Tag Archives: Racky Plews

Dreamboats and Chainmail Coats

KNIGHTS OF THE ROSE

The Arts Theatre, London, Thursday 12th July, 2018

 

The jukebox musical is a long-established genre and a lucrative one (when it comes to the likes of Mamma Mia!) taking the back catalogue of an artiste or a period or a genre and shoehorning songs into a paper-thin plot.  Here, show creator Jennifer Marsden goes a step farther by shoehorning quotations from classical literature into the dialogue.  And so we get swathes of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Chaucer, along with Tennyson, Blake, Burns… The programme has three pages listing literary references… The overall effect, apart from showing how adept Marsden is at cutting-and-pasting, is perhaps not the desired one, as ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ give way to song lyrics in which characters refer to each other as ‘Baby’.  That clunking sound may not be the scenery being manoeuvred into position but the gear change in your mind as we lurch from period to period.

What this means is Name That Tune collides with Place That Quotation, keeping us at a distance from the characters and the unfolding drama.  Moments of emotional impact are therefore diluted by our, what Brecht would call, alienation from what’s unfolding.  Any engagement we have is with the performers, all of them working hard to keep this balloon in the air, and all of them wildly impressive.

Everything is played straight.  To spoof it up would give us another Spamalot.  To give us another Camelot, the show would need an original score.  No, Knights of the Rose is definitely its own thing.

Leading the cast as Prince Gawain is former-Hollyoaks star Andy Moss, who proved his mettle as a vocalist in a recent nationwide tour of Ghost.  Moss here proves himself more than capable of delivering rousing speeches to his troops – next stop, The RSC? – and he does his best with a character that has no flaws or self-doubt, or anything to get his teeth into.  He gets a couple of Bon Jovi numbers to belt out, so all is well.

Oliver Savile is floppy-haired Sir Hugo, the romantic lead, singing pop, rock (and later, classical) with a clear, sweet voice.  His rival Sir Palamon (in this performance, played by Ian Gareth Jones) brings musical theatre intonations to the rock songs, along with a meatier stage presence.  Matt Thorpe’s Sir Horatio does extremely well with his songs in a high register, while Ruben Van Leer’s humble John perhaps has the purest, most searing voice of all.

Van Leer sort of narrates, linking scenes together with recitations of verse.  He speaks with feeling and clarity but there are perhaps too many of these, keeping John out of the action, commenting on it (sometimes tangentially) rather than taking part, and slowing things down for the rest of us.

Katie Birtill’s Princess Hannah and Rebekah Lowings’s Lady Isabel, supported by handmaid Emily (Blue Woodward) provide a couple of the show’s highlights, absolutely killing Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero and Total Eclipse of the Heart.  The vocals are superb, and the staging by director Racky Plews gives us 1980s rock video.  Plews blends modern choreography with period moves, and so we get Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale meets Heath Ledger’s A Knight’s Tale.

Bringing gravitas to the piece are Adam Pearce as Aethelstan and Rebecca Bainbridge as Matilda, King and Queen, two more mature players in this young cast.

There are moments of brilliance.  A stylised battle, complete with horses’ heads and animated rain, is evocative and effective.  A medieval chant, from Adam Pearce’s King Aethelstan, reverberates with drama as well as his beautiful bass baritone…

The creative choices are audacious, at turns bemusing and gobsmacking, but it’s the performers that give us the enjoyment, that sell us this hodgepodge and we like it.

How to fix it?  Me, I’d start lighter, to give more time for us to get attached to the characters and accustomed to the style before the action proper kicks in.  The transitions from poetry to rock song should be smoother, rather than speedbumps in the way of our engagement.  And give us a song we can sing along with for a more rousing finale.

Somewhere within in all this is the potential for a great show.  As it is, it’s a lot of fun – as a rock concert cum poetry recital delivered in fancy dress.

KOTR_Photographer-Mark-Dawson_Cast-Andy-Moss-e1530864313750

Gawain down in a blaze of glory… Andy Moss (Photo: Mark Dawson)

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Joy Ride

SUMMER HOLIDAY

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 13th June, 2018

 

The 1963 Cliff Richard film about a bunch of lads who travel across Europe in a London double-decker bus is now a vehicle, haha, for Ray Quinn and a ball of energy shaped liked the rest of the cast.  The minimal set, apart from the bus of course, gives them plenty of space to dance in – and boy, do they dance!  Quinn is an incredible mover – they all are – and director Racky Plews’s quirky 1960s choreography pulls no punches.  The staging of the musical numbers is a spectacular display of talent and skill.  It’s breath-taking and fun – fun being the watchword of this effortlessly likeable show.

