Seen at the Afternoon performance on 30th December 2016.
I have fond memories of the 1990s Savoy Theatre production, an elaborate turntable affair with Ruthie Henshall and John Gordon-Sinclair. Now, with Scarlett Strallen (Amalia) and Mark Umbers (Georg) to buy her ice-cream, could the magic live again on a far smaller stage?
The answer is an emphatic yes, and it’s at least partly down to director Matthew White’s decision to use British accents to delineate the “class” aspect of the show equal to the love story. Katherine Kingsley’s “common” Ilona is the lynchpin in this idea. Arguably one of the cleverest musical theatre performances of the year, her scenes not only register, but resonate throughout the evening as anchor to the concept.
Callum Howells (Arpad) – a delivery boy seeking advancement – is her male counterpart, more proof that in this show, it is the small roles driving the plot, and keeping it from diabetic-threatening supersweetness.
That isn’t to say the villain Kodaly (Dominic Tighe – nicely judged and balanced) doesn’t neatly spoil the atmosphere, but in general it’s as upbeat as perfumer Maraczek (a muted Les Dennis) could wish, to drum up business.
Some good designs from Paul Farnsworth keeps the action moving from shop to exterior to restaurant, and there’s a sense of light humour even in the darker moments. Strallen and Umbers extract every ounce of fun and fury from their characters – the “Ice Cream” scene is as highly effective as anyone could wish (though oddly Amalia is a member of British 1970s / 80s book club phenomenon BCA, going by the pile by her bed, but anyway)…
A lovely ensemble give Cory English’s restaurant waiter plenty to do, and later a choral to consumerism, again taking this series of meetings in new and fun directions.
Sure, there isn’t much book, or even much in the way of a hit score – “Ice Cream,” “Tonight At Eight” and “Twelve Days to Christmas” the best, “Good Morning, Good Day” and “Please Call Again” nice ear-worms. Still, it’s good-natured, with a few thrills and an expert cast under a sensible director.
Probably never a commercially viable revival in the West End, this proves it should have a life outside it, and this is a good a template as I could hope for. A lovely acquaintance renewed.
Seen at the afternoon performance on 11th February 2017.
After the relaxed pleasure of “Close To You” in the West End, and the inestimable joy of seeing the Great Man himself in concert at the Festival Hall last July, I was keen to see his only stage musical – and grateful as ever to Southwark Playhouse for its policy of playing shows London has rarely, if ever, seen, in as full a production as space and budgets allow.
In that department, this is no exception. Simon Wells (with help from Ollie Last) gives us a versatile office and restaurant on wheels, plus a glide-in apartment, furnished “in period” as best they can (Chuck’s Apartment gets BBC2, according to the listings magazine by his telephone, interestingly). Costumes and style of the times are perfect, too, and Ben M Rogers gives us helpful – sometimes humorous – scene setting projections.
There’s an outstanding performance by John Guerrasio as Dr Dreyfuss too. The man (who uncannily resembles my old history teacher, weirdly) saves the entire show with an hilarious delivery and great acting style in the second half.
For this is a show that works against the best efforts of the cast. A thin story – of a man who loans his apartment out to randy co-workers, and pines for one co-worker he can’t get – is sprawling and repetitive in the first half, and only springs to life when the focus narrows, as it should on Chuck (Gabriel Vick) and object of desire Fran (Daisy Maywood).
They make the most of duet “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” and do produce a fairly convincing happy ending. Trouble is, they have to get through act one first. Director Bronagh Lagan opts for a cinematic approach, complete with “freeze frames” that kill audience empathy stone dead as nothing connects as a stage (rather than this screen) effort should.
With a far looser hand on the tiller in the frenetic second half, suddenly the warmth begins to appear – a nod to Alex Young, whose drunken Marge had to be rescued by a member of the front row – as we spend more time on fewer characters and the set-up develops.
The score, sadly, is as sub-standard as the book. A notable injection of a well-known Bacharach number props up the first half, but really, would the show have suffered losing “Turky Lurky Time” (outside of giving Emily Squibb, Natalie Moore-Williams and Claire Doyle a chance to prove they can entertain)?.
