Family theatre in August

A rare summer in the city for me means I can take in some of the family shows on in the West End right now – Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical, The Scarecrow’s Wedding, Where is Peter Rabbit? and Monstersaurus 

“Microscopic Bobby was my wife”

Photo © TheOtherRichard

The world of Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical (suitable for 7yrs+) as imagined by director Amy Hodge and designer Georgia Lowe is a fantastically bizarre one, full of warm and witty touches that shoud delight children and adults alike. Tiny gingerbread professors, menacing sunflowers, dancing doughnuts, a rainforest of umbrellas, it is an impressive and inventive take on imaginative world-building that perfectly suits Andy Stanton’s storytelling.

All things told, it is a fairly slight tale – bears, beers, butchers, you know the usual, but there’s just such a sense of fun about the whole proceedings. The cast revel in non-sequiturs aplenty (Helena Lymbery, Steve Furst and Gary Wilmot particularly impress), Jim Fortune’s eclectic score builds in post-modern layers that further pique the interest, and the show even manages to sneak in some pretty powerful messaging among all the madness. Recommended. Continue reading “Family theatre in August”

Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

“When that I was a little boy”

Even with the best of intentions, it can be a little too easy to forget that there’s more to LGBT+ than just the G. Representations of gay men are increasingly common in our theatres but pickings are slim if we look towards the lesbian, bi, and transgender characters and stories. So it’s interesting to see directors turning to Shakespeare, and specifically Twelfth Night, to address that in a couple of high profile productions this year. Simon Godwin shifted the nature of Malvolio’s illicit passion by casting Tamsin Greig as Malvolia, and now Jo Davies has moved along the acronym by casting transgender performer, writer and activist Kate O’Donnell as Feste at the Royal Exchange.

And far from any suggestion of a gimmick, it’s a deeply sensitive, nuanced take on the role that breathes a real sense of contemporary life into the show. Her experience on the cabaret circuit shows in the ease with which she entertains her audience, whether onstage with the text or bantering off-book with the stalls crowd in the interval, but as funny as she is, there’s a depth to her stage presence too. An extra-textual moment where she clocks the cross-dressed Viola in the dark with a hint of recognition, the gorgeous melancholy with which the resonance of her final song grabs you – “when I came to man’s estate…”, this is the verse sprung to life anew. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange”

Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

“In you, I found all the pleasure and pain I could ever hope to feel”

All the best birthday celebrations go on for a while and Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Anniversary programme has been no exception, featuring productions from each of the four centuries of the theatre’s life. I took in the Lesley Manville opus Long Day’s Journey Into Night earlier in the year and returned to the South West with great anticipation for the 21st century strand of work, which is the macabre, and excellent, new musical The Grinning Man

Based on the Victor Hugo novel L’Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs), the show tells the dark tale of Grinpayne, a young man mutilated as a child who scrapes a living as part of a carnival troupe with his adopted family. Grinpayne keeps the lower part of his face covered but the highlight of the fair comes when he reveals his scarred ‘smile’, a sight that moves people in unpredictable ways, not least the royal family in whose intrigues Grinpayne finds himself increasingly embroiled. Continue reading “Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Nor doth this wood lack worlds of company”

Surtitled A Play For The Nation, Erica Whyman’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the RSC has fully embraced the communal spirit that the best theatre can summon and across its UK tour over the next few months, will undoubtedly prove a wonderful tribute for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. For at each stop across the land, different local amateur theatre companies will take on the part of the Rude Mechanicals and local primary schools will make up the numbers of Titania’s fairy train, getting their moment to shine in a repurposed final scene.

It’s a rather lovely way to share the warmth of this most loveliest of plays and in Whyman’s hands, it really does succeed. Key to its inclusiveness is the relocation to 1940s Britain and a design from Tom Piper that subtly evokes the Tower of London poppies installation on which he collaborated, the suggestion of a society pulling together permeating every aspect of the show, even Oberon’s fairies muck in as live musicians. And the social disruption of the time allows for an interesting reading of the text which, while emphasising English bumptiousness over sexuality, is witty throughout. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Anita and Me, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Now here’s a little story
To tell it is a must”

One gets the feeling that had Anita and Me decided whether it wanted to be a full-blown musical or a straight play adorned by a little music, it might have been a much more successful version of Meera Syal’s novel. But as it is, Tanika Gupta’s adaptation and Roxana Silbert’s direction is marooned in a hinterland between the two, packed too full with material trying to fulfil both remits and so it can be quite the frustrating watch.

The source material is definitely there, Syal’s semi-autobiographical portrait of growing up in the West Midlands in the 1970s is full of insight and warmly old-fashioned charm. Cosseted in the vibrant home of her Punjabi parents, Meena’s teenage rebellion takes the form of throwing her lot in with neighbour Anita to help her better integrate into the society she longs to be a part of, something complicated only slightly by the ingrained racism of said society. Continue reading “Review: Anita and Me, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Review: Love Story, Octagon

“What can you say, about a girl…”

Just a quickie for this most beloved of shows. The CFT production of Love Story that failed to take the West End by storm back in 2010 was a thing of sheer loveliness and Howard Goodall’s luscious score has to rank among my all-time favourites, I really do think it is that beautiful. So all future productions have a high benchmark to live up to – there was a low-key version at the Brockley Jack last year and this year, we have Elizabeth Newman’s production for the Bolton Octagon.

And what a lovely thing it is. Unafraid to be delicately simple and flirting with actor-musicianship in Ciaran Bagnall’s cleverly designed set, it is a deeply musical take on the soaring romance of the story that glides speedily through the relationship between Daniel Boys’ college jock Oliver Barrett IV and Lauren Samuels’ wisecracking musician Jennifer Cavilleri. From the chemistry of their ‘opposites attract’ first meeting to the heartbreaking sadness of the end, it’s a beautiful piece of work. Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Octagon”

Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Mayflower

“If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum, if I were a wealthy man.”

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when lyricist Sheldon Harnick announced the second line of a song he’d written for Fiddler on the Roof was “yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum”. But along with book writer Joseph Stein and composer Jerry Bock, their efforts translated into one of the most successful Broadway productions ever, with this story of Tevye, a milkman in pre-revolutionary Russia, and his three headstrong daughters making life in the village very difficult by challenging the old order. Craig Revel-Horwood employs his tried-and-tested actor-musician model to invigorate new life into the show (one which is new to me, I’ve never even seen the film) which is just undertaking a huge UK tour, starting at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre (another first for me).

Due to the indisposition of Paul Michael Glaser, we were treated to an understudy performance as Tevye and not even the named understudy Paul Kissaun at that, Eamonn O’Dwyer took on the role and a fine job he did too. Though demonstrably too young for the part, his wry exasperation at the way the world turns and the warm geniality with which he rolls with it made for an assured central presence that kept the show moving with a twinkle-eyed grace. Even with the age mismatch with Karen Mann as his long-suffering wife Golde, there was a palpable chemistry that made their second half duet ‘Do You Love Me?’ a genuinely lovely thing.  Continue reading “Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Mayflower”