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The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 3rd May, 2016
Florian Zeller’s hit play comes to Brum in this sharp translation by Christopher Hampton. It begins as a seemingly naturalistic portrayal of forgetful old man Andre (Kenneth Cranham) being visited by his daughter Anne (Amanda Drew). But then, disjoints appear. Contradictions arise. Who is the man who appears? Anne’s husband? Someone else? And that woman? Is she a new nurse? Or Andre’s other daughter? Lines of dialogue repeat and reoccur in different scenes. Meanwhile, subtly, the set is becoming barer – items of furniture, and Andre’s possessions, are disappearing, as his mind submits to encroaching dementia. The transitions add to the sense of confusion, plunging us into blackouts while disrupted music blares. Like Andre, we very soon don’t know who is who and what’s going on.
Of course, it’s only a glimpse into what it might be like to experience Andre’s confusion, terror and grief. As audience, we can piece together what is happening in a way that the ailing Andre cannot. It leads us to a devastating, heart-breaking final scene, powerfully played by Cranham, who is utterly convincing as the good-natured charmer, trying to keep his grip and fearing what is happening to him. A stunning portrayal.
He is supported by a striking cast, who show us the effects of dementia on others and also the sometimes shocking treatment of sufferers. Amanda Drew delivers a monologue about strangling her father, to give them both some sense of peace. It is emotive stuff, to be sure, but there is humour, due to the surviving remnants of Andre’s fading personality.
Director James Macdonald keeps us on our toes as we try to sift through the changing situations and Andre’s deterioration – sometimes the scenes are very short and we are soon plunging into darkness again. Miriam Buether’s design – Andre’s increasingly impersonal surroundings – and Guy Hoare’s cool (in the sense of cold) lighting add to the starkness.
Gripping, moving and, ultimately, bleak, The Father could well be the most powerful piece of theatre to be seen this year.
Pyjamas but no party: Kenneth Cranham (Photo: Simon Annand)
Leave a comment | tags: Amanda Drew, Christopher Hampton, dementia, Florian Zeller, Guy Hoare, James Macdonald, Kenneth Cranham, Miriam Buether, reivew, The Father, The REP Birmingham, theatre review | posted in Theatre Review
The Attic, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 4th September 2014
Shakespeare’s bittersweet rom-com is given a fresh injection of darkness in this touring production by PurpleCoat. The setting is present day – judging by the pulsating dance music and the designs of the beach towels that form the backdrop. Illyria is party central but there are two flies in the ointment. The first is lovelorn Duke Orsino: self-indulgent and selfish, he is a man in love who considers no one else’s passions but his own. The second is the Lady Olivia whose prolonged mourning for her dead father and brother keeps her from the world. These two speak with Liverpool accents, in an interesting reversal of class (their servants are much posher!). In some cases, the accent brings out the naturalism of the script but in others it jars a little. There are moments when the accent brings a note of bathos. There is much to laugh at with this pair. I warmed to Daniel Carmichael’s Duke and Rhea Little’s Olivia, like a WAG, has some deliciously funny moments.
Caitlin Clough is a strong Viola, clever and sometimes vulnerable. Stewart McDonald’s masterly Malvolio is funny and oddly sympathetic; he suffers distress at the hands of practical jokers – it is during the Sir Topaz scene that the play turns dark: the practical joke has gone sour. Even instigator Toby Belch cannot stomach it. Sir Toby is played by director Karl Falconer; by the end he is a broken man. His excesses have got the better of him and he totters around with an Ozzy Osborne frailness. Lee Burnitt’s Feste is rather intense for a jester but his music brings out the melancholy aspects of the play. The main players are strongly supported by Thomas Whittaker (Fabian and Valentine) and Jack Spencer makes an impression as Curio and Viola’s misplaced brother Sebastian.
Strongest of this young cast are Sam Liu’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who is part Kenneth Williams, part Charles Hawtrey and part Bertie Wooster, and Natasha Ryan as the scheming Maria. Between them, these two could perform a Carry On film.
