Saturday, April 21, 2018

THE SELFISH GIANT at the Vaudeville - a Chambers piece...

Constant Reader, you will remember that I have made a few trips to the Vaudeville Theatre recently as this is where Dominic Dromgoole's Classic Spring Theatre Company are staging their year-long Oscar Wilde season.  So far they have all been enjoyable productions, I guess they are forgiven the eventual miss-step.

THE SELFISH GIANT is billed as a folk opera but I think that might be pitching it a bit high.  It seemed more like a glorified schools production.  The cast certainly put their all into it but I found it all rather unmemorable.

Unlike his plays that are leavened by his epigrams and memorable characters, Oscar Wilde's fairy tales hit you with the high-minded, moralistic tone of his Victorian times.  THE SELFISH GIANT is no different.

A Giant owns a lovely garden which is used by a group of school children in his absence.  But when he returns, he is angry that they play there so he builds a wall around it, his actions resulting in the garden being visited by a long cold Winter.  The children manage to get through the wall but run away when the giant reappears, all but a boy trying to climb a tree so the giant helps him up into the branches and tells the children they can play there anytime.  The wall is knocked down, bringing the return of Spring.

He is saddened that in the following years he never sees the boy he helped climb the tree again until, late in his life, he finds the boy under a new tree.  The boy has stigmata on his hands and feet and says to the giant that as he once let the boy play in his garden, the giant can play in his garden in Paradise.  The Giant dies happily....

Bill Buckhurst's production is all very bright and bouncy on a set of step-ladders and balloons, with cardboard archive boxes used as the wall.  The cast of eight who play the children are all very 'up' and grinning while Jeff Nicholson as The Giant stomped about looking glum and singing - a little unsteadily - in a deep bass voice.

Guy Chambers was playing the piano in the onstage band and seemed happy with the response from an audience who I suspect were mostly friends of the cast.  We were given little pen lights going into the auditorium to help give the show a starry night, which was fun.

So there we go, at only 70-odd minutes it hardly outstayed it's welcome but it was all a bit school-play for me... if they could find some genuine pain or pathos in it, it might make more of a lasting impact.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

FANNY AND ALEXANDER at the Old Vic - life and death on stage....

Ingmar Bergman, one of the handful of visionary directors whose surname can sum-up a genre of film, was also a renowned theatre director so I suspect he would be bemused that some of his most intensely cinematic works have been adapted for the stage.  Unsurprisingly Ivo van Hove has directed three Bergman adaptations - CRIES AND WHISPERS, PERSONA, AFTER THE REHEARSAL - while there have also been stage versions of THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY and SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE.

The most well-known Bergman adaptation was in 1973 when Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler transformed his 1955 film SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT into the musical A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.  Now Matthew Warchus' tenure at the Old Vic gives us a new stage version of Bergman's 1982 epic family drama FANNY AND ALEXANDER which won four Academy Awards, a remarkable feat for a non-English language film.

When I heard about the stage play I did wonder how on earth they were going to make Bergman's highly cinematic semi-autobiographical family comedy-drama which is shot through with themes of supernatural and haunting magic realism work on stage.  What Stephen Beresford - who wrote the wonderful Matthew Warchus film PRIDE - has done with his adaptation is to make it a highly theatrical production with stage effects, jokey front-cloth warnings about the play's length, and choreographed movement replacing realistic playing. 

This immediately makes Beresford's adaptation it's own entity - the original cinema release was shorter than the play - but it's three and a half hour running time swept by thanks to Max Webster's involving production; no mean feat when one considers there are roughly 23 it. 

Fanny and Alexander are the young children of a theatrical family; their parents Emilie and Oscar Ekdahl own a theatre in Uppsala, Sweden and also are the stars of the theatre company.  Their extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins all live in a large townhouse which is presided over by their Grandmother Helena, a former lead actress who now condescends to playing featured roles such as mothers and queens.  Attended by devoted servants, the Ekdahls gather to celebrate Christmas and plan the upcoming production of HAMLET, also at the table is Helena's old friend and admirer Isaak Jacobi, a puppetmaker.

