The National Theatre revived their adaption of His Dark Materials for a second run in answer to my prayers, or so I like to believe, in order to let me see it. The novels by Phillip Pullman are among my all-time favourites and though the idea of translating them to the stage caused me a little trepidation, I was immensely glad of the opportunity of the chance to see the shows.
Adapted with love and precision by Nicholas Wright who has been daring enough to make the judicious cuts necessary to create a workable piece of theatre out of the at-times-sprawling works of literature that form Pullman’s trilogy, the story that is told here is strong and cohesive and told with a sensitive clarity (although I can’t be sure how clear it actually is to anyone who hasn’t read the novels, truth be told). We follow the coming-of-age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry and their adventure across a set of parallel universes as they search for answers to huge questions they both have, a journey that causes them to cross paths with polar bears, angels, witches, Texan explorers and in one of the most contentious of the strands of Pullman’s work, the organised might of the Church. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part I, National Theatre”
Taking up residency on Shaftesbury Avenue, this production of Don Carlos directed by Michael Grandage was originated at the Crucible in Sheffield last year and received rave reviews. It is one of Schiller’s less performed works apparently, but I have to admit this was the first time I had seen any his plays (or indeed heard of him, eek!) so a new experience for me.
Don Carlos is passionately in love with Elizabeth, the French Princess to whom he was once betrothed. Carlos’ tyrannical father, King Philip II of Spain, decides to marry Elizabeth himself. The young prince’s hatred for his cold and distant parent knows no bounds. He enlists his oldest friend the Marquis of Posa to act as go-between. But Posa decides to convert Carlos and Elizabeth’s youthful passion into a full scale rebellion against King Philip’s oppressive and bloody regime. Continue reading “Review: Don Carlos, Gielgud Theatre”
Days of Wine and Roses was a 1958 teleplay written by American JP Miller, but adapted here by Northern Irish writer Owen McCafferty and relocated to 1960s London, in its tale of the troubling effects of alcoholism on a young immigrant couple.
Donal and Mona are a couple who meet for the first time at Belfast Airport in 1962, as they are awaiting a delayed flight that will complete their emigration to London. Donal is a happy-go-lucky bookie’s clerk who likes a cheeky drink, while Mona is a timid civil servant from a strict family background who has never touched a drop until now. Her introduction to alcohol sets her on a headlong passionate journey and they enter a fast relationship which soon develops into marriage and parenthood. They enjoy the good life, liberally oiled with vast quantities of whisky but it soon becomes apparent that they’re losing control of the situation as looking after their son becomes less important than finding another drink. The play then hinges on the divergent paths that Donal and Mona takes as they come to terms, or otherwise, with their alcoholism.
It is excellently acted by Peter McDonald who ends up having to make the most heartbreaking of decisions and Anne-Marie Duff whose spiral of self-destruction leads her to the darkest of places. Together they make such a believable couple with palpable chemistry which makes their ultimate incompatibility all the more heartbreaking, somewhat impressive given the paucity of the material they are given.
Despite the quality of the acting, other aspects of the production felt not quite up to par. The simplicity of the staging and set appeared unimaginative with only the crackling 60s music of a radio punctuating creating the necessary ambience and rather highlighting the insubstantiality of this play: it doesn’t quite seem to justify its existence. So a mixed bag for me, strong acting but a disappointing production.
More seasoned theatregoers will tell you you should never book a play on the strength of its star alone, but when that star is Academy Award winning actress Holly Hunter, star of one of my favourite films The Piano, then I had no hesitation in booking my ticket no matter what the play was. The play in question in By the Bog of Cats, a retelling of Euripides’ Medea by Marina Carr which blends aspects of ancient Greek myth with more modern Irish folklore creating a world of gypsies, witches and ghosts in which this story pays out.
In this adaptation, the Medea figure is represented by Irish tinker Hester Swain, a woman living on a rural Irish bog and facing the fact that everything in her life is slipping away: her man, her child, her home, her heritage. Her younger lover has left her in order to wed a woman who can bring him increased wealth and prestige, and he constantly threatens to part Hester from their child in order to raise the girl in his new, more privileged world. The play opens at dawn on the fateful wedding day, and we watch the lengths Hester goes to as she fights like a hellcat not to lose what belongs to her as horrific secrets from the past reveal themselves. Continue reading “Review: By The Bog Of Cats, Wyndham’s Theatre”
Gaffer! at the Southwark Playhouse is the story of George, a star footballer-turned-manager of Northbridge Town, a struggling League Two side whose fortunes look set to change with a takeover from an ex-record producer and a great run in the FA Cup. But change isn’t always for the best and when he is caught in a compromising situation with the new young team hero and the certainties of his world begin to crumble.
As a black comedy, in describing the trials of managing a football team from the lower divisions and the randomness that George has to deal with in its collection of peculiar characters around the ground and in the dressing room, it is extremely funny, as it is when replicating the bizarre touchline antics of football managers. And it is also good at depicting the clash between the thoroughly old-school George who is all about the football and the new chairman with his modernising ways and vision of the club as a money-making machine. Continue reading “Review: Gaffer! Southwark Playhouse”
Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is a show that has a special place in my heart: I’ve sung in primary school productions, played the piano for high school productions and seen it countless times so I struggle to see how other people can actually have gotten through life without seeing it at least once! And when I find people in my life who have escaped it thus far, I do try my best to drag them along, the regular changing of its lead star meaning that there’s something new and different for me as well.
