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Richard III: Alexandra Palace Theatre (and touring)

March 20, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 17th March 2019).

Always striking this Theatremonkey as “The Sopranos” in the Bard’s canon, it’s all about ‘rubbing out’ the opposition… and not always for the clearest of motives, either.

Director John Haidar rather grasps this in the casting of Tom Mothersdale in the title role. A cross between Sylvester McCoy, Rik Mayall and Blackadder I and II, Mothersdale is a gleeful psychopath, engaging the audience at will and quite extraordinary as his charisma filling the vast Victorian hall.

Kicking off with the end of “Henry VI, Part III” rather than Richard’s usual attempt to sell his old camping equipment (“Now is the winter of our discount tents” etc) is curious but not unwelcome. There’s a certain context provided in the description of twisted birth that resonates through the twisted life beyond.

Caught in the cross-fire is love Anne (forlorn work by Leila Mimmack), while hench-people survive or fall according to Richard’s whim. Heledd Gwynn (Hastings) is a superb assassin, and probably isn’t asked to make Green Room tea that often during this run – particularly by Tom Kanji (Clarence, and also a creepily willing and conspiratorial Catesby).

Only a mother could love a son like Richard, but Duchess of York (Eileen Nicholas) gets a particularly good scene in which she makes her feelings known, literally putting her son down among the people.

Grounded daughter Elizabeth (Derbhle Crotty) is a strong stage presence, not only stabilising in her role, but as an actor anchoring effectively her scenes. Likewise Buckingham (Stefan Adegbola) knows how to make an entrance and impact.

Edward (Michael Matus) gets to drift through the show to great effect – nabbing the best of Annelies Henny’s outfit designs. Henry (John Sackville) has clarity in his lines and control when physical work is needed. Richmond (Caleb Roberts) also makes the most of his military moments and final battle. If the final line is repeated a little too often in the last scene, no matter, it’s an interesting ending.

There isn’t too much illumination of the text, and the play feels a little small for the vast building – though shows it off to great effect near the end of act one as action spills to the circle slips. Chiara Stephenson keeps the set simple with mirrors reflecting both the action and themes in the text, with a crown hovering until required. Elliot Grigg’s ring of strip lighting above it underlining the action in various colours.

Probably going to work better as it tours to smaller venues, it’s worth picking up for the trade mark Headlong modernity and fresh angle, and most of all for the central performance that proves Shakespeare does gangland like nobody else.

3.5 stars.

 

For an opinion of the Alexandra Palace Theatre itself and a seating plan, see www.theatremonkey.com..

Equus: Theatre Royal Stratford East (and touring)

March 13, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 2nd March 2019)

A psychiatrist tries to get into the buttoned-up mind of a 17 year old boy who loves horses – and has carried out an amazingly savage attack on six of those he cares for.

Peter Shaffer’s play is more than 45 years old, yet still exerts the ability to hold audiences in iron grip when given an outstandingly simple production like this one. The simplest set (Georgia Lowe) has curtains surround the stage, a bed, TV set and a few other bits and bobs moved on and off as required. Movement director Shelley Maxwell supplies the horses, in impressive manner – Nugget (Ira Mandela Siobhan – superlative) and Keith Gilmore also doing so brilliantly.

Acting honours are spread pretty equally through the cast. Central to the plot,


Alan Strang (Ethan Kai) is monosyllabic yet tortured as the teenage man. Thrillingly, he manages to remain interesting even when utterly closed off and remote, making his later unwinding even more compelling. Scenes with Jill Mason (Norah Lopez Holden) run deep with dangerous undercurrents of which she is unaware, to her cost. Mason makes the most of a small role, particularly when given the initiative in her earlier scenes.

Strang’s psychiatrist, Martin Dysart (Zubin Varla) asks probing questions, not just of his patient’s life, but also his own – and indeed the world. His choreography of the final revelations are frightening, but not quite as thought-provoking as his realisations that disturbed as they are, his patient’s actions are more alive than his own.

Magistrate Hester Salomon (Ruth Lass) provides the intellectual wall for Dysart to richochet off, while Strang’s parents Dora (Syreeta Kumar) and Frank (Robert Fitch) hover. She is a religious person, formally a teacher; he is a printer – and rules as straight as a line of text… or so it would appear.