It takes a while to keep track of all Fanny and Alexander's housemates but through some sharp playing one soon got to know that Uncle Gustav Adolf, although married with a daughter also has designs on the maid Maj - to which she happily complies - and Uncle Carl who is always complaining about his chatterbox German wife Lydia. 

Alexander's worrying visions of a cloaked figure tragically portend Oscar's sudden death from a heart attack which leaves Emilie worried what the future holds for her and her children.  Not long after the funeral however, she announces to Fanny and Alexander that the local bishop Edvard Vergérus has asked her to marry him and she has accepted.  Vergérus, a seemingly gentle if overly-pious man, insists that Emilie and the children move with him to start their new life in his own home where he lives with his infirm aunt, his spinster sister and a maid.

Emilie and her children discover their new home to be a cold and emotionless one, ruled by Vergérus with a puritanical iron fist.  He forbids them from seeing their former family and singles out Alexander for punishment.  When locked in their bedroom, Alexander sees the ghosts of two drowned girls who tell him they are the drowned daughters from Vergérus' first marriage.  The spiteful maid Justina reports this to the bishop who beats Alexander mercilessly.  Emilie manages to escape to see her former mother-in-law Helena to confide her unhappiness but also that she is now pregnant.

Emilie confronts Vergérus and asks for a divorce, he refuses and tells her that if she leaves he will claim custody of Fanny and Alexander on the grounds of desertion.  But there is a greater power than Vergérus' chilly morality... Helena asks her old friend Isaak to help the children escape from their pious prison through his magic illusions and hide them in his puppet workshop.  While there Isaak warns them about his strange nephew Ishmael, who is locked in his own room for safety.

A defiant but weary Emilie tells the angry Vergérus she will never return her children to his house and tricks him into drinking a glass laced with her sleeping powders so she can escape... at the same time as Alexander is drawn to the locked room and meets the mysterious Ishmael who illustrates how thoughts can become reality... 

As I said Max Webster's production remained fast-moving and involving at all times, managing to balance the bleak Vergérus world with the more emotional Ekdahl one; he also knew how to vary the tone from Vergérus' abuse of Alexander to the hilarious scene where Uncles Carl and Gustav Adolf attempted to meet the bishop to try to resolve things only for Gustav Adolf - who had been warned to hide his anger - to explode in foul-mouthed disgust at Vergerus' hypocrisy.  His linking device - of having the servants narrate the events, while putting great emphasis on the different menus served for dinner in each household - was a clever one.

Tom Pye's stylish but simple set designs conjured up Fanny and Alexander's different environments superbly as did Mark Henderson's nuanced lighting.  From a rotating cast of four pairs of child actors, Zaris Angel Hator as Fanny and, in particular, Guillermo Bedward as Alexander were very good.

Among a strong cast, there were fine performances from Thomas Arnold as the mournful Uncle Carl, Karina Fernandez as the drab maid Justina (although not outshining Harriet Andersson in the film), Vivian Oparah as the life-affirming maid Maj, Lolita Chakrabarti as the icy Helena Vergérus, Catherine Walker's passionate Emilie and Sargon Yelda as the fated Oscar.

In a trio of excellent performances, special praise to Jonathan Slinger as the fun-loving and volatile Uncle Gustav Adolf, Michael Pennington as the genial but mysterious Isaak and Kevin Doyle as Edvard Vergérus, who while making you hate him, suggested the emotionally-scared man behind the monster.

But ruling the stage - as well as her character ruled her family - Penelope Wilton was a glorious Helena: it was all there, the former stage leading lady irked at no longer getting the glamorous roles, the indomitable matriarch, and the woman who realizes she is still able to love and be loved.  It was a role made for her to play as it echoed the strong no-nonsense women she has played in THE SECRET RAPTURE, ...BERNARDA ALBA, TAKEN AT MIDNIGHT and THE CHALK GARDEN.

