Review: Allegro, Southwark Playhouse

“We muffle all the undertones,
The minor blood-and-thunder tones;
The overtones are all we care to play”

Even Rodgers and Hammerstein can have a duff moment. Allegro is a rarity amongst their catalogue in that its 1947 debut was not the equal of the shows that they wrote before and after – you may have heard of them, Carousel and South Pacific… – and so has languished pretty much in obscurity ever since. But in these content-hungry, revisionist times, nothing lays untouched for too long and it is the expert hand of Thom Southerland who has brought us Allegro’s European premiere to the Southwark Playhouse.

I reviewed the 2009 first complete recording of the show in the summer and was surprised at how musically strong it was (helped of course by a stellar cast) so was intrigued to see how the book played out alongside it. And for me, it is not too hard to see why this is a show that has collected dust rather than accolades on the shelf. Telling the life and times of an ordinary American Joe, called Joe, from birth to childhood (told by puppets, eeesh!) through to mid-life crisis but so ordinary is Joe, so everyday the details of his life, that it is hard to get too excited by it. Continue reading “Review: Allegro, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum

“Has there ever been a moment
With so much to live 
for?” 

Dammit – one of the key rationales behind my Broadway blowout last winter was seeing actors I didn’t think I’d otherwise have the chance to see in the West End, Glenn Close being chief among them and thus I forked out a pretty penny to see her in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. So naturally her return to these shores was announced a few months later with a reprisal of her Tony Award-winning performance as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard.

And as with last year’s Sweeney Todd here at the Coliseum too, director Lonny Price and the ENO have returned to the semi-staged format which allows them to mount a bare-bones production and still charge full whack for tickets, prices thus go up to £150. I understand that money has to be made, especially for an organisation in as perilous a position as theirs and they say at least 400 tickets at every performance is available at £25 or under (altitude training not provided though…) Continue reading “Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum”

Review: The Stationmaster, Tristan Bates Theatre

“The train is coming…”

The third year of the From Page To Stage season of new musical theatre is now well underway at the Tristan Bates Theatre and the centrepiece of this year’s festival is a production of The Stationmaster with book by Susannah Pearse and music and lyrics by Tim Connor. The musical is an adaptation of Ödön von Horváth’s Judgment Day (last seen in London at the Almeida in 2009) but moves the action to a small town in the Lake District in 1958.

Life in Kirby is all homemade jam, cake competitions and friendly pints down the local and railway stationmaster Thomas Price is at the heart of the tight-knit community. But behind closed doors and the net curtains lies a certain disenchantment, his marriage to Catherine is under strain and a chance encounter with the equally disaffected Anna sends their lives hurtling down the wrong tracks, a disaster further compounded by the tragedy of their ensuing actions. Continue reading “Review: The Stationmaster, Tristan Bates Theatre”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”

The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.

Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

“At the top of the hole sit the privileged few”

And it is mostly the privileged few who’ll get to see this lavish English National Opera production of Sondheim’s oft-revived Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as stalls seats will set you back an eye-watering £95, £125 or £155. Somewhat cheaper seats are available from the upper circle upwards but still…* Lonny Price’s semi-staged production (with its nifty fake-out of a beginning) was first seen in New York in March 2014 but unsurprisingly, given it featured Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel as Mrs Lovett and the demon barber himself, it declared “there’s no place like London” and has now taken up residence in the Coliseum alongside a cast of nearly 40 musical theatre veterans (and Thompson’s daughter) and a lush-sounding  orchestra of 60.

Thompson and Terfel may be the headline names but the real pleasure comes in the luxury casting that surrounds them. Philip Quast and John Owen-Jones bring a richness of vocal to Judge Turpin and Pirelli respectively, Alex Gaumond and Jack North both mine effectively Dickensian depths to Beadle and Toby and there’s something glorious about having the marvellous Rosalie Craig here, even in so relatively minor a role as the Beggar Woman as her quality shines through despite that wig. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall as Anthony and Johanna are both really impressive too, their voices marrying beautifully as they respond intuitively to the textures of David Charles Obell’s orchestra. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum”

Review: Cabaret, New Wimbledon Theatre

“Start by admitting from cradle to tomb, it isn’t that long a stay”

Perhaps with a nod to the fact that it isn’t that long since it was in the West End, the touring production of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret directed by Rufus Norris is just playing a few days at the New Wimbledon Theatre before touring the country. It was a production that I enjoyed when I saw it back at the Savoy and crucially, it has made the one casting change it needed to really improve. Despite her best efforts, Michelle Ryan never felt really at home as Sally Bowles and the introduction of Siobhan Dillon is a clever one as she embodies the simultaneous fragility and strength of this most iconic of characters.

