It’s hard to discover what Mr. Kolpert is all about without a deep delve. The King’s Head Theatre website is vague and general, with a hint of storyline though void of detail. The press release likewise and the programme totally barren. Therefore expect the unexpected must be the caveat and go with an open mind. A large and locked trunk, placed off-centre, forms the basis of what turns out to be a black comedy translated from German. Two couples at a dinner party, except there is no party to speak of and definitely no dinner prepared. Cue a bewildered pizza delivery boy and much talk of a dead body. Include lots of swearing and more than a little nudity for absolutely no reason whatever. Throw in a game of Botticelli and you have all the ingredients.
This play could be funny, except director Rachel Valentine Smith has made all the characters over-act, presumably to provide emphasis in a quest for laughs. Regrettably this strategy proves counter-productive and instead quickly becomes tedious. It’s hard to believe in any of these folks although occasionally that matters not in comedy. Indeed sometimes that is the very element that makes it work; John Cleese found perfection in Faulty Towers afterall, but here it falls a long way short. Damian Lynch as the temperance architect Bastian Mole who borders on schizophrenic, for instance, certainly lays on the violence and bad temperament well but chiefly in a shocking manner rather than humorously. Likewise, Ralf Droht (Edward Fulton), although more engagingly amusing, still somehow misses the mark. Both try hard, but appear hindered by heavy-handed direction. They are not helped either by a cumbersome script which relies on recycling the same few gags. You can only laugh so many times at a misunderstood telephone conversation about a take-away pizza order for example, otherwise the joke wears a bit thin, however much it is reinvented. Or does it? Perhaps I’m wrong about the script, for Mr Kolpert was afterall, well received Upstairs at the Royal Court in 2000 with Richard Wilson at the helm.
Violence and murder feature heavily as might be expected, but never with a wholesome sense of subtle macabre to turn this production truly black . The resulting combination of much projectile vomiting, thrown food and copious stage blood is pretty gruesome however, but makes for a very slippery stage during the second half, causing the cast a few slips but thankfully never a fall. My advice is not to sit in the front row with good clothes or nice shoes on and don’t even think about asking what’s in the trunk!
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By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
15th July - 5th August 2012
King’s Head Theatre, London, N1.
“It’s 1892. Lizzie Finn is a celebrated dancer. Charmed by a soldier returning from the war, Lizzie becomes entangled in an intense and passionate affair.”
You could have fooled me.
Shereen Martin takes the lead as Lizzie Finn, unfortunately monotone and lacking patriotic passion of the Irish. The only demonstration of her “celebrated” dancing was a few Can Can moments during the first scene. Justin Aroth as her suitable suitor Robert Gibson starts out very much the same but grows throughout to fulfil his role, though this still doesn’t light the passion between the pair.
The relationship between Jelly Jane (Lucy Black) and Finn is delightful. Jane’s departure is touching, especially the defiance to allow her emotions to take control. Penelope Beaumont as lady of the house Lucinda Gibson is accurately stern and discerning, but her curious accent confused me geographically. Andrew Jarvis as Bartholomew Grady was captivating during the second act with his small, entertaining snippets of dialogue.
Karen Grogan was most definitely the shining star here as Tilly and later Teresa. Both parts she played with equal conviction and I remember her striking a similar chord in Playboy of the Western World. From her first entrance she was energetic and engaging, commanding the audience’s attention and I found myself constantly awaiting her return.
Short scenes capture your attention but are equally disjointed, with random blackouts and time lapses. Relationship developments happen over a matter of seconds, not allowing us to invest or care.
Candles encased in jars suspended from the ceiling provide constant flickering light against a black backdrop, a nice touch to the night time scenes but not flexible enough for other scenes. One member of the audience found herself counting them, instead of watching the performance, to see if any had gone out. A set of steps reminiscent of a sea front provide the set, again not allowing much room for movement or imagination.
Don’t get me wrong, the cast are talented but the material leaves a lot to be desired. I couldn’t understand why this story attracted anyone’s attention in the first place to develop it for the stage.
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By Frank Butler
27th June - 29th July 2012
Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1.
