Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead

With the magnificent Sharon D Clarke at the helm, Caroline, or Change transfers to the Hampstead Theatre London with all its power intact

“Dressed in white and feelin’ low,
talkin’ to the washer and the radio”

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s complex and challenging civil rights musical Caroline, or Change makes its long-awaited London return to the Hampstead theatre, more than a decade after its well-received National Theatre production took the Olivier for Best New Musical but found no further life.

Michael Longhurst’s production was first seen in Chichester last May (here’s my review) and whilst it is a shame that that original cast aren’t all present here (the glorious Nicola Hughes, Gloria Onitiri, Jennifer Saayeng all now elsewhere), it holds on to the titanic talents of Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibideaux. Continue reading “Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead”

The finalists of The Offies 2018

The finalists of the The Offies 2018 have been announced and as ever, there’s much of interest there, in the choices made and the breadth of Off West End theatre celebrated. Play-wise, I’m delighted at the love for The Revlon Girl and An Octoroon here, nice to see the Bunker’s Eyes Closed Ears Covered rewarded too, plus Will Pinchin’s work in Frankenstein.
 
With the musicals, I’m not down with the love for Promises Promises, an ill-judged revival that added nothing to the conversation (and even less in these #MeToo times) and I’m disappointed that none of the boys of Yank! were recognised. The rest of the Southwark Playhouse’s spectacular year does get the appropriate plaudits though, with Superhero, The Life and Working all getting multiple nominations.
 
And lastly, at times it can seem like all you have to do is sing in your bathroom and you get an Offie nomination 😉 so it is interesting to see how the numbers break down, albeit somewhat vaguely. These 80 or so finalists have apparently been whittled down from over 350 nominations from over 190 shows – there’s clearly just a lot of Offies love to share. Should you wish to join in said sharing at the IRL award ceremony on Sunday 4th March at The Albany, Deptford, you can buy tickets here.

Continue reading “The finalists of The Offies 2018”

2017 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play


Hattie Morahan/Kate O’Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide
How to split these three? Why would you even want to. Their effortless grace, their ferociously detailed complexity, their heart-breaking connectivity, all three will live long in my mind.

Honourable mention: Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Not far behind in the fierceness stakes was this epic role of near-Chekhovian proportions, tailored by Mike Bartlett for one of his frequent collaborators. Quite why this hasn’t followed Ink into the West End I’m not sure.

Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle

8-10
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman; Imelda Staunton, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; Rosie Wyatt, In Event of Moone Disaster

Best Actress in a Musical

Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
A second three-way tie? Hey, it’s my blog and my rules! From Dee thoroughly owning the Olivier through song and dance, to Gabrielle making me feel like I was hearing ‘Send in the Clowns’ for the first time, to the sheer beauty of Walker’s uncompromising love for her son, this was only way I could reward a banner year for leading female musical performances.

Honourable mention: Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women
Sadly ineligible to win since her name doesn’t begin with J…, Giselle-Ward nevertheless blew me away at the heart of this gorgeous musical which, if there’s any justice, should continue the Hope Mill’s admirable record of London transfers.

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change
Kelly Price, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
T’Shan Williams, The Life


8-10

Carly Bawden, Romantics Anonymous; Sandra Marvin, Committee; Marisha Wallace, Dreamgirls;

2017 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman

Thinking about this most well-received of plays, it is the role of Aunt Maggie Faraway who lingers most in my mind, the elegiac beauty of her speeches an elegant way of folding in traditions of Irish storytelling and emphasising the deep bonds of family. Breathtaking work from Brennan.

Honourable mention: Kate Kennedy, Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange)
When done well, Olivia is one of my favourite Shakespearean roles and the statuesque Kennedy didn’t disappoint with a highly-sexed take on the character which embraced all the physical potential of her height.

Sheila Atim, Girl From the North Country
Laura Carmichael, Apologia
Romola Garai, Queen Anne
Lashana Lynch, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Kate O’Flynn, The Glass Menagerie

8-10
Susan Brown, Angels in America; Jessica Brown Findlay, Hamlet; Denise Gough, Angels in America

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Tracie Bennett, Follies

All I have to say is ‘I’m Still Here’. I’M STILL HERE!

