Sunday, 25 January 2009

Be Near Me

Thanks to the West End Whingers, I am now hyper-alert to the most random of details and there is much in this production to please them. Some excellent preparation and arranging of roses, some chopping of rhubarb, and onstage eating of lettuce soup, and then some fish stew and bread out of a lovely Le Creuset pot. However, there was no placemat for said pot, and so I did spend a couple of minutes worrying about the mark it would leave on the table.

But only for a couple of minutes, for this is a wonderful production which I found to be thoroughly engrossing. After a double whammy of “things that I hate” from the last couple of productions at the Donmar, namely verse plays and Nordic playwrights, this was the Donmar on top form. Adapted from Andrew O’Hagan’s novel, Be Near Me tells the story of a Oxbridge Catholic priest’s struggle to adapt to moving to a predominantly Protestant Scottish town.

Ian McDiarmid was superb in conveying the dislocated Father David, cloyingly ingratiating in his way into the lives of two teenagers at the expense of his parishioners, colleagues and housekeeper, the last of which played by Blythe Duff with great spirit: her withering comeback to an enquiry about a new hairstyle sent chills up the spine. Richard Madden and Helen Mallon also deserve a mention for delivering performances that capture teenage swagger in a very convincing and sometimes menacing way.

The device of keeping the company onstage throughout the show, providing a quasi-Greek chorus of sectarian songs is highly effective at maintaining the atmosphere in which Father David fails to find a comfortable medium to deal with his issues, and prefigure the ensuing catastrophe. The final scene with McDiarmid’s mellifluous tones and some stunning lighting was worth the ticket price alone, so I would highly recommend this to all.

La Cage Aux Folles

I saw this last Friday, and so was lucky enough to see the penultimate performance with the original cast, and no disrespect to the incoming performers, I am extremely glad for that since it was good to see the production people have been recommending for ages now and this was probably the most fun I have had in the theatre in such a long time.

That may have had something to do with the insane amount of wine me and my friend Julia drank in lieu of eating dinner, but the show really was excellent (from what I remember). The big bouncing balls were good fun; les cagelles were beyond excellent, eye-wateringly so at times during the splits; Douglas Hodge was superb throughout, just the right side of camp buffoonery yet still real enough for Jean-Michele's misguided decision to have real emotional impact; the cabaret tables were a genius idea, though I imagine a little frightening to sit at.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realise I will need to see this again to get some of the finer nuances (and fill in the gaps, oops). I hope Graham Norton is equal to the task, and I actually look forward to finding out. And congratulations to the Menier Chocolate Factory on creating a bona fide success.

Cast of La Cage aux Folles continued

In A Dark Dark House

Due to having no internet at my flat, I have fallen behind with my reviewing, which is very poor considering this is only my second one. But I forgive myself, and I am the only person reading this anyway, lol!

This three-hander is by Neil LaBute who has a long-running relationship with the Almeida, and this is the European premiere of this work. It is quite cleverly structured, in three segments with no interval and so really has a filmic feel to it which is probably a good thing as you wouldn’t have wanted it to be much longer. The play tells the story of two brothers who are still struggling with events from their childhood, and as ever with LaBute’s work, nothing is quite as it seems and the journey to the truth is quite harrowing. David Morrissey and Steven Mackintosh both do fine work, but somehow the parts don’t quite add up to a cohesive whole. The central scene with Kira Sternbach playing a Lolita-like role provides a welcome jolt of adrenaline to proceedings, but I didn’t feel the play dealt sufficiently with the questions it raised especially around the long-lasting impact of abuse .

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Twelfth Night

Following on from a sensational Ivanov with Kenneth Branagh, the Donmar Warehouse West End season continues with this prodution of Twelfth Night, featuring Derek Jacobi as the star name in a very strong cast.

After the snowfall that predictably brought London to a standstill, my journey to the Wyndham's was extremely torturous and unfortunately put me in a foul mood which did not bode well for an evening at the theatre. And whilst this production had much to dispel the howling wind and cold outside, it didn't quite achieve the dizzy heights the rave reviews had intimated. One of those dark comedies full of gender-bending escapades, Twelfth Night requires a certain suspension of disbelief that was just lacking in me tonight. 

The comedy is there for sure, with some great laugh out loud moments, but there were too many moments where I just wanted to shout out 'but WHY?'! I felt there wasn't enough conviction in Viola's decision to disguise herself, and I had no real sense of which of the men actually really wanted to meet up with ladies or just remain within their own manly (read homoerotic) company.

All in all, a disappointing night given my expectations, but perhaps with an easier journey to the theatre and a sunnier disposition I might have found this more enjoyable.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

For me, there's no doubt about what the first theatre post would be about. I have probably seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat something like 20 times, played piano for one production, percussion for another, and sung in it twice (both times in the chorus :-( ). It occupies such a special place in my heart, and that of most of my families' too, that I doubt I could ever grow tired of it. That said, the most recent production of this before the latest reboot, came pretty close to ruination, Stephen Gately has a lot to answer for!

Anyhow, that's all in the past. Lee Mead won the much documented "Any Dream Will Do" BBC talent search and took the lead role in July 2007, and what a job he does! This was the second time I have seen this production and it still surprised me with the energy that is brings to what is such familiar material. Lee Mead really does have the air of a superstar about him and commands the stage with such gravitas, it is hard to drag the eyes away from him, plus he can't half hold a tune, injecting real emotion into Any Dream Will Do which is no small feat. Jenna Lee James as the Narrator does not please quite as much. She seems to auditioning for a lead in another musical and belts out her numbers with varying degrees of success and little care for her diction, she appears more interested in adlibbing than actually narrating the story.

My only other minor quibble is the introduction of the new song "King of My Heart" sung by Pharoah on his own. The song is nothing remarkable, the Elvis impression begins to wear quite thin, and seems to only really serve as a chance for the cast to change from their Egyptian costumes back into those of the brothers.

Everything else about this production pleased me greatly though. The staging really suits the space, with the children's choir framing the action on either side, the costumes look amazing (not just the coat!) and the company work really hard, giving great vocals to an often bewildering array of musical styles, nifty dance moves and engaging smiles throughout. I cannot recommend Joseph enough as a great theatrical experience, it may not deal with any weighty contemporary issues or offer challenging musical palettes, but it is pure and simple fun, whether with the family or not, and should always be treated as such.

NB: Lee finishes in the title role on 10th January, Gareth Gates will take over on 9th February and I don't know who is filling in the gap!