Spring Awakening is most popularly known as the multi-award winning musical that took Broadway by storm, though less impact on the West End in 2009. New company Outfox Productions, headed up by producer Kirsty Fox and director John Fricker, present Frank Wedekinds original text at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre.
The Brockley Jack provides an intimate setting which allows Fricker the opportunity to invite the audience into the exhilarating and at times unsettling stories of the main protagonists. A simple set consisting of several moving blackboards and minimal projections provides an ample backdrop, both complementing Fricker’s direction and Genevieve Pecks lighting design. A well judged minimal design concept for a space that could be easily dominated.
The youthful cast lead by David Palmstorm (Melchior) and Ana Luderowski (Wendla) are fine choices and connect superbly with what, at times, proves to be difficult text. Calum Mould deserves particular praise for his rendition of Hans’ monologue to a portrait of Desdemona in act one, along with Oliver Malam for his sensitive and well pitched Ernest demonstrating his emotional variety.
The three ‘adults’ Rachel Dobell, Andrew Wickes and Sophie Doherty present real versatility often playing more than one authority figure - a personal favourite being Rachel Dobell’s frustrated yet loving Frau Bergmann, striking a poignant relationship with her daughter Wendla.
A carefully chosen soundtrack provides uplifting and appropriate support sending the audience out on a high.
Although I am certain this particular production company and team will grow and move onto much bigger ventures, this debut production, with its bold direction and strong performances, is not to be missed.
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By Stephen Oliver-Webb @SOliverWebb
20th June - 24th July 2012
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, London, SE4.
Off I headed one damp and miserable Thursday evening to the Finborough Theatre, for what I hoped would be an evening of theatre at least as engaging as Events Whilst Guarding the Bofors Gun, which I reviewed here a short while ago. Of course me being me I forgot to bring an umbrella and I also managed to find myself leaving Earls Court tube station at the “wrong” end for the theatre. The combination of the damp outside and my own stupidity had conspired, together with a remarkably busy and fraught few days, to turn me in to an old curmudgeon. Not the best frame of mind with which to set out reviewing. Of course “life” is what happens to us all before we take our seats in the darkened auditiorium and it is also what colours our views of what we see on stage. It is impossible to totally set aside what is happening in our own lives when we see any art but as appreciation of theatre is an entirely subjective thing then I wonder whether we should strive to shed our outer lives at the front door and only take a seat when we have achieved a Zen-like state of complete openness and when we have lost any sense of prejudging what we will see. My personal preference is that I want to know if a reviewer is having a tough day. I understand it if a reviewer, somewhat jaded and wishing they were almost anywhere else than sat in a theatre might prejudge what he is about to witness when the stage set is almost bare and consists of a plain table, a couple of stalls and nothing else. For me, this particular evening, my heart sank when I walked into the theatre.
You may be asking yourselves why I have bothered to share with you the fact that I was in perhaps not the best of moods this particular evening. I’ll explain all in a minute.
The Finborough has been rearranged for this production of The Drawer Boy to present the minimal set of a table and two stools, pretty much in the round. I sat, looking at the bare stage and examining the faces of the audience I could see facing me across the stage and I hoped that this would be enough to stop me from making up stories about those people I could see. I should have had more faith because this theatre, yet again, has provided me with one of the most thought-provoking and genuinely moving experiences I have ever had. And I mean “ever”, not just in a theatre.
Written by Michael Healey as the result of actors heading off into the wilds of Ontario where they lived with farmers and wanting to find a play based on the real lives of their hosts, The Drawer Boy starts off slowly but perfectly. We are allowed time to discover the three characters for ourselves. Of course we make assumptions when we are greeted with Angus and Morgan, played by John Brett and Neil McCaul and their actor guest Miles, Simon Lee Phillips. We may even suspect that something else is afoot here, and it is. It would be churlish of me to reveal exactly what the plot twists are but this play carefully navigates the path between truth and lie whist asking us to re-evaluate the importance we place on each. Could a lie be worth more than the truth?
