Monday, 31 December 2012

Leading Man of the Year 2012

With perhaps some predictability, the two most popular posts ever on this blog are the Leading Men of the Year from 2010 and 2011 - clearly if blog hits are what makes you happy, just post pics of hot shirtless men :-) - heaven knows I won't judge you! Also Mark Lawson says "critics...should be wary of parading their crushes in print" and the day I start taking his advice...
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And so sure enough, here we have 2012's entry in the canon of gentlemen who I've seen on the stage and who are somewhat easy on the eye. They're not ranked in any way - I'm sharing their degrees of hotness so step inside with me and Nathan...
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The 2012 fosterIAN awards

Best actor in a play
Luke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Best actor in a musical
Simon Russell Beale, Privates on Parade

Best actress in a play
Kate O'Flynn, Lungs

Best actress in a musical
Carly Bawden, My Fair Lady

Best supporting actor in a play
Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night


Best supporting actor in a musical
Michael Xavier, Hello, Dolly!

Best supporting actress in a play
Niamh Cusack, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Best supporting actress in a musical
Clare Foster, Merrily We Roll Along

Best play
My Fair Lady

Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

I imagine Treadaway will be appearing in many award list, both of bloggers and more official awarding bodies, but sometimes the hype is just correct. It's all the more impressive given that the condition from which his protagonist suffers is never actually named, yet in his hands it doesn't matter a single jot as the play becomes about a journey through someone else's eyes, a uniquely different take on life and one which is a genuine pleasure to discover and watch. See it when it transfers.

Honourable mention: Rafe Spall, Constellations
Although my abiding memory of the play is weeping like a buffoon at the end, a close second is the proposal scene(s) in which Spall played and replayed a pre-prepared speech with varying degrees of success as far as the character was concerned, but always superbly affecting to watch and so very easy to connect with.  

Hugh Ross, A Life
Dominic Rowan, A Doll's House

7-10
Henry Goodman, Arturo Ui; Dominic West, The River; John Hodgkinson, A Walk-on Part; Iain Glen, Uncle Vanya

Best Actor in a Musical

Simon Russell Beale, Privates on Parade
I've already taken a bit of stick for this as we're in 'play with songs' territory but to my mind, Privates... is closer to a musical than a play, some of the songs are actually narrative-driven and it's my blog so my rules. In any case, this was the first time that I came close to actually seeing why people rate Russell Beale so much with a performance that felt essentially so very true in every single aspect.

Honourable mention: Mark Umbers, Merrily We Roll Along
An ineffably charming onstage presence, Umbers was perfectly cast as the central figure whose journey from appealing dreamer to jaded sell-out is the heart of the show and told in reverse, it provided the ideal showcase for his considerable acting skill alongside a powerful voice.

Richard Dempsey, Victor/Victoria
Julian Ovenden, Finding Neverland
Will Young, Cabaret
Dominic West, My Fair Lady

7-10
Michael Xavier, Wonderful Town; Pete Gallagher, A Winter's Tale; Stephen Ashfield, Boy Meets Boy; Craig Fletcher, Boy Meets Boy

Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical


Best Actress in a Play

Kate O'Flynn, Lungs
So much quality in this category this year and in some ways, this could have been shared between O'Flynn and Sally Hawkins as their performances shared a similar outstanding quality. But I think O'Flynn edged it slightly in Duncan MacMillan's new play for Paines Plough, seamlessly negotiating time-jumps, huge emotional leaps and complex theorising in a devastating portrayal of the life of a relationship. 

Honourable mention: Laurie Metcalf, Long Day's Journey Into Night
There was evidently a slight sense of hyperbole as I left the Apollo theatre - "I might go as far to say that Laurie Metcalf’s extraordinary performance as Mary Tyrone is one of the greatest feats of acting I think I’ve ever seen" - since she's come second. But it was still a remarkable thing to watch, staggering in its naturalism and heart-breaking in its fatalistic tragedy.

Hattie Morahan, A Doll's House
Helen McCrory, The Last of the Haussmans
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small
Sally Hawkins, Constellations

7-10
Lydia Wilson, 'Tis Pity She's A Whore; Linda Bassett, In Basildon; Billie Piper, The Effect; Monica Dolan, Chalet Lines

Best Actress in a Musical

Carly Bawden, My Fair Lady
Often I will know right then and there that someone will get one of these awards and as we got to the end of I Could Have Danced All Night, I knew that Bawden had this in the bag. An utterly gorgeous rendition of the song, "an understated exhalation of wonderment" that was truly special and made me want to sit right through it again right away. Fingers crossed for a London transfer.