An excellent choice to celebrate Ingmar Bergman's centenary, and his wonderful all-too-human characters, and the perfect production to do it with.  After all, Bergman himself said that film "was the costly, exacting mistress" but theatre was "the faithful wife".

I want to see the film again now!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bernstein Triple Bill: YUGEN, THE AGE OF ANXIETY, CORYBANTIC GAMES at Covent Garden

Sometimes the Royal Ballet triple-bills can be a curate's egg but, every so often, all the pieces fall together and, while the individual one-acts dazzle, together they form a cohesive whole.  The Royal Ballet's recent celebration of Leonard Bernstein's centenary did just that.

Bernstein was such a giant of American music that it has taken three RB-favourite choreographers to stage this tribute: in tandem with Liam Scarlett's existing THE AGE OF ANXIETY, Wayne McGregor devised YUGEN and Christopher Wheeldon was given the final ballet CORYBANTIC GAMES.  All in their own way were exciting and Bernstein's soaring music sounded wonderful thanks to the Royal Opera House Orchestra.

Moving effortlessly between the classical and Broadway stages, Leonard Bernstein never forgot either as essential outlets for his creativity - indeed when a musical adaptation of THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH was abandoned because of creative differences, Bernstein reworked parts of the score to become a 1965 symphonic work which had been requested by the Dean of Chichester Cathedral two years earlier, waste not want not...  THE CHICHESTER PSALMS have been used by McGregor for his ballet YUGEN.

Utilizing his signature moves, McGregor had his dancers moving with vigour and astonishing physicality but also complementing the singing of the psalms in Hebrew.  The stark but intriguing design by Edmund De Waal of tall moving white light-boxes concentrated you on the remarkable dancers, as fluid as the red and purple costumes they wore.

I am sure it was just because it is the Bernstein score I know the most but I occasionally picked up the odd phrase that sounded straight out of WEST SIDE STORY in all three pieces.  I also saw a possible Matthew Bourne moment when a dancer did very noticeable swan-like swooping movements over three other crouching dancers.  McGregor can sometimes be all cerebral movement and little emotional involvement but here the lush musicality of Bernstein brought out the best in him, very much like Max Richter's music for WOOLF WORKS.

The second was a revival of Liam Scarlett's 2014 ballet THE AGE OF ANXIETY, written by Bernstein in 1949 and based on WH Auden's epic poem.  Bernstein's symphony throbs with the post-war feeling in New York of possible new beginnings under an air of lonely city living, Scarlett vividly moves his four lonely drinkers from a corner bar - an excellent design by John MacFarlane - to an apartment where they continue their drinking in the hope of making a connection.

They pal around, they flirt, they come together then break up leaving one of them, Malin, staring at the New York skyline at sunrise, eventually rushing towards it, ready to take up the challenge of another day, another possibility...  Sadly injury meant the wonderful Steven McRae had to pull out of the production and was replaced by fellow Aussie Alexander Campbell, but the lead quartet of Campbell, Sarah Lamb, Edward Gartside and Tristan Dyer were excellent, and Kevin Emerton was equally fine as the bartender.

After that blast of narrative, it was back to abstract for the last piece which was choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.  He has set his ballet to Bernstein's Serenade after Plato's 'Symposium' - excuse me people - and the theme was carried through in Erdem Moralioglu's Hellenic-style costumes.  Through the five movements the constant theme seemed to be harking back to athletic running and leaping movement. 

I would love to see this again; Wheeldon's choreography was wonderfully alive, especially the 4th movement where a man and a woman, two men and two women danced variations to the same movements, perfectly embodying Bernstein's flowing music, before the whole ensemble at the end came together in kinetic, perfect fluidity.

As I said, the Royal Ballet triple bills may sometimes be unbalanced but in their tribute to Bernstein they triumphed.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE at Richmond Theatre - Tesori Times Two...

Well there you go... you wait ages for a Jeanine Tesori musical - and two turn up at the same time!

After the remarkable CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at Hampstead Theatre (which is transferring to the West End at the end of the year) we had the chance to see her earlier musical re-write of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE which is currently touring.

