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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