Honourable mention: Janie Dee, Hello, Dolly!
In the face of previous perfomers who've taken on Dolly Levi and made me love her like no other, it was no mean feat for Janie Dee to take on the role and manage to do something else yet equally lovable. A greater note of melancholy rather than uproariousness made Dee infinitely moving and utterly compelling to watch.

Caroline O'Connor, Gypsy
Anna Francolini, Victor/Victoria
Rosalie Craig, Ragtime
Jenna Russell, Merrily We Roll Along

7-10
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Mack and Mabel; Gloria Onitiri, The Bodyguard; Rosalie Craig, Finding Neverland; Hannah Waddingham, Kiss Me Kate

Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical


Best Supporting Actor in a Play 

Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night
All the pre-show buzz about the Globe's Twelfth Night was around Mark Rylance's Olivia and Stephen Fry's Malvolio, perhaps unfairly so given its ensemble nature. But the breakout star was undoubtedly Paul Chahidi as Maria, a deliciously wry and finely-tuned comic performance that still ranks as one of the funniest things I saw all year.

Honourable mention: Charles Edwards, This House
If anyone can make you feel sympathy for a Tory politician, it was bound to be Charles Edwards. Bringing a gentlemanly honour that one can't really imagine existing in today's political classes, his performance stood out in a genuinely strong ensemble and the temptation to go and see it again once the show transfers to the Olivier is strong.

Robin Soans, Someone To What Over Me 
Cyril Nri, Julius Caesar
Olly Alexander, Mercury Fur

7-10
Kieran Bew, King Lear; Paul Ritter, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time; Jonathan Coy, The Magistrate; Tom Goodman-Hill, The Effect

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Michael Xavier, Hello, Dolly!
Another performer who had an excellent year, Xavier is becoming one of those actors who for me is a must-see in whatever he's in - this year I went to Milton Keynes and Leicester for him (Soho was less of a trek...) and as the endearingly goofy Cornelius in this, probably my most favourite of musicals, he made sure it was more than worth the effort.

Honourable mention: Damian Humbley, Merrily We Roll Along
In one of the most strongly cast musicals anywhere in recent years, the whole character ensemble of Merrily... were of exceptional quality and in perhaps one of the less showy roles in the show, Humbley more than made his mark with a sterling rendition of Franklin Shepherd Inc.

Alistair Brookshaw, A Winter's Tale
Stuart Matthew Price, Sweet Smell of Success
Ben Kavanagh, Boy Meets Boy
Oliver Boot, Finding Neverland

7-10
Stewart Wright, Swallows and Amazons; Anthony Calf, My Fair Lady; John Marquez, Ragtime; Adam Garcia, Kiss Me Kate

Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play 



Though Nicola Walker was excellent as the mother in this adaptation, it was Niamh Cusack who really shone for me. Her kindly teacher also doubled as a narrator of sorts and so it was her gorgeously warm tone that steered the audience into the wonderful world of this production, alive to the sensitivities of the situation but never once veering towards the condescending (unlike certain reviewers I could name).

Honourable mention: Laura Howard, Lost in Yonkers
One of those performances that caught me right in the heart from its opening moments and never let go throughout. Neil Simon's play can be described as a tragicomedy and whilst most of the audience were hooting with the comedy, I found myself weeping near-continuously as Howard depicted the simplicity and emotional openness of the always under-estimated Bella with huge skill.

Ruth Sheen, In Basildon
Fenella Woolgar, Hedda Gabler

7-10
Lucy Ellinson, The Trojan Women; Miranda Raison, The River; Laura Elphinstone, Chalet Lines; Anastasia Hille, The Effect

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Clare Foster, Merrily We Roll Along
Foster had a great year, impressing mightily in Finding Neverland at the Curve but it was as Beth in the Menier's Merrily We Roll Along that she solidified her credentials as a genuine favourite by giving a rendition of Not A Day Goes By that actually made me forget Bernadette Peters'. Truly special.

Honourable mention: Bonnie Langford, 9 to 5 The Musical
Langford figured strongly in my childhood as companion Mel in the first Doctor Whos I really remember watching and in Bugsy Malone too, so I can't believe it has taken this long for me to finally see on her stage. And what a debut it was, as as secretary Roz in 9 to 5 The Musical she effortlessly steals the show with a sensational number that displays all of her considerable skillset.

