-Z of Mrs P that doesn’t quite come to full fruition in this production at the Southwark Playhouse, but suggests that some assiduous rethinking and re-shaping could well see any future life be more bountiful. Diane Samuels’ book and Gwyneth Herbert’s music and lyrics tell a self-described “musical fable” inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, the woman who mapped out and created the A-Z Atlas to London.

But though this may be her main claim to fame, the rest of her life was full of additional drama too. A Hungarian map-drawing father and an Irish mother who ultimately died in an asylum, her parents had a troubled marriage which impacted hugely on her and her brother’s childhood and beyond, and her lovelife was marked by failures and an abortive marriage. All of this and more is packed into the show which strains under the pressure of delivering any of its narrative streams effectively. Continue reading “Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: West End Recast, Duke of York’s

“Here’s to the girls who play smart”

There doesn’t seem to be a Sunday night that passes without some concert or another featuring a host of West End stars celebrating a composer or honouring a good cause and this weekend was no exception. West End Recast saw performers taking the chance to embrace roles that they would normally not be cast for, crossing gender and colour lines for a hugely entertaining couple of hours and some brilliant singing. The evening saw an interesting diversity of interpretations of the brief but predominantly, the feel was that it wasn’t so radical an approach – good songs are good songs no matter who sings them. 

Some performers went for straight-forward renditions (Daniel Boys’ ‘Send in the Clowns’, Katie Rowley-Jones’ impassioned Rent double header), several of the boys opted for costumey props with mixed results (Boys teaming up with Leon Lopez for a lovely low-key version of ‘For Good’ complete with tiara and green facepaint, Simon Bailey’s Ariel wig not proving as much as an obstacle to ‘Part Of Your World’ as his simpering delivery which flew in the face of the musical integrity pretty much everywhere else). But I have to say I preferred the moments that felt genuinely subversive with their gender-flips and the performances that exploded off the stage (or both at the same time). Continue reading “Review: West End Recast, Duke of York’s”

fosterIAN awards 2013

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMarianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen CornerMichelle Terry, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Lucy Ellinson, Grounded
Stella Gonet/Fenella Woolgar, Handbagged
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
Shuna Snow, Iron
Best Actor in a PlayPhilip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for GoalpostsAl Weaver, The PrideBrian Cox, The Weir
Hugo Koolschijn, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Benedict Wong, Chimerica
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayLinda Bassett, RootsDeborah Findlay, CoriolanusAnna Calder-Marshall, The Herd
Isabella Laughland, The Same Deep Water As Me
Hadewych Minis, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPearce Quigley, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Andy Rush, Jumpers for Goalposts
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)
Best Actress in a MusicalRosalie Craig, The Light PrincessCynthia Erivo, The Color PurpleZrinka Cvitešić, Once the musical
Anita Dobson, Carnival of the Animals
Scarlett Strallen, A Chorus Line
Charlotte Wakefield, The Sound of Music
Best Actor in a MusicalKyle Scatliff, Scottsboro Boys Declan Bennett, Once the musicalDavid Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalLeigh Zimmerman, A Chorus LineNicola Hughes, The Color PurpleAmy Booth-Steel, The Light Princess
Katie Brayben, American Psycho
Cassidy Janson, Candide
Sophia Nomvete, The Color Purple
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalKit Orton, The Hired ManMichael Matus, The Sound of MusicBen Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line

2013 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Pearce Quigley, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe)
Taking on as famous a role as Nick Bottom has plenty of pitfalls, but Pearce Quigley fearlessly took up the challenge in Dominic Dromgoole’s revelatory and riotous production at the Globe and delivered a wittily sardonic Bottom that made him one of the most comic parts of one of the funniest productions of the year.

Honourable mention: Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Due to the randomness of the design of the first act, it was pure chance that my first encounter at Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Scenes from a Marriage was with Fernhout and Hadewych Minis’ version of Johan and Marianne. But from the very first moments, his intensity sucked us right in whilst the twinkle in his eye (plus his predilection for mingling in amongst the audience) made him a hugely magnetic presence.

Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Andy Rush, Jumpers for Goalposts
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)

7-10

Toby Jones, Circle Mirror Transformation; Eric Kofi Abrefa, The Amen Corner; Peter McDonald, The Weir; Kyle Soller, Edward II

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Kit Orton, The Hired Man
Though his rugged charms are undeniable, Orton more than earned his place here in the delightful actor-musician production of Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man that graced Colchester and Leicester. A compellingly masculine presence as the flirtatious Jackson and beautifully-voiced throughout, he also revealed himself to be a dab hand on the fiddle, demonstrating all the strings to his bow. 

Honourable mention: Michael Matus, The Sound of Music
Across a sterling ensemble, Matus’ huge geniality as fixer Max Detweiler was a highlight in the Open Air Theatre’s excellent The Sound of Music, his avuncular charm a pleasure to watch and a great way to subtly reinvent the role for himself.

Ben Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, The Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line

7-10

Stephen Ashfield, The Book of Mormon; Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys; Clive Rowe, The Light Princess; Jon Trenchard, Fiddler on the Roof

Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre


“But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past there must have been a moment of truth”

Despite never having seen it on the stage before, I hadn’t originally intended to go and see the Open Air Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music. But whilst on holiday, we watched the film on TV en famille whereupon I was reminded of its charms and hearing the good reviews of this production, duly set about booking tickets for an evening when I hoped the sun would shine. And I clearly had some good theatrical karma as a glorious summer’s evening set up what a simply delightful evening of old school musical entertainment.

It may not be the most adventurous of programming choices and Rachel Kavanaugh’s production plays a very straight bat but in many ways, this is why it is so successful. Its straightforward simplicity allows for a direct emotional hit, one which plays off the indubitable familiarity of so much of the material but also the opportunities offered by this open air venue and the freshness of a supremely talented cast. Charlotte Wakefield’s Maria and Michael Xavier’s Captain may initially seem more youthful than one might expect but together they work like a dream, combining with the whole company to create the kind of warmth that would brighten even the soggiest of September evenings (the run has extended by a week due to its success). Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre


“Here we live, here we love, this is the place for self-expression”

Providing a much needed, strong reminder that large-scale musical revivals can come from north of the Watford Gap as well as below, Wonderful Town marked a major collaboration between Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, The Hallé Orchestra and The Lowry on this Leonard Bernstein show, which I have to admit to never having heard of before. As many a musical that has gone before and come after it, it is gossamer-light in plot but this is more than made up for with a richly evocative score, some nifty design and best of all, sparkling choreography from Andrew Wright who is now consistently making the case to be considered one of the best choreographers working in the country.

Connie Fisher and Lucy Van Gasse play Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, sisters from Ohio who are determined to escape their boring lives and move to New York City. Of course, on arriving in the Big Apple, following their dream ain’t quite as easy as it seems but in their quest for success, romance and a free meal or two, they meet and charm a wide range of colourful new friends and neighbours who help them through their trials. And matching the creative and production expertise on hand, director Braham Murray assembled a cracking ensemble which included particular favourites around these parts (albeit for different reasons) Michael Xavier and Tiffany Graves. Continue reading “Review: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre”

2012 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards


Best Male Performance
Aden Gillett in Accolade at the Finborough
Trystan Gravelle in Honest at the Queen’s Head Pub
Michael Matus in The Baker’s Wife at the Union
David Wilson Barnes in Becky Shaw at the Almeida

Best Female Performance
Kelly Burke in Zelda at the Charing Cross Hotel
Vicky Campbell in I Am A Camera at the Rosemary Branch
Lisa Dillon in Knot Of The Heart at the Almeida
Vinette Robinson in Tender Napalm at the Southwark Playhouse

Best New Play
Knot of The Heart by David Eldridge at the Almeida 
Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann at the Lyric Hammersmith
The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells at the Bush Continue reading “2012 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: The Baker’s Wife, Union Theatre


