Archive for February, 2018

The York Realist (Donmar Warehouse)

Posted: February 17, 2018 in Theatre

Writer: Peter Gill      Director: Robert Hastie

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Josie Rourke has recently announced an intention to leave her position as Artistic Director at the Donmar Warehouse and, when the time comes to assess the high points of her tenure, Peter Gill could feature strongly. His play Versailles, which premiered here in 2014, may have shown the strains of over-ambition, but its searing final act lingers on in the memory. Now this revival of  The York Realist, first seen at the Royal Court in 2002, proves to be the perfect marriage of play and venue.  The Donmar, better than any other theatre in London, can accentuate subtlety and give power to the understated in intimate human dramas and Robert Hastie’s exquisite production takes full advantage.

Gill writes about irreconcilables – town and country lifestyles. middle class and working class values. The time is the mid-1960s and John (Jonathan Bailey) is up in Yorkshire from London to work as Assistant Director on York’s Mystery Plays. He comments that the countryside is everything that he expected and still nothing at all like what he had expected, probably meaning that most unexpected is George (Ben Batt), a farmer who shows promise as an amateur actor (in the days when actors from working class backgrounds were welcomed into theatre). George is plain-speaking and plain-thinking, finding no time to question or show reticence about his homosexuality, contrasting sharply with townie John’s coy nervousness when being seduced. Interestingly, George has been mirrored recently by the central character in Francis Lee’s wonderful film God’s Own Country, which has a similar setting. Perhaps there is something in the Yorkshire air.

Batt is simply superb. When he realises that what he yearns for most in life is the thing least attainable to him, he turns to the audience, failing to hold back tears and we are all heartbroken. Bailey too shows true passion as the uncomprehending John. Lesley Nicol is touchingly real as George’s dutiful but ailing mother and Katie West gives poignancy to the role of neighbour Doreen, who is prepared to carry out household duties for George, quietly biding her time until the time is right for her. In Peter MacIntosh’s warm farm cottage set the back door is always unlocked for family and friends to wander in, a custom somehow abandoned in cities and there is a sense throughout that everyone knows and accepts the truth about George, but never speaks about it. Beautifully written and impeccably observed, Rourke’s successor in the Donmar hot seat will do well to keep up the standards achieved by this production.

Performance date: 16 February 2018

Hamilton (Victoria Palace)

Posted: February 17, 2018 in Theatre

Book, music and lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda      Director: Thomas Kail

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hype raises expectations and high expectations frequently result in disappointment. For example, I saw Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman with no expectations on press night at the Royal Court, recommended it to everyone I spoke to when it transferred to the West End and have invariably received the reaction “it wasn’t THAT good”. Hamilton is the most hyped show of the modern era, garlanded with accolades and awards, and, having failed to get tickets on two visits to New York, I am finally crossing paths with it a couple of months into a London run that was greeted with almost unanimous five star reviews. So, can it possibly be THAT good?

I try hard not to be one of those irritating people who knocks anything successful just for the sake of being different, so let me start by emphasising that this is a rock solid five star show, brilliant in concept and execution, informative and hilariously funny. By thinking outside the box, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken the art of musical theatre to another level and there was not a second of it’s 165 minutes that I was not enthralled by his show. It was only when leaving the theatre, as a friend said to me “that is a musical for today”, that I began asking questions. Yes, being a musical for today is a big positive, but will it be a musical for tomorrow? Could suggestions that the Victoria Palace (spectacularly renovated at a cost of around £60million) may never have to look for another show be a little premature?

Alexander Hamilton (c1755-1804) was born out of wedlock on the Caribbean island of Nevis, emigrated to the United States as a young man, became a senior officer fighting for American Independence, was appointed Treasury Secretary in George Washington’s first administration and played a key role in establishing the US Constitution and financial systems. The show’s running theme is that it is throwing light on a prominent figure that history tends to overlook and the pleas by his wife Eliza (Rachelle Ann Go) to put right that wrong are stirring. However, when elements in the show remind us of  Les Miserables, they also expose the fact that Hamilton, a flawed, fallible politician and bureaucrat, is not an iconic hero as was Jean Valjean. Thus, the show’s emotional hook is much weaker and, as a result, I am left wondering how quickly it will fade from the memory.

