Tag Archives: Stephen Duckham

Sunshine and Show-ers

SUNSHINE ON LEITH

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 2nd October, 2015

 

This jukebox musical is based around the songs of Scottish duo, the Proclaimers – No, I couldn’t name enough of their songs to fill the back of a matchbox never mind fill out a show. In a way, this helps – there appears to be less ‘shoe-horning’ in of songs, just to get the hits in. It’s the story of Ally and Davy, back from a tour of duty and looking for a new start in their home town. Ally is with Liz, Davy’s sister, and Liz sets her brother up with her workmate, fellow nurse, Yvonne. Meanwhile, Liz and Davy’s parents hit a rocky patch when a long-ago affair comes to light… It’s soap opera stuff and hardly original but Stephen Greenhorn’s script has plenty of funny lines and it is played by a likeable cast who hold our interest.

Chris Johnson’s Ally convinces both in terms of accent and emotion, while Maria Rodriguez is a vivacious Liz. Brooklyn Barber is an appealing Yvonne, but it is Mark Walsh as Davy who is a cut above the rest, delivering a West End-quality performance, engaging, emotive and just about perfect. Rob Fusco is particularly strong as Davy’s dad Rab, while Sharon Tozer as mum Jean warms up as the show goes on – her dramatic scenes are excellent, as is her rendition of the title song.

The chorus is in good voice and work with focus to create bustling scenes and background atmosphere but Stephen Duckham’s direction is patchy: a flashback scene could be staged more clearly, for example, but there are moments of flair – a brawl freezes to become a frieze, the backdrop for a heated discussion between Rab and Jean. It’s not helped by a boxy, cumbersome set that slows down some of the transitions. Less is more in these cases – lighting and scenic projections would have done the job slickly and stylishly.

Some of the songs contain social commentary and there are several throwaway lines of dialogue about the privatisation of the NHS but there is never a sense that anyone can do anything about it. The characters are too caught up in the soap opera dramas of their lives to think of the bigger picture – which is how most people carry on, I suppose.

On the whole though it’s an enjoyable evening, a lively production of a run-of-the-mill story, enlivened by talented lead players and a hard-working, well-drilled chorus. The best song, the one about walking 500 miles, is saved for the end, for a rousing, feel-good finish. Once again BMOS delivers the goods.

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A Night on the Tiles

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 9th June, 2015

 

The last time I saw this show it had Paul Michael Glaser in it and the cast played musical instruments on stage. BMOS gives us a more straightforward production, relying on the strength of the material and a traditional approach.

Being opening night, there are inevitably a few technical hitches, with a few missed microphone cues and some dry ice coming on a scene early. Scene transitions can take a bit too long, forcing musical director Daivd Easto to have the band repeat the same note over and over like a stuck record. All of this, I expect, will be ironed out as the run progresses.

Those niggles aside, this is an enjoyable evening, recounting the not-quite heart-warming story of a community destroyed by ethnic cleansing. John Spencer’s Tevye is the beating heart of the village and the show itself. Spencer delivers the milkman’s warmth and humour by the cartload in a performance that dominates but never overshadows, as Tevye learns that the traditions that once were the glue that held his life together are now wedges that drive his family apart. Sally Jolliffe makes a formidable Golde, the milkman’s wife. There is some lovely character work from Jennifer Eglinton as Yente the matchmaker and old busybody, and Dave Wilkes’s Lazar the butcher comes into his own during a rousing pub song. Rob Bateman sounds authentic as the revolutionary Perchik from Kiev – and here I feel a comment about the accents coming on.

The accents are all over the shop, taking us from the Ukraine to Bangladesh via Tiger Bay, with hints of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ludwig Von Drake thrown in. My advice would be don’t bother. Focus instead on characterisation and playing the emotion of a scene, letting the cadence of the dialogue emerge for itself. Witness the star turn by Mark Walsh as timid tailor Motel. No vowel-strangling here, just an honest and convincing portrayal of a young man summoning up the confidence to win the girl he loves. His solo, Miracle of Miracles, is a definite highlight – a difficult number that Walsh pulls off via characterisation, showing Motel growing in stature as the song builds to its climax. A cut above – if I may use a tailor pun.

