Because of the Wonderful Things He Does

It was with some trepidation that I went to see The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium.  It holds a very special place in my heart as I’ve been involved with the show a few times on different levels (I was even a munchkin many years ago!)  I was certainly not disappointed.

From the outset you could see that you were in for a quality experience – the sepia design of the opening scenes, the Zeke / The Lions belt strap hanging down as a tail at the farm, the beautiful dolls house farm, and the wonderful appearance of Miss Gulch on her bicycle (at this stage un-greenified of course).  All of it was very quaint and lovely.

And then we flew, carried by projections and moving scenery, to Oz and it was just beautiful.  It looked lovely, it felt lovely, the costumes were immaculate and the beauty of the lullaby league had the audience transported just as much as our heroine was.

I’ll pause there to talk about Danielle Hope.  I’m biased, I admit that.  I sort of didn’t want it to work, there’s a bit of me that doesn’t like ‘casting by tv show’.  But she was brilliant.  The strength of her vocal performance and the innocence of her character was hugely enjoyable to watch.  I was won over.  In a very metrosexual way I became a ‘Friend of Dorothy!’  :)

However this is not a star strewn show carried on the backs of well known names.  The entire cast were phenomenal.  Michael Crawford gave a strong performance as The Wizard (albeit the role is (as it is in the original) quite small).  Paul Keating was a brilliantly wobbly, energetic scarecrow, David Ganly was a funny and original lion (the part I was most concerned with, as I have done that too!!) and all credit to Edward Baker-Duly who played the Tin Man (sometimes a little lacking) with luster and wit.  Emily Tierney was an extremely lovely Glinda, who had the part down to a tee (and should I think transfer to Wicked at some point because she’d be great).   Almost final mention should go to Hannah Waddingham who was superlative.  Her every appearance as the Wicked Witch was a joy to behold – a vampy, villainess who held us spellbound whenever and wherever she flew in.  Actual final mention should go to Toto (who I think was played by Dazzle, but apologies if I’m wrong!) – Toto was amazing.  Didn’t quite steal the show but gave it a good go.  Equally though the way the cast handled her, passed her around and so on – extremely well done, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Back to the show then – We left the munchkins for the Emerald City, via the yellow brick road, all of which were wonderful as was the poppy field and the Wizards chamber.  Then the interval and a well earned (although always shockingly priced) glass of wine.  And then… ACT II, I won’t drone on but it was just as good.  The witches castle was brilliant, the flying monkeys were genius and the ending sequence from start to finish was both fulfilling and wholesome, maintaining the magic and the spirit of the piece.

The lighting was exceptional – I hope that Hugh Vanstone is due for some sort of award, totally brilliant.  Jon Driscoll too with his projection design made the many magical moments of the show come to life in a wonderfully artistic way.  Jeremy Sands and Robert Jones (Director and Designer) are hopefully very proud.  Sound design was flawless which is perhaps the perfect situation – it seemed very natural.  The choreography was very tastefully done and not too over the top.  Particular mention goes to the Emerald City entrance (Ha ha ha, Ho ho ho) was exceedingly good with everyone doing slightly different routines, but all working seamlessly together.  Genius.  I liked the news songs, although would quite like to hear them again to get used to them, but the orchestra and the delivery by everyone was faultless.

I’ll start to finish off (!) with a word to the ensemble.  In this show the background cast really brought the show to life, performing every moment to the full.  Energetic, acrobatic, comic, a credit to every single person involved.

So… Should you go and see The Wizard of Oz?  Yes you should.  It was brilliant, magical, and an entirely enjoyable evening.  Take the kids, but don’t think it’s just for them – everyone will enjoy this journey over the rainbow.

 

Published in: on February 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ruined

Ruined at the Almeida was a tour de force. It’s a harrowing tale of the lives of some people in the congo with the background of civil war, rape and survival.

It deals with the subject matter with sensitivty, colour, flashes of joy and exceptional speeches, and that is just the writing (by Lynn Nottage).

