Saturday, 25 October 2014

Saturday afternoon Memphis treats

Make no mistake, there's a talented cast at the heart of Memphis and here's some supporting evidence.

Killian Donnelly + Nadim Naaman – Agony (from Into the Woods)
An adorkable duet from these two princes amongst men.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Review: The Hunters Grimm, Teatro Vivo in Deptford

Once upon a time, an invitation wound its way into the inbox of an overworked online theatre reviewer, inviting him to the deepest, darkest parts of London town that few broadsheet critics ever dare to enter. The instructions laid a trail of enticing theatrical crumbs all the way south to the townstead of Deptford where brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm find themselves in something of a pickle. Famous of course for collecting stories, they’re in desperate need of assistance on their latest hunt for new tales and it is up to us, dear reader, to help them in the task, should you too accept the summons to The Hunters Grimm.
On a dark and cloudy night, dressed stout of boot and warm of cloak as we had been advised, our band of intrepid explorers found their way to The Spinning Room, the lair where the brothers have stored their collection so far. It was a place full of curiosity and I was glad I had arrived with plenty of time (you’d be well advised to do the same, etymological knowledge and gingerbread cookies don’t just fall off trees you know) as the gravity of the situation was imparted to us and just what we could do to help. Divided into two groups of Fearless Philologists and Bold Bibliophiles, with no little trepidation we ventured forth into the wilderness.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review: Made In Dagenham, Adelphi

“Rome may not have been built in a day but Dagenham sure was” 

Based on the real-life tale of the Ford sewing machinists whose strike in 1968 kicked into motion a groundswell of a movement that shook Harold Wilson's administration and culminated in the Equal Pay Act of 1970, Made In Dagenham is one of those rare beasts - a brand new big-budget British musical. William Ivory wrote the story up into a 2010 film by Nigel Cole but here it is Richard Bean who has written the book, with David Arnold composing the score and Richard Thomas penning the lyrics, with Rupert Goold taking on directorial duties.

The show naturally has had a lengthy preview period (opening officially 5th November) and I saw it a week ago, not having intended to write about it, but after a couple of people emailed me to ask my opinion, I thought sod it, I'll write it up! So take it all with a pinch of salt, I suspect the show may not be to the liking of some but I really rather enjoyed it, with its huge amiability, its cracking lead in Gemma Arterton and that crucial level of interest that comes from a true story (and one whose legacy continues today, somewhat unresolved). I'll be going back soon but here's what I thought first time round.   

Review: Our Town, Almeida

“The morning star always get wonderful bright the minute before it has to go”

Some images sear themselves into the mind, never to be forgotten and for me, the staging of the third act of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town was such a one – something so simply done yet achingly powerful in effect, all the more so given it isn’t immediately apparent. And after Mr Burns, it is the second time in three plays that the Almeida has delivered a doozy of a third act – one can’t help but feel sorry (or laugh) at the doofuses that left at any of the intervals.

It is interesting to see the strength of the reactions to David Cromer’s version of this show – in the Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford decries it as glib, desultory and that final act as smug(!) and Jake Orr dismissed it thus
which just goes to show different strokes for different silly folks eh (I was part of that audience...)

Review: The Rivals, Arcola

 “Through all the drama — whether damned or not —
Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.”

The main beauty of Selina Cadell’s production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s evergreen The Rivals is her mastery of the Restoration form which sees no fourth wall separating players and punters. So on taking the stage, her actors acknowledge the audience in their own ways – awkward bows, tacit nods, arched eyebrows – and continue to address us throughout, an expositionary monologue here, an announcement of the scene’s location there, a gossipy aside everywhere. What really makes it work though is the warmth and wit with which the company fold us into its welcoming arms.

With a wicked glint in her eye and wryly pursed lips, an extravagantly dressed Gemma Jones ensures her Mrs Malaprop reaches the very pineapple of her comic potential and with no less captivating humour, Nicholas Le Prevost makes even the lewdest of Sir Anthony Absolute’s comments a hilarious part of his incorrigible charm. They have decided that her niece Lydia Languish and his son Captain Jack Absolute are an ideal match but young Lydia – an outrageous Jenny Rainsford who plays her on the edge of sanity to hugely entertaining effect – has her heart set on the romantic, and penniless, hero of her dreams.

Short Film Review #54

A full-on Irish history epic, Tom Waller’s Eviction is an unflinching look at the difficult relations in 19th century Ireland with fearsome English landlords putting the frighteners on their Irish tenants and pushing them to ever more desperate measures. It’s really quite shocking but very well done and the production values are excellent – Gay Hian Teoh’s cinematography and Eddie Hamilton’s editing are top notch and a cast that includes Cillian Murphy and Rupert Vansittart make this well worth watching.

Monday, 20 October 2014

CD Review: Bugsy Malone (NYMT 1997)

“We could have been anything that we wanted to be”

The news that the Lyric Hammersmith will be reopening with a production of Bugsy Malone will have rightly gladdened the hearts of all right-thinking people and it also reminded me that I had the soundtrack to the show that I’d not gotten round to listening to yet. Where the film (featuring the likes of Jodie Foster and Scott Baio, as well as Mark Curry, Dexter Fletcher and Bonnie Langford) dubbed adult voices onto its child performers, the National Youth Music Theatre mounted an all-youth production that ended up in the West End and which had amongst its number, a certain Sheridan Smith.

