Review: Travels With My Aunt, Minerva

“While you’ve flitted and you’ve flirted 
I’ve had rubber gloves inserted”

The Telegraph describes Travels With My Aunt as the perfect Sunday night musical, but whilst I’m all for a smattering of “gentle feel-good enjoyment” (I loved both Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen with the best of them), it’s hard not to feel that this show also panders to the less-flattering side of that comparison too. In that it is thoroughly old-fashionedly middle-of-the-road, the traditional white, middle-class kind of undemanding entertainment that rarely gets the pulse racing yet still raises an eyebrow with the amount of stereotyping that it purveys.

You can see why Jonathan Church chose it to open his last season at the Chichester Festival Theatre, it’s a safe bet for that venue and its typical audience and there’s nothing wrong in that, I just can’t pretend to have any enthusiasm for it. A musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s 19969 novel of the same name, it comes from the same team who brought us Betty Blue Eyes – writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. But where that show had a liberating sense of nostalgia, this one kept me prisoner. Continue reading “Review: Travels With My Aunt, Minerva”

Review: The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales Theatre

“I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri”

In terms of first world problems, being constantly distracted by fellow audience member Kate Winslet probably ranks fairly highly but it is symbolic of the utter randomness that can accompany a gala performance. I was lucky enough to attend the opening night of The Book of Mormon which meant that in the haze of A-list to Z-list celebrities, the battle to get into the theatre, the newspaper reviews that had already been published and a thousand and one opinion pieces of one of the cannier marketing campaigns of recent times, it was difficult to separate out just what I really thought of the show itself. 

With the show not exactly being the cheapest – premium tickets have now apparently broken the £200 mark for Saturday nights – it hasn’t been easy to find the optimum opportunity to go back (or taken my chances on their lottery). Until now that is, when a rare deal popped into my Twitter feed courtesy of @BargainTheatre and a £40 ticket on the end of row B in the stalls saw me making the trip once again to the Prince of Wales theatre, unencumbered by expectation or excitement and much more able to take in Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s show on its own merits.  Continue reading “Review: The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales Theatre”

Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“You shouldn’t harm nobody”

It is always good to hear that major UK theatres are co-producing shows, especially with the trans-Pennine co-operation between the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal Exchange on this production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I couldn’t help but wonder though how the show will make the leap from Leeds to Manchester, from the vast expanse of the Quarry to the intimacy of being in-the-round. Director James Brining has form though, this adaptation was first mounted at the Dundee Rep (and will undergo an additional transformation next year to fill the Wales Millennium Centre) and as a debut for this newly installed Artistic Director, it does feel like a canny choice.

He relocates Sondheim’s musical to the early Thatcher years, arguing her particular brand of socially transformative politics gave rise to as desperate a despondency as is familiar to us from Dickens. But what moving it out of its original Victorian context to something altogether more modern really achieves is to create an altered, and more chilling, sense of horror. It becomes a scarier psychodrama which is light on laughs and somehow more realistic as a serial killer thriller, although one does have to suspend a little disbelief when it comes to some of the finer points of transportation. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: Curtains, Arts Ed

“Critics! Who’d make a living out of killing other people’s dreams?”

I could have been on the stage. Indeed I was, briefly as a shy teenager, but playing the piano for shows was a much more appealing option for me and so the world was left sadly bereft of what could have been the definitive Hamlet for our generation. Fortunately though, we are not lacking in acting talent and it is being well-nurtured at drama schools like Arts Ed where I went to catch this undergraduate production of Kander & Ebb’s Curtains. I was particularly keen to see it as the choreography was done by Andrew Wright, the gentleman who did the deed for my favourite musical of last year, Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi and I thought I might be able to convince him to give me a tap dancing lesson in the interval.

Anyway, the show Curtains had a bit of a sad genesis. The original concept came from Peter Stone but he died before he completed the book so Rupert Holmes was brought in to rewrite it but when Fred Ebb also passed away before it had been finished, Holmes and Kander had to step in to finish off the lyrics. But it is not a melancholy show, far from it. It is a ‘musical comedy whodunit’, a send-up of murder mysteries set backstage at a theatre where a spectacularly bad leading lady is murdered after her first night in a Western version of Robin Hood. It is then up to a musical-theatre-loving detective to catch the murderer, save the show and fall in love with the girl of his dreams before the new opening night keeping the entire cast and crew and a rogue critic with far too much time on his hands, under suspicion. Continue reading “Review: Curtains, Arts Ed”