Thoughts on a visit to the Bridge Theatre

Good things come to those who wait! I hadn’t booked for Young Marx at the brand new Bridge Theatre for a couple of reasons. I was still hoping that I might get a response to my email to the PR and despite a cast that includes the splendid Nancy Carroll and the delicious Oliver Chris alongside lead Rory Kinnear, Richard Bean just really isn’t my cup of tea. ‘Don’t you love farce?’ Not much my dear…

So when an email popped into my inbox offering a sneak preview of the show and an opportunity to be the first ever audience in the theatre for a pre-preview test run of the new venue and its facilities, then I knew it was meant to be. Turns out I do love a farce, at £7.50 a ticket. Continue reading “Thoughts on a visit to the Bridge Theatre”

Full cast announced for Young Marx

 
1850, and Europe’s most feared terrorist is hiding in Dean Street, Soho. Broke, restless and horny, the thirty-two-year-old revolutionary is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy.

Creditors, spies, rival revolutionary factions and prospective seducers of his beautiful wife all circle like vultures. His writing blocked, his marriage dying, his friend Engels in despair at his wasted genius, his only hope is a job on the railway. But there’s still no one in the capital who can show you a better night on the piss than Karl Heinrich Marx. Continue reading “Full cast announced for Young Marx”

Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I would you were as I would have you be”

Emma Rice’s Summer of Love got off to a slightly sticky start at the Globe with a mystifying take on Romeo and Juliet from Daniel Kramer and as we move onto Twelfth Night, which she is directing herself, there’s a similarly uncompromising attitude in place. For the production reminded me nothing so much as a camp episode of Monarch of the Glen (sadly not Monarch of the Glum) and whilst it is often fun to watch, it’s not always the most effective treatment.

Rice’s iconoclastic approach is there from the get-go – a prologue set onboard the SS Unity before its shipwreck sees the company dancing merrily to Sister Sledge. And once in this decidedly Celtic Illyria, Orsino has a Lionel Richie mullet, Andrew Aguecheek is a would-be b-boy, serenades are played on cassette decks…why we’re in 1979, as good a time as any to explore cross-dressing hijinks of gender exploration.  Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)

“It’s a little bit Punjab
And a little bit UK”

It’s been just about a month since Bend it like Beckham heard the final whistle at the Savoy so I thought I’d cast a reviewer’s eye over the Original London Cast Album which was released last year. I’ve long been a fan of Howard Goodall’s work and this score was no exception, hooking me from the first time I saw to the show to the second and the third with its fusion of his own inimitable British style and the Bhangra influences drawn from Gurinder Chadha’s book, aided in authenticity by co-orchestrator Kuljit Bhamra. 

Recorded live in the theatre (although there’s minimal sound from the audience until the very end), it sounds a real treat and it really does give the best of both the worlds it represents. Whether individually as in Sophie-Louise Dann’s ‘There She Goes’ or Rekha Sawhney leading the bridal party in the gorgeous Punjab lament ‘Heer’, or multiculturally as the majority of the music, it is always highly tuneful and musically interesting, highlighting styles of music that are too rarely seen in the West End. Continue reading “Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)”

Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Just look at them now”

A third trip back to UB2 and Bend it like Beckham remains a real pleasure (original review / preview). It’s interesting how the release of a show’s cast recording can impact my feelings towards it – being a big Howard Goodall fan, I’ve listened to this OCR a lot and fallen more in love with its music than ever. And in this age of playlists, it’s quite easy to come up with edited highlights that skate over some of the weaker moments to give an idealised version of the production.

That said, going back to the Phoenix Theatre was still highly enjoyable and it’s always fascinating to see how different emphases come through after repeated views. For me, it has been the realisation that the heart of the show lies as much with Jess’ parents, the under-rated Natasha Jayetileke and Tony Jayawardena making us care so deeply about their experiences that have allowed second-generation Jess to reach for the freedom she craves. Continue reading “Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”

Review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Who wants to cook aloo gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham”

As anyone who has ever been to my parents’ annual Bonfire Night party can attest, a good aloo gobi is nothing to be sniffed at (nor my mum’s lamb saag for that matter) but when you’re a teenager, such things are far from your mind. So it is for Jesminder Bhamra – her older sister has just gotten engaged, her parents are keen for her to keep close to her Punjabi Sikh heritage but all she wants to do is play football in the park. And when she gets spotted by the captain of the local girls’ team, Jess finds herself torn between her family and following her heart’s desire.

Based on Gurinder Chadha’s enormously successful film of the same name, this musical version of Bend It Like Beckham is a ball-bouncing, cross-cultural match-up of a show. Adapted by Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, the story maintains its vivacious energy as Jess weaves her way through wedding prep and vibrantly staged parties with the extended family whilst tackling the rigours of life with new pal and teammate Jules in the Hounslow Harriers where her footballing prowess is soon spotted by the keen coach Joe, someone else Jules also has her eye on.  Continue reading “Review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”

(P)review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Who wants to cook aloo gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham”

The musical of Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it like Beckham, with music by Howard Goodall and lyrics by Charles Hart, has quite a long preview period – no surprise for a brand new piece of musical theatre – but having been along, I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts as opposed to writing it up fully – somewhere between a preview and a review to give you a taster of the show. I’d also recommend having a look for tickets now because there are some great bargains to be had in the stalls, seats as cheap as £15 for row E and a barely restricted view. Continue reading “(P)review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”

Review: The White Devil, Swan

“Sum up my faults, I pray”

It feels a bit of a shame that one of the centrepieces of the RSC’s Roaring Girls season is a play that doesn’t manage gender parity in its cast, even with some cross-gender casting. This may speak of the nature of Jacobean Theatre, for it is Webster’s The White Devil of which we speak here, but Maria Aberg’s reputation precedes her and so it was a little disappointing to see that the opportunity hasn’t been seized here – if not now, then when?
 