As a review I want to tell you more but I won’t. What I will say is that when the play finished I had to wipe away a tear from my cheek. It is an incredibly moving, subtle, gentle and little play that deals with some huge topics such as the aftermath of war, co-dependancy, love and duty. I arrived at the theatre that night in a sort of “Come on then, entertain me” kind of mood, and I left it feeling honoured to have witnessed three great performances and a piece so moving that I implore you to go and see it.
If I could give this a star ranking, it goes without saying that it would easily be a 5* review. Book a ticket because this is truly remarkable, once in a lifetime, theatre. Just remember to leave Earls Court tube at the Warwick Avenue end.
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By Colin Appleby @CJ_Appleby
19th June - 14th July 2012
Finborough Theatre, London, SW10.
Following on from the successes of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered and Classic Moments, Hidden Treasures at the same venue, director Tim McArthur’s third summer musical revue at Jermyn Street puts the work of Oscar and Emmy award-winning lyricist Dorothy Fields firmly in the spotlight with an impressive all-female West End cast. Over thirty of her best songs from a career spanning five decades are loosely tagged to a story set in a pink hairdressing salon, which connects the daily lives of all five girls.
Rosemary Ashe thrills with solos including ‘Blue Again’, ‘He Had A Refinement’ and the lovely music-hall-esque ‘A Lady Needs A Change’; she very much sets the standard. Leanne Jones adds flair of her own though, with ‘Lovely To Look At’ and ‘Remind Me’, while Shona White’s ‘Make The Man Love Me’ is a passionately portrayed highlight. When joined by Helen Hobson and Jane Milligan, the show really chimes as the company assemble for classic numbers such as Sweet Charity’s ‘Something Better Than This’, ‘If They Could See Me Now’ and ‘A Fine Romance’ from the movie Swingtime. If barber shops had female quintets, I guess this would be among the best sounding. A top hat and cane finale provides a fitting close to the sung-through presentation and allows the audience a great excuse to release their pent-up applause at curtain call.
Single piano accompaniment is perfect in such a compact venue, played brightly by musical director Sarah Travis who doubles as the salon’s feather-duster waving cleaner and even sings a few lines of her own as the evening progresses, the bubbly starts to flow and the ladies get merry.
This entertaining production both looks and sounds delightful. If there’s a fault, it’s in relation to the hairdressing concept which is rather weak, and in that regard it’s no shampoo but lots of set (David Shield’s detailed design and costumes have a central theme, everything’s pink and it works well). However, that is a minor matter which is amply offset by the very talented cast who provide a fitting tribute to the lady who, from very humble beginnings, left a songbook legacy that richly deserves the fresh look that this production affords it.
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By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
19th June - 7th July 2012
Jermyn Street Theatre, London, SW1.
Having seen both the National Theatre UK Tour and the West Yorkshire Playhouse productions of The History Boys, I couldn’t help but have high expectations when I arrived at the Greenwich Theatre Sell a Door’s version. I am sad to say this production did not live up to my high expectations and I felt it made one of Alan Bennett’s greatest works into a very laboured affair. I should probably make no secret of the fact that The History Boys is one of my favourite plays and so I may be more easily disappointed than others. But the fact is, I was disappointed.
The script itself is an actor’s dream with endless witty one liners, fierce debates and above all, wonderfully crafted characters but unfortunately it seemed this cast just did not take advantage of Bennett’s writing and just trundled along at a pace that can only be described as a slow fizzle. As always there are exceptions and today it was Amanda Reed as Mrs Lintott who brought the script to life – although it is interesting to note that she did play the same role in the West End transfer and UK tour. As a group ‘the history boys’ were charming enough but the majority of the characters lacked personal depth. I spent most of the time willing Chris Aukett in particular to make much more of his role as Timms – the part played by James Corden in the original production. Credit absolutely must be given to Lawrence Murphy who had clearly done the leg work in making his performance as Posner go that extra mile. He created some very touching moments as the gay Jew from Sheffield (Bennett’s words – not mine!)
As eccentric English teacher Hector, Richard Rycroft approached the part with a much harsher tone than I had seen it played before. At times this worked but the role also demands a great sensitivity which allows the audience to see the relationship between teacher and student develop and flourish – a sensitivity that Rycroft didn’t have. It was for this reason that I was left feeling very cold at the end of this production. Rycroft made Hector seem like just any old teacher: something the character certainly is not.