Otherwise, there isn’t too much more to say about it that wasn’t already said in that previous review. Will Young is a genuine revelation as a chilling Emcee, Matt Rawle’s bisexual writer Cliff exudes chemistry all around and the older lovers torn apart by the encroaching regime hits a real chiming note – Lyn Paul taking over from Siân Phillips against Linal Haft. And Valerie Cutko is an inspired casting choice for Fräulein Kost, a character I always end up wanting to see more of. Continue reading “Review: Cabaret, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Re-review: Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre

“There’s no place like London”

Last year was undoubtedly a great one for Chichester Festival Theatre’s musicals – Singin’ in the Rain and Sweeney Todd both figured very highly in end of year lists and both were granted West End transfers after their sell-out runs. But there’s always a danger in revisiting shows one has loved, there’s no guarantee that the magic will be recaptured again especially in larger theatres. So I’ve currently avoided going back to Singin’ in the Rain in its new home in the Palace (though never say never) and hadn’t thought I’d go back to Sweeney Todd which has just started previews at the Adelphi. But when kindly offered a ticket, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to return to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

My original review can be read here and in many ways, much of what I said still stands. It’s a highly atmospheric, effective production of Sondheim’s classic revenge tale which lives on its luxury lead casting in a transformed Michael Ball as the titular Todd and an incandescent Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett. Staunton truly is epic here, thoroughly attuned to the comedy especially in the one-upmanship of ‘A Little Priest’ but also movingly desperate as her inclinations remain unfulfilled and she is possibly better here than in Chichester. Michael Ball didn’t quite live up to the memory of his performance, missing some of the necessary malevolence, though he still sings the part well. Continue reading “Re-review: Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2012

Though the temptation is strong, and the actuality may well prove so, I don’t think I will be catching quite so much theatre in 2012 as I did last year. I could do with a slightly better balance in my life and also, I want to focus a little more on the things I know I have a stronger chance of enjoying.

So, I haven’t booked a huge amount thus far, especially outside of London where I think I will rely more on recommendations, but here’s what I’m currently looking forward to the most: Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2012”

Review: Sweeney Todd, Chichester Festival Theatre

“No denying times is hard sir, even harder than the worst pies in London”

This may surprise some people but Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is actually the same age as me given that I have been 29 for the last 3 years! As one of the few not to receive a major production in London in his 80th birthday year, the 1979 show Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street now receives attention from Chichester Festival Theatre with an excellent revival that will surely end up in the West End in due course. Jonathan Kent’s production relocates Hugh Wheeler’s book to the 1930s, playing on the overtones of economic crisis and undertones of emotional fascism, whilst Sondheim’s classic music and lyrics create worlds of emotional intensity. The story centres on Benjamin Barker, a skilled barber falsely charged and sentenced to transportation to Australia by a corrupt judge. Fifteen years later he returns to discover he has lost his wife and child, and so reinvents himself as Sweeney Todd, searching out for ways to be avenged. A chance meeting with former landlady Mrs Lovett sees him set up shop again as a barber in the room above her pie shop and the unlikely pair find a mutually convenient business arrangement as Todd finds it impossible to control his murderous urges and Lovett is in desperate need of cheap fillings for her pies…

Imelda Staunton is ideal casting for Mrs Lovett: younger readers will certainly recognise her as Dolores Umbridge but may not be aware of her outstanding musical theatre credentials which formed a major part of her earlier career, including an Olivier award winning turn as the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, also by Sondheim. The comic business of the first half with her discovery of the first body and the later ‘A Little Priest’ is as good as you would dare hope it could be, but where she really excels is in the second half as she delves into the darker side of this woman. The desperation exposed by Todd’s lack of enthusiasm for her seaside dream cuts deep but then as her young charge edges ever closer to the truth of what is going on, the ugly truth rears its head with a frankly terrifying rendition of ‘Not While I’m Around’ – don’t make eye contact with her at the end of the song, it will scar you for life! And Michael Ball as the titular Demon Barber is also terrifically good, he’s undergone quite the makeover and is virtually unrecognisable, looking more like a brownshirt than anything. He captures the laconic cruelty and the glowering menace of a man shorn of his moral framework and his rich voice swoops around Sondheim’s score with consummate ease. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, Chichester Festival Theatre”