The delivery excels in every way, the set is incredible, revolving to reveal the two interiors and the exterior of the bar. It is dressed and distressed extremely well, with the look of a place that’s falling apart but is also well lived in and in a peculiar way ‘homely’.  Wonderful attention to detail.  All of this was highlighted by the terrific lighting designed by Oliver Fenwick , which worked flawlessly throughout.

The music used (both live and recorded) fitted the mood well, and the drumming and guitar added a very ‘real’ feeling to the whole proceedings. This along with the beautiful voice of Sophie ( Pippa Bennett-Warner) made for an extremely solid musical backing.

All this segways into the performances given by the cast.  Beginning to end there was not a weak moment.  The actors didn’t perform their parts, they lived them.  From their fantastic vocal accent performances to their physicality to their constant interaction with one another they brought to life this incredible production. It is unfair to draw out individuals in such a strong cast, but Pippa offered us a wonderfully pure performance as Sophie, singing the bar songs with a rich voice and portraying the character beautifully. Next word goes to Lucian Msamati as the travelling salesman-poet. Lucian brought us a lot of humour throughout the piece, but his character also gave us some of the most heartfelt moments of the play and was truly heartwarming. Final mention has to go to Jenny Jules as Mama Nadi whose journey we followed through the story. Harrowing, strong and vital sums her up for me – a tremendous talent with a terribly difficult, yet wonderfully rounded & vital role to play.

I could go on and frankly was tempted – I think I could write complimentary things about every cast member and every member of the creative team, I will however give one mention to the Dialect Coach (Majella Hurley) as the accent work was totally wonderful.  I couldn’t honestly say if it was ‘authentic’ or not – but it certainly worked for me, credible, audible and lyrical to listen to.  Credit to the cast and coach here.

The direction of the play ( Indhu Rubasingham) was commendable, with the scene changes seemlessly merging into one another with a grace that underlied the whole piece and the space was filled and busy, the bar scenes which can often look fake and manufactured worked perfectly and this all showed through in the well deserved standing ovation the play received.

Harrowing but well well worth it.  If it doesn’t (or hasn’t already) win awards then it really should.

Photo Hugo Glendinning

Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 11:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Play That Never Grew Up

Never Neverland, fairies, crocodiles, pirates and a brand of magic. This was a piece that sounded right up my street. Peter Pan at the Barbican, directed by John Tiffany was full of promise…

A day later and I find myself feeling that they were promises undelivered, and yet, and yet. Well, to be honest I feel frustrated, it so almost got there as to put me into a state of quandry. This is one of those (rare?) times when it leaves me uncertain of what to say, and unsure how to feel about last nights journey into JM Barrie’s world, as conceived by David Greig.

The set, with it’s russet revolving bridges provided a grand backdrop and a clever climbing frame for the cast to clamber over giving many levels to the action. The skyscapes on the rear were elegantly designed and lit beautifully with rich colours and deep tones to give a feeling of ‘other-worldlyness.’

The flying was wonderfully casual – the ropes in constant view, no effort made to hide them. This element of ‘hiding in plain sight’ worked for me, and made it possible for Peter (Kevin Guthrie) to incorporate his ability to fly into everything he did – even sitting became something he could do in mid air.

Tinkerbell was a masterpiece portayed as a ball of fire, whose speech was simply a sound of smouldering embers. It made her graceful and magical and a joy to watch.

But there I start to falter, because everything else just didn’t live up to what I wanted it to be. The acting was, well in most parts pretty average, with the performances being somewhat immature (not intentionally). The energy behind the piece was lacking, and, well – tired. I just didn’t believe the characters.

The music, which was a heavily celtic themed score seemed out of place, the songs fairly irrelevant and the delivery of them uninspiring. I appreciated the cast playing the instruments themselves, but even that didn’t win me over.

The fight sequences seemed slow, confused and although full of potential they felt clumsy.

