Review: Pinocchio, National

“Do you want puppets?”

No matter the weather, as you walk into the Lyttelton’s auditorium for Pinocchio, you’ll find that it is snowing. A simple trick but one that inspires just the right childlike wonder for an adaptation of such a popular fairytale, but it is also a sense of magic that John Tiffany’s production of Dennis Kelly’s adaptation sometimes struggles to hold onto, as darkly disturbing as it is exuberantly heartfelt.

That darkness comes from several directions. The narrative cleaves closely to the moral instruction of a fable so Pinocchio’s struggle with the dark side is presented as a straight-up choice between good and evil – make the wrong choice in dealing with the Fox or the Coachman and things could end up pretty grim, as we witness in a particularly brutal bit of puppet mutilation (it shocked even me!). Continue reading “Review: Pinocchio, National”

Review: Travels With My Aunt, Minerva

“While you’ve flitted and you’ve flirted 
I’ve had rubber gloves inserted”

The Telegraph describes Travels With My Aunt as the perfect Sunday night musical, but whilst I’m all for a smattering of “gentle feel-good enjoyment” (I loved both Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen with the best of them), it’s hard not to feel that this show also panders to the less-flattering side of that comparison too. In that it is thoroughly old-fashionedly middle-of-the-road, the traditional white, middle-class kind of undemanding entertainment that rarely gets the pulse racing yet still raises an eyebrow with the amount of stereotyping that it purveys.

You can see why Jonathan Church chose it to open his last season at the Chichester Festival Theatre, it’s a safe bet for that venue and its typical audience and there’s nothing wrong in that, I just can’t pretend to have any enthusiasm for it. A musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s 19969 novel of the same name, it comes from the same team who brought us Betty Blue Eyes – writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. But where that show had a liberating sense of nostalgia, this one kept me prisoner. Continue reading “Review: Travels With My Aunt, Minerva”

CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)

“No… it can’t be… is it gravity I am feeling?”

It’s been a goodly time coming, just over two years since it opened actually, but the Original Cast Recording of The Light Princess is finally here. Finely crafted by writers Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson with the original cast from the National Theatre production and recorded entirely under studio conditions, this double CD a triumphant achievement. It simultaneously acts as a perfect tribute to a much-loved show (one I saw five times during its too-short run #1#2#3#4#5), it also advances the score, refining its musicality into a more intense yet accessible experience.

Right from the opening bars of the ‘Prologue: Once Upon A Time’, Katherine Rockhill’s piano playing sounds amazing and is rightfully forefronted here as the cornerstone of Amos’ wide-ranging compositions, the lushness of the strings sound pretty special too. And with Rosalie Craig’s astonishing performance as Althea – the light princess herself – liberated from the constraints of this most physically demanding of roles (both for her and for us too, goggling at the inventiveness with which her floating was essayed), her vocal interpretation deepens into something even more affecting, impossible as it may seem to anyone who saw her amazing work onstage.  Continue reading “CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)”

Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast
Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”

It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress started life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. 

With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed?  Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Chichester Festival Theatre

“If I were a watch I’d start popping my springs!”

From the opening moments of an overture that demands the attention, it is clear that Chichester’s revival of the Broadway classic Guys and Dolls is going to be a scorcher. Director Gordon Greenberg utilises not only Carlos Acosta as choreographer but also Andrew Wright as a co-choreographer and the combination of the two is simply explosive – these are no two-bit routines that people are shuffling around, this is proper dance and it is thrilling to behold.

It helps of course to be connected to Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ amiable book, based on Damon Runyon’s characters, about the travails of a bunch of New York gamblers, and Frank Loesser’s evergreen music and lyrics which churns out classic after classic after classic. Greenberg wisely doesn’t interfere much at all with the material, just cultivating warmth from all of his performers and particularly his two leading couples, making them utterly adorable. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Final review: The Light Princess, NT

 “See these tears flow, this H2O”

There’s not really much more to say than to bid a fond farewell to this most beloved of shows. Despite the fierce love it engendered in its devoted fans, I personally don’t think a transfer would have necessarily worked so well. There’s something wonderfully neat about its life at the Lyttelton, the length and nature of its run in rep meaning that Rosalie Craig was able to make every single performance – an impressive feat even before one touches on the extraordinary demands of the lead role. And getting to see the final show, with a large group of people who had been equally (if not more) touched by the work – and that includes the extraordinary cast and company, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much visible emotion at the end of a run – was a genuine privilege. 

