Review: Finding Neverland, Curve

“That’s what makes him beautiful, and that’s what makes him sad”

One assumes it is the reality of funding a big-budget musical these days, but there are 17 names above the title of the musical adaptation of Finding Neverland, 17! The most famous of those is Harvey Weinstein whose Miramax studio made the Johnny Depp/Kate Winslet starring film and it is his driving force that has seen the show make its world premiere at Leicester’s Curve theatre, directed by Rob Ashford. The story of how writer JM Barrie found the creative spark for Peter Pan through his growing connection, after a chance encounter, with the Llewelyn Davies family of lost boys and their smart mother Sylvia is entirely charming in Weinstein’s hands. And given his Hollywood track record, it should be no surprise that the show achieves just the right level of gooey sentimentality, whilst avoiding becoming overly twee or sickly sweet.

Peter Pan references are gorgeously threaded throughout the tale, a series of moments that provide a whole set of inspirations for his new play after suffering critical disappointment with his last. Whether a stunning bit of a shadow work or a glimpse of the night sky – which leads to one of the loveliest songs of the night, ‘Neverland’ – Ashford ensures they don’t become overplayed, especially in the restraint with which he employs the flying gear. Scott Pask’s scenic design allows for some grand flourishes in the key set pieces, some of which provide a little more stage magic than others and Ashford’s own choreography is used sparingly but with great purpose to lift the potential of scenes, especially in the pirate tango when the writer duels with his psyche – personified by Hook – as to how the story should properly end.  Continue reading “Review: Finding Neverland, Curve”

Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park

“Giving the nation a new syncopation”

Is there a greater opening number to a musical than the self-titled prologue to Ragtime? It surely has to be up there amongst the contenders as Stephen Flaherty’s music bursts open onto the stage at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park in a blaze of syncopated rhythms and choreographic glory with one of those melodies destined to worm its way into your brain for days to come. It could be argued that the show never really reaches the same heights again, but it certainly tries hard.

Director Timothy Sheader’s high concept, supported by Jon Bausor’s eye-catching design, is of a contemporary society in the midst of the collapsed American Dream, looking back to its beginnings at the turn of the previous century in the stories taken from EL Doctorow’s novel and moulded into the book here by Terrence McNally. So in the ruins of an Obama-supporting billboard and the detritus of broken bits of Disney, McDonalds and Budweiser merchandise, the company enact the intertwining tales of 3 groups – African-Americans, WASPs and Latvian immigrants – at a moment in time where it seemed that great change was just on the horizon. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park”

Review: Company, Sheffield Crucible

“You ever wish you didn’t get married?”

This trip up to Sheffield to see Company at the Crucible was my last booking for the year (though it ain’t over til the 31st…). Though it seemed like a bit of a faff, involving non-essential travel the day before I’m going to my parents for Christmas and coming at the end of a long, long year, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would be making the effort once the supporting cast around Daniel Evans had been announced. It really is luxury casting from top to toe – Samantha Spiro, Francesca Annis, Ian Gelder, Claire Price amongst others – and though I have recently suffered something of a Sondheim burnout, I got on the train with excitement.

And how glad I am that I made the effort. There have been times over the last twelve months when my enthusiasm for theatre has waned a little, but it is productions that give me goosebumps and bring tears to my eyes that remind me why I love this medium so, and this show gave me both sensations in plentiful measure. Jonathan Munby’s production puts Artistic Director Daniel Evans in the centre of the show as Bobby, the man in the midst of a middle-life, marriage-centric crisis as all his couples friends gather round at his apartment to celebrate his 35th birthday. We then see vignettes from each of their lives, showing that married life isn’t perhaps all it cracks up to be which leaves the directionless Bobby and his coterie of female admirers more confused than ever about what he wants and what he thinks he wants. Continue reading “Review: Company, Sheffield Crucible”

Album Review: London Road cast recording

“Begonias, and… petunias, and… um, impatiens and things”

Capitalising on the unexpected runaway success of London Road, the National Theatre have now released a cast recording of the verbatim musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork. I revisited the show last week – review can be read here – and so it was quite nice to be able to get this more permanent reminder. It is such an unconventional suite of music but as with anything, repeated exposure brings about a kind of familiarity and so the musical vocabulary used here has now been assimilated, its complexity less bamboozling now and a greater appreciation easier to reach.

The show looks at the sense of community that is built up amongst the residents of London Road in Ipswich as the impact of the murder of 5 prostitutes flows out around them: the road had been where the prostitutes touted for business and it eventually turned out that the murderer, Steve Wright, had recently moved into a house on their street. But the play avoids sensationalism and focusing on the murders and murderer by centring on this group of residents and how they felt as the murders were happening and then their lives turned upside down by the revelation that Wright was living in their midst and the media furore that surrounded the ensuing trial. Continue reading “Album Review: London Road cast recording”

Re-review: London Road, National (and thinking about riots)

 

“If you make your house look nice, if you feel good about where you live, you’ll en- you’ll enjoy life a whole lot better”

I hadn’t intended to revisit London Road at the National Theatre even as it scored a much-deserved extension to its run: I adored its daring invention and its deep empathy for its protagonists when I first caught the show at the Cottesloe, but when a ticket on the ultra-bargainous row T popped up on the website (seriously, this is one of the best theatre tips you will get) I just couldn’t resist returning. And it was well worth it. It is such a unique show with surprising levels that it was a real pleasure to take it in a second time, from a different seat too, to soak in some of the details that had passed me by first time round and gain a slightly different perspective on it too.

