Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual.  Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre”

Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead

With the magnificent Sharon D Clarke at the helm, Caroline, or Change transfers to the Hampstead Theatre London with all its power intact

“Dressed in white and feelin’ low,
talkin’ to the washer and the radio”

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s complex and challenging civil rights musical Caroline, or Change makes its long-awaited London return to the Hampstead theatre, more than a decade after its well-received National Theatre production took the Olivier for Best New Musical but found no further life.

Michael Longhurst’s production was first seen in Chichester last May (here’s my review) and whilst it is a shame that that original cast aren’t all present here (the glorious Nicola Hughes, Gloria Onitiri, Jennifer Saayeng all now elsewhere), it holds on to the titanic talents of Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibideaux. Continue reading “Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

Re-review: Private Lives, Gielgud

“Are you glad you got married to me?”

As is proving de rigueur for many a Chichester show, last year’s production of Private Lives makes the leap into the West End, sashaying with its silk pyjamas into the Gielgud Theatre for the summer. I made the trip to the Minerva Theatre to see the show as the chance of seeing Anna Chancellor on stage is not one that one should really turn down and my review can be read here – I liked the production immensely but can’t help but feel that I don’t really need to see this play again -for me, it turns out Coward is a playwright who is not standing up to repeated viewings. But throw a good deal my way and my intentions go out the window – Time Out were offering dress circle seats for a tenner and so I just couldn’t resist.

And I pretty much felt the same second time around. Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens are truly excellently cast as the dangerously dynamic duo Amanda and Elyot, a divorced couple whose chance meeting as they both honeymoon with new partners pulls them back into the vortex of their passion which is somehow simultaneously self-destructive and enduring. Chancellor slinks around Anthony Ward’s handsomely appointed set with the elegance of a panther, her feline seductiveness quick to turn fearsome the moment she doesn’t get her own way. And Stephens makes Elyot a unreconstructed public schoolboy, full of bluffness and a near-childish sense of humour as he turns to acerbically mock everyone around him. Continue reading “Re-review: Private Lives, Gielgud”

Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre

“I don’t like it when he calls it a movie”

Perhaps I am more ignorant of Jewish terminology than I ought to be, but I do find it a little surprising that the blurb for Nicholas Wright’s new play for the National Theatre, Travelling Light, simply states that it takes place in “a shtetl in Eastern Europe”. I’d no idea what a shtetl was, didn’t notice any explicatory reference in the text and over the last couple of days have asked a few people, none of whom knew either. The internet informs me it is a small town with a largely Jewish population, but it does seem an odd assumption of knowledge to make (or perhaps it is just indicative of how few Jewish friends I actually have…) In any case, that this is the detail that sticks most in my mind after seeing the show is indicative of how little I cared for it.

Set in the early 1900s, the play – still in previews – centres on Motl Mendl, a young Jewish photographer whose dreams and ambitions as he discovers the burgeoning art form of motion pictures set him on a path that will see him end up in Hollywood. But before he makes it big, he needs to extricate himself from domestic village life and that is easier said than done as they are a group of real ‘characters’ one and all. Chief among these is Jacob Bindel, an illiterate timber merchant who is so enthused about the potential of film-making that he stumps up the money needed to keep Motl from emigrating (for the time being at least) and to make a movie in their very own village. Or shtetl. Continue reading “Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre”

Review: Onassis, Novello Theatre

“I knew he was a pirate, I didn’t know he was a gangster”

Onassis is a play by Martin Sherman based on material from the book Nemesis by Peter Evans, which was originally produced under the title Aristo at Chichester two years ago. It covers the last 12 years of the life of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis as he wooed and married Jackie Kennedy, flirted with Maria Callas, sailed on his yacht, made shady deals with the likes of the Palestinians which may or may not have been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Bobby Kennedy.

Robert Lindsay plays the central role who dominates everything whether in his personal life or his business affairs and consequently commands the stage almost entirely through the evening with his a foul-mouthed, twinkle-toed massively-larger-than-life performance that at times rises above the limitations of the material. As unfortunately Sherman has made little attempt to tell a story here, what we end up with is a torrent of information and an unchanging presentation of a rich man, even the most tragic of events have little emotional impact since there’s no extra dimension or depth to proceedings aside from an overused continuing reference to the Greek gods. Continue reading “Review: Onassis, Novello Theatre”