Revived in London for the first time in fifty years as part of the Finborough’s rediscovery series, Outward Bound was first produced at the Everyman Theatre, Hampstead in 1923 and enjoyed subsequent West End success. Perhaps Sutton Vane’s most prominent play concerning the tale of seven passengers who meet in the smokers’ bar of a ship as it sails from an English port to an undisclosed destination. Alex Marker’s set is mighty impressive and surely a contender for award nomination. The intimate theatre space has been neatly transformed into an art deco saloon, complete with four brass portholes and twenties-style, walnut veneered, hexagonal bar tables. Some of the on-stage seating is used by the audience, adding to the ‘friends at sea’ atmosphere. David Brett plays the role of Scrubby the steward perfectly with a “Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir”, tenderly patronising approach; nothing is too much trouble yet all the while you are aware that he knows something that the others don’t.
Carmen Rodriguez gives a wonderfully nasal and snobbish air to Mrs Cliveden-Banks, a cut above the rest with an equally acerbic wit who takes an instant dislike to fellow passenger Reverend William Duke (Paul Westwood), declaring him ‘unlucky at sea’. Little does she know that to navigate this voyage requires far more than good fortune. In total contrast, chair lady Mrs Midget, ably played by Ursula Mohan is far more introvert, down to earth and carries a secret. Cliveden-Banks would have her in steerage, but this mysterious vessel only has one class so they are stuck with each other. Rotund MP and boring old duffer Mr Lingley (Derek Howard), astute drunk Tom Prior (Nicholas Karmi) together with couple Henry (Tom Davey) and Ann (Natalie Walker) make up the other ship mates on this ill-fated trip.
Booze-loving Prior is the first to realise their fate and that excepting their barman, there is no captain or crew. Nicholas Karmi plays him convincingly, his announcement to the others being a highlight of the play. After an unnecessary second interval, the group, chaired by Lingley, call an extraordinary meeting, one by one they all reach the same unhappy conclusion. Mrs Cliveden-Banks is appropriately dressed in black mourning as the ship sails into very strange waters. Enter Martin Wimbush, very distinguished as the Reverend Frank Thomson, to determine their fate. If you haven’t guessed the plot already, I’ll not spoil if for you.
Yes, this is a play which is showing its age a little and is a relatively slow mover compared with most of today’s output but a talented cast has managed to keep this revival pleasing. There are some very comedic moments, most of which still work very well. The enigmatic couple of ‘halfways’ add very little to the story until the end, but when secrets are opened and all is revealed, their presence makes perfect sense.
A steady, entertaining and retro work that’s certainly deserving of an outing; overall however, it’s unlikely that this old sea dog will cause too much of a storm.
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By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
Runs until 25th February 2012
Finborough Theatre, London, SW10.
This is immensely worth seeing and enjoyable on so many counts. One only needs the vaguest notion of Maria Callas and opera to engage, it is a top of its class masterclass. In fact it’s ‘class’ in every sense of the word. The fourth wall is broken immediately as the audience become part of the lesson too. Cagney and Lacey’s Tyne Daly is simply enthralling as the world famous opera singer in the twilight of her career who wastes no time instructing not only her students but also the spectators, “Don’t applaud, we’re here to work” she barks. The tone is set as Callas’ naturally acerbic wit fascinates and terrorises simultaneously. “I don’t believe in mics, if you can’t hear me it’s your fault!” The story concerns three professional singers who seek guidance by attending her sessions. Each is dealt with in turn, “Listen and feel,” she tells Sophie de Palma (Dianne Pilkington), “concentrate on diction, vowels and consonants”, as the pair form a tender duet without singing.
Passing reference to other stars of the period, including Joan Sutherland, Callas injects caustic humour, “How can you have rivals when no one else can do what you do?” Her career was a tough one, lasting barely twenty years and ending in her early forties. Where do you go when your voice declines and your heart is broken by Aristotle Onassis? She died young at 53 but during 1970 and 1971 taught a series of remarkable, open classes at the Julliard School, Paris. Terrence McNally’s play gives a revelatory portrait of the Diva by focussing on this period. Tyne Daly’s performance is unmissable, touching, funny and spellbinding, she owns the Vaudeville stage just as Callas owned La Scala say, or Covent Garden. “Bite into those words and spit them out” she commands the beautifully vocal Naomi O’Connell as timid Sharon Graham, galvanising her with fear and passion for their art, convincing her that performance is a struggle she has to win. Instruction and inspiration go hand in hand and there is no room for sentiment or doubt.
