Review: King Lear, Minerva

“He hath always but slightly, known himself”

As I wrote when the full cast was first announced, “the world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting”. And now that the time has come to trek over to Chichester Festival Theatre to catch Ian McKellen revisiting a role he has already been most renowned for playing, you’re left in awe once again at the luxuries casting director Anne McNulty has brought to bear in Jonathan Munby’s modern-dress and modern-spirited production.

Chief among them is Sinéad Cusack’s Kent. It’s a casting decision that deserves the emphasis for Chichester has long been a venue where female representation has struggled across the board and though it is still early days yet for Daniel Evans’ tenure here, any steps are welcome. Tamara Lawrance as Cordelia is another example and a powerful contrast too. Where Cusack brings all her experience to bear as a superbly nuanced Kent (whose disguising gains real resonance), Lawrance brings a freshness of spirit to her most compassionate reading of Lear’s youngest daughter.

Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Minerva”

Album Review: Carousel (1993 London Cast Recording)

“The feelin’ is gettin’ so intense”

Nick Hytner’s production of Carousel began life at the National Theatre at 1992 and was such a success that it transferred into the West End the next year, albeit without its entire original cast. So this recording does not feature the likes of Patricia Routledge and Janie Dee which is sad, but it did retain the incomparable Joanna Riding who delivers the kind of performance as Julie Jordan that should rightfully be lauded for aeons.

Frankly, it pisses all over Katherine Jenkins’ efforts (Michael Hayden’s Billy isn’t particularly fantastic but I’d still take him over Alfie Boe), speaking as it does to the darker side of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, which Hytner was one of the first to really emphasise. Riding is superb from start to finish and in a treasure trove of riches, it is the rendition of ‘What’s the use of Wond’rin” that really blows you away. Continue reading “Album Review: Carousel (1993 London Cast Recording)”

Casting for Chichester’s King Lear announced

“Reason not the need”

The world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting (all credit to casting director Anne McNulty here). Jonathan Munby’s production had already announced Ian McKellen as part of the ensemble (teasing an interesting casting breakdown that didn’t actually come to anything) but that’s a small niggle in what is otherwise some excellent news.

  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Dervla Kirwan, Kirsty Bushell and Tamara Lawrance as Goneril, Regan and Cordelia
  • Jonathan Bailey and Damien Molony as Edgar and Edmund
  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Michael Matus (Oswald), Dominic Mafham (Albany) and Patrick Robinson (Cornwall) in there as well
  • Danny Webb as Gloucester
  • Did I mention Sinéad Cusack as Kent?
  • I can take or leave Phil Daniels as the Fool but he may well surprise.

Tickets are all sold out so you might want to monitor regularly for returns or hope for the transfer which one suspects is already in the making.

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange

“If only I were famous from the telly”

Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there’s an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange’s latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I’ve seen – The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days were both part of festivals).

That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here – Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here. Continue reading “Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me!
Well I didn’t really waste time, I just prioritised. Over the many ways in which Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary was celebrated and fitting in something of a social life, the Globe’s Complete Walk – specially commissioned bitesize films of each of his 37 plays – just felt like a step too far, plus there was always the assumption (or should that be presumption) that the films would resurface in a more accessible way. And so it seems to be coming to pass, with three of them now available on the BBC’s iPlayer.

   

My favourite of these three was Antony & Cleopatra Starting with a plethora of snippets from both Rome and Egypt from Jonathan Munby’s 2014 production starring Eve Best and Clive Wood, leading up to a stunning adaptation of Cleopatra and Iras’ final moments filmed at the Red Pyramid at Dahshur in Egypt. Beautifully shot with real restraint from Mark Rosenblatt and gorgeously spoken by Eleanor Matsuura and Katy Stephens respectively, the superb musical accompaniment written and performed by Norwegian violinist Bjarte Eike with his baroque ensemble Barokksolistene combine to spine-tingling effect.


Another film to combine Globe productions with the new was Richard II, Bill Buckhurst getting to film inside Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament for its added piquancy. There we find uber-present James Norton’s monarch surrendering his crown to Dominic Rowan’s Bolingbroke, spliced with Simon Godwin’s 2015 production at the Globe with Frederick Neilson and Charles Edwards as the monarch at the beginning and end of his reign. I could watch Norton and Rowan for days, this only faded a little in comparison with the wonders from the Pyramids.



