Review: Victor/Victoria, Southwark Playhouse

“A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman? That’s preposterous.”

It is sad that the Southwark Playhouse will have to quit its current London Bridge premises as it has hit a vein of real good form allied to a growing understanding of how best to use the converted railway arches and particularly so with this creative team, who have made this the hot venue for musical theatre on the South Bank, challenging both the nearby Union and Menier Chocolate Factory. Following on from rapturously received productions of Parade and Mack and Mabel, director Thom Southerland has turned his hand to a new adaptation of musical comedy Victor/Victoria.

With a book written by Blake Edwards for his wife Julie Andrews, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Henry Mancini and posthumously completed by Frank Wildhorn, the show on paper isn’t necessarily that distinguished. In 1930s Paris, English soprano Victoria Grant is struggling to get a job but a chance encounter with Toddy, her instant gay best friend, thrusts her into the limelight as he hits on the idea of Victoria pretending to be a female impersonator and so Count Victor Grazinski is born, taking the cabaret scene by storm and causing all kinds of sexual confusion as men find themselves irresistibly drawn to this enthralling new performer. Continue reading “Review: Victor/Victoria, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Mack and Mabel, Southwark Playhouse

“I’d be the first one to agree that I’m preoccupied with me”

Mack and Mabel reunites much of the creative team from last year’s very well received Parade at the Southwark Playhouse but sadly it also sees them go back into the same space of the Vault there. Despite its cavernous nature, it has become the default space for musicals at this London Bridge venue, although mystifyingly so as its first one – Company – was brilliantly played, unmiked, in the main house. To overcome the echoing acoustics of the Vault, shows tend to be heavily amplified and this has been something of a learning curve to say the least and for me undoes much of the point of going to see fringe musicals as it robs shows of the immediacy of hearing amazing voices up close and personal.

The show – book by Michael Stewart and revised by Francine Pascal – centres on the on-off relationship between Keystone Cops creator and silent film director Mack Sennett and the waitress he spotted, Mabel Normand, and turned into a star. Problem is, it isn’t a particularly gripping story, not even in its revised version, which tends towards a rather gloopy sentimentalisation, complete with annoying narration device, which never really addresses the fact that Mack is not someone you could imagine anyone ever giving the time of day to. Thom Southerland’s overlong production never really manages to overcome this deficiency in the story. Continue reading “Review: Mack and Mabel, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The American Clock, Finborough

“There’s never been a society that’s not had a clock running on it”

Venturing into the lesser performed works of a playwright, even one as well-renowned as Arthur Miller, is always a tricky manoeuvre. There’s often a good reason plays collect dust on the shelf and so it takes a keen eye to spot the potential for revival and reassessment in a new production. The Finborough have become one of the premier spots in London for unearthing such gems and are hoping that they have struck gold again with Phil Willmott’s new take on Miller’s 1980 play The American Clock, which hasn’t been seen here since its first (albeit Olivier-award winning) run at the National in 1986.

The play was inspired by Studs Terkel’s oral history Hard Times and also Miller’s own recollections from the 1930s, to tell a wide-ranging tale of how the Great Depression actually played out for the American people. Using an episodic structure to work his way through stories of nearly 40 characters, the focus finally settles mainly on one well-off upper middle class family, the Baums, who are forced to relocate from their Manhattan townhouse to a relative’s spare room in Brooklyn, their struggle to deal with their changing fortunes ultimately sending mother, father and son reeling off in tragically different directions. Continue reading “Review: The American Clock, Finborough”

Review: Dames at Sea, Union

“So sweet and soft and gentle,
My favourite Oriental”

The Union Theatre have definitely identified their niche in London’s cluttered theatre landscape: small-scale revivals of musicals that might otherwise have languished in obscurity with productions that are big on ambition. The latest show to get the Union St treatment is Dames at Sea, a 1966 parody of 1930s musicals with book and lyrics by George Haimshon and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise which much like The Drowsy Chaperone, grew from its beginnings as a short sketch into a full show.

Though it was entertaining enough, I couldn’t help but feel that this was the Union treading water rather than blowing our socks off with something great. The piece itself is a show about putting on a show – it feels like they all are at the moment! – the cast of a musical have to find a new venue as their theatre is being pulled down but the arrival of a ship full of sailors with connections to the chorus offers a solution. Stuffed full of clichés from the small-town girl arriving on Broadway with nothing but her dreams, the big diva who then feels threatened, the sailor who just happens to be an amazing songwriter, chance meetings with former partners a-plenty, the list goes on… Continue reading “Review: Dames at Sea, Union”