Since the show shone so brightly, yet so briefly, it has left the kind of indelible impression that will be impossible to shift. I saw it five times in total – you can read about visits one, two, three and four – and each time, it surprised me, its densely complex nature revealing something new each time with different musical motifs becoming prominent, the various themes shifting in emphasis, the texture of the show almost malleable in its changeability. So now we have to wait for the soundtrack and dream of once upon a once a, once upon a time.

“What you have done, has brightened the world” 

 

Photos: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Re-review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

A review of the fourth time I went to see The Light Princess at the National? 

What I will say though, is that it was my first time seeing it from the circle and it really did give a different perspective to some of the more expansive scenes in the Wilderness, the illusion of flowing water much more effective. And Althea’s floating also felt different from afar, the magnificent facial hair less of a distraction from further away… Just one more trip booked now before it ends 🙁

Re-review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

“Ringing out, ringing out…”

Visit number three to this most lovely of shows for me, though I’m lagging way behind the super-fans who are surely up to double figures by now. Original review is here, taster preview post from my first viewing here, and given their exhaustiveness, there’s really little else to add. The Light Princess really is the loveliest of shows and its uniqueness and complexity, the very things that turned others of, is precisely what keeps me coming back (I’ve currently got two revisits booked in before it ends…). 

The lushness of the score, tangled as the forest that divides Sealand and Lagobel on first hearing, but richly rewarding repeated listens; the gobsmacking consistency of Rosalie Craig’s immensely physical performance replete with flawless vocal, the gorgeous romanticism of the whole production – you really should book if you haven’t done so already.

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

“You are, you are…Althea, you are…changing the world for me”

Long awaited and long gestated, Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson’s musical take on The Light Princess arrives at the National in a blaze of theatrical glory that makes it one of the shows of the year. Based on a Scottish fairytale, the teenage heirs of warring kingdoms are both mourning the loss of their mothers but their grief has affected them in different ways. Digby’s soul has become weighed down so heavily he has forgotten how to smile, whilst Althea’s protective mechanism has been to become to airily light that she literally floats above it all. As they rebel against their strict fathers, they each escape to neutral ground only to encounter each other and instant attraction. But emotional articulacy doesn’t come easily and political concerns threaten to tear apart their passion before it even really begins. 

Marianne Elliott’s direction pulls together the various elements of her huge creative team with exceptional skill, never losing sight of the sheer magic that the best theatre can bring and marrying a very modern aesthetic with the sometimes traditional feel – Althea’s movement (I don’t fly, I float!) is achieved through some amazing acrobatic work from a team of four with just a little help from some high tech flying rig. And in Rae Smith’s gorgeous designs, it all just looks superb; every movement catching an acute moment of emotion, whether the deft manipulation of a falcon into flight (Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié finally making puppetry make sense to me) or a girl literally raising the spirits of a boy (Steven Hoggett’s inimitable physical language once again heart-stoppingly good). Continue reading “Review: The Light Princess, National Theatre”

(P)review – The Light Princess, National Theatre

Any thought that I might have attended The Critics’ Circle Centenary Conference were immediately quashed when I realised that it was being held on a Friday, hardly conducive to those of us who want to engage with theatre reviewing but also have to hold down a 9-to-5 but maybe that was part of the point… Anyhoo, one of the thornier issues that frequently rears its head is the reviewing of previews and whilst the last thing in the world I want to do is resuscitate that debate, I thought it might be an interesting experiment to do things a little differently. 

There are no hard and fast rules about (theatre) blogging and whilst it remains an innately personal exercise for me, there’s no pretending that it exists in a vacuum, cloistered from outside concerns and a fast-changing world. And it seems to me that that is the lesson that theatre criticism as a whole ought to take – railing that things aren’t like they used to be is all well and good but ignoring evolution is just perversely blinkered.  Continue reading “(P)review – The Light Princess, National Theatre”