Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Review: A Few Good Men, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Perhaps better known for the Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson starring film, A Few Good Men was originally a 1989 play written by Aaron Sorkin, but is being revived here at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Rob Lowe making a rare stage foray in the role played by Cruise in the film.

It is a courtroom drama set in Washington DC, revolving around the trial of two US Marines who have been charged with the murder of a fellow Marine at a naval base and the tribulations of their lawyers as he prepares a case to defend his clients but comes close to unmasking a high-level conspiracy which threatens to unravel all their work.

Friday, 23 September 2005

Review: As You Like It, Wyndhams

William Shakespeare’s As You Like It has been given quite the makeover here at the Wyndhams Theatre in a new production. The action has been relocated to 1940s France which makes for a great visual aesthetic with the appropriate costumery and scenery (I loved the Parisian café), and a strong Gallic flavour to the music that permeates this entire production, with newly composed ballads by Tim Sutton livened by some onstage accordion action from Lisa-Lee Leslie. 

A large ensemble play, it broadly speaks of redemption and resolution after conflict and suffering and is stuffed full of squabbling brothers, dukes, cross-dressing women, lovesick men and quadruple weddings in the Forest of Arden, falling under the pastoral comedy genre but with hints of darkness in there too which suit this post-WWII setting. But David Lan's production has focused mainly on the burgeoning relationship between Rosalind and Orlando, desperate to be together but forced apart by her banishment from court.

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Review: Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly


Though the big draw for this Donmar production of Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in the West End was Ewan McGregor, I was actually much more excited to see Jane Krakowski on stage. As the ditzy receptionist Elaine in Ally McBeal, she frequently stole the show for me and having displayed her vocal talents on the TV too, I was very much excited to see her. I hadn’t actually seen the show (or the film for that matter) before but it really was one of those where I discovered that I knew far more of the songs than I realised.

Set in 1950s New York, Nathan Detroit is an organiser of gambling tournaments whose long-suffering showgirl fiancée Miss Adelaide is determined to finally get him up the aisle. Sky Masterton is a gambler who is bet that he can’t get a woman of Detroit’s choosing to have dinner with him in Havana, but when he chooses missionary Sarah Brown, the unexpected happens for all of them. But the show is probably best known for Frank Loesser’s songs, a genuinely classic score full of amazing numbers.

Saturday, 18 June 2005

Review: Songs of Innocence, South Bank Centre


Part of the Meltdown festival being curated by Patti Smith this year was an evening so perfect it was almost picked from my personal wishlist of people I’d love to see on one stage. The loose theme was William Blake’s Songs of Innocence though it was expanded in reality to include songs from and about childhood and even wider than that, protest songs. But essentially, it was just an excuse to see some seriously amazing female singers (and a couple of men) whom I loved for ages and I never thought I’d see on the same bill.

Tori Amos’ 4 songs were a personal highlight, getting to hear Silent All These Years and Winter from Little Earthquakes was amazing, plus Pretty Good Year and Mother Revolution added up to an emotionally wrenching and intense set. Sinéad O’Connor was much more low key than expected,  a gently-strummed guitar backing a murmured, even placid collection of numbers of which only Scarlet Ribbons really made the impact I wanted from her. Beth Orton’s endearing goofiness made her brace of songs highly engaging, returning later to deliver Dolphins exceptionally well, and Marianne Faithful commanded huge presence especially with a scorching version of Working Class Hero.


Wednesday, 15 June 2005

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work.

Cast of Henry IV continued

Sunday, 12 June 2005

Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre

Forming a six hour epic, Nicholas Hytner’s productions of Henry IV Part I and Part II take up residence in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. You can see them on the same day if you so desire (and your bum can take it) but we went on different days as a small thing called work got in the way!

The plays deal with the troubled reign of King Henry IV as he deals with rebellion and civil war, while his son and heir, Prince Hal, prefers to hang around East London with small-time criminals led by the aged, corpulent alcoholic Falstaff. They cover the whole breadth of English society at the time they were written, from aristocratic infighting right the way down to sleazy prostitution.

