Cherry-picked for the Year of Change
‘How much these walls have seen,’ muses the lady Lyuba in a fond but forlorn farewell to her family home; and, as her hand touches the gorgeous green and gilded walls of the Old Vic, her words touch our hearts, too. The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov’s so-called comedy about social change in turn-of-the-century Russia following the serf reform, seems cherry-picked for Bristol Old Vic at this time of redevelopment, in their very own Year of Change.
Tom Piper’s invigorating set envelops the Old Vic into the estate that’s up for sale: the architecture is the orchard, we the trees, and, with an audience also onstage in an uncanny recreation of the auditorium, the action plays out in-the-round and uses every inch of the space, from the stairs up to the pit to the passages behind the stalls. As such, we are in the estate: Continue reading “Reflection: The Cherry Orchard at Bristol Old Vic”
Feels fun but falls flat
‘What gives a girl power and punch? Is it charm? Is it poise? No, it’s hairspray!’ This Hairspray has plenty of punch from its performances, but is light on the power and poise and falls, well, a little flat.
Tracy Turnblad is a ‘big’ girl with some big dreams – to dance, and get out of detention – and her gritty, if ditsy, determination to do so is set against the backdrop of segregation and discrimination in sixties Baltimore. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s score has moments of luminous amusement, from the shouts and shakes of showstopper ‘Run and Tell That’, to the body-and-black-positive belter ‘Big, Blonde, and Beautiful’, to the bold exuberance of the show’s close, ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’. All this is fun, but the musical force is in its protest anthem, ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’, that reflects its politics, and it’s a powerhouse performance from Brenda Edwards’s respected, motherly Motormouth Maybelle that ends triumphantly with all hand-in-hand.
Yet, the force of Hairspray is blunted by its own flashy brashness, and the focus feels as though it’s on all the wrong colours: Continue reading “Reflection: Hairspray UK Tour”
Buzzing, bloody, and bleak
Macbeth at the Tobacco Factory opens as one of Emily Dickinson’s famous works, about a fly interposing indifferently as death falls on its speaker, ends: ‘with Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –’: the lighting is stark cyan, the space dark, and the electronic soundscape buzzes and breathes around us. Yet, a fly-like buzzing as one dies is not the only similarity between the atmosphere summoned by Dickinson’s unadorned words and Adele Thomas’s austere direction of Shakespeare’s death-drenched work.
Although it’s a dagger, not a fly, that the murderous Macbeth sees before him, he and his driven-mad wife, like the words of Dickinson’s dying, ‘could not see to see’: that is, as is later observed of the Lady herself, their ‘eyes are open’, ‘but their sense is shut’. Fuelled – or fooled – by the three weird sisters’ prophecy that sovereignty shall be his, the thane is blinded by ambition and soon has blood on his hands. Continue reading “Reflection: Macbeth at Tobacco Factory Theatres”
Grim and grotesque and gorgeous and gentle
‘It’s so tragic, it must be true’: so goes the tale of Grinpayne, the man with a perpetual grin marked out from ear to ear whose memory of his past is so marred by magic and grief that he can’t remember how he got it. The Grinning Man is a gothic musical that manages to be both grim and grotesque and gorgeous and gentle, so roll up! roll up! to the Trafalgar Fair, and see for yourself how his grin got there.
The Bristol Old Vic production balances the heroics and horror of Victor Hugo’s tale with haunting beauty and hilarious innovation. The Grinning Man amalgamates the mythic and the metatheatric: the streets of Lonnn-donn, the stages of the freak show, the chaises of a corrupt seventeenth-century court, and the trees of a fairytale forest create a folkloric but familiar historical time to face some human truths, but the storytelling is a feast of theatrical talent. From Carl Grose’s gritty but gorgeous prose, to Gyre and Gimble’s magical puppetry – especially James Alexander-Taylor and Loren O’Dair’s impressive performance as Mojo the wolf – to the lyrical and whimsical but rocking music, The Grinning Man‘s many theatrical marvels weave together like the many threads of the tale into a rich and riotous whole.
The Grinning Man revels in horror and hilarity, but also generously reveals its heart and humanity: Continue reading “Reflection: The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios”
Cleverly crafted, lovingly teasing take on Agatha Christie
A femme fatale has fallen victim to a killer in the English Riviera, a host of suspects with a whole host of motives happen to be holidaying in the same spot, and detective Artemis Arinae is looking for anything to avoid writing her memoirs… so, whodunnit? Crimes Under the Sun is New Old Friends’ cleverly crafted, lovingly teasing take on Agatha Christie and everyone’s favourite classic crime capers, and though not the perfect crime, it is perfectly entertaining and, in places, criminally funny.
