Archive for November, 2013

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Broadly defined as a prominent group of people who follow hedonistic lifestyles, perhaps known as Bohemian in English or Demimonde in French, Habwelt is used here to describe a group of seven women living in Berlin during the Weimar Republic of the 1920s to early 30s and, as a postscript, during the Third Reich through to the outbreak of World War II. They are performers, writers and political activists. This piece of musical entertainment, running for around 80 minutes, is divided into seven sections, each showcasing one of these extraordinary characters. Of course, as the show makes clear, these women and other similar groups were already heading for a full-on collision with Hitler’s Nazis, who would regard them as depraved and seek their destruction. Berlin during this period is very familiar from the writings of Christopher Isherwood, adapted for the musical Cabaret. The influence of the director/choreographer of the film version of that show, Bob Fosse, is clear in the look of this show and in the style of the dance routines. We enter the theatre with the seven ladies already on stage, wearing only short petticoats and black stockings, as they will do for most of the evening. They include the Communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg (Alma Fournier-Carballo), dancer Anita Berber (Samantha Clark) and cabaret performer Blandine Ebinger (Stephanie Hampton). The most internationally famous of the seven, Marlene Dietrich (Sarah Bradnum) sings the familiar Honeysuckle Rose and Falling in Love Again, but most of the other songs, all from the 20s and 30s are rarely heard in this country. Their music and lyrics are of a very high quality, beginning with the chorus number Kick Out All the Men (from the Reichstag etc), written by Friedrich Hollaender, which establishes the bold political and feminist tone. Hollaender also contributes the stunning Liar Liar, heard later in the show. A strong lesbian theme runs throughout, which is exemplified by the anthemic Lavender Song (we’re not afraid to be queer and different…”) written by Mischa Spoliansky, as is When the Special Girlfriend, beautifully sung by Gabriella Schmidt, playing the cross- dresser Claire Waldoff. Other songs, varying widely in styles and moods, come from Hanns Eisler/Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. There is serious quality here and lovers of musical theatre may find it worth more than double the ticket price just to hear these rarities performed live and performed so well. Making up the performers are Alyssa Noble (also the show’s choreographer) and Julia Cugini. Here we have seven exceptionally talented young singers/dancers/actresses, performing superbly both as individuals and as a company. A five piece band accompanies the singers, with Peter Mitchell as musical director. Several excellent dance sequences include a chorus line tap routine and director Patrick Kennedy along with his choreographer work a small miracle in achieving so much in this tiny space. The links between the musical numbers are intelligent, informative and, occasionally, extremely moving, evoking the feel of the era perfectly and the sense of helplessness in the face of the on-rushing storm. The show ends leaving us wanting more and there is obvious scope for developing it further, incorporating a fully-formed book. In the meantime, it is already a small gem.

thepublicreview_hor_web copy

 

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Welcome aboard for the maiden voyage of the state of the art ocean liner Death Ship 666 as it sets sail for the Bermuda Triangle! Maybe James Horner’s theme from Titanic is not the most reassuring background music as we set sail, but not to worry, this ship has exterior radiators to melt any threatening icebergs. We have had Titanic the movies(s), the television series, the musical, so now the pantomime? Well not quite, but only because there is no dame. We are treated to a non- stop bombardment of verbal and visual gags, a pastiche of James Cameron’s film, with touches also of The Poseidon Adventure. The passengers and crew are all played by Michael Patrick Clarkson, Carrie Marx, Anna Morris, Mattias Penman, Rachel Parris and Andrew Utley. They raise the art of quick costume changes to a new level. This is an evening of undiluted silliness, the style of which seems to be to deliver the jokes so rapidly one after the other that the audience will not have time to reflect on how dreadful most of them are. The show has no foothold in the real world, no depth and no subtlety, making it difficult for it to sustain its appeal over a long period and, inevitably, it outstays its welcome long before the end of its 75 minutes running time, 25% longer than when it ran in Edinburgh. It does not benefit from being stretched out or, more likely, padded. The show’s main assets are its six performers, who demonstrate a youthful zest and enthusiasm that is infectious. It is impossible not to like them even at points when their material is sagging. They even treat us to a song. As the water levels are rising around them, they sing Ten Minutes More to the melody of One Day More from Les Miserables. Another plus is that the show is almost completely free of smut, making it suitable for all ages. Much of Death Ship 666 has the feel of a student revue and, judged as such, it would probably rate quite well. Whether it cuts it as a professional production for this venue must be questionable, but it is harmless fun anyway.

