CD Review: Departure Lounge (Original London Cast Recording)

“He was in a right state, well he’s a lightweight”

Dougal Irvine was recently in town with The Buskers Opera at the Park but the first of his shows that I saw was Departure Lounge, back in 2010 at the Waterloo East Theatre. A rowdy tale of four British teenaged lads delayed in Malaga Airport’s departure lounge, reflecting on the past week’s drunken shenanigans, the quartet come to realise that their trip has actually been a real rites of passage job, in more ways than one.

Scored for acoustic guitars yet still managing to pull in a wide range of musical influences, Irvine’s music stands up to the test of time pretty well. He clearly knows his way around a hummable melody with a raft of catchy choruses and with his four strong singers in Chris Fountain, Jack Shalloo, Liam Tamne and Steven Webb, takes full advantage of the close harmonies that simultaneously master and mock boyband clichés.

Listening to the recording though, it’s interesting that a couple of key pieces of plot aren’t contained here in the music, referenced to slightly but dramatically absent in the main. Which isn’t a problem per se in the flow of the album especially for those who haven’t seen the show – you don’t miss what you don’t know after all. But it does mean that there’s a certain lack of heft to the music, when such key revelations are left in the book.

That said, the mixture of Britpop, flamenco, a bit of Country & Western, barbershop quartets, beatboxing and some serious power-ballading has the special allure of a Duty-Free Toblerone 3 for the price of 2 offer with all the nougaty promise inherent in such a purchase. A nice holiday treat. 

DVD Review: To Kill A King

This is not war…”

As with many historical films, it is easy to get caught up in matters of accuracy with To Kill A King’s portrayal of Oliver Cromwell and the puritan movement he led with Thomas Fairfax which ultimately saw the trial and death of King Charles I. The casting of Tim Roth instantly points toward the direction Mike Barker’s film leans in and before even a word is spoken, we’re left in no uncertain terms about the psychopathic tendencies of this interpretation of Cromwell. But written by Jenny Mayhew, the film’s focus is actually on the relationship between the two friends and the strain it faces as they set about rebuilding a nation.

And in that respect I think it is quite a successful piece of work. Roth’s furious intensity as he fights for a republican ideal is tempered by Dougray Scott’s intelligent ambivalence as Fairfax, less inclined to shake up the societal order that is such a major part of his and his family’s life, not least his wife Lady Anne, played excellently by Olivia Williams. The way in which the two are slowly pulled apart as their political ideals are twisted by the realities of negotiating with a recalcitrant Parliament and a manipulative King, active even after his deposition, is compellingly told and engagingly performed. Continue reading “DVD Review: To Kill A King”

Review: As Is, Trafalgar Studios 2

“You have HIV, you’re not radioactive” 

William M Hoffman’s As Is has the distinction of being the first play to be written about the Aids epidemic but what is more impressive about this production, which comes 30 years after its 1985 New York debut, is that it doesn’t feel a dated period piece. Director Andrew Keates respectfully looks to the past – a memorial wall is provided for audience members to pay tribute to those that have been lost – but firmly anchors us in the present with a wide range of post-show activity exploring the sexual health issues that are still a major part of our world today.

It also helps that Hoffman’s play is really rather well constructed. It may be set in the middle of a New York gay scene slowly coming to terms with its decimation but at its heart, it is a poignant love story. Self-satisfied and sexually voracious, Rich swaggers through the world but as he contracts the disease that is afflicting so many of those around him, his relationships with friends, family and society in general are forcefully redefined. Clinging to devoted ex Saul, it’s a deeply affecting personal odyssey but a defiantly proud one too. Continue reading “Review: As Is, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Not-a-Review: Secret Theatre show 5

“I just called to say I…”

And so Secret Theatre continues, on their fifth production now which has been devised by themselves and has a shorter run than usual as it will apparently be going to Edinburgh. So press reviews have been scrapped for this one, which may also have been motivated by the devised nature of the show, something which the UK mainstream critics automatically seem to react against. That said, I wasn’t much of a fan at all of A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts and its highly experimental structure. 

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 22nd May then going to Edinburgh

Review: Secret Theatre 4, Lyric Hammersmith

 “You clandestine peasant.
‘You curdled cock’”

Much of the buzz about Secret Theatre was the fact that audiences are kept in the dark about what it is they are booking for, placing their trust in the hands of an adventurous company looking to shake up the way theatre is created and commodified in this country. It makes for an entertaining evening, especially at the start as one waits to find out where in the theatre we’re going to be, and what delights are in store.