A cast of four play fourteen characters, and their charmingly farcical performances are the crux of the piece: as Artemis, Jill Myers is the most modest of Miss Marples, fusing the frolics together with an ongoing monologue in an outrageous French accent while taking no shit from some chauvinist fellows who assume that a successful inspector must be a man. Feargus Woods Dunlop’s slick script has many a mocking modern-day allusion and is littered with alliterative quips, although some of them are quipped a little too quickly to keep us following closely, but his characters are well-drawn and wonderfully comic. Woods Dunlop plays three of the fourteen: Continue reading “Reflection: New Old Friends’ Crimes Under the Sun”
More pertinent, more perceptive, more powerful than ever
Caryl Churchill’s play about cloning is more pertinent, more perceptive, and more powerful than ever, and it has little to do with the technical practicalities of cloning now, almost twenty years after its premiere. Actually, A Number never had much to do with cloning at all, but connection: of father to son, nature to nurture, and individual to… vegetable. If we really have thirty percent the same genes as a lettuce, what makes us who we are?
A one-acter for two actors, the set up is deceptively simple: a son, after discovering he’s a clone, confronts his father, Salter, and the consequences unfold in a fraught, fast-paced dialogue. In the intimacy of The Other Room, the tensions play out like a tennis match in traverse: Continue reading “Reflection: A Number at the Other Room Cardiff”
Wicked is a richly woven tapestry of top-class entertainment, powerful performances, and unforgettable spectacle
‘Are people born Wicked? Or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?’ The Wizard of Oz would have us believe the Wicked Witch of the West was born wicked, but Wicked breaks through the walls of L. Frank Baum’s book and the Technicolor musical classic to tell us what really went on in Oz. Based on the book by Gregory Maguire, adapted by Winnie Holzman, it makes use of the politics and ups the playfulness to create its own classic: the ultimate musical about friendship, fighting the good fight, and defying the odds – and gravity.
Wicked is a richly woven tapestry of top-class entertainment, powerful performances, and unforgettable spectacle. Wicked is not so much a prelude but an impassioned and political parallel tale that weaves itself effortlessly and perceptively through the loose threads of The Wizard of Oz: from the silver slippers to the Scarecrow, the musical leaves no stone, or song, unturned. Continue reading “Reflection: Wicked UK Tour”
Anne Frank’s wistful, wondering & endlessly witty writing centre-stage
The Holocaust is a haunting, catastrophic tragedy in human history, but the quiet, intimate details of it are hidden ones: behind a bookcase, or documented between the pages of a posthumously published Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank is an infamous victim, but while living in the annex of her father’s Amsterdam offices for two years with another Jewish family and a dentist, she was also just a young girl; growing up, outgrowing the 500 sq. ft. she and eight others had to dwell in, and writing voraciously in her diary. Using Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s 1950s adaptation of the diary, this production puts Anne’s wistful, wondering, and endlessly witty writing centre stage. Continue reading “Reflection: The Diary of Anne Frank”
Heartbreakingly, beautifully human
‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes –’: what pain – grief, loss, despair – is up for interpretation, poet Emily Dickinson wasn’t explicit, but for anyone who has experienced that fearful, emotional paralysis in the aftermath of pain, it’s undoubtedly true. Theatre Ad Infinitum’s tender and infinitely touching Translunar Paradise expresses these feelings without uttering a word. As a husband bids goodbye to his wife, their heart-breaking, beautifully human memoir is told through mime, music, and movement as a mask – literally – for his grief.
The formality of everyday life unfolds even after death: hunched, hobbling and breathing heavily, the husband returns home and makes tea, but even seemingly simple moments are haunted by what’s missing. Consciously or instinctively, he takes out two cups, even though only one is needed now. As the widowed William – as well as the writer and director – George Mann is weary and restless, tapping his fingertips to the ticking of a clock, but his performance isn’t without moments of muted humour, as when he hurriedly spoons a small mountain of sugar into his teacup.
Yet, Translunar Paradise intersperses formality with lyricism Continue reading “Reflection: Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise (2018 Tour)”
The glitz, the glamour, the agony, the tragedy: Ria Jones is the Greatest Star of All
Sunset Boulevard: the glitz, the glamour, the agony, the tragedy. Based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 meta-cinematic masterpiece about damaging Hollywood stardom, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation makes a star of its leading lady. As the iconic, inimitable Norma Desmond, the faded silent-film star and fantasist who’s lusting after a young man, and her adoring fans, to love her again, Ria Jones is ready for her close-up, and it’s a masterclass.
As in the film, the musical opens with a man floating face down in the pool of Norma Desmond’s mansion, but unlike the film, the pool and the unfortunate man are projected onto two moveable panels that then become part of the infamous Paramount lot that Norma loves so much, lending some metatheatrics to the stage as well as the screen. Douglas O’Connell’s projections are not just crafty scenic design – the excitement of the car chase captured in quick cuts; the street outside Schwab’s Drugstore busy with big-shots and bystanders – but, along with Colin Richmond’s grand-yet-just-past-their-glory sets, they are clever storytelling devices. Continue reading “Reflection: Sunset Boulevard UK Tour”