Archive for May, 2019

Writer: Carl Grose      Music: Charles Hazlewood.     Director: Mike Shepherd

⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

My review can currently be seen at: http://www.thereviewshub.com/dead-dog-in-a-suitcase-and-other-love-songs-lyric-theatre-hammersmith-london/ and will appear here from 28 May.

Performance date: 23 May 2019

Photo: Steve Tanner

Writer: Jonathan Maitland      Director: Lotte Wakeham

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Popping into a nearby bookmaker’s shop on the way to the opening night of Jonathan Maitland’s new play, a quick check of the odds reveals that Boris Johnson is the current favourite to fill the impending vacancy for the job of the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister. This news adds urgency to the play’s key question: is its central character a political leader who presents himself as a clown or a clown who presents himself as a political leader?

The play is a soft-centred satire that has plentiful humour but little real bite. Maitland’s style is to find a good joke, sometimes a very good one, and then take it too far. In consequence a repeated pattern emerges of belly laughs followed by yawns. To his credit, the writer neither demeans Johnson nor questions his intelligence and there are even suggestions of affection for him, brought out by Will Barton playing him as a little boy lost who deliberately dishevels his hair before appearing on television.

As an impressionist, Barton does a pretty good job and gets the audience chuckling before words are spoken. The opening scene is set in early 2016 in the Johnson kitchen/diner, Boris and his then wife, human rights lawyer Marina Wheeler (Davina Moon), having set a table for six guests – the unswervingly prevaricating Michael Gove (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart), his wife (Arabella Weir), the unswervingly name dropping owner of the Evening Standard, Evgeny Lebedev (Tim Wallers) and his plus one, Liz Hurley, who sends her apologies.

Johnson, in his final months as Mayor of London, is undecided about which side to back in the upcoming EU Referendum. He looks for inspiration not only from his dinner guests, but from imaginary incarnations of previous Prime Ministers – Winston Churchill (Weir), Margaret Thatcher and, surprisingly, Tony Blair (Wallers). Steve Nallon was the voice of Thatcher’s puppet on Spitting Image and it is a delight to see him reprising the role on stage, resplendent in a bright blue outfit.

The second act jumps forward to 31 March 2029, the tenth anniversary of the United Kingdom not leaving the European Union. Johnson, still an MP, is about to reverse the Trump career trajectory by taking over from Lord Sugar as the boss on The Apprentice, but he is nervous that he will be incapable of firing anyone. Brexit did eventually happen, the country has survived a disastrous Corbyn-Sinn Fein coalition Government, Dominic Raab is installed in Downing Street, Chelsea Clinton occupies the White House, Michael Gove has joined the clergy and, least likely of all, England had won the 2022 World Cup.

Will our hero at last get the call, in Churchillian fashion, to save the nation in its new darkest hour? If so, he will have to contain his “inner Bill Clinton” and champion, you guessed it, the United Kingdom’s re-entry into the European Union.

Director Lotte Wakeham’s production is sharply acted, blending caricature and real life deftly. The writer’s cynical, but probably correct, assertion is that, driven by lust for power, politics of pragmatism will always defeat politics of conviction. We await the next instalment in the Johnson saga. The play is scheduled to run until 8 June, but a month is a long time in politics and it would come as no surprise if Maitland is called in for re-writes even before that date arrives.

Performance date: 13 May 2019

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

Writer: Dale Wasserman      Music: Mitch Leigh      Lyrics: Joe Darion      Director: Lonny Price

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The lines that distinguish grand opera from musical theatre can often become blurred and the producing team of Michael Linnit and Michael Grade do little to make them clearer. Man of La Mancha, the fifth in what has become an annual series of collaborations with English National Opera, is a 1965 Tony Award winning Broadway musical with a touch of Bizet, staged in an opera house and headlined by an American comedy actor and an Australian-born soprano. The mix is nothing if not intriguing.

The show begins with 16th/17th Century writer Miguel de Cervantes being thrown into a dungeon, pending trial by the Spanish Inquisition. His fellow inmates, murderers, thieves, etc, decide to put the newcomer on trial themselves and, in his defence, Cervantes writes a play which is performed by himself and other prisoners. Cervantes becomes the gallant knight Don Quixote who, along with his loyal squire, Sancho Panza, rides off on a quest to fight injustice, tilt at windmills and chase impossible dreams.

This play within a play narrative structure is far more intricate than is typical for Broadway musicals and there are times when the intelligence of Dale Wasserman’s book and Joe Darion’s lyrics add further complexity when simplicity is needed, Composer Mitch Leigh has an ear for catchy melodies and his Spanish flavoured score offers a lot more than just one hit song.