Don’t expect Daly to sing, she can’t and doesn’t much. This aspect is left to Callas’ pupils. Garrett Sorenson, as tenor Anthony Candolino, is particularly strong and treats the audience to a wonderfully fluid aria from Tosca. Soprano Naomi O’Connell pleases greatly too, but remarkably the musical aspect is ancillary in this play. This is much more. It’s about making an impactive entrance, maintaining full stage presence and exerting full control over the theatre environment. That’s what Callas teaches everyone in the auditorium, not just those who have come for the lesson. Attention is demanded by, and given to her, in equal amount. Jeremy Cohen as pianist Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Weinstock and Gerard Carey as the unnamed stagehand feel her commanding influence too; like iron-filings to a magnet, there can be no resistance.
The heartache, bitterness and tears Callas suffered are forged by Daly into a focussed energy, engulfing all around. Such is the power of her performance; channelled and converging through the audience.
Personally, I’ve not seen a female lead as thrilling on a West End stage since Tracie Bennett’s Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow.
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REVIEWED: 25th January 2012
By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
Runs until 28th April 2012
Vaudeville Theatre, London, WC2.
The Goldsmith is a gastro pub nakedly cornered on a Borough backstreet. It is cold at this time of the year and standing outside afterwards I couldn’t find a way to keep out of the chill. At that point I didn’t know whether The Boy James was over. Half the audience walked off past me within a minute giving the impression that it was. So, it’s not giving too much away to say this is the first proper play I have been to where there is no curtain call and no obvious reason why it ended.
Perhaps that says it all - did I ‘get’ it anyway? Stephen Fry could not stop crying when he saw this “dark, beautiful tale of one boy’s awakening to the harsh realities of childhood” and I know I am not as clever as him. For my money, this could perhaps possibly be one of those 5 star shows that nobody wants to quite admit they didn’t really like too much, but as I say, Stephen doesn’t think so.
So we have a room above the pub, competently decorated like a Victorian lodging; the kind of room that would house an old rocking horse, except there wasn’t one, instead a decanter of whisky. A boyish teen in pyjamas beckoned us in to take a seat around the room (I picked uncomfortably, bag a sofa). And so the play began, with games led by said boy, then the games stopped and an unpleasant witch-like character arrived to harass the lad. His childishness was well developed and the atmosphere was credible though sadly not a great deal of fun. Not a lot truly happened thereafter. There were flashes of booze and sex to crack the kaleidoscope of childhood that had been created, but nothing really punched too much of a hole. He cried, they tustled, it dragged.
There is no doubt that Jethro Compton (who must have been born to act) was brilliantly fine at maintaining his persona as the boy. He led well with the crowd and has a wonderful range of expression, his presence engaging. Unfortunately neither the girl or James (‘the man’?) were of much interest, both having bit-parts to achieve the result of spoiling the honeycombed atmosphere. Neither had very satisfying lines to be fair.
As an hour passed I had learned or cared little. But then as well as not getting it, perhaps, maybe it wasn’t for me. I have no children nor any plans, I don’t like Peter Pan and rousing sympathy with worlds of fairies and forgotten lands is annoying, not enchanting. I did like that by using Scottish accents the boy looked a little like a smack addict when he reared up on top of the table, cheekbones fixed and eyes flashing with excitement about the mysteries of undiscovered utopias; but I doubt they meant that. Murmurings I heard leaving were mixed. For a certain type of person like Stephen Fry, I am sure this unconventional number would work well. You shouldn’t think it’s that bad, either. It’s just not particularly interesting.
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REVIEWED: 26th January 2012
By Piero McCarthy
Runs until 11th February 2012
The Goldsmith, London, SE1.
