Review: Shrek the Musical UK Tour

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Shrek the Musical UK Tour

Hefty, hearty & gorgeously green

An offbeat fairytale about being a believer in happily-ever-afters for the beautiful and ogreish alike, Shrek the Musical is a hefty, hearty, gorgeously green show that lets its Freak Flag fly but its originality fall victim to fart gags and the far-greater film.

The original film won an Oscar and a legion of fans for its animation and imagination, but originality is what’s lost in the musical: though full of animated characters and moments of imagination – with magical transformations, Josh Prince’s rat-tapping choreography, and impressive puppetry – David Lindsay-Abaire’s book is indebted to the film for its laughs and adapts its famous lines and filmic beats verbatim. Whilst as bold and bright as the film, it feels less than fresh, and with lots of allusions to other musicals, some of them also from movies – from Les Misérables to The Lion King, Gypsy to Dreamgirls – forced in without rhyme or remark, the musical emphasises, albeit affectionately, the flaws and imitations of its book.

The musical – and Jeanine Tesori’s music – is at its greatest and most unforgettable with its most familiar fairytale characters, Continue reading “Review: Shrek the Musical UK Tour”

Review: Wardrobe Ensemble’s South Western

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Wardrobe Ensemble's South Western

All the blood, guts, and glory of any good Western

Welcome to the Wild Wild South West: from gunslinging to cider, saloons to cancelled services, lone wanderers to line-dancing, giddy-up as the Wardrobe Ensemble drag us through a Western revenge voyage from Bristol through the best of the West. With all their charm, cheek, and wry wit, the Bristol-based Ensemble’s South Western is ambitious and offbeat, with all the blood, guts, and glory of any good Western.

Mae’s father was killed at the Cornish cliffs, and she’s off to avenge him: the camera tells us so, as it cuts to a close up of the vein on her temple and pans to her clenched fists. At least, it would, if this were a Western, Ben Vardy’s visiting Wyoming film professor tells us at the play’s opening. South Western works like the wildest lecture, with the professor calling the shots – ‘cut to close up’ – until the pivotal shootout: from there, it’s up to Helen Middleton’s determined, short-tempered Mae, and her imagination, to direct – and deconstruct – the showdown with crash mats and chroma-key.

Framed by this deconstruction of the Western filmic form, South Western wittily deconstructs theatrical form too, Continue reading “Review: Wardrobe Ensemble’s South Western”

Review: Wilderbeast’s In the Light Everything is Brighter

Original review: The Reviews Hub

In the Light Everything is Brighter

Monstrously entertaining and wildly imaginative

Something is lurking in the dark: your deepest fear, your demons, your darkest moments… what frightens you the most? Is it monsters? Or is it the monotony of your early twenties? Wilderbeast’s monstrously entertaining and wildly imaginative In the Light Everything is Brighter illuminates the nightmare of monotony in witty montages and monstrous images and boldly enlightens and engages with the anxieties of a new generation.

Elliot is 22. Work is dull, mates are moving away, and motivation – even to load the dishwasher with the mountain of mugs he leaves in his room – is low. Life is, literally, a drag, and Wilderbeast use it to grating effect in moments of the performance that play out in real time, as when Oscar Adams’s wonderfully weary Elliot and workmate Liz eat sandwiches in silence for five minutes: it’s wearisome and it’s weird, but it works. With real time grinding against monstrous stylism from monster and movement director Toby Pritchard and absurdist breakdowns in supermarkets, it’s muddled but brilliantly disturbing.

Formed through Bristol Old Vic’s programme for young theatre makers, Wilderbeast are a collaborative and versatile collective. Continue reading “Review: Wilderbeast’s In the Light Everything is Brighter”

Review: Birdsong UK Tour at Bristol Old Vic

Original review: Broadway World UK

Birdsong UK Tour

Visually beautiful, evocative and affecting, and visceral in its brutality and effects

‘Some crime against nature is about to be committed’: true not only on the eve of the Somme in WWI, but of warfare now and forever. Birdsong, based on the book by Sebastian Faulks, is a brutal and beautiful observation of war and remembrance, with this new revival touring in time for the Armistice centenary this November.

Birdsong is at best a liberal abridgment of Sebastian Faulks’s book: in Rachel Wagstaff’s reworking, the novel’s naturalistic narrative style is lost to the non-chronological structuring, with the warfare acting as the frame for lieutenant Stephen Wraysford’s affair with the beautiful but unavailable Isabelle in France a few years earlier.

The effort to adapt an orderly if episodic plot into an analeptic play is fitting – memory and memorials are often a metaphor in the fictionalising of warfare – yet only fleetingly effective in practice. Continue reading “Review: Birdsong UK Tour at Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée

Original review: Broadway World UK

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Timeless escapist, enchanting, Ashton charm

La Fille mal gardée is classical choreographer Frederick Ashton at his most charming: comic, characterful, and with English classicism at its finest, it’s a playful romp through a pastoral picture of an unruly fille’s attempts to outfox her interfering mother to marry her charismatic but impoverished love. Balancing Ashton’s charming choreography with bright characterisation and breezy ballon, Birmingham Royal Ballet are absolutely beaming in this brightest of ballets. 

