Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

One of my favourite musicals – Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man receives a well-realised new revival courtesy of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre

“I can peel my own orange”

From the Landor to the Mercury to the Union, via the NYMT and all-star Cadogan Hall concerts, there’s no doubting that Howard Goodall’s British folk musical The Hired Man is one of my all-time faves. Musically, it is so beautiful that you can’t really argue against the marketing material claims that it is “the best British musical in 40 years” (though I might demur and say Top 5…).

It is now the turn of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre to revive the show, some 35 years old now, in association with Oldham Coliseum Theatre. And Douglas Rintoul’s fully actor-musician production is brimming with good ideas which serve the material well, teasing out a universality to its message which can sometimes feel hemmed into its Cumbria setting. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

This regional UK premiere of Once the musical should see you falling slowly towards Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in order to book your tickets!

“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice”

I’d forgotten just how much I like Once. I saw it a couple of times in its 2013-15 West End incarnation (review #1, review #2) and its atypical subtlety was a big hit for me, particularly in the gentle mood cultivated by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music and lyrics. The fact that it isn’t a brassy balls-out West End musical might explain why it has taken a little time for its regional premiere to emerge but mercifully, that time has now come.

For that, we have co-producers Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich to thank. And director Peter Rowe’s actor-musician production slips into the groove perfectly, as warm and comforting as a pint of Guinness or three in your favourite old man’s pub – and occasionally just as rowdy as well. With Enda Walsh’s book taken from John Carney’s original film, its bittersweetly romantic tone feels perfect as autumn descends. Continue reading “Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Electra, Bunker Theatre

Dumbwise’s Electra fills London’s Bunker Theatre with plenty of noise but struggles with its mix of old and new

The ambition behind actor-musician company DumbWise’s Electra is unquestionable as they introduce a “live punk-rock score” to their dynamic adaptation. The reality is a tad murkier as the old smashes up against the new with sometimes messy results.

John Ward serves as both adaptor and director and you wonder if a fresh set of eyes might have help to wrangle this further into shape. Ward has taken elements of both Euripides and Sophocles’ versions of the Greek myth and added in a framework of contemporary references, but punk-like energy is hard to sustain as you approach your third hour, still referring to the gods. Continue reading “Review: Electra, Bunker Theatre”

Review: A Man of No Importance, Salisbury Playhouse

“A good sinner can get into a lot of mischief in a week”

Much like its central character, the charms of A Man of No Importance are gentle and delicate and these remain the watchwords for Gareth Machin’s actor/musician production of this musical for Salisbury Playhouse. Based on a 1994 film and set in early 1960s Dublin, Alfie Byrne is an unassuming bus conductor whose main passion in life is directing his local am-dram society at St Imelda’s. But even that has stagnated with endless runs of The Importance of Being Earnest leaching his creativity so he makes the decision to stage the much more controversial Salome, also by Oscar Wilde, unaware of the tumultuous course of action it will unleash for all concerned.

For the weight of the Catholic Church’s disapproval is a heavy load to bear and as the production is condemned for its blasphemy after local busybodies go running to the monsignor, a light has been shone under the genteel façade of this community and exposed homosexual longings, extramarital affairs and illegitimate pregnancies. Alfie is at the centre of it all as it is his secret `desire for his handsome younger workmate Robbie that precipitates the most seismic change but even as he feels his whole world changing from underneath him, surprises lie in store all along the way. Continue reading “Review: A Man of No Importance, Salisbury Playhouse”

Review: The Kissing-Dance, Jermyn Street

“I concluded from your airs and manners that you were bred in Tufnell Park”

The Kissing-Dance is a Howard Goodall musical with lyrics and book by Charles Hart which is based on the 18th Century Oliver Goldsmith classic comedy She Stoops To Conquer. Set over one long night in Nonesuch, somewhere in the English countryside on All Fools’ Eve, it’s a story of comic misunderstandings as a London suitor is fooled into believing his prospective father-in-law’s house is an inn by the cheeky Tony Lumpkin, causing his intended to test his honour with her own scheme to foil her mother’s plans for her, whilst other secret affairs are revealed, missing family jewels cause consternation and general mayhem ensues until the sun finally rises again.

Following on from the well-received but prematurely-closed Love Story, The Kissing-Dance reveals a slightly more playful side to Goodall’s composing, embracing an English pastoral influence which allied to the wit of much of Hart’s lyrics, makes this really quite a sprightly affair. There are moments that feel almost like Gilbert & Sullivan, especially in the multi-layered finale to Act 1 with its many counterpointed melodies creating a harmonious delight. It wasn’t always so successful though, the title song feeling a little out of place with the rest of the show and not helped by being sung by the servants oddly, a small thing but still a bump in an otherwise smooth ride. Continue reading “Review: The Kissing-Dance, Jermyn Street”