Review: Gypsy, Royal Exchange

Because nothing says Merry Christmas like a stage mum going off the rails….! Gypsy offers a different festive treat at Manchester’s Royal Exchange

“If the cow goes, I go”

The choice of the festive musical is a big one for many a venue, and they don’t come much bigger than Broadway classic Gypsy, which director Jo Davies has tackled for the Royal Exchange (returning to Manchester after a really rather excellent Twelfth Night). It also feels a bit of a bold choice given that the shadow of Imelda Staunton looms large for many, though that was over four years ago now. And if we consider Mama Rose to be the ne plus ultra of female MT roles, well you rarely hear people complaining about the endless succession of Hamlets and Lears, so it is more than time for a new Rose to bloom.

Davies gets a lot right, particularly in terms of her collaborators. Andrew Wright’s choreography makes considered use of the space, brilliantly exploiting the intimacy of being in the round (this is definitely a show to splash out on stalls seats for) as Leo Munby’s musical direction delivers a bright, if fairly traditional rendition of Jule Styne’s iconic score. The bulb-bright flashes of Colin Grenfell’s lighting are showstoppingly effective throughout, particularly when allied with the mobile rig that dominates Francis O’Connor’s set. The sequence where ghosts of the past come to bear witness to a crucial decision by Rose is stunningly, hauntingly effective. Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Royal Exchange”

11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017

As ever, the wait for the end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances has to continue until I’ve actually stopped seeing theatre in 2017. But in the meantime, here’s a list of 11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017, the things that first pop into my mind when someone says ‘what did you enjoy this year’. For reference, here’s my 2016 list, 2015 list and 2014 list.

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Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

“When that I was a little boy”

Even with the best of intentions, it can be a little too easy to forget that there’s more to LGBT+ than just the G. Representations of gay men are increasingly common in our theatres but pickings are slim if we look towards the lesbian, bi, and transgender characters and stories. So it’s interesting to see directors turning to Shakespeare, and specifically Twelfth Night, to address that in a couple of high profile productions this year. Simon Godwin shifted the nature of Malvolio’s illicit passion by casting Tamsin Greig as Malvolia, and now Jo Davies has moved along the acronym by casting transgender performer, writer and activist Kate O’Donnell as Feste at the Royal Exchange.

And far from any suggestion of a gimmick, it’s a deeply sensitive, nuanced take on the role that breathes a real sense of contemporary life into the show. Her experience on the cabaret circuit shows in the ease with which she entertains her audience, whether onstage with the text or bantering off-book with the stalls crowd in the interval, but as funny as she is, there’s a depth to her stage presence too. An extra-textual moment where she clocks the cross-dressed Viola in the dark with a hint of recognition, the gorgeous melancholy with which the resonance of her final song grabs you – “when I came to man’s estate…”, this is the verse sprung to life anew. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Manchester’s Royal Exchange have announced the details for their production of Twelfth Night which arrives this spring. It is directed by the award-winning Jo Davies who makes her Royal Exchange debut with Shakespeare’s whirlwind comedy. Faith Omole, Kevin Harvey and Mina Anwar return to the Exchange as Viola, Orsino and Maria, Kate Kennedy takes on the role of Olivia and Anthony Calf is Malvolio. 

And in its own spin on the gender, identity and love issues at the heart of the play, award-winning Manchester-based transgender artist and activist Kate O’Donnell makes her Royal Exchange debut in the role of Feste, the wise observer in this foolish, lovesick kingdom. Live music from the critically acclaimed folk musician Kate Young and lap-tap guitarist Joe Gravil adds to the complexity of this intricate comedy which probes gender-politics and ideas of belonging. The play runs from 13 April – 20 May.

The cast is completed by Aaron Anthony, Simon Armstrong, Harry Attwell, Daniel Francis-Swaby, Tarek Merchant and Jill Myers. The creative team includes Designer Leslie Travers, Lighting Designer Jack Knowles, Sound Designer Pete Malkin and Composer Alex Baranowski.

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