I like to think I know my Dreams, having seen some stunning productions in the past – so I was excited to see that Regent’s Park would be staging it this year in rep with Ragtime, having never been disappointed by their productions in the past. Sadly, this production did not live up to previous expectations by any means.
We’re welcomed by a caravan, mobile home and crane - the land of the gypsies. This does work with mixed success, it’s one of the few ways of having a modern day set-up where a father could possibly just about get away with killing his daughter. The setting also gives a good excuse for some harmless fighting between the two chaps at the top of the show.
Costumes were well thought out on the whole; fairies were wearing woollen dress, the lovers modern day and the mechanicals in high-vis jackets, as you do. Hermia’s costume is a continuous attention seeker, clearly far too short a dress for Hayley Gallivan to be comfortable with (I lost count of the adjustments) and becoming increasingly ripped throughout her forest dwelling.
This production was built on gimmicks, the worst of which being act 5 as a whole – we are now watching a Channel 4 documentary, complete with an exaggerated wedding dress for Hippolyta and a lot of dancing. I realise the cast are capable of singing (for they double as the Ragtime company), however past 10pm on a chilly evening we do not really need to hear 10 or so minutes of song pertaining no bearing to the play at all.
The one advantage of a long production is the ability to see James Farncombe’s striking lighting design, one thing outdoor productions generally overlook and I’m pleased to say this one didn’t.
The mechanicals were a real low point, director Matthew Dunster seemingly didn’t direct their scenes, the usually excellent rehearsal barely raised a snigger from the audience. The sung-through final performance was another lovely chance for the actors to demonstrate their vocal talents but completely illogical (especially to the tune of “So Long, Farewell” and “It’s Not Unusual” amongst others). Also, why this had to be followed by a medley of various cultural hits I have no idea.
It really felt as if the play was just there to facilitate the gimmicks. I’ve barely scratched the surface of those here but they include a graphic mating scene between Bottom and Titania (the latter ending up topless).
Some people clearly enjoyed the performance, personally the text in itself is rich enough to sustain the comedy. However, I do not think that any of the laughs in this production came from the script. It’s a shame – Dream outside in these gardens could have been a wonderful experience, I couldn’t have left quick enough.
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By Daniel Whitley @DanielWhit
In rep until 5th September 2012
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London, NW1.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II penned only one musical intended for screen, Cinderella. Broadcast live in the USA on 31st March 1957, a record audience of over 100 million people tuned in to see a fifty-six strong cast, with Julie Andrews in the title role, supported by thirty three musicians. Adapted for the stage and based on the popular revised 1997 Disney re-make featuring Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Bernadette Peters; the Tabard Theatre’s production marks the London debut of this particular version, including additional songs. A fairy-tale ending maybe, but this production is a musical in every sense of the word, not a pantomime.
Reduced to ten players, this company work hard to maintain the magic but succeed on many counts; opening well with the nicely choreographed ensemble number ‘The Prince is Giving a Ball’. Vlach Ashton excels throughout as the dashingly handsome Prince Christopher whose baritone chords fill the theatre. What eligible would-be princess wouldn’t fall head over heels? Humorously assisted by courtier Lionel (Josh Carter), there are one or two subtly camp moments between the pair, Carter delivering a nice amount of graciously timed, balanced wit. Sarah Dearlove as Queen Constantina and tenor Brendan Matthew as King Maximillan prove a well-matched pair in their charming duet, ‘Boys and Girls Like You and Me’, a song originally written for Oklahoma but now skilfully brought back into service to good effect. Helen Colby is stretched to play both Fairy Godmother and Stepmother, but copes admirably with this chalk and cheese combination leading finales of both acts. Traditional fairy she is not, more cockney than classical and more gob than graceful. Director Alex Young and Designer Chris Hone manage a visual feast in an enchanting sequence prior to the interval, transforming Cinderella into a Princess, mice into white horses and a pumpkin into a carriage while Colby and company sing the delightful ‘Impossible/It’s Possible’.
Chemistry shines between Cinderella (Kirsty Mann), now a beautifully corseted Princess, and Prince Christopher during the ballroom scene, culminating in ‘Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?’ Meanwhile, overlooked and abandoned stepsisters Grace and Joy, who certainly don’t live up to their names, lament passing by any chance of living happily ever after at the palace in this melodic Kingdom. Grace, an unfortunate, gormless bespectacled character, complete with lisp and constant itch, is delightfully played by Lydia Jenkins. Together with Kate Scott, the siblings are masters in the art of facial distortion.
An adept five piece band; keys, two cellos, clarinet and flute provide impressively sounding accompaniment in the small confines of the Tabard, but never overpower the vocals. Interestingly, two of cast members take to their instruments when not required on stage. Nobody said it was easy!
The tale is familiar and this production hardly diverts, why should it? Cinderella without the glass slipper would be like Dorothy without her ruby heels and so the search for the elusive female ensues. A short but nicely delivered wedding scene, with the Fairy Godmother looking down on the entire Company, serves as a fitting finale. Children are famed for their honesty; perhaps the best accolade is a theatre alive with the winsome sound of tears, which is what I witnessed at the matinee performance I attended. High praise indeed!
The cast are having a ball and so should you at the Tabard this year. Put it on your Christmas list.
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By Gareth Richardson - @BargainTheatre
29th Nov 2011 - 8th Jan 2012
Tabard Theatre, London, W4.
Graham Linehan breathes new life and lots of laughs into his stage adaptation of William Rose’s 1955 Ealing black comedy which has now opened at the Gielgud Theatre following a sell out run at the Liverpool Playhouse. Linehan, making his theatre-writing debut, pays tribute to the film, but has impressively reworked the script to make it a complete ensemble piece. With a stellar cast at his disposal, director Sean Foley has wonderfully brought silver screen magic to the London stage, whilst making it his own.
