Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre

A hugely fascinating new musical from the RSC, Miss Littlewood impresses at the Swan Theatre – might we see it London before too long?

“I’ve come about the theatre”

The last musical to come out of the RSC is a little know thing that is still kicking around somewhere, Matilda I think it’s called… So Miss Littlewood might have a little expectation carrying on its shoulders, although it is clearly a completely different kettle of fish.

In the Swan Theatre, Sam Kenyon (book, music and lyrics) tells us the story of Joan Littlewood. Or rather, given the format of the show, hands the reins over to Joan to tell her story. Clare Burt stars as an older Littlewood who acts as a narrator, a maestro, as she directs six other performers, all of whom take turns in donning the blue cap to embody this most totemic figure of British theatre.  Continue reading “Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre”

Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth

“Messing about in a boat”

Messrs Stiles, Drewe and Fellowes clearly have an affinity for working with each other as hot on the heels of Half A Sixpence, about to open in West End after a successful run in Chichester, comes another collaboration on a musical version of The Wind in the Willows. Destined for an as yet unconfirmed West End residency, it is currently touring from Plymouth to Salford and then on to Southampton, spreading its gentle, pastoral charms across the UK.

And its charms are gentle, befitting any iteration of the beloved children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame. Julian Fellowes’ adaptation is faithful to that story and though the scale of Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is suitably large, it is also refreshingly simple. Peter McKintosh’s design is atmospheric but uncomplicated, playful rather than epic in its idyllic evocation of the British countryside, ably assisted by Aletta Collins’ languid choreography. Continue reading “Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth”

Review: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Though I look old…I am strong and lusty”

From the minute Michelle Terry’s Rosalind launches into an actual tizzy at the sight of Orlando’s ripped body (an inordinately but irresistibly muscular Simon Harrison), the warmly joyous spirit of Blanche McIntyre’s As You Like It is never in doubt. The contrasting textures of Shakespeare’s elegant yet complex comedy are well balanced, its musical elements pushed to the forefront with a folkish score from Johnny Flynn but above all, there’s a sense of intelligent fun that delights in taking its time to reveal itself.

Terry has been establishing herself as one of our leading Shakespeareans and this energetic and impulsive take on Rosalind is an absolute privilege to watch. Constantly on the edge of her emotions, she skips from the giddy heights of love at first sight to the crushing pain of banishment in the blink of an eye. And as she explores the nature of love and the heart, her heart in particular, her deftly comedic manner whilst disguised as Ganymede is just glorious, her continual delight at what she is discovering a constant joy.  Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe”

fosterIAN awards 2013

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMarianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen CornerMichelle Terry, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Lucy Ellinson, Grounded
Stella Gonet/Fenella Woolgar, Handbagged
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
Shuna Snow, Iron
Best Actor in a PlayPhilip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for GoalpostsAl Weaver, The PrideBrian Cox, The Weir
Hugo Koolschijn, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Benedict Wong, Chimerica
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayLinda Bassett, RootsDeborah Findlay, CoriolanusAnna Calder-Marshall, The Herd
Isabella Laughland, The Same Deep Water As Me
Hadewych Minis, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPearce Quigley, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Andy Rush, Jumpers for Goalposts
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)
Best Actress in a MusicalRosalie Craig, The Light PrincessCynthia Erivo, The Color PurpleZrinka Cvitešić, Once the musical
Anita Dobson, Carnival of the Animals
Scarlett Strallen, A Chorus Line
Charlotte Wakefield, The Sound of Music
Best Actor in a MusicalKyle Scatliff, Scottsboro Boys Declan Bennett, Once the musicalDavid Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalLeigh Zimmerman, A Chorus LineNicola Hughes, The Color PurpleAmy Booth-Steel, The Light Princess
Katie Brayben, American Psycho
Cassidy Janson, Candide
Sophia Nomvete, The Color Purple
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalKit Orton, The Hired ManMichael Matus, The Sound of MusicBen Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line

2013 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical


Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Linda Bassett, Roots
The Donmar proved a powerhouse for female performances this year and in Roots, it was Linda Bassett who took the honours as the rural mother, conveying decades of hardship, making do and a hard-won no-nonsense attitude almost entirely through the minutiae of managing the family home. A breath-taking performance of perfectly studied and understated detail. 

Honourable mention: Deborah Findlay, Coriolanus
Tom Hiddleston may have been the big name in the Donmar’s Coriolanus but for me, it was Deborah Findlay’s Volumnia that was the biggest performance, scorching the earth before her as the militaristic mother driving her son’s career and then breath-takingly chastened as the tragic consequences are reaped. 

Anna Calder-Marshall, The Herd
Isabella Laughland, The Same Deep Water As Me
Hadewych Minis, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner

7-10

Claudie Blakley, Chimerica; Kirsty Bushell, Edward II; Naomi Frederick, The Winslow Boy; Fenella Woolgar, Circle Mirror Transformation

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Leigh Zimmerman, A Chorus Line
She won the Olivier earlier this year and now she can add a fosterIAN to the list – her dry put-downs as the wise-cracking Sheila enlivened A Chorus Line no end, trying to shield herself a little from the reality of being one of the older members of the group and seeing her last shot at stardom slipping away. 