There are dips in the energy and while most of the comic business works a treat, there is the odd moment of over-egging the pudding. In this small venue, the broader playing shows up weaknesses in the more naturalistic moments. Problems with the lighting mean often characters are standing in shadow – If they were in for a longer run than just this one performance, I would call these teething problems. I question the interpolation of a “Fuck this!” and Olivia telling Sir Andrew to piss off; they seem too out-of-keeping with the rest of the tone to be funny.
On the whole though, this is an invigorating romp with a touching denouement and a nasty aftertaste, and reminds me why I love the play so much.
Leave a comment | tags: Caitlin Clough, Daniel Carmichael, Jack Spencer, Karl Falconer, Lee Burnitt, Natasha Ryan, PurpleCoat Productions, review, Rhea Little, Sam Liu, Shakespeare, Stewart McDonald, The Attic Stratford upon Avon, theatre review, Thomas Whittaker, Twelfth Night | posted in Theatre Review
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 21st August, 2014
Familiar from the 1980s Kevin Bacon film, this is the story of Ren whose mother moves him from Chicago to the backwater town of Beaumont, where public dancing is banned by the town council, headed by a closed-minded but charismatic clergyman. Teenage rebellion is not far away, with newcomer Ren as the catalyst.
The New Alexandra’s STAGE EXPERIENCE project is an ambitious undertaking. A cast of 120 (that’s one hundred and twenty) youngsters flock on and off, every one of them giving their utmost. Director/choreographer Pollyann Tanner handles crowds with aplomb and also gets excellent performances from her main players, never for one second losing focus. It’s a remarkable achievement.
Matthew Russell leads the cast as Ren –an assured and skilful performance from this talented fifteen year old. Yes, that’s right: he’s only fifteen. He sings, dances and skips rope all at the same time without slipping a step, missing a note or stopping for breath. Great things must be ahead for this young man.
He is supported by a strong troupe of players. Molly Hope Williams (Ren’s mom) and Aneira Evans (Minister’s wife Vi) give their roles maturity and depth, and can certainly belt out the musical numbers when appropriate. Another belter is Georgia Anderson as preacher’s daughter Ariel (odd that he didn’t give her a Biblical name!), rebellious and misunderstood. Her “Holding Out For A Hero” is a rousing production number.
Outstanding is Nicole Appleby as fast-talking Rusty – she reminds me of Linda Lewis (oops, my age is showing) and her rendition of “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” is a highlight. Callum Connolly’s Willard is a splendid study in character acting, consistent, engaging and rounded. His big number “Mama Says” is a divine moment, slickly interpreted and executed – I have seen professional productions that fall miles short of this quality.
Man of the match for me though is Mark Stuart Walsh as the Reverend. His rich, deep singing voice has power and subtlety, and his characterisation brings warmth and vulnerability to what is essentially the villain’s role.
It’s an exhilarating production; the energy just pours off the stage. I have only one quibble and that’s with the sound – With a stage full of kids singing their heads off, the vocals just drop in the mix and the band overpowers them. This means that some of the big moments are diluted.
When it is revealed that the show has been put together in less than a fortnight, you realise it is more towering an achievement than you first imagined. Everyone else in the business may as well just retire.
Matthew Russell (centre) as Ren
2 Comments | tags: Aneira Evans, Callum Connolly, Footloose, Georgia Anderson, Kevin Bacon, Mark Shaun Walsh, Matthew Russell, Molly Hope Williams, New Alexandra Theatre, Nicole Appleby, Pollyann Tanner, review, Stage Experience, theatre review | posted in Theatre Review
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 14th August, 2014
One of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and – guess what – it’s very funny. The script effervesces with word play and there are some good groanworthy gags to boot. The cast in Simon Godwin’s easy-going production handle the convoluted verbal sparring apparently effortlessly, and comic set-pieces (monologues and a double act) are played to the hilt with expert timing.