And there I run out of things to say, not for lack of verbage but more because I don’t want to give the impression that this was bad. It wasn’t.  It just could have been so much more. I think there is room for a dark re-telling of Peter Pan; all the elements are there, and they are all touched on here.  It just needed more, of everything. Which was a shame.

Published in: on June 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Polar Bears

Wow.

That could, infact be my whole review. I was blown away by Polar Bears at the Donmar Warehouse. This is Mark Haddon’s (Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-time fame) first play outing as far as I know and it was a truly wonderful experience. The Donmar continues to impress, producing some of the best theatre in London right now.

With incredible performances from it’s cast, this touching story is sort of a snapshot into living with bi-polar and what it’s like to be around that world. It’s fast paced, beautifully wordy, comic, tragic and heartwarming all in an hour and a halfs slick package.

The set (Soutra Gilmour) is stark with the broken ceiling hanging above it, and the clear walls at the back providing us an almost constant reflection of the action, clever considering the subject matter. The different levels of the stage provided an inventive canvas for the piece to play out on. The lighting (Jon Clark) highlighted, picked out, warmed and isolated the action magnificently and the soundscapes (Ben and Max Ringham) provided a haunting background to the poetry of the lines.

The story itself is not an easy one, and I won’t spoil anything here (although I am tempted to relay the whole story just so you can be part of it!) Suffice to say it tells a lifestory extremely poignantly in segments which blend seamlessly into one another. You need to pay attention but with the well crafted dialogue (oftentimes lyrically poetic) and skilled pace changes this is no problem. The play doesn’t paint ‘goodies and baddies’, it presents you with a set of circumstances, most effectively making you ask yourself, “What if I were in those shoes. What would I do, who would I be and how would I cope.”

The cast were flawless in their execution of what must be a hard slog for them every performance as they get very little breathing time and the nature of the beast (very poor pun intended) means they have to exhibit a huge range in a short space of time.

Paul Hilton as the businessman brother looking out for his sister in a touching yet scarily overbearing way was tremendous.  Celia Imrie’s mother was a ferocious, overwhelming and yet also tender performance demonstrating the angst a mother in such a situation might feel.  David Leon’s roles were both comedic and touching, with his ‘explanation’ monologue in the hospital very personal and his more ‘medical role’ rather spookily authentic.  The young ladies performance was a solid piece of delivery as well (apologies – I am not sure if she was Skye Bennet or Alex Sykes but I am sure, given the quality of the overall piece either would have been just as impressive)

Jodhi May’s delivery was heartfelt, traumatic and turbulent, swinging wildly between moods as the part demands, with her fairy tale story being passionate and the different aspects of her character providing great warmth and showing the terrible ravages of such an illness.

Richard Coyle’s performance was flawless, utterly believable and a joy to be part of, I hung on every word and was totally convinced he was the ‘carer’ with a real life perspective, combined with his own philosophic outlook.  His vocal skills also made his passages flow off the tongue extremely elegantly.

I found the direction to be a work of art, and Jamie Lloyd has a huge amount to be proud of, although I am sure it was a team effort, but his work should rightly be applauded.

This was one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.  I cannot claim to have understood and followed every word of it but that didn’t matter a jot.  If someone offered me tickets to go again tonight I would go again without question.  I look forward immensely to seeing Mark Haddons next expedition into the theatric.  I have read a few less favourable reviews and they baffle me.  I was blown away by this piece of work and I encourage you to be also.  You may have to beg / bribe / borrow / steal to get a ticket, but do so.  It’s well worth it.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 11:28 am  Comments (1)  
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All the Fun? of the Fair

So, I should start by saying that the show I saw last night was in Preview. It doesn’t fully open for another week. Maybe in that week it will re-work it’s story, give it’s cast an energy drink or two and find itself some sort of spiritual home. That being said I think it rather unlikely and that it would take something of a miracle.