Josefina Gabrielle, Merrily We Roll Along
Debbie Kurup, The Bodyguard
Helena Blackman, A Winter's Tale
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Hello, Dolly!

7-10
Beverly Rudd, Soho Cinders; Siân Phillips, Cabaret; Lucy Van Gasse, Wonderful Town; Aimie Atkinson, Steel Pier

2012 - a gif-tastic review


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It’s the end of the year 
so now it is time to take stock for a life without year-end lists can hardly be a life worth living (I think it says that in the blogger handbook somewhere…) 


The 2012 fosterIAN nominations


I did it, I saw nearly 60 less plays than last year! Granted it only took me down from about 330 to about 270, but it is still progress. So here's an attempt to try and determine whose performances I enjoyed the most across the year - and those which have stuck in my mind - with the 2012 fosterIAN (fos-tîr'ē-ən) award nominations for acting this year.
(NB Eligibility is quite simple: if I saw this play/production for the first time this year, it went in the hat. So since I saw Sweeney Todd in 2011, it fell into last's year cohort.)

Best Actor in a Play
Billy Carter, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me
David  Suchet, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Rafe Spall, Constellations
Hugh Ross, A Life
Luke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Dominic Rowan, A Doll's House

Best Actress in a Play
Laurie Metcalf, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Helen McCrory, The Last of the Haussmans
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small
Hattie Morahan, A Doll's House
Sally Hawkins, Constellations
Kate O'Flynn, Lungs

Best Actor in a Musical
Richard Dempsey, Victor/Victoria
Simon Russell Beale, Privates on Parade
Julian Ovenden, Finding Neverland
Will Young, Cabaret
Dominic West, My Fair Lady
Mark Umbers, Merrily We Roll Along

Best Actress in a Musical
Caroline O'Connor, Gypsy
Janie Dee, Hello, Dolly!
Anna Francolini, Victor/Victoria
Rosalie Craig, Ragtime
Carly Bawden, My Fair Lady
Jenna Russell, Merrily We Roll Along

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Robin Soans, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me
Charles Edwards, This House
Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night 
Rory Kinnear, The Last of the Haussmans
Cyril Nri, Julius Caesar
Olly Alexander, Mercury Fur

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Ruth Sheen, In Basildon
Nicola Walker, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Niamh Cusack, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Laura Howard, Lost in Yonkers
Katie Brayben, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Fenella Woolgar, Hedda Gabler

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Alistair Brookshaw, A Winter's Tale
Stuart Matthew Price, Sweet Smell of Success
Ben Kavanagh, Boy Meets Boy
Oliver Boot, Finding Neverland
Michael Xavier, Hello, Dolly!
Damian Humbley, Merrily We Roll Along

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Josefina Gabrielle, Merrily We Roll Along
Bonnie Langford, 9 to 5 The Musical
Debbie Kurup, The Bodyguard
Clare Foster, Merrily We Roll Along
Helena Blackman, A Winter's Tale
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Hello, Dolly!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Review: Julius Caesar, Donmar Warehouse

“There is a tide in the affairs of men”

In a year when the Globe has gathered an all-male ensemble which has now made its way to the West End and Propeller continue their innovative range of productions, it perhaps apt that Phyllida Lloyd has turned to an all-female cast for her take on Julius Caesar for the Donmar Warehouse. The overarching conceit that she has adopted, and it is one that the production wears heavily at times, is that it is a play within a play, put on by inmates in a women’s prison, aided and abetted by wardens (or are they?) and so the power struggles within the jail population come to be replicated and challenged in the political struggles within the text. 

Perhaps as it should be, the most striking moments come from acting choices that have nothing to do with gender. A bluntly vicious Caesar, Frances Barber’s hoarsely croaked out “et tu…” is devastatingly affecting after the assassination is carried out in a rather unexpected manner and Cush Jumbo’s delivery of “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” is spun completely on its head as it opens under the most violent of circumstances, her Mark Antony is superbly played. And Jenny Jules and Harriet Walter as Cassius and Brutus are both blessed with the kind of emotive verse-speaking that breathes real life and explanatory motive between the text and the interpretation. 