In the play’s second act, Rudge (Alasdair Hankinson) boldly claims that history is “just one fucking thing after another” and despite the line gaining a few laughs from the audience, I couldn’t help but feel it was also reflecting my feelings towards the production as the last few scenes became somewhat monotonous. My guest actually turned to me and asked if it was nearly over. There was little creativity in the direction and there is only so many times an audience can watch a group of boys troop on and off stage through a door or see the Headmaster trying to squeeze around the edge of the set to sit in one of the two chairs which were meant to represent the staff room. Despite a few glimmers of life, The History Boys made for a very disappointing evening of theatre.
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By David Coverdale
18th - 24th June 2012
Greenwich Theatre, London, SE10.
After a run of seeing really rather poor fringe productions recently I had high hopes for 6 Actors in Search of a Director, written and directed by Steven Berkoff.
Obviously drawing on his own experiences as an actor, waiting interminably on film sets for the call to action to be given by the director, his group of six actors sit and wait. And wait. And bicker. Drink coffee. And wait. And bicker. And wait.
Then they wait some more.
Billed as a comedy, the funniest thing all evening was the odd, very mannered delivery by Neil Stuke as Brian. Every vowel was stretched to breaking point in what seemed to be an inside joke that I did not get. In fact the whole play seemed to be like an inside joke designed to appeal to actors and nobody else.
The play is mercifully short at 85 minutes without an interval, but it drags on nevertheless. There were a couple of moments of mild laughter, mainly to do with the appearance of either the star they are working with or the director himself, however this is far from a comedy in the normal sense of the word.
I have to mention the odd stylistic device of freezing the action at various moments and then carrying it on with no hint of why they had stopped. It was just odd. Mannered. Imposed and unjustified.
The play had promise as I mentioned before, but it firmly failed to deliver.
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by Colin Appleby @CJ_Appleby
16th May - 23rd June 2012
Charing Cross Theatre, London, WC2.
Let me start this review with one fact about me – I do not like audience participation. At least, I didn’t think I did. When I was handed a song sheet on my way into an auditorium full of cast members leading a preshow sing-a-long of Music Hall classics, I thought I was in hell. Admittedly I did not make any attempt to join in the preshow but by the interval I was too caught up in belting out songs about father decorating the parlour and some girl with long hair that my drink remained untouched – a first time for everything!
It must have been the charming first act of endless laughs and wonderfully drawn characters which caused me to let down my ‘anti-participation barrier’ as I found myself booing and cheering along with the packed out house at the show’s new home – The Arts Theatre, Leicester Square. It was very pleasing to see a theatre (albeit a smaller one) buzzing with a large crowd after spending far too many of my recent outings in sparsely populated auditoriums watching disheartened casts try their upmost to make the best of an empty midweek show.
I liked many things about this production but the one thing which left me most satisfied was the use of its ‘star name’, Wendi Peters. Yes, she may have her face and name on the poster but when it came down to her performance, she was a member of the cast who worked just as hard as anyone else and looked in her element taking part in the rousing company numbers which complimented and, to my mind, made the production. Despite her having quite an impressive theatrical background, most people will remember Peters from her days in Coronation Street and nothing made me happier to see a soap star returning to the stage who actually has the talent to carry a part. She is a revelation in the double role of Angela Prysock/Princess Puffer.
The production itself transfers brilliantly into the Arts Theatre. The cast make full use of two staircases leading from the stage to the auditorium and also appear regularly in the balcony making sure that the audience are completely involved regardless of their seats. The sound of the show really benefits from the larger sound system with the cast perfectly in balance with the brilliant orchestra under the baton of James Cleeve.
There are excellent performances overall from a very hardworking cast. My one grumble would be Daniel Robinson as Clive Paget/John Jasper who, despite seeming an incredibly talented performer with a lovely voice, didn’t quite grasp the ‘Music Hall’ style of acting as the rest of the cast did. Stand out performances for me were from Loula Geater as Janet Conover/Helena Landless and Tom Pepper as Nick Cricker/Deputy; both of whom I struggled to peel my eyes from during the scenes and production numbers.
