Archive for April, 2014

L-R-Ben-Lewis-Tara-Hugo-Matt-Wilman-and-Julie-Atherton-in-THÉRÈSE-RAQUIN.-Photo-Credit-Darren-BellTreading the path laid down by Stephen Sondheim with Passion and moving further along it, Nona Shepphard (book and lyrics) and Craig Adams (music) have created a remarkable new work of musical theatre. It is an adaptation of Emile Zola’s novel set in late 19th Century Paris in which the eponymous heroine is trapped in a loveless marriage and embarks on a tempestuous affair with Laurent, her husband’s friend. The show is almost sung-through to the accompaniment only of a single piano and harmonising choruses, the lyrics translating Zola’s prose beautifully and matching the rich, melodic score to perfection. As is often said of Sondheim, the words sing and the music speaks. Laura Cordery’s adaptable set of a small shop and living quarters is an object lesson in how to make maximum use of a tiny space. In the title role, Julie Atherton is a silent prisoner for the first 45 minutes, exuding suppressed passion, but then explodes to life when her lover releases her. As Laurent, Ben Lewis is beefy, brooding and dangerous, whilst Jeremy Legat makes an irksome Camille, Therese’s weak and sickly husband. Also outstanding is Tara Hugo as Camille’s controlling mother. The show’s failing is much the same as that of Passion in that there is too little variation in tone, so that the air of prevalent gloom begins to wear too heavy over the course of two hours and this failing could well impair the show’s popular appeal. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if it can be developed further, maybe for a larger venue and with a full orchestra. The potential is certainly there.

Performance date: 3 April 2014

two into oneMaybe due to broadening of minds and shifts in the balance of sexual politics, old-fashioned farces are a bit of a rarity these days. Writer Ray Cooney is a veteran of the Brian Rix era at the Whitehall and the 1984 West End run of this play had actors of the calibre of Donald Sinden and Michael Williams in leading roles. So, dated it may be, but not without merit and much of Cooney’s writing provides a masterclass in the mechanics of farce. As usual, the Menier seems to take the view that, if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well and they have duly delivered a sparkling production, with a superb set and a cast of seasoned comedy performers whose timing is perfection. The plot concerns Richard Willey (a Tory minister naturally), played by Michael Praed, and his shenanigans in adjacent rooms of a Westminster hotel, involving his wife (Josefina Gabrielle), his mistress (Kelly Adams) and his Parliamentary Private Secretary (Nick Wilton). As is usual with such farces, the evening is a mixture of giggles, guffaws and yawns, but, happily, the latter are in relatively short supply. The icing on the cake is an appearance by Cooney himself (now 81), jigging and even falling over, as the Waiter. Taking his bows, he looks genuinely pleased with the production and so he should be.

Performance date: 2 April 2014