Tag Archives: Christian Edwards

Winning by a Nose

CYRANO

New Vic Theatre, Tuesday 7th February, 2017

 

The New Vic has teamed up with Northern Broadsides for this new version of the classic romance by Edmond Rostand.  Writer Deborah McAndrew cleverly keeps the play as a verse drama – it’s not just rhyming couplets and doggerel; it’s a technical achievement in itself, let alone its faithfulness to the original while having an altogether fresh feel.  It’s her best work yet.

Director Conrad Nelson blends naturalism with more heightened moments – the changes in pace and tone of each act are handled to perfection.  We laugh, we love, we cry – in all the right places.  Nelson has also composed the score, performed by the ensemble of actor-musicians, that adds to the period feel and the emotional impact of each act.  Led for the most part by Michael Hugo’s Ligniere, the music casts its spell as much as the story and the characters.  Hugo is such an appealing presence as the minstrel – I also enjoy his ham actor Monfleury, heckled off the stage by the eponymous Cyrano.

Christian Edwards in the title role is outstanding – and I don’t just mean his massive conk.  He is everything you could wish for in a Cyrano de Bergerac.  Swaggering, witty, charming, brave and selfless.  Edwards plays it with panache, literally and figuratively.  He is supported by a team of excellent players: Sharon Singh is an elegant Roxane, headstrong and independent – worthy of Cyrano’s devotion.  Adam Barlow is the handsome but dim Christian, the third point of the love triangle – he contrasts nicely with Cyrano’s erudition and we can’t help but see how sweet he is.  Andy Cryer’s De Guiche changes our opinion – we see there’s more to him than the figure lampooned by Ligniere.  Paul Barnhill’s poetic pastry-purveyor Ragueneau, Perry Moore’s prancing ponce Valvert, Jessica Dyas’s sardonic Mrs Ragueneau, Francesca Mills’s busybody Sister Martha, all help to populate the story with a wide range of characters, different facets of humanity – Rostand has respect for all walks of life and yet he makes Cyrano seem more human than all of us.  Especially touching is Andrew Whitehead’s Le Bret, his heart breaking to see Cyrano’s decline.

Lis Evans’s design is stylish – the stage floor is beautiful – and the New Vic’s costume department has pulled out all the stops for the 17th century setting.  Daniella Beattie’s lighting emulates the soft glow of the chandeliers with the occasional shaft of brightness – like Cyrano’s wit, enlivening the gloom.

Cyrano’s panache tickles the funny bone before plunging into your heart.  I know it’s only February but already I think I might have seen the show of the year.

cyrano

“You don’t have to put on the red light…” Cyrano (Christian Edwards) and Roxane (Sharon Singh)  Photo: Steve Bould

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Dancing up a Storm

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 5th July, 2016

 

Sometimes, human beings get it right and create a piece of perfection that stands in contrast to the countless ways we have screwed up on this planet.  Such a piece is the flawless 1952 film, Singin’ in the Rain.  You only have to watch it to have your faith in our species renewed.

I’ve seen stage adaptations before and while the quality of the performers has been unquestionable, I always come away with a ‘Why bother?’ look on my face.

Not so the case with this new production, on which the New Vic has collaborated with Bolton’s Octagon Theatre and the Salisbury Playhouse.  This is feel-good theatre to the max.  There is the added bonus of the New Vic’s in-the-round setting; we are in the rain along with the cast – some of us more than others (bright yellow ponchos are provided!).  There is an intimacy here the proscenium arch cannot deliver.  Ciaran Bagnall’s stylised set is basically a circle, above which art deco screens play the movies the characters make.  Around the circle, cast members play instruments, providing the score and the accompaniment to whomever is singing at the time.  They’re a versatile bunch and under Richard Reeday’s musical direction, form a tight ensemble with an authentic Roaring Twenties sound.

Matthew Croke absolutely dazzles as movie idol Don Lockwood – the Gene Kelly role.  He has the dreamboat good looks, the rich crooning voice and, of course, the moves.  I could watch him all night.  When the iconic title song comes at the end of the first act, it’s perfect.  Croke glides and splashes around and the front few rows get a soaking – it’s equally elegant, beautiful and uproariously funny.  What we lose in scenic devices, we gain in good old slapstick!

Christian Edwards makes Cosmo, the wacky friend (the Donald O’Connor role) his own, with an energised performance that keeps on the right side of charming.  Eleanor Brown is a striking Kathy (the Debbie Reynolds role), with clarity and purity in her vocals, and a sober contrast to Sarah Vezmar’s deliciously monstrous Lina Lamont, the egotistic villain of the piece with a voice like fingernails down a Brooklyn blackboard.  Vezmar almost steals the show but for the stellar quality of handsome hoofer Croke, whose performance is truly phenomenal.