Michael Marcus is a dashing, upright Valentine, a likeable young man leaving home to make his way in the throbbing metropolis that is Milan. He’s a decent cove so we’re on his side when he plots to steal away Silvia, the object of his affection, from her lofty accommodation with the aid of a rope ladder. The plan goes awry and Val finds himself banished. Meanwhile, his BFF Proteus (an excellent Mark Arends) is sent to join him, parting with such sweet sorrow from his girlfriend Julia (Pearl Chanda). As soon as he claps eyes on Silvia, Proteus changes his affections and sets out to have the girl to himself by whatever means.
He’s a villain, driven by love, a selfish kind of love. You wonder why Julia bothers to come after him, disguised as a boy.
In this play Shakespeare sets out his stall for comedies to come. The best ideas here are reimagined in later works: Julia as a page, delivers letters to Silvia (c.f. Viola and Olivia in Twelfth Night); a comic routine detailing the virtues and vices of a milkmaid chimes with Dromio’s spherical woman in Comedy of Errors… The lovers’ tribulations come to a head in the wild, lawless world of a forest… (Midsummer Night’s Dream). In this respect, this fun and enjoyable production would serve as an excellent introduction to Shakespeare.
Roger Morlidge (Launce) and Martin Bassindale’s Speed are the clown roles, intercutting the main action with comic business that never gets in the way of the inherent humour of the text. The former’s dog, Crab, (an adorably scruffy ‘Mossup’) inevitably steals every scene in which he appears.
Pearl Chanda is an appealing Julia, supported by perky, sometimes downright bawdy maid Lucetta (an energetic Leigh Quinn). Sarah Macrae is elegant and chic as the beautiful Silvia – the costumes (Italian, 1950s-60s) look their best on her. Jonny Glynn’s Duke of Milan brings gravitas and cunning – his surprise exclamation of ‘Booyah’ intimates that we are not meant to take him too seriously. The mighty Youssef Kerkour appears in a brief cameo as Sir Eglamour, but one of the undoubted highlights is prat-on-the-make Turio’s rendition of the song Who Is Silvia? – Nicholas Gerard-Martin brings the house down in a superbly realised moment.
Also handled very well is the play’s problematic ending – perhaps it’s only problematic to our cynical postmodern eyes – as Valentine forgives Proteus for all his wrongdoing. I found the reconciliation rather touching.
The RSC has a hit with this seldom-performed treat. Visually beautiful, with some lovely live music (by Michael Bruce) this stylish and accessible production hits all the right notes in all the right places.
Valentine (Michael Marcus) and Speed (Martin Bassindale)
Leave a comment | tags: Jonny Glynn, Leigh Quinn, Mark Arends, Martin Bassindale, Michael Bruce, Michael Marcus, Mossup, Nicholas Gerard-Martin, Pearl Chanda, review, Roger Morlidge, RSC, Sarah Macrae, Simon Godwin, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, theatre review, William Shakespeare, Youssef Kerkour | posted in Theatre Review
mac, Birmingham, Friday 25th July, 2014
People have at least a nodding acquaintance with Norse mythology – be it from the names we give to the days of the week, to Wagner’s Ring Cycle, The Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones, or of course, the comics and CGI-laden films of the MARVEL adaptations. This production by Temple Theatre reminds me why it’s my favourite mythology, rich as it is in adventure and magical happenings.
Devised by the company and scripted by Paul O’Mahony (who also performs) and Mike Tweddle (who also directs), it is a 90-minute romp through the stories, a dazzling display of physical comedy, performed by three energetic and versatile actors on an almost bare stage.
They are dressed like ordinary people of today – the gods have very human foibles as well as superpowers; the actors don hats and neckties and so on, to signal the rapid changes between characters. The whole of Asgard is represented, each god delineated by an alteration to stance and demeanour. There’s a lot of running around but Tweddle’s direction keeps the action perfectly clear; there is no confusion about who’s doing whom at any moment.
