Review: What’s In A Name?, Birmingham REP

“I’m a forty-year-old bachelor, who wears orange, likes Michael Bublé, and lived in San Francisco for a year”

Its rather lazy, and stereotypical, approach to laughing at the gays aside, there’s a quite a lot to enjoy here in the Birmingham REP’s production of the award-winning French play What’s In A Name?. Written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière, Le Prénom has been widely translated and produced, as well as receiving a film adaptation, but this version translated by Jeremy Sams for Just for Laughs Theatricals, marks the play’s British premiere.

Set in the Peckham apartment of Peter and Elizabeth (of course I went to Birmingham to see a play set 10 minutes from my flat!), the sharp comedy revolves around that staple of many a dramatist – the awkward dinner party. The hosts have invited her brother and his best friend Vincent and his heavily pregnant wife Anna, plus their ‘confirmed bachelor’ friend Carl, and over a Moroccan buffet and bottles of Chateau Margaux 1985, all manner of uncomfortable truths are revealed. Continue reading “Review: What’s In A Name?, Birmingham REP”

CD Review: Mamma Mia (Original Cast Recording 1999)

“It’s the best I can do”

It’s easy to be dismissive about Mamma Mia and all it has wrought in revitalising the jukebox musical as a form but the numbers don’t lie. 17 years and counting in the West End, the 8th longest running show on Broadway (it occupies the same position on the UK ranking at the moment too), a wildly successful film adaptation that became the highest grossing musical ever…it’s impressive stuff.

And listening to the Original Cast Recording from 1999, subsequently re-released with bonus tracks for the 5th anniversary, I’d say it’s fairly easy to see why it has endured so long. For all you may mock Catherine Johnson’s book, which hangs oh so lightly on a varied selection of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ iconic music for ABBA, it actually does interesting things with it, in telling its own story rather relying on the songs themselves (I’m looking at you Jersey Boys…!)

So to say you’re better off listening to ABBA’s greatest hits is to miss the point. As light as the plot may be in its girl-wants-father-to-walk-her-down-the-aisle-but-finds-there’s-three-potential-candidates frothiness but there’s something genuinely tender in hearing ‘Chiquitita’ repurposed for two friends comforting a third, maternal lament ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ actually sung between mother and daughter, the stag v hens vivacity of ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’.

And yes, they sound different to the originals, of course they do with a full orchestra and chorus to back them up, not to mention the lack of Swedish accents. This recording is a little blessed too in having the film’s soundtrack with its interesting casting choices to easily surpass, but that’s not to take away from the delightful vocals of Louise Plowright, Jenny Galloway, and Siobhán McCarthy as the leading trio, the latter’s Donna a fabulous leading lady from heartbreak to happiness.

Plowright’s cougarish ways enliven ‘Does Your Mother Know’ no end and Galloway’s equally predatory stance toward Nic Colicos’ Bill in ‘Take A Chance on Me’ is a delight. Lisa Stokke’s Sophie, the bride-to-be is charm personified and in keeping with the show’s female-friendly ethos, her intended – Andrew Langtree’s Sky – is somewhat sidelined. For me, ‘Our Last Summer’ has always been one of my favourite ABBA songs and remains so here, ruefully sung by former rocker Harry, an appealing Paul Clarkson, and McCarthy with a gentle loveliness that seems to stand in for the show as a whole.

Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium

“It’s a no, it’s a yes, it’s a no from me”

One of the most profitable television franchises in the UK, a much-loved comedian writing the book, a £6 million budget…there’s clearly considerable heft behind the latest musical to establish itself in the London Palladium. But the marriage of Harry Hill’s bizarre comic sensibility, Steve Brown’s bright if hollow score and the ITV juggernaut that is the X-Factor makes for uneasy bedfellows, Sean Foley’s garish production eschewing any kind of subtlety for the broadest kind of populist swoop.

I Can’t Sing is a show that constantly wants to have its cake and eat it. Faux-Dermot presenter Liam O’Deary gets a laugh by exasperating at one point “I don’t know why you might be charged” when the phone lines have closed, presumably the response “because they continue to make money for the production company” was mixed in previews. The TV show’s heavy reliance on tear-jerking backstories is a running gag yet nothing dispels the myth that that is the way to get noticed on a talent show. Likewise the qualifications of the panel to be judges of a popular music contest are skewered yet they remain feted as a special brand of celebrity. Continue reading “Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium”

Saturday afternoon music treats

Last week’s post proved surprisingly popular so here’s another one for you. You can find below Gary Wood revisiting A Chorus Line with ‘What I Did For Love’, a preview from The Pajama Game with Michael Xavier & Joanna Riding singing ‘Hey There’, Shayne Ward & Louise Dearman giving their take on ‘Falling Slowly’ from Once, Angela Lansbury showing why her reputation is as it is with a lovely rendition of ‘Beauty & The Beast’ (though it still doesn’t excuse the applause on entry and standing o’s), and a clip of ‘I Can’t Sing’ which is mainly fascinating to those who have seen the show as it shows the amount of tinkering there has been. Continue reading “Saturday afternoon music treats”

Review: A Chorus of Disapproval, Harold Pinter

“I just want you to know I think you’re a total and utter bastard and that one of these days I hope you’ll get what’s coming to you. Having said that, best of luck with the show tonight and I hope it goes really well for you.”

