Review: The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse

Visually striking, an anarchic take on The Country Wife at the Southwark Playhouse

“Write as I bid you, or I will write ‘whore’ on your face”

A swift run through The Country Wife as it is finishing its residency at the Southwark Playhouse this weekend and I’m not too sure I got on with it all too well. Luke Fredericks’ vibrant production for Morphic Graffiti certainly has a muscular visual appeal but I’m not convinced it offers a case for a revival of William Wycherley’s play.

Originally a Restoration comedy, it has been updated to the world of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s. And in it, randy upper class people chase other randy upper class people and… well, that’s about it. Whether through the shift in era or something more deliberate, the women of the story find themselves front and centre, particularly pleasing as it is about them asserting their sexuality.

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Review: See Rock City And Other Destinations, Union Theatre

“It’s not what I expected.
Is it what you expected?”

I doubt it was fully the intention of bookwriter Adam Mathais and composer Brad Alexander to suggest Dante’s circles of hell in the unconnected stories of their song cycle See Rock City And Other Destinations but there are moments when it might feel like it. The show purports to show vignettes of people searching for the meaning of life and love against the backdrop of different US landmarks with no real connection between them all save the shadowy presence of the Tour Guide, lurking at each scene.

In reality, we get fragments of stories accompanied by a handful of songs each which a youthful company try their hardest to make register but few really succeed. They’re hardly helped by a format which allows so short a time to establish their characters and a score which seems intent mainly on showcasing a wide range of musical styles rather than really forming any sort of narrative push or wider coherence to the scattered storytelling. Nor does Graham Hubbard’s direction really help us to find any connective tissue that might help the piece hang together more effectively. Continue reading “Review: See Rock City And Other Destinations, Union Theatre”

Review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Old Red Lion

“That’s all the universe is, one big torture chamber”

Written in the early 1990s, Philip Ridley’s The Fastest Clock in the Universe has always carried echoes of Dorian Gray but watching it in 2013 in Islington’s Old Red Lion theatre pub (where Mercury Fur was memorably revived last year), it is remarkable to see how it prefigured the cult of celebrity and so-called reality television shows like The Only Way is Essex. The perma-tanned, pec-tastic, plucked vanity of protagonist Cougar Glass epitomises the obsession with image that looms large over contemporary society and consequently casts a new sheen over the self-gratifying urges that form the backbone of Ridley’s still disturbing play.

Glass is celebrating his 19th birthday, he’s been celebrating it for a number of years now and aided and abetted by his faithful companion Captain Tock, he has special plans indeed for his party, centred on the twinkish delights of 15 year-old schoolboy Foxtrot Darling. Obsessed with holding back the years, his narcissism is cruelly magnetic yet the vortex it creates pulls people mercilessly into its most destructive orbit, meaning that it is inevitably more than party favours that are going to be handed out by the end of the evening. Continue reading “Review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Old Red Lion”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

Review: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Union

“Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,

I’m for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer”
I’m not the kind of gentleman who normally ends an evening with a lady in his lap but that was what (nearly) happened last night at the Union Theatre’s revival of US musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Inspired by a true story of a similarly-titled brothel , the Chicken Ranch is a well-established institution that has been passed down to Miss Mona from the original owner, who runs it with a veneer of classy respectability wherein she looks after her girls well and gets on with the local law enforcement to keep things running smoothly. But the decision of crusading news reporter Melvin P Thorpe to try and get the establishment closed down threatens everything.

Sarah Lark plays Miss Mona, the role made famous by Dolly Parton in the movie of the same name, all big brassy blonde hair piled up on her head and possessed of a wardrobe stuffed with fringes and sequins and quietly understated as a warmly maternal figure. Her singing voice is lovely though lacked a little volume in places and there was a little gravitas missing from her portrayal, though that could square with her being pushed into the position of Madam through unexpectedly inheriting the place. And around her are her scantily-dressed girls who service the townsmen’s needs – mainly portrayed here through shadow-play – and most of whom are running away from something, assumedly also using the somersaulting skills that got one lady closer to me than I was expecting! Together they make a strong group – the harmonies of ‘Girl You’re A Woman’ most lovely, the mix of personalities entertaining and as a starting point for a show, it feels like a fascinating premise. Continue reading “Review: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Union”

Review: Les Misérables, Queens

As May is my birthday month, and this year brings with it a particular milestone (30!), I decided that I would treat myself to as many shows as I could manage, and I could not imagine not managing to squeeze in at least one of the long-running musicals that form the bedrock of much of London’s theatreland. Having already seen Joseph twice this year, my thoughts turned to Les Misérables, and lastminute.com duly obliged with some half-price tickets. Les Mis is up there with Joseph in terms of having seen many, many productions, I think this was show number 11 for me, and yet I never tire of it.

Based on the Victor Hugo novel by Alain Boublil, and with music by Claude-Michael Schonberg, it follows the lives and loves of a group of characters on the fringes of society in revolutionary France, les misérables or the unfortunates. The number of characters may seem quite bewildering, but their stories incresingly intertwine, and the beauty of the play is that it deftly moves from the personal to the political and back again, thereby keeping the interest fresh and covering so many different aspects of human emotion as we flick from intimate love stories to revolutionaries preparing for battle to personal quests for revenge time and time again. Continue reading “Review: Les Misérables, Queens”