Review: The Threepenny Opera, National

“There will be no moralising tonight”

Whatever you think a national theatre should be for, I bloody love that Rufus Norris seems to determined to keep diversity near the top of the billing. Whilst it is curious that he’s only committed to ensuring gender equality in terms of the directors and living writers the National Theatre uses by 2021 (I’m sure there’s a reason it takes 5 years), there’s also change happening now in this new production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera.

The first actors we see and hear are George Ikediashi and Jamie Beddard. So what you might say? But they are respectively a cabaret artist better known as Le Gateau Chocolat and a wheelchair-using director, writer, actor, consultant, trainer and workshop leader who has worked across the arts, educational and social sectors (his website). And you begin to see one of the ways how Norris is opening up this venue in an important and hopefully lasting manner. Continue reading “Review: The Threepenny Opera, National”

Review: Beyond the Fence, Arts

“We are Greenham”

For all the hoopla surrounding the genesis of Beyond the Fence – “a musical conceived by computer and substantially crafted by computer” – one does have to wonder would any of us have noticed had we not been informed in advance. The show is the product of a wide-ranging experiment to use artificial intelligence (including a computer system called Android Lloyd Webber) to crunch actual intelligence (about well over 1,000 musicals) to come up with the ideal book, music and lyrics for a machine-tooled West End hit.

Naturally, it isn’t quite as simple as that as the extensive credits (included below for your convenience) demonstrate, the results of all this considerable data analysis actually being shaped or curated into fully fledged musical theatre form by human hands, specifically those of Benjamin Till and Nathan Taylor (they who made their nuptials into Our Gay Wedding: The Musical). Thus Beyond the Fence was born, the response to the statistically-most-likely-to-come-up-with-a-winner scenario “what if a wounded soldier had to learn how to understand a child in order to find true love?” Continue reading “Review: Beyond the Fence, Arts”

Review: The Merchant of Venice, Almeida

“You know someone said that’ the world’s a stage”

One almost wishes that Rupert Goold had gone the whole hog and renamed this The Merchant of Vegas – Portia’s Turn, so complete is the re-envisioning of Shakespeare’s work here that it almost deserves the new title. The Merchant of Venice is commonly considered one of the problem plays and so it is not too unusual to see grand concepts imposed upon it and that is certainly what Goold has delivered here in this modern-day Sin City-set adaptation. Naturally it doesn’t solve all the issues about the play and it does introduce some problems of its own but with its verve and vision, it is a breath-taking experience.

Much of this comes from a genuinely sensational performance from Susannah Fielding as Portia, who is in many ways at the centre of this interpretation, the character foregrounded in a way I’ve never seen before. In this gaudy world of all-night casinos, Elvis impersonators and reality TV, she is the star and ultimate prize of a gameshow called Destiny, caskets remaining in situ as no-hopers compete for her hand. But once the cameras are off and she aims squarely for Bassanio’s heart, the complexity deepens considerably as Fielding lays this woman bare in all her insecure vanity and condescending cruelty – there’s no doubting how this Portia feels about Jews as she patronises Jessica and vilifies Shylock. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, Almeida”

Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix

“I wonder why they didn’t just change their story”

There’s always gotta be a sequel right? After the success of West End Recast earlier this year, director Adam Lenson and musical supervisor Daniel A Weiss have once again gathered a cast of West End talent with nothing better to do on a Sunday night than perform songs they wouldn’t normally get the chance to sing. And once again, they hit the jackpot with West End Recast 2, an extraordinary range of performers and performances that offer a revelatory take on what places musical theatre could go to when a few risks are taken.

Imagine Cynthia Erivo as Bobby in Company, her rendition of ‘Being Alive’ was genuinely sensational (although nothing will ever convince me that a mid-song standing ovation is acceptable) and somehow found something new in this classic that literally raised the roof. So too did Gina Beck utterly own West Side Story’s ‘Maria’, an unexpectedly affecting take that also deserves to be explored more, not least as a fascinating challenge for her vocal range. Cassidy Janson deserves a mention for going green again, though this time as Shrek rather than Elphaba, well for the most part at least… Continue reading “Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix”

Review: West End Recast, Duke of York’s

“Here’s to the girls who play smart”

There doesn’t seem to be a Sunday night that passes without some concert or another featuring a host of West End stars celebrating a composer or honouring a good cause and this weekend was no exception. West End Recast saw performers taking the chance to embrace roles that they would normally not be cast for, crossing gender and colour lines for a hugely entertaining couple of hours and some brilliant singing. The evening saw an interesting diversity of interpretations of the brief but predominantly, the feel was that it wasn’t so radical an approach – good songs are good songs no matter who sings them. 

Some performers went for straight-forward renditions (Daniel Boys’ ‘Send in the Clowns’, Katie Rowley-Jones’ impassioned Rent double header), several of the boys opted for costumey props with mixed results (Boys teaming up with Leon Lopez for a lovely low-key version of ‘For Good’ complete with tiara and green facepaint, Simon Bailey’s Ariel wig not proving as much as an obstacle to ‘Part Of Your World’ as his simpering delivery which flew in the face of the musical integrity pretty much everywhere else). But I have to say I preferred the moments that felt genuinely subversive with their gender-flips and the performances that exploded off the stage (or both at the same time). Continue reading “Review: West End Recast, Duke of York’s”