Monthly Archives: August 2018

Oklahoma!

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 30 August

Few musicals of the 1940s have stood the test of time with repeated revivals. Oklahoma! by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II passes with flying colours. Catherine Lomax directs this new Gordon Craig Theatre production which treats it as the musical play – rather than operetta or musical comedy – intended.

Her musical director Rob Scott takes his 15-piece orchestra through the score with panache, from the brisk overture through the mock-solemnity of “Poor Jud is dead” to the lyricism of “People will say we’re in love” and “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”.  The large cast act, sing and dance (choreography is by Khiley Williams and Philip Joel) with skill and energy.

Carrie Sutton makes an attractive Laurey, the girl who finds herself with one suitor too many. Lisa Bridge’s Ado Annie is engaging and has a memorable laugh which is part irritated cockerel and part aggravated hyena. Jeremy Batt leads the male dancers as Will Parker, sort-of-rivaled by Joe Leather’s pedler Ali Hakim.

There are also good portraits from Alice Redmond as Aunt Eller and Ian McLarnon as Ado Annie’s father. Joshua Gannon has a strong if not subtle voice and his Curly is very credible. Villain of the piece is Jud Fry and Connor Ewing makes the most of both his brutality and the sense of isolation which fuels it.

No designer is credited for the costumes or the set which transforms between four locations in the course of the action. it works very well, as does Peter Kramer’s lighting. For my taste, sound designer Luke Hyde has overdone the use of mics diminishing the graduation of sound as the story unfolds.

Four star rating.

Oklahomo! runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 8 September with matinées on 1, 6 and 8 September.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

The Merchant of Venice

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 29 August

Gender-, age- and colour-blind casting is an excellent thing. In theory. In practice it can be incredibly distracting unless made logical by the drama itself. The three comedies which Brendan O’Hea has directed for Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour this summer use only eight actors, most of whom double or treble rôles.

Designer Andrew D Edwards doesn’t really clarify anything with his costumes; the set is a stark matter of two-level boarding with metal supports. The cast play and sing the Bill Barclay’s music in the course of the action and to top and tail the show.

Shylock is the dominant character in The Merchant of Venice. Sarah Finigan offers both the man’s bitterness as a Venetian second-class resident and his certainty of his own righteousness as a Jew, a family man and a money-lender. She speaks the lines admirably with a full sense of what they mean.

That is also true of Russell Layton’s Antonio, brooding as much on possible sexual frustration as for the vulnerability of his trading ships. Rhianna McGreevy as Nerissa, Steffan Cennydd as Lorenzo, the Prince of Aragon and the Doge and Jacqueline Phillips’s Portia are also good.

It’s a play which, however well you think you know it and have experienced a variety of productions, should concentrate the audience’s attention on its tangle of themes. Racial stereotyping is certainly one; whether the power which money brings is inhibiting or a force for good/evil is another.

Concentrating on this is difficult when you are distracted by a young woman playing a middle-aged man or an imbalance of age with two of the wooing couples. That androgynous costuming doesn’t help. You can parallel how plays toured in the late 16th century, but we see with 21st century eyes and listen with 21st century ears.

Simplicity of staging should allow an audience to focus directly on the play. As with all such things, simplicity is a transparent and fragile shield. What is revealed is all-important. For me, this production distracted just as much as an overly elaborate or time-shifted one.

Three and a half-star rating.

The Merchant of Venice plays in repertoire with The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 1 September. There are matinées on 30 August and 1 September.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Goodnight Mister Tom

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 28 August

David Wood’s stage version of the book by Michelle Magorian, in Karen Simpson’s production percolates the music of the Second World War as a counterpoint to the story of on small boy’s evacuation from London to the countryside.

William Beech (Jasmine Briggs) is not a happy child. His embittered mother has twisted her stark religion and personal frustrations into a strap with which – quite literally – she lambasts her son. His bruises are both external and internal.

Billeted on elderly widower Tom Oakley (Roy Hudd), his life begins to change around. Initially the sport of his new schoolmates (he can neither read nor write, but can draw), he slowly becomes integrated into village life and in the process makes friends.

Chief among these proves to be another evacuee. Zach (William Ennew). Zach is a thorough-going extrovert with parents who are both professional actors. There is also Tom Oakley’s dog Sammy, a life-size border collie puppet very well operated by Julia Cave.

The incidental music is directed by Pat Whymark and very well sung and played by the Theatre Royal’s Young Company. Hudd makes a thoroughly enjoyable Oakley, mourning his long-dead wife and their baby son with quiet dignity, and completely credible in the way his relationship with William develops.