Cast of Henry IV continued

Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Review: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Globe

This visit to the Globe came in Mark Rylance’s last season as artistic director and was to a rather experimental production of The Tempest. Exiled from his rightful place as Duke of Milan, Prospero is set adrift at sea with his young daughter Miranda. They eventually reach a remote island where they create a new life for themselves with the magical creatures that populate it. But fate strikes 12 years later as his enemies are shipwrecked on the same island, old scores are settled and new love is found.

Did I enjoy it? I honestly don’t know how I felt about it. Even now, a couple of days later, it still bemuses me more than anything. It was just so confusing. I know the play fairly well but got frequently lost as to what was going on, even my Aunty Jean who’s an English teacher and has taught the play for many years found it most difficult to keep track of who was talking to who and at this point one has to wonder for whom is this production being put on? It felt a bit too much like a vanity project than an essential piece of drama-telling.

Friday, 20 May 2005

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Some shows you just know are going to get bad reviews but these are quite often shows that certain people are going to love no matter what and so it was with me and Acorn Antiques The Musical. I loved Victoria Wood’s sketch show from the moment I remember seeing it (I’m northern, it is in the contract) and so when I heard that she was writing a musical based on it, there was no doubt what my request for a birthday present would be: tickets to see it at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, Wood took on sole responsibility for the show, writing book, music and lyrics and managed to persuade many of the original stars from the show to reprise their roles: Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and of course, Julie Walters. And when the show focuses on recreating the hilarity that was Acorn Antiques the show as we remember it, this has to be one of the funniest nights I have ever had at the theatre, I was helpless with laughter for so much of it.

Cast of Acorn Antiques continued

Monday, 9 May 2005

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, National Theatre

I do love me some actresses, and I always get a thrill when I hear the words ‘all-female cast’ so I was very much inclined to book for The House of Bernarda Alba at the National Theatre. A new version by David Hare has been commissioned of Lorca’s classic (I say classic, I’ve never read it…) which bemoaned the way in which women were treated at the time but hinted metaphorically at his own repressed homosexuality and the increasingly oppression that brought about Franco’s rule.

Set in 1930s Spain in a stunningly mounted (by Vicki Mortimer) palace of an Andalusian house, the Alba household is mourning the death of matriarch Bernarda’s husband but the actual feeling is one more akin to liberation as it turns out she relishes the chance to take control of the family, of her five unmarried daughters, and maintain the staunchly Catholic ethos of sexual repression despite the natural urges of her girls.

Tuesday, 29 March 2005

Review: His Dark Materials Part II, National Theatre

Most of what I wanted to say about His Dark Materials have been made in the earlier review of Part I, but I wanted to separate the reviews out as they are treated as separate plays although I can’t imagine anyone would just see Part I, especially with its cliff-hanger ending, and I know I couldn’t have waited any longer than the couple of hours that we did to see Part II on the same day.

This part is where some of the more obvious changes to the original books are more evident. Much of the third book has been excised, the character of Mary Malone not used here and the amber spyglass becomes less important as a result. But the story still works nonetheless, and the trip to the Land of the Dead has to rank as one of the most beautifully realised pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, haunting and incredibly moving. Likewise, the ending to the whole story was devastatingly done, leaving me crying for a good 10 minutes after we had left the theatre even though I knew what was coming.

Cast of His Dark Materials continued

Review: His Dark Materials Part I, National Theatre

The National Theatre revived their adaption of His Dark Materials for a second run in answer to my prayers, or so I like to believe, in order to let me see it. The novels by Phillip Pullman are among my all-time favourites and though the idea of translating them to the stage caused me a little trepidation, I was immensely glad of the opportunity of the chance to see the shows.

Adapted with love and precision by Nicholas Wright who has been daring enough to make the judicious cuts necessary to create a workable piece of theatre out of the at-times-sprawling works of literature that form Pullman’s trilogy, the story that is told here is strong and cohesive and told with a sensitive clarity (although I can’t be sure how clear it actually is to anyone who hasn’t read the novels, truth be told). We follow the coming-of-age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry and their adventure across a set of parallel universes as they search for answers to huge questions they both have, a journey that causes them to cross paths with polar bears, angels, witches, Texan explorers and in one of the most contentious of the strands of Pullman’s work, the organised might of the Church.