Oddly enough, the most formally interesting of the trio – Hamlet – was the one that stirred me the least. Though filmed at the Danish castle at Kronborg, Elsinore itself, the location didn’t actually bring too much to the table for me. And the format from Dominic Dromgoole, passages from the play fragmented into 4 voices, didn’t spark as much as I thought it would, even though those voices belonged to Michelle Terry, Alex Jennings, Nikesh Patel, and Ashley Zhangazha. 


CD Review: Bugsy Malone (NYMT 1997)

“We could have been anything that we wanted to be”

The news that the Lyric Hammersmith will be reopening with a production of Bugsy Malone will have rightly gladdened the hearts of all right-thinking people and it also reminded me that I had the soundtrack to the show that I’d not gotten round to listening to yet. Where the film (featuring the likes of Jodie Foster and Scott Baio, as well as Mark Curry, Dexter Fletcher and Bonnie Langford) dubbed adult voices onto its child performers, the National Youth Music Theatre mounted an all-youth production that ended up in the West End and which had amongst its number, a certain Sheridan Smith.

There’s real interest in the soundtrack for musical fans as Paul Williams donated songs that were not included in the film, ‘That’s Why They Call Me Dandy’ and ‘Show Business’, the first of which is quite an adorable character number for Dandy Dan (sung here by Stuart Piper and the company) and the second of which is no great shakes (sung by Alex Lee, presumably the Lena Marelli character). And amongst the more familiar numbers are some lovely arrangements which bolster the tunes – the second half of ‘I’m Feeling Fine’ becomes a tender duet, the utterly beautiful ‘Tomorrow’ enhanced by company BVs. Continue reading “CD Review: Bugsy Malone (NYMT 1997)”

Review: This House, National Theatre

“We have traditions, gentlemen’s agreements…things to help us to the best we can”

It’s always nice when karma works out in your favour. A clash in the schedule meant that I had to return my original ticket for This House and as the run was completely sold out, I was doubtful that I’d get to see the show. But as it turned out, standing tickets in the pit had just been released and so for the princely sum of £5, I was able to take in an early preview of James Graham’s new play for the National Theatre.

Set in the halls of Westminster across the incident-ridden 1974-1979 parliament, This House occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality that so many playwrights seem to love. Graham has taken inspiration from the real events of the time – the hung parliament, economic crises, changes in leadership and a surprisingly high mortality rate among MPs – and created his own version of events. His focus lies with the whips on both sides and it is from their perspective that we see events occur, as they troubleshoot left, right and centre, struggle to control their wayward members and do deal after deal with their opposing counterparts, observing the age-old traditions and principles that serve in place of a constitution. Continue reading “Review: This House, National Theatre”

Review: The Beggar’s Opera, Open Air Theatre

“You will always be a vulgar slut”

The Beggar’s Opera written by John Gay in 1728 was the first example of the ballad opera, perhaps the forerunner to today’s jukebox musicals in folding in pre-existing tunes to a satirical narrative that poked fun at the ever-popular Italian operas that were all the rage. Gay set his play in amongst the lowlifes of society, our main protagonist Macheath is a highwayman and raging lothario and the slowly twisting plot follows his shenanigans as he gets married to Polly Peachum, despite having gotten Lucy Lockit pregnant, unaware that the parents of both are part of a corrupt justice system that would happily see him hang so that his reputed fortune would come to them. Lucy Bailey directs this production which takes place in the elegant Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park.

The overall impact is somewhat underwhelming though, the score not really proving to be melodically distinct enough, nor the story witty or moving enough to really crackle with life. For 2 hours 40 minutes, there is very little to the plot and much of the running time is taken over by the 69 songs that are sung throughout the show. Though mostly sung well, these rarely progress the action but rather arrest the flow and as the vast majority of them fall neatly into the English folk ballad category, there’s a gnawing sense of repetition that sets in. And even when there is no singing, there’s little vibrancy or energy on stage, movement director Maxine Doyle of Punchdrunk has introduced a rather sluggish pace and Bailey’s direction does not draw out enough of the comedy from the productions or her performers. Continue reading “Review: The Beggar’s Opera, Open Air Theatre”