Tag Archives: Michael Pavelka

Funny Girl

reviewed in Southend on 19 June (preview)

An old theatrical cliché has the understudy taking over from the leading lady and stealing the show. Natasha J Barnes is not precisely an understudy – she alternated with Sheridan Smith during the London run of this musical version of the Fanny Brice story, and won plaudits – but the audience in Southend knows a superb performance when one is placed before it, and responded.

Barnes inhabits the role completely, both physically and psychologically. Her face becomes that of a woman who found out the hard way when still a young girl that she was never going to be pretty. So she compensated by developing her comedy talents, controlling and turning mockery into applause. I imagine that many a court jester developed the same carapace. While Barnes shows us this feisty side of Brice, she also makes the woman’s vulnerability clear.

This is particularly noticeable in her scenes with Darius Campbell’s Nick Arnstein, the suave gambler and con man who sweeps her into a marriage in which he demands freedom and she cannot give it wholeheartedly. Both sing well and make Bob Merrill’s lyrics and Jule Styne’s score an integral part of Michael Meyer’s production. There are also a very good performance from Joshua Lay as Eddie Ryan, who helps Fanny through an almost unspoken love for her.

Myra Sands, Zoë Ann Bown and Rachel Izen make a marvellous trio of New York Jewish ladies of a certain age and there a good cameos by Michael Callaghan as Mr Keeney and Nigel Barber as impressario Ziegfeld. The dancers are versatile and show off Lynne Page’s choreography as well as Matthew Wright’s quick-change costumes. Michael Pavelka’s asymmetrical set frames it all splendidly with Mark Henderson’s lighting and projections adding place and time.

Four and a half-star rating.

Funny Girl runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 24 June with matinées on 21 and 24 June. It is also at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 26 June and 1 July.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Twelve Angry Men

(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on 11 May)

Most of us know Reginald Rose’s now-classic play about 12 jurymen arguing the case for and against convicting a 15-year old for the murder of his abusive father through the Sydney Lumet form starring Henry Fonda of 1957. But the stage vrsion has just as illustrious a pedigree and is once more on tour in Christopher Haydon’s production.

Haydon keeps the 1950s setting and Michael Pavelka’s set evokes the physical as well as mental and emotional heat generated as what seems like an open-and-shut case is splintered by one juror’s determination to vote not guilty, because he has “reasonable doubts” a specified by the off-stage summing-up by the judge.

More than the usual racial and social prejudices of the period come tumbling out as the arguments thicken, occasionally tipping over into actual violence. From the young man who has tickets for a basket-ball game (so much more important than whether or not a teenager is sent to the electric chair) through the rough-cast red-necks to the more thoughtful older men, the tension builds as minds are changed, not always for the most obvious of reasons.

Jason Merrell leads the cast as Juror 8 whose main opponents are Robert Duncan as the obstreperous Juror 4 and Andrew Lancel’s Juror 3. Denis Lill contributes a fine character study of the outsider Juror 10, a man whose past has included being suspected and despised; Andrew Frame is the foreman of the jury.

The first couple of scenes were a bit of a blur; a case of mumble and gobble while the audience came to terms with the mid-American accents. As the arguments develop, so did the clarity of speech as well as action, so that there was a real sense of being locked in that airless juryroom as the minutes tick by and apparently solid evidence reveals its weaknesses.

Twelve Angry Men runs at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff until 16 May.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015