Honourable mention: Nicola Hughes, The Color Purple
In a musical full of strong black women, Hughes proved herself one of the strongest with an extraordinary performance in The Color Purple as singer Shug Avery, utterly self-possessed and ultimately self-obsessed and never less than unmissable when onstage. 

Amy Booth-Steel, The Light Princess
Katie Brayben, American Psycho
Cassidy Janson, Candide
Sophia Nomvete, The Color Purple

7-10

Lucyelle Cliffe, When Midnight Strikes; Kaisa Hammarlund, The Boys from Syracuse; Joanna Riding, Stephen Ward; Liz Singleton, Fiddler on the Roof

2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations


BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Helen Mirren – The Audience at the Gielgud 
Anne-Marie Duff – Strange Interlude at the NT Lyttelton 
Hayley Atwell – The Pride at Trafalgar Studios
Suranne Jones – Beautiful Thing at the Arts 
Tanya Moodie – Fences at the Duchess 

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Daniel Radcliffe – The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noël Coward 
Ben Whishaw – Peter and Alice at the Noël Coward and Mojo at the Harold Pinter 
James McAvoy – Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios 
Lenny Henry – Fences at the Duchess 
Rory Kinnear – Othello at the NT Olivier  Continue reading “2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: The Color Purple, Menier Chocolate Factory


“Somebody gonna love you”

The Broadway production of the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple was no great success and so it may seem an unusual choice for the Menier Chocolate Factory to bring to their Southwark home. Nor does the story of Celie, a young woman forced to bear two children by her violent stepfather who then sent them away and then married her off to a brutal partner, necessarily seem one ideal for this genre. But with the focus being on survival, on the road to self-actualisation against racial and sexual pressures, and a score blending many aspects of black music into a smooth melange, it is surprisingly effective.   

There’s much potential for this to be a highly overwrought piece, but where John Doyle’s production comes into its own is in achieving a Zen-like state of calm for the show, a clean simplicity which permeates every aspect and focuses the intensity of the emotion.  Doyle’s own design reconfigures the Menier to great effect, stripping it back to bleached wood and a collection of chairs; Ann Yee’s choreography finds huge elegance in as simple a movement as walking forwards and then back; and at the heart of it all, is a performance of immense grace from Cynthia Erivo as the much-maligned Celie. Continue reading “Review: The Color Purple, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva


“Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe”

Old Broadway classics seem to flourish in the rarefied air of West Sussex and it is hard to shake the feeling that Chichester has done it again with a revival of The Pajama Game. No stranger to big American musicals, director Richard Eyre demonstrates the surest of touches to keep the improbable subject matter – the trials of working life in a pyjama factory – anchored in a world that we always care about and is aided by the kind of score that feels recognisable even if you think you haven’t heard it before. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score is full of fantastic old school tunes like Hey There (You with the Stars in your Eyes) and Steam Heat and two of the songs were actually written by Frank Loesser, although uncredited. 

George Abbott and Richard Bissel’s book is based on Bissell’s novel 7½ cents set in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Sleep-Tite factory in which new-to-town Superintendent Sid Sorokin finds himself falling head over heels for feisty union rep Babe Williams, whose stubborn initial resistance can’t ignore the mutually fiery passion between them. But trouble brews when the workers are denied a justified 7½ cent pay rise and Sid and Babe find themselves on opposing sides of a heated labour debate.  Continue reading “Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre


“Out of this wood do not desire to go”

As the first of Shakespeare’s works that I ever read and studied, I will always have a great affection for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and to this day, it has endured as probably my favourite of his plays. Something about its otherworldly (dream-like…) free-spiritedness really appeals to me, meaning there’s little of the suspension of disbelief often necessary to make the contrivances of his other comedies work, and it is a play robust enough to take many an interpretation, whether raucuous reinventions by Filter or Propeller, last year’s clever open air take by Iris Theatre or more classically inspired ones like the Rose Kingston’s Judi Dench-starring version from 2010. It is now the turn of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to revisit the show (though this was my first experience of it here) with a startlingly modern interpretation as it plays in rep with Ragtime, with which it shares much of its cast, over the summer.

First things first, this was a preview, the second I believe and due to the rain on Saturday, actually the first full run-through. Things begin with some pre-show business bustling about the trailer park set, reminiscent of the Dale Farm site with travellers squaring up to each other and to the encroaching building contractors, it sets the scene well but goes on a wee bit too long for too little effect in all honesty. But once the play proper starts with its arresting, punchy modernity, Matthew Dunster’s exceptionally well-balanced production clicks smoothly into gear, folding in classical references to this fresh new take and delving into some extremely dark places alongside the oft-times hilarious humour.   Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre”

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”