Almost 3 hours long, and it feels it, alas. Fifty years ago, this show was revolutionary. Now, it isn’t strong enough to be a classic, but this revival proves that there could be a better show to be had – if anyone were brave enough to trim the script and raid Mr B’s back catalogue.
One revival in need of a revisical, I feel.
Inspired by an online discussion at http://theatreboard.co.uk/thread/610/angels-america-nt, where regular contributor Abby pointed out, “It’s interesting you mention the ROH/ENO as something that has always annoyed me is rich privileged people (not anyone here!) going on about how accessible opera is because the cheapest seats are £10 – they clearly haven’t ever sat in those seats if they think that’s a good way to experience opera, let alone dance. I’ve got to an age where it’s the best or second best seat or else I don’t bother because for me it’s just not worth being uncomfortable and frustrated in a lousy seat.”
I’d been thinking how to express that about theatre for ages, and I have to thank Abby for getting it out there so clearly. Quite simply, I think it really is all too often total rubbish about “making our show accessible to a wider audience” when the said “cheap seats” are going to provide an experience vastly inferior to the one those who can afford to pay for decent stalls seats are getting.
I always cringe when I see showbiz reporters trumpeting a potential starry hit that will be advertising “hundreds of £10 seats.” Sometimes, rarely, they are actually pretty good seats – ends of front rows or the back couple of rows of the stalls and dress circle, in the theatres that have a reasonable view back there. More often, though, they are the second and third balcony, and really restricted view stuff elsewhere…
The cynic in me suspects they are priced that way because someone has calculated that those seats will fill them with people who won’t know how to complain – but will remember not to buy them in future…
The result is that you get a first time theatregoer to come to the theatre. They sit in those grotty seats, can’t see or hear properly, and have to be winched out of them at the end… of course they don’t come back.
I grew keen on theatre thanks to “student standby.” In the days before “day seats” and discounts, you rolled up an hour before the show (longer, if you knew the play wasn’t doing well and they wanted every penny they could get) and you’d be sold the best available seat. That meant stalls and dress circle, and quite often if you were nice to them, you could even pick your pleasure, more or less.
When I grew up (Matilda) and had to pay full price, that was quite a shock. Luckily, even before I created Theatremonkey, I had the resource of all my notes to home in on the cheap but good seats – something I do to this day… and I think I could say from my 16 years online that I’ve helped many others do that too.
Once more, I wonder if the David Pugh philosophy is far better. “The Girls” has reasonably priced seats in all parts of the theatre, so there’s no need for a stunt discounting of a few cramped ones at the back. Prices are fair, and for a musical keen to attract a new audience, I think that will work very well.
Be interesting to see if others adopt this fairer, but less headline-grabbing approach. For the sake of building the theatre audience of the future by acknowledging successful method of the past, let’s hope it works and they do.
They’re here. Called by “The Stage” newspaper the “awards we’ve never heard of, and wouldn’t cover if we did,” by the Society of London Theatre’s Olivier Awards Committee, “the only theatre awards in West End that our governing body actively deny,” and the only awards in the world where the “nomination envelopes” are marked “return to sender,” here they are, anyway, as is traditional, most important first:
Theatremonkey Gold Medal of Honour. To Disney Theatrical Productions and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres. On June 13th 2016, a vigil was held outside the Prince Edward Theatre in Soho, in memory of victims of the Orlando Killings. Despite it being a vitally important performance of new musical “Aladdin,” Disney and the theatre owners replaced all electronic canopy signage with the Pride flag, and organised a silence within the building, matching the one outside.
A silk Kigurumi: To the make-up team at “Linda” at the Royal Court. It elicited a genuine gasp from me as the skunk outfit fell to reveal… very, very impressive.
The Kidney and Ball Valve: to Charlie Russell for that sequence every night during “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.” Concurrently, a bar of Lifebuoy and toothbrush to the noxious 10 year old boy (seated behind me) making a disgustingly crude “skill to pay the bill” remark during said sequence at the performance I saw.