With maypole dancing, a pony, and a pantomime dame, it’s a deceptively simple premise, but La Fille demands the same meticulous footwork, expressive épaulement, and effortless performance as any Ashton classic. The choreography is characterful – with a clog dance for the dame, a coop of dancing chickens – accompanied by some percussive clucking from the orchestra pit – and a very English gallop around the maypole – as well as intricate and vigorous, full of grand allegro leaps, lifts, and gallant pas de deux.

The pas de deux for lively Lise and her country lover Colas are just as playful as the pair themselves. Continue reading “Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée”

Review: Insane Root’s Romeo and Juliet

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Insane Root's Romeo and Juliet

Joyous and tragic and tear-jerking and gorgeous

Shakespeare, ‘star-cross’d lovers’, ancestral strife, and… an open-air swimming pool? Insane Root Theatre’s ‘fair Verona’ is Eastville Park Swimming Pool, an empty, open-air pool just east of the city, and it’s the surprisingly perfect place to lay our scene. Rich as it is in imagery, romance, and rivalry, Insane Root’s Romeo and Juliet is joyous and tragic and tear-jerking and gorgeous, with its greatness cleverly tucked away at the edge of a green and covered by the gates of Verona.

An old amphitheatric Victorian lido, the pool is drained and derelict, thick with undergrowth, and growing ever darker in the dusk: these are organic grounds for a tragedy, but the true ground for tragedy in Romeo and Juliet is the jarring generic change that comes with Mercutio as a casualty in Act III and transforms a coarse, oftentimes juvenile comedy into the tragic ‘two hour traffic’ augured in the prologue. With canonic characterisation as a tragedy, it’s often challenging to pitch the comedic tone, but as Insane Root tease out the originality of classic plays by performing them in original, often unexpected, places, the pool is perfectly pitched to accommodate tradition and creation, comedy and tragedy, and to grow them together organically. Continue reading “Review: Insane Root’s Romeo and Juliet”

Review: RashDash’s Three Sisters

Original review: Broadway World UK

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Electrifying and confronting a classic with an unforgiving ‘fuck you’

RashDash’s Three Sisters, after Chekhov is thrillingly irreverent: to rules, to theatrical form, and even to reviews, but it’s their irreverence that’s so deserving of reverence. A rocking and rollicking retelling of a Russian classic with no time for men, marriages, or monologues, it tears up tradition and tramples all over it.

‘Rash as in reckless, Dash as in fast’, RashDash’s Three Sisters lives up to the trio’s self-titled expectations and destroys all others: dancing, dreaming, and cheerleading through the drawing rooms of Chekhov’s domestic drama, a chaise and a chandelier are the only evidence that these ladies were once in Chekhov’s Russia. The Russian Revolution that threatened and eventually overthrew the classist autocracy is reimagined as a revolution against the virility of the classical canon. Continue reading “Review: RashDash’s Three Sisters”

Review: Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting

Original review: The Reviews Hub

The Nature of Forgetting

Playful and powerful

Memory is a cruel mistress: meticulous and muscular, ephemeral and fractured and fragile, it’s all too easy to forget how crucial memory is to character; after all, what – or who – is left when memories are forgotten? Theatre Re’s thoughtful and affecting The Nature of Forgetting is a free fall into the forgotten that captures the complexities of memory through gorgeously nostalgic movement, mime, and accompanying music.

A devised work that delves feet first into the devastating effects of dementia on fifty-five year old Tom, it’s a work that’s sumptuous in its simplicities. Malik Ibheis’s minimalist set, props, and costumes use only a central platform, four writing desks, and two packed, moving clothing racks to transform Tom’s muted present into his cacophonous past, with an eclectic, electric live score from Alex Judd that complements the chaos with discord and the calm with a dreamlike depth. Continue reading “Review: Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting”

Review: A Monster Calls at Bristol Old Vic

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Wild, warm, witty & ruthless storytelling with wondrous stagecraft that wreaks havoc with your heart

‘Stories are wild creatures… when you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?’ Sally Cookson’s stories on stage are wild creatures; creatures with warm, witty, and ruthless storytelling and wondrous stagecraft, and they wreak havoc with your heart. Using storytelling to face the truth for one youngster struggling with grief, A Monster Calls, from the novel by Patrick Ness, is theatrical magic, where fantasy meets mortality with magnificent effect.

Devised under Cookson’s imaginative and accomplished direction, the performance is whimsical yet weighted in a wonderful echo of the original text’s magical realism. Yet, as in its treatment of the malignant tumour in Marianne Oldham’s terminally optimistic mother, this is the monster unmasked: Continue reading “Review: A Monster Calls at Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Miss Saigon UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Miss Saigon UK Tour

Spectacular operatic epic

The Heat is On in Miss Saigon! An operatic epic inspired by a Puccini opera, Miss Saigon is visually and vocally spectacular: Madame Butterfly with bargirls and G.I.s, it tells the tragic tale of Kim and Chris, a romance grown and gutted by the violence of the Vietnam War.

Miss Saigon shares more than its music-makers with Les Misérables: from Schönberg’s motif-rich music to Boublil’s overlying lyrics, Miss Saigon is also sung-through, has a thieving entertainer who thrives on surviving – Red Concepción’s Engineer is magnetising – is thrillingly theatrical, and has the same thematic threat of revolution on intimate romance. Yet, far from a French revolution, the Fall of Saigon is a tragedy from only forty years ago: Continue reading “Review: Miss Saigon UK Tour”