The ‘audience vote’ towards the end of the show really makes the evening and adds such a unique touch of fun to the piece. Talking to other audience members after the show I was very pleased to hear that the ending is actually different every night, the vote is not just a very well-acted diversion!
All in all, a very enjoyable evening and a production which deserves so much more than just 35 performances in town. I whole heartedly recommend it – I will definitely be returning before it closes.
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By David Coverdale @davidcoverdale9
18th May - 17th June 2012
Arts Theatre, London, WC2.
I must admit bias, The Pirates of Penzance is my favourite of all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, being the first production I ever took part in as a schoolboy. This does not tend to incline me in favour though, usually quite the reverse. My fondness is such that it takes a lot to satisfy whenever staged and therefore I tend to be biased against new productions until convinced otherwise.
Pulling Focus have certainly pulled it off here though, with smiles galore and fun aplenty from the first pouring of the pirate sherry, until the last of the maidens are wed. Their policy of updating the girls to a recent period while keeping the boys firmly where they belong works much better than I ever imagined, they truly are blushing buds of ever-blooming beauty. Colourful and bright in polka-dot dresses and gorgeous sunglasses, these minxes bring glorious bounce from the moment they arrive; their delightful harmonies remain intact even after having climbed rocky mountains to get there. Elsie Bennett plays a favourable Mabel with fine vocals that occasionally outshine those of her lover Frederic (Owen Pullar) whose inclination toward a pop-style approach does not quite tally true. Bennett’s ’Poor Wandering One’ in contrast, being particularly pure and well delivered.
Roger Parkins as Major General Stanley in what amusingly looks like a boy scout uniform, delivers his famous patter song with good speed and very clear diction. However, I do question director Matt Harrison’s decision to later have him playing a guitar during ‘Sighing Softly To The River’ and turning the lullaby into a folk song, it just looks very odd and loses the traditional association with tranquillity.
Choreographer Lee Greenaway has done a grand job, the whole thing moves beautifully; his ’Pray Observe The Magnanimity’ sequence for instance, is an absolute delight.
Musical director Andre Refig deserves praise for show’s vocals, particularly the many ensemble numbers which are a harmonic highlight. ’Hail Poetry’ sounds chorally angelic. However the complicated synthetic accompaniment does lack resonance and depth, occasionally pulling focus from events happening on stage. Comic timing sometimes suffers too, while cast members appear to wait for a musical cue.
There is an awful lot more to like though. Chris Horne’s nautical design is impressive and costumes are a treat. An animated puppet made from rags to symbolise Frederic as a little lad had the house roaring with laughter, early on. The policemen, or should I say a raincoat-clad detective sergeant and four PCSOs (Penzance Community Support Officers), though sparse in number, provide myrth galore and I loved their singing into police radio mics! The appearance of Ruth (Darrie Gardner) as Queen Victoria in the final scene is inspired and ensemble member Benjamin Vivian-Jones sporting a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo “Kate and Wills 4 Eva” made me chuckle, despite his annoying cymbal crashing earlier!
I shall definitely be revisiting the Tabard Theatre before the run finishes to drink in more of the joy that this happy production provides and there can be no greater recommendation than that!
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By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
16th May - 10th June 2012
The Tabard Theatre, London, W4.
Emerging production company Morphic Graffiti bring Frank Wildhorn’s musical version of Jekyll And Hyde up to date with a highly imaginative and creative slant on Leslie Bricusse’s haunting tale.
Since watching this, I’ve given it much consideration; for it’s certainly a thought-provoking work. The key to understanding is acceptance that nothing about this production is given to be constant or can be taken for granted. A lot more is transformed here than merely Dr. Jekyll himself. Director Luke Fredericks has laboured to successfully provide a whole journey around the conceptual theme of change. The strange sight of Henry Jekyll keeping his journal on a computer and chatting on a mobile telephone still takes some adjusting to, but that seems to be the whole point and once the penny drops, this production becomes far easier to navigate and thus enjoy. Take Stewart Charlesworth’s set design in the same way; a typically run-down Dickensian street scene in East London where barrow-boys probably ply their varied wares by day and prostitutes lurk in darkened doorways at night. Perfect for the original setting of this tale but why choose that as a backdrop when the action has been deliberately updated to sometime post 1979? His clever use of projected computer images and contemporary video footage blend the periods together so that while you are never allowed to forget its Victorian roots, the story emerges easily into the late twentieth century.