A personal “You, dear Boy” from the Great Man himself: to Duncan Macmillan and Barbara Marten of “People, Places and Things.” Writer, and characters of doctor / mother, neither got the Olivier they should’ve, so should get to be told in person.
A copy of “Zen and the Art of Stage Management”: to “In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel” for a minimalist scene change. During the (unnecessary) interval, a stage hand comes on and exchanges the flower on an upstage table with one on a table downstage. That’s all, folks! Concurrently, a copy of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” to the London Coliseum crew at “Sunset Boulevard,” who put on a proper “Laurel and Hardy” act when trying to use too short a ladder to retrieve a streamer left hanging centre stage after act 1’s “New Year’s Eve” sequence. They did it, and the great British public duly rewarded them with an ironic round of applause.
The Oliver Twist Bowl (and Spoon) for classiest beggar: to Gemma Arterton, for her beautifully polite appeal for donations at the end of “Nell Gwynn.” Her leading man was running the marathon the next day, and hadn’t done much about sponsorship. Ms Arterton stepped forward at the end of the show and “knew that tickets were expensive” but “could we spare some loose change or notes.” No politics, just a plea for help. I went out of my way to do so.
A Dali Sketch (for most surreal complaint): to the person behind me at “Show Boat.” Julie was in the middle of singing “Bill,” when there was a rustling of a couple standing, and an elderly voice exclaiming, “we are moving because we can’t stand the smell of your onions.” Concurrently, the Fawlty Moose-Head for Inexplicable Behaviour to the person, several seats away in a row behind me, who managed to flick a hair-band across my eye-line during the battle scenes at “Henry V” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
Livingstone Newt (For subtly concealing racism): to Lez Brotherston and team, for dropping the “N” word from the libretto of “Show Boat,” but cleverly replacing it with a Confederate Flag. Chilling and inspired staging.
“Two Paws on Shoulders’ (for nicest welcome to a theatre): to the Front of House teams at the Playhouse and Palace Theatres. At the Playhouse, warm first words for every customer at the door, ticket checked, and directed to the exact staircase – plus (on request) the nearest gents’ – all in not just efficient but a “glad you are here” way. At the Palace, a delightfully witty lady usher engaging everyone with a charming line in chat – and also a security team who assisted me with what could have been a slight issue regarding my bringing an essential dietary pack with me. Pre-arranged and worked on the day, deeply appreciated. Every theatre should be like this.
Dyson-Kenevil Wheelie for innovation: to Howard Panter and Adam Speers for the first ever attempt at West End “Stunt Writing” by getting Matthew Perry to pen “The End of Longing.”
Hyacinth Bucket Bouquet: to the Savoy Hotel for “moving on” an early arriving day-seater for “Funny Girl,” who was eating his breakfast on a pavement (owned by them) in front of the theatre while he waited. Their street, their rules, apparently…
The Shenton Suggestion Box, for review idea of the year: On the ticket agency londontheatredirect’s website, a “Show Boat” customer reviewer posted: “”The 4 main singers / actors were outstanding. Staging was good & cleverly used. Our seat with restrictions was great at the price . Shame there was not a final sing along at the end.” That was in July. Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II and Florenz Ziegfeld will have stopped whizzing round in their graves by now… probably.
The Rose (Bruford) for Most Fragrant Actor: To Joanna Vanderham (Lady Anne in “Richard III” at the Almeida). Her choice of toiletries continuously delighted the nostrils of all sitting along the aisles through which she made her entrances and exits.
The Keys to Arthur Daley’s Lockup: to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, for ingenious “dynamic pricing” of programmes. In July 2016, a “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” programme cost £6 Monday to Thursday… £8 Friday and Saturday. Hilarious! And hope it doesn’t catch on.
A melted Lego Brick (for terrible “blocking”): to Tom Sutherland for placing a key song in Southwark Playhouse’s “Allegro” on a high ladder… so that the view from my seat (A10) had an uninterrupted view… straight up singer Ms Katie Bernstein’s skirt. I looked away of course, but placing the platform just a few inches more centrally would have spared blushes all round.