Rewrite you say?  But why not just use the film soundtrack?  Well it turns out there wasn't a real score to the film, it was a mishpocheh of songs - THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, JIMMY and THE TAPIOCA were original, while the rest were songs from pre- and contemporaneous to the 1920s.  Tesori and lyricist Dick Scanlon have only kept the first two for their score, unsurprisingly they are the ones that stay in the memory.  Tesori's score sounds good in the theatre but there are no real stand-out melodies.

The original film is an odd one for me, I had the soundtrack album when I was growing up but never actually saw the film till much later and have never really liked it.  I find it heavy-handed and forced, a straight man's idea of Camp.  Everyone appears to be acting in different films - thank God for Julie Andrews' light playing as John Gavin, James Fox and Mary Tyler Moore all have the touch of a concrete souffle.  Beatrice Lillie and Carol Channing... well, it's hard to accuse them of over-playing when that's their default style.

The stage musical opened on Broadway where it made a star of Sutton Foster and ran for two years, which is more than can be said for the original London production which lasted eight months with Amanda Holden.  Go figure.

The show is back on tour, directed and choreographed by Racky Plews - yes I know, it sounds like an illness in Polari "Ooo doctor, vada well my racky plews!"  Her choreography is great fun however and really keeps the show rolling along but the plot gets rather tired before it's de rigueuer happy end. 

However the biggest failing of the show is the plot line of Millie's hotel being a cover for white slave trade by the it's proprietor Mrs Meers.  The playing of the Mrs Meers character just kept reminding me - as AVENUE Q famously attested - that Evly One's a Rittle Bit Lacist.  Despite Lucas Rush's game performance, line after alleged funny line died as it hit the stage and the whole concept of Mrs Meers being a failed Broadway actor in drag just distanced the character further and further away from any possible interest.  The denouement has one of the main female characters falling in love with one of Mrs Meers' Chinese henchmen but it all felt like having your dodgy comedy oriental jokes with an odd liberal gloss.

The cast certainly gave it their all and the potentially colourless male lead was given a nice spin by Michael Colbourne.  Richard Meek also managed to build up interest in the under-written role of Millie's boss Graydon but an over-played drunk scene made me wonder had he ever actually been drunk himself.  There is also a performance of clanging bad acting by the head of the typing room where Millie works which we will draw a discreet tarpaulin over.

Luckily there are two glittering performances that simply highlight some of the thin performances elsewhere. I had never seen Hayley Tamaddon on stage before but she made a totally winning Millie.  She has a nice belt of a voice and a real watchability on stage; she has had a career in television soaps but she certainly has enough charisma to hopefully become a fixture on stage.

In the role of Muzzy Van Hossmere - which gave Carol Channing her one moment of film fame - we have Nicola Blackman oozing class and bonhomie.  Nicola is one of the increasingly rare performers who, when they come on stage, you know you can just relax in the knowledge that someone on that stage knows *exactly* how to place their performance.  Muzzy's two contrasting numbers gave Nicola the chance to bring a Porter-like throb to her first act paean to New York and to swing out in her second act cabaret number.  Between Tamaddon and Blackman, the show finds it's heart.

I suspect I was the only one in Richmond who groaned loudly when the tallest chorus girl was introduced as Dorothy Parker, who in real-life was as short as her wit was large.  However, I would recommend the show if it comes your way. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at Hampstead Theatre - Sharon D. Clarke ain't backing down...

Sometimes a musical comes along that seems so unique that you wonder will it ever find an audience.  One such show is CAROLINE, OR CHANGE which packs so much in that it makes writing about it tricky... where do you begin??

I must admit most of what I knew about CAROLINE, OR CHANGE was from Dori Berinstein's excellent documentary SHOW BUSINESS: THE ROAD TO BROADWAY which covered the 2004 season and the journey from previews to Tony nominations for CAROLINE, AVENUE Q, WICKED and TABOO among others: CAROLINE was nominated for six but came away with only Best Supporting Actress.