As Mrs Beech, Sarah-Louise Young is unrelenting in her portrait of a woman who is her own worst enemy. The first half drags just a little bit, but picks up pace after the interval. Alison Heffernan’s set whisks us from London to the countryside; its splintered wooden planks suggest both rural weatherboard cottages, the bleakness of Mrs Beech’s home and the aftermath of the Blitz.

Four star rating.

Goodnight Mister Tom runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 8 November. There are matinées on 29 August, 2 and 8 September.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

An Officer and a Gentleman

reviewed at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich on 27 August

We all have dreams, and nightmares. Sometimes they come true. The stage musical version of the 1982 film  has a book by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen with songs from the original orchestrated by Tom Marshall directed by Michael Riley.

This touring production by Nikolai Foster originated at the Curve in Leicester. It has a flexible set – ladders, some furniture – by Michael Taylor and relies mainly on Ben Cracknell’s lighting and Douglas O’Connell’s video to take us between the naval training facility and the paper factory where the main characters work.

For a 2018 audience, one of the most interesting of these is Casey (Keisha Atwell), the girl who breaks one type of glass ceiling with her determination to become a naval navigator. Both Paula (Emma Williams) and Lynette (Jessica Daley) are equally frustrated by their monotonous work with no chance of real promotion.

They have different escape routes, though. Atwell shows Casey’s dogged determination, which wins her the respect of her fellow trainees and even of the hard-bitten sergeant Foley (Ray Shell), who drives his latest recruits to  breaking point.

In the case of Sid (Ian McIntosh), the strain is exacerbated by his romance with Lynette, prepared to go a step too far to secure a future. Both Daley and Williams have strong voices as well as making both the contrast and the similarities in the two girls clear.

Jonny Fines’ Zack is another troubled soul who joins up to escape both the no-end gangland culture sucking him in and the bitterness of his former petty officer father Byron (an excellent cameo by Darren Bennett),

You can’t have a musical without movement. In this instance it’s Kate Prince’s choreography which provides both the energy of the different dance venues in which out young people find themselves and the athleticism as well as precision of the military drills and exercises – not to mention the fights.

This variation on An Officer and a Gentleman has visual style, talent and integrity. I’m not so sure about its heart. That, for me at any rate, remained slightly two-dimensional.

Three and a half-star rating.

An Officer and a Gentleman runs at the regent Theatre, Ipswich until 1 September with matinée performances on 30 August and 1 September.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Miss Saigon

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 17 August

This touring production of the Boublil and Schönberg musical Miss Saigon is a spectacular affair. So much so that the story – a transposition of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly to the frenetic conclusion of the Vietnam conflict – can seem lost in the precision of the choreography and the kaleidoscope of effects.

Sooha Kim is moving as the girl adrift in 1975 Saigon who falls in love with an American soldier Chris (Ashley Gilmour) and finds herself trapped by an émigré nightmare in Bangkok from which there is only one exit.

Dominating the action is the night-club boss with his fingers in a whole mess of very sticky pies known as the Engineer. Christian Rey Marbella swashbuckles his way into the audience’s attention; he provides a classic example of the villain who steals the show.

Two characters with more principles, albeit radically differing ones, are Chris’s comrade John (Ryan O’Gorman) and revolutionary Thuy (Gerald Santos). Elana Martin’s Ellen, Chris’ American wife, has a strong personality as well as a good voice.

Miss Saigon is through-composed and the score is well supported by a fifteen-piece orchestra directed by Matthew J Loughran. “It’s all done with smoke and mirrors” runs the adage, but in Laurence Connor’s production, the special effects and lighting make the saying come true.

Five star rating.

Miss Saigon runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 15 September with matinées on 18, 22, 25 and 29 August and 1, 5, 8, 12 and 15 September as part of a national tour.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Fiddler on the Roof

reviewed at the Frinton Greensward Tent on 14 August

A blue and red striped circus tent pitched on Frinton’s iconic Greensward makes an ideal place in which to stage a musical which sets impermanence against traditions.it is an indoor space which protects from but never can quite blocks out the world outside.

Edward Max’s production  of Fiddler on the Roof puts an unusual spin on Aleichem’s Tevye stories about the Jewish community of Anatevka in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century.