Currently wearing the Dreamcoat is former Steps star H, otherwise known as Ian Watkins, who takes the lead role in Bill Kenwright’s production which is currently residing at the New London Theatre. Watkins transfers much of his chirpy pop persona to the stage very well, strong and secure in his singing but managing a commanding leading man presence too, engaging well with the audience but reining in the excesses to ensure we have the requisite emotion too.
There’s enthusiastic support from the ensemble especially Vivienne Carlyle as a clear-voiced narrator, but the company is too small to be really effective as a proper West End musical in a big theatre: there’s noticeable doubling up even within the brothers, there aren’t enough women to balance out the sound, being so familiar with the score I wasn’t keen on the changes that have been made to accommodate this with a loss of many solos and all in all, it just doesn’t feel value for money.
To be frank, the production looks cheap and shoddy, and doesn’t quite make enough of its homespun virtues to be able to get away with it. This is exacerbated by the endless encores, repeated songs and megamixes that make up the finale of the show which goes on well beyond tolerable levels: I don’t think people mind a short show as long as they have been entertained, and padding it out in this way simply highlights the uncertainty of the producers that there is actually enough here to satisfy.
So a big disappointment for me: this feels like a show that is resting on its laurels somewhat and relying on its reputation and the familiarity that so much of the audience will have with so many of the songs. It simply doesn’t make enough effort to reinvigorate the material despite the best efforts of Watkins and the rest of the cast.
Marking Dame Judi Dench’s return to the RSC after many years away, this production of All’s Well That Ends Well, one of Shakespeare lesser performed plays, transferred to London from the Swan in Stratford. It is called a problem play as it is neither fully comedy nor tragedy but a curious mixture of fairytale-like wonder, cold realism and gritty humour. Helena loves the arrogant Bertram, son of the Countess of Rousillon, but the only way she can gain him as a husband is as a reward for curing the King of France of a terrible ailment. He reacts badly to being forced into marriage with someone of lowly birth and so runs away to Italy to join the wars but not before fixing two fiendishly difficult conditions to their marriage, things he believes Helena will never be able to achieve but he does not count on her tenacity.
Even in a relatively minor part, which the Countess is it has to be said, Dench is a mesmerising performer, she manages so much with such economy of performance, the simplest gesture or twitch of the face speaks volumes and as the matriarch of the piece, she oozes a compassion and wisdom that makes a firm bedrock for the production. Gary Waldhorn as the King of France does well though as the most senior male character, rising from his sickbed to become an inspirational leader. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Gielgud”
Tell Me On A Sunday is a funny beast, not quite a full musical, more of a song cycle as it has now been divested of its other dance-based half in its original form as Song & Dance to create this vehicle for Denise Van Outen. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and Don Black’s lyrics have now been blessed with updated new material from comedian Jackie Clune, showing that broken hearts and disappointments are still just as easy to come by, if not more so, in the 21st century.
Our leading lady is a girl from Ilford who, when she discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her, relocates to New York for a fresh start and a whole new set of men to be unlucky in love with as time and time again, she find the perfect guy, tells everyone back home about him and then it goes pear-shaped. The set is on a revolve with an ever-changing set of props that evoke the range of locations, helped by projections onto the walls, as we move from England to the USA, from date to date, from New York to LA. It fills the stage well, but there is the ever-present nagging sense that the material here is paper-thin. There’s no real attempt to make its leading lady anything more than a dumb blonde, or show any real depth to her, any sense of her learning from her mistakes. Like the Duracell bunny, she just gets back up and keeps on going same as before.
Consequently it needs star quality to deliver it some weight and fortunately Van Outen rises to the challenge in a star-making performance. Vocally, she is strong at everything: the anger of Let’s Talk About You, the tenderness of Come Back With The Same Look, the playfulness of Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad and best of all, a hushed version of Unexpected Song which is probably the loveliest thing I have heard all year. She really controls the stage well though, taking us through the ups and downs and more downs of her romantic life and remaining utterly convincing throughout. She really sells the whole damn thing and deserved the wild reception when the curtain finally came down.
So can I recommend this to people? I am really not sure. If you like Lloyd-Webber’s stuff and/or Denise Van Outen, then this will be perfect for you as it involves someone at the top of her game delivering the goods superbly. For casual viewers though it might be too much of an ask and at these ticket prices, it is too slight and insubstantial a piece to justify what they are charging, no matter the quality.
Marking my first visit to the National Theatre since moving to London, His Girl Friday is a play which has been adapted by John Guare from 2 sources: the 1928 play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and the 1940 film adaptation His Girl Friday by Howard Hawks which inverted the gender of the lead protagonist. Thus a madcap romantic element to this story of energetic newshound Hildy Johnson and her editor (and ex-husband) Walter Burns who will stop at nothing to stop her impending wedding to another man. In the midst of all of this is the scoop of the century which Hildy cannot resist as she revels in the world of cutthroat journalism.
As the central couple, Zoë Wanamaker and Alex Jennings were simply fabulous, the electricity between them just crackles with suppressed sexual energy as it is clear that this couple really does belong together and their fights full of whip-sharp wisecracks and putdowns are a joy to watch as the intersection of their professional and personal relationships makes for a whole lotta farcical fun and they are both excellent at showing how dog-eat-dog their world is. Continue reading “Review: His Girl Friday, National Theatre”