An NHS Contract: to “A Pacifict’s Guide to the War on Cancer” for selling a programme, complete with hospital notes cover sleeve. If only the show had been half as inventive and interesting…
The Al Murray “Landlord’s Wave”: to Christina Bianco and the house manager at the Charing Cross Theatre. The performer tried bravely to incorporate a sozzled beyond reason woman in row C, into the show, before being rescued at the interval, when the house manager managed to convince the drunk to leave – peacefully and with almost imperceptible persuasion. There’s skill on both parts.
And that’s about it. Probably the only 2016 awards not to give Harry Potter anything for the actual play, but it’s about the whole experience. As audiences run riot, there’s still plenty to reward, so here’s to next year. See you in the stalls…
First Entry of the new year, and it’s a simple run-down of the best and worst I saw in 2016. Subjective as ever, and leaving out a few “re-visits,” the list runs as follows – in no particular order under each heading:
Out Of This World (SO – yep, a standing ovation from me. Many more than usual this year, and all deserved).
The Master Builder (Old Vic) (SO)
Funny Girl (Menier Chocolate Factory (SO)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Lyttelton Theatre)
People, Places & Things (Wyndham’s Theatre) (SO)
Show Boat (New London Theatre) (SO)
Romeo and Juliet (Garrick Theatre)
The Flick (Dorfman Theatre) (SO)
Titanic (Charing Cross Theatre)
Aladdin (Prince Edward Theatre) (SO)
Jesus Christ, Superstar (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park) (SO)
Groundhog Day (Old Vic Theatre) (SO)
The Dresser (Duke of York’s Theatre) (SO)
Ragtime (Charing Cross Theatre) (SO)
Amadeus (Olivier Theatre) (SO)
Dick Whittington (New Wimbledon Theatre)
Oh Come All Ye Divas (Charing Cross Theatre)
The Wonder Years
Linda (Royal Court Downstairs)
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Donmar Warehouse)
Bar Mitzvah Boy (Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre)
The Painkiller (Garrick Theatre)
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery (Criterion Theatre)
The Caretaker (Old Vic Theatre)
Sunset Boulevard (London Coliseum)
Nell Gwynn (Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue)
Cleansed (Dorfman Theatre)
Blue / Orange (Young Vic Theatre)
The Threepenny Opera (Olivier Theatre)
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 2 (Palace Theatre)
How The Other Half Loves (Duke of York’s Theatre)
The Bodyguard (Dominion Theatre)
Richard III (Almeida Theatre)
The Deep Blue Sea (Lyttelton Theatre)
Allegro (Southwark Playhouse)
No Man’s Land (Wyndhams Theatre)
The Libertine (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)
School of Rock (New London Theatre)
King Lear (Old Vic Theatre)
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna (Wembley Arena)
Half A Sixpence (Noel Coward Theatre)
The Last 5 Years (St James Theatre)
Cymbeline (Barbican Theatre)
This House (Garrick Theatre) Cinderella (London Palladium)
She Loves Me (Menier Chocolate Factory)
As You Like It (Olivier Theatre)
Hangmen (Wyndhams Theatre)
Road Show (Union Theatre)
In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (Charing Cross Theatre)
Running Wild (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park)
Elegy (Donmar Warehouse)
Henry V (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park)
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 (Palace Theatre)
Guys and Dolls (Phoenix Theatre)
The Entertainer (Garrick Theatre)
Ghost: The Musical (New Wimbledon Theatre)
Vanities: The Musical (Trafalgar Studio 2)
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (Dorfman Theatre)
Shopping and F***ing (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith)
Murder Ballad (Arts Theatre)
Side Show (Southwark Playhouse)
Dreamgirls (Savoy Theatre)
Saved By The Bell
If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me (Young Vic Theatre)
The End of Longing (Playhouse Theatre)
Doctor Faustus (Duke of York’s Theatre)
Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)
A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer (Dorfman Theatre)
Oil (Almeida Theatre)
Macbeth (Young Vic Theatre)
The Suicide (Lyttelton Theatre)
Nice Fish (Harold Pinter Theatre)
Some really great stuff this year, and those many “standing ovations,” that were actually very much deserved. A few let-downs, and the three productions I liked least were genuinely excruciating to sit through, but it really has been a good year. If I had to pick a new play, “The Flick” is simply the best three hours I’ve had in a theatre this year, while “Groundhog Day” produced “Playing Nancy” – the finest new show tune in a decade, perhaps.
