Monday, 15 December 2014

Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre

“Try not to care so much”

Whilst other people wind down for the end of the year, Nina Raine is certainly keeping busy as her self-penned and self-directed Tiger Country returns to Hampstead Theatre, in advance of Donkey Heart – written by her brother Moses and also directed by her – transferring to Trafalgar Studios 2 in the New Year. Declared one of Hampstead’s most popular commissions, I must confess to being a little surprised to see this 2011 play return as it didn’t stick out as particularly memorable but with the promise of a new cast, I was interested to see how it stacked up nearly four years later.

And it seems that some time away has done it some good - the play feels cleaner, sharper and less encumbered with expository dialogue clearing a path through the medical terminology. I don’t know how much the script has been updated or edited but its spin through the state of the modern NHS feels as keenly observed as ever, visiting the stresses it imposes on those who work within it as well as those who use its services. Raine’s production recaptures the frenetic energy of a hospital and its staff at full stretch – metaphorically, physically, emotionally.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

CD Review: The West End goes MAD for Christmas

“I don’t need to ask for much this Christmas”

One of the more worthwhile festive releases this year is also pleasingly one of the more interesting. The Make A Difference Trust brings together the British entertainment community and its audiences to raise funds to support people living with HIV and AIDS and with The West End Goes MAD For Christmas, has brought together a host of new musical theatre champions to offer up a compilation of Christmas songs that offer a fascinating alternative to the age old carols and standards that proliferate at this time of year.

And producers Nikki & Joe Davison at Auburn Jam Records have done a brilliant job in matching composers to performers across the eight songs, curating pre-existing tracks and new, and shining a light on some serious talent. The plaintive simplicity of Stuart Matthew Price’s self-penned ‘This Christmas’ is characteristic of much of his oeuvre of classic songwriting, Gina Beck’s crystalline soprano dances beautifully around the timeless melody of Alexander S Bermange’s ‘Praying For You’ and Nadim Naaman‘s ‘A Soldier’s Christmas’ treads an equally emotive path, sung charmingly by Gerónimo Rauch and Naaman himself.


CD Review: Renée Fleming – Christmas in New York

“I have no thought of time”

Opera star Renée Fleming has dipped her toe into non-classical repertoire before and though she was tempted to take the classical route for her Christmas album, it is to jazzy lounge music that she has turned with somewhat mixed results. Her voice remains an undoubted pleasure but the insistence on maintaining the Christmas in New York jazz clubs feel makes the arrangements all feel too similar and lacking as they are in festive spirit or a real connection to Fleming herself, it’s disappointingly nondescript. 

Too often, the music just feels flat, with little engagement either between Fleming and the music, or between Fleming and her duet partners. The ever-reliable Kelli O’Hara has all her personality leached by the deadly pace of ‘Silver Bells’, the gulf in singing styles between her and Rufus Wainwright never settles in ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’, the jazz take on ‘Winter Wonderland’ sits very uneasily with both Fleming and her instrumentalists with an unusual amount of awkwardness.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Review: Accolade, St James

“Everybody has one vice..."

An interesting choice of revival rounded off the One Stage season for emerging producers that has been taking place at the St James Theatre in Emlyn Williams' Accolade. Previously seen at the Finborough back in early 2011, it won awards and critical acclaim as it formed part of Blanche McIntyre's rise to one of the most eagerly watched directors working in British theatre and so despite the delay, it does seem like an astute decision from producer Nicola Seed to nurture this back onto the stage.

And something I hadn't appreciated was how different it would feel in both a post-Leveson and post-Yewtree world. Will Trenting's huge success as a novelist has seen him be awarded a knighthood despite the salacious nature of his fiction but the night before he is due to receive it, secrets and scandals come creeping out of the woodwork. For Trenting has taken the maxim 'write of which you know' most seriously and enjoys a regular dose of orgies in Rotherhithe on the side of his otherwise happy family life and a participant at one of them is discovered to have been underage.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Review: Cats, Palladium

“These modern productions are all very well..."

Taking your seat in the Palladium to see the musical theatre behemoth that is Cats – now 33 years old and receiving a 12 week revival here in one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s own theatres – is an act of strangely calculated nostalgia. Famed for being one of the longest-running shows both on Broadway and the West End, its feline frolics remain entirely evocative of the 80s and as it reunites the original creative team – director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne, designer John Napier – that should come as little surprise.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it was actually a feat of some daring. A through-sung, through-danced piece with no real narrative, save that taken from T.S.Eliot’s book of whimsical poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. In essence, we meet the key characters of a tribe of cats who have gathered in a junkyard for a special night where one of them will be selected to be reborn into a new life in cat Heaven (or more accurately, be part of a rather dodgy bit of stagecraft, almost as naff as those cats' eyes at the beginning). 