Andrea Miller plays the annoying Lady Beaconsfield with a perfectly subtle Scottish humour and Mark Turnbull makes a fine Sir Danvers Carew, the National Health Service executive and father of Jekyll’s intended. Lydia Jenkins delivers also, as Nellie, tart of the Red Rat bar, peroxided and sporting a very topical Union Jack bra!
There are notable vocal performances from the carefully chosen cast; I was particularly impressed by the delicate duet ‘Take Me As I Am’ with Joanna Strand as Emma Carew and Tim Rogers as Henry Jekyll. Rogers likewise demonstrates ability in the solo ‘This Is The Moment’, while Madalena Alberto, who plays an actress by the name of Lucy Harris, sure can belt! Her ‘Someone Like You’ nearly raised the rafters. There are pleasing ensemble numbers too, particularly the Board of Governors arrangement and ‘Murder, Murder’. Musical directing team Dean Austin and Scott Alder deliver the goods here, I am pleased that the production features a five piece band (keys x2, flute, sax, cello, guitar) yet still allows all the unamplified vocals to be heard clearly.
There are no large laboratory jars or bunsen burners here, for who would go to such extremes nowadays, when there is a chemist shop down the road? Instead, Jekyll reads his recipes from a laptop and simply mixes the contents of prescriptions. This works very well for it is, after all, precisely the way terrorists now make home-made explosives, so why wouldn’t he make use of those advances? The same principle, I suppose, extends to the wearing of dark hoodies to demonstrate the conversion of Jekyll into Hyde, but here my thirst for darkness was not quite satisfied, though I must say that the method of his eventual demise proves to be quite a surprise and chillingly effective!
The choice of Jekyll and Hyde as their inaugural production is a brave choice for Morphic Graffiti, since the subject matter will never be to everyone’s taste but they have made a promising and inventive start, though I’ll never walk down Harley Street with the same ease again!
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by Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
16th May - 16th June 2012
Union Theatre, London, SE1.
“I love Lucy” Sebastian exclaims to flatmate Tom Ambrose, ignorant that he is, in fact, talking to her husband! Their marriage, having declined since the discovery of a ‘hickie’ on his wife’s neck on their fifteenth wedding anniversary, has entered a period of separation. Tom, now adopting a false name, seeks and finds her bohemian, artist lover in a seedy bar downtown and the unlikely pair decide to co-habit. Thus the comedic musical scene is set and so begins a journey of love, pain and a strange bromance.
Peter Gerald is a human dynamo as the successful advertising executive husband, his performance so full of energy that I feared a cardiac arrest at any moment! John Addison in contrast is laid-back as the destitute and broke adulterer, totally emphasising the world of difference that exists between the two men and the attraction they both share for Lucy Ambrose (Kate Graham), who at one point in the story wears the most stunning pair of high heels this city has seen since Priscilla!
Steven Webb and Lucyelle Cliffe, as simply Man and Woman, take on a range of secondary roles that provide much of the comedy. Almost, but not quite, eclipsing the main players and this makes for an interesting spectacle overall, since much of the musical theatre is provided by the three chief characters while the majority of the laughs come from the other two. Cliffe proves to be good value in a multitude of roles. She plays the nosey yet gormless neighbour Edith to great amusement and her country and western singer act is a blinder. Webb revels in a whirlwind of diverse characters too and since each one seems to come with a different accent to the last, he should be applauded just for keeping up! His city restaurant Maitre d’ is quite ridiculous but very entertaining; the fun continues as he morphs from one role to the next as an Irish priest, latino cab driver, a camp tailor and more besides.
