Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rockwell House

“The summer still doth tend upon my state”

The Malachites have more usually been found at St Leonard’s Church in their quest to “reconnect Shakespeare with Shoreditch in the public consciousness” but this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sees them skip down the road to the tented rooftop of a venue which sits on the site where the Curtain Theatre once stood more than 400 years ago. And more significantly, it sees this young company taking a much more inventive approach to the Bard’s work – there can’t have been too many other female Bottoms, gender-swapped Oberons and Titanias or such explicit references to a 1909 silent film version of the play.

Benjamin Blyth’s production is cleverly done indeed. Projected snippets of that film play out above us – one brilliant scene sees the Rude Mechanicals mime along silently as their roles are given out by Peter Quince – and there’s something rather magical about seeing, even if only briefly, an interpretation of this same story that is over a century old. Blyth is also unafraid to contrast this with the new and novel though – having the Fairy King and Queen swap bodies in some magical mishap is further exploited when we meet our female Bottom, the tangled sexual dynamics of these mischievous spirits cast in a fresh light. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rockwell House”

Review: Love Story, Octagon

“What can you say, about a girl…”

Just a quickie for this most beloved of shows. The CFT production of Love Story that failed to take the West End by storm back in 2010 was a thing of sheer loveliness and Howard Goodall’s luscious score has to rank among my all-time favourites, I really do think it is that beautiful. So all future productions have a high benchmark to live up to – there was a low-key version at the Brockley Jack last year and this year, we have Elizabeth Newman’s production for the Bolton Octagon.

And what a lovely thing it is. Unafraid to be delicately simple and flirting with actor-musicianship in Ciaran Bagnall’s cleverly designed set, it is a deeply musical take on the soaring romance of the story that glides speedily through the relationship between Daniel Boys’ college jock Oliver Barrett IV and Lauren Samuels’ wisecracking musician Jennifer Cavilleri. From the chemistry of their ‘opposites attract’ first meeting to the heartbreaking sadness of the end, it’s a beautiful piece of work. Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Octagon”

Review: Bloody Poetry, Jermyn Street

“I lifted my skirts. For the good of English poetry.”

Howard Brenton’s play Bloody Poetry explores the relationship that developed between Romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron with particular emphasis on the complex romantic entanglements with the women in their lives. We first see Shelley on the shores of Lake Geneva where he has fled scandal in the UK after abandoning his wife to live with new spouse Mary Shelley and her half-sister Claire Clairmont in a scandalous ménage-a-trois. Matters are further complicated by Claire’s liaison with Byron which has left her pregnant and so she sets up a meeting for the four of them in Switzerland which begins the intimate intertwining of their lives.

Brenton carried out vast amount of research for the play and it shows. Existing letters and journals mean that much is known about what happened and the emotions that were felt, but combined with interpolations of poetry – both from the men themselves and from rivals like Wordsworth – these lives are given vivid, passionate life as their determination to live a ‘free’ life unshackles their behaviour from the restrictions of English society but also comes at a cost. The play, directed by Tom Littler for Primavera, spans six years from their first meeting in 1816 until Shelley’s untimely death by drowning in an Italian lake. Continue reading “Review: Bloody Poetry, Jermyn Street”

Review: Drive Ride Walk, Greenwich Theatre

“I can’t believe I’m falling again”

Drive Ride Walk is a piece of new musical theatre from Filament Theatre by Osnat Schmool, developed from a two-song 10-minute sketch into this hour-long show which combines 9-person acapella singing with physical theatre about commuting in London. It follows three different journeys through the capital: a cyclist winding her way through the traffic who has a chance encounter with a handsome pedestrian, a newly-qualified driver taking friends for a drive and a group of commuters who have to deal with an unexpected change to their daily routine.

It is very loosely structured and freeform in its nature, both in terms of its story-telling and the music itself and so to be honest, it proved to be quite a trying experience in all. Schmool’s score is rather flat, accompanied occasionally by cello and accordion but mainly eschewing songs for densely-packed vocal lines and murkily repeated phrases which resembled nothing so much as vocal doodling rather than bursting with musicality. My reaction to it reminded me of how I felt about John Adams’ I Was Looking At The Ceiling… in that whatever it is about certain kinds of music that appeals to some just flies right over my head. I just couldn’t see what they were trying to achieve here and though it was only an hour, it felt much longer.

It didn’t help that there was little sense of meaningful plot or character progression presented to us. There’s a lot of little glimpses into the daily lives of our group of protagonists and the hints of interesting stories suggested, Jon-Paul Hevey’s flirty stranger and Stuart King’s call centre worker promised some interest, but none of them are really pursued to any depth which left me frustrated about what could have been. And whilst it accurately portrays the mundanity of travelling around a busy city, by not providing anything more of substance, it doesn’t offer any reason to care about what is happening.

Things were exacerbated by the use of movement which was too rarely amusing, the etiquette (or lack thereof) of packed tubes and crowded zebra-crossings was wryly observed although hardly anything new, and too often painfully laboured. Whilst there was nothing to match the infamous simulation of sex through watering cans, the sequence in which the quote at the top was repeated and demonstrated by, you’ve guessed it, everyone falling over and over again and again in the stagiest of manners drove me to distraction.

The ensemble of nine were enthusiastic and delivered a tightly knit performance but that wasn’t enough to win me over with a show which really did feel like a work-in-progress rather than a fully-fledged work. Even the way in which the local choir was co-opted into some scenes felt like a wasted opportunity as they were barely used at all (although perhaps understandable if they are using a new choir local to each venue they visit). It is a bit mean but I cannot resist the bad pun: sadly this a show to drive, ride or walk right past.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 26th February then playing Stratford Circus and Jackson’s Lane.

Review: Anyone Can Whistle, Jermyn Street

“Can’t complain about the time we’re given”

Despite Lauren Bacall telling me to just put your lips together and blow, I have never been able to whistle. Even if I could, my deaf old ears wouldn’t hear it anyway, but having seen Anyone Can Whistle at the Jermyn Street Theatre in Piccadilly, I now realise that it is symptomatic of a life of emotional constipation and sexual frigidity: eek!

For a blog named for a Stephen Sondheim lyric, I have had precious little experience in seeing his work. Tim Burton’s cinematic Sweeney Todd aside, I’ve only actually seen the recent Menier A Little Night Music so I was pleased to see a number of Sondheim works lined up for this year, which just happens to mark his 80th birthday. Later in the year we’ll have Into the Woods at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park and Passion at the Donmar. In a couple of weeks there’s a concert on his actual birthday at the King’s Head, but first up in London is Primavera’s production of Anyone Can Whistle. Continue reading “Review: Anyone Can Whistle, Jermyn Street”