July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka Another Dream? dream on
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s

“Hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can one hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?”

The outdated ramblings of a doddery old man – funny how art can reflect life… Any opinion I might have had about Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser inevitably comes tainted with his apparent inability to open his mouth without spouting some kind of crap or other. Last month it was claiming casting women in male Shakespearean roles as “astonishingly stupid”, earlier this year it was using his will to ban women from playing the lead role in this very play. At 81, he’s clearly of a different generation but I’m certainly not inclined to indulge him in a way one might one’s own casually intolerant older relations.

His 1980 play The Dresser is based on his own experiences as a personal stagehand to actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit and closely too. Wolfit was known for his wartime Shakespearean tours, particularly his King Lear, and so Harwood gives us an increasingly decrepit thesp (Ken Stott) on an interminable regional rep tour in the midst of the Second World War. ‘Sir’ is due onstage (in Lear, natch) and his long-suffering dresser Norman (Reece Shearsmith) is the only one who can get him there, for he is caught in the throes of mental and physical disintegration. Continue reading “Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s”

Review: The Rivals, Arcola Theatre

“Through all the drama — whether damned or not —Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.”

The main beauty of Selina Cadell’s production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s evergreen The Rivals is her mastery of the Restoration form which sees no fourth wall separating players and punters. So on taking the stage, her actors acknowledge the audience in their own ways – awkward bows, tacit nods, arched eyebrows – and continue to address us throughout, an expositionary monologue here, an announcement of the scene’s location there, a gossipy aside everywhere. What really makes it work though is the warmth and wit with which the company fold us into its welcoming arms.

With a wicked glint in her eye and wryly pursed lips, an extravagantly dressed Gemma Jones ensures her Mrs Malaprop reaches the very pineapple of her comic potential and with no less captivating humour, Nicholas Le Prevost makes even the lewdest of Sir Anthony Absolute’s comments a hilarious part of his incorrigible charm. They have decided that her niece Lydia Languish and his son Captain Jack Absolute are an ideal match but young Lydia – an outrageous Jenny Rainsford who plays her on the edge of sanity to hugely entertaining effect – has her heart set on the romantic, and penniless, hero of her dreams. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Arcola Theatre”

Review: The Second Mrs Tanqueray, Rose Theatre Kingston

“All jealous women are mad”

Stephen Unwin’s run of home-grown productions for the Rose Kingston, where he is also Artistic Director, continues with this revival of Arthur W Pinero’s Victorian melodrama, The Second Mrs Tanqueray. Respectable member of society and widower Aubrey Tanqueray scandalises his friends when he suddenly announces he is to be married again. The issue is that his intended, Mrs Paula Jarman, is a woman with a past – a sexual one at that – but his determination to go through with the marriage leaves Paula feeling increasingly alienated from her new world and particularly from her new stepdaughter. And try as they might to overcome their differences, secrets from the past threaten to overwhelm everyone. 

Though meant to be something of a mismatched couple, James Wilby and Laura Michelle Kelly struggle to convince that there could have been anything between Aubrey and Paula, both performances missing some psychological depth to point us to the truth of their characters. Wilby does mannered Victoriana extremely well but seldom gives a sense of real man behind the bluff exterior, and Kelly’s whole air a little too girlish, rarely feeling born of the frustrations of a life already lived though the second half does see her start to darken the tone effectively.  Continue reading “Review: The Second Mrs Tanqueray, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: The Illusion, Southwark Playhouse

“What in this world is real and not seeming?”

Featuring a new ensemble of RADA graduates alongside some more experienced hands, Southwark Playhouse’s latest main house show is a UK première of The Illusion. Adapted (though most freely I am told) by Tony Kushner from the 1636 L’Illusion Comique by Pierre Cornielle, who was a contemporary (or thereabouts) of Molière and Racine, the play is constructed as a potentially deft piece of meta-theatre, passing comment on the extraordinary capacity that the theatre to create its own universe and the illusionary nature of the very same. Kushner weaves his own idiosyncratic verbosity around this tale, though the result is something of a curious mix.

Matters begin with the arrival of Pridamant at the grotto – Sarah Jane Prentice’s design and Howard Hudson’s lighting playing to the strengths of the railway arches – of noted magician Alcandre. He’s there to find out where Clindor, his estranged son is and Alcandre obliges, providing snippets of the last 15 years of his son’s life as he deals with a number of romantic entanglements and social adventures. But it is made clear that the scenes are all visions, the uncertainty of what we’re witnessing enhanced by the constant changing of the character’s names and we are joined with Pridamant in the journey of discovery to his son’s real fate. Continue reading “Review: The Illusion, Southwark Playhouse”