The story moves along at quite a pace, so it’s just as well that I was feeling alert. The first ten minutes confused me as I strived to work out the relationship between each character (and the lack of the same in the case of ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’). Having got that sorted, I began to appreciate John Addison’s clear vocal ability in his solo ‘Free, Easy Guy’. This is a musical with a strongly varied score by Jimmy Roberts. There are some rhyming howlers e.g. ashen with cash-in and make a promise, Thomas, but writer and lyricist Joe DiPietro more than recovers with delightful numbers including ’Me Too’ which particularly grabbed me, together with ‘The Better Man Won’ sung tenderly by Peter Gerald. As a musical, this is a well delivered production by director Andrew Keates and one that I certainly found enjoyable. The band, lead by musical director Joanna Cichonska, provides piano, cello and reed accompaniment to the vocally talented cast. As a comedy, there are some jovial moments, particularly during the first act finale and through the second act. Maybe Lucy could be a little bubblier though; she is somewhat overshadowed by Tom’s buoyancy, even when he is supposed to be depressed!
Martin Thomas’ imaginatively copper-framed design of doors and urban skyline is beautifully accentuated by Howard Hudson’s warm lighting to give a good feel from the beginning and adds a smart dimension. So is this another smash hit for the Landor? Well, the thing about men is that they are so very hard to predict.
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by Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
15th May - 9th June 2012
Landor Theatre, London, SW9.
Lindsey Posner’s revival of Mike Leigh’s iconic Abigail’s Party started its life at the Menier Chocolate Factory in March this year, before finally moving ‘into town’ on May 15th. Having been met with rave reviews it was almost inevitable that the production would be shifted to the West End. Despite not seeing the original production, I have a slight inkling that the Menier’s more intimate setting would serve the piece much better. In the larger Wyndham’s Theatre that sense of being ‘in the room’ with the characters is a little lost in such grand surroundings.
That said, it is no fault of the actors, director or anyone else involved. Posner’s direction is well paced and fluid, allowing the actors to have fun with the script. The design is second to none; the burnt orange hues and garish patterns of the 70s are beautifully tragic, perfectly capturing the era. Shelves crammed with gaudy vases, gold-tinted book bindings and even a fibre optic light, add warmth and comfort to proceedings. Credit should definitely be given to the set designers, who are often forgotten when praise is handed out.
It is a shame that Jill Halfpenny is best known for her ballroom prowess than for her acting talent, as she delivers Beverly with absolute delight. A role so intrinsically linked with another actress is not something anyone should take on lightly. Halfpenny attempts, but doesn’t quite succeed, to make Beverly her own animal. Inevitably, and somewhat sadly, she never quite manages to make you forget about Alison Steadman’s original portrayal, however she is none-the-less brilliant, like a whirling dervish when she gets going. Streams of consciousness pour from her mouth, without her brain being engaged at all, constantly saying the wrong thing and shamelessly flirting with her neighbour’s hubby. Halfpenny’s constant swaying arm movements are a hilarious character trait which she revels in.
Natalie Casey begins monotone and drab, becoming chattier when the gin flows freely, and monstrously powerful when Angela’s nursing instincts take over. Having enjoyed Casey’s comedy for years, I was expecting her’s to be the most overtly characterised and comedic performance out of the women. I was not wrong. It was Susannah Harker, however, who stole the show out from under her co-stars’ feet, delivering a tour-de-force performance in its subtlety. Understated and perfectly judged, her Sue is the mouse to Halfpenny’s lion and Casey’s donkey. Effortlessly she makes the role her own, and I found myself watching her far more than others. Even when ‘doing nothing’ she was incredible.
Andy Nyman was a brash, loud, obnoxious Laurence, but felt too quick to temper. Joe Absolom as Tony didn’t do a great deal and unfortunately became more of a mumbling bit of the scenery than a fully formed character. This was the ladies’ show, and deservedly so.
With three wonderfully timed comedic female performances and a drunken descent we can definitely all relate to, Abigail’s Party will entertain despite the overly large theatre. You may not be able to forget the seminal original, but you will certainly have a great time…actually.
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By Tom Norman @TomNorm
15th May - 1st September 2012
Wyndham’s Theatre, London, WC2.