All the Fun of the Fair is a musical based on the songs of David Essex. It’s at the beautiful Garrick Theatre. Now I admit that I am no Essex fanboy, but then I didn’t have to like Queen to enjoy We Will Rock You. The music was throughout mostly lacklustre. The stringing together of the songs was done by a dreadfully weak story that barely made sense and to say it was basic doesn’t give basic stories much credit.

The portrayal of Johnny, a character with special needs (described in the play as being ‘a bit slow’, and in the cast list as ‘slow Johnny) was laughably bad, bordering on and frequently crossing into offensive – I thought we had left behind this sort of portrayal a decade ago – and the sickly sweet relationship between Jack and Alice was incipid to say the least.

The appeal (and I use the word loosely) of the show was obviously the chance to see David Essex, the pop legend.  Sadly his performance (perhaps based on his style which I know little about) is laid back and realxed with no energy, no drive and no passion.  His band seemed to me to be un-mic’d and the music pre-recorded, making their presence a joke.

A notable word goes to the lady playing Rosa (Louise English), the unimaginatively named gypsy fortune teller, whose voice was a saving grace in a sea of dirge and the lady who played her daughter Mary (Susan Hallam-Wright) who was equally a pleasurable to watch and listen to.

I could go on to talk about the rest of the cast’s performances, but there’s no point in slating what were some keen and enthusiastic roles, but they were just directed and choreographed so badly that it’s probably not fair to them to do so.

Perhaps the only other positive thing I could say is that the set was pretty and I liked the appearance of the dodgems, although why the horses were there and not referred to / used at all baffles me.  I thought the lighting was pretty good too, although will I suspect get a little tweaking during it’s previews.

Don’t go and see this.  Not even if you are a David Essex fan.  Buy a dvd of him at his best, listen to Godspell or something.  It will save yourself the pain of this ‘production’.  If you do want to see it (although if I haven’t made this clear enough already: DON’T) then I’d be quick.  I’ll be amazed if you get the chance for long.

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 11:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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A silver lining

So I headed out, excited, to see Wet Weather and arrived only to discover the run had been pulled, which was rather a shame. Optimistically then we headed round to The Trafalgar Studios where only a few weeks back we had enjoyed Fever Chart, and were delighted to get a couple of late tickets for ‘Jesus Hopped the A Train’ which was produced by the company Synergy. Synergy (as you’ll see from their website) works with prisoners and ex offenders from some of our prisons, as it happens to be honest this made no impact on the piece – there was no false praise given ‘because’ they were ex offenders, the piece stood on it’s own two legs without any need for a ‘sympathy vote’

The play is a hard hitting piece about some prisoners and their wardens and a lawyer who acts for one of them. I was quite blown away to be honest and loved the piece – both in the writing but also the direction and the performances from the cast.

The dialogue is very fast paced but the cast coped extremely well with a marathon of a script, with great accents and crisp and clear deliveries. Ricky Copp as the sympathetic warden provided a heartfelt rendition of a monologue in act ii and his appearance in act 1 helped set the scene solidly. This was contrasted by Dominic Taylor as the more hardline warden. In a performance that reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones in the fugitive I found Taylor to be a believable ‘bad guy’ with a part hard to pull off without being a bit of a stereotype, he managed to elicit the hatred from the audience that I am sure he was looking for! In the role of the lawyer Denise Gough excelled. It’s not an easy part, slightly apart from the others, and seperated by sex, but it was a thoroughly thought out and hard hitting delivery.

The two prisoners were incredibly well cast and performed. Their contrast was extreme – with the nervous ticks and mannerisms of Angel Cruz (Theo Jones) against the confident, self assured physicality of Lucius (Ricky Fearon) was a joy to watch. Angel was a believable man out of his depth and I found his portayal thoroughly believable. Fearon delivered the poetry of the lines with gusto and a beautiful musicality – the religious zeal coming through with an amazing passion.

The set’s wire wall cutting the stage in two was both evocative and practical creating a literal barrier to work around, but also something to hold and interact with – to rail against, to crash into and to hang onto, very effective.

