Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
A bijou musical that is fun, funny and fast moving, “Lend Me A Tenor” is set in 1934 and tells of the trials and tribulations of the Cleveland Opera Company just hours before a performance of Verdi’s “Otello”. It has witty, fun lyrics, equally witty orchestrations and is a delight on the eye and ear. Sumptuous settings, scenery that magically, seamlessly and inventively moves from one location to another, doors that SLAM without the slightest wobble. And I am reminded of a northern friend whose opinion of a show invariably depended on the number of “wunnnnnderful frocks” – here he would not have been disappointed, for they were exquisite. If you enjoy musicals, good singing and don’t mind an opera or two being sent up, with the occasional tap routine (FAB !) as a bonus, then this is the show for you !
As ever I was too mean to buy a programme so I had no real idea who played who, but, as H.E.Bates' Pop Larkin character would put it, everyone was ‘perfick’. My out and out highlight was the opera company diva’s ‘audition’ in front of the world-famous tenor who should have been singing the lead role in “Otello”. When she began the show I thought she had a ‘modern-day musical’ voice, but was I wrong – she hit each an every note of her pastiche of operatic roles – wonderful ! Her post-number applause took some time to die down, peppered with a more than a few ‘bravo’ shouts (including from me – noisy so and so !). My ‘subsequently done’ homework reveals that she was played by Sophie-Louise Dann. ‘Others’ in the cast (sounds a bit disparaging but it’s not meant that way) included Matthew Kelly and Joanna Riding.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
This intricate, complex comedy of manners is constructed like a Swiss watch, and needed Christine Davidson’s meticulous direction, playing to its many laughs, to produce a work of real enjoyment. Marlow, a suitor on his way to woo Kate, a maid he has never met is mischievously directed to his destination thinking he is on his way to an inn. The ensuing Whitehall farce had me in stitches.
Marcus Churchill was very much in character as the swaggering Marlow but could have been a bit more imperious. Naomi Phillips as Kate played a superb role taking every opportunity for laughs while Richard Baylis, as her father, the confused then affronted host played well within himself, though still produced the laughs.
The key male for me was a sparkling performance from the jester half-brother Tony Lumpkin, played with zest and boundless energy by Phillip Drew. This was second only to one of the finest performances I have seen on the Old Court stage, Lynne Foster as the devious, greedy old biddy, Kate’s mum. Another love plot was put together by a fine pairing of Robyn Gower and Kevin Richards as a pair of would-be runaways, and there were delicious cameos from Robin Winder and Mark Preston. The large cast played completely in character and in superb costumes, before an impressive country-house interior.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
Witham Dramatic Club at the Public Hall
Max, the baby “put up for adoption” in Anthony Minghella's early success, would be 30 by now.
Witham's welcome revival, directed by Graeme Parrett, evoked the 80s in its furnishings and its clever choice of music – Girls Just Want To Have Fun, I Could Be Happy.
The performances, on the other hand, seemed very modern, naturalistic, even hard to hear at times.
Catherine Hitchins was Caroline, who escapes to a lazy seaside town to have her illegitimate child. Scarcely out of adolescence herself, she struggles to maintain her resolve and master her emotions; we share her ambivalence and her anguish – a touching performance in this challenging central role.
But it was Gemma Robinson's Stella who touched an emotional nerve, with her bitter, artistic landlady who has a pathological loathing of men. Her raw, honest monologue was masterly.
Charlette Kilby was the baby-obsessed schoolfriend Fran – a nice, if uneasy, contrast with the troubled Caroline.
The most successful scenes were the set-pieces: a game of charades, kites on the beach. They felt very fresh, very real, improvised even. The trio were joined by Caroline's lesbian ex-teacher and her 17-year-old pupil/lover D [a very promising Natalie Whitworth]. The moment when Kate [Jacqui Brown] is forced to accept rejection, and some awkward truths, was movingly done.
There was strong support from hospital staff [Anne Dyster and Viv Carey], Shirley Taylor as Caroline's uncomprehending mother, Roxanne Carney as Veronica, and Alex Twitchett, making a promising début as a surly waitress.
The piece seems very much of its time, with a strong sense of sisterhood and no sign of the New Man. But it was good to see it on stage, stylishly presented on the flat with striking portraits on the walls, and the empty stage effectively reserved for the beach and the bicycles.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
EMPEROR AND GALILEAN
National Theatre at the Olivier
“Ibsen's lost masterpiece” tells the story of the Emperor Julian [the Apostate], Christian turned pagan whose ruthless persecution strengthened the will of the “Galileans”, establishing Christianity as an enduring world faith.
Ben Power's new version of this epic of 1873, directed by Jonathan Kent, fills the Olivier stage with vast structures, peopled by the foot-soldiers of history.
But it is the words and the ideas, robust exchanges of views on the edge of the action, which are important, rather than the spectacle and the special effects. We don't need video to imagine the eagle soaring, and we understand that brutal war is universal and of all time, without the warplanes following the eagle through the skies.
There was some wonderful design – the religious procession, the funeral of Helena, but I wasn't convinced by the fatigues and fags for the soldiers. The final image of Julian, echoing the huge crucifix, was very telling, though.
This Julian is a fascinating character, seeking truth and freedom from Constantinople to Athens to Ephesus, abandoned by God, denied philosophy, and dying unmourned on the Field of Mars.