Review: Pomona, Orange Tree Theatre

“This isn’t conversation. It’s just you telling me about your dick”

Paul Miller’s reign at the Orange Tree looked to be an interesting one from the moment he announced his debut season as Artistic Director, mixing the classic revivals for which the Richmond venue has long been known with a more cutting edge approach to its new writing policy, inviting new directors too to open up the theatre to new eyes. But not even he can have anticipated the veritable Twitterstorm of good publicity that flew up among online reviewers when Alistair McDowell’s Pomona opened last month.

Unable to resist going along (and with the distinct possibility of being able to use the above gif not too far from my mind) I was able to fit it into the diary but not ‘til right at the end of the run. Which given how close we are to Christmas, how little free time I have and the level of weariness that has set in after overdoing just how much theatre I managed to see this year, means I’m going to limit myself to the briefest of comments about a play and a production, directed by Ned Bennett, that deserves more thorough thought and investigation.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Review: The Full Monty, Theatre Royal Brighton

“You've got knockers and we're after knobs”

Who knows why the West End run of The Full Monty lasted barely a month, I suspect the truth will never fully be known. But that was far from the end for the show, which is now midway through an extensive UK tour which does feel more like a natural home for Simon Beaufoy’s play – for me, jokes about knobs and knockers sit better on the seafront here than they ever would on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Which isn’t meant as a diss, just recognising the varying tastes of audiences and they were the key to my enjoyment of this evening – a carefree, whooping barrel of laughs coming left right and centre from a theatre full of people simply enjoying themselves. It’s a special thing to feel this sort of connection and I’m not sure if we get it that often in London theatres, or at least the ones I go to.

Short Film Review #61

A wryly amusing look at the demands placed on one particular actor during an audition, Tom Edmunds’ Beard is lots of fun indeed – Tim Steed giving some great facial hair work and Oliver Chris and Katie Brayben adding quality as the auditioners.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

‘Sharon Rooney and the Henrys’ release their cover of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’

“Right now I'm too young to know
How in the future it will affect me when you go”

One of the most striking moments in Phyllida Lloyd’s recent production of Henry IV for the Donmar Warehouse was Sharon Rooney’s extraordinary take on Lady Percy, skewering previous notions of the character to make her a vibrant and passionate equal to her husband. And as she bade him farewell, a lament struck up to the tune of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’, capping off a performance provoked as much thought about Shakespearean gender roles as did the overall all-female casting.

It’s a really lovely tune in its own right but this rendition did feel like something special so it was great hear that it has been recorded under the name of Sharon Rooney and the Henrys and it is now available to download from iTunes here. Profits will benefit organisations that the company have been working closely with like Clean Break Theatre Company and Justice for Women, as well as the Donmar's outreach work to help women and girls find their voices, exemplified by the company performing Henry IV at the Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets next week.

It’s a cracking tune enlivened by Rooney's Glaswegian accent, it’s for a cracking set of causes and remember, you don’t want to be the lonely one sitting on your own and sad… Here’s the link again.



Review: The Sound of Music, Curve

“My heart should be wildly rejoicing”

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s undeniable classic of a score, Paul Kerryson’s outgoing musical production as Artistic Director, a shining light of the British musical theatre taking on an iconic leading role – the ingredients are certainly there for something magical to appear this Christmas in Leicester. But to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed by this version of The Sound of Music, whilst recognising that it is perhaps a choice in terms of failsafe festive programming. 

Kerryson has been responsible for some brilliant reimaginings of West End stalwarts – most recently Chicago and Hairspray – but it is immediately apparent here that this is going to be as traditional as they come, even old-fashioned in its insistent reliance on flying cloths in Al Parkinson’s pastel-hued design. They undoubtedly have a spatial grandeur (the stained-glass reflections in the abbey in particular) but they also sap the pace of the production terribly as they’re wangled into place time and time again.

Review: Hopelessly Devoted To You, Roundhouse

“I’m gonna speak to them about getting you out of here”

Hotfooting it back from a Leicester matinée to make a 7.30pm start at the Roundhouse is not a journey I’ll be challenging myself with again in a hurry, but I was glad to have done it on this occasion as it meant I was able to catch the final performance of Kate Tempest’s Hopelessly Devoted For You as Paines Plough toured it for a third time in quick succession since its premiere in September last year. Tempest’s star has long been on the rise but a well-deserved Mercury Music Prize nomination for her album Everybody Down and a new volume of poetry Hold Your Own are capping off a remarkable year for her.   

Hopelessly Devoted… was born out of Tempest’s own experiences visiting Holloway Prison - Sheila Atim’s Chess and Demi Oyediran’s Serena are two young women who have forged an intense relationship through sharing a cell and lengthy sentences but change is on the horizon. Serena is up for parole and Chess’ musical talent is being nurtured in a singer/songwriter class run by Frances Ashman’s Silver, a woman fighting her own demons. They each have their own struggles – dealing with the outside world, a lack of self-confidence, drug addiction – but the redemption they’re all looking for is the same.