“Eä, Arda, Ainulindalë.
Aratar, Maiar, Rána, Nénar”
“Me with music and you the words“
Menier Chocolate Factory Christmas musicals have a habit of making the leap into the West End and given the rapturous reception that Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along received last year, it was no surprise to hear that it would make the well-deserved transfer into the Harold Pinter Theatre for a 12 week engagement. My original review of the show can be read here and perhaps not unexpectedly, very little has changed of my feelings about this rather magnificent production. But more surprising was how little I felt it had changed in the considerably larger space of this new theatre.
It’s a good six months since I saw it so perhaps my memory isn’t too reliable but it really does feel very similar indeed, Soutra Gilmour’s design slots into the theatre in a similar fashion and the staging – although expanded to fill the space – moves around it in the same way. Not that this is a bad thing, but rather that I’m not exactly sure about how it might play from further back or up in the theatre than you’d ever be in the Menier. Where the lack of discernible difference is a definite boon though is in the performance level. Continue reading “Re-review: Merrily We Roll Along, Harold Pinter”
“We go way back, never forward”
Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along famously flopped on Broadway when it opened in 1981 but now refined and reappraised, it is considered amongst his finest work and this Menier Chocolate Factory production serves to bolster that reputation. Directed by Maria Friedman, no stranger to Sondheim’s work as an actor but making her professional directorial debut here, the story traces the fortunes of Franklin, Mary and Charley, three writer friends buzzing with creative energy and determined to make their mark on the world. Real life intervenes though and the mistakes, sacrifices and compromises made in their lives as success changes them in unexpected ways are highlighted and heightened by a reverse timeline which sees Sondheim and book writer George Furth move scene by scene from 1976 to 1957.
It is Franklin who lies at the heart of the story. An unsympathetic figure who we meet as the height of his unlikeability in the midst of a soulless Hollywood party, it is to Mark Umbers’ immense credit that he makes this man such an intriguing person, transcending the limitations of the book which provides little clue as to his motivations. Umbers’ Franklin sparkles with a seductively easy charm that makes him understandably hard to resist and suggests that it not with malice that he rides roughshod over others, but rather that his head is simply too easily turned by the next new bright thing. Jenna Russell’s Mary’s slow self-destruction as unrequited love eats her from the inside is just devastating to watch, all the more so for being played in reverse and realising just how long she has held a flame for her friend, and Damian Humbley’s well-judged Charley has a geeky reticence that explodes in fine style with a delicious rip through ‘Franklin Shepard, Inc’. Continue reading “Review: Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory”
“Wishing for the normal kind of dream,
Trouble is they’re harder than they seem”
Soho Cinders is a Stiles + Drewe show which has long been in development, 11 years since the original concept was devised, during which they’ve worked on Mary Poppins, the sadly departed Betty Blue Eyes and their new show Soapdish. But all the while, this modern-day gay retelling (of sorts) of the Cinderella tale has been burbling away, some of the songs were previewed at the A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe concert in 2008 and subsequently released on CD – one in particular, ‘(They Don’t Make) Glass Slippers’ becoming a favourite amongst young male singers, Gareth Gates being my particular favourite rendition. Having the book retweaked one more time by Elliot Davis, Stiles + Drewe decided to launch the show in a one-off concert version at the Queen’s Theatre, in an evening in support of, and maintaining their long-standing connection with, the Teenage Cancer Trust, following last year’s concert at Wilton’s Music Hall.
Our Cinderella is Robbie, a young Londoner who works as an escort in order to fund his way through law school so he can contest his mother’s will which apparently left her coffee shop to his wicked stepsisters. Our prince is James Prince, a prospective London mayoral candidate, who has a glamorous fiancée but as it turns out, has been conducting a secret affair with Robbie, although unaware of his other activities. When they are flung together unexpectedly at a fundraising party, secrets tumble out, truths are exposed and though no shoes are left behind (it’s a phone instead), the fairytale ending does not necessarily seem guaranteed. Continue reading “Review: Soho Cinders, Queens Theatre”
“There’s a long road ahead of us”
Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show arrives at the Menier Chocolate Factory after a number of rewrites since 1999 that have seen the show take on four different titles. The story is based on a real-life one, of early Twentieth Century brothers Addison and Wilson Mizner, who are exhorted by their father on his deathbed to seize every opportunity and that they do, both good and bad. Striking it lucky whilst searching for gold, the profligate pair part ways as Addison objects to the gambling that Wilson has become addicted to – despite it multiplying their fortune – and as Wilson turns his hand to all sorts of schemes like boxing promotion and Hollywood, Addison travels the world to eventually settle in Florida and become an architect. Fate draws them together again though as Wilson can’t help but try to capitalise on his brother’s success once again.
Covering so much history of two different people, which in turn is clearly meant to be representative of how the American Dream could go wrong as well as right, means that there is a very episodic feel to Road Show which precludes any real dramatic tension being built up or genuine emotional investigation into any of the characters. There are some fantastic moments in here: ‘The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened’ is as tenderly lovely a gay love song as you could hope for; ‘Isn’t He Something!’ details a mother’s love beautifully and the traverse staging, though a little tight and initially disconcerting, makes intriguing use of the space – though a few less dollar bills in the air might not have gone amiss. Continue reading “Review: Road Show, Menier Chocolate Factory”