thepublicreview_hor_web copy

After The Light Princess, this is the second successive production in the Lyttelton which begs the question as to whether the source material is really worth the enormous resources that the National has poured into it. Every inch of the width, depth and height of this huge stage is used for a production in which sets revolve, descend, collapse, ascend and move sideways. This is always inventive, often eye-catching and occasionally breathtaking: sometimes there is so much going on that it is difficult to know what we are supposed to be looking at, still less to concentrate on the play. This German expressionist drama by Georg Kaiser, dating from the early years of the 20th Century, is a very odd affair indeed. It deals with a lowly bank teller (played at this performance by Jack Tarlton) who abandons his post and his life of boring drudgery to abscond with a fortune, only to discover that there is nothing worthwhile for him to spend it on. As the title suggests, the action all takes place over the course of one day. The first half of the drama often resembles an absurdist comedy and Melly Still’s direction, incorporating mime and dance movement devised by the company, usually comes up with something imaginative or amusing to see us through the dull patches. Unfortunately, in the second half, a production that was always precariously balanced, topples over and becomes completely bogged down with social, economic and moral messages, all of which seem naive, dated and very obvious. So, the staging is spectacular and the acting is generally good, making the show intermittently entertaining but, ultimately, it is a ridiculously bloated production of a very small play which might have been seen in a better light if it had been staged on a smaller scale.

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Discarding their masks and without a chandelier in sight, three actor/singers with one role in common lead us through this sampler box of musical theatre delights. Matthew Cammelle, Stephen John Davis and Glyn Kerslake have all, at some stage, played the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. They are joined by Rebecca Caine, herself once Christine in Phantom, and accompanying singers. The songs are taken from stage musicals, although they include some, such as Unchained Melody, which have been drafted onto musicals but do not originate from them. Very familiar songs like I Am What I Am from La Cage Aux Folles and I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady are mixed with obscure ones such as Into the Fire from The Scarlet Pimpernel, never seen the UK. Caine’s rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s No One is Alone from Into the Woods is truly memorable and, over the course of the evening, we dip into shows as diverse as The Boys from Syracuse and Jersey Boys, The King and I and The Book of Mormon. London is soon to be reminded how good the score for Miss Saigon is and here we get a foretaste, together with a reminder of the ill-fated Martin Guerre. In fact, although this show’s title nods towards Lloyd Webber, there is much more Boubil and Schonberg in its content. The first half climaxes with a medley of familiar songs from Les Miserables, beginning with a superb a cappella version of I Dreamed a Dream and ending with the rousing One Day More, which, it seems, always needs to be followed by an interval. The second half is more of the same mixture and it is not until near the end that we hear anything from Phantom itself, preceded by songs from two other less famous musical adaptations of the story by Ken Hill and Maury Yeston and then from Lloyd Webber’s own sequel Love Never Dies. Our Phantoms do not get round to the song most associated with their common role, Music of the Night, until the encore, when they join forces to perform it. The back screen of the set is filled with twinkling stars, but this is a show without star names. This makes it a heartening celebration of the strength and depth of talent working in British musical theatre. Long after stars like Crawford and Brightman have flown to their next projects, it is guys like these who keep shows fresh, maintaining the standards set by the original casts. The songs are performed accompanied only by piano, cello and backing singers and Anthony Gabriele’s arrangements are tip-top. Less successful are the attempts at comedy, in which all the performers tell anecdotes and jokes. This becomes rather tiresome after a while, but it is only a very minor quibble. All in all, this is an enchanting evening.

