Review: Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange

“Life will be frozen peaches and cream”

 
I’ve seen a couple of comments questioning whether Sweet Charity is an appropriate choice for the Royal Exchange’s festive musical – I assume they avoided last year’s Into the Woods and the year before’s Little Shop of Horrors, neither show hardly known for their jazz hands and perma-smiles. For the joy of great musical theatre, of any theatre, is when it can find shades of darkness and light in its storytelling, finding a way to reflect the richness of life in its downs as well as its ups.

Director Derek Bond (whose Little Shop… remains a stunning high point) acknowledges all of the problems inherent in Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ tale of a dancer, the titular Charity Hope Valentine, and her repeated, desperate lack of luck in her romantic life and through his interpretation and the directness of Aletta Collins’ choreography, also takes it seriously. Anchored by a properly star-making and heart-breaking performance from Kaisa Hammarlund, it just works. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange”

Re-review: The Commitments, Palace

“Why don’t you get out of my life and let me make a new start?”

Cast and crew members across the West End may not agree but I do find it surprising that more shows haven’t gone for the variation of Sunday evening performances in their schedules. Particularly with tourists, it’s a ready-made and captive audience with little else to do in this bustling city and by the looks of the Palace Theatre last night, keen as mustard. That said, it can be something of a trial going out on a Sunday night when a work-filled Monday morning is looming around the corner.

For me though, the chance to see The Commitments one more time before it closes its doors after a run that has lasted more than two years was enough to tempt me out and I’m glad I did as it really is good fun. Technically speaking, it is less of a musical than I would strictly consider, the narrative quickly gives way to a mini-concert at the show’s end but with music as good as this, and an actor-musician cast as talented as this, such crowd-pleasing antics feel entirely forgivable. Continue reading “Re-review: The Commitments, Palace”

Review: The Commitments, Palace

“The Irish are the blacks of Europe”

In the ongoing search for the perfect recipe for a West End musical, The Commitments has done better than most since opening last October. Here, a hot-shot director (Jamie Lloyd) has been mixed with material that has already been a book and a film (written by Roddy Doyle, directed by Alan Parker) and tinkers with the jukebox format (using iconic US soul classics) to create an engaging piece of entertainment. The main surprise comes with how little story there actually is – the premise is simply that young gun Jimmy Rabbitte decides to put a band together and that is pretty much it.

So in place of narrative twists and turns, we get the slick movement of Soutra Gilmour’s ingeniously inventive set design; instead of depth of character, there’s a wide-ranging songbook which gives everyone a turn on the mike or a chance to rock out a solo and thus express themselves through music. It’s a curious interpretation which takes a little time to really gel, the opening 20 minutes or so struggles to make its mark as there’s little music and the surprising thinness of Doyle’s writing is at its most exposed – for all the time Jimmy spends in his house, his ma gets an appallingly small amount to say. Continue reading “Review: The Commitments, Palace”