Cast of Julius Caesar continued



Friday, 28 December 2012

TV Review: The Girl


“Blondes make the best victims”


Much of the Twitter buzz I noticed about the BBC drama The Girl was along the lines of ‘isn’t Sienna Miller a better actress than I thought she was’. Like Keira Knightley, the celebrity construct around her dominates public perception and frequently skews coverage of her performance, but I have always rather liked her as an actress, way back from when she starred with Helen McCrory in As You Like It. So I was keen to take in this TV programme looking at the difficult creative relationship between Miller’s Tippi Hedren and Toby Jones’ Alfred Hitchcock. 


Hitchcock plucked working model Hedren pretty much from obscurity and placed her in two of his finest films, The Birds and Marnie, but his demanding directorial style was particularly punishing on her as he worked out his own issues of sexual obsession and when she finally broke free, he made sure she didn’t work for another five years. Based on interviews with Hedren herself, it may be a biased account of events but it undoubtedly has the ring of some truth about it.


Thursday, 27 December 2012

TV Review: Loving Miss Hatto


“Young people make promises because they don’t know what life is like”


Housewife, 49 was one of the highlights of my TV viewing last Christmas, quite how I had missed it first time round I do not know and so once I saw that Victoria Wood had penned a new drama, Loving Miss Hatto, I was determined not to leave it quite so long this time round. Based on a story from the New Yorker on the strange but real-life case of classical music fraud around pianist Joyce Hatto, this was a beautifully modulated piece of drama with a light sweetness and just enough of the trademark Wood humour, interwoven with such melancholic depths of human tragedy.

Starting in the 1950s, we meet Joyce Hatto as a rehearsal pianist in whom self-described musical impresario William Barrington-Coupe (or Barrie for short) spotted much potential. But as something of a wideboy and of a conman, his dreams of moulding Joyce into a top-rank concert pianist never quite came to fruition, something exacerbated by her stage fright. The story then flicked forward to the 2000s where embittered by the frustrations of life, Joyce is now dying of cancer and unable to play. With the dawn of the digital age and in light of a flurry of interest in Hatto on a messageboard, Barrie hit upon the idea of satisfying the demand for recordings of her work by releasing a series of CDs. Only problem was, there were no recordings and Barrie was passing off other pianists’ work as his wife’s.


TV Review: The Town

“Apparently once death seems possible, the idea catches on”

One of the things about winding down the theatregoing at Christmas is being able to catch up on some of the television that I rarely have time to watch normally, and doing so at my parents’ house is particularly ace because of their awesome telly. First up for me was The Town, an ITV three-parter written by one of the hottest playwrights in the country Mike Bartlett. Upping the ante was a cast that included Julia McKenzie, Andrew Scott, Douglas Hodge and also Phil Davis and Siobhan Redmond.

I have long been a fan of Redmond so I was pleased to see the opening moments of the show devoted to her as her character went about the rituals at the end of her day including saying goodnight to her husband as played by Phil Davis. I was then gutted as this proved to be a great case of misdirection as they were both then found dead the next morning by their teenage daughter Jodie, never to be seen again. As their son Mark returns to bury them in this provincial town he left 10 years ago to move to London, the show then deals with the difficulties in returning to a less than lamented hometown, combined with the growing sense that the deaths – recorded as a joint suicide – are less clear-cut than the police would seem to think.

Cast of The Town continued



Wednesday, 26 December 2012

DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (1)


“If I’d known we were being invited to an orgy, I’d’ve stopped in Burnley”

This set of adaptations of six of The Canterbury Tales from 2003 make an interesting if baffling set of TV films. Taking inspiration from Chaucer’s writings and setting them in modern-day contexts, six different writers were chosen to try and find a happy medium between remaining true to the spirit of the originals and also making them accessible for a modern day audience not necessarily familiar with them. As I fall into that latter category (I’ve seen a theatrical adaptation but have never read them), my observations can only really thus reflect the tales as pieces of television in and of themselves rather than as the adaptations that they also are. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that disc 1 is significantly superior to disc 2.


First up was Peter Bowker’s take on The Miller’s Tale where Dennis Waterman’s publican runs his establishment with his attractive and much younger wife Alison. Played by Billie Piper, she lives for the weekly karaoke nights that she dominates and when a mysterious and charming stranger played by James Nesbitt arrives claiming to be a talent scout, her head is filled with promises of what could be. Nesbitt’s charisma serves him well as the silver-tongued Nick who schemes his way into the affections and purses of many around him, but this is a Piper still growing into her acting style and against Waterman’s dour husband, it never really grabbed me as a story.  


DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (2)


“I was meant to do the world a service”


Watching the 2003 adaptations of The Canterbury Tales may have gotten off to a shaky start on disc 1 but soon rallied to make the project seem a worthwhile one and so I tackled disc 2 with some gusto. Unfortunately these latter three stories also suffered from the same unevenness and ultimately threw up a big question about the efficacy of the whole thing. In Avie Luthra’s The Sea-Captain’s Tale, the story of a marriage in an Indian community gone sour gains a pungent power as Indira Varma’s manipulative Meena turns to her husband’s business partner when in something of a bind. She would have it that Om Puri’s older Jetender is an oppressive bully and that Nitin Ganatra’s Pushpinder is her only chance of happiness, but it is soon apparent that she will say and do anything to get her bills paid, her urges satisfied and her selfishness sated. It has a film noir-ish tendency which works well and Varma is always eminently watchable.

The Pardoner’s Tale, retooled by Tony Grounds, is much less successful though. An unwieldy tale of three ne’er-do-wells and their conman ways in a town that is reeling from the impact of a potential serial killer as another teenage girl disappears. As parents and friends intensify their search, the men plot ways to scam money for themselves and as a young woman falls into their circle, the two plot strands ostensibly weave closer. But it is clumsily done, the denouement an unsubtle hammer blow and the elements of the story far too disparate – Jonny Lee Miller as the lead character is vaguely interesting, but not enough to save it.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Review: Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Lowry

“Just like the ones I used to know”

My last show before Christmas was a festive trip to the Lowry which maintained a long-running family tradition of being treated to a show by Aunty Jean just before the big day. This year saw us take in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas which has returned to the Lowry after a highly successful run a couple of years ago. I would have loved to have seen original stars Aled Jones and Adam Cooper return too, but this still made an engaging, if undemanding, frolic through the snow.

Based on the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, it has one of those plots it is best not to think about too much. Its premise is quite a sweet one: two ex-servicemen form a musical double act and as they find themselves chasing romance with a pair of singing sisters, end up in the Vermont hotel that belongs to their former Commanding Officer and whose future is in doubt due to a lack of snow. The only way to save the day is to…you’ve guessed it, put on a show!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

"There is joy in the air so begone with dull care"

There’s always something of a delicious pleasure in being able to revisit much loved productions and so it proved with Tête à Tête’s production of Salad Days which proved to be a slow-burning but considerable success at the Riverside Studios two winters ago. The Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds penned musical is a true old-school English classic, highly tuneful (even if you don’t know any of the songs before you go in, I guarantee you’ll be able to hum at least of three of them as you leave) and somewhat barmy in its daffy plotting which takes one of the most unexpected turns I think I’ve ever seen in a show.

But what makes it soar into musical theatre heaven is the entirely straight bat with which Bill Bankes-Jones directs the whole affair. There’s not a drop of cynicism to be found in this Hammersmith studio, from the cheery earnestness of Timothy and Jane, its leading couple who leave university to find love through a magic piano (I did say it was daffy) to Quinny Sacks’ wonderfully effervescent (and inclusive) choreography to the joy of hearing such a large ensemble singing entirely unmiked. It is simply just joyous.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Review: Crazy For You, Upstairs at the Gatehouse


 “I've just got a feeling, tonight's the night!"


Much of the attention on London fringe musicals goes to the pocket powerhouses south of the river like the Union and the Landor but some of the most exciting productions are to be found above a pub in Highgate. Under John and Katie Plews’ artistic directorship, they have regularly secured the rights to host the first London fringe productions of such massive shows like Buddy and Guys and Dolls and have done so to great acclaim. And they’ve done it once again by putting on the fringe premiere of Gershwin songbook musical Crazy For You, last seen here at the Open Air Theatre and then the West End.

Although based on the Gershwin production Girl Crazy, this is a relatively new show that was reconceived to feature more gems from the Gershwin back catalogue. Ken Ludwig’s book is a frothily light thing, a boy and a girl from different worlds fall for each other even though his family bank is about to close down her family business, including a theatre, and the only way to save the day and any chance of love is to put on a show. It’s silly but charming, wit and warmth are the order of the day and John Plews’ production never loses sight of that.


Radio Review: Austerlitz, Radio 3

“We talked about how memory deals or doesn’t deal with what is intolerable”

WG Sebald’s novel Austerlitz is a simply astounding piece of writing so I knew that I would have to make time in the busy Christmas schedule to listen to Michael Butt’s adaptation for Radio 3, even if it isn’t necessarily the most festive of fare. An emotive tale of repressed memories and how the echoes of an unresolved past can ripple out throughout an entire lifetime.

