Review: Imagine This, Union

“There’s singing, there’s dancing, and all the Jews die in the end”

The West End production of Imagine This lasted for barely a month in 2008, so it usually one of the first shows named when it comes to lists of notorious flops. Which might explain, at least partly, why it has taken nearly a decade for anyone to go near the show again, that honour going to first-time director Harry Blumenau who is now mounting the musical at the Union Theatre, in a well-cast production seeking to reassess that reputation.

For me, as a first-timer to the show, it didn’t feel hard to see why it didn’t succeed. Glenn Berenbeim’s grimly stoic book is set in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 where a group of actors are trying to lift spirits by staging a play. And not just any play, it’s the story of the siege of Masada, a historical act of Jewish resistance and thereby flicking the v-sign to the Nazis. But Berenbeim attempts to gild the lily by throwing a would-be epic romance which ultimately cheapens the narrative fatally. Continue reading “Review: Imagine This, Union”

Review: See Rock City And Other Destinations, Union Theatre

“It’s not what I expected.
Is it what you expected?”

I doubt it was fully the intention of bookwriter Adam Mathais and composer Brad Alexander to suggest Dante’s circles of hell in the unconnected stories of their song cycle See Rock City And Other Destinations but there are moments when it might feel like it. The show purports to show vignettes of people searching for the meaning of life and love against the backdrop of different US landmarks with no real connection between them all save the shadowy presence of the Tour Guide, lurking at each scene.

In reality, we get fragments of stories accompanied by a handful of songs each which a youthful company try their hardest to make register but few really succeed. They’re hardly helped by a format which allows so short a time to establish their characters and a score which seems intent mainly on showcasing a wide range of musical styles rather than really forming any sort of narrative push or wider coherence to the scattered storytelling. Nor does Graham Hubbard’s direction really help us to find any connective tissue that might help the piece hang together more effectively. Continue reading “Review: See Rock City And Other Destinations, Union Theatre”

Review: Orton, Above the Stag

“A case of cock over cranium”

The tempestuous relationship between ground-breaking playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell has long been a source of fascination for writers and retellings of their story can be found in many formats. Including now, a musical, as Richard Silver and Sean J Hume’s Orton takes its own bow on the stage of the rehoused Above the Stag, a mere studded collar’s throw from notorious Vauxhall hangout The Hoist (in a touch which would surely have amused Orton).

The show simply follows the pair from the heady excitement of the day they met at RADA through to Orton’s untimely end at the hands of Halliwell and a hammer sixteen years later. But though there is a most macabre ending in sight, the journey there ends up being rather entertaining, impressively told with humour, intelligence and no little campery. And for a new musical, it has a pleasingly strong sense of its own identity, a small-scale triumph in its own right. Continue reading “Review: Orton, Above the Stag”