Review: The Saints, Nuffield Playing Field

“It’s quite clearly not just a game or we wouldn’t be this upset about it would we”
 
In lieu of anyone having written a play about Wigan Athletic (although maybe there is one to come from somewhere…), I had to make do with Luke Barnes’ The Saints for my theatrical footie fix, journeying down to Southampton on a beautiful summer’s day. The weather was key as the Nuffield have created a pop-up theatre in Guildhall Square for the Art at the Heart Festival and as you can see from the pics below, it takes the form of a mini football stadium, leaving the audience exposed to the elements on its terraces but fortunately a morning rain shower soon changed to blazing sun in time for the starting whistle and a really rather enjoyable piece of theatre.
 
Kenny Glynn is a lifelong Southampton FC supporter and that life has been one full of hardship and challenges, not least in supporting the Saints through thick and thin, and in a brilliantly conceived first half, we see exactly how that life has played out. We witness the early death of his father at Kenny’s first trip to the Dell, the development of his mother’s chronic illness which made him her live-in carer, the trials being a Sunday League footballer and not a very good one at that, and the woes of being a teenager in love with a girl who barely knows he exists. Alongside this runs a potted history of the club, Kenny unable to dissociate the key events of his life from what was happening on and off the field.

Matthew Dunster’s production is brilliantly energetic – a keen young company of eight multi-role effortlessly, stripping in and out of tracksuits and other costumes at the drop of a hat, and wheeling around the components of Anna Fleischle’s inventive design to keep the pace constantly high. And in Cary Crankson’s wonderful central performance as Kenny, there’s such an appealing likeability that it is impossible not to get swept up in the dramas of his life as he slowly learns that you need to play the cards life has dealt (guided in this respect by a canny guardian angel by the name of Matt Le Tissier, well, it’s God dressed up as him…) and making the FA Cup final isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.

Continue reading “Review: The Saints, Nuffield Playing Field”

Review: A Clockwork Orange, Soho Theatre

 
 

“Things have changed a bit, old droogie”

Any adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange has to battle with the hugely iconic imagery of the Kubrick film but with their own unique take, the Action To The Word company has come close to making it their own as modern parlance would have it. Previously a hit in Edinburgh, the show forms the main house Christmas entertainment at the Soho Theatre and whilst titillating and leaving one thirsty for a drink of milk, it is a curious thing. The story of an über-violent dystopian society full of disaffected youth in which teenage Alex leads a vicious gang of droogs on the rampage is one laced with real darkness, especially as we see Alex get caught, thrown into prison and then subjected to a government-supervised medical trial, but the presentation in Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ production leans away from the violent core. 

She uses an all-male cast to deliberately ramp up the testosterone level and though a programme note insists that “the piece isn’t ‘gay’ or ‘straight’”, there is no doubting that the levels of homo-eroticism are off the scale. Not that this is a bad thing, not at all, but it means that the air is frequently heavy with seductive sexuality rather than danger, the sexual violence ends up being perhaps just a little too sexy. Additionally, the physical language utilised, with its frequent use of movement to the vibrant soundtrack which embraces Placebo and the Eurythmics just as much as the famous Beethoven, adds another distancing factor as stylised choreography replaces the naturalism of stage combat. Continue reading “Review: A Clockwork Orange, Soho Theatre”

Review: Naked Boys Singing, Charing Cross Theatre

“There’s only one reason you’re here tonight”

The rebranding of the New Players Theatre as the Charing Cross Theatre has to be one of the least effective I have come across in quite some time. The theatre itself, the signage and the website still bear the old name, only the tickets actually say Charing Cross on them which makes for a strange state of affairs. It is now playing late-night home to Naked Boys Singing, which is proving remarkably enduring given that this is the fourth outing for Phil Willmott’s production after previous runs at the King’s Head and the Arts Theatre: what could its appeal be…?!