The story is based around a series of meetings between the narrator and a man named Austerlitz. From the waiting room in Antwerp station to London hotels and Parisian cafés, a relationship grows between the two men as the narrator gradually teases out the long-buried story of Austerlitz’s past which, as he was born into a Czechoslovakian Jewish family in the 1930s, is intrinsically entwined with the Holocaust, an event his mother saved him from by having him transported to the UK where he was adopted by a Welsh family and given a whole new identity.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Review: The Dance of Death, Donmar at Trafalgar Studios 2

“I knew you’d pull that sausage out of the sack”

The Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios 2 continues to showcase the work of new directors and now sees Titas Halder taking on the 1900 Strindberg play The Dance of Death, in a new version by Conor McPherson. Edgar and Alice are fast approaching their 25th wedding anniversary but their marriage has grown toxic. On the isolated Swedish island where they reside, life in a cloistered military garrison has turned them in on each other - the 15 years younger Alice bemoans the acting career she left behind, Edgar’s health is failing dramatically and yet they still persist in clashing their embittered selves right up against each other. 

Richard Kent’s set design works very well at making the already intimate Trafalgar Studios 2 space even more claustrophobic and visibly demonstrates the decay of the physical environment of this couple, right alongside their mutual emotional neglect. But where the psychodrama of this story frequently calls to mind Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it never really mines similar tragicomic depths. Halder’s production of McPherson’s new version has a keen eye for the desperate comedy of the situation but consequently leaves it a little unbalanced.

Review: Honk!, Tabard


“Did you leave him in the egg too long?”


Two years ago, the Tabard Theatre revived Stiles and Drewe’s Just So for their festive show and it is to these composers that they return in 2012 with this production of Honk! A musical adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Ugly Duckling, it follows the fortunes of a duckling, cruelly nicknamed Ugly by all around him save his mother, who looks different to the other ducks in the yard. When he ends up lost, frightened and alone, he is forced to make a personal odyssey but even as he is constantly threatened by a voracious cat and scary big humans, he also finds that there’s a big wide world outside of the barnyard where others are not quite so quick to judge.

The score is one of Stiles and Drewe’s most accomplished and lyrically, it has a deceptive simplicity which allows for layers of interpretation making it an ideal family show. Joe Sterling’s nerdish Ugly goes on a powerful journey of self-discovery - characterised by moving renditions of songs like Different and Lost - even before his revelatory transformation; Kathryn Rutherford’s compassionate Ida is a beautiful study in maternal determination; and even in the unlikely pairing of a cat and a chicken as flatmates, there’s a lovely message of tolerance, especially when it is performed with such show-stealing verve as by Kate Scott and Lydia Grant.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Review: My Fair Lady, Crucible

“Men are so decent, such regular chaps”

‘Tis a truth that ought to be universally acknowledged that some of the best musicals in Britain are being produced outside of London. Places like Chichester Festival Theatre and Leicester Curve are regularly coming up with the goods, but one of the most reliable of regional theatres has been Sheffield’s Crucible and under Daniel Evans’ stewardship, their Christmas shows have become absolute must-sees. Last year’s Company was sensational, the year before Me and My Girl blew me away and this year, Lerner and Loewe’s all-time classic My Fair Lady gets a long awaited revival and it is a show I have never seen before on stage.

One of the lovely things about seeing well-known songs in their original context is that it can refocus the lyrical meaning. For me this was most apparent in the utterly gorgeous rendition of 'I Could Have Danced All Night' by Carly Bawden - rather than the grand set-piece I think I was expecting, it’s an understated exhalation of wonderment at the evening just passed and Bawden is gorgeous in it. The large-scale numbers do come though: 'Get Me To The Church On Time' is delivered with the highly charismatic Martyn Ellis at the front and soon turns into a cracking fest of tap-dancing; 'With A Little Bit of Luck' has a subtler but no less impressive appeal; and 'Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’s' hopeful charm had me at ‘ello.

Cast of My Fair Lady continued



Sunday, 16 December 2012

Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre


"Do you still remember, how we used to be..."

Producer Judy Craymer reinvigorated a whole new theatrical genre when she masterminded the ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! to huge box-office success, and so proved the natural choice to steer a show featuring the back catalogue of the Spice Girls and a script by Jennifer Saunders into the West End. The resulting show – Viva Forever – is a story of a young woman who is forced to ditch her bandmates in pursuit of her reality show dreams, the mentor who is determined to exploit her in order to secure her own media career and her mother who is on hand to make sure she never forgets who she is. But it is one that doesn’t quite so much fill the Piccadilly Theatre with girl power as a sense of what might have been.