The play itself remains a dissection of organised religion and its role in society. Much more for post-show discussion than with time to explore mid-performance, there’s symbolism and arguments, attacks on the doctrines of blind obedience and indeed the lack of sight (the heavy central metaphor of the entire play).

After 45 years, there is some dating. It’s arguable that some of the iconoclasm has already occurred, in fact, this country appears to have evolved as the writer predicted in that area. Small other details, like a scene in an “adult movie” cinema and the attitudes to that material also age the piece, and it is necessary to think back to pre-internet and loosening of censorship and society rules in order to comprehend fully parts of the second act.


Ned Bennett’s production, though, makes tight work of the fine writing; the cast and staging do their best to present a modern classic at its best. Should the Ambassadors Theatre in London become available, this would certainly settle in for a long and successful run.

Meanwhile it visits Cambridge, Bath, Bristol, Salford, Newcastle and Guildford until May 2019. Don’t miss it if it comes your way.

 

4 stars.

“HE’S STILL HERE” by STEPHEN SIMIAN

March 11, 2019

HES STILL HEREby STEPHEN SIMIAN (aka D. Thomas Esq – one of the finest people the monkey has ever known)

GOOD SHOWS AND BUM SHOWS, HES SEEN THEM ALL
AND MY DEARS,
HE
S STILL HERE

LUSH TUNERS SOMETIMES,
SOMETIMES ONE-TIME A ONE-MAN KING LEAR,
BUT HE
S HERE

HES STUFFED THE CRITICS WITH HIS VIEWS
SHOWN SOME PRODUCERS HOW MUCH THEY LOSE
THOUGHT MORE OF THE CARE, THAN CAREER
BUT HE
S HERE

HES RECEIVED MIGRAINES,
CARE OF SOME EAR-PIERCING SCHLOCK
AND MY DEARS, HE
S STILL HERE

SUFFERS FROM FLASHBACKS OF
POOR MICHAEL BALL IN A FROCK
BUT HE
S HERE

HES SAT IN EACH ROW, A TO Z
EVERY WEDGED LEG-ROOM AND CRAP RV
WHEN YOU SIT BACK IN THE REAR YOU
VE NO FEAR
COS THE LORD OF THE APES HAS SAT THERE (IT
S HIS STEER)
THE VIEW
S CLEAR AND NOT DEAR

HE’S SEEN THROUGH “THIS IS A VIP PACKAGE” COS THERE’S HALF A PORK PIE ON THE SEAT”
AND BETTER YET;
“FIVE QUID A POP FOR YOUR BAGGAGE – OR JUST LEAVE IT OUT ON THE STREET”

HES THE THEATRE FANS CHAMPION CHIMPANZEE
KNOWS THE PRICE OF EACH SEAT (AND EACH G & T)
SAYS WHAT HE THINKS WITH NO FEAR
AND THEY HEAR

MUST BE BANANAS TO STICK IT FOR ALL OF THESE YEARS BUT IM SO GLAD HES HERE
THE APE
S STILL HERE
GIVE HIM A CHEER!

 

 

 

Fame The Musical: New Wimbledon Theatre (and touring)

March 6, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 23rd February 2019).

Second week running for Saturday matinee nostalgia at the New Wimbledon Theatre. This time a decade forward for “Fame: The Musical.” Set in the years 1980 to 1984 a new class start paying in the hope of stardom.

Taking its cue from the original movie rather than the later TV series, this is a proper, grown up show with only the title song present in an otherwise original score from Steve Margoshes and Jacques Levy, book by Jose Fernandez.

In fact, there are similarities to the original film storyline. An illiterate and highly talented black teenager, a boy / girl “is he gay?” thread, an exploited and abused young woman and someone who isn’t who they appear to be. Oh, and the teachers are just plain weird, in a caring sort of way.

Anyway, it’s a terrific Morgan Large set, graduate faces on a huge wall looking down on desks trundling on and off and a flexible moving staircase unit, aided by Lee Tassie’s period (one hilarious) outfits. Prema Mehta knows when to make the lighting flash and when to focus in on a scene, Ben Harrison keeps the loudest passages audible for Mark Crossland and Tim Whiting’s musicians.

The absolute delight, though is Nick Winston’s (with Ryan-Lee Seager) direction and in particular choreography. It’s high impact, inventive, expressive yet subtle by turn. More than that, whoever is dance captain (not credited, though Cameron Johnson is as resident director) keeps the touring cast at the very top of their game.