The whole play was helped by the intimite atmosphere of the studio – the feeling that we were sharing the space was quite powerful. It was also nice to feel part of such a diverse audience that was both multi-cultural and a variety of ages and anything that can be done to encourage this should be applauded.

The play has received some exceptional reviews, and it deserves them.

Published in: on April 18, 2010 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Buy one get two free!

Now I have to admit the Israel-Palestine war is not something I know very much about. More than that I’m not massively into didactic political theatre. However, with the excellent performances by the three cast (Lisa Came, Sidney Keanes & Daniel Rabin) Fever Chart was well worth the ticket. It’s a tricky piece, three short playlettes really, one in a zoo, one in a clinic and one in a back yard.

It wasn’t a balanced view, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Daniel Rabin portrayed two interesting characters with a dynamism that added a maturity and strength to the evening, Lisa Came’s singing and clear vocal performance, coupled with the very different parts she played was extremely watchable and Sidney Keanes delivered a fine performance including a 15 or so minute monologue that was enthralling.

Studio two is a nice setting and feels very intimate, which suited the piece, and the set, a sort of broken down distressed back wall with a matching floor fitted very effectively with some splashes of colour which I liked, and add to that the textual pigeons on the wall I was gently impressed with.

Well acted, strong performances led to a thoughly enjoyable evening. It also affirmed my support of one act pieces. (Even as here split into three).

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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6 Degrees of Separated

So last weeks theatre trip was to see 6 Degrees of Separation at the Old Vic.  For anyone who doesn’t know it there is a wonderful film of this, adapted by the playwright and it’s almost word for word.  Watch that.  Don’t bother with the trek to the Old Vic.  As it goes I like the Old Vic.  There is something about it that is quite elegant and rather impressive about the place.

I am delaying getting to what I thought of the play because frankly I didn’t enjoy it.  I thought that the acting was in the most part grossly overhammed.  I know that stylistically this was intentional, I realise that the kids were meant to be stereotypes of how their parents see them.  But they were, it was almost comically bad, but infact it was just bad.

Lesley Manville (Ouisa) played the torn NY woman, and her part in many ways is the crux of the play  – she represents the dilemmas that the piece deals with in many ways.  But, for me, she was grating and in places as over-acted as her purple-tight wearing children.

The supporting cast (with the notable exception of the south african art dealer Geoffrey whose name I am woefully lacking) were in the same vein.  Anthony Head (and I am a huge Buffy fan) was no great shakes, although as it goes I thought his performance was more acceptable than most.

Obi Abili was credible as Paul and showed a lot of talent in his portrayal of what is quite a complex character.

I found the revolving set to be somewhat annoying (I suspect the revolve was to remind us of the 6 degrees of separation but I just found it irrirating), and the red lighting to be a bit wasted.  The giant red walls didn’t do it for me either and the revolving painting a bit of unnecessary technology.

I learnt one thing though – that I am enjoying more the lack of intervals in shows.  All power to those 1hr30 min pieces.  Sadly that’s about the best thing I can say about it.

It is worth adding that the person I went to see it with thoroughly enjoyed it.  Perhaps I was having a bad day.  Overall I would advise you to see the film.

Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 10:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Hammersmith Ghost Stories

So this week’s Theatrical adventure was to see Ghost Stories at the Lyric in Hammersmith.  I admit that I was not quite sure what to expect, but the review were good and said it was genuinely scary.  The site reads:

Please be advised that Ghost Stories contains moments of extreme shock and tension. The show is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 16. We strongly advise those of a nervous disposition to think very seriously before attending.

But that was sure (in my head) to be just a build up.  Right?  Well, in part yes.  However I commend Ghost Stories, both for being thoroughly entertaining, as well as for trying something a bit different.

I haven’t been to the Lyric before, but on entering I loved the blood red lampshades, the black painted walls.  The entrance to the theatre itself coated in hazard tape, numbers scrawled on the walls, crime scene lights lighting the seats.  Brilliant attention to detail.

