Tag Archives: Amanda Hadingue

Oh What a Lovely Show!

MISS LITTLEWOOD

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 18th July, 2018

 

Erica Whyman’s exuberant production of this brand-new musical by Sam Kenyon tells the life story of one of the most influential figures of post-war British theatre, the formidable Joan Littlewood.

Clare Burt is Littlewood, narrating and sometimes ‘directing’ her own story, with other actors playing Joan at various ages, adopting Littlewood’s signature cap as a kind of visual synecdoche.  Thus, Burt’s Joan is outside the main action, able to comment and intervene.  The other characters give as good as they get – this is a highly theatrical piece about the theatre as much as it is a biography.  There is frame-breaking in abundance and an awareness of the audience and the fabric of its own storytelling.  Burt is wryly amusing as the no-nonsense Littlewood and, yes, a little bit scary in this whistle-stop tour of her personal and professional life.  The hits (Oh, What A Lovely War, A Taste of Honey) and the misses (They Might Be Giants) are all covered here.

She is supported by a superlative ensemble, with the other (younger) Joans each making an impression – from Emily Johnstone (pulled from the audience in a need-a-volunteer stunt) giving us Joan as a young girl, to Aretha Ayeh’s Joan as an art student, Sophia Nomvete as the fledgling director Joan (Nomvete also delights later as Patricia Routledge-like figure, Avis Bunnage).  Sandy Foster, Amanda Hadingue and Dawn Hope take up the mantle (well, the cap) as Littlewood in her later, successful years.  This multiple casting means the Joans can appear on stage all at once for key moments, like the scene where love interest Gerry Raffles (a dapper Solomon Israel) recovers in his hospital bed.  Surely, we too are composites of the versions of ourselves we have been throughout our lives.

There are cross-dressing roles, adding to the music hall aspects of the production.  Emily Johnstone’s brief appearance as Lionel Bart, for example, and Amanda Hadingue’s Victor Spinetti, for another.  Johnstone also puts in a winning turn as Barbara Windsor with a cheeky vaudeville number.

Gregg Barnett demonstrates his versatility in a range of parts, including Joan’s dad and the musician Jimmie Miller.  Similarly, the excellent Tam Williams crops up time and again – he also plays a mean trombone.

Tom Piper’s set keeps the red curtain and proscenium arch as a backdrop – the theatre is literally behind everything Littlewood did.  Whyman’s direction keeps the action fluid and the energies never flag.  The show is relentlessly charming.  Judicious use of captions and projections help us keep track of the timeline.  The piece is riddled with such Brechtian devices – despite which, it has an emotional (but not sentimental) impact.

For me, the star is the show’s creator.  Sam Kenyon’s book, music and lyrics (he did the lot!) are a joy from start to finish.  The sumptuous score is tinged with music hall and cabaret, and strongly flavoured with the musicality and verbal sophistication of Stephen Sondheim.  It’s magnificent.

An exhilarating entertainment, and the RSC’s best musical since Matilda, the show merits an extended run – or a transfer to London, perhaps to the ‘other’ Stratford and Littlewood’s East End theatre itself.

Miss Littlewood production photographs_ 2018 _2018_Photo by Topher McGrillis_253490

Sophia Nomvete and Clare Burt as Joan and Joan (Photo: Topher McGrillis)

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Damp Squib

RISING DAMP

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 10th June, 2013

 

While musical theatre seems intent on adapting every old film it can find for the stage, straight theatre (so to speak) has its own fad for stringing together episodes of old television sitcoms in order to provide an evening’s entertainment.  We’ve already had Birds Of A Feather, which at least had the actual stars from the telly treading the boards; and dinnerladies, which was like a tribute act.  This current tour of Rising Damp is more like the latter than the former, although one of the show’s original stars, Don Warrington who played Philip, directs this adaptation. If anyone knows how to handle this material, it is Don Warrington.

Current TV sitcoms have a retro feel to them (Mrs Brown’s Boys, Miranda, Vicious) so it might seem timely to disinter this old show from the 70s, but it only serves to show the cracks and the rotten patches – much like Rigsby’s house.  At the time, Rigsby was an Alf Garnett character, spouting all manner of outrageous comments, mocked and outwitted by his tenants, members of a more progressive and indeed permissive society.  These days, with alternative comedy and political correctness having changed the comedic landscape, Rigsby’s racist and sexist remarks have a sharper edge: this is no longer mockery of the old order.  Rigsby pricks our sensibilities and seems more offensive.  As long as you remember to laugh at him rather than with him.

Audience expectations dictate the style of performance.  Rigsby must be the way Leonard Rossiter played him, Miss Jones must be like Frances de la Tour… and so the actors are judged on how well they evoke the original cast.  It all adds to the nostalgic appeal.

Stephen Chapman is very good as Rossiter-Rigsby.  All the mannerisms are there.  Paul Morse gives us glimpses of the late Richard Beckinsale in his performance of hapless tenant Alan.  Amanda Hadingue captures de la Tour’s intonation and melodramatic posturing as Miss Jones, but Cornelius Macarthy’s Philip commands the stage with his grandiloquent claims about native life in Africa.  The whole thing is a reconstruction and the cast is very skilful but I wonder if we’re not better off watching repeats on a minor satellite channel instead.  In half hour bursts, once a week, the material is rather amusing.  In this two-hour chunk it seems a bit thin.  The funniest moments are tried-and-tested stock ideas that date back as far as Plautus.   Eric Chappell’s dialogue has traces of Joe Orton every now and then.

Confined by its sitcom origins, the plot cannot really develop, the characters cannot really learn and grow.   There is some attempt at dramatic progression: the first act involves Alan moving in and meeting the others.  The second, funnier act has the characters in full flight and ends (spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the series) with Alan moving out.  Rigsby and Philip’s false claims of being a war hero and an African prince respectively have been exposed and the two men form some kind of friendship as the lights fade…

I came away wondering what someone who had never heard of the TV series might get from this production.  Nostalgia is its biggest draw, although by giving an odious bigot like Rigsby centre stage, it does remind us that his abhorrent and groundless prejudices are to be mocked – at the very least. Attitudes like his belong in the realms of comedy rather than being leant unwarranted credibility and merit in the political arena.  In an updated version, Rigsby would be standing for UKIP.

rising damp