Archive for May, 2016

the daily grindThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

Testosterone fills the room as the audience enters to the sight of Laurie Brown in tight- fitting underwear, exercising his manly physique. However, it transpires that this routine is not what he means when he refers to his “daily grind”. A key point of this show is that first impressions can be misleading and, when Brown eventually addresses the audience, he destroys the macho image by assuming a persona something like a younger Julian Clary. His character is a gay man who is addicted to using Grindr. For the benefit of the uninitiated, this is a gay dating app, but, in the context of the show, it could more correctly be described as an app that facilitates hook-ups for casual, anonymous sex. Aided by projections of Grindr-like suggestive images, Brown enlists audience help to photograph him for his profile on the app, focussing on the superficial to make him look desirable. He knows that trying to bring out the person that he really is would be pointless, as others he meets are never what they seem. He then embarks on a mission to snog with as many members of the audience as will consent, presumably to demonstrate the emptiness of random encounters, but he drags this segment out for too long, making it tiresome. The first half of the show needs less audience interaction and more scripted humour with substance. However, when the mood becomes darker, Brown drops his comic persona and gives an authentic account of his character’s obsession and the world of habitual sex and drugs that it leads to. The Daily Grind is flabbily constructed, spending too much of its running time (under an hour) hanging around to little purpose. If Brown can tighten it up, making it sharper and funnier, it may become a far more powerful indictment of a very modern incarnation of hedonism.

Performance date: 12 May 2016

trh-2

 

Break-YourselfThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

Ollie is a success. 27, running a thriving graphic design company and looking the business – neatly-trimmed beard, tailored raincoat, open neck white shirt and designer jeans. But Ollie has an alter ego, that of Bruce Springsteen, the rock singer whose iconic image symbolises the essence of blue collar America. Yes, Ollie likes a bit of rough. Ira Brand, the show’s creator, plays Ollie in a relaxed, confident manner, teasing and taunting the audience with descriptions of a lifestyle in which appearances belie reality. Ollie chairs a Q and A session, smiling knowingly, almost certain that the questions will be trivial, coyly avoiding those that most of the audience wants answered. Occasionally, Ollie’s exploits shock, but that is not the essential point. The writer is showing us that, within obvious limits, individuals can flourish, given the freedom to make their own choices and that others need not be judgemental. In ways that are never obvious, Brand always directs us to think about questions of sexuality, gender identity and role-modelling. Real life is contrasted perfectly with fantasy life. The Springsteen segments are showstoppers, particularly Dancing in the Dark, with Ollie miming to the Boss’s tracks and putting on a show that can be only marginally less entertaining than the real thing. A lot of thought-provoking themes are packed into just 45 minutes. but this terrific little show is exactly what good fringe theatre is all about. It surprises, challenges, entertains and celebrates the liberating powers of rock ’n’ roll. If Ollie can become Bruce Springsteen, then any of us can become anything.

Performance date: 12 May 2016

trh-2

 

shakespeare's avengersThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

“Ever wondered what would happen if Shakespeare was kidnapped by a crazed fairy king in an enchanted forest?” asks the publicity for this show. “Well actually, no” seems the appropriate answer. It is true that the Bard himself worked from many equally silly propositions, not least in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which provides much of the inspiration here, but always he ensured that his ideas were properly realised and attached to some sort of logic. Here the four all male members of Drake’s Drummers juggle roles to perform their own contribution to the current Shakespeare celebrations and the result is airy-fairy. Out to rescue their creator are an arrogant Hamlet, a vengeful Macbeth, a piqued Ophelia and a regretful Brutus. They must also secure the safety of the mystical “infinity quill”, an object suggesting an imminent appearance by Harry Potter, which, thankfully, never transpires. The plot comes to nothing, but we all know what happened to Shakespeare 400 years ago anyway. The show has the feel of a bunch of youngsters newly making the discovery that Shakespeare’s works are riddled with absurdities and setting about mocking them mischievously, as if to stick two fingers up to those who taught them that they must be revered. The jokes are often weak and self-indulgent, suggesting that the company still needs to learn the importance of including an audience in their humour, rather than just amusing themselves. It is all pitched at the level of a sketch in a student revue, but juvenile japes are not enough to carry a production at this level. Sadly, the company’s labours get lost twixt stage and audience and their show turns out to be much ado about very little. Runs until 15 May 2016

Performance date: 12 May 2016

trh-2

 

broadway lunchboxThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

Sandwiches and Sondheim? Not a bad idea and, even though, sadly, there is no actual Sondheim here, a collection of classic show tunes is bound to add flavour to the sarnies, salads or sushi. All the songs are performed by Jason Thorpe, attired for the middle of the day in t-shirt and jeans and accompanied by pre-recorded backing tracks. If it sounds a bit “karaoke”, well it is a lot better than that, but, for the first four songs, not much better than okay. Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret is a predictable opener, followed by You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling (yes it has featured recently in Beautiful… but “Broadway”?). Two Rat Pack swing numbers then pose further questions about the show’s title. Just when we start thinking about the Trades Description Act, Thorpe dips into the little known (in the UK) show Jekyll and Hyde and doubts are dispelled. It now emerges clearly that he is not, after all, a so-so singer who belongs on the cabaret circuit or cruise ships, but an accomplished musical theatre performer with a gift for interpreting lyrics and acting out songs. At this performance a microphone malfunction also proved revelatory. Thorpe has a voice that could be heard, unaided, up in the gods at Drury Lane, so why would he need a mike in this tiny venue of that name? He sounds much better without distorted amplification. Thorpe takes us through selections from the likes of Rent, Wicked, Grease and, inevitably, Les Mis and he tells us that he has a penchant for singing sad songs. Fair enough, they suit him and contrast well with his easy-going, self-deprecating manner. He also seems to like taking songs written for female characters and singing them with a gay twist. The show needs more polish to take it further, but it is more than good enough to send us back refreshed for an afternoon’s work.