Keep an eye out for the magnificent Troels Hagen Findsen as Odin, holding court – while Paul O’Mahony and Leon Scott tear around as gods and goddesses, often exchanging dialogue with themselves. O’Mahony’s Loki is how I imagine the trickster to be, rather than the snooty posturing ponce we’ve seen in recent blockbuster films, and Scott’s Thor is a marvellously hilarious characterisation. Such is the skill of the actors, I feel bad for not mentioning other characters, as if I’m missing someone out!
It’s fast-moving in terms of action and plot, and thanks to a tight and witty script, peppered with original songs (by O’Mahony and Rob Castell) never flags for a second. Phill Ward’s sound design enhances the imaginative use of mime, physical theatre, voice, gesture, and (yay!) puppets is marvellously entertaining and although this is a very humorous take, the stories themselves are not buggered about with. There are moments –just little touches – of high drama too, as the global consequence of these often bonkers events are considered. There is a pertinence here, a relevance to current events in our world of men and monsters. The most important thing in the world is peace, says Odin.
You can’t argue with that.
Leave a comment | tags: Leon Scott, Loki, mac Birmingham, Mike Tweddle, Norse mythology, Norsesome, Odin, Paul O'Mahony, Phill Ward, review, Rob Castell, Temple Theatre, theatre review, Thor, Troels Hagen Findsen | posted in Theatre Review
mac, Birmingham, Saturday 12th July, 2014
“If music be the food of love, play on,” Count Orsino utters the famous first line. The onstage band launches into Roxy Music’s Love is the Drug and suddenly Orsino’s white suit and black tie make sense. “That strain again,” he interrupts his rendition, “it has a dying fall.”
There, in a nutshell, you have the essence of this production. Pop music (and plenty of it) is blended with Shakespeare’s text. Sometimes the gear change jars but for the most part, the transitions are seamless – it’s almost as if Old Bill had wanted to write a modern jukebox musical all along. Every song is a happy surprise, adding to the action rather than interrupting it. Nowhere else will you get Viola belting out Adele’s Rolling in the Deep and a petulant, strutting Malvolio with a humongous quiff giving us his best Morrissey. I tremble to imagine the music clearance bill for this production.
Yes, Oddsocks is back. This is their 25th anniversary tour and I’m proud to say I’ve been a devotee for most of that period. Director Andy Barrow never seems to be short on ideas and his Twelfth Night ranks up there with my favourites.
Rebecca Little is a hoot as a diminutive Viola, running around with a stepladder, in her presumed dead brother’s Robert Palmer suit. Much is made of the height difference between her and her ‘identical’ twin Sebastian – the magnificent Dom Gee-Burch who also gives us a Feste the Clown as a kind of Russell Brand figure.
The mighty Andrew McGillan’s Sir Toby Belch is an ageing rocker in patched denim, a hair band around his Hair Band wig. It’s a revelation of a characterisation. The drunkenness and hedonism are presented in a way that is entirely relatable to everyone in the audience; this has been Barrow’s approach for a quarter of a century: making Shakespeare accessible and above all enjoyable to people of all ages and academic achievement. Barrow is some sort of theatrical alchemist, mixing very British silliness with Shakespeare’s speech patterns and poetry. The text always survives the Barrow treatment and plenty of Shakespeare’s original jokes go down very well.
Louisa Farrant is a beautiful, gawky Olivia – Miranda Hart could learn a lot from her delivery. As always, Barrow has put together a cast of consummate comedy performers, and there is such warmth and goodwill generated by this excellent ensemble, it’s no wonder people keep coming back to Oddsocks for a fun night out.
Barrow himself is the prissy, sneering Malvolio, giving a master class in verbal and physical humour. His cross-gartered scene is, literally, a revelation.