The plot centres around a hapless, dastardly gang unlikely posing as a string quintet while scheming a high-profile robbery. It’s an out-of-tune, fatally-flawed plan that hilariously falls apart in the most disastrous manner. Occupying a rented room in a very lopsided King’s Cross house, suffering subsidence above a railway line. Confidence trickster Professor Marcus, played superbly by Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It & The IT Crowd), hosts rehearsals of a very different nature duping the unsuspecting landlady Mrs. Wilberforce. Marcia Warren is magnificent in the role of the doddering, innocent old lady who is not so dotty as she first appears. Un-ably assisted by flustered, cross-dresser Major Courtney (James Fleet - The Vicar of Dibley), Romanian gangster Louis (Ben Miller), cockney wide-boy Harry (Stephen Wright) and dimwitted, ex-boxer, One Round (Olivier award winner, Clive Rowe). The group stumble from one mishap to another, all to to the tune of Boccherini’s minuet, continually playing on a gramophone record to please the listening ears of Mrs. Wilberforce, sitting downstairs in her linen and lace, chintzy drawing room, talking to an unseen parrot named General Gordon! There is an absolutely remarkable, ludicrously side-splitting scene involving the five crooks, a policeman and a small cupboard. A moment I shall remember forever.
It’s a wonder that this gaggle of unfortunates ever get to the point of committing the crime, but when they do, it is delightful. The security heist is simultaneously ridiculous and genius in conception. But their troubles are only just beginning! This is not an open and shut case by any means, getting the loot past Mrs. Wilberforce proves a formidable task. There is no honour amongst thieves here, murder and mayhem ensue with disappearing acts aplenty, in a display of impeccable stagecraft and rhythmic comic timing that has the audience roaring with laughter.
Michael Taylor’s glorious set is worthy of much praise. A large revolve reveals a clever, slanty design of rooftops, a tunnel, stairs, landings and hall, together with Mrs. Wilberforce’s beautifully detailed, drawing room and Professor Marcus’ bedroom, where the furniture seems to have a life of its own. Wildly sloping, everything is at an angle and none of them ninety degrees!
A cast of such pedigree solicits high expectations, I was not disappointed and praise should be extended all round. Linehan’s writing has given each character substance. Clive Rowe will be greatly missed in pantomime this year, his role here is nothing like a dame but he produces as many laughs in a delightful performance as the dubious prize-fighter and bumbling buffoon. Top prize goes to Marcia Warren who perfectly captures the essence of batty Mrs. Wilberforce and gives the younger boys a true ‘run for their money’.
Don’t rob yourself of the chance to see this crooked tale of villains on the fiddle.
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Playing until 14th April 2012
Gielgud Theatre, London, W1.
Based on the true story of Mirza Tahir Hussain, a holder of UK and Pakistan passports who was incarcerated on death row in Rawalpindi jail for 18 years, following a conviction for the murder of a taxi driver who tried to rob and sexually assault him.
The majority of the original Edinburgh Festival team have been re-engaged from the 2009 Pleasance Theatre production. This political drama is written by actress Nicola McAuliffe of ITV’s comedy Surgical Spirit, who is also the sole female of the cast. Driven by lack the lack of British government interest and his disgust at the appalling conditions, McAuliffe’s Daily Mirror husband, Don Mackay, worked tirelessly to eventually secure Hussain’s release. David Rintoul, of Mr. Darcy fame in TV’s Pride and Prejudice, gives a very polished performance in the role of Mackay; a Scottish, hard-faced, determined reporter who flies to Pakistan and lies his way into jail in order to visit condemned Hussain.
Kulvinder Ghir plays Hussain with grace, he pronounces each word with a paced elegance and gentility. Ghir illustrates perfectly how time passes so incredibly slowly when constantly locked up in a cell with ten others for such a duration and menacing view of the gallows in the near distance. The meeting between him and Mackay, which takes place at this venue, is particularly touching. I couldn’t help but feel moved when the prisoner offered his visitor a beaker of water, probably his precious daily ration. Although maintaining his innocence to murder, there was no sign of bitterness at all during the encounter, no frustration at being under constant threat of execution, merely a solemn acceptance of his fate and a steadfast spiritual belief. Undoubtedly, it was this demonstration of dignified endurance that spurred Don Mackay into taking up Mirza Tahir Hussain’s plight. The cascade of subsequent battles he fights, not only with lethargic authorities but also with his own newspaper, encourages his wife to solicit assistance from her circle of thespian acquaintances. Any actress who is prepared to take to a West End London stage and describe herself as ‘second-rate’ has my respect and McAuliffe does exactly that when she realises her influence has waned and her colleagues don’t want to know. Undeterred, she sets her sights on the Prince of Wales, who is due to journey to Pakistan, and it is his intervention which secures Hussain’s freedom.
The company of four is complimentary completed by Shiv Grewel portraying a range of characters as the drama progresses. McAuliffe too plays occasional ancillary female roles; both she and Rintoul also function as narrator when required. The production could clearly benefit from a couple of extra cast members for the London stage, although the current party make a valiant effort to keep the flow running smoothly and without much confusion.
Both costumes and set are modest yet adequately effective, just a conservatory style dining suite and a barley-twist table. A multi-purpose, tall, central arch serves as a gateway to the assorted venues in the story, an airport security scanner and a religious focal point. Hussain’s sole possession in jail was a cherished plain bucket, therefore the simple design seems entirely appropriate.
A British Subject is the last in the ‘Drama at the Arts’ season and runs until November 26th.
Have faith in this worthy tale of hope, honesty and perseverance against the odds.
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1st - 26th Nov 2011.
Arts Theatre, London WC2.