It may have been a quieter than average Saturday afternoon at the end of the week’s run, with an evening show still to go, but the entire cast gave everything every ounce of energy and the discipline in the big routines outshone some permanent West End work the monkey has seen.

Pretty easy to break down the individual character performances, too. Headline name Mica Paris (Miss Sherman) acts as well as she sings, “These Are My Children” stopping act two – as we believed her. Fellow teachers Katie Warsop (Miss Bell) does well in good duet “The Teachers’ Argument”), while Cameron Johnson (Mr Myers) is the acting teacher any aspiring actor would want, and probably anyone seeking therapy, come to that.

Duncan Smith (Mr Scheinkopf) is nicely eccentric, but sadly doesn’t get a song dedicated to him in the canteen as his predecessor did.

Among the students, Jorgie Porter (Iris) is a surprise. Only knowing her from “Hollyoaks,”

it was instantly clear (confirmed by her biography) that she has studied ballet to an advanced level, and has forgotten none of it.

Paired with Jamal Crawford (Tyrone) theirs is an impressive match. Crawford has a depth to his acting that will take him further, on this evidence.

Someone who has already come a distance is Molly McGuire (Serena). The monkey remembers her from “Closer To Heaven” at the tiny Union Theatre. Seeing her “Let’s Play A Love Scene” and discovering herself in “Think Of Meryl Streep” hold a theatre 20 times the size is a progress to celebrate, and just another step, hopefully.

Object of her desires, Keith Jack (Nick) does equally fine work, and is totally credible with “I Want To Make Magic.”

Serena Matthews covered the role of Carmen impressively. The best story arc (and probably the best number, “In L.A.”) is hers and she gives it the knock-out emotion it needs. Simon Anthony (Schlomo) gives her the sympathy she needs and in doing so highlights his own abilities to create an impactful bond with a fellow actor, a difficult talent.

Hayley Johnston (Mabel) can deliver a bad joke well – probably putting her front of the line for future major panto work. Louisa Beadel (Lambchops) knows character work, and can also play dark comedy making it look easy. Albey Brookes (Joe) has timing and stage presence, while Alexander Zane (Goody) does well in his role.

Backed by an energetic ensemble the show is lively and almost always engaging. Drifting with a little too much padding at the beginning of the second act, and one strange crawling spider-taxi at the end are probably the only real issues. The ending is no cop-out, though, and the realities of training to join the hardest profession in the world are presented with a truth reaching every corner of the auditorium.

 

The show tours until September, when it comes to the Peacock Theatre in the West End. Hopefully this cast will stay together. If so, they as well as the show itself are worth catching.

 

4 stars.

 

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton. Used by kind permission.

 

The Rocky Horror Show: New Wimbledon Theatre (and touring)

February 27, 2019

(seen at the 5.30pm performance on 16th February 2019)

A real slice of nostalgia, this dates from 1973, feels like it, and is all the better for it as well. The most up-to-date thing in the entire show is a single “audience response” shout “what’s your favourite Lionel Ritchie song?” (answer: ‘hello’). And yet, thanks to an energetic cast and imaginative creative team, it still feels fresh.

Lovers Brad (A***hole) and Janet (S*ut) break down in the rain, seek refuge in the home of Frank N Furter, and meet his household staff and latest invention Rocky, before the crew return from whence they came.

It’s all campy stuff, very much of a time-warp, when such things were outrageous instead of on prime-time television. That we have come so far is something to celebrate in itself, and it’s a fair case that this show (and film version) played a major role in helping acceptance happen.

Dom Joly makes a decent guide. His career may be over (‘harsh but fair, Wimbledon,’ he admits) but his narrator is a quick-witted and amusing soul. Opening the show, a dreamy Usherette (Laura Harrison) reminds us of the joys of a “Science Fiction – Double Feature” before the cinema curtain goes back on the cardboard-cutout world (excellent Hugh Durrant set, Sue Blane Costumes).


We meet nerdy Brad (Ben Adams, A***hole, as mentioned) and cute Janet (Joanne Clifton, S*ut, again, as mentioned), as well-matched a team as you could find – Clifton in particular in rather good voice throughout. From their first encounter with Riff Raff (creepy Kristian Laverscombe) and strikingly frenetic master Frank N Furter (Stephen Webb, charming underclothes) it’s mostly roaring fun.