The show is massively influenced by the work that Andy Nyman has done with Derren Brown (of whom I am also a fan), and was extremely well presented, as a lecture into ghost stories.  From here on in it becomes difficult.  I don’t want to spoil the show for anyone who hasn’t seen it, and so I won’t give away any of the details, but it’s involved and worth paying attention all the way.  I’d love to talk specifics but I fear the spoilers would be a waste so I won’t, but suffice to say that most of the production went brilliantly with only a few things I would change!

The acting is really top notch, and cleverly stylised in places, with amazing attention to details, making complex things look natural and conveying a sense of realism that surpasses many productions I have seen, it could have been a lecture much of the time.  The cast gel together as a team, and the detailed work spreads through all of them, not just the professor character who we spend a lot of time with.

Was it scary?  Well, a lot of people seemed to think so.  They use some fairly traditional tricks – loud music and noise to mention the obvious ones.  But they still make  you jump.  They use some creepy bits and pieces too.  I wasn’t too scared, not because I am ‘the big man’ but maybe because I watch alot of scary movies or something.  It was however an enjoyable experience well worth taking in – hats off to The Lyric for taking what could be thought of as a risk.  Theatre has to compete with so many other forms of entertainment that trying out new ideas, interactivity being one of them is something that the theatre can do brilliantly, and this is just such an example, all power to them, and the more the merrier.

A note goes to the excellent design of the show (Jon Bausor whose use of trucks and gauze and things was seemless – a top job from the stage crew as well).  The lighting which served to highlight the earie quality of the show and provided thrills as well (James Farncombe) and the sound (although too loud in places for me) gritty and true to form (Nick Mannin)

Published in: on March 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Waiting For Gandalf?

Last week I had the pleasure of going to see Waiting for Godot at the Theatre Royal.  It’s a play I know a little bit, but only really from my school days.  It’s famous of course, for being the play where nothing happens twice.  It’s been performed terribly in many schools and local theatres, partly because it has a cast of 4, and a simple set.

People have talked about Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart being wonderful, but I didn’t get round to that.

I was not disappointed.  It’s a play that still divides audiences, and I am not sure any performance will necessarily change that.  A depressing amount of people still left at the interval, and quite a number of people supping on red wine in the bar were talking in terms of “I just don’t get it”.  In honesty, I’m not sure I do either.  But that didn’t stop me enjoying it.

The cast do an amazing job.  Roger Rees is a wonderful foil for the slightly more bumbling McKellan.  He is sleek and thoughtful and does a stirling job.  Ronald Pickup is a desperate figure, bedraggled and put upon.  His ‘outburst’ moment is wonderful and extreme and his physicality in the rest of the role speaks of a very dedicated performer – I’d love to see him in a different role now.  Matthew Kelly is a grotesque caricature, who is repellant and larger than life in a brilliant fashion.  His sheer bulk dwarfs the other actors and his presence is immense.  He’s a pretty unlikeable character, but it is played with skill and aplomb!  This brings me of course to Ian McKellan.  If I had one on then I would take off my hat to him.  If I have half the stamina, physical prowess and energy of that man when I am 70 then I will be a happy man.  He is a legend.  It’s lovely too that he doesn’t steal the stage from his cohorts.  It is a rounded, bumbling, tragic, comic performance.

It’s worth seeing just for McKellan but that doesn’t do justice to the others.  All round it’s a very worthy piece, the set in it’s bare, bleak white setting is lovely, and the lighting by Paul Pyant supports this in an very touching and precise way.  I think it must be hard to create the distressed look in an interesting fashion but they have managed it.

It’s not an easy play to watch.  The tragedey is quite painful, but the team adds moments of lightness, (which have been panned by some), to bring some relief and I think that creates a more watchable spectacle.  I think this is very worth seeing.  Still though I advise knowing what you’re going to see in advance with Waiting For Godot.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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