Review: All Or Nothing, Ambassadors

The ‘small’ show that could – from the Vaults to the Arts and now to the West End, Small Faces musical All Or Nothing transfers to the Ambassadors Theatre

“I am going to exploit every last bit of you”

I have to hold my hands up, I couldn’t name you more than one Small Faces song if I tried, and that’s only because of the M-People cover of ‘Itchycoo Park’ from my formative years. Which is the main reason that it has taken me this long to getting round to see All Or Nothing, the nature of a jukebox musical tending towards existing fans of the music.

Of course, the ideal is that a show can break out to expand its reach to a wider audience (in a way that Sunny Afternoon did, for me at least), and I’m not sure that All or Nothing quite has those chops. Introduced and quasi-narrated by an older Steve Marriott, the band’s frontman, who reflects back on the band’s rise to fame with something close to rose-tinted glasses. Continue reading “Review: All Or Nothing, Ambassadors”

Review: Lear, Union Theatre

“She’s there, and she is yours”

 
What if King Lear were a woman? One of the most fascinating aspects of Phil WIllmott’s version of Lear for the Union Theatre is the collection of responses, collated here in the programme, he received when posting this question on Facebook. It lays bare much about our theatrical culture and it speaks volumes that it has taken a fringe venue to make the move of making Lear a queen. Here Ursula Mohan steps into this most iconic of Shakespearean roles, in what proves to be a fascinating piece of theatre. 

An ambivalence of tone in the opening section suggests any number of interpretations might be at play in this modern day adaptation – manila folders suggest the division of a business empire rather than a kingdom, the fool’s green scrubs and readiness with a bottle of pills hints at institutionalisation, only the ever-present handbag feels like a determined (if cheeky) nod to regality. And this ambiguity gains real strength in the madness on the heath with its people sleeping rough under cardboard, shopping trollies full of junk being pushed around – the production feels powerful in this non-specific but definitely contemporary milieu. Continue reading “Review: Lear, 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”

Review: The Recruiting Officer, Radio 3

“He that bids the fairest, has me”

So following on from the production of Our Country’s Good on Radio 4, Radio 3 then had the version of The Recruiting Officer as ‘performed’ by the cast of convicts. I love reading about plays I’ve never heard of – The Recruiting Officer is Josie Rourke’s opening salvo at the Donmar Warehouse so I’ll get to see it fairly soon – and reading about it, I was duly informed that it was the most popular play in the entire 18th Century (even more so than Hamlet…) and its other claim to fame is that it was the first play to be performed in Australia (though I suppose that assumes that there’s no theatre in the Aborigine culture). As I now know, this latter point is the crux of Our Country’s Good, which I rather enjoyed, so I was quite content to spend the second half of my journey finishing this double bill.

Sadly though, it wasn’t half as entertaining for me (and not just because of the devil’s spawn that got on my carriage at Crewe). The antics of this Restoration comedy – where army officers descend on Shrewsbury to seduce new recruits into bolstering the army and to seduce women into marriage and/or their beds – didn’t quite come across as well as I would have hoped. Having lost the physical side of the humour, I just didn’t really get into the right mindset for it at any point, it rarely made me laugh and not knowing the play, I was also quite a bit confused about who everyone was – I definitely needed the visual clues! Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer, Radio 3”

Review: Our Country’s Good, Radio 4

“Who would act in a play?
‘The convicts of course’”

I hadn’t ever listened to a play on the radio before until Mike Bartlett’s Cock last month (indeed I don’t listen to the radio at all) and though I enjoyed revisiting that show, I couldn’t quite figure out the logistics of listening to theatre, eventually figuring out that I actually needed to stop doing anything else and just give it my full attention. I don’t really have much spare time though so I didn’t think that I’d be returning to the wireless to increase my theatrical fix. But a double bill of fascinating plays – Our Country’s Good and The Recruiting Officer – with an all-star thesp-heavy cast tempted me back and provided me with a most entertaining soundtrack for my Christmas journey home.

Funnily enough, I have seen neither play before but have tickets to see both in the early months of next year: Our Country’s Good at the Rose, Kingston and The Recruiting Officer at the Donmar, and I hadn’t realised the connection between the two before starting the first play. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good is based on a novel by Thomas Keneally which tells the true story of Lieutenant Ralph Clark’s 1789 attempts to put on a production of George Farquhar’s play The Recruiting Officer using a cast of convicts in a penal colony in New South Wales. This radio production was then followed by the convicts’ version of The Recruiting Officer, using much of the same cast. Continue reading “Review: Our Country’s Good, Radio 4”