Crucially, the discography isn’t always sufficient for the task in hand of a jukebox musical. Delving into some of the lesser-known works of the Spice Girls isn’t as much as a problem (though front-loading them so is a curious choice as we have to wait a while for a stone-cold hit) as the way in which the lyrical content has to be shoehorned in, resulting in some awkward fits – Say You’ll Be There suffers particularly here. But equally, there are moments that do work. The act 1 closer weaves together Goodbye, Mama and Headlines in a rather stirringly affecting manner as the three women reach crucial points in their journey; Spice Up Your Life becomes a dazzling fiesta of a Spanish street festival; and the titular Viva Forever is recast as a tenderly intimate acoustic ballad.


Cast of Viva Forever continued



Cast of Viva Forever continued



Review: Once Upon A Mattress, Union Theatre


“Flip your skirt, open, close…”

The Union Theatre’s festive show is this little US curiosity from 1959, Once Upon A Mattress. It’s a playful riff on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Princess and the Pea and its endearing silliness and the high campery of Kirk Jameson’s production makes it a whole bundle of festive fun. Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer’s book purports to tell an alternative version of events which sees Queen Aggravain come up with ever more difficult tasks for princesses to pass in order to win the hand of her beloved son Prince Dauntless. But when the unreconstructed Princess Winifred – a princess from the swamps – wins the heart of mummy’s boy Dauntless, the queen has to devise the hardest test possible.


Jamieson makes great use of his ensemble as courtiers constantly watching the action and so always on hand to sing and dance their way attractively through a range of random numbers. Mary Rodgers’ score really isn’t too memorable but Racky Plews’ choreography is so eye-poppingly vibrant that it almost doesn’t matter. The group scenes thus spark happily into life, none more so than in the dizzying routine of Spanish Panic which is witty as well as impressive. 


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, New Wimbledon Theatre

'New Zealand “Neighbours” would' be just two blokes in a field saying “where is everyone?”' 

I’ve pretty much decided to eschew pantomimes this year, not for any particular dislike of the form but rather in a month where I’m trying to fit in something of a social life alongside the theatre, something has to give. But when I was offered the chance to be someone else’s plus one for once for the New Wimbledon panto, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, I couldn’t resist just the one trip to festive frolics. The big name here this year is Priscilla Presley, making her stage debut at the age of 67, who takes on the role of the wicked queen Morgiana, determined to hold onto her title as the fairest in the land. 

After an impressive entrance, Presley’s opening scene left me holding my breath a little as the rhyming verse seemed to strangle any sense of personality and came across as a little stiff. But she soon warmed up beautifully and really got into the mood – vamping around the stage to tunes like 'One Way or Another' and 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)', playing up to the audience’s boos and ripping her way hilariously through a script full of references that must have flown over her head – some pronunciations were amusingly awry and her quizzically hesitant delivery of ‘…Olly Murs?’ made a mildly amusing joke into a classic, but it is great to see such a star throwing themselves whole-heartedly into the task at hand. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Review: Hansel and Gretel, National Theatre


"NEVER sit on the confabulator"

Once again, the National Theatre turn to Katie Mitchell to create their festive show and with frequent collaborator Lucy Kirkwood, who wrote and co-devised here, this year sees Hansel and Gretel receive their inimitable treatment. As one would expect from Mitchell, this is an extremely playful and creative take on the tale which starts off with the Brothers Grimm as a vaudevillian double act hunting for elusive stories in the depths of the mysterious Black Forest. When they finally catch one, they pop it into their special confabulating machine and the result is this bewitching production.

Aimed at 7-10 year olds, this is necessarily a rather straight-forward telling of the fairytale of the young brother and sister who are the victims of a vindictive stepmother, abandoned in the forest and left to fend for themselves. They think their dreams have come true when they find refuge in a house constructed of gingerbread and sweets owned by an old lady, but it soon turns out that they pretty much gone from the frying pan and into the fire. But the story has been enhanced: there are additional characters like a euphonium-playing bat called Stuart and a Russian kitchen slave literally chained to the stove, songs by Paul Clark are sprinkled through the narrative and there’s also some sprinkling of a more festive variety.