It’s a musical comedy revue loosely in the style of A Chorus Line, following 7 guys as they audition for and then perform in a show which requires them to be in the nude. Which they do, eventually. But before that, there’s an attempt at trying to add depth to proceedings by filling the back-story of some of the protagonists and philosophising about what it means to really get naked, but given that the height of humour here is men shouting as many different terms for male genitalia as they can, any level of sophistication is pretty much wasted. Continue reading “Review: Naked Boys Singing, Charing Cross Theatre”

Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“Do you always pray during those seconds before curtain-up?”

The Drowsy Chaperone is receiving its first off-west-end fringe revival after a spectacular failure with its West End run 3 years ago. I’m not entirely sure why it was so unsuccessful featuring Elaine Paige as it did but the misguided marketing campaign had a lot to do with it I’m sure. It is however also quite a niche piece, it should appeal to any fan of musical theatre but beyond that, I’m not sure how much attraction it has. But relocated and retooled to the Upstairs at the Gatehouse pub theatre in Highgate, this production captures all the charm and effervescence of this delightful show and hopefully it will restore some of its reputation here in London.

The show starts in darkness with our narrator explaining that he much prefers to listen to his favourite musicals than actually go to the theatre and he proceeds to put on his favourite record, The Drowsy Chaperone from 1928. This show-within-a-show is about two lovers whose wedding is put in jeopardy on their wedding day – by disaster, by themselves, by the drowsy chaperone who is supposed to be making sure the bride doesn’t see the groom on that fateful day and a whole host of stereotypical Broadway caricatures all with their own agendas. Continue reading “Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”

(Not a) Review: Ten Plagues – a work-in-progress, Royal Court

“In London
Came the plague in sixteen sixty five
One hundred thousand dead
But I alive.”

I’m a big fan of Marc Almond so when the opportunity to see him performing in a workshop of a new musical at the Royal Court came up, I was eager to snap up a ticket. Presented as an early part of the Rough Cuts season of works-in-progress and experimental readings, Ten Plagues is a new musical with libretto by Mark Ravenhill and  music by Conor Mitchell.

Taking inspiration from both Samuel Pepys’ and Daniel Defoe’s accounts of living through the Great Plague of London, but also using Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and Aids and Its Metaphor to also help define the ideas, Ravenhill tells the story of a man’s journey through a city going through a profound crisis as one in five people die. Continue reading “(Not a) Review: Ten Plagues – a work-in-progress, Royal Court”

Re-review: Once Upon Another Time at the Adelphi, Union Theatre

I quite often come out of shows knowing exactly which of my acquaintances I will be recommending it to, and Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi was no exception. However, this time I decided to go again as well, such was my enjoyment of the show. You can read my original review here, but I enjoyed it just as much the second time round and still found it just as moving.

Performances throughout were just as strong, if anything the choreography was delivered with even more confidence, and it was interesting to watch it from a different seat. Despite the Union being such a small space, it was a completely different viewing experience from the side and I also quite liked the fact that I heard much more of the harmony work going on in the ensemble, without the band being right behind me as it was last time. Continue reading “Re-review: Once Upon Another Time at the Adelphi, Union Theatre”

Review: Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi, Union Theatre

“For tonight if we dream, the world will dream along with us”

Phil Wilmott is clearly a master at directing large casts in tiny spaces and combined with Andrew Wright’s amazingly precise choreography, conjures more energy and life in the intimate space of the Union Theatre on a shoestring here with Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi than I saw at any point during that other show that I saw at another Adelphi recently. A Christmas Carol also by Wilmott and also produced by MokitaGrit, filled me with a whole Santa’s sackful of festive cheer and they are obviously doing something right as this show filled me with the joys of spring, even on this bitterly cold March evening.

A huge success with its run in Liverpool, picking up some big awards along the way, this is the London premiere although the programme talks ominously of this being the final chance to see the show. It’s an old-fashioned love story, albeit one set in two different timezones, set against the backdrop of the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool, a venue that capitalised on its location as a major transatlantic port in providing an ideal stopping point for Hollywood stars en route to more glamorous locations. We follow Jo and Neil in the present day as he tries to tempt her into backpacking round Japan with him and Alice and Thompson in the 1920s and 30s with their on-off romance being constantly challenged by events and circumstances seemingly out of their control. Continue reading “Review: Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi, Union Theatre”