Performance date: 12 May 2016

trh-2

 

LawrenceAfterArabia

I have marvelled at David Lean’s film masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia several times without ever fully understanding it. The politics, the historical context and even the geography have all baffled me, but it says something about modern awareness of the troubles in the Middle East that this new play makes everything clearer. Indeed, current difficulties may have given Howard Brenton the incentive to write a play in which the closest we get to a dramatic highlight comes with TE Lawrence wagging a finger towards Britain and France for drawing an arbitrary line on the map to create the countries of Iraq and Syria. If Lawrence had really launched into such a tirade, how sad that the Governments of the day did not heed his warnings! The play is set at a time when Lawrence has enlisted in the lowest rank of the RAF under the pseudonym “Ross”. He arrives at the Hertfordshire home of his friend George Bernard Shaw, seeking help in editing his memoirs The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Shaw is preoccupied with completing Saint Joan and his wife Charlotte takes on the task. Director John Dove’s production is classy from beginning to end, as emphasised by Michael Taylor’s imposing set of Shaw’s study which opens out to become a barren stage for short flashback scenes in the desert. There is class acting too, with Geraldine James as solid as ever as Charlotte, Jeff Rawle as a mischievous Shaw, revelling in his own eccentricity and Rosalind March as Shaw’s frumpy secretary who understands more than perhaps she should. Jack Laskey’s Lawrence seems a little too immature, but that could be due to the difficulty of clearing Peter O’Toole’s performance from the mind. Laskey’s boyish version may well be closer to the real thing, but it puts strains on the credibility of a scene in which Charlotte declares her love for him, even while acknowledging that he is a homosexual and a masochist. Brenton devotes much of the second act to investigating the incident at Deraa in which, allegedly, Lawrence was brutally raped and beaten by the Turks, supporting the recent theory that it was all fabricated. However, he delves little deeper than the Lean film into to mind of a man who remains one of the great enigmas of the 20th Century. This absence of new insight and a shortage of high drama to ignite scenes, make the play slightly disappointing, although it is always absorbing. Maybe Terrence Rattigan’s Ross, shortly to be revived in Chichester, will fuel further interest in this fascinating man.

Performance date: 11 May 2016

Devilish!** (Landor Theatre)

Posted: May 11, 2016 in Theatre

devilishThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

“It was an ordinary day…” chant the folk of Clapham, South-Weat London, signalling that the extraordinary is about to happen. Indeed it is, as an angel descends to Earth in front of their eyes. It is also an ordinary opening song that sets the tone for a new musical that always struggles to escape from being bland and predictable. Alex Green’s Angel is a dim toff who seems more likely to have made the short flight across the river from Chelsea than to have landed from Heaven. Appearing with wings of white feathers and matching loin cloth (the halo got lost in transit), he professes the wish to become human and to experience all the emotions and frailties that such a form entails. Angel’s first sight of the human race is Ruth (Victoria Hope), a young lady leading a drab life following the death of her partner exactly three years earlier; of course, he had looked very similar to Angel. Her boss, the devilish Nick Brimstone (Gareth James) is a ratings obsessed television executive who lures Angel away from her with promises of fame and fortune. When Nick sprouts red horns and sings Welcome to Hell, James grabs a mike to give his all to the pounding number and, if nothing else, puts us in the right mood for the Eurovision Song Contest. BB Cooper’s score is a mix of simple, catchy pop tunes and a style of jazz that now sounds somewhat dated. The jazz elements are emphasised by musical director Ian MacGregor’s four-piece band often giving prominence to clarinet or saxophone. The show hovers uncertainly between a schmaltzy supernatural romance similar to Ghost and a dark satire of modern celebrity culture. However each of these styles undermines the other, with Chris Burgess’ book and lyrics falling short on the sincerity to make it work as the former and having neither enough wit nor bite for it to succeed as the latter. That said, here are compensations in Marc Urquhart’s energetic production, stemming mainly from the exuberance of the 10-strong company. Adam Scown’s choreography brings several numbers to life, particularly the rousing Sell Your Soul that closes the first half. There are adept comedy touches too from Katie Ann Dolling as a wannabe tv weather girl, George Longworth as her amorous plastic surgeon and Louie Westwood, doubling up as a has-been Brummie magician and a camp tv presenter. Devilish! is good-natured, inoffensive and mildly amusing. There is not a great deal to dislike about it, but sadly, all the company’s strenuous efforts prove not quite enough to give the show real wings.

Performance date 10 May 2016

trh