I can't remember why I didn't see it in 2006 at the National Theatre when it won the Olivier Award for Best Musical, but when it was announced that powerhouse actress Sharon D. Clarke would be leading a revival at Chichester last year then I knew it would be something to see and hear.  Luckily the revival transferred to Hampstead and it has been announced that it will transfer again to Playhouse Theatre in the west end.

The collaboration between book-writer and lyricist Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori had a long gestation period as they workshopped and tried different approaches to the material which came from Kushner's own childhood, growing up in a middle-class Jewish family in Louisiana who hired a local black woman to be their maid.  In 1963 - if you are wondering if the Kennedy assassination is mentioned WHADDYA THINK?? - Caroline Thibodeaux is a single mother bringing up three children in Louisiana, just getting by on her wages for keeping house for the middle-class Jewish Gellman family.

The son, Noah, is eight years old and still coming to terms with, not only the recent death of his mother, but his father's remarriage to Rose Stopnick.  It's an unhappy family all-round, Rose is unsure of her position with the phlegmatic Caroline or how she can establish herself with Noah and his still-grieving father Stuart.  Noah has grown closer to the no-nonsense Caroline who let's the boy light her one cigarette of the day in the utility basement.  Caroline is not lonely down there however.. not with the radio and washing machine that sing to her.

As the country reverberates to the death of Kennedy, Rose admonishes Noah for leaving money in his trouser pockets and, to teach him a lesson, tells Caroline that she can keep any money she finds in his pockets.  Although money is a concern, proud Caroline wrestles with taking the boy's money as she has also refused Rose's extra food.  She gives in however, much to her children's delight who can now buy comics and sweets, but what she doesn't know is that Noah is deliberately leaving the money for his friend Caroline.

Rose's father visits for a Hanukkah dinner but events go awry when Caroline's daughter Emmie answers back when the old man talks about Martin Luther King; Caroline is mortified that her daughter would do this and they argue.  Meanwhile Mr Stopnick has given Noah $20 as a Hanukkah present but he has left it in his trousers by mistake... and Caroline doesn't want to give it back.  Change is in the air... how will Caroline cope?

Michael Longhurst's production has a couple of stutters but on the whole it is a remarkably bracing evening, it helps that the show is sung-through although thankfully no Lloyd Webber recitative is in evidence to provoke yawns.  Tesori's score is constantly interesting, using different styles of music from pop to kletzmer filtered through a Broadway idiom to include the two families' stories.

Kushner's story can look bizarre with it's singing washing machine, dryer, radio and even the bus, but the convoluted lives of his characters, all on the cusp of change, is involving; the only odd note is that Noah's father is so mournful over the recent death of his first wife you wonder how or why did he get married a second time to Rose?

The set and costumes by Fly Davis, Ann Yee's choreography and Jack Knowles' lighting all add their distinctive touches to the show and Longhurst has an excellent company who all have moments to shine.  Charlie Gallacher did very well as Noah, he is rarely offstage but kept up a good performance throughout - it's a tough role for just a boy but he did well.  As Noah's father Stuart, Alastair Brookshaw also did well to give a performance through the overall gloom of his character, and Teddy Kempner was very good as Mr Stopnick, Rose's left-wing father who provokes with his arguments.

Me'sha Bryan, Angela Caesar, and Ako Mitchell all gave fine voice to The Washing Machine, The Moon and the Dryer/Bus while T'Shan Williams, Sharon Rose and Carole Stennett are great as collective voice of The Radio which keeps Caroline going through her work day.  It was great to see T'Shan Williams again after her great performance in last year's THE LIFE.

There are very fine performances from Lauren Ward as Rose, the young wife trying to find her place both upstairs and downstairs in her new home to varying degrees of success, and from Abiona Omonua as Emmie, Caroline's oldest daughter who can see the future coming and wants in, no matter how much it will upset her mother.

But the show belongs to the unstoppable Sharon D. Clarke as Caroline.  In possibly the performance of her career, Clarke is relentless as the emotionally-shutdown Caroline.  Unsmiling, terse, radiating a doughty wariness, her Caroline gives no inch - the scene where Noah and Caroline shout insults at each other was ferociously done.  The show's climax is a fierce solo for Caroline - it's like Tesori and Kushner are doing CAROLINE'S TURN, a number where the character finally lets her pent-up passion burst out.