And though I’d heard such great things about this production, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed here. Part of lies in the play itself – I can’t deny that I just don’t really like it and though it is updated to the debauchery of the 1980s Rome club scene here, the messy chaos of the pursuit of naked self-interest that proves Aberg’s main focus dominates too much and often to the detriment of the storytelling. Continue reading “Review: The White Devil, Swan”

Review: Great Expectations, ETT at Watford Palace

“I want to be a gentleman”

English Touring Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations relocates the story of Pip’s advancement to nineteenth century India in this thrilling adaptation by Tanika Gupta. A poor village boy, Pip is given the chance to better himself after a frightening encounter with a convict and an engagement to regularly visit the reclusive Miss Havisham sets him on a new path that allows him to dream of being more than a village cobbler’s assistant. And when an anonymous benefactor allows him to move to Calcutta, the heart of the British Raj, he is free to pursue his dream of becoming a proper gentleman, part of the educated elite, in order to win the heart of the coldly alluring Estella.

Gupta’s reimagining works extremely well because Pip’s journey, with his aspirations to rise above his class and status, is given even greater impact by the fact that he is casting aside his cultural identity too, his Indianness, in the search to become the perfect educated gentleman, just like one of the ruling English. This makes the transformation he seeks to effect upon himself all the more dramatic, as depicted in a wonderful scene where he dons the waistcoat and cravat of his new station, and then provides a powerfully meaningful final transition in the last scene as he ultimately comes to recognise what his true self is. But also mixed in is another layer of racial tension: Magwitch becomes a black African convict, Estella is Miss Havisham’s “African princess” and so Gupta keeps the interplay much more universal than a simplistic Asian updating and she is unafraid to show both the comedy and violence in the story in its starkest forms.


Director Nikolai Foster (no relation!) manages the achievement of a great sense of fluidity to proceedings which is all the more remarkable when one considers that there’s 31 scenes here, reflecting the serialised way in which the story was originally published. Pulling in elements of traditional dance from Zoobin Surty and music from Nicki Wells (with Nitin Sawhney onboard as musical advisor too), the atmosphere is set perfectly and well-matched by Colin Richmond’s design with its saffron-dyed gauzy curtains which allows us to move effortlessly from murky graveyards to the burning sun of the village, from shadowed dusty corridors in mansions, to the bustling city streets of Calcutta and much more. Energy crackles from all aspects, from cast members bursting through the stalls to bowls of incense being lit in front of us, to create a real theatrical experience.

Tariq Jordan is exceptional as Pip, starting off as the naive youth oblivious to anything but his own desires and progressing slowly as experience is acquired, hearts broken, friends gained, dreams shattered, charting his maturing from boy to man and never letting us forget Pip’s humanity even when he is at his most blinkered. But this is a strong ensemble throughout: from Tony Jayawardena’s beautifully warm Joe Gargery and Kiran Landa’s wise-beyond-her-years Biddy, to Lynn Farleigh’s near-dessicated Miss Havisham and Simone James’ emotionally estranged Estella, there’s a real sense of clarity to all the characterisations here. Giles Cooper’s ever-so-English Herbert Pocket was a particular delight, as was Jude Akuwudike’s raw energy as Magwitch.

The only real criticism I found was that a couple of the more emotional moments were too heavily underscored by the swelling score that felt more akin to a Hollywood film, yanking at the heartstrings instead of playing to the more subtle poignancy of the actual play. But minor quibble aside, this is a superbly effective reimagining of Great Expectations which breathes a new vibrancy into this well-known story, which remains highly recognisable (the character of Orlick was the only one I could think of that has been omitted) and provides it with a timeless resonance, none more so than at the beginning of the final scene where a public speaker exhorts his crowd of listeners to “rise up brothers…break the shackles…we must argue our case for our right to determine the affairs of our own country”.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until March 12th then touring to Cambridge, Brighton, Richmond, Guildford, Oxford and Malvern
Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

Review: London Assurance, National Theatre

“I didn’t imagine I’d ever find the countryside so amusing”

Dion Boucicault’s 1844 play, London Assurance, the latest National Theatre production is a rip-roaring, farcical romp of a show that should leave even the most depressed Phantom of the Opera fan with a smile on their face. With a quality all-star ensemble: Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, Richard Briers, Michelle Terry, Paul Ready, all hamming it up for all they are worth, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Sir Harcourt Courtly, a London socialite travels up to Gloucestershire, determined to procure himself a much younger wife-to-be, heiress Grace Harkaway, yet once there his head is turned by her cousin, Lady Gay Spanker, a forthright horse-riding fox-hunting Amazon of a woman. To further complicate matters, Sir Harcourt’s son Charles is also there, in disguise hiding from his creditors, and has fallen for Grace. Sensing the opportunity for merriment, Charles’ friend Richard Dazzle then colludes with Lady Gay to toy with the bumptious Sir Harcourt and lead him astray. Continue reading “Review: London Assurance, National Theatre”