Monthly Archives: April 2016

Laila

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 27 April)

It is said that there are only five basic plots from which to construct a story. Young love thwarted by a combination of family, political and cultural pressures is surely one of these. In the West, we probably think of those star-crossed lovers Juliet and Romeo. In the East, there is the story of Laila and Qays.

Laila, the new musical from Rifco in association with the Palace Theatre, Watford and the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch has a fusion score by Sumeet Chopra, played under the direction of Benjamin Holder, lyrics by Dougal Irvine and a script by Pravesh Kumar. Choreography is by Cressida Carré, and is also a fusion of Indian classical and western modern steps and gestures.

The stry begins today, with a young British Asian girl Laila (Mona Goodwin) refusing her father(Ravin J Ganatra)’s injunction to marry the man he (but not she) has selected with due regard to that dangerously nebulous concept of honour. Then we step back several hundred years to a kingdom ruled by a man who has fought his way to his crown and now has a crown prince waiting impatiently for his turn.

Qays (Reece Babia), his father (Surrinder ‘Shin’Singh Parwana) and his cousin are the dispossessed previous ruling family; they are concerned that Qays’ passion for Laila will bring further destruction to them. But love will find a way – particularly young love seeing only black and white, and never the grey nuances so apparent to their elders.

The designer of the sparse set with its billowing drapes transforming from palace pillars to wind-scorched desert to ferocious flood is Libby Watson. There’s a shadow puppet sequence by Matthew Robins which is effective but needs a little more subtlety of manipulation (hands too visible) and atmospheric lighting designs by Philip Gladwell.

Goodwin, Bahia, Parwana and Ganatra are all effective in making their characters live and there’s a nice study of Laila’s maid by Sheena Patel. Sufi singer Asif Raza dominates some of the musical nubers; for my ears, the whole thing is somewhat over-miked, but that seems normal for musicals of all genres nowadays.

Laila runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Watford until 30 April with a matinée on 30 April. It also plays at the Arts Theatre Cambridge (9-14 May) and the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch (17-21 May).

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 April)

Erica Whyman’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which alighted at Norwich’s Theatre Royal this week as part of its five-month national tour, is part of the Shakespeare quatercentenary celebrations. At each venue, adult amateur actors play the mechanicals (here they are members of Norwich’s own The Common Lot) and children from a local school (Sprowston Community High School) make up the fairy train.

So far, so slightly unusual. Designer Tom Piper takes it all further with a set suggesting the aftermath of Second World War damage and the actors wearing clothes which evoke the 1940s. Interestingly, Oberon’s entourage are actor-musicians (Sam Kenyon is the composer of the sparsely evocative score) led by Tarek Merchant.

In Theseus (Sam Bedford)’s court, Peter Hamilton Dyer stands out as a military Egeus whose desire to force his daughter Hermia ((mercy Ojelade) into marriage with Chris Nyak’s self-satisfied and posturing Demetrius growls with menace. Nyak’s performance is one of the production’s gems, well contrasted by Jack Holden’s softer-keyed Lysander. An equally spiky relationship is that of Laura Harding’s Hippolyta with Bedford.

Laura Riseborough’s Helena looks right for the girl thrown over by Demerius, but – and the women of the cast with two major exceptions are mostly guilty – I had no sense that she really understood what her lines actually meant. That’s not something of which Ayesha Dharker’s sinuous Titania can be accused. Nor Lucy Ellison’s cabaret turn as Puck, all mischief with just a hint of actual wickedness underpinning her relationship with the audience.

Oberons come mainly in two guises; light and dark. Chu Omambala tips slightly towards the dark side – there is malice in his trick on Titania if not in his intervention on behalf of love-lorn Helena. The Common Lot has a Bottom in Owen Evans who practically steals the show from the professionals, though deliciously upstaged in the closing sequence of the play scene by Dan Fridd’s Flute.

Anyone who has ever attempted to direct a student or amateur play will sympathise with Amelia Hursey’s Quince, faced with a leading man who knows better than anyone else what’s needed – and tht he’s the man for the job. Charles Balfour’s lighting, a simple plot for the Athens scenes and subtle shifts of colour and shapes for the woodland interlude with a sunset glow suggesting both an all-encompassing night and the aftermath of devastation.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Swan Lake

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 19 April)

Northern Ballet has never forgotten that its original title was Northern Ballet Theatre. Artistic director David Nixon’s apprach to both the classics of the ballet repertoire and to commissioned new work uses the strength of the drama inherent in each plot just as much as the lyricism of the traditional choreography.

