Tag Archives: Hayley Tamaddon

Jazzed Up

CHICAGO The Musical

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 12th December, 2016

 

I’ve seen this Kander and Ebb musical two or three times before and have always come away wanting.  In the past I have found the characters and their actions reprehensible – this still holds true but I think this time, with this touring production, I am an older and I hope wiser man.  I appreciate now the vaudevillian setting of the piece, not merely as an alienation device (we’re not meant to like these people) but as a format in itself.  The story is presented as a series of vaudeville numbers in a range of styles.  The (excellent) jazz orchestra dominates the space.  There is no concession to scenery or much to costume.  It’s a performance about performance, as murderess Roxie Hart rehearses for her court appearance.  More than that, it’s a satire about how we as a society afford notoriety to the worst kinds of people.  Criminals, liars, cheats and manipulators – these are portrayed as attractive, by sheer force of the actors’ talent.  But the format keeps us at a distance from the characters and we must remember to see them for what they truly are.

The show gets off to a cracking start with Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly, a sultry siren writhing her way through the iconic All That Jazz.   Ann Reinking’s choreography is as sharp and sensual as Fosse would have intended.  Hayley Tamaddon is an indefatigable firecracker as Roxie, with her eye on the main prize: fame and fortune.  Every move she makes, every note she sings, is perfectly in character.  As her hard-done-by husband, Neil Ditt attracts our sympathy – Amos is the only moral character in the piece but in this world of topsy-turvy morality, he is weak and ineffectual, while swanky hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn thrives.  As Flynn, John Partridge is in his element with his matinee idol looks and his belter of a voice – despite all the scantily clad females on show, his are the best pair of lungs!  Soul legend Mica Paris looks and sounds at home as the corrupt prison matron Mama Morton – her introductory number is a highlight of the night.  Also impressive is the Cell Block Tango and Velma and Mama bemoaning the lack of Class.  “The whole world’s gone low-brow,” they sing.  Ain’t that the truth!

There is energetic support from a crack chorus, including a surprising soprano from A D Richardson’s Mary Sunshine and Francis Foreman cuts a dash as Roxie’s ill-fated lover, Fred.

This is Kander and Ebb’s strongest score – the tunes keep on coming.  It is also their strongest social comment.  Although the play is set in 1920s, gangster-run Chicago, it is all too relevant today, when the media is complicit in the rise of some of the worst ogres humanity has to offer (I’m looking at you, BBC and Farage, and at Trump).  Criminals and undesirables don’t just become famous these days; they get elected to office!

My applause is not for the characters but for the performers.  Chicago is an unusually intelligent musical, probably the best Brechtian show that Brecht and Weill didn’t write.  So rouge your knees and get down to the New Alexandra for a lively alternative to the usual Christmas fare.

chicago-john-partridge-as-billy-flynn-and-hayley-tamaddon-as-roxie-hart-photo-by-catherine-ashmore

John Partridge and Hayley Tamaddon (Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

 


Try as they might

MUDDY COWS

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 3rd September, 2013

This new play from John Godber is set in the overlooked and cash-strapped world of women’s rugby.  I don’t know much about rugby (or women either, come to that) but that is not a barrier to accessing the plot.

Schoolteacher Maggie (Elizabeth Carling) runs a team in her spare time, a team of a diverse group of women who, frankly, could have wandered in from any other play of this type.  Instead of tap-dancing, pole-dancing, posing naked for a calendar, or whatever, these women train and play rugby.   Maggie feels she’s fighting a losing battle.  The main (men’s) club isn’t interested in promoting the team.  The local press won’t come near them.  They have to make do with home-made equipment and a lack of members (so to speak).

It could have some biting things to say about women in a man’s world, about the inequalities and prejudices that still exist, but such comments as there are seem only to be sideswipes.  There are only rare glimpses of the harder-edged Godber from his earlier, strongest works (Bouncers, Teechers...) when an embittered Maggie berates her own profession for spinning kids who haven’t got a chance “a yarn about achievement”.

It’s a play of two halves.  The first gives us lots of short scenes in which the women train, go on the lash, raise funds in fancy dress, go for an Indian… The scenes give us a picture of these women’s lives, but don’t really develop the story until the end, when the decision is taken that they won’t close the club just yet but will switch to playing “Sevens” instead.

Between the scenes, changes are covered with bursts of loud music that would be at home in the Bouncers nightclub.  Here it is jarring and incongruous, and does not match the pace or tone of the scenes themselves.  A bizarre choice.

The second half is set entirely in the filthy changing room at the Sevens tournament.  Each scene charts their progress through the matches.  Unfortunately the same lack of passion that bedevils the team, hinders audience involvement.  It’s very difficult to get behind these characters and cheer them on.  At least the music during transitions is more appropriate, moody and atmospheric.

Godber has an ear for naturalistic dialogue, specialising in the obvious humour of ordinary people.  This is a skill, to be sure, but the show also needs the surprise and the invention of a playwright, to lift it beyond the repetitiveness and the ordinariness.

Abi Titmuss acquits herself well as ice-maiden doctor Jess, who has a clinical approach to everything.  Hayley Tamaddon is energetic as goodtime girl solicitor (!) Amber, but Claire Eden steals just about every scene as coarse, plain-speaking farm worker Donna.  Eden keeps going off and coming back on as Donna’s identical twin Daisy, a vet, who is always called away to sort out a cow or a rabbit with colitis.  It’s an amusing device at first but confused me in the second half.  Daisy is called away when the pager in her sock goes off, reducing the squad to six.  Earlier in the play they mentioned that a team had been disqualified for not having seven.  But this team plays on… As I said before, I don’t know much about rugby but there seems a hole in the play’s logic here.

Another point I couldn’t grasp was Maggie’s motivation for setting up the club and keeping it going against all odds.  It emerges that her sister died from a brain injury at 25 while playing rugby.  Maggie runs the club in her sister’s memory.  Oh.  If the sister had been killed by a drunk driver, would Maggie invite women to get in their cars and go on a pub crawl?  I doubt it.  I suspect Maggie might campaign for improved safety on the rugby pitch, rather than invite other women to put themselves at risk.  As I also said before, I don’t know much about women either.

It’s a mildly amusing couple of hours but doesn’t really go anywhere or say much.  They get muddy, these women, but in their camaraderie and banter, never bitch or backstab enough to earn them the epithet ‘cows’.

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