Joseph Maudsley steals the show in my opinion doubling as a suave Orsino and a prattish Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Orsino’s barely repressed attraction to Viola in disguise as a man gives us the most hilarious running joke of the night – Little too, as Viola or as Maria a Cockney maid who would not be out of place drinking with Kat Slater in the Queen Vic, is another jewel in this production’s crown.
It’s a unique, fast and funny take on Shakespeare’s rather melancholic rom-com from a theatre company at the height of their game.
Arrive early if you can – at some venues there is an extra treat before the show begins: a set from Outsider (Felix Mackenzie-Barrow and Lucy Varney), an upcoming and talented musical duo performing their own material, that eases us in rather nicely before the silliness explodes onto the stage.
Andy Barrow. Heaven knows he’s Malvolio now.
Leave a comment | tags: Andrew McGillan, Andy Barrow, Dom Gee-Burch, Felix Mackenzie-Barrow, Joseph Maudsley, Louisa Farrant, Lucy Varney, mac Birmingham, Oddsocks, Outsider, Rebecca Little, review, theatre review, Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review
Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 10th July, 2014
Author Gregory Maguire’s prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a dark and sensuous novel, here translated to the stage by Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Winnie Holzman (book). It’s a fluffier affair that races through events but is not without its darker side. The inhabitants of Oz are shown to be easily swayed by colour prejudice and fear, like UKIP voters. Their propensity for scapegoating the evils of their society involves an actual goat who, like other animals must not be allowed to teach the children, and must be denied their voice. The show looks back at the rise of Nazi Germany but is also a rather chilling depiction of the current rise of the far right in Europe.
The story tells of Elphaba, a girl who soon learns it’s not easy being green, but despite that develops into an engaging character – we take her to our hearts even though we have been told from the get-go she is to become the Wicked Witch of the West, and we will have a right old ding-dong when she is dead at last. Elphaba gets into a loathing-at-first-sight relationship with perky, popular girl Glinda (Gah-linda!) when she enrols at Shiz University – a kind of Hogwarts, or Oz-warts, I suppose. The pair’s mutual hatred turns to respect and a lasting friendship that is touching to behold. As the standby Elphaba, Jemma Alexander gives a powerhouse of a performance, but it is Emily Tierney’s Glinda who delights and amuses in her every scene. She’s an airhead and hilariously so, but Elphaba brings out the best and the worst in her – this is as much her story as the green-skinned witch’s. As circumstances conspire against her and public opinion is manipulated by lies and propaganda, Elphaba becomes an outlaw and a figure of fear, Glinda too goes up in the world, even channelling Eva Peron on her way to becoming the ‘good’ fairy we recognise from the classic film.
It’s a spectacular presentation of a storybook world – the fairy-tale gothic of the sets and costume gives us a world that is like our own but not so. The humanity of the characters is recognisable and relatable, and the script cleverly includes in-jokes and references to the original source material. It’s also an origins story – we see how the friends of Dorothy get to be how they are, although Dorothy herself is marginalised. Holzman’s script is witty and fun – it’s a pity Schwarz’s score is patchy at best. The songs are hardly memorable – they serve a purpose within the plot as it unfolds with only the glimmer of an occasional refrain you might hum on the way out. The cast do their best to belt out the numbers and keep the energy levels high.
There is appealing support from George Ure as heartbroken Boq, and Liam Doyle as swaggering Prince Charming, Fiyero. Marilyn Cutts is strong as Madame Morrible, who looks like Barbara Cartland but has the cold black heart of Theresa May. Dale Rapley’s Wizard is the only one to speak in an American accent – the shyster from Kansas – in this very British-sounding production.
Unlike Maguire’s novel, it’s family fare – although there are some nasty moments. It’s more Brothers Grimm than Walt Disney. This grown-up fairy-tale has emotional and political resonance but above all it’s an enjoyable spectacle – it is so good to see shows of this scale and quality here in the Midlands.