My original review can be read here and it is interesting looking back at what stood out for me about it on first viewing and how much my opinion was reinforced second time around. Kate Fleetwood and Clare Burt broke my heart all over again with their portrayals, but I really did notice how good everyone is in the show, Rosalie Craig too but particularly the men whom I previously neglected a bit, Hal Fowler struggling to get a word in edgeways, Paul Thornley’s handsome normality, Duncan Wisbey’s blokiness. And having heard the music once, it was interesting to see how much familiarity there was given how untraditional the score is, the repetition of key phrases having earwormed their way into my brain, combined with some just beautiful harmonisation: London Road in bloom is probably the prime example of the quirkiness and emotional power of the music and highly effective in demonstrating early on the potential of this verbatim musical artform.

Continue reading “Re-review: London Road, National (and thinking about riots)”

Review: London Road, National Theatre

“It’s given us a common cause…”

London Road, with book and lyrics by Alecky Blythe and music and lyrics by Adam Cork, is a show emerged out of an experimental workshop at the National Theatre, pairing unlikely collaborators to create new pieces of musical theatre. What they focused on was a series of interviews Blythe carried out with the residents of London Road, Ipswich, at the time when police were hunting for a serial killer after five women were found murdered. Why she chose that street was because it was where the murderer lived but her focus was not on him or the victims, but rather the people on the periphery, how the whole thing had affected the other inhabitants and as she revisited them months later, what their response as a community was. The show plays in the Cottesloe and this was a preview performance.

Alecky Blythe is an exponent of verbatim theatre, particularly a technique created by Anna Deavere Smith, whereby she interviews her subjects and then creates theatre by reproducing their words and vocal inflections faithfully, right down to the ums and aahs and you knows, in the performance. Working in the musical form has necessitated a slight departure from the pure verbatim form but also allows for the injection of a little dramatic license in adding emphases and repetition to what could be termed the key phrases of the chorus. Adam Cork’s music fits into the same idea of trying to replicate the speech patterns and feelings and remaining as true to the material as possible, rather than composing a musically coherent score per se, he’s created a series of responses to the text. Continue reading “Review: London Road, National Theatre”

2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Zoe Wanamaker – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Helen McCrory – The Late Middle Classes at the Donmar Warehouse 
Jenny Jules – Ruined at the Almeida
Kim Cattrall – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Nancy Carroll – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Tracie Bennett – End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios 

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
David Suchet – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Benedict Cumberbatch – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Matthew Macfadyen – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Rory Kinnear – Hamlet at the National, Olivier & Measure for Measure at the Almeida
Simon Russell Beale – Deathtrap at the Noel Coward & London Assurance at the National, Olivier 
Toby Stephens – The Real Thing at the Old Vic  Continue reading “2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Cabaret in the House with Rosalie Craig, Lauderdale House

“But now it’s just another show, you leave ‘em laughing when they go”

Cabaret in the House is a series of Sunday afternoon cabaret shows held at Lauderdale House, a historic building tucked away in Waterlow Park in Highgate and the room used for the cabaret is actually one where Nell Gwynne stayed 400 years ago, providing a nice link. Each show is introduced by Valerie Cutko, who also gives a number at the beginning of each act accompanied by Stephen Hose. Her fabulously over-dressed appearances were full of great personality and bon mots and she made a most engaging host.

As the highlight of the afternoon, Rosalie Craig gave a highly eclectic programme, mixing in pop songs with musical theatre standards and also taking the opportunity to showcase some of her compositions as a budding singer-songwriter, and excelling at all of them. One of the best things about the cabaret format is that performers can choose the material that they want to, that they have an emotional connection with, and so it didn’t matter that this playlist came from disparate sources, Rosalie pulled it all together with her bubbly personality, her clear rapport with her band (including Hadley Fraser on guitar) and a genuine love of performing. Highlights for me were a lovely rendition of Kander and Ebb’s ‘Sometimes a Day Goes By’, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ accompanied by herself on piano and a tender ‘So Many People’ from Sondheim’s Saturday Night. Continue reading “Review: Cabaret in the House with Rosalie Craig, Lauderdale House”

Review: Anyone Can Whistle, Jermyn Street

“Can’t complain about the time we’re given”

Despite Lauren Bacall telling me to just put your lips together and blow, I have never been able to whistle. Even if I could, my deaf old ears wouldn’t hear it anyway, but having seen Anyone Can Whistle at the Jermyn Street Theatre in Piccadilly, I now realise that it is symptomatic of a life of emotional constipation and sexual frigidity: eek!

For a blog named for a Stephen Sondheim lyric, I have had precious little experience in seeing his work. Tim Burton’s cinematic Sweeney Todd aside, I’ve only actually seen the recent Menier A Little Night Music so I was pleased to see a number of Sondheim works lined up for this year, which just happens to mark his 80th birthday. Later in the year we’ll have Into the Woods at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park and Passion at the Donmar. In a couple of weeks there’s a concert on his actual birthday at the King’s Head, but first up in London is Primavera’s production of Anyone Can Whistle. Continue reading “Review: Anyone Can Whistle, Jermyn Street”