Review: Girlfriends, Union Theatre

“I’ve left my job and my boyfriend called Bob”

The Howard Goodall season at the Union Theatre, soon to move to new premises, has been one of its more enterprising moves in recent times. Love Story and the dreaming both had their moments but the third piece in the trilogy – Girlfriends – feels like the weakest of the lot. Bronagh Lagan’s production can’t do much to disguise the reasons that the show was a commercial flop on its 1987 debut but also adds its own complications with a truly unnecessarily awkward staging choice – how this wasn’t picked up on earlier on is baffling.

The show itself suffers from promising one thing – looking at the experience of working women in the Second World War – and delivering another – the romantic travails of two of them. The company is even split 10 to 2, women to men, and yet the focus settles firmly on this pair of love stories to the severe detriment of many of the supporting characters who remain scarcely sketched caricatures. That three men collaborated on the book – Richard Curtis and John Retellack along with Goodall – might be part of the problem. Continue reading “Review: Girlfriends, Union Theatre”

Review: A Winter’s Tale, Landor

“A sad tale is best for winter”
 

The last two adaptations of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (Propeller and the Unicorn’s recent version) have left me rather distraught with their takes on this problem play, and Howard Goodall similarly had me reaching for the tissues with his Love Story and last year’s revival of The Hired Man at the Landor Theatre. So it’s safe to say that there was a certain degree of expectation as I returned to the Clapham North pub theatre to see the final preview of Goodall’s latest project, A Winter’s Tale – a musical inspired by Shakespeare’s play with a book by Nick Stimson. 

The first act is just glorious. This Sicilia is a dark, military world and this is obvious from the off with a magnificent multi-layered opener of goose-pimpling intensity which sets the scene perfectly. Pete Gallagher’s Leontes and Alastair Brookshaw’s visiting Polixines make a fine pair of kings, all good-natured joshing until Helen Power’s Ekaterina enters the scene to persuade Polixines to extend his visit whereupon the red mist of vicious jealousy descends on Leontes with devastating consequences for all concerned. Goodall’s swirling melodies and impassioned lyrics are ideally suited to this emotional whirlpool and all three leads excel, backed up by a large but impressive ensemble who bear witness to the tragic consequences of Leontes’ blinkered viewpoint. Continue reading “Review: A Winter’s Tale, Landor”

Review: The Hired Man, Landor

“No greater pleasure than work done well”

The Hired Man was Howard Goodall’s first musical, setting Melvyn Bragg’s story of turn-of-the-century everyday rural Cumbrian life to a score inspired by Kurt Weill but primarily influenced by English choral and folk music. Based on events that happened to Bragg’s grandfather, the plot revolves around farmhand John Tallentine, his wife Emily and their family during a period of considerable social and economic upheaval as agriculture declines, pit mining advances and the shadow of the First World War threatens everything and everyone.

Though the scope of the story is huge, taking in a significant chunk of British social history, it is actually intimately told by focusing in on this single family and how the larger events impact their daily lives. In this respect, Andrew Keates’ production at the Landor is a great match of venue and material as we are taken right into the heart of this story and the struggles of its tightly-knit society to find just a little daily happiness as they work the land whether through a pie and a pint in the local or breaking marriage vows. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Landor”