thepublicreview_hor_web copy

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

So well known is Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella that its title characters have become part of our everyday English language. This gripping and sometimes terrifying one hour monologue is an adaptation of the novella by James Hyland, who also performs it. It approaches the story from a very different angle and connects it neatly to real life events. Dr Jekyll – pronounced Gee-kyll (be careful not to upset this man) – is seen lecturing the sceptical members of the Royal Society of Surgeons about his pioneering work in exploring split personalities. His belief is that all humans consist of both good and evil, which can be separated by chemical inducements. He tells the Society the story of how, having taken such a chemical, he came across a man called Mr Hyde and followed him to Whitechapel, witnessing him commit the horrific murder of a prostitute. Returning home, he looked into a mirror and the face that he saw was Hyde’s and not his own. The theory that a fictional character from a work published in 1886 could be connected to the series of real murders by Jack the Ripper that began in 1888 would not, of course, stand up to scrutiny. However, Hyland is conjecturing that a form of schizophrenia could have explained the Ripper’s actions and that his ability to submerge his evil side into his good one is a reason why he escaped detection. Hyland then takes this one step further by pointing the finger at the Duke of Clarence, a grandson of Queen Victoria and a real suspect in the Ripper case. None of this is particularly faithful to Stevenson, but completely faithful is the sense of fear generated by Hyland’s commanding performance. Bearded and dressed in Victorian costume, he uses only a lectern as his prop and his connection with the audience is instant. In the opening stages, he appears to be a rational scientist, but occasionally and then increasingly, signs of rage and madness appear as Hyde begins to emerge. Then, in full flow as Hyde, he resembles firstly Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo; he snaps like a mad dog, howls like a werewolf; and finally, as he devours a victim’s liver washed down with a glass of wine, he is Hannibal Lecter, thereby cleverly completing a bridge between generations of fictional monsters. When Jekyll/Hyde wields a dagger around the room as he concludes his lecture, every member of the audience quivers in terror. This play is not recommended for anyone who needs a good night’s sleep.

thepublicreview_hor_web copy

 

photo-83Soho in the late 1950s conjures fascinating images. Post War austerity was coming to an end, the Swinging Sixties were soon to begin. British society was on the cusp of monumental change and it was the era of Rock and Roll. An area of little more than a square mile in London’s West End became a vibrant melting pot where forbidden fruits could be tasted and where politicians and film stars mingled with notorious gangsters and small time crooks who had drifted over from the East End. Jez Butterworth’s vicious black comedy, first performed in 1995, is set in a seedy Dean Street music club in 1958, amidst a gangland feud between the club’s owner and a rival (neither ever appears) over the right to manage a promising Elvis clone (Tom Rhys Harries). The club’s manager (Brendan Coyle) and four staff are the main characters. Daniel Mays gives an utterly hilarious performance as the panic-stricken Sid and forms a splendid comedy double act with the unlikeliest of partners, Rupert Grint (aka Ron Weasley) as the dim-witted Sweets. Casting against type also works brilliantly with Ben Whishaw as the psychotic Baby, son of the owner, who is always menacing whether wielding a sword or five toffee apples. He is engaged in a violent feud with the sycophantic Skinny (Colin Morgan, tv’s Merlin). This is a tip-top cast that, under Ian Rickson’s direction, gives the razor sharp dialogue the rapid fire delivery and precision timing that it needs. It is hard to imagine that this play, a minor classic of modern British theatre, could ever be performed better.

With Richard Eyre’s current Almeida production of Henrik’s Ibsen’s great play already gathering awards and scheduled for a transfer to the West End, 2013  is certainly a good year for “Ghosts”. This version by English Touring Theatre, which started life at the Rose Theatre Kingston, carried with it lower expectations, but it manages to exceed them with some comfort. Like Eyre, the director Stephen Unwin has translated the play himself. However, whilst Eyre’s production ran for an uninterrupted 90 minutes, this one is 45 minutes longer, including an interval. Although it cannot match the sharpness of focus and intensity achieved by Eyre, the more languid pace has its own compensations and the play remains absorbing throughout. A big attraction is the replication of a set designed by Edvard Munch for a 1906 production of this play and not used since. It is a magnificent creation, with just a chaise longue, a table and a few chairs occupying a large room, surrounded by stone walls that are decorated only with a portrait of the dead Alving hanging over a fireplace in which a log fire burns; most impressive is a back screen on which dark grey clouds float by throughout the first two acts and, during the final act, the sun rises from behind distant mountains. Although there are no star names here, the production is well cast and the acting is solid throughout. Kelly Hunter as Helen Alving and Patrick Drury as Manders both do well, but Mark Quartley is outstanding, capturing perfectly the confusion and vulnerability of the stricken Osvald. This is an excellent production which does not deserve to be overshadowed completely by its higher profile rival.