Coming in a few weeks too, the annual “Goodmonkey Awards” – rewarding the things other awards ceremonies can’t bear to even think about…
(Seen at the afternoon preview performance on 10th December 2016).
After the severe shock of Jared Christmas 2015 (vile, obnoxious little man, may he never disgrace the Wimbledon – or any pantomime – stage again); I’m overjoyed to report that for 2016 the New Wimbledon panto team are back on form, delivering the finest traditional panto possible, and then some.
We know we are in safe hands as the curtain goes up on a magnificently colourful “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” and Grace Chapman (Alice Fitzwarren) demonstrates a belting voice to go with the looks and charm required of a proper panto leading lady.
Arlene Phillips (Fairy Bowbells) and Matt Harrop (King Rat) make a poetic start on the story. Harrop’s beautifully judged timing gives us the perfect rat to boo for the rest of the show, while Phillips grows in confidence with every line – later delivering a highlight that has the whole theatre joining in, and loving it.
The first comedy spot follows. In place of the horrific self-aggrandising moaning of Mr Christmas 2015 (that had the theatre in shocked silence as festive spirit bled out of every door), joker genius Tim Vine (Idle Jack) makes a triumphant punning return from an “away game” (you have to be there). Mr Vine ensures that there isn’t a dry seat in the house, and, has the audience begging for more.
Likewise, panto regular Matthew Kelly (Sarah The Cook) does her solo stuff brilliantly as always (and the frocks, my dear, the frocks!) and better still finds a perfect foil in Mr Vine, their duo surely something Wimbledon’s producers should contract annually for the foreseeable future.
As title character, Sam Hallion (Dick Whittington) is lucky enough to pair with not one, but two special people. First, Indi-Jay Cammish (Tommy The Cat), his faithful friend. Cammish’s third time in the role, and it shows. Gymnast extraordinaire, mime artist, able to make her single “meow” carry meaning alone or as a whole rhyme, her every moment on stage is a pleasure.
Second, the already mentioned Ms Chapman ensures that the pairing are not only a stunningly attractive couple, but also well attuned, with voices blending and some highly believable acting too (I suspect a “showmance” for sure, here – another panto tradition upheld, if true). Paul Baker (Alderman Fitzwarren / Sultan) should be happy at the match – and if not, he is regal enough to do something about it… if he survives the terrible grape jokes in act 2 every night, that is…
Worthy of mention are the ensemble – Paige Albery, Rethea Coles, Daisy Darville, George Ioannides, Kamen Knight, Ella Kora, Ethan Tanner and Rhys West, who fill the stage with precision dance and some decent background comedy too. Also not forgetting the Juveniles – Blue Team from Doris Holford Stage School at this performance, who ensure “Never Forget” is an uplifting sequence in the second half (once they have finished loading the ship, of course).
Yes, this time Eric Potts is back on form with his interlacing of classic routines and topical one-liners (Trump and Southern rail – the latter obviously the bane of Ms Chapman’s life, going by her hand signal) and fascinating older material “Turn Again Whittington” and “The Lambeth Walk,” that the youngsters in the audience found as enchanting today as their elders did when first performed.
The whole is ably directed by Ian Talbot once again, with Mal Maddock and Steve Power ensuring the music flowed and Aaron Renfree filling David Howe’s glowing stage with dance energy.
Fabulous clean family fun, the audience buzzing and the feeling lasting right through the season. If you can get a ticket (there really are not many left), turn again to Wimbledon, where the stage is paved with gold.
Photographer credit: Darren Bell. Used by kind permission of the New Wimbledon Theatre.
And on that festive note, thanks for reading in 2016, and it’s time for a break. Hopefully, I’ll see you in 2017, back on the 18th January. Merry Christmas to Christian readers, and a Happy New Year to all.