Alan Ayckbourn’s plays seem to be unavoidable, not least at the Harold Pinter theatre where Absent Friends previously played to be followed by Trevor Nunn’s production of A Chorus of Disapproval and that’s before a Pinter play has even made it onto the stage of the renamed theatre. And I’ve yet to really succumb to the pleasures of our most prolific of living writers, I’ve visited many of the productions of his plays that have played in London in recent years but never quite had that lightbulb moment to explain to me his enduring success.

But I’m always up for testing my assumptions and when a friend offered to day seat (front row seats for £10), I was happy to accept and sure enough, whilst it wasn’t quite a Damascene conversion, I did find myself laughing more than I expected and actually enjoying myself for the most part. Key to this was Rob Brydon’s central performance as the ineffably Welsh Dafydd ap Llewellyn, a solicitor by day and a amateur dramatics theatre director by night taking his group through their latest production of The Beggar’s Opera. The play opens with the final number from that show and as the curtain descends, we see backstage that the relationships amongst the cast are incredibly strained. Continue reading “Review: A Chorus of Disapproval, Harold Pinter”

2012 Laurence Olivier Awards winners

Best New Play 
Collaborators by John Hodge – National Theatre Cottesloe
Jumpy by April De Angelis – Jerwood Downstairs, Royal Court
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean – National Theatre Lyttleton
The Ladykillers by Graham Linehan – Gielgud

Best New Musical
Matilda – Cambridge
Betty Blue Eyes – Novello
Ghost – Piccadilly
London Road – National Theatre Cottesloe
Shrek – Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Best Revival 
Anna Christie – Donmar Warehouse
Flare Path – Haymarket
Much Ado about Nothing – Wyndham’s
Noises Off – Old Vic Continue reading “2012 Laurence Olivier Awards winners”

2012 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Collaborators by John Hodge – National Theatre Cottesloe
Jumpy by April De Angelis – Jerwood Downstairs, Royal Court
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean – National Theatre Lyttleton
The Ladykillers by Graham Linehan – Gielgud

Best New Musical
Betty Blue Eyes – Novello
Ghost – Piccadilly
London Road – National Theatre Cottesloe
Matilda – Cambridge
Shrek – Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Best Revival 
Anna Christie – Donmar Warehouse
Flare Path – Haymarket
Much Ado about Nothing – Wyndham’s
Noises Off – Old Vic Continue reading “2012 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Winners of the 2012 What’s On Stage Awards

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
James Corden – One Man, Two Guvnors at the National, Lyttelton & Adelphi (31.7%)
Benedict Cumberbatch – Frankenstein at the National, Olivier (27.2%)
Jude Law – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse (7.0%)
Kevin Spacey – Richard III at the Old Vic (5.8%)
David Tennant – Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndham’s (22.7%)
James Earl Jones – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s (5.5%)

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Vanessa Redgrave – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s (28.3%)
Eve Best – Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe – (22.8%)
Kristin Scott Thomas – Betrayal at the Comedy – (18.0%)
Ruth Wilson – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse (11.4%)
Samantha Spiro – Chicken Soup with Barley at the Royal Court Downstairs (7.1%)
Tamsin Greig – Jumpy at the Royal Court Downstairs (12.4%)
Continue reading “Winners of the 2012 What’s On Stage Awards”

fosterIAN awards 2011

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayEve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)Ruth Wilson, Anna ChristieRosie Wyatt, Bunny
Siân Brooke, Ecstasy
Lisa Palfrey, The Kitchen Sink
Geraldine James, Seagull
Best Actor in a PlayBenedict Cumberbatch, FrankensteinAndrew Scott, Emperor and GalileanTrevor Fox, The Pitmen Painters
Dominic West, Othello
Jude Law, Anna Christie
Charles Edwards, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayAlexandra Gilbreath, OthelloSheridan Smith, Flare PathSinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Esther Hall, Many Moons
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRyan Sampson, The Kitchen SinkHarry Hadden-Paton, Flare PathRobert Hands, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Sweeney ToddAdrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Eleanor Worthington Cox & Sophia Kiely, MatildaLaura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Beverley Klein, Bernarda Alba
Jemima Rooper, Me and My Girl
Scarlett Strallen, Singin’ in the Rain
Best Actor in a MusicalBertie Carvel, MatildaMichael Ball, Sweeney ToddDaniel Evans, Company
Daniel Crossley, Me and My Girl
Alastair Brookshaw, Parade
Vincent Franklin, The Day We Sang
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalSamantha Spiro, CompanyKate Fleetwood, London RoadJosefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalDaniel Crossley, Singin’ in the RainNigel Harman, Shrek the MusicalConnor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
David Burt, Crazy For You
Nick Holder London Road