There are plenty of iconic songs (the title song, Do You Wanna Dance?, The Young Ones, and so on) and some nondescript ones, but these are salvaged and redeemed by the energetic staging.  The script by Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan is charmingly funny, cheeky rather than smutty; it’s all light-hearted stuff, and I forgive the odd anachronisms (like ‘anger management’) because I’m having too good a time to care.

Like I said, as Don, the Cliff role, Quinn is incredible.  Even his speaking voice is mannered to suit the period and he seems to chuck himself around with ease.  He is supported by his mates: Rory Maguire is funny as Cyril; Billy Roberts is funny as Steve, in a low-brow kind of way; and Joe Goldie is funny – no, make that hilarious – as Edwin, especially when he’s attempting to mime.  They meet a trio of girls in France, on their way to stardom in Athens, and guess what, they’re all funny too, even if there’s not much to differentiate their characters other than hair colour.  The girls’ numbers are real treats.  I like Alice Baker’s Alma, Laura Marie Benson’s Angie, and particularly enjoy Gabby Antrobus’s Mimsie.

Adding drama to the bus ride is the marvellous Sophie Matthew as Barbara, starlet on the run, bringing Shakespearean transvestite intrigue when she stows away on the bus disguised as a boy (she’s in disguise, not the bus).  As well as being glamorous and elegant, Matthew is also funny – there’s a great scene when Quinn is towelling off after a shower and asks the ‘boy’ to assist.  Quinn is in impressive shape, by the way, and his cheeky smile is never far away.

Villain of the piece is Barbara’s pushy showbiz mother Stella, played to the hilt by Taryn Sudding.  The Muttley to her Dick Dastardly is none other than veteran entertainer Bobby Crush, having and being great fun under a dreadful toupee.  Crush proves himself a fine comic actor as the long-suffering Jerry; the delivery of his lines and the timing of his reactions is spot on.

This is relentless entertainment, harking back to a more innocent time and kept fresh and alive by an indefatigable company.  I leave the theatre with a big grin plastered over my face – and there’s not many bus journeys that have that effect.

summer hol

 


Users and Losers

AMERICAN IDIOT

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 11th May, 2016

 

What sets this show apart from other jukebox musicals, like Mamma Mia or Save The Last Dance For Me, for example, is the fact that the songwriter (Billie Joe Armstrong) was actually involved in the writing of the show’s book.  This lends the project authenticity – to a point.

The story involves three friends leaving home to make something of themselves in a world immediately after the 9/11 attacks – the sight of George W Bush on a TV screen makes me think he must be the American idiot of the title!  Just as they set off, Will (Steve Rushton) learns his girlfriend is pregnant, so he stays behind to spend his days on the sofa.  Tunny (Alexis Gerred) is inspired to enlist in the army – the next we see him he is in a hospital bed, one leg short (him, not the bed).  Leading man Johnny (Newton Faulkner) is a Sideshow Bob lookalike.  He meets a girl.  He meets a boy who has drugs.  He uses the drugs and loses the girl.  The three lads reunite in their home town.  That’s it, really.  There may have been other things going on, but I couldn’t tell – lyrics get lost in the loud guitar-based music; I could have done with surtitles.  Except when Amelia Lily (Whatsername) is on – her singing is loud, clear and in keeping with the pop-punk genre.

If you’re a Green Day fan – and there’s plenty of them in the audience – you’ll know the songs and what they’re singing about.  Perhaps I should have Spotified the lot before I went in.

Johnny is an unappealing character, who readily admits he ‘forgot’ to shower – Faulkner is at his best with his acoustic guitar but I find it difficult to engage with Johnny or his situation.  Tunny at least has something to gripe about – a dream sequence is particularly striking: Director Racky Plews seems to approach the show as one continuous music video.  There are ‘cool’ moments and the chorus seem good-natured in their aggression.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to hook me and draw me in.  Green Day’s songs are melodious and give the vocalists chances to impress but there is not enough drama or plot to sustain my interest or make me care.  As a piece of musical theatre, it doesn’t satisfy.  As a concert, it’s pretty good.

Cast of American Idiot, The Arts Theatre

What’s her name? Amelia Lily (Photo: Darren Bell)