His casts need to act as well as dance. His new production of Swan Lake retains the outline of the Petipa and Ivanov scenario but with some very 21st century twists. Odette (Martha Leebolt at the performance I saw) is no fragile princess trapped by an evil magician.

Rather, she is in that seductive yet sinister tradition of the beautiful creature who materialises out of the water to lure a young man into her realm. From the naiads and sirens of Greek myth through those river-haunting undines and lorelei to the rusalye and the shape-shifting seal-women of Scandinavian legend – not to mention those familiar through Grimm and Andersen – they bring disaster for humans.

Idilia (Abigail Prudames) is of the earth but still vulnerable to rejection. Specifically she is of New England at the end of the 19th century. Both Anthony’s father (Hironao Takahashi) and mother (Victoria Sibson) want her to marry their son (Tobias Batley) who has grown into a personable but exceedingly troubled young man.

In childhood Anthony had seen his younger brother drown; now he haunts the lakeside where the tragedy occurred while coping with a realisation that his feelings for his best friend Simon (Nicola Gervasi) are trembling between accustomed comradeship and something much more passionate and sexual.

Horse-playing friends, with Ashley Dixon outstanding as the one who never quite pulls off the athleticism of the rest of the group, fail to involve Anthony in their sport. The choreography for the boys involves sequences of leaps and lifts, all very well executed with impeccable timing. Whirls and twirls pervade the pas de trois for Anthony, Simon and Odilia.

We revert to more familiar sequences when Anthony is once more alone at the lakeside. In the fading light Odette and her fellow “swans” emerge from the rushes and captivate Anthony. He overcomes his fear of the lake to join them, much to a returning Simon’s consternation.

At Anthony’s coming-of-age party, Odilia stands out among the preening young women in her white Parisian gown and the merrymaking culminates in another pas de trois for her with and equally entranced Simon which is both lyrical and demandingly intense.

By the third act, Odilia and Anthony have married, but he cannot escape the influence of Odette. Simon’s attempts to distract his friend simply result in a mutual and passionate embrace, which horrifies Odilia. Back at the lakeside, the dance of the four cygnets suggests embryonic vengeful Wilis as we return to the dance sequences for the swans.

Whether or not you count Anthony’s final plunge into their realm as a happy ending is a moot point. Dramatically, it all flows well enough, though the transitions from new, more contemporary choreography with the familiar 19th century one is not always seamless.

I had the impression that some audience members were slightly bemused. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia under Brett Morris made John Longstaff’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s score (with subtractions and additions) sound fresh and sympathetic to the performers on stage as well as in the pit. Dave Gillan’s designs and Peter Mumford’s clever lighting enhance the experience.

Swan Lake is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 23 April with matinées on 21 and 23 April. It can also be seen at the Milton Keynes Theatre between 26 and 30 April.

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016

The Silver Gym

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 18 April)

Nichola McAuliffe’s new comedy The Silver Gym premiered at Hornchurch’s Queen’s Theatre is in the tradition exemplified by Richard Harris’ Stepping Out of 1984. We meet a disparate group of women signing up for the gym which former soldier Stella (played by McAuliffe) is setting up in a near-derelict building in an equally ramshackle part of town.

Stella has ploughed all her savings into the venture; at first one wonders why on earth she should do it. Her new clients are nigab-masked Assieh (Susan Aderin), Jewish former pole-dancer Lysette (Kim Ismay), overweight Cerise (Pauline Daniels) and Violet (Suzanne Bygrave) and that token man Franklyn (Peter Straker), a street trader of fruit and vegetables. His laid-back performance almost runs away with the show

She also has a secretary Doucette (Houmi Miura), Rather more interested in doing her manicure than actually working. Into this mix add Casey (Carol Sloman), an upper middle-class wife with an agenda of her own. It’s all directed with considerable fire by Glen Walford within a realistic setting by Amy Yardley which works well until the final intended show-stopper sequence.

The individual performances are all very good; we can sometimes feel during our encounter with these slightly oddball people that we might might encounter them on the street in everyday life. McAuliffe has done her best to show us human beings, well aided by her cast, director and in the initial design. But ultimately they are types. Not quite two-dimensional, but never fully three-dimensional either.