As it was, I got to the end of Show 4 without having worked out much to be honest. The post-show information told me it was a play named Glitterland, an adaptation of John Webster’s The White Devil by Hayley Squires but not being a play I am familiar with, that proved of little assistance. In a densely woven plot, the striking aesthetic of the company – directed here by Ellen McDougall – takes you a long way but not quite far enough into a satisfying dramatic experience.  Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre 4, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith,

“Merry Hammersmith-mas”

As panto season goes full steam ahead, it is the Lyric Hammersmith who make the early running in London with a new version of Jack and the Beanstalk by playwright du jour Tom Wells, who takes over writing duties from Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. The pair have established the Lyric as one of the go-to venues for modern panto in the capital, their irreverent humour bringing the classic stories bang up to date and locating them in the borough itself, so that audiences can experience a genuine Merry Hammersmith-mas. That is, if the evil giant in the sky Nostril doesn’t ruin Christmas for everyone by stealing everything good. 

And true to form, Wells’ script is full of contemporary and local references: Nando’s, library closures, Lyric Square, Miley Cyrus and the inevitable twerking all make appearances as does a friendly jab at the Hackney Empire’s panto, And the young playwright’s gift for character peeks through with a pairing of a Jack and a Jill you won’t be expecting, Joshua Tonks’ Jill is the kind of bashful young man we’ve come to expect from him and Rochelle Rose’s Jack is a confident and pragmatic hero whose determination seems set to save the day when those pesky magic beans give rise to an impressively green beanstalk. Continue reading “Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith,”

Review: Secret Theatre 3, Lyric Hammersmith

“Your last meal – what would it be?” 

Where shows #1 and #2 of the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre season maintained complete radio silence about their content (even if certain critics weren’t able to hold off revealing titles at the interval…), it seems that the efforts of keeping things mysterious have gotten a little too much. Secrets are still thrillingly in store for other aspects of the show but clues are being offered for #3 right up front on the website, strongly hinting that the death penalty is something to do with the production.

And so it proves, Caroline Bird’s new play Chamber Piece is an unremittingly dark piece of writing, set in a near-future where capital punishment has been reintroduced to Britain. But Bird wants to look at what happens when it goes wrong, as we witness an execution that doesn’t follow through and the ethical and practical mess that emerges in the aftermath. Can the state try again to kill someone for whom they have a death warrant? Should they? Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre 3, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2, Lyric Hammersmith

“You must think us a right rough bunch of people”

How long can you keep a secret? How long should you keep a secret? As it turns out, critics were tweeting the title of the Lyric Hammersmith’s ‘Secret Theatre Show 2’ as soon as they could get their phones on in the interval, unleashing a flurry of outraged blogs and tweets which argued both sides of the toss – it was either like Christmas being ruined or one of the least important parts of the whole experience. That experience is Secret Theatre, an ambitious 8 month programme launched by the Lyric’s Sean Holmes which has pulled together an ensemble of 20 creatives who will produce 7 shows over the period. But the key is that the titles are kept from us, no programmes are for sale on arrival and so technically you take your place in the auditorium, which is mid-renovation, not knowing what the curtain will rise upon.

A quick scoot around the internet will reveal the titles of Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2 which have now opened but in the spirit of the whole affair – after all as we leave, we are urged “Shhh. Keep the secret…” – this review won’t spill the beans too much. We live in a spoiler-saturated society now when it comes to much of our popular culture and so whilst it may not be to everyone’s taste, the unique thrill of knowing nothing in advance is one to savour. It also leads to the intriguing question of when recognition of what play is being performed will come, indeed if at all for it could be a piece of new writing, experienced theatregoers should be fine but new audiences have the opportunity to possibly experience some of the greatest writing of last century as if it were a brand new play and that is what is genuinely exciting about this enterprise. Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Passing By, Finborough

“You’d better show up.
‘Don’t worry I will, you’ve got my wine’”

Marking its first production in London in over 35 years, the Finborough has revived Martin Sherman’s 1972 play Passing By for a very limited run. Steven Webb’s Toby is a neurotic New Yorker, a complete klutz who’s making ends meet working in a wine shop as his artistic career stagnates. A chance encounter with former Olympic diver Simon, a lithe Alex Felton, in a cinema leads to a one-night stand but the fast-moving world of the big city, a rare spark of connection means their relationship develops into the potential for something more as something unique is shared. Exactly what is shared though is a little unexpected, with consequences that keep the pair together for some considerable time, and so what unfolds is a delicately gentle encounter between two souls each looking for something more.

On first appearance they are a totally mis-matched couple: Toby’s highly strung Woody Allen-esque persona rubs up, in more than one way, against the physical über-confidence of his far-hotter lover, but as they each begin to let their guard down, we see that even Simon has his own issues too. And over the course of the single act, Sherman has his characters dance ever closer to the possibilities of real connection through the comic haze of their enforced circumstances. Continue reading “Review: Passing By, Finborough”