Lovely support work from Magenta (Laura Harrison again) and a beautiful bit of fun in the second half by Columbia (Miracle Chance), rightly applauded. Rocky (Callum Evans) is a vision in leopard-print, while Ross Chisari makes the most of both Dr Scott and Eddie. Notes too for Reece Budin, Shelby Farmer, Katie Monks and Jake Small, Phantoms who add greatly to the big numbers when required.

Sure, the music isn’t always the most memorable – “The Time Warp,” “Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch-Touch-A-Touch-Me,” “Sweet Transvestite” and “Hot Patootie” remaining the mainstays, and the plot is thinner than Janet’s slip, but the script still has its moments and they are greatly enhanced by those who know when the audience chimes in.

If it comes your way and you’ve never seen this little piece of British musical theatre history, try to. More significant than the frivolity makes it appear, it’s for the broader-minded and shows just how many more broad-minded folk there are now. A milestone that deserves support and recognition for all it does.

4 stars.

 

Photographs by kind permission of the New Wimbledon Theatre.

Fiddler on the Roof: Menier Chocolate Factory

February 20, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 3rd February 2019).

Moving from French to Russian poverty isn’t much of a leap for “Les Misérables” director Trevor Nunn. He employs the same intellectual grimness here as in previous work and manages, if not to discover anything new within the piece (this isn’t Shakespeare after all), to at least freshen and surprise a little.

This is most evident in the downbeat first half hour of the show, where the most memorable numbers are placed. A proper fiddler on a roof (Darius Luke Thompson) sits above a bare stage as “Tradition” unfolds in restrained manner. The three eldest daughters give “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” considered thought rather than mindless teasing, while “If I Were a Rich Man” eschews all “deedle-didle” joy in favour of groans and aches as tender flesh and muscles are treated at the end of a hard day.

The reasons become clear as the family gather for “Sabbath Prayer” and we realise suddenly that these are real people, a group barely surviving but bonded by faith and love. Set Designer Robert Jones is to be praised for his attention to detail, the Judaic items on display are authentic, the simple boards and boxes against a terrace of shacks entirely in keeping with the period.

The show truly opens up just after this, with original Jerome Robbins choreography given thrilling exposition in “To Life.” From there, via a memorable wedding – “Sunrise, Sunset” reflective, the “Bottle Dance” for the benefit of the happy couple until fate intervenes, it is a downhill struggle in which we are fully engaged.

Teyve (Andy Nyman) is less gregarious than usual. Sharp of wit when he has the time, but his mind is on survival and providing for his family as well as the God with whom he often converses on the intimate terms of one accepting his position in life.

His Golda (Judy Kuhn) is perhaps the more whimsical of the pair, her fine voice and acting making credible a hope in dreams and portents as a guide through tough times.

Daughters Tzeitel (Molly Osbourne), Hodel (Harriet Bunton) and Chava (Kirsty Maclaren) keep at their hearts the teachings of their parents, even as each rebels in her own way. Tzeitel’s Motel the tailor (Joshua Gannon) the “boy next door” proves himself a quiet yet growing-in-confidence husband.

Hodel’s rebellious student Perchik (Stewart Clarke) has more than enough charisma to challenge the status quo and get a woman to follow him to the ends of the Russian Empire. Clarke, notable in “The Rink” proves again his leading man credentials. Major recognition will surely follow. Younger sisters Shprintze (Soshana Ezequiel) and Bielke (Sofia Bennett) play a nice scene with him too, both having decent voices in choral numbers as well.

Third, and least suitable suitor Fyedka (Matt Corner) does well to balance welcome lover with unwanted intruder in his relationship with Chava.

In smaller roles, Yente (Louise Gold) is a sympathetic tale-carrier with more awareness than usual of her status in the community. Rabbi (Fenton Gray) has perfect Hebrew pronunciation (if lack of awareness of the meaning of one word – which shouldn’t have been used) and an inventive turn of mind in dispensing blessings.

Lazer Wolf (Dermot Canavan) has striking impact as the spurned suitor whose emotions turn in a moment at the wedding.