There is not a weak link in the whole shebang.  Philip Starnier amuses as movie producer R. F. Simpson; Helen Power sparkles as professional gossip Dora Bailey; cast members come and go in a range of roles, adding to the fun, the atmosphere and, above all, the music.  The songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, some of which predate even the film by decades, sound fresh – Reeday’s arrangements bring out the romance as well as the fun.  Within a tight performance space, Sian Williams’s choreography emulates Gene Kelly’s, managing to be scaled down without being cramped.  The auditorium fills with talent and its genuinely thrilling to be present, to be so close to such an accomplished company.  Stardust sprinkles on us all, even more than the water.

Director Elizabeth Newman gives us another look at the charm of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s screenplay, wisely keeping her cast from aping the stars of the film.  The show both meets and exceeds expectations, due to its focus on theatricality rather than the fool’s errand of trying to reproduce cinematic perfection.

As refreshing as a summer shower, this production brings undiluted joy.  My only regret is that it wasn’t raining when I left the theatre; I really wanted to splash about in puddles for myself.  In these dark and uncertain times, we must seize our pleasures where we may, however simple, and life-affirming shows like this have never been more welcome.

 

singin in the rain

Raining supreme: Matthew Croke splashes out

 

 

 


A Gay Old Time

RADIO TIMES
Derby Theatre, Tuesday 2nd October, 2012


It’s the height of World War II. In a London beset by air raids, comedian Sammy Shaw (Gary Wilmot) is doing his bit to keep the nation’s morale high with his radio show, broadcast live from a West End theatre. He is supported by a company of talented singers, dancers and musicians – including his long-suffering girlfriend, Olive (Sara Crowe). The show is under threat, not only from the Nazis but also from the BBC. The corporation’s rules about what is acceptable and what is not are a headache for Sammy; he is forever having to cut items and find new material. Add Olive’s ex, matinee idol Gary Strong (Michael Hobbs) to the mix and Sammy’s already strained relationship with Olive is brought to breaking point.

The cast all sing, dance and play a range of instruments – the triple threat of musical theatre. It is unfair to single any of them out for special mention; they form too tight an ensemble for that.

As cheeky chappie, Sammy, Gary Wilmot is well within his comfort zone, in his Max Miller suit, wise-cracking his way into and out of trouble. Sara Crowe is touching as the neglected Olive, with a ‘show must go on’ mentality, and a tolerance level that keeps her hanging on long after most people would have shown Sammy the door.

Christian Edwards as sound engineer Jeeps is superb. He sings, he dances, he plays a mean trombone, as well as carrying the romantic subplot and becoming a hero. Amy, the object of his affection is played with elegance by Vivien Carter, who – like everyone else – is a dazzlingly versatile performer.

I particularly liked John Conroy as stuffy producer Heathcliffe Bultitude – a stock figure from comedy: the killjoy. He shows he is full of surprises and contributes many of the comedic highlights of the piece.

In a show where there is never a dull moment, highlights for me include “Hey Little Hen” which involves an outbreak of ukuleles, and the a capella rendition of “Run Rabbit Run” encapsulates the charm of the whole show. Sammy’s heartfelt declaration to Olive, via song, is the emotional punch of the piece, proving Wilmot is not just a cheeky face.

The book is by Abi Grant and Alex Armitage, drawing on the traditions of British comedy. The script is relentlessly funny, dripping with innuendo and silliness. I wonder how much the BBC’s restrictions fostered this type of comedy, where the filthiest things can be mentioned and alluded to through coded references and euphemism. Round the Horne probably wouldn’t have existed without the constraints imposed by that little green rule book. The characters punctuate their corniest lines with an Arthur Askey-esque “I thang ew” – it is the equivalent of writing LOL at the end of your text messages or status updates, except here it is charming.

The score is purely the work of one composer from the era, the marvellous Noel Gay, whose name sums up his best work (from a time when ‘gay’ meant bright and cheerful). The show is a testament to his talent for writing catchy tunes. Like the wisecracks, the hits keep coming. Caroline Leslie’s direction keeps proceedings cracking along at a fair old pace. The show is slick, wildly funny, surprisingly touching andman unadulterated delight. Much as the Light Programme boosted spirits and cheered the nation up during the war, this production is a much-needed tonic in these grim and austere times.