(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 18 February)
There’s some part of most of us, if we’re honest, which revels in schadenfreude – in the theatre just as much as in other forms of life. Peter Quilter’s 2011 play about Judy Garland’s last, disastrous London season has been given a new production by the Mercury Theatre’s artistic director Daniel Buckroyd which launches itself on a major national tour between 22 February and 9 July.
We’re in a luxurious hotel room booked by Garland’s new manager (and soon-to-be fifth husband) Mickey Deans. Awaiting them is her long-time accompanist Anthony Chapman. Deans needs to keep her away from drink and pills, or he can see financial disaster ahead for the booked-out Talk of the Town performances. Chapman wants her to find some balance in her future life.
Basically a three-hander, the spotlight inevitably is on the actress who plays Garland. For me, Lisa Maxwell only seemed to arrive in the part with the first cabaret appearance. It’s as though she is trying too hard to inhabit the skin rather than the soul of her character. The scenes of pill-fuelled disintegration are well done, though the heart of the play remains in the exchange with Chapman when he suggests an alternative future.
Gary Wilmot makes Chapman thoroughly credible, as the gay man who accepts that his life cannot be as open as he would perhaps prefer but has understanding and practical compassion to spare. Sam Attwater makes no attempt to ply Deans for sympathy but allows you to appreciate how a rag-bag of emotions and motivations drive him. But there never is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
End of the Rainbow runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 20 February with a Saturday matinée. It also plays at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds 31 May-4 June.
(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 13 October)
Recycling is generally considered to be a good thing. There are however moments when one feels that the musical theatre is just overloading the system. I’ve lost count of the number of musicals just over the past decade which have been based on films, let alone actual stage plays or indeed novels.
The latest to come my way is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, based on a 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The music and lyrics are by David Yazbek and the book by Jeffrey Lane; the original story – about conmen preying on rich women holidaying on the French Riveria – has been tweaked and updated. Yazbek’s lyrics have some clever line endings and allusions.
One of the conmen is a middle-aged smoothie Lawrence Jameson (Kevin Stephen-Jones at the performance I saw) who is well practised in his “art”. His first victim is Muriel Eubanks (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who drifts from Laurence to his factotum André Thibault (Gary Wilmot). Then along comes tyro Freddy Benson (Noel Sullivan), eager not just to learn the tricks of the trade from a master but to surpass him.
if Lawrence is happy to shake off Oklahoma heiress Jolene Oakes (Phoebe Coupe), all gun-toting and boot-stomping, both men fall for Christine Colgate (Carley Stenson). Stephen-Jones is most effective as the Viennese “doctor” Shüffhausen in one of Lawrence’s more desperate ploys to get the girl; otherwise he’s convincing enough without taking as much of the centre-stage as he should.
Sullivan somewhat over-eggs Freddy – you don’t feel that he deserves even a half-share in Christine. Stenson and Fitzgerald both come over well, though for me the most interesting and convincing performance was that of Wilmot. Jerry Mitchell’s direction and choreography are both fast-moving. Costumes are by Peter McKintosh, and some of those for the women principals and dance ensemble are very attractive. The ten-piece band is directed by Ben Van Tienen.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 17 October. It also plays at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend between 10 and 14 November.