Tevye’s eldest daughters each have their troubles, allowing Marie Donnellan (Tzeitel), Abby Wells (Hodel) and Amy Jevons (Chava) their moments in the spotlight. Separately, they sing sweetly and emotively but together as a trio, their Matchmaker song is a delight.

There are times when the stage seems overcrowded – the chorus is in fine voice –  and the action can be a little unfocussed because there’s so many of them. The wedding ceremony is a little swamped, for example, and Tevye’s dream is overpopulated (although Karen Whittington’s Fruma-Sarah is head and shoulders above everyone else!). That said, there are some stand-out moments: the men dancing at the wedding reception (Sally Jolliffe’s choreography is suitably ethnic) is superbly done – but director Stephen Duckham needs to make the disruption caused by Russian bullies more menacing.

The main symbol that gives the show its title, a fiddler on the roof, tells us that life is precarious. People in dangerous situations are just trying to scrape a living. Ethnic cleansing and hordes of refugees are still very much with us. First produced in 1964, the show was a coded reference to Nazi Germany, a look at a difficult subject through the safety of historical distance. Nowadays, the story resonates beyond the Jewish experience. One wonders whether Tevye and his family fleeing oppression today, would end up drowning in the Med.

Perhaps I’m making the show sound more heavy-going than it is. Joseph Stein’s book is warm and funny, and Jerry Bock’s score is chockfull of strong songs, with witty and poignant lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. BMOS presents a solid, more than competent production that serves the material well, entertains and satisfies, even though it could do with a little more theatrical flair.

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Talent Laid Bare

THE FULL MONTY

The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 7th October, 2014

 

Based on the extremely popular British film, this musical adaptation transplants the action to Buffalo, New Jersey. It’s brash and perhaps a little shallower than the original but the change of location works very well: the issues it covers (the emasculating power of long-term unemployment and the reversal of gender roles and expectations) are universal.  The men’s strip show is not just a money-spinner, it’s a way of reasserting their masculinity.  They’ve been stripped of their traditional role, so they strip off their clothes to remind everyone they are still men.

Terrence McNally’s script follows the familiar story, and there is a lively, jazz-infused rock score with witty lyrics, both by David Yazbek: the band is excellent – flawless, in fact.

Chris Ranger leads as rough and ready Jerry, whose desperation to raise child support leads him to rally his mates to create a troupe of strippers. It’s opening night and Ranger warms into his role – especially his scenes with fat friend Dave (Mark Heath, in a bold performance that brings pathos). Ranger’s voice is well-suited to the score although needs to be a little louder in the mix – Mind you, my seat is practically on the musical director’s head, so it’s not the best position, acoustically speaking.

Stephen Duckham directs his strong cast with an assured hand – it’s the third time he has directed this show and so the attention to detail is spot on. Mary Dunn impresses as Dave’s wife Georgie, with a powerful singing voice and a touching manner. Dane Foxx gives Horse some lovely moves, accentuated by Sally Jolliffe’s choreography, and young Luke Flaherty is effective as Jerry’s son Nathan – who is more mature and level-headed than his dad. Rob Fusco is very good as Harold, trying to hide his joblessness from his big-spending wife (Michelle Worthington, who excels in her musical numbers)

Claire J Smith almost steals the show as chain-smoking, tough-talking piano playing Jeanette (a new character that adds to the Americanisation, and the musicalisation – if that’s a word, of this version) but above and beyond this hard-working and skilful bunch shines the exceptional talent of Mark Walsh, who makes uptight, skittish oddball Malcolm absolutely adorable in a performance of West End quality. He is consistently hilarious without upstaging his scene-mates and when he sings at his mother’s funeral, it breaks your heart. Walsh somehow lifts the whole production without overshadowing the rest of the cast, a feat which is as remarkable as his characterisation.

Funny, touching and still relevant, The Full Monty remains an entertaining piece and BMOS delivers “the goods” on all counts.

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