Review: The Woman in Black, Fortune

The Woman in Black continues to pack ’em into the Fortune Theatre but can it really justify its continued casting practices?

“I don’t believe in ghosts”

I got to thinking there’s something a little ironic about the title The Woman in Black whilst watching it this weekend. I’ve not been able to find a comprehensive list of those who have acted in it but I can’t find reference to a single person of colour or woman who has played in either of the main roles.

For a play so firmly about the nature and power of storytelling, it feels a little disappointing that the production has rested on the laurels of being a classic. The choice not to expand what is meant by such a term as ‘classic’ and who can tell such ‘classic’ stories feels like a real missed opportunity. Continue reading “Review: The Woman in Black, Fortune”

Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre

“But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past there must have been a moment of truth”

Despite never having seen it on the stage before, I hadn’t originally intended to go and see the Open Air Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music. But whilst on holiday, we watched the film on TV en famille whereupon I was reminded of its charms and hearing the good reviews of this production, duly set about booking tickets for an evening when I hoped the sun would shine. And I clearly had some good theatrical karma as a glorious summer’s evening set up what a simply delightful evening of old school musical entertainment.

It may not be the most adventurous of programming choices and Rachel Kavanaugh’s production plays a very straight bat but in many ways, this is why it is so successful. Its straightforward simplicity allows for a direct emotional hit, one which plays off the indubitable familiarity of so much of the material but also the opportunities offered by this open air venue and the freshness of a supremely talented cast. Charlotte Wakefield’s Maria and Michael Xavier’s Captain may initially seem more youthful than one might expect but together they work like a dream, combining with the whole company to create the kind of warmth that would brighten even the soggiest of September evenings (the run has extended by a week due to its success). Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre

“That seeming to be most which we indeed least are”

Despite being one of Shakespeare’s more notorious plays, The Taming of the Shrew has enjoyed a long and varied performance history as productions seek to try to present this difficult tale of female subservience in a way that is acceptable to audiences. It has proved trickier though in modern times to square the misogynistic circle and so directors often find themselves upping the innovative ante to unearth interpretations which will prove satisfyingly revelatory. What this often means in practice though is that a high concept is adopted which offers insight into part of the story whilst the rest is left straining to fit in. Lucy Bailey is the latest to try and tame the Shrew here for the RSC in a production which has played a season in Stratford and is now on a short tour of the UK, currently here in Richmond.

The angle that she chooses to focus on is the Induction, the framing device that sets the story in its context – this is all just a performance being put on by a rowdy bunch of friends to delude the drunken fool Christopher Sly. Sly – a bumptious revealing turn from Nick Holder – is kept on stage throughout most of the first half and in some ways, this almost convinces us that what we are watching is but a drunken fantasy. But he is gradually phased out of the show, and so the apparent importance of being reminded that this isn’t real is stripped away and the second half played largely straight as a story that suddenly is to be taken more seriously. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre”

Review: As You Like It, Royal Exchange

“Were it not better…that I did suit me all points like a man”

As You Like It is one of those Shakespeare plays that seems to pop up most regularly at the moment, so much so that its mere mention makes my heart sink a little. I quite like the play but it is not one of my favourites and so had been intending to give the many productions appearing all over the show a miss this year. The best intentions etc etc no willpower blah blah meant that I couldn’t resist popping into the Royal Exchange to take in this modern-dress version.

Chief of my reasons was the casting of Cush Jumbo as Rosalind: she was a highlight in the Pygmalion I saw at the same venue last year and I suspect she is an actress destined for big things. She is excellent here, at her best when disguised as a street-smart Ganymede, peppering her lines with hip-hop slang and becoming terrifyingly convincing as an awkward teenage boy. A terrific performance and definitely one to watch. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Royal Exchange”

Review: Pygmalion, Royal Exchange

“You have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being…”

A fortuitous set of circumstances combined to enable me to go see Pygmalion at the Royal Exchange with Aunty Jean and my father, being up near Manchester for the weekend, and how glad am I that I did. I used to visit the Royal Exchange quite often when younger but it is years since I have been and I was also quite intrigued to see the play itself, never having seen it before, only in its adapted musical form as My Fair Lady. (I was on the lookout for the links between the two in particular around the songs, but the only song title I picked up from the dialogue was ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face’).

When Henry Higgins makes a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn a cockney flower girl into a lady, he sets out to change Eliza Doolittle completely and equip her for life in high society – but he reckons without the spirit and strength of Eliza herself. It is a scathing comment on the class structure of Britain at the turn of the century and a surprisingly modern take on the gender politics of the time, but above all highly entertaining and really rather funny. Continue reading “Review: Pygmalion, Royal Exchange”