He reverses the idea of a story about small people helplessly manipulated by the puppet-masters of Heaven and the Tsarist régime and makes the destruction-minded official Russian authorities into actual puppets. The dead grandmother and wife of the dream sequence are also rod puppets.

The musical director for the fifteen-strong cast – most of whom also play musical instruments and have strong singing voices – is Michael Webborn with Darius Thompson as the eponymous fiddler.

Beth Colley’s setting of jagged wooden struts suggests the isolated rural location while Neil Gordon’s costume designs employ an earth-coloured palette, with the exception of matchmaker Yente (Claire Greenway)’s black bombazine.

The lighting design of Adam Carree takes us from day to night, winter to summer with a particularly effective shadow play for the candle-lit Sabbath supper. If the puppet design is down to Colley, then whoever taught the various cast members to manipulate them also deserves proper credit.

Dougal Lee’s Tevye dominates the story, as he should. His almost fanatical sense of tradition balances with an equally powerful sense of God’s omnipotence; there are times when you want to shake modernity into the man, but you can’t help admiring his stubbornness.

Golde, Tevye’s wife adds her own dose of practicality; their lives are after all subject to whims and decrees from far-off St Petersburg. Laurel Dougall gives us a proper sense of this as she comes to terms with the very different aspirations of her three older daughters.

Eleanor Toms as Teitzel, who prefers tailor Motel (Laurie Denman) to wealthy widower Lazar (Stephen John Davies), is the first to fly what is becoming a constrictive nest. Second daughter Hodel (Leah Penston) is happy to join Perchik (Ifan Gwilym-Jones) in his political radicalism, even if theat means exile to Siberia.

Sister Chava (Rebecca Ferrin) makes the most disruptive choice of the three – gentile revolutionary Fyedfka (Rob Gathercole).All three pairs cope well with their musical numbers and also convey a real sense of what are sometimes conflicting feelings.

Choreographer Gabriella Bird has a real sense of folk and country dance and these numbers go with a proper swing and exuberance. Overall it’s a production which would not disgrace a larger stage and a lavishly-funded company. In the interests of clarity, though, I would suggest modifying those over-heavy Jewish and Russian accents.

Four and a half-star rating.

Fiddler on the Roof runs at the Frinton Greensward Tent until 19 August with matinées on 16 and 19 August.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Perfect Nonsense

reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 13 August

The Goodale Brothers’ PG Wodehouse confection based on the Jeeves and Wooster characters is an ideal choice for Suffolk Summer Theatres. It is a light-hearted whirl of seaside candyfloss; its audience has to do nothing more strenuous than enjoy its daftness.

Mark Sterling’s production has a clever set by Tory Cobb which emphasises the cartoonish characters and plot. Its folding screens keeps the action moving from various town and country houses to the shops and rural roads of 1928 England.

There are three actors of whom Rick Savery (Jeeves) and Morgan Thrift (fellow butler Seppings) take on the dozen other characters our dim-witted hero Bertie Wooster (Tom Girvin) encounters.

Girvin is the fall-guy in this tale of a cow-creamer, a thwarted love affair and the intervention of various forces of the law. He radiates just the right level of gormless good-nature.

If Savery’s succession of bullies – including one who would stand in for Giant Blunderbus in any production of Jack and the Beanstalk – is hilarious, they are topped by Thrift’s unflappable Jeeves, simpering Madeline and short-sighted Gussie.

The summer weather may have resumed its traditional mix of sunshine and showers but there are indoor treats on offer along the Suffolk coast.

Four star rating.

Perfect Nonsense runs at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 18 August with early evening performances also on 16 and 18 July. It transfers to the Southwold Arts Centre between 20 August and 1 September with matinées on 21 and 28 August and additional early evening performances on 23, 25, 30 August and 1 September. There are no Friday performances n Southwold.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Love Virtually

reviewed at the Frinton Summer Theatre on 7 August

How do you carry on a 21st century love affair? Romantic entanglements used to be fuelled by the exchange of letters. Nowadays it seems all to be an electronic business.

That’s the theme of Daniel Glattauer’s two e-epistolary novels Love Virtually and The Seventh Wave.They have been translated by Katherina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch and become an international hit.

Eileen Horne’s stage adaptation for two live actors, a variety of projections, many costume changes Neil Gordon) and the ubiquitous smartphones and laptops keeps the “will she? won’t he?” keeps the tension taut. This is the UK première.

Emma/Emmi has a devoted older husband Bernard and two stepchildren. Leo has one of those digital jobs which seem to have proliferated at the same time as technological wizardry. He as a sister and an on-off girlfriend.