But I found Andrew Scott's performance strangely uninvolving, monotonous in delivery and lacking in charisma – a petulant, pathetic weakling, a tinpot tyrant.
His childhood friends - “shared lives” - did manage some powerful characterizations between them, James McArdle's blunt Agathon, John Heffernan's Peter, wryly humorous at first, then later showing the strength of faith that Julian lacks. But they too sometimes seemed too small-scale for the production, [occasionally inaudible in the circle], which demanded the kind of epic acting that we did get from Ian McDiarmid's Maximus, or Richard Durden's Ursulus, or Nabil Shaban's amazing Constantinus.
A fascinating play, with Julian explicitly following Cain and Judas as the tools of God. But the core of it all could have been told much more tightly, without the distractions of the epic excesses we saw on the National stage.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Cameo Players at Hylands House
The Cameo Players brought their Rebecca – already a success at Little Baddow – to Hylands House last week, in a polished production by Lindsay Lloyd.
Using only a minimal set – not, alas, the imposing staircase in situ - and no stage lighting, this implausible melodrama made a tremendous impact on capacity audiences.
Four great characters come together in the story. Maxim de Winter, the master of Manderley, bringing back his new bride, hoping to forget the past. Darren Matthews was a little young for the role, in truth, but he gave a searingly honest, strong performance, using his voice to suggest the pain behind the suave, stiff exterior. The second Mrs de Winter was played by Sara Thompson; the shy, mousy girl was touchingly suggested, and I liked the way her eyes shone when she hoped to surprise Maxim at the ball, or when she was determined to save him from the hangman's noose. But the foyer talk was all of the sinister Mrs Danvers, given a performance of depth and detail by Vicky Tropman. A still, brooding figure, she dominated the room with a look, a pause, an inflection, and later, as she descended into madness and mania, she obsessively adored the relics of her former mistress, the first Mrs de Winter. And lastly there is the house itself. The technical limitations are outweighed by the sense that these walls have known servants and sorrows, seen masked balls and maybe even murder.
Not all the other characters had much opportunity to shine, and such opportunities as they did have were not always taken. But I did enjoy Catherine Bailey's snobby, bitchy Beatrice, and I admired the uncomfortably intrusive presence of the rotter Jack Favell, stylishly played by Robert Bastian.
Like Thornfield, and Tara, the house is climactically consumed by fire. The moment cried out for special effects, but the impact was preserved by the now deranged Danvers silhouetted against the red glow, and by a glimpse of the shade of Rebecca running towards the West Wing and the oblivion of the flames.
Saturday, June 04, 2011
A FAMILY AFFAIR
The Greville Theatre Club at the Barn Theatre Little Easton
“There may be trouble ahead ...” a cheekily anachronistic Tin Pan Alley commentary punctuated Rita Vango's production of this classic Russian farce. Other theatrical touches I admired were the retreat to the gallery of most of the cast, and the monologues to the audience. The beautifully designed programme was great, too.
Nick Dear's adaptation added some ripe language to Ostrovsky's text – think Chekhov done by the cast of East Enders.
The Dickensian characters were mostly well served by the Greville actors; certainly the audience were audibly amused throughout. Were there an award for the most convincing looking Russian, it would have to go to Rodney Foster's Tishka, closely followed by Adam Thompson as Lazar, the timid clerk who reaches the top by wedding the boss's daughter and cashing in on his cunning plan to cheat his creditors.
The shameless Lipochka, who dreams of marrying a military man but is too old for the village idiot, was played for all she was worth by Carol Parradine; her grizzly old bear of a father, a martyr to piles and ulcers, was the excellent Chris Kearney. Good comedic performances too from Marcia Baldry as the Matchmaker, and Steve Braham as the dipso solicitor Sysoy.
“Be content with what you've got” is the message here, since all the swindling schemes come to nothing, and the cast reassembles for the final curtain - “Let's face the music and dance ...”
Thursday, June 02, 2011
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD
Chichester Festival Theatre
Under a the vast dark canopy of the sky, two men pass the time by a blasted tree. They try to make sense of the other characters who occasionally invade their stage.
Vladimir and Estragon, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The Beckett influence couldn't be more clearly underlined in Trevor Nunn's slightly beige revival of Stoppard's intellectually dazzling footnote to Hamlet.
No real fireworks, even in the pirates' scene, but plenty of food for thought, lots of laughs.
History Boys graduates Sam Barnett and Jamie Parker are nicely contrasted, with Rosencrantz a shy, boyish foil to Guildenstern's stronger philosophical presence [so not really as interchangeable as the text suggests, then …]. Clearly marked as outsiders to the action, not least by the jeans incorporated into their Shakespearean costumes. The third name in the production, already booked into a West End transfer, was to have been Tim Curry. The swiftly promoted Chris Andrew Mellon makes an excellent Player, and may well acquire the extra edge of danger and decadence that I imagine Curry might have provided.
His band of travelling players, a mix, as they say of youth and experience, were very effective, wearily summoning the energy for another “exhibition” for the Court at Elsinore.
Simon Higlett's design was excellent, especially the suggestion of the labyrinthine corridors of the castle, and good use was made of the Chichester thrust, covered in dark wooden decking disappearing into a vanishing point.