There’s real interest in the soundtrack for musical fans as Paul Williams donated songs that were not included in the film, ‘That’s Why They Call Me Dandy’ and ‘Show Business’, the first of which is quite an adorable character number for Dandy Dan (sung here by Stuart Piper and the company) and the second of which is no great shakes (sung by Alex Lee, presumably the Lena Marelli character). And amongst the more familiar numbers are some lovely arrangements which bolster the tunes – the second half of ‘I’m Feeling Fine’ becomes a tender duet, the utterly beautiful ‘Tomorrow’ enhanced by company BVs.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Review: Three Sisters, White Bear

“You know what London pubs are like – you don’t know anyone and no-one knows your name”

Looking back over the blog, it turns out I’ve seen Chekhov’s Three Sisters four times in recent years and all of them have been a modern updating of some sort and now I’ve seen FiasCo Theatre’s version at a spruced up White Bear Theatre in Kennington, I’m on five for five. This uncredited adaptation sees the sisters moved to present day Britain, moved by their father from their beloved London to an unspecified place in the north (with a train station 12 miles away) and a military garrison nearby.

The Prozorovs are rechristened as the Earnshaws and in a nifty bit of renaming that nods to one of Chehov’s possible inspirations, Olga, Masha and Irina have become Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Ed Sheeran and Bastille may blast over the stereo but otherwise, the modern references are just lightly sprinkled throughout in just the right quantity - it is a pretty respectful, condensed take on the story which reiterates the crushing paralysis of inaction no matter the time or place.

Review: Rachel, Finborough

“I hear people talk about God’s justice and I wonder.”

Written in response to the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan contained in 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, Angelina Weld Grimké’s Rachel has the remarkable tag of being the first play by an African-American woman to ever be produced professionally. Despite that, it has languished mostly unseen since then and this revival by the Finborough marks the European premiere and a contribution to the work of Black History Month. It’s easy to dismiss work such as this saying it has collected dust on the shelves for a reason but this fascinating context alone surely negates that and in Ola Ince’s production, dramatic reasons emerge too.

Commissioned by the NAACP (about whom I wrote my undergraduate dissertation oddly enough), it set out “to use the stage for race propaganda in order to enlighten the American people” about the African-American experience and given that it is still an ongoing struggle for playwrights today, what Weld Grimké achieved in the early 20th century is significant. There’s a lack of sophistication to her writing that is undeniable, the overly expositional dialogue clunks once too often in asking its searching questions about comprehension and compromise, as the educated but endearingly naïve Rachel comes to terms with the racist world she must engage with.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review: MilkMilkLemonade, Ovalhouse

“Boys have to be boys”

I knew I’d like MilkMilkLemonade from the moment I read the publicity which introduced the word ‘bittersilly’ into my lexicon, a twist on the bittersweet realities of growing up different that reflects the persuasive, almost daft charm of Joshua Conkel’s writing. From the outset, it’s clear we’re in for something alternative (alt-country, even) as James Turner’s design has us sat on a circle of haybales with chickens made of balloons all around and a nervy narrator introducing us to the homespun delights of life on the chicken farm for Emory and his Nanna.

Except those delights are few and far between. Emory is a gay fifth-grader who loves nothing more than twirling his ribbon, playing with his doll Starlene and his best friend Linda (who just happens to be a giant chicken) and rehearsing his unique routine to ‘Anything Goes’ for the talent show that will be his ticket outta Hicksville. But that’s not how a boy’s supposed to be as the grim-faced oxygen-mask-guzzling Nanna constantly reminds him, Emory ought to spend more time with bullying pyromaniac Elliot from down the road, a true man’s man in the making.

Not-a-Review: The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic


I’d love to review Simon Stephens’ version of The Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic but Katie Mitchell’s enthusiasm for the naturalistic approach meant I heard very little, and I mean very little of it. It’s not even as if I could see to lip-read either, the crepuscular lighting combining with a propensity to mutter and the choice that several made to speak with their backs to the audience. I’m not commenting on Mitchell’s artistic choices, I’m simply being truthful about how the basic difficulty of just hearing what was going on. And as such, I’m just not inclined to comment on anything more. If you have any sort of hearing problem, I urge you to ensure you get to the captioned performance on 27th November.

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Booking until 29th November

Review: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Charing Cross Theatre

“Quand on n'a que l'amour
A s'offrir en partage”

No he’s not. Jacques Brel is dead and buried in French Polynesia next to Paul Gauguin but his unmistakable spirit is to be found in the oddly sterile surroundings of the Charing Cross Theatre in this revue of the music that made a maître of the world of chanson. Comprising nearly 30 of his songs performed by a company of four, director Andrew Keates has made a determined choice to avoid the concert-type presentation often associated with revues for something much more theatrical.

It is a choice that mostly works. Brel’s music explored the length and breadth of the human condition and Keates uses this to offer a wide variety of staging choices for the material, treating each song almost as its own little world whether it is love lost, love found, sailors drinking or funerals watched. They come in different forms too, a music hall vaudeville turn here, a dramatic scene played out amongst the cabaret tables up front there, and some pure uncomplicated singing for good measure too.