It all begins when Emma (Annabel Wright) grows increasingly frustrated with her attempts to cancel a magazine subscription. Leo (Oliver Le Sueur) is the recipient of her mounting anger. Somehow this then becomes a more friendly exchange.

If you think you can see where all this is heading – think again. It’s a very European take on a story, for all the transposed London setting. Beth Colley’s designs work splendidly; there is a proper sense of distance even though the McGrigor Hall stage is a narrow one.

Wright is very good as Emma/Emmi, with her life unravelling online as well as on the ground. Le Sueur is a trifle too subdued, not to say inaudible, as Leo. Director Clive Brill has a Skype-style cameo as Bernard which emphasises that reality hurts.

Four and a half-star rating.

Love Virtually runs at the Frinton Summer Theatre until 11 August with a matinée on 11 August.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Much Ado About Nothing

reviewed at  the Theatre in the Forest, Wherstead on 3 August

Outdoor theatre attracts mixed-age audiences. That can prove problematic when the show in question is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies. The Red Rose Chain has made a specialisation of small-cast visually updated versions; Joanna Carrick’s new production is the latest.

With two global conflict anniversaries hovering in all our backgrounds, this one (like Colchester’s 2016 production) has a Second World War setting. Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick are all fighter pilots. Leonata is a Woman’s Auxiliary Force officer.

Her daughter Hero is a nurse and her niece Beatrice is a land-girl. Of course, the men of the town’s constabulary and all Dad’s Army clones. The set by Carrick, Jack Heydon, David Newborn and Rob Young shows a camouflaged tunnel entrance, a watch-tower and a Red Cross station. Kathryn Thorogood’s costumes allow for all the required quick changes.

All six actors play two parts. Fizz Waller doubles a mercurial Beatrice with a show-stealing Dogberry. Ricky Oakley’s urbane Benedick reverses into the uncouth Conrade. Haydon’s pliable Claudio becomes an over-the-top Margaret, given to strip-tease.

Oliver Cudbill is an ecclesiastical Don Pedro and pedantic constable Verges. Captive Don John, who sets one of the play’s plot themes running, is a combat-crippled eyesore; a good contrast in characterisations with authoritarian Leonata for Claire Lloyd. Joanna Sawyer gives as much spark as possible to the abused Hero.

“I didn’t write the words” mutters Oakley’s Benedick at one point. No, Shakespeare did – but certainly not all of them in Carrick’s staging. The slapstick, music and jitterbugging both ornament and distract from the drama. But what else can you expect when even the forest birds join in on cue?

Four star rating.

Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Theatre in the Forest, Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead until 26 August. There are matinées on 4 and 11 August.

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Family & children's shows, Plays, Reviews 2018

Babe, the Sheep-Pig

reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 2 August

It’s not surprising that Dick King-Smith’s book The Sheep-Pig has won hearts since 1983. The eponymous hero Babe is a heart-stealer, well personified in the realistic puppet ably manipulated by Jonathan Cobb in Katie Posner’s new production of the David Wood stage adaptation for the Mercury Theatre.

You may never have been within touching proximity to a sheep or a pig until it reaches your plate, but farm animals of all kinds have parading before us from earliest childhood, in picture books, bedtime stories and television animation.

Sheep-dog trials have become a television favourite. Is it the unpredictability – so much depends on animal as well as human behaviour?  Or is it that they blend a unique combination of scenic location with hard-learnt skills?

Babe’s mentor on Mr and Mrs Hoggett (Gareth Clarke and Heather Phoenix)’s farm is sheep-dog Fly (Jessica Dyas). Dyas establishes a rapport with the young audience  from her first entrance as she introduces the bewildered piglet to the other animals.

These include the supercilious cat (Rachel Hammond), the blowing-his-own-trumpet cockerel (Joseph Tweedale and the strutting turkey (James Peake). Not that country life is all sunshine and fodder. it also harbours both human and animal predators.

Among the victims is old ewe Ma (Ebony Feare). The picture-book settings and animal costumes by Sara Perks work well, as does Alexandra Stafford’s lighting; the catchy score is by Richard Reeday.

There are occasions when one feels that adult audience members are there as a sort of penance. This is one of those shows which appeals on all age levels, clever enough to hold grown-up attention while subtly draping the central philosophy of courtesy as well as skill with an almost hypnotic rhythm.

Five star rating.

Babe, the Sheep-Pig runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 26 August with daytime performances.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2018