Reworked showtunes feature heavily in this production, accompanied by James Young and David Eaton on two pianos, together with drummer Ben Calvert. Opening strongly with ‘Good Morning’ from Singin’ in the Rain, Sian Winstanley as The Spirt of Good Cheerprovides beautifully delivered poetic narration. Simon Masterton-Smith as King Hrothgar bizarrely morphs into a would-be stand-up comedian to rather lame effect, before breaking into song, declaring ‘I Need a Hero’. Enter Kevin Kyle in the title role, with faithful sidekick Wiglaf who is charmingly played by the vocally delightful Amy J. Payne. Together, they have a ‘cunning stunt’ demonstrated in semi-operatic style. Unconvincingly slow-motion stage combat ensues and Grendel (Philip Lee) loses a limb in the battle.
After all that nonsense, it’s time to meet the dame, zestfully played by artistic director John Savourin. The show really moves up several gears as the pink-bespectacled beauty greets us, adorned in heavily backcombed, beehive blonde wig. He commands the stage by cheerfully chanting ‘My Name Is…..Grendel’s Mother’. Music is churned out at every opportunity, culminating in the Les Mis-style, courage-summoning act one finale, as the would-be heroes prepare to face the beast. At last, glorious harmonies abound.
More bad jokes, such as “We’re a fastidious couple, he was fast and I was hideous!” take us to Grendel and mother dueting with ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ before she saucily proclaims “I’m going to help Wiglaf get wood” and rushes off with a cheeky glint in her eye. Abandoned Grendel is left to sing ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, a surprising song choice for panto but richly delivered by Philip Lee. Love is in the air it seems, as Beowulf falls for Princess Hrothmund (Catherine Kirkman) while the dame and Wiglaf waste no time, joining closely together to humourously dispatch Dirty Dancing’s ‘I’ve Had The Time Of My Life’ in response to their amorous capers. All that’s needed now is a kiss……
The action hots up with a Love Story style kitchen scene, only here the recipe is not pasta but fishy fingers. Competing cooks are recruited from the audience, reminding me of Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game. Wiglaf, Grendel and his mother treat us to Gina G’s ‘Ooh Ah Just A Little Bit’ before shying dough at seated onlookers and even a custard pie in one unfortunate’s face. Tunes follow thick and fast, including more from Singing In The Rain, Les Mis and even a little West Side Story.
A fun experience, this unusual seasonal offering develops after a somewhat slow and shaky start. Act two is much more buoyant, vibrant and snappy, largely thanks to the excellent John Savourin, who is quite extraordinary and infectiously amusing.
Will it all end happily ever after? Discover for yourself and enjoy the obligatory community singing finale!
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By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
9th Dec 2011 - 8th Jan 2012
The Rosemary Branch, London, N1.
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.
“This unique production promises a Pippin like no other”.
A guarantee and a warning.
All I know of Pippin is at drama school I heard enough versions of ‘Corner of the Sky’ to last me a lifetime…and a few more hours. I had no knowledge of the show besides that song, I thought it may have been about hippies, eagles and rivers, and with much trepidation I made my way to the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Having seen Roadshow not so long ago, I was interested to see how they had transformed the space. As you step through the warehouse door you enter a small tunnel plastered with posters of sci-fi movies, anime and computer games. At the end of the tunnel sits Pippin, staring at a computer screen, flicking a zippo lighter. The set is phenomenal and before I go any further Timothy Bird should be commended for his work on this piece, from the revolving flats to the elasticated walls. We are soon aware that we have entered Pippin’s computer, he is on the outside looking in, but it’s not long before the Leading Player sucks Pippin in to join us.
Originally a troupe of actors performing a show, their newest member playing the part of Pippin. Here however, Pippin is a new player to the virtual game and must complete each level, learning a new lesson, before he can move on to the next. Inspired!