There are few suggestions that this production is “semi-staged”. It is fully costumed and the orchestra is consigned to the pit, leaving the cavernous stage open. James Noone’s gloomy design has one spectacular feature – a wide metal staircase that descends from above to the dungeon whenever contact with the outside world is being made.

This musical is not sung through, long spoken scenes giving it a stop-start feel and, when the show stops, much gets lost in the vast auditorium. This type of large scale production, destined for a limited run, inevitably places constraints on a director. Largely, Lonny Price sticks to a conventional approach, leaving himself little scope for adding touches of comic invention which could have livened up duller patches.

As Cervantes/Quixote, Kelsey Grammar is valiant and ridiculous in exactly the right measures, but he is not known for being a great singer and, when he launches into the show’s iconic song, The Impossible Dream, a cloud of dread blankets the audience. However, he has previous experience in musicals and he attacks the song with gusto worthy of Quixote, never striving to reach the unreachable high notes, but relying instead on forceful delivery and magnetic stage presence to sell it.

Danielle de Niese is superbly tempestuous as Aldonza, the put upon and brutally abused peasant girl who Quixote envisions to be the gracious Lady Dulcinea, and, of course, she sings with glorious clarity. Peter Polycarpou is a sprightly Sancho Panza and a doleful Nichola Lyndhurst is the self-styled “governor” of the prisoners and an innkeeper. The entire company is made up of 30 actors, singers and dancers (choreographed by Rebecca Howell) and David White conducts a 30-piece orchestra, his new orchestrations giving prominence to the brass section.

Price’s production contains several memorable highlights, but, in all, it is hit and miss. Unseen in London for half a century, Man of La Mancha has assumed legendary status here, which, on this evidence, may not be entirely merited.

Performance date: 30 April 2019

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

Writer: Ben Alderton      Director: Roland Reynolds

⭐️

If anyone seeks to prove that British politics are broken, surely there is enough evidence in the present day, without having to delve into history to find more. However, writer Ben Alderton seems to think otherwise with his new play, a crude and obvious satire that is four years past its sell-by date.

The play’s title is a quote from former leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband and the words are repeated here by Ned Contraband (Ben Hood), fictional leader of the Red Party, to mask his perceived inadequacies. His opponent, Prime Minister and leader of the Blue Party is David Carter (Alderton himself), an arrogant toff. Carter treats his obsequious deputy, Nick Clog (James Bryant) in a  way that would draw outrage from the RSPCA, but quakes before his party’s election campaign manager, Glyniss, played by Annie Tyson in the manner of a dominatrix. Both party leaders are portrayed as imbeciles, Carter wants to be hip and Contraband needs a break from his hippy guru, Will (Michael Edwards). Alderton’s point is that, when the electorate has to choose between two idiots, its decision will rest solely on how they present themselves.

Director Roland Reynolds’ production has the feel of a student revue, packed with juvenile gags, most of which misfire. Alderton introduces two relatively serious characters as observers of and commentators on the mayhem. Patrick (Mikhail Sen) is a consultant brought in to advise the Blues on election strategy and thought a genius when he sparks the idea of harnessing the power of social media. Sharon Slaughter (Cassandra Hercules) is a relentlessly aggressive adviser to the Reds, convinced from the outset that Contraband is destined for failure.

With further names such as George Oblong, Nigel Garage and Jeremy *unt being bandied around, it seems reasonable to ask why Alderton thought it necessary to disguise the characters at all. On further reflection, he might have realised that a better way to dodge litigation could have been to make the facts underlying the satire more accurate. For example is it credible that the leader of the Lib/Dems would have participated in Tory party strategy meetings for the 2015 General Election? We have great traditions of caricaturing politicians, the art lying in accentuating and magnifying real traits and real events. Too much of what we see here is stale and, politically or in any other sense, simply incorrect.

With the real figures behind the key characters in this farce consigned long ago to either obscurity or Facebook, we ask what is the point of it and then Alderton gives us an answer. He jettisons the jokes and offers up a long scene that plays like a party political broadcast on behalf of the Momentum group. A white-bearded man named Corbz (Edward Halsted) appears in the guise of the Grim Reaper and the now disillusioned  Patrick launches into a diatribe against the toffs and the privileged who dominate politics. Give the young a chance, they agree, settling on “for the many and not the few” as their slogan. Bearing in mind that the Parliamentary constituency in which The Park Theatre is located is Islington North, could this be a case of preaching to the already converted?

Performance date: 26 April 2019

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