“There’s singing, there’s dancing, and all the Jews die in the end”
The West End production of Imagine This lasted for barely a month in 2008, so it usually one of the first shows named when it comes to lists of notorious flops. Which might explain, at least partly, why it has taken nearly a decade for anyone to go near the show again, that honour going to first-time director Harry Blumenau who is now mounting the musical at the Union Theatre, in a well-cast production seeking to reassess that reputation.
For me, as a first-timer to the show, it didn’t feel hard to see why it didn’t succeed. Glenn Berenbeim’s grimly stoic book is set in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 where a group of actors are trying to lift spirits by staging a play. And not just any play, it’s the story of the siege of Masada, a historical act of Jewish resistance and thereby flicking the v-sign to the Nazis. But Berenbeim attempts to gild the lily by throwing a would-be epic romance which ultimately cheapens the narrative fatally. Continue reading “Review: Imagine This, Union Theatre”
“We’re not hurried, or flurried, or worried, for ourselves”
The Hired Man remains one of my all-time favourite British musicals, the lusciousness of Howard Goodall’s score simply gorgeous to listen and so any opportunity to hear it is one gladly taken. The Union Theatre’s Goodall festival a couple of years ago featured the dreaming, Love Story, and Girlfriends and you wouldn’t put it past them to host the fringe premiere of Bend It Like Beckham sometime soon, but it is the show based on Melvyn Bragg’s novel that takes the spotlight for now.
Set at the turn of the previous century in the unforgiving rural landscape of Cumbria, The Hired Man himself is the hard-working John Tallentire, a man who will turn to any aspect of working the land – above in the field or below in the mines – to support his family, but in difficult times and with the Great War approaching, life is tough. From love triangles to family tragedies, organised labour disputes to the brutal realities of war, a laugh-a-minute musical comedy this is not.
Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Union Theatre”
“I think, I think…”
Jerry Herman’s The Grand Tour flopped on Broadway which explains a little of why it has taken 36 years for it to make its premiere in Europe. Another reason is the strange tone of Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book, based on a play by SN Behrman, which plots an odd couple roadtrip and ensuing love triangle against the Nazi occupation of France in 1940. Polish compatriots Jewish intellectual SL Jacobowsky and Catholic aristocrat Colonel Stjerbinsky reluctantly join forces in Paris to make their escape, picking up the Colonel’s French lover Marianne on the way, and ending up in all sorts of jolly japes and adventures which are more Boy’s Own than Wilfred Owen.
Director Thom Southerland has great form with musical revivals though and aspects of his work here are superb. Phil Lindley’s approach to designing this show should be studied by all aspiring designers as an inspired way of dealing with the intimacy of a space such as the Finborough. His European map-featuring set unfolds multipally like the pages of a pop-up book to take us from the front seat of a car to the heights of a high-wire, the stillness of a church and the bracing winds of a harbour amongst many other locations, and it does so with real elegance. I’d only question why Belgium appears to have been erased from the map and given how much Saint-Nazaire is referred to in the show, whether that might have been added too. Continue reading “Review: The Grand Tour, Finborough Theatre”
“It’s not what I expected.
Is it what you expected?”
I doubt it was fully the intention of bookwriter Adam Mathais and composer Brad Alexander to suggest Dante’s circles of hell in the unconnected stories of their song cycle See Rock City And Other Destinations but there are moments when it might feel like it. The show purports to show vignettes of people searching for the meaning of life and love against the backdrop of different US landmarks with no real connection between them all save the shadowy presence of the Tour Guide, lurking at each scene.
In reality, we get fragments of stories accompanied by a handful of songs each which a youthful company try their hardest to make register but few really succeed. They’re hardly helped by a format which allows so short a time to establish their characters and a score which seems intent mainly on showcasing a wide range of musical styles rather than really forming any sort of narrative push or wider coherence to the scattered storytelling. Nor does Graham Hubbard’s direction really help us to find any connective tissue that might help the piece hang together more effectively. Continue reading “Review: See Rock City And Other Destinations, Union Theatre”