Tag Archives: Adam Pearce

Dreamboats and Chainmail Coats

KNIGHTS OF THE ROSE

The Arts Theatre, London, Thursday 12th July, 2018

 

The jukebox musical is a long-established genre and a lucrative one (when it comes to the likes of Mamma Mia!) taking the back catalogue of an artiste or a period or a genre and shoehorning songs into a paper-thin plot.  Here, show creator Jennifer Marsden goes a step farther by shoehorning quotations from classical literature into the dialogue.  And so we get swathes of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Chaucer, along with Tennyson, Blake, Burns… The programme has three pages listing literary references… The overall effect, apart from showing how adept Marsden is at cutting-and-pasting, is perhaps not the desired one, as ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ give way to song lyrics in which characters refer to each other as ‘Baby’.  That clunking sound may not be the scenery being manoeuvred into position but the gear change in your mind as we lurch from period to period.

What this means is Name That Tune collides with Place That Quotation, keeping us at a distance from the characters and the unfolding drama.  Moments of emotional impact are therefore diluted by our, what Brecht would call, alienation from what’s unfolding.  Any engagement we have is with the performers, all of them working hard to keep this balloon in the air, and all of them wildly impressive.

Everything is played straight.  To spoof it up would give us another Spamalot.  To give us another Camelot, the show would need an original score.  No, Knights of the Rose is definitely its own thing.

Leading the cast as Prince Gawain is former-Hollyoaks star Andy Moss, who proved his mettle as a vocalist in a recent nationwide tour of Ghost.  Moss here proves himself more than capable of delivering rousing speeches to his troops – next stop, The RSC? – and he does his best with a character that has no flaws or self-doubt, or anything to get his teeth into.  He gets a couple of Bon Jovi numbers to belt out, so all is well.

Oliver Savile is floppy-haired Sir Hugo, the romantic lead, singing pop, rock (and later, classical) with a clear, sweet voice.  His rival Sir Palamon (in this performance, played by Ian Gareth Jones) brings musical theatre intonations to the rock songs, along with a meatier stage presence.  Matt Thorpe’s Sir Horatio does extremely well with his songs in a high register, while Ruben Van Leer’s humble John perhaps has the purest, most searing voice of all.

Van Leer sort of narrates, linking scenes together with recitations of verse.  He speaks with feeling and clarity but there are perhaps too many of these, keeping John out of the action, commenting on it (sometimes tangentially) rather than taking part, and slowing things down for the rest of us.

Katie Birtill’s Princess Hannah and Rebekah Lowings’s Lady Isabel, supported by handmaid Emily (Blue Woodward) provide a couple of the show’s highlights, absolutely killing Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero and Total Eclipse of the Heart.  The vocals are superb, and the staging by director Racky Plews gives us 1980s rock video.  Plews blends modern choreography with period moves, and so we get Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale meets Heath Ledger’s A Knight’s Tale.

Bringing gravitas to the piece are Adam Pearce as Aethelstan and Rebecca Bainbridge as Matilda, King and Queen, two more mature players in this young cast.

There are moments of brilliance.  A stylised battle, complete with horses’ heads and animated rain, is evocative and effective.  A medieval chant, from Adam Pearce’s King Aethelstan, reverberates with drama as well as his beautiful bass baritone…

The creative choices are audacious, at turns bemusing and gobsmacking, but it’s the performers that give us the enjoyment, that sell us this hodgepodge and we like it.

How to fix it?  Me, I’d start lighter, to give more time for us to get attached to the characters and accustomed to the style before the action proper kicks in.  The transitions from poetry to rock song should be smoother, rather than speedbumps in the way of our engagement.  And give us a song we can sing along with for a more rousing finale.

Somewhere within in all this is the potential for a great show.  As it is, it’s a lot of fun – as a rock concert cum poetry recital delivered in fancy dress.

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Gawain down in a blaze of glory… Andy Moss (Photo: Mark Dawson)

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Boulevard of Broken Dreams

SUNSET BOULEVARD

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 14th November, 2017

 

Andrew Lloyd Webber has written loads of musicals.  This is one of the good ones.  Based on the film of the same name, this is the story of deluded silent-movie star Norma Desmond, yearning for a comeback (or ‘return’ as she calls it) and her relationship with opportunistic, down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis.  It’s a movie biz musical with more than a touch of noir.  Lloyd Webber’s score has moments of sweeping, cinematic lushness and the lyrics, by Christopher Hampton and Don Black, have wry wit.  But we have to wait a while for the first banging tune to come along – when Norma makes her first entrance, ‘With One Look’.   The opening sequence is just recitative – there is a lot of it throughout the show, with characters singing their dialogue to the same repeated musical phrase.  I’d dispense with it and just have the songs proper.  But that’s me.

As the posturing diva in her sunset years, Ria Jones is magnificent, stalking and strutting around melodramatically and with a belter of a voice.  There is real star quality here, beyond Norma’s domineering persona, I mean.  Selfish, deluded, vulnerable and manipulative, Norma is a nightmare, but a dream of a role for Jones.  Perfection.

