Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

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Album Review: The A-Z of Mrs P – Original London Cast Recording

“Could you ever be happy mama?”

In a musical theatre landscape that often seems risk-averse when it comes to new writing, even in the face of the recent efforts of old hands Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice both closing early, it is always pleasing to hear new voices being championed. And that is exactly what producer Neil Marcus did in securing idiosyncratic British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert to write the music and lyrics for The A-Z of Mrs P, along with Diane Samuels for the book. The show recently premiered at the Southwark Playhouse in a production directed by Sam Buntrock, and the soundtrack has now been released by SimG Productions.

Herbert had never seen a musical before starting to write this show five years ago and there’s a definite freshness to the way she has approached the material. The show was inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, a woman who led a complex personal life but is best known for mapping and creating the famous A-Z streetmap of London that so many still use today. Her relationship with her map publisher father was a troubled beast though and so the canvas of the story widens out beyond the streets of London, to delve into the family history of Mrs P and how it proved a driving force for her whole life. Continue reading “Album Review: The A-Z of Mrs P – Original London Cast Recording”

Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse

“Go on, do it…”

There’s a sense of budding potential in new musical The A-Z of Mrs P that doesn’t quite come to full fruition in this production at the Southwark Playhouse, but suggests that some assiduous rethinking and re-shaping could well see any future life be more bountiful. Diane Samuels’ book and Gwyneth Herbert’s music and lyrics tell a self-described “musical fable” inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, the woman who mapped out and created the A-Z Atlas to London.

But though this may be her main claim to fame, the rest of her life was full of additional drama too. A Hungarian map-drawing father and an Irish mother who ultimately died in an asylum, her parents had a troubled marriage which impacted hugely on her and her brother’s childhood and beyond, and her lovelife was marked by failures and an abortive marriage. All of this and more is packed into the show which strains under the pressure of delivering any of its narrative streams effectively. Continue reading “Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-Review: Crazy For You, Novello

“Who could ask for anything more?!”

After a highly accomplished run at the Open Air Theatre, Crazy For You has transferred into the West End to take up residence in the Novello Theatre, taking advantage of the premature closing of Betty Blue Eyes. I saw it in Regents Park – review can be read here – and was easily seduced by its combination of Stephen Mears’ pulsating choreography and lively renditions of selections from the Gershwins’ considerable catalogue of songs. The show has been transplanted indoors pretty much in its entirety and continues to be a whole heap of uncomplicated entertainment.

I previously described the story as ‘pure hokum’ and little has changed in that respect but it really doesn’t matter in the end, because this really is a show that is all about the singing and dancing. It doesn’t so much reinvent this set of classic Gershwin songs, they are too well known for that, but it does present them in a fresh new setting which feels incredibly natural and well-fitted. Sometimes with jukebox shows there can be the feeling of songs being shoe-horned into the narrative but because this show wears its story quite lightly, that is rarely the case here. Instead, there’s a cheery skip through some of the best songs ever written that is guaranteed to lift the heart. Continue reading “Re-Review: Crazy For You, Novello”

DVD Review: Oklahoma!, National Theatre

“I heared a lot of stories an’ I reckon they’re true”

A nip into Wigan whilst up at my parents’ for Bonfire Night paid great dividends with the My Fair Lady soundtrack and this DVD popping up in the same charity shop. I was particularly excited for Oklahoma! as it has Josefina Gabrielle in a lead role: becoming aware of her in recent years, I have only seen her in supporting roles and loved her immensely in almost every one. It also has Hugh Jackman whom I saw a snippet of in Hey Mr Producer! just a couple of weeks ago, which introduced me briefly to the concept of him as a musical theatre star, something that’s still a bit odd. My favourite bit of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical though is how it confirms that everyone thinks they’re a great dancer when on drugs!

Trevor Nunn’s 1998 production for the National Theatre takes an impressively gritty approach to the show which undercuts the popular notion that musicals are all cheery jazz hands and nothing more. Yes there is splendid choreography from Susan Stroman which sparkles with a marvellous joie de vivre but it comes in scenes when people are coming together for a good time, market day or the big ball, and they are captured beautifully here. But alongside this, is no attempt to hide how tough day-to-day life is for these people and the violence that underscores much of life on the ranches and farms. Continue reading “DVD Review: Oklahoma!, National Theatre”

Review: Crazy for You, Open Air Theatre

“Dancing makes my troubles all seem tiny”

There’s no hiding the fact that the Open Air Theatre’s Crazy for You is pure hokum but for sheer escapist fun and a feel-good atmosphere that will whisk you away from the troubles outside of Regent’s Park for an evening, this will pretty much do the trick. Based on the George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, Ken Ludwig – he of the recently departed Lend Me A Tenor – wrote a new book in 1992, heavy on post-modern knowingness and light on substance: silly but fun – if you come here looking for authenticity you’re bound to be disappointed!

Banker Bobby Child is forced to abandon his Broadway dreams and is dispatched to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theatre there. Sensing an opportunity as he falls head over heels with the daughter of the theatre’s owner, he decides to impersonate the Broadway impresario he longs to work for and arranges for a benefit show to be put on to save the theatre: madcap fun ensues with mistaken identities – clearly a Ludwig fave – at the fore. Continue reading “Review: Crazy for You, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic

“I don’t want to believe that we come from monkeys and apes, but I guess that’s kinda besides the point”

Inherit The Wind is a courtroom drama, based on the true life story of a Tennessee schoolteacher who was threatened with imprisonment for teaching Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution, in direct contravention of school policy. A highly strung court case then follows, pitching creationists against evolutionists, and bringing two legal titans to a small town in Tennessee to argue the case, the ramifications of which clearly extend beyond that classroom in the Deep South. Its timing seems uncanny: even on the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species, a highly recommended (by me at least) film Creation, about Darwin’s struggles with his own faith as he wrote it, has not been able to find a distributor in the US because it is considered too ‘controversial’ in a country where allegedly barely a third of the population actually believe in evolution.

The scale of this production really is admirably epic: the staging is superb, with the Old Vic’s stage being opened up to a great depth (you could probably fit the stage for Annie Get Your Gun on there 15 times over!), the already healthy cast is ably bolstered by a phalanx of supernumaries, bringing the total company to 50 bodies who bring an authentic air of claustrophobic small-town living to several scenes, most notably the prayer meeting just before the trial. The use of hymns sung by the company during scene changes further reinforces this strong sense of a community joined by the power of their faith. Continue reading “Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic”

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Some shows you just know are going to get bad reviews but these are quite often shows that certain people are going to love no matter what and so it was with me and Acorn Antiques The Musical. I loved Victoria Wood’s sketch show from the moment I remember seeing it (I’m northern, it is in the contract) and so when I heard that she was writing a musical based on it, there was no doubt what my request for a birthday present would be: tickets to see it at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, Wood took on sole responsibility for the show, writing book, music and lyrics and managed to persuade many of the original stars from the show to reprise their roles: Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and of course, Julie Walters. And when the show focuses on recreating the hilarity that was Acorn Antiques the show as we remember it, this has to be one of the funniest nights I have ever had at the theatre, I was helpless with laughter for so much of it. Continue reading “Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”