Review: In the Republic of Happiness, Royal Court

“Go into a theatre and there would be whatever…"

Martin Crimp’s new play for the Royal Court is likely to become as divisive a work as we have seen this year if initial responses are anything to go by. Subtitled a ‘three part entertainment’, In the Republic of Happiness starts off rather traditionally as an invective-filled Christmas dinner potboiler, which then shifts entirely into a freeform confessional exploration of modern society’s preoccupations and then lastly into a two-hander of strange intensity as two of the first scene’s characters returns. And there’s songs, lots and lots of songs from Roald van Oosten. It’s a rum mixture to be sure but it has a heady, intoxicating power which is quite unlike anything else in London’s theatres at the moment.

The unconventional nature of the show means that will undoubtedly provoke strong reactions – our performance saw about a half a dozen walkouts and friends declare it the worst thing they had ever seen as we stumbled out into the bar and already, amusing reviews have popped up from other bloggers such as Sans Taste’s skewering of the dialogue here. But in some ways it’s a shame to go for the easy laugh (as well written as it is) as he doesn’t engage with what Crimp is actually doing. Much of the play is deliberately non-naturalistic, the contrast thrown into especially stark relief given the opening scene and in its layered density, constant interplay and poetic echoes requires perhaps a little more consideration and reflection than a kneejerk reaction will allow.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Review: The Shawl, Young Vic


“You’re not prepared to live life without mystery”

This production of David Mamet’s The Shawl is a little bit of a curiosity which has popped up at the Young Vic’s Clare studio for a brief 10 day run. Directed by the 2012 Genesis Future Director’s Award winner Ben Kidd, it is only a short play - coming in at just under an hour - but one which is slinkily persuasive in its portrayal of a conman who may or may not have psychic powers and it is given a rather interesting production here, full of great ideas.


The first – which is sadly under-developed – is that the audience are all spirits watching the events of the play. Small video screens are mounted on the walls and occasionally show cctv footage of the characters outside but when they move into the main room, they are alone – the chairs on which we sit are all shown to be empty. It is a wonderfully striking image but one which passed by very quickly and was never really touched on, indeed the screens were used rather sparingly throughout which felt like an opportunity that could have been somehow pushed further.


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Review: Cul-de-Sac, Theatre503

“We don’t let just anyone live here”

Whether it’s Wisteria Lane or pampas grass out the front, secret goings-on in the suburbs have long been the subject of fascination and stand-up comedian Matthew Osborn is no exception with his debut play Cul-de-Sac, first seen in Edinburgh in 2011 and now running for a month at Battersea’s Theatre503. But where the most recognisable reference point might be The Stepford Wives, Osborn flips his focus onto the husbands of suburbia to examine the impact of strange events from a different angle. 

Portly, middle-aged Tim moves into a respectable cul-de-sac in some unidentified corner of middle England with his wife and teenage daughter for a discreetly uneventful way of life. But from the very first meeting with his neighbour Nigel, brandishing an ominous-looking bin bag, it is clear there is a price to be paid for the quiet life. Certain standards are rigorously upheld to keep the eerie calm of the street in place but more than that, everyone seems to be in thrall to unseen kingpin Tony Devereux. 

Review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre


“How many sorts of people there are”

Well what an unexpected thing Privates on Parade turned out to be. Not knowing anything about it in advance meant it was full of surprises: the ‘play with songs’ moniker shouldn’t disguise the fact that it is closer to a musical than a play, and it very much needs to be treated as the period piece that it is. On the face of it, its ribald campery and racial stereotyping could be something of an affront, a relic of an old-fashioned past with old-fashioned attitudes, but to merely dismiss it as dated and offensive is to miss the wider points of Peter Nichols’ 1977 play and the nuances of Michael Grandage’s production, first seen at the Donmar in 2001.(FYI: this was a preview performance.)

The play opens the Michael Grandage residency at the Noël Coward theatre, a season of five star-studded plays – Simon Russell Beale is the marquee name here - with a new pricing model aiming for greater affordability for drama in the West End. It’s set in the fictional Song and Dance Unit South East Asia (SADUESA), a British army entertainment corps stationed there at the time of the Malayan Emergency in the aftermath of the Second World War, and follows this troupe of military entertainers as they tour their act through the hostile jungle of the Malayan peninsula. So against the near-oblivious flamboyance of the Marlene Dietrich covers, cabaret turns and jaunty full ensemble numbers, is a backdrop of long-simmering native discontent and explosive violence for which they are ill-prepared.