Reflection: New Old Friends’ Crimes Under the Sun

Crimes Under the Sun

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”

Reflection: A Number at the Other Room Cardiff

Original review: The Reviews Hub

A Number

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”

Reflection: Wicked UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Wicked UK Tour

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”

Reflection: The Diary of Anne Frank

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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”

Reflection: Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise (2018 Tour)

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Translunar Paradise

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)”

Reflection: Sunset Boulevard UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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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”

Reflection: Scottish Ballet’s Le Baiser de la Fée

Scottish Ballet's The Fairy's Kiss

MacMillan magic: a fairy’s kiss with more bite than the usual balletic fare

Le Baiser de la Fée is a fairy’s kiss with more bite than the usual balletic fare. Choreographer Kenneth MacMillan was famously ‘sick to death of fairy-tales’, with ballet full to the brim of Sleeping BeautiesCinderellas, and Swan Lakes, and often focused his works on visceral resonance rather than folkloric classicism. In his adaptation of Andersen’s The Ice Maiden, performed by Scottish Ballet on scintillatingly exciting form as part of the celebration on the 25th anniversary of his death, MacMillan makes the fairy’s kiss the mark of something much darker and more dangerous.

Balancing, like La Sylphide, on Romantic ballet’s obsession with the Other – symbolised by the difference between the familiar earthly fiancée and the otherworldly fairy – Le Baiser de la Fée stops short of romanticising it with its striking Stravinsky score and Scottish Ballet boldly billing it alongside another Stravinsky in much starker style, the raw and riotous The Rite of Spring. Continue reading “Reflection: Scottish Ballet’s Le Baiser de la Fée”

Reflection: Hamilton – An American Musical

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This is not a moment, it’s a movement

This is it: ‘The Room Where It Happens’. It’s here. ‘It is Hamilton, and after a fortnight of previews, the musical chronicling the finding, founding, and fight for American freedom through the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, it’s finally open at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London’s West End. With so much hype and hysteria, just what is it about Hamilton that makes us all want to be in ‘The Room Where It Happens’?

Telling history through rap, hip-hop, and R&B, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda makes America’s past matter through contemporary music and a cast-of-colour who play the mostly white political players of the late-18th century. With characters and songs taking their cue both from the founding fathers who wrote America into existence and the rappers and musicians who use real-life experience to write their way to respect, Hamilton fuses the present, the past, and the future – the finale asks, ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?’ – into a harmonious whole with a heart that beats and breaks and aches. Hamilton tells not only a political history but a private one, with the story centring on the opposing views of Hamilton and his perpetual rival, Aaron Burr (Sir): one waits for it, the other works non-stop; one stands for nothing, the other rises up; one dies, the other survives.

Hamilton, like America, is ‘young, scrappy, and hungry’, a nobody who arrives in New York to be a new man, and Burr, his nemesis, is a waiter who will do anything to win but has much, much more to lose. Hamilton, and history, hangs in the balance between the two men. Continue reading “Reflection: Hamilton – An American Musical”

Reflection: Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man Illuminations DVD

Original review: Culturefly

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Passionate and powerful: every bit as searing and sexy as the opera

Carmen is one of most passionate and powerful pieces in the operatic canon, set under a sizzling Spanish sun and ablaze with seduction, sensuality, and Bizet’s striking score. The Car Man, Matthew Bourne’s reimagining, may do away with the nineteenth-century Spanish cigarette factory and matadors in favour of stifling small-town 1960s America and mechanics, but it is every bit as searing and violent and sexy.

Set to a stripped-back reworking of Bizet’s score by Rodion Shchedrin and originally restyled for Bourne in 2000 by Terry Davies, The Car Man is a reimagining stripped back to its gritty, aggressive, grounded origins – there are no Swans or Cinderellas here. The protagonists have no express parallel: Luca, the Car Man, is the seducing stranger, as is Carmen, but, like Carmen, it is one of his lovers, Lana, that’s the beauty who betrays one lover for another. And, as Bourne explains in the informative, informal, interview-focused ‘Making Of’ featurette, much of the influence is owed to film noir thrillers, with the central betrayal and retribution less Car-Man and more The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Thrilling from the off, there’s blood, sweat, and sex aplenty as the languor of a long summer yields to lust: Continue reading “Reflection: Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man Illuminations DVD”

Reflection: Insane Root Theatre’s The Tempest

Original review: TheReviewsHub

The Tempest

A respectfully and perfectly repurposed The Tempest

‘Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,’ a muddling, older man murmurs to us, collected in a crypt beneath a Medieval church in the centre of Bristol as cars and buses and bits of lost conversation rumble along beyond the low door closed behind us. ‘The isle was full of noises,’ he amends, and with that opening amendment in tense alone, Insane Root Theatre have respectfully but perfectly repurposed The Tempest, Shakespeare’s most philosophical, most reflective, and most indefinite play.

The man, aged and inelegant, is Prospero, but this is the usurped ‘prince of power’ without his power; this is Prospero at the end of the play, or rather, many-a-year after the revels of the play and the epilogue’s applause has ended. Alone in his library, a homely, hearth-like creation from Sarah Warren covered in drapes and decorated with books and bric-a-brac, Chris Donnelly’s Prospero is close to the end, and not just because he’s been placed in a crypt.

The crypt, carved and cavernous, is the corporeal and acoustic setting for Prospero’s recount of what happened to him, and he recreates the characters with some well-repurposed household trinkets: Continue reading “Reflection: Insane Root Theatre’s The Tempest”