Harry Hepple plays the Northern protagonist with ease and charm, a good sense of humour and timing. Hepple’s voice is well-controlled; a smooth, jazz undertone with a rough edge to parallel the synthesised score. Ian Kelsey is the boy’s father Charlemagne, the vision of medieval leadership and authority. The Lead Player, Matt Rawle, is a cheeky, seductive character with an impressively high rock vocal, which sometimes sacrifices diction. Frances Ruffelle is the Only Way is Essex housewife and stepmother, so sexually driven that it’s easy to believe her son’s Oedipal eye. Although Ruffelle knows what she’s doing I found her slightly inhibited and aware of the audience’s presence, but it’s early days yet. One of my favourite performances came from Carly Bawden, who recently starred in Umbrellas of Cherbourg, another captivating performance. Bawden, as the widow, is sweet and gentle, her defiance of the players and love for Pippin passionately portrayed. Louise Gold’s turn as the karaoke singing grandma definitely put a smile on everyone’s face, even if some were reluctant to join in the chorus. Holly James is a prolific dancer throughout, especially during the sequinned bowler hat and cane number.
I don’t want to give too much away as I want you all to go and see it for yourselves, but when you do go buy a drink and take a fan, it’s very warm and for this the actors deserve even more praise.
Mitch Sebastian’s concept is genius. Pippin is a coming of age tale and what better way to tell that story in this era than through our generation’s obsession with virtual technology; adopting the constructs of many modern-day, fantasy, computer games, movies, projected images and Skype dates. Sebastian’s direction is stunning and his take on the original choreography is sublime.
Bob Fosse envisioned a show disturbing and surreal and were he alive to see this production today, he would be speechless.
I don’t usually do this but I was so impressed with the entire production I felt the need to include each cast member and creative:
Director / Choreographer
Orchestrations / Musical Supervisor
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22nd Nov 2011 - 25th Feb 2012
Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1.
Set in a North London church hall and theatre, Stepping Out concentrates on the lives of eight disparate characters, seven female and one male, who meet for weekly tap classes. Most of the dancing in act one is dire, but that’s the point! The interest comes as group skills improve and their interaction builds. The hit comedy enjoyed West End success, running for almost three years in the mid-eighties at the Duke of York’s Theatre. This production includes a few script changes, for which writer Richard Harris attended rehearsals and worked with the Union Theatre cast, guiding their implementation.
Mavis aspires to greater things but has to settle with her lot, she runs the class but is much more to the group than their teacher. She is not immune to problems of her own; patience, composure and tolerance are essential qualities. Barbara King supplies all this and much more. Act two includes a graceful solo routine, in which she demonstrates exactly why she is cast. Ruth Evans delightfully plays the formidable pianist, Mrs Fraser, and completely captures the essence of the Northern battle-axe. I was not surprised to read that Evans’ TV credits include Coronation Street because she plays this character in pure Tony Warren style and would easily be at home in the Rovers Return with Ena Sharples, except that she is tee-total, or so she says! Mrs Fraser wears a winter coat, often indoors, even in June and July, and has a hat to die for!
Alexander Giles is the only male in the cast of ten. His Geoffrey is a timid chap who has to cope not only with dance steps but also with the eclectic array of female company. One in particular, clumsy Andy (Helen Terry), has unrequited eyes for Geoffrey. Chemistry between Giles and Terry is evident throughout. Andy is deliberately brusque and cold, detached and isolated, she carries a secret. Lynne on the other hand, played by dance captain Laura Brydon, displays a constant smile and is delightful to watch. The foibles and strengths of each character in this play provide entertainment and humour, but this is neatly tempered with reference to serious topics including domestic abuse and pregnancy.
Helen Jeckells, as stuck-up, interfering Vera, delivers a strong and very witty performance. Her portrayal is spot-on, friendly yet aloof so that while many of the jokes are aimed in her direction, the audience is able to laugh with, not just at her. Rubber gloves and furniture polish a speciality; she wears an assortment of costumes but one in particular is glorious, no spoilers here though.
Resident lighting designer Steve Miller has done a fine job, accentuating the mood of each scene. Overall, director David Ball has captured the sense of community well, while still allowing all the opportunity to develop individually illustrating their diversity. Although some of the comic timing needs improvement, this cast certainly put a smile on my face. The finale to this engaging story is a treat and provides a fitting, rewarding climax.
This production has certainly started off on the right foot!
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Nov 15th - Dec 10th 2011
The Union Theatre, London, SE1.