“Cake in the oven, champagne on ice
Much as I hate to I may even shave twice”

The Baker’s Wife with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Joseph Stein is a musical that managed to develop something of a cult following despite flopping in the West End in 1989 and never actually having run on Broadway. Director Michael Strassen has now given it a rare outing at the small-scale powerhouse that is the Union Theatre. Based on the Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giano film La Femme Du Boulanger, the show is all about what happens in a rural French community when Geneviève the young wife of the village baker leaves her husband Aimable for a sexy piece of rough. He loses his baking mojo which sufficiently outrages the villagers to put aside their multifarious squabbles to come together and try to reunite the couple.

There is usually a reason that shows are left on the shelf and true to form, The Baker’s Wife pretty shows us why. Schwartz’s score is largely strong with some genuinely sublime moments but the book is stolid, unimaginative and fatally fragmented. Too much time is spent on the villagers around the love triangle but there’s so many of them, all contributing to the larger metaphor of the show, that none get a fair crack of the whip. And consequently, there’s not enough room to really focus on the main protagonists either. Indeed, Geneviève’s story doesn’t come across as particularly sympathetic at all, it is so hurried: it is revealed that she married Aimable on the rebound from being rejected by her married lover but she’s going to put up with him. Having left him shortly after singing this, she then dumps her new paramour after five minutes on the run and a roll in the hay – one can’t help but feel the baker is better off without her! Matters are not helped by an additional horribly overdone metaphor of her cat running away and returning contemporaneously, subtle it is not. Continue reading “Review: The Baker’s Wife, Union Theatre”

Review: Lend Me A Tenor, Gielgud


“Anna 1, Anna 2, Anna 3”

For the second time in three days, I deliberately went to a show knowing nothing about it in advance, and I would evidently seem to have used up much of my theatrical karma as for the second time, I was subjected to farce! But ever the contrarian, musical comedy Lend Me A Tenor hit the spot for me with a highly entertaining production where Rumours at the Hen + Chickens did not (although they are completely different beasts in the end). A relatively new musical, written by Peter Sham and Brad Carroll and based on the 1986 play of the same name by Ken Ludwig, the show had a short run in Plymouth last autumn and transfers now to the Gielgud in the West End where it is now previewing following the untimely departure of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Several of the cast members have made the move with the show but in a neat twist of continuity, Joanna Riding has joined the ensemble here meaning she will continue to perform in the same theatre.

Set in 1934, the Cleveland, Ohio Grand Opera Company is struggling to survive and manager Henry Saunders is banking everything on their new production of Otello featuring leading Italian opera star and notorious womaniser Tito Minelli. But when a set of circumstances conspire to leave Tito unable to perform, shy assistant Max – who harbours his own dreams of performing – has to find a last minute replacement to play the title role. Things are not quite so simple though, this is a farce after all, as there’s a jealous Italian wife, conniving co-stars, a trio of ex-wives, a randy daughter, three version of the same costume, oh, and the President is coming to watch. Continue reading “Review: Lend Me A Tenor, Gielgud”

2009 What’s On Stage Award nominations


THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Katy Stephens – The Histories, RSC at the Roundhouse 
Deanna Dunagan – August: Osage County at the NT Lyttelton 
Lesley Sharp – Harper Regan at NT Cottesloe
Lindsay Duncan – That Face at the Duke of York’s 
Margaret Tyzack – The Chalk Garden at the Donmar Warehouse 
Penelope Wilton – The Chalk Garden at the Donmar Warehouse 

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Kenneth Branagh – Ivanov, Donmar West End at Wyndham’s 
Adam Godley – Rain Man at the Apollo 
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Othello at the Donmar Warehouse
Eddie Redmayne – Now or Later at the Royal Court Downstairs 
Ian McDiarmid – Six Characters in Search of an Author at the Gielgud 
Kevin Spacey & Jeff Goldblum – Speed the Plow at the Old Vic  Continue reading “2009 What’s On Stage Award nominations”