It goes without saying that Sharon D. Clarke ripped through the song with pain and power; as I watched her I thought there is no reason why she should not play Sally in the National's revival of FOLLIES next year...

As Owen said, it was such a relief to see Sharon's beaming smile at the curtain-call!  The news that came through after we saw the show of it's West End transfer was great - if there are any West End awards going for Best Actress in a Musical next year then our Sharon deserves them all.

If you fancy a show that constantly surprises... CAROLINE, OR CHANGE is the one for you.

It will run at the Playhouse Theatre from 20th November to 9th February 2019...

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

PIPPIN at the Southwark Playhouse - Magic to do...

Stephen Schwartz first wrote PIPPIN in the late 1960s while at university.  With the success of his musical GODSPELL in 1971, it was natural that he was asked if he had anything else in the trunk...  The concept of PIPPIN was dusted off although none of the original songs survived.  The 1960s still hangs over the show's plot - a young man's search for the meaning of his life - but oddly enough it's the spirit of the original director/choreographer that tends to hang over it's revivals.

He was Bob Fosse and he continues to shape revivals in almost the same way as Pippin's nemesis, The Leading Player, shapes the show.  It really is quite fascinating... When presented with Roger O. Herson's book and Schwartz' score, Fosse threw their whole concept out and gave it what is now recognized as the Fosse style - helped immeasurably by Tony Walton's stylized sets, Patricia Zipprodt's playful Commedia dell' Arte costumes and Jules Fisher's imaginative lighting design.

The rehearsal period was marked with frequent spats between Fosse and Schwartz, who at one point tried to pull rank by reminding him he *was* the composer of GODSPELL.  Fosse threw him out of the rehearsal room.  This was to be the year when Fosse did the unique trick of winning the three main Director awards across the showbiz board: Academy Award (CABARET), Emmy Award (LIZA WITH A Z) and the Tony Award for PIPPIN.

Although it didn't receive the best reviews, Fosse had an idea how to perk up the box office; he filmed a television ad which consisted of a whole minute of star Ben Vereen as The Leading Player and two chorus girls doing a quintessential Fosse number 'The Manson Trio' - how did he get away with that?? - strutting and primping against a backdrop of the show's logo.  The voice-over said you could see the other 119 minutes of PIPPIN at the Imperial Theater; a simple idea to us now but then it was revolutionary and the show ran for four and a half years!  In London, it famously flopped, lasting only 85 performances despite Fosse directing a cast of Paul Jones, Elisabeth Welch, John Turner, Diane Langton and Patricia Hodge.

Fosse's sexy, dangerously slinky style has been in evidence in the two previous productions I have seen and the last Broadway revival dropped the Commedia idea for a circus troupe... it's almost like all is thrown at a production to divert attention from the skimpy-but-bizarre book...

A bunch of strolling artists, under the direction of the Leading Player, present the story of Pippin, the eldest son of King Charlemagne, who struggles to understand his place in the world and how he can possibly be a credible successor to his war-mongering - and distant - father.  He isn't helped by his scheming stepmother Fastrada who is ever watchful for her own son's advancement.  He goes to war with his father but finds it an ugly business, he visits his exiled grandmother Berthe and follows her advice to live for the moment but finds hedonism an empty experience too.  

Pippin then is led to believe that revolution is the way forward and is tricked into murdering Charlemagne, but the compromises he has to make in politics make him flee.  Eventually he finds a home with Catherine, a young widow and her son on her farm... but again, he leaves her, still unconvinced that is his lot in life.  Through all of this The Leading Player has been initiating the action so reveals to Pippin (and the young strolling player who is pretending to be the character) that his purpose in life is to provide a Grand Finale... to jump into a ball of fire.  Will The Leading Player get the Finale to their show... or does Pippin finally come to his senses?