As writer-turned-gigolo Joe is Hollyoaks heart-throb Danny Mac, establishing his leading man credentials with a winning performance.  He has a strong and pleasant singing voice – to match his physique! – and brings an amiable quality to this anti-hero.

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Danny Mac 'Joe Gillis'. Photo by Manuel Harlan (2)

No ordinary Joe: Danny Mac (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Thirdly, but by no means least, there is a towering performance from Adam Pearce as Norma’s butler, Max, with a voice that is deep and rich and expressive.  Thoroughly convincing.

Molly Lynch sings sweetly as Joe’s love interest Betty Schaeffer, and there is vibrant support from a chorus who represent the bustling world of the studio lot in a range of guises.

Director Nikolai Foster utilises elements of a film set to tell the story, with projections and spotlights, and stage hands pushing scenery around.  This is a nifty way to include moments like a car journey or a plunge in a swimming pool that is in keeping with the Hollywood setting.  Foster lets the black humour of the piece come through – we are both endeared to and horrified by Norma.  The final staircase speech is dark, funny and heart-breaking.

An engaging look at what happens when the famous no longer have fame, how the rich seek to control, how destructive one-sided relationships can be… There is so much in it.  Above all, it’s an excellent production of a grown-up musical, with a handful of great tunes and memorable performances from the central players.

Sunset Boulevard is right up my street.

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan (4)

Viva la diva! Ria Jones as Norma Desmond (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

 


Taking the Piss

URINETOWN

St James Theatre, London, Thursday 6th March, 2014

 

At long last, Urinetown comes to the UK and, let me tell you, it is well worth the wait.   I could write the shortest review ever and just say: PERFECTION.  Or I could go on and on and write a book about how great this show truly is.  I’ll try to land somewhere between the two.

It is set in a dystopian future where a water shortage means bodily functions are strictly regulated.  Everyone has to pay to use public toilets – going elsewhere is strictly prohibited.  Offenders are caught and exiled to the mysterious Urinetown of the title.  Of course, there’s a greedy corporation manipulating and exploiting the situation with politicians and law enforcers in its pay.  Not unlike coalition Britain, ha ha – but the satire of the show is sharper than mine.

When he meets and falls for the corporation boss’s daughter, Bobby Strong embarks on a revolutionary path to restore dignity and socialism to the world.  But the show is about more than a clash of political ideas.  It’s also about musicals, while being a demonstration in how to write and perform a musical.  There’s a lot of frame-breaking fun going on, poking fun at its own form.  Director Jamie Lloyd capitalises on every such moment but the production never becomes too ‘knowing’ or ‘nudge-wink’.  It’s all carried off with camp charm.

Officer Lockstock is our narrator.  Together with Little Sally, who speaks for the audience, he guides us through the show, like a man trapped in the fourth wall.  RSC stalwart Jonathan Slinger is the bully-boy cop and I don’t think he’s ever been better.  Karis Jack’s Little Sally draws our attention to the absurdity and distastefulness of the subject matter, while conveying the character’s blinking innocence.

As Bobby Strong, Richard Fleeshman is certainly swoonworthy, giving us the hero’s blind determination and idealism.  He has a great voice too.  Rosanna Hyland is love interest Hope, fresh-faced and sweet-voiced, she plays the humour of the part to perfection.  Her father, the evil Caldwell B Cladwell is played with relish by Simon Paisley Day.  Marc Elliott is delightfully twitchy and smarmy as Mr McQueen and Adam Pearce is splendid as Lockstock’s partner-in-crime-fighting, Officer Barrel.  Although if Lockstock put his baton to my head to make me pick a favourite, I’d have to opt for Jenna Russell’s hilarious and cartoonish Penelope Pennywise.

It’s an outstanding cast.  An ensemble of energetic minor characters mean there is always plenty going on; some hysterical bits of business make the show consistently funny.  There is also some darkness along the way.  Transgressors are beaten up and bloodied.  We are reminded that there is a serious message to all of this, and it’s not just that capitalism is wrong and that socialism won’t work.  The show reminds us that our way of life is unsustainable.  Without proper management of the world’s resources, we won’t have a world on which to debate ideals, or indeed a pot to piss in.

On the surface it all seems like silliness but Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann’s show is a remarkable piece of work.  You can see why it won tons of awards on and off Broadway.  The production values of this current incarnation should see some awards winging their way to the St James Theatre or there’s no justice.  Soutra Gilmour’s production design gives us a dank and grimy world of brick walls and tiles, like Victorian toilets and sewers.  Ann Yee’s choreography is quirky and funny, as the score sends up a range of musical styles.  The attention to detail is, like much of the production, breathtaking.

Urinetown is a truly refreshing addition to London’s musical theatre.  Like a long, cool glass of water, it makes you want to go again.

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Pissed off: Richard Fleeshman and Jenna Russell