Emily Tierney proves popular as Gah-linda
Leave a comment | tags: Birmingham Hippodrome, Boq, Dale Rapley, Elphaba, Emily Tierney, Fiyero, George Ure, Glinda, Gregory Maguire, Jemma Alexander, Liam Doyle, Marilyn Cutts, review, The Wizard of Oz, theatre review, Wicked | posted in Theatre Review
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 8th July, 2014
Based on a novel that predates Dracula, David Campton’s script has all the makings of a Hammer horror: the gothic 19th century setting, the pretty young girl at risk, the dashing hero… The twist is that the monster is a striking, apparently young woman who feeds off the blood of the locals, with her sights set on the pretty young girl as a long-time companion. Horror has always used the monster to symbolise the ‘other’ in society. Here it says that sex that is not procreative, is evil, and saps the strength of those who indulge, weakening them in body and mind until they die.
Ian Dickens has assembled a fine cast for this atmospheric tale. Christopher Hogben is the dashing, resolute Captain Field and I enjoyed James Percy’s brief turn as creepy servant Ivan, clicking the heels of his magnificent boots together. Peter Amory is a gruff Colonel Smithson, a sort of Von Trapp character in a bad mood, and Paul Lavers is effective as the ostensible man of reason, Doctor Spielsberg. Karen Ford gives solid support as the governess and Melissa Clements’s Lucy is suitably lively and engaging – until the ‘illness’ begins to take its toll.
In the title role, Michelle Morris is good as the commanding vampire, with a strident tone and a bit of Jedi mind control power in her hand. I would have liked a bit more light and shade to her or, alternatively, a little bit more camp. The production could do with a lot more camp, in fact. It’s played just a little too straight – and it’s a difficult mood to create and sustain, but all too easy to puncture. A portrait is carried on to show the likeness between Carmilla and a woman who has been dead for centuries. It looks too much like a publicity headshot rather than an oil painting of the period. The destruction of Carmilla at the end – mostly in blackout – is laughable with (SPOILER ALERT) lights up to reveal a naked skeleton lying on a tomb.
Now, if the approach had been a little more light-hearted, including the audience in the asides for example, we would forgive any clumsiness or ineffectual special effects. When Hogben comes on, in disguise as a gypsy, the show really comes back from the dead. I think the whole show should have been done with this larger-than-life gusto – we would be more willing to go along for the ride. This is the spirit, I thought, and I loved Beppo the monke
At the time when the story first appeared, vampires were brand new as a genre of popular culture. Nowadays we are all over-familiar with the lore: the mysterious marks at the side of the neck, the preventative properties of garlic… that it is nigh on impossible to scare us.
The play is therefore riddled with dramatic irony rather than suspense. Our knowledge is vastly superior to any of the characters.
Also, I would have tackled the lighting design differently. What you don’t see is always scarier than what you do. More spots and candlelight would have raised the play’s game in the scary stakes. And I would have nixed the plodding tick-tock music that covers every scene transition.
A good-looking production in terms of costumes and set, Carmilla could have been an entertaining evening of comic-horror. As it stands at the moment, it’s rather bloodless and toothless.
Leave a comment | tags: Carmilla, Christopher Hogben, David Campton, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Ian Dickens, James Percy, Karen Ford, Melissa Clements, Michelle Morris, Paul Lavers, Peter Amory, review, theatre review | posted in Theatre Review
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 1st July 2014
Irving Berlin’s classic musical is given a fresh makeover in this touring production.
Herbert and Dorothy Fields’s script still crackles with funny one-liners but new additions by Peter Stone give the show a slightly Brechtian feel, with the theatricality of the production laid bare, and scenes announced as they are set up. It’s like a palatable version of Chicago – here the characters have at least one redeeming quality if they’re not out-and-out lovable. The score contains standards everyone knows: There’s No Business Like Show Business is a gem of an opening number and recurring motif, and Anything You Can Do is a comic highlight.
