Tag Archives: Lizzi Gee

The Jungle Book

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 20 March

Stories, whether set in the past or in fantasy setting, inevitably reflect the culture in which they are written. Kipling nowadays is seen as the laureate of the Raj, a view which (while perfectly legitimate from a 2018 perspective) can overshadow his real and deep understanding of India, both social and natural.

We’ve become accustomed therefore to prettied-up, emasculated versions of the Jungle Book stories. The Children’s Touring Partnership’s new production is certainly of our time and place, but – for me, at any rate – it captures most of the essence of the original.

This is a musical version, scripted by Jessica Swale with an original score by Joe Stilgoe. Max Webster’s direction sets his cast on a revolve with a scaffolding set by Peter McKintosh (who also designed the costumes) and choreography by Lizzi Gee which exploits both the pack and the solo nature of wild animals.

A succession of puppets by Nick Barnes ranges from the simplicity of those representing the child Mowgli  and the kite Chil to the glistening coils (lots of them) of the python Kaa (Rachel Dawson). Central to the story is Mowgli, feral in more than one way, who Keziah Joseph fully brings to life (and our sympathetic understanding).

Lloyd Gorman’s Shere Khan is a commanding villain with the height and presence to command his scenes as well as the jungle denizens; he also has a very good singing voice. His opposite number is Dyfrig Morris’ Balloo, a sloth bear with just a touch of Paddington and Winnie the Pooh – not to mention the pantomime comic.

As the wolf-pack leader Akela, Tripti Tripuraneni radiates the right sort of authority as in the different way does Deborah Oyelade’s Bagheera with a panther-like disregard for slower creatures. Most of the cast take on other roles, including the dangerously mischievous Bandar-Log tribe of monkeys.

Costumes, movements and Charles Balfour’s lighting remind us that we are in an Indian jungle butting onto human villages, villages whose relations with the water-holes and vegetation around them both nurture and threaten. It’s probably not a show for very young children, but it is one to provoke thought.

After all, that’s what story-telling has been doing for millenia.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Jungle Book continues at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 24 March with matinées on 22 and 24 March. The tour also includes the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 10 and 14 April.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

The Pirates of Penzance

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 9 June)

Sasha Regan’s all-male staging of the much-loved Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance is closer in spirit and appearance to a Matthew Bourne production, such as his mainly male Swan Lake, than to a pure drag show.

Designer Robyn Wilson-Owen has created a nice blend of late 19th century white gowns when the hard-working ensemble portray Major-General Stanley’s bevy of wards with little attempt to disguise the arm muscles, hair-styles or facial features of the singer-actor-dancers. As pirates, they also wear white with a flamboyant waistcoat to differentiate Neil Moors’ Pirate King and a modest jerkin for Samuel Nunn’s Frederic.

Miles Western’s Major-General is natty in scarlet coat, white breeches and gleaming black boots; he also manages the tongue-twisting two patter songs very well. If Alex Weatherhill’s Ruth carries off the acting honours, it is Alan Richardson’s Mabel, with a seemingly effortless ability to sing coloratura embellishments who wins the vocal stakes.

Mabel is flanked by a finely differentiated quartet of “sisters” – Chris Theo Cook, Dale Page, Ben Irish and Richard Russell Edwards; their corresponding pirate persona are equally well played. Lizzi Gee’s choreography is inventive while not above taking a couple of side-swipes at G & S conventions.

Pirate King Moos is a genial sort of cove, a trifle light-voiced perhaps for the role. The platoon of police, with their blue shirts and lorgnette moustaches, are led by James Waud; both “When the foeman bares his steel” and “when a felon’s not engaged” make their proper impact and proved near-showstoppers.

Most of Gilbert’s (to 21st century ears) excruciating puns are left intact. The score is a piano reduction with musical director David Griffiths at audience level in the orchestra pit; the a cappella “Hail, poetry” is particularly fine. Some of the shifts between registers, particularly falsetto and natural voice, lie a trifle awkwardly; Nunn and Weatherhill wandered off-key in their “Oh! false one” exchange.

If you’re an old-school G & S purist, wedded to the old D’Oyly Carte Company style, you may not enjoy this type of production. But if you take an open mind to it, there’s much to savour. And – these days – what a treat to hear people humming the tunes as they leave the theatre.

The Pirates of Penzance plays at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 13 June and at the Hackney Empire between 24 and 28 June.

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Filed under Opera, Reviews 2015

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 5 May)

The boundary between adult, that nebulous territory often designated as young adult and late childhood is a hazy one nowadays. The Children’s Touring Partnership is building an enviable record in productions which achieve cross-over.

Angus Jackson’s stage adaptation John Boyne’s book The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas positions itself as a fable. Behind it is the stark reality of the Holocaust with all its horrors of forced deportation and slave labour in concentration camps leading to the inevitability of the gas chamber and furnace.

That this is both a story rooted in a particular time and places, and that it is also a timeless/placeless one (as all the best fables often are) is emphasised by Robert Innes Hopkins’ set design. – a circular wooden revolve backed by a brick wall upon which a sequence of words and images is projected to indicate where we are and when. There is minimal furniture.

If you don’t know the story already, it concerns a nine-year old boy Bruno (Cameron Duncan) and the friendship he strikes up with Shmuel (Sam Peterson) when his explorations lead him to a barbed wire fence enclosing a compound. Bruno, his teenage sister Gretel (Eleanor Thorn) and their parents (Marianne Oldham and Phil Cheadle) have moved reluctantly from the comfort of Berlin to the extermination camp in Poland of which the father has been appointed commandant.

Good as the older actors are, it is Duncan and Peterson who earn the audience’s ovation. Rightly so. Bruno comes over as a somewhat naïve boy, as yet unable to distinguish when lying to wriggle out of an uncomfortable situation (and so damaging another person) can have dire consequences. Shmuel share some of his innocence, but he has also acquired knowledge derived from bitter experiences.

On the sidelines of Bruno’s life are his grandmother (Helen Anderson) whose career as a chanteuse has not led to a love for the Third Reich, let alone its murderous philosophies, and the family maid Maria (Rosie Wyatt), sharp-tongued and far-seeing. Another thoroughly thee-dimensional portrait is that of Pavel – former doctor, now a servant – by Robert Styles.

Joe Murphy’s production balances realism where necessary with symbolism and mime where that suits the action better. The movement director is Lizzi Gee who contrives a wonderful sequence in which Bruno climbs out of his bedroom window and revels in what seems to be a virgin forest, full of mysterious shapes and sounds.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 9 May and plays at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 23 and 27 May.

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