Tag Archives: Matthew Wright

Nunny Girl

SISTER ACT

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 27th February, 2017

 

This touring production originates from Leicester’s Curve theatre, a place with a growing reputation for the excellence of its musicals – and this one goes all out to uphold that reputation.  The story will be familiar to fans of the Whoopi Goldberg film comedy, but the score does not use the same old songs.  Alan Menken’s vibrant original score pastiches the music of the era (the action is transposed from the 1990s to the 1970s) and gives the show its own musical identity.

Leading the cast as sassy club-singer-turned-fugitive Dolores, is TV talent show alumnus Alexandra Burke.  Her singing voice is heavenly but she also proves herself an accomplished comic performer, physically as well as vocally.  Lighting up the stage whenever she appears (and she is rarely off) Burke is a revelation (but not the bad kind from the Bible!) and an utter joy to behold.

She is supported by a fine ensemble of actor-musicians who carry their instruments around like fashion accessories.  Among the nuns’ chorus, Sarah Goggin’s postulant Sister Mary Robert has the most developed character arc, growing from shyness to full-on belt.  There is something inherently comical about nuns, and this show gets a lot out of this without resorting to off-colour gags about cucumbers or soap in the bath.  These nuns are funny, individualised along the lines of the seven dwarfs: there’s the old one, the happy one and so on.

Karen Mann’s Mother Superior is a powerful stage presence and her solo numbers are masterclasses in musical theatre.  Aaron Lee Lambert is afro-sporting villain, Curtis, with a rich, chocolatey voice, contrasting with Joe Vetch’s good guy cop Eddie.  Their songs range from old-school r&b to disco – oddly, perhaps for a show directed by Craig Revel Horwood, the numbers are not saturated with choreography.  Horwood uses the 70s moves sparingly, so the Travolta-moves lift the songs when appropriate, without becoming parodies of themselves.

Matthew Wright’s set keeps the ecclesiastical interior throughout, dressing it with disco stairs or police cell bars as the plot requires, in an economical and effectively emblematic fashion, allowing the action to flow seamlessly from scene to scene.  Behind the scenes, the band fills out the sound of the onstage performers.  Led by MD Greg Arrowsmith, this tight combo does as much to raise the roof and our spirits as those we can see.

An unadulterated pleasure from alpha to omega, this is a joyous night at the theatre, energising and uplifting as only live theatre can be.  Perhaps the best of the trend for adapting films for the musical stage, Sister Act has everything you could pray for in a show.

burke

Creature of habit: Alexandra Burke

 

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Kitchen Sink Drama

THE DISHWASHERS

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 4th February, 2014

 

David Essex used to be a dish.  Now he’s washing them in the REP’s new production of Morris Panych’s hit play, set in the washing-up room deep in the bowels of a swish restaurant.

Into Essex’s domain comes new boy Emmett (Nik Makaram, late of Emmerdale) who used to enjoy the posh nosh and the good life himself.  Emmett is scornful of his new boss’s meditations and resents and rejects his reduced circumstances as a lowly dishwasher.  Dressler (Essex) is having none of it.  For him dishwashing is duty, job satisfaction and purpose.  He is prone to flights of philosophical musing – The play is not a slice-of-life but a means through which we reflect on our own lives, places in society and the nature of the human condition.   The naturalism of the dialogue is distorted by lyrical passages.  Dressler refers to glasses as ‘translucent chalices’ at one point – just one example of when the writing gets a bit pretentious.

Also working in the kitchen is ‘lifer’ Moss (Andrew Jarvis) a decrepit old man marked for death and the chop.  He clings to life as long as he still has his job and is prone to random and demented outbursts as he loses yet another marble.  It reminds me of the Beckett play except these guys aren’t so much as Waiting for Godot as washing-up for him.

David Essex is commanding as washer-upper-in-chief Dressler, a character I find ultimately to be repugnant with his grandiloquence and small ambition.  Nik Makarem is strong as the new boy whose learning curve turns out to be a full circle but for me the most compelling performance comes from Andrew Jarvis as raddled old Moss.

Director Nikolai Foster handles the play’s rich vein of dark humour well (there’s lots to make you laugh or smile wryly) but in the end it’s a dispiriting experience.  “All there is: work, death; the rest is a detour,” opines Dressler.  Trying to effect change in this unjust society is futile.

Excellently performed and presented though it may be (Matthew Wright’s detailed set is stunning) The Dishwashers parades lots of ideas but lacks the scale and scope of another play it reminded me of, Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen.  It feels at times like there’s too much on its plate.

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