Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Review: Grotty, Bunker

Lesbian subculture is put under the microscope in Grotty at the Bunker Theatre, anchored by an idiosyncratic performance from Izzy Tennyson

“There’s got to be another lesbian like you”

There’s something a little extraordinary about Izzy Tennyson’s central performance at the heart of Grotty. Her Rigby is mesmerising, a young woman finding her way through the London lesbian scene, characterised as an almost grotesque clown, clambering over every inch of the Bunker Theatre, hunched over, tongue lapping, words gabbled, a striking presence indeed.

As strong as she is though, this isn’t a one-woman show and Tennyson’s idiosyncratic manner (she is also the writer here) doesn’t always sit easily within the wider world of the play she has created. The relationships she crashes in and out of, the hookups she searches out, the friendships she abuses – all are more conventionally conceived, insofar as this slice of lesbian subculture could be considered conventional. Continue reading “Review: Grotty, Bunker”

CD Review: Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross

Why do whores only sing in musicals?” 

Showcasing the work of a lyricist is a different prospect from that of a composer, something that is immediately apparent from glancing at the cover and booklet of Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross, the latest new musical theatre CD emerge from the nurturing cocoon of SimG Records. This album features music from 4 different writers, taken from over a dozen musicals, with the now customary array of West End stars – over 30 in number here – so it can’t help but be highly eclectic as a collection, in something of a similar vein to Robert Gould’s collection from last year.

The diversity of this approach certainly has its benefits, especially as man of the songs are around the 2 minute mark, as it means the album can bounce around wryly comic observation songs like ‘Pick A Ticket!’ and ‘Him in 23B’ to the more heartfelt but still story-led balladry of Nigel Richards’ ‘And In My Heart’ and Annalene Beechey’s ‘Song for Someone’. If I had to pick, Madalena Alberto’s plaintive lullaby ‘I Will Be There’ is the highlight of the record – its gorgeously delicate emotion coming from a perfect confection of lyric, music and performance.  Continue reading “CD Review: Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross”

Review: Billy Liar, Royal Exchange

“You’ll need a clean shirt, they don’t have dirty necks on the BBC”

Hmmm. Trekking my way through this list can prove a little hard-going when it throws up plays like these… Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s Billy Liar might have been acclaimed as a Great British classic but in Sam Yates’ production for the Royal Exchange, its charms weren’t immediately clear to me. Much of it lies in the play itself I feel, a slice of late-1950s northern life from which dreamer Billy frequently escapes through the flights of fancy in his mind.

Trapped by immutable social strictures and parental expectation, he fantasises and lies his way through the day, as he dreams of leaving the day job (at the undertakers) and moving to London to become a writer for comedians. But the excitement is in the dreaming rather than the doing, so a strange state of affairs exists where he spins and invents and even destroys his actual world without any real sense that he might actually get up and go. Continue reading “Review: Billy Liar, Royal Exchange”

Review: The Songs of My Life – an evening with Peter Polycarpou

“We can’t forget that they are all our children too”

Peter Polycarpou has had a long and varied career but I will always remember him as Chris Theodopolopoudos from Birds of a Feather, a show I hated yet always seemed to watch when I was younger. So seeing him in a range of roles since I’ve started theatregoing has been a case of rehabilitation of my perception of him and one which I have rather enjoyed. Thus I was quite happy to go along to a one-off concert – The Songs of My Life, an evening with Peter Polycarpou – which celebrated his life and career at the Garrick Theatre this Sunday evening with a range of special guests and choral support from London drama schools.

A proud character actor, rather than a leading man, as Polycarpou’s own programme notes start off by saying, the list of shows in which he has actually starred makes really rather impressive reading: Miss Saigon, Oklahoma!, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Love Story… So as well as being treated with songs from these shows, sometimes with a bit of a twist – I loved being able to hear some of Howard Goodall’s Love Story again, Jos Slovick and Rebecca Trehearn filling in on ‘Phil’s Song/Summer’s Day’, a rousing ‘Bui Doi’ closed the main part of the evening, ‘It’s A Scandal’ received an amusing Cockney makeover and ‘Master of the House’ was transplanted to a Greek taverna to great effect – we also got a set of amusing anecdotes, amassed from a lifetime of experience. Performers often relish the freedom in selecting their own playlist for such shows, meaning they get the chance to sing songs their characters never did. And so Polycarpou gave his ‘Johanna’, from the West End-bound Sweeney Todd, and a quietly moving ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’. Continue reading “Review: The Songs of My Life – an evening with Peter Polycarpou”