For all the nods to Alienation and Meta-staging, by the time the show-within-a-show goes off the rails thanks to the young player not wanting to die for Art, I for one am fed-up with Pippin, who has been fairly tiresome all the way through it... I usually side with The Leading Player... anything for a Grand Finale and give the punters some bang for their buck.

Herson's book, although at times amusing enough, cannot really contain the weightier themes it raises or more importantly, use it's characters, in particular Fastrada, Charlemagne and Berthe, all of whom are more interesting than drippy Pippin.  The eventual collapse of the make-believe world when the Leading Player closes down the show and leaves Pippin and Catherine to face life with no coloured lights or music feels like it ran out of steam rather than pose any major break in the story-telling; this was accomplished much more successfully in INTO THE WOODS when the fairy-tale characters sacrifice their Narrator to the murdering Giant, only to find themselves lost in the story with no idea how to end it.

What always has me returning to the show is Schwartz's score - his finest - which again doesn't quite fit within the meta-world of the book, but features some dazzling Broadway show tunes: it's wonderfully seductive opening number "Magic To Do", Pippin's 'I Want' number "Corner Of The Sky", Berthe's infectious, sing-a-long "No Time At All", Fastrada's dissembling "Spread A Little Sunshine", the choral loveliness of "Morning Glow", Catherine's pop-infused "Kind of Woman" and her break-up ballad "I Guess I'll Miss The Man" are enough to make me overlook any other flaws in the show - oddly enough the original cast recording was on Motown Records, which explains why Michael Jackson and The Supremes covered songs from the score.

This production started life at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre and it filled the Southwark Playhouse space well with Maeve Black's design of the faded glamour of the touring troupe's Victorian music-hall proscenium and thrust stage.  It was directed in a no-nonsense style by Jonathan O'Boyle which certainly played to the show's strengths: my only issue with his direction is that he really should have toned down his two leading ladies - Genevieve Nicole's Leading Player was overstated and too obvious while Mairi Barclay, in the twin roles of Fastrada and Berthe, seemed to be channeling Janette Krankie for the former and Su Pollard for the latter.

I did enjoy Jonathan Carlton's questing Pippin - although Maeve Black's costumes just seemed to accentuate both his and Ms Nicole's chunky backsides - Rhidian Marc was good fun as Charlemagne, Tessa Kadler gave Catherine a winning naturalness and I also liked Scott Hayward as Theo, Catherine's stroppy son; he also features in the show's coda which was added in 1998, Catherine and Pippin leave the dark stage to start life without coloured lights or music only for Theo to walk onto it and be immediately confronted by The Leading Player and the troupe... life (and death) begin again...  

A special mention for Aaron J. Dootson's impressive lighting and the equally impressive choreography by William Whelton - and to Bob Fosse for his original choreography for 'The Manson Trio' routine, you cannot improve on the best.

I last saw PIPPIN seven years ago in a not-very-good production at the Menier... I hope it's not another seven until I can see it again.

Monday, March 26, 2018

DVD/150: PRIDE (Matthew Warchus, 2014)

You know the film genre: individual / group take a stand against their fate, there are setbacks but triumph vindicates them: BILLY ELLIOTT, THE FULL MONTY, KINKY BOOTS, MADE IN DAGENHAM...

...and there's PRIDE, Matthew Warchus' marvellous film which tells the true story of how gay activists set up the support group 'Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners' during the 1984-85 miner's strike.

Stephen Beresford's excellent script mixes fact and fiction to tell how Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson started the group when they realized that the miners and their families were facing the same forces of oppression that they had experienced: the Government, the police and the press.

Brimming with wit and emotion, the film boasts memorable performances from Ben Schnetzer, Joe Gilgun, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Jessica Gunning, Faye Marsay, Paddy Considine, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, George MacKay, Menna Trussler and Lisa Palfrey

PRIDE is an instant classic...

Shelf or charity shop?  PRIDE never fails to make me blub: a testament to the times I lived through and to the remarkable Mark Ashton who died aged only 26 in 1987 from an AIDS-related illness.  Standing proud on the shelf.