A particularly well staged “Tevye’s Dream” gives Fruma Sarah (Gaynor Miles) and Specialist Consultant Paul Kieve a chance to shine, as the inventiveness of Nunn and choreographer Matt Cole match those of Tevye the teller.

A decent sized orchestra under Paul Bogaev keeps the sound as kosher as possible, and Tim Lutkin, Jonathan Lipman and Richard Mawbey keep lighting, costume and makeup likewise appropriate.

The show is so tightly constructed that there is little room for fresh interpretation, but this version has the advantage of the low-ceilinged ex-chocolate-factory over a gleaming theatre to add a little to the gloom. That there is more dark than light in the show, yet it rarely swamps it, suggests the team found what they were looking for. Certainly, three hours fly, and the heart and soul are moved and refreshed by the good book (and great score) once more.

5 stars.

 

The show is now sold out at the Menier Chocolate Factory, but transfers to the Playhouse Theatre on 21st March 2019. See Ambassador Theatre Group for details.

 

Aspects of Love: Southwark Playhouse

February 13, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 29th January 2019)

Like many others, I was left in despair with the original London production. To call it a let-down wasn’t even close. The later Gale Edwards touring revival was far superior. I was older too, with a few more of my own aspects on the clock. Re-visiting the show for the first time after around 25 years, and with further aspects explored, turned out to be an interesting experience.

Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, Hope Mill Theatre and Jim Kierstead have pulled out all the stops mounting a lavish production. Jason Denvir’s set and costumes are outstanding, Aaron J Dootson clearly understands the light of the Pyrenees as well as the technical stuff of producing magical theatre effects.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle in his programme notes admits never having seen a production of the show, and takes a fresh approach. He is mostly successful, in particular bringing out individual character detail lost in larger and faster-moving versions. The problem is that original director Trevor Nunn realised the show needed a cinematic sweep and cohesion. He was ultimately sunk by over-staging (as was leading lady Ann Crumb, alas) but Gale Edwards picked up that baton and succeeded. Here, O’Boyle’s dancing scene-change interludes as chairs and tables are flung about become tiresome and detract rather than assist the atmosphere he otherwise creates rather well.

The story too seems to have regressed in acceptability in the current moral climate. Richard Stilgoe famously turned down the lyricists job as he didn’t want to write about such immoral people. In these #metoo conscious times, the tale of a 17 year old boy seducing / being seduced by an older woman, who in turn is seduced by the boy’s older uncle (who is having an affair with an Italian sculptress) but marries the actress and has a daughter whom, at 15 the original boy is possibly seduced by (her mother has a lover too, as does dad)… well… you get the idea.

Luckily, the cast are mostly outstanding. As young man Alex, Felix Mosse loses round one “Love Changes Everything” to James Nicholson’s crazily reverberative sound system. Luckily, he goes on to not just charm but reveal increasing maturity as the show continues.

Initial object of his desires Rose (Kelly Price) has a calculating hardness and vulnerability in equal measure. “Anything But Lonely” is her finale showstopper, and she means every word, a tribute to her characterisation that the lyric sums her up exactly.

Mistress Giuletta (Madalena Alberto) provides the other show-stopping number “Hand Me The Wine and The Dice” with Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography hitting and exceeding West End heights with a talented company’s energy so late in the show.

Elder seducer Uncle George Dilingham (Jerome Pradon) is delivered with studied panache. Pradon’s determination to age disgracefully is impressively achieved with ageing before our eyes – a change from brash to reflective “Other Pleasures” about his young daughter is a quiet higlight.

Daughter Jenny (Eleanor Walsh) follows a similar pattern from particularly young to not-quite-mature woman. Walsh has us engage with her hurt and confusion, her final pose with her mother a fitting frame to the show.

In minor roles, Minal Patel made a decent producer of Marcel Richard, his pride in his final smart suit obvious. Housekeeper Elizabeth (Julia J Nagle) shares a lovely vocal moment, while lover Hugo (Jason Kajdi), Jerome (Jack Churms) and Waitress (Eleanor Jackson) are particularly sound in both character roles and as dancers.

A difficult show to present, this team managed to create something to be quite proud of. If it lacked some emotional depth of previous productions, that was down to the inferior revised script they were forced to use and also changing times making the story less palatable for the moment. Still, impressive and probably the last professional production to happen for a while. If so, it’s as good a memory of a happy moment as any, and one worth making.

 

4 stars.