There are many reasons why I wish that I had seen Miranda’s own performance as Hamilton, among them now being that it would have helped me to make up my mind about the performance of the much younger Jamael Westman in the role. There is no doubt that he is technically excellent, but does he have the maturity and charisma to be fully convincing as the character ages? I have niggling doubts, particularly in scenes when he is onstage alongside Giles Terera, brilliant as Hamilton’s some time rival, some time ally, Aaron Burr. Obioma Ugoala is a commanding Washington, Jason Pennycooke a childlike Thomas Jefferson and, singing the tune that I cannot get out of my head, Michael Jibson’s King George III is bonkers (as indeed was the case).

Finally, a mention for Miranda’s use of rap, a word that I had previously thought needed to be preceded by the letter “c”. Miranda integrated hip-hop into his Tony award winning show In The Heights, which I loved and which was a long running hit on the London fringe, so its reappearance here was not entirely unexpected. However, in the event, it proves to be a revelation. Using rapping as a tool for storytelling, the awkward transitions between spoken word and song that blight many musicals are gone and the pace, rhythm and energy of Thomas Kail’s production never falter. An added bonus is that the cheekiness that comes naturally to rap gives licence for the show to be both respectful to American history and completely irreverent at one and the same time. Hamilton is one helluva ride, but will we still love it tomorrow? Only time can tell.

Performance date: 14 February 2018

Photo:Matthew Murphy

Cyril’s Success (Finborough Theatre)

Posted: February 6, 2018 in Theatre

Writer: Henry J Byron      Director: Hannah Boland Moore

⭐⭐⭐

Marking the 150th Anniversary of the building which is now home to the Finborough Theatre, there is a nice feeling of symmetry to this revival of a play also originating from 1868, placing a Victorian drawing room comedy in what could once have been a Victorian drawing room.

Henry J Byron’s Cyril’s Success has not been performed in London since 1890 and such time lapses usually have good reasons. In this instance, one such reason could be that 1890 was around about the time that Oscar Wilde began delivering a similar brand of social comedy, but with considerably larger helpings of wit.

Cyril Cuthbert (Tim Gibson) is a successful playwright who takes for granted and neglects his devoted wife (Isabella Marshall). On their wedding anniversary, he opts for a night out with the boys and asks the cad Major Treherne (Will Kelly) to escort Mrs C to the opera. Encouraged by her man-hating former school teacher, Miss Grannet (a deliciously sour Susan Tracy), Mrs C begins to suspect her husband of infidelity with a divorcee, Mrs Bliss (Allegra Marland). She walks out and, without her support, Cyril’s success rapidly turns to failure.

The plot is as featherlight as that of a comic opera, much of the dialogue is stilted and, for long spells, the play is short on any form of humour. The wonder is that director Hannah Boland Moore polishes it up so well in her handsome production, designed by Daisy Blower. Drawing first rate performances that are only slightly tongue-in-cheek, she does what she can to bring out the gender issues, contrasting the strutting Victorian-era males with the so-called “soft sex”.

As is often the case with Wilde, much of the fun comes from subsidiary characters. Cyril’s friend, the over-eager, lovelorn (and curiously named) Titeboy is played with relish by Lewis Hart and, as his other friend, hardened misogynist Mr Pincher, Stephen Rashbrook has a delightful glint of mischief in his eyes; he is a literary critic who promises Titeboy: “I shall not only review (your book) favourably, I shall read it”. As we know that Pincher and Miss Grannet are polar opposites, we wonder if they can be anything other than a match made in Heaven. In this sort of play, of course not.

When the going gets tedious, consolation comes from knowing that the play will only last for 90 minutes (extended by an unnecessary interval) before we can call for our carriages home. For sure, Cyril’s Success is a dusty old museum piece, but credit is due to Boland Moore and her company for presenting it to us as a rather jolly one.

Performance date: 5 February 2018

Photo: Scott Rylander

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