Set in Buffalo Bill’s Big Top, the story of the rivalry and romance between Frank Butler (Jason Donovan) and Annie Oakley (Emma Williams) is played out, with only crates and cases for scenery, and the band and other cast members on stage throughout. Billowing red and white striped cloths evoke the circus tent, but rather than alienating us, these devices draw us in.
Norman Pace looks hale and hearty as Southern gentleman and showman Buffalo Bill Cody – in his white suit and goatee you expect him to crack out the fried chicken at any second. Jason Donovan looks great in Butler’s clothes (he should wear them all the while – when he’s not in his Joseph loincloth, of course!) and his characterisation works well. I feel he lacks the vocal power at times to match Butler’s blowhard posturing – although I did hear his mic crackle a couple of times, so perhaps that explains it.
Lorna Want and Yiftach Mizrahi are charming as young lovers in a mixed-race subplot, and as Want’s elder showgirl sister Dolly, Kara Lane struts around splendidly as the show’s nominal villain. There is strong character support from Dermot Canavan as hotel owner Wilson and Cody’ rival showman Pawnee Bill, while Ed Currie towers over the proceedings as a dignified but funny Sitting Bull.
The show belongs, though, to Emma Williams’s Annie Oakley. From her entrance as a scruffy, cross-dressing trapper/hunter to her transformation into a star through the magic and machinations of show business, she is superb. Her characterisation is broad but it works beautifully and her singing voice is by far the best in the company. You admire the performer and care for the character in this vibrant and engaging treatment of a heart-warming, old school musical that hits every target.
Emma Williams, Jason Donovan and Norman Pace
Leave a comment | tags: Annie Get Your Gun, Dermot Canavan, Ed Currie, Emma Williams, Herbert and Dorothy Fields, Irving Berlin, Jason Donovan, Kara Lane, Lorna Want, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Norman Pace, Peter Stone, review, theatre review, Yiftach Mizrahi | posted in Theatre Review
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 26th June, 2014
The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company’s second offering at the Grand this week is a tale of fairies – while Shakespeare mixed these supernatural creatures with the court of Theseus, Gilbert and Sullivan pit theirs against the House of Lords, providing the opportunity for direct satire – still funny today and still applicable, which goes to show how the institution has failed to change.
Director Simon Butteriss keeps an authentic late Victorian look and feel to the production, giving a star turn himself as the sprightly and slightly lecherous Lord Chancellor. He heads a strong company – this time, I think the chorus numbers come across best. The Lords – so ridiculously self-important they sing their own fanfares (taran-tara!) – look fantastic; Tony Brett’s costume design gives them colourful cloaks, which they work to humorous effect, thanks to Stewart Nicholls’s choreography. It’s funny, charming stuff from start to finish and Arthur Sullivan’s score is realised to beautiful effect by conductor David Steadman and a splendid orchestra. In the second act there is a perfectly Mozartian quartet that is just sublime.
In the performance I saw a strong Charlotte Pearson stood in as the eponymous fairy, exiled because of her marriage to a mortal. The excellent Sylvia Clarke makes a solid Queen of the Fairies, bringing out the grandeur and the comedy of the role. Claire Lees sings beautifully as Phyllis the girl every man wants; her paramour Strephon (half-fairy, mortal from the waist down) is played by handsome Simon Pontin, although his voice does get a little drowned out in the duets.
It’s an entertaining piece, combining whimsy with political satire and oh-so-terribl English. It all ends happily when the main contention of the plot is resolved on a quibble – the gossamer thinness of the story is like a fairy wing in itself. But that’s part of the fun of it.
I can’t wait to go back for the third and final production in what us shaping up to be a thoroughly enjoyable week in Wolverhampton.
Leave a comment | tags: Charlotte Pearson, Claire Lees, David Steadman, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Iolanthe, review, Simon Butteriss, Simon Pontin, Stewart Nicholls, Sylvia Clarke, The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, theatre review, Tony Brett | posted in Opera review, Theatre Review