Tag Archives: Elizabeth Newman

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

 

 

 

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Behind Closed Doors

PRIVATE LIVES

New Vic Theatre, Wednesday 6th May, 2015

 

Noel Coward’s comedy is like champagne, with its sparkling, effervescent wit and dry humour, and it’s easy to regard it as a light bit of froth. This comedy, though, has bite.

The Octagon Theatre Bolton brings this production to the New Vic and it’s a good fit for the space. In the round, we are the walls surrounding the private lives of the couple in question. They are Elyot (Harry Long) a louche, witty fellow who seems to speak almost entirely in adverbs (terribly, beastly, ghastly and so on) and Amanda (Fiona Hampton) spirited and lively – it is clear these two are made for each other. Except when the play begins, they are honeymooning with their respective new spouses. Coincidence books them into adjacent hotel suites and, out on the balcony, they meet again, five years after their explosive marriage ended in divorce. It is soon clear that passions still run high between them. Harry Long shifts gear from urbane commentator to man-with-heart-on-his-sleeve, showing us how swiftly Amanda pushes Elyot’s buttons. Fiona Hampton too reveals the depth beneath Amanda’s party girl façade. Director Elizabeth Newman handles their mood swings and escalating rows so that the emotional exchanges and savage remarks sound natural, even in Coward’s of-its-time and epigrammatic dialogue.

Jessica Baglow is appealing as Elyot’s sweet-natured second wife Sibyl and Niall Costigan is suitably blustering as Amanda’s second husband Victor. They track their spouses to a love-nest in Paris where passion boils over into violent outbursts and domestic violence. Clearly, Elyot and Amanda are like koi carp and shouldn’t be penned up together, but then they’re obviously made for each other.

There is an appearance by Chiraz Aich as French maid Louise, here played as a touch of naturalism in this world of heightened wit and emotion. I have seen the part portrayed as a caricature but I like this better: this Louise is the litmus paper that shows us how extreme is the behaviour of the others.

Amanda Stoodley’s design is elegant black and white for the hotel balcony scenes – the polarity of Elyot and Amanda’s mood swings! – and cosy and brown with period furniture for the scenes behind closed doors.

We may not speak the way Coward’s characters do – perhaps no one ever did – but he shows us that behind the veneer of civility and what we might call ‘banter’ today, animal passions are just below the surface. Elyot and Amanda run with theirs, thereby triggering similar depths of feeling in their abandoned spouses.

An engaging and amusing production – the fights (directed by Terry King) are kept just short of shocking. In the end, you admire the strength of the performances by this excellent ensemble rather than applauding the conduct of the characters

Here we go again!  Fiona Hampton and Harry Long as Amanda and Elyot.

Here we go again! Fiona Hampton and Harry Long as Amanda and Elyot.

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