Review: Privates on Parade, Union Theatre

“Everyone knows it’s the start of the Third World War”

Written in 1977 about events in 1948, there can be a temptation to dismiss the campery and dated gender politics and racial stereotyping of Privates on Parade as outdated and offensive. An argument could be made – and it is one that I have made myself before – that such notions need to be interrogated and challenged by productions. But equally, when the writing is intelligently nuanced and the direction sensitively done, audiences can be left to do this for themselves.

And so it is – I find – with Peter Nichols’ play with songs, presented here by Kirk Jameson at the Union. Take the time to delve beneath the surface and you’ll soon see there’s incisive commentary about the insidious nature of colonialism, about the personal freedoms that can be explored when released from the social strictures of home, about the contemporary lack of opportunities for women, about how war is an equal opportunities offender when it comes to shattering happiness, whether gay or straight.  Continue reading “Review: Privates on Parade, Union Theatre”

DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam”

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman’s collaboration on comic book adaptation Kick Ass went rather well for them, so reuniting for spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – seemed like a no-brainer. So much so that Vaughan walked away from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this project, and it is indeed a whole heap of fun, poking irreverently at the often po-faced spy film genre with great glee.

The film follows mouthy teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is recruited and trained up by the same secret spy organisation that his long-dead father belonged to, ultimately having to wise up quickly as a plot by an evil megalomaniac threatens the whole world. So far so Bond, but where Kingsman shines is in ramping everything that 007 can’t do up to 12. So there’s huge amounts of creative swearing,  and more gratuitous violence than you can shake a bag of severed limbs at. Continue reading “DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service”

Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Stop worrying where you’re going—move on”

Theatreland does like to make sure every anniversary gets marked somehow and so following on from the celebrations around Les Misérables’ 30th birthday earlier this month is a similar hoohah for Stephen Sondheim’s 85th year on this planet. As is de rigueur for these events, a gala concert has been put on for the occasion with the kind of rollcall you could only normally dream of and naturally, Hey, Old Friends! had the price tag to go along with it.

As with Les Mis (which donated to Save The Children’s Syria Children’s appeal), the show benefitted charitable purposes, specifically The Stephen Sondheim Society and telephone helpline service The Silver Line, harnessing the major fundraising potential of such events. That said, these tickets tend to be so expensive that there’s a nagging feeling that they’re serving a limited audience with few opportunities for regular theatregoers to be a part of them. Continue reading “Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

CD Review: Sunday in the Park with George (2006 London Cast Recording)

“Everyone gets along with him, that’s the problem with him”

In listening to cast recordings, one can get struck wondering who are they for. For fans obviously, those who saw the show or those who weren’t able to make it along and as a legacy of those productions deemed worthy enough. But what about casual listeners, those simply dipping a toe into the world of musical theatre, could one honestly recommend the complexity of Sondheim and Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George?

Perhaps not, but that’s not to say it isn’t an excellent thing. Some call this show one of Sondheim’s more accessible but I’m not convinced – its pointillist nature and time-jump format are inventive but still challenging and the inclusion of passages of dialogue – something Sondheim recordings often do – are as much of a hindrance as a help, they add to a fuller understanding of the story but also have an alienating effect – I was banned from listening to this out loud in the flat! Continue reading “CD Review: Sunday in the Park with George (2006 London Cast Recording)”

Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall

“We had such hopes…”

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, The Phantom of the Opera decamped to the Royal Albert Hall for 3 performances, the highlights of which were spliced together to give a full CD/DVD release package which contains as full a rendering of the entire score as it currently available. Maybe it was a rush job though as the sound quality on this CD really isn’t good enough for it to be genuinely recommendable, even for a live recording. 

I also had mixed feelings about the production itself. I just can’t get on with Sierra Boggess’ voice, her soprano voice always erring to the too shrill for my liking and the vibrato she employs has all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Christine isn’t the strongest-written of roles at the best of times and Boggess just feels too emotionally vapid to be the inspiration of such all-conquering adoration as she is served with in this story. Continue reading “Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall”

CD Review: Songs from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

“Now there’s lots o’ things you gotta know”

A sneaky thing this. What might ostensibly look like a cast recording for the Open Air Theatre’s production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is actually a record “inspired” by said production, featuring vocals from three of its stars – Alex Gaumond, Sam O’Rourke and Laura Pitt-Pulford. What’s more, and what I find hardest to take, is the music and company backing vocals were actually recorded back in 1995! The lead vocals were done in May of this year, so well before the production had started, and with that knowledge it is hard not to feel a little cheated.

For once you know this Frankenstein nature, it’s hard to forget it. As the vocals work beautifully with the The National Symphony Orchestra’s playing, and rise up with the company of supporting vocalists, the fact remains that there is 20 years between them. Not that you’d notice, the stitching together has been done seamlessly and the CD as a whole really does sound good. And the songs are such classics that it is easy to get swept off your feet to ‘Bless Your Beautiful Hide’, ‘Wonderful, Wonderful Day’ and ‘We Gotta Make It Through The Winter’ amongst many many others. Continue reading “CD Review: Songs from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Review: Titanic, Southwark Playhouse

“Possibly she won’t go down 
Possibly she’ll stay afloat
Possibly all this could come to an end
On a positive note…”

Between them, producer Danielle Tarento and director Thom Southerland have been responsible for some of London’s best small-scale musical revivals of recent years, so it was with interest that their production of the 1997 show Titanic was announced as the Southwark Playhouse’s first musical in its new premises. It won Tony Awards though little critical favour on Broadway, yet timed itself well to ride on the coat-tails of the extraordinary success of James Cameron’s film of the same story which opened some six months later. And as such an enduringly popular tale, Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics and Peter Stone’s book thus have much to battle against to make its own mark.

Based on real passengers and the accounts of survivors, Stone’s book focuses in on a number of couples travelling in different parts of the boat, which means that the emphasis lands heavily on the class divisions onboard. A decent decision one might think but in populating the worlds of first class, second class and third class, all within the first half, the show already feels doomed to sink. There’s just simply too many characters for us to process, never mind genuinely empathise with, and though a hard-working ensemble strive excellently to differentiate their various characters (with some surely sterling backstage help) it does take a while to be entirely sure who is who. Continue reading “Review: Titanic, Southwark Playhouse”