The Silver Gym runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 7 May with matinée performances on 21 and 30 April.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Clybourne Park

(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 13 April)

Bruce Norris’ 2010 play picks up the closing scenes of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun with its Black Younger family about to move to Clybourne Park, a White suburb of Chicago.

Norris’ acerbic tragi-comedy has two stories, one set in 1959 and the other in 2009. Daniel Buckroyd’s new touring production for Colchester’s Mercury Theatre has the packing cases which became so prominent in A Raisin in the Sun lurking on the fringes of Jonathan Fensom’s set.

Only these are for the move of Russ (mark Womack) and Bev (Rebecca Manley); They are the couple who have sold to the Youngers, following a family tragedy. Carl (Ben Deery), having failed to deter the Youngers from their move is now desperate to prevent Russ and Bev – who may be ignorant of the skin colour of the new owners of their house – from completing the sale.

What concerns Carl is a mixture of in-bred racism coupled with a desire to maintain the status quo and to prevent the (as he sees it) inevitable meltdown in value of the whole Clybourne Park development. Deery controls Carl’s increasingly paranoid diatribes as he corrals William Troughten’s church minister Jim and his own pregnant deaf wife Betsry (Rebecca Oldfield) into half-hearted support.

Manley’s portrait of a wife and mother whose whole existence has been thrown out of kilter is equally three-dimensional. Her relationship with her Black maid Francine (Gloria Onitiri) is a brittle one; she values the help but ignores the person. Onitari gives us an apparently quiet, pliable woman with a rich life – a husband Albert (Woie Sawyerr) who excels in a skilled job and three children.

Russ and Bev’s tragedy is revealed slowly, and not fully until the second act. In this Lena (Onitiri) is concerned that the would-be purchasers of her house are proposing radical changes, practically a re-build. Womack’s bitterly authoritative Russ (a man who thinks, feels and suffers) is now transformed into Dan, the sort of workman you probably would be better off not employing.

The dénouement takes us into another dimension, removed from the reaism of everything which has gone before. By this time the audience is thoroughly gripped by the several dramas which have played out before it. This is an ending which was there from the beginning, but we needed to tease it out for ourselves.

Clybourne Park runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 23 April with matinées on 16, 21 and 23 April. The national tour runs until 28 May and includes the Arts Theatre, Cambridge (9-14 May).

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Somewhere in England

(reviewed at the Brentwood Theatre on 1 April)

Polly Wiseman’s new play for Eastern Angles – Somewhere in England is touring as the company’s contribution to the Eighth in the East project – takes two GIs and two girls living in rural Suffolk to weave a story of four clashes of cultures. Joe (Nathanael Campbell) is Black and a qualified engineer, though the American Air Force sees him only as useful labour at the base.

Chester (Joshua Hayes) is a White airman, who would actually prefer to be grounded; he thinks his friendly condescension towards Joe and Londoner Land girl Viv (Georgia Brown) mrks him out as someone superior. Viv has become something of a role model, though not always in the best way, by schoolgirl Ginny (Grace Osborn).

In some ways the plot follows an obvious course, though the characterisation of the main characters (Brown, Hayes and Osborn also take on other roles) is sufficiently sharp and in-depth to disguise any predictabilities. Gai Jones directs with a simple design by Ryan Dawson Laight and costumes which allow for quick changes on and off stage.

Campbell gives a nuanced performance as a man who knows that he world is skewed to be unjust, is prepared to contest this but knows where the limit are likely to be well into his old age – if he survives that long. You can’t really warm to – let alone like – Chester and Hayes wisely doesn’t attempt to gloss the man’s brash self-regard. Viv is a girl doing her bit for the war effort, but also feeling disorientated; this Brown conveys clearly.

Osborn’s Ginny develops into a fascinating character, a 15-year old with emotions beyond her age, caught between girlish gawkiness and a burgeoning maturity with which she is, as yet, unable to cope. It’s a stage most women will probably recognise from their own teenage. Tom Fox’s sound-scape puts us in the historical period punctuated by reminders that war is not a game.

Somewhere in England is on tour to 4 June including performances at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich (25-30 April), the Haverhill Arts Centre (10 May), the Luton Hat Factory (17 May), Sheringham’s Little Theatre (25 May), the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford (26 May) and The Cut, Halesworth (31 May).

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016