Review: Finian’s Rainbow, Union Theatre

“Wanna cry, wanna croon,

wanna laugh like a loon”

Suspension of disbelief is par for the course with musical theatre, especially the type of obscure revivals that the Union Theatre specialises in, and Finian’s Rainbow is no exception in that respect. A leprechaun who is slowly turning into a human, a twinkle-eyed Irishman determined to grow a forest of gold, a mute girl who communicates solely through the medium of dance…this is unabashed hokum of the top order, but the sincerity of Phil Willmott’s sterling production makes it a genuine delight.

For what it’s worth, the plot concerns the twinkle-eyed Irishman Finian McLonegan’s efforts to make his fortune in the Deep South having borrowed a crock of gold from a leprechaun and marry off his granddaughter Sharon in the process. The community of tobacco pickers where they end up welcome them and their money with open arms but a corrupt and racist senator has other plans for the land on which they toil, putting their future in peril. E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy’s book contains much more dry humour than you might expect though, jabs about immigration and bankers showing how little things have changed in many respects. Continue reading “Review: Finian’s Rainbow, Union Theatre”

Review: King John, Union Theatre

“Whate’er you think, good words, I think, were best”

Given the ubiquity of productions of Shakespeare’s works in so many of our theatres, and in particular of certain works within the canon, one might assume that those that remain neglected remain so for a very good reason. But director Phil Willmott and the Union Theatre clearly do not agree and after the successful run last year of Double Falsehood, its disputed authorship notwithstanding, they have now turned to a play that was definitely by Shakespeare, but remains very rarely produced in the modern day – King John. They say things come in threes and after having seen Prince John in The Lion in Winter and in the RSC’s The Heart of Robin Hood, it seems apt to seen him all grown up in this play, even if it might as well have been three different people for all the continuity of character!

The play is focused on questions of legitimacy as John acceded to the throne at the expense of his nephew Arthur to control the Angevin Empire whose borders stretched far into France due to the land originally held by his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. But he is not a natural-born leader like his father Henry II or brother Richard the Lionheart and his already tenuous hold on his kingdom is further threatened when the King of France throws his support behind young Arthur and demands his abdication. Thus John is driven to increasingly desperate action as battles rage, noblemen’s loyalties waver and to cap it all off, the Pope is displeased and is considering excommunicating him. Continue reading “Review: King John, Union Theatre”