Honourable mention: Rachel John, Hamilton
Only the tiniest of margins separated these two and it’s only really the fact that she’s not Renée Elise Goldsberry that held John back from the title.

Christine Allado, Hamilton
Julie Atherton, The Grinning Man
Sharon D Clarke, The Life
Joanna Riding, Romantics Anonymous
Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie


8-10
Nicola Hughes, Caroline or Change ; Cathy Read, Little Women; Sharon Sexton, Bat Out of Hell

Nominations for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour and celebrate outstanding achievements in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have just announced the nominations for the 2017 awards, the results of which will be revealed at a ceremony on Sunday 15th October. 
 
 
How many of these did you see, and who do you think should win?
 

Best new play
Half Breed by Tash Marshall, Talawa Theatre Company and Soho Theatre
Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery, Box of Tricks
Wish List by Katherine Soper, Royal Court and Royal Exchange Theatre

Best musical production
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sheffield Theatres
Caroline, Or Change, Chichester Festival Theatre
Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange Theatre Continue reading “Nominations for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards”

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

“Household rules and small decrees unsuspecting bring us these secret little tragedies”

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre’s longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is…). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst’s direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven’t quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she’s a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it’s a difficult one to resist despite – or maybe because of – all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents.

Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva”

Review: The Life, Southwark Playhouse

“I’ve done everything that a body can do.

But how goddamn much can a body go through?”
There’s a moment early on in The Life where Sharon D Clarke’s been-around-the-block-and-then-some Sonja has a moment akin to Jenna Russell’s ‘The Revolutionary Costume for Today’ in Grey Gardens where she utterly and completely steals the show with an outstanding musical number, the likes of which will scarcely be bettered all year. Here it is ‘The Oldest Profession’, a world-weary but witty run through life working on the streets which is just bloody fantastic. But lest you worry that this is a musical to glamourise prostitution, all that good feeling is instantly shattered by a scene of brutal cruelty from her pimp which leaves you in no doubt as to how (melodramatically) serious The Life is.
Set on the seedier side of 42nd Street in 1980s New York, David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman’s book remembers Times Square before it became tourist-friendly and follows a group of people just trying to get by in this callous world. Queen is turning tricks and saving money to move on out of this world but when her lover Fleetwood, a troubled Vietnam vet with a habit, blows half her stash on his stash, it’s clear that something drastic needs to happen. Angered by new arrival from the sticks Mary, aided by longtime friend and co-worker Sonja, and abetted by the malicious Memphis, Queen is spurred onto a course of ambitious but tragic action.
It’s a sordid and occasionally desperate world but one that director Michael Blakemore, who also helmed the 1997 Broadway production, shows us also has hope and heart. Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography really plays up the sense of camaraderie between the working girls, led superlatively by Sharon D Clarke’s mother hen-of sorts in Sonja, with vivid bursts of character – especially from Jalisa Andrews and Lucinda Shaw – showing the unconventional family dynamic they cling to. And on the fringe of the group with her eyes firmly fixed on the exit, T’Shan Williams’ determined Queen is a maelstrom of intense emotion, increasingly trapped by her situation but never entirely beaten.
As the men in their lives, David Albury’s out-of-his-depth would-be pimp Fleetwood is perfectly pitched up against Cornell S John’s malevolent old-hand Memphis and as the wheeler-dealing Jojo who acts as a narrator of sorts, John Addison has a nice moral equivalency about him. Coleman’s score, with lyrics by Gasman, is boldly tuneful and sounds sprightly under Tamara Saringer’s musical direction. Justin Nardella’s set design attempts a lot in the limited space of the auditorium and largely pulls it off, though Nina Dunn’s video projections are an unnecessary addition, especially when Nardella has provided such eye-catching (and definitely PG-rated) costumes.
At this final preview, the company looked to be in extremely fine form and a rapturous reception from the audience was certainly well deserved. The second act does stretch a little too languorously though, incorporating a couple of musical numbers that add little to the main thrust of the narrative for little discernible benefit, but it’s a small cavil in an otherwise enjoyable evening.   
Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Booking until 29th April