Cast of His Dark Materials continued

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Review: Don Carlos, Gielgud Theatre

Taking up residency on Shaftesbury Avenue, this production of Don Carlos directed by Michael Grandage was originated at the Crucible in Sheffield last year and received rave reviews. It is one of Schiller’s less performed works apparently, but I have to admit this was the first time I had seen any his plays (or indeed heard of him, eek!) so a new experience for me.

Don Carlos is passionately in love with Elizabeth, the French Princess to whom he was once betrothed. Carlos’ tyrannical father, King Philip II of Spain, decides to marry Elizabeth himself. The young prince’s hatred for his cold and distant parent knows no bounds. He enlists his oldest friend the Marquis of Posa to act as go-between. But Posa decides to convert Carlos and Elizabeth’s youthful passion into a full scale rebellion against King Philip’s oppressive and bloody regime.

Friday, 4 March 2005

Review: Chicago, Cambridge Theatre

If you wait long enough, it feels like you could watch anyone you wanted to in Chicago such is the roundabout that is their ever-changing cast, but recently it has become to go-to place for television stars to come and tread the boards. Jill Halfpenny is the latest person to make this journey, but in winning Strictly Come Dancing, has already established her dance credentials and so this show feels like a good fit for her.
She’s in the role of Roxie Hart, an ambitious chorus girl who murders murders her lover, smears her husband’s name and razzle-dazzles her way in court in order to make herself a star. The show mixes great songs, Fosse-inspired dance routines and a whole load of showmanship into an exuberant whole which is now probably one of the longest-running shows in the West End.


Unfortunately, I wasn’t as mad keen on the rest of the show around her which disappointed on a few levels. Anna Montanaro’s Velma Kelly was vocally quite weak and lyrically very unclear, French looked like her was just going through the motions and there was not a lot of cohesion in the chorus, most of them look gorgeous and buff but there were rarely synchronised well. Maybe this is because I had the film in my mind throughout, but ultimately this production did feel a little shabby.

Monday, 21 February 2005

Review: Days of Wine and Roses, Donmar Warehouse

Days of Wine and Roses was a 1958 teleplay written by American JP Miller, but adapted here by Northern Irish writer Owen McCafferty and relocated to 1960s London, in its tale of the troubling effects of alcoholism on a young immigrant couple.



Donal and Mona are a couple who meet for the first time at Belfast Airport in 1962, as they are awaiting a delayed flight that will complete their emigration to London. Donal is a happy-go-lucky bookie's clerk who likes a cheeky drink, while Mona is a timid civil servant from a strict family background who has never touched a drop until now. Her introduction to alcohol sets her on a headlong passionate journey and they enter a fast relationship which soon develops into marriage and parenthood. They enjoy the good life, liberally oiled with vast quantities of whisky but it soon becomes apparent that they’re losing control of the situation as looking after their son becomes less important than finding another drink. The play then hinges on the divergent paths that Donal and Mona takes as they come to terms, or otherwise, with their alcoholism.


Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Review: By The Bog Of Cats, Wyndhams

More seasoned theatregoers will tell you you should never book a play on the strength of its star alone, but when that star is Academy Award winning actress Holly Hunter, star of one of my favourite films The Piano, then I had no hesitation in booking my ticket no matter what the play was. The play in question in By the Bog of Cats, a retelling of Euripides’ Medea by Marina Carr which blends aspects of ancient Greek myth with more modern Irish folklore creating a world of gypsies, witches and ghosts in which this story pays out.

In this adaptation, the Medea figure is represented by Irish tinker Hester Swain, a woman living on a rural Irish bog and facing the fact that everything in her life is slipping away: her man, her child, her home, her heritage. Her younger lover has left her in order to wed a woman who can bring him increased wealth and prestige, and he constantly threatens to part Hester from their child in order to raise the girl in his new, more privileged world. The play opens at dawn on the fateful wedding day, and we watch the lengths Hester goes to as she fights like a hellcat not to lose what belongs to her as horrific secrets from the past reveal themselves.