Archive for November, 2014

Here_Lies_Love_poster_notitleHaving the audacity to turn the hallowed ground that was the Cottesloe into a 1970s-style discotheque, the National has launched its re-named smallest theatre with a spectacular sung-through take on Philippine politics. Well, Argentina has already been covered, so why not? The only major difference between Evita and Imelda Marcos, this show’s subject, is that the former had the good fortune to die young and remain worshipped by her people, whilst the latter lived on in exile, widely loathed. Beginning life as a poor country girl, we see Imelda win a beauty contest and marry Ferdinand Marcos, a rising star of politics who wins the Philippine Presidency on a platform of reform. Accepting her husband’s infidelity, she becomes feted by World leaders and royalty and, when he becomes ill, she effectively takes over control of the country. The show depicts her as becoming a pill-popping, glamour-seeking fashion icon, but, surprisingly, overlooks her fondness for hoarding shoes. As Imelda, Natalie Mendoza handles all the transitions impressively, leading a high energy all singing, all dancing company of 22. The music and lyrics by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, all in the disco style and mostly up-tempo, fit the occasion well and drive the story, but only the title song lingers in the head afterwards and that could be because it is reprised at the end. If performed in a conventional theatre, this might not be much of a show at all, but it is elevated by a brilliant, technically elaborate and highly original production. Some of the audience is seated on balconies, but most of us are standing on the dance floor, which has a stage at both ends and moveable stages between them. We are ushered around, encouraged to clap and dance (a little), mingling with the performers, shaking the hands of election candidates and forming part of the crowd that forces the peaceful 1986 revolution. Colourful and vibrant, this is a great fun evening.

Performance date: 4 November 2014

johnConceived and directed by Lloyd Newson for his DV8 Physical Theatre Company, this fusion of spoken word and modern dance creates a truly extraordinary experience. The words are taken verbatim from interviews with real life characters and the dance interprets individual  emotions and the connections between two or more characters. Sometimes smooth flowing, sometimes jerky and edgy, the movement that we see on stage merges seamlessly with the stories that we are being told. Much credit for making this work so effectively must go to Anna Fleischle’s wonderful, adaptable set, which revolves (sometimes constantly) to reveal expansive areas, small rooms, narrow corridors and darkened corners, the flow of the set often heightening the dramatic impact of the movement by the performers. The show runs for 75 minutes without an interval, but it has two very distinct sections: the first is based on interviews with John (performed by Andi Xhuma), telling of his life as part of the social underclass from childhood to early middle age – a life of social housing, state benefits, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, imprisonment, countless women, irresponsible parenthood and many bereavements, but also of success in the form of a University degree gained with honours. For the second section, the primary interviewees are the two owners of a gay sauna who tell, sometimes with considerable humour, of the day-to-day running of their business and of their clients, who include John. Both of the sections work equally well, but they are completely different in tone and content, making it feel for a time that they do not gel with each other; however, when they eventually come together, the emotional impact is shattering. This show is vivid, raw, brutal, life-affirming and totally unique,

Performance date: 3 November 2014

Girlfriends*** (Union Theatre)

Posted: November 1, 2014 in Theatre

girlfriendsThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

Howard Goodall’s musical first hit the West End in October 1987 with an opening night that coincided with the great hurricane, but it has not kicked up much of a storm since. However, this is the second London revival at a fringe venue in just over three years, perhaps indicating that it is much more suited to small productions than to the big stage. Set in Britain during the early stages of World War II, the show centres on a group of young women from all social backgrounds and all regions of the country who join up to the WAAFs to play their part in the war effort only to find themselves folding parachutes, making tea for their male counterparts in the RAF and waiting anxiously for planes to return safely from their missions. Much of this follows a familiar path, to be exact Terence Rattigan’s Fare Path of which it sometimes feels a pale imitation, but the writers spice things up with a love triangle involving two best friends (Corrine Priest and Perry Lambert, both giving endearing performances) and a bomber pilot (Tom Sterling). Surprisingly in view of the involvement of Richard Curtis with the original book from which Goodall’s current version has evolved, there is very little humour either in the script or the lyrics and it is not for lack of opportunities. When two male officers sing No! in reference to a WAAF’s refusal to to surrender her virtue, we wonder what Sondheim might have made of it, yet the song raises not so much as a smile here. However, there is sincerity in abundance and only very occasionally do the book and Goodall’s lyrics sound trite as they delve into the futility of war and its cost. Catriana Sandison gives a particularly strong dramatic performance as a grieving woman who is veering towards pacifism and desertion. The score is full of simply structured melodies that are instantly catchy, but lacking in variety and unlikely to prove memorable. Sterling’s powerful voice stands out amongst solo singing performances that are somewhat patchy. However, Goodall’s music is suited perfectly to female chorus numbers, of which there are several, including rousing finales to both acts. It is worth the price of a ticket just to hear the harmonies created by the ten ladies in this company. Bronagh Lagan’s production takes place on a blackened stage and is seen frequently either in half light or in the dark with spotlights on individual performers. This robs the show of any sense of time or place and also casts a gloom which makes it more difficult to seek out humour. Choreography by Iona Holland, although limited, works well and the five piece band, under the direction of Freddie Tapner provides an ideal accompaniment for the singers. With musicals flourishing in fringe theatre, Girlfriends is the sort of small scale show that could be up for more regular revivals and, indeed, it provides a very pleasant way of spending a couple of hours or so. In this production, it is the lovely sound of the female chorus that keeps ringing in the ears long after the final bows have been taken.

Performance date: 31 October 2014

thepublicreview_hor_web copy

THIS-IS-HOW-WE-DIEChristopher Brett Bailey, the American writer/performer, delvers a relentless assault on the ears, some of which penetrates through to the brain. Pale and gaunt with his hair standing erect, he sits at a desk behind a large microphone and reads from sheets of paper, beginning at a manic speed, barely pausing for breath and slowing up only slightly as the show progresses. The style of presentation has the effect of creating a barrier between Brett Bailey and his audience, thereby forcing concentration on the words being spoken; when occasionally, he pauses and makes eye contact with members of the audience, it is with an icy, threatening stare  – appropriate as a lot of his material is very cold indeed The script mixes neo-existantialist philosophy with stories that show influences as diverse as Jack Kerouac and the Addams Family. Brett Bailey’s writing is at its best when filled with very dark, surreal humour, such as in an account of a visit to his girlfriend’s parents, but at its worst when simply offering a quirky view of the meaning of existence. The evening is rounded off with a rock band making a cacophonous noise whilst four spotlights glare and dim on an otherwise dark and bare stage. In all, this is an unorthodox mixture of forms and ideas which, in a weird sort of way, works.

Performance date: 30 October 2014