A rich treasure trove of etymological humour and history
The old adage – ‘you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover’ – may disagree, but we’ve all felt defeat when we see a striking picture, a fancy font, a famous face, or a well-written pitch on the reverse of our favourite tomes.
Some favour the striking austerity of The Book Thief – ‘You are going to die’ – or the magical mystery of Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, ‘the circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it… it is simply there, when yesterday it was not’. Others prefer the elegiac grace of Kay’s Trumpet, ‘When the love of your life dies, the problem is not that some part of you dies too, which it does, but that some part of you is still alive’, or the temptation of The Crimson Petal and the White’s ‘watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them…’
The imaginary beauty on the back of Gelett Burgess’s book Are You a Bromide?, ‘Miss Belinda Blurb’, birthed this publishing practise and even baptised it the ‘blurb’ – and it’s just one of many etymological mavericks in The Real McCoy.
Continue reading “Feature: Miss Belinda Blurb – The Real McCoy Review”
Original Review for the Reviews Hub
Elegiac and gorgeously gothic
Playing God in an Anglican chapel is, like Frankenstein’s Creature, ‘fearless, and therefore powerful’. Amongst the gravestones at Arnos Vale, Red Rope Theatre stitch together and stage their agonised, magnificently imagined Frankenstein’s monster at the cemetery’s Victorian altar in Matt Grinter’s elegiac, gorgeously gothic imagining of Mary Shelley’s classic novel.
Thematically and theatrically atmospheric, Arnos Vale and the novel are Victorian artworks framed by the Ancient Greek: in its title, Frankenstein references the mythological figure ‘Prometheus’, whose actions Victor echoes in creating the Creature, and the nineteenth-century cemetery at Arnos Vale was created to echo the classicism of a Greek necropolis. And, with fingers, faces, and figures under foot, it’s frighteningly fertile ground for playing God.
Grinter’s text is poetic, with some elegantly elegiac monologues for the gifted and frugal cast of three, especially in an elegy to the mother of Danann McAleer’s guilt-plagued, grief-stricken Frankenstein, for whom death has invited itself in and will never leave. Though powerful in its poetry and fearless in the actors’ performances, there are moments that lose their power with the pacing, Continue reading “Review: Red Rope Theatre’s Frankenstein – Arnos Vale Cemetery”
The magic’s in the music
The original Italian premiere of Rossini’s rags-to-riches opera was more morally pragmatic than magical: with a ‘goodness triumphs’ moral in its title (‘La bontà in trionfo’), Roman Catholicism restricting an unclothed foot from appearing in the performance, and nineteenth-century theatrics making transformations impractical, the music was the magic. And the music is magical, with all its coloratura, patter, and character from the principals, male chorus, and orchestra magnificently managed by Tomáš Hanus, but there’s still some magic amiss in this staging from Welsh National Opera.
La Cenerentola falls away from the French fairy tale and into the Grimm’s grotesque without a fairy godmother or twelve o’clock curfew, and Joan Font’s staging fuels the fantasy with giant mice and the suggestion that it was all a sugarcoated fever-dream danced in Joan Guillén’s garish costumes.
The opera follows in the footsteps of the fairytale Continue reading “Review: WNO’s La Cenerentola”
Original review for the Reviews Hub
Thrilling athleticism and beautiful artistry
A lot of grit, graft, and grazed knees go into greatness, yet for ‘showgirls’ in the ‘greatest show on earth’ the nightly danger is disguised by grace, discipline, glitz, and offstage doughnuts. Ellie Dubois’s circus celebrates the blood, sweat, and bruises of her acrobatic ensemble and aims to articulate, through biography, the physical and psychological labour of its thrilling athleticism and beautiful artistry.
The circus is where artist and athlete intersect: in their striped-and-sequined strips, the freeform structure of the evening features the five female performers striving for perfection in their physical feats, from aerial stunts to striking contorted poses. There’s no flying trapeze or tightrope, twisting and upturning our expectations of circus as effortlessly as the tricks are executed, and though they often don’t feel ‘death-defying’, their dexterity and physicality is still exciting, especially Camille Toyer’s lyrical performance on the Cyr wheel that’s preceded by an explanation of the danger if she were to put a foot or finger wrong. Yet, there’s an assurance, from Kate McWilliam, that she won’t; after all, ‘we’re professionals’.
Even professionals have imperfections, and the physical effort it takes to achieve perfection is as much a part of the performance as the tricks. Continue reading “Review: Ellie Dubois’s No Show – Spielman Theatre”
Original Review for the Reviews Hub
A blissful, beautiful thing
‘Once I believed that when love came to me, it would come with rockets, bells, and poetry – but with me and you, it just started quietly, and grew… and it’s getting better.’ Beautiful Thing at the Tobacco Factory Theatres begins with a beautiful chorus of Mama Cass’s ‘It’s Getting Better’ from a community choir, and it’s everything this urban fairytale should be about: affection, optimism, and community.
Written in the nineties, 2018 is its 25th anniversary, and with age it’s grown a warm, nostalgic naivety from the nearly anarchic work it was then. It is ‘getting better’, but the heart-breaking effects of homophobia aren’t, and the Tobacco Factory’s Beautiful Thing is heart-warming, celebratory, bitingly funny, but also a remembrance of just how ground-breaking Jonathan Harvey’s work was just for being about the beauty of two gay teenage boys falling in love with each other.
And maybe it’s the absence of any ‘bury your gays’ symbolism that’s so ubiquitous in LBGTQ+ literature that gives Beautiful Thing its ‘urban fairytale’ subtitle. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful Thing – Tobacco Factory Theatres”
Comical, musical, and colourful
‘If music be the food of love, play on’… and play Wils Wilson does with Shakespeare’s chaotic, sharp-witted comedy. With cross-dressing, disguises, and a proto-discussion of gender politics, the text is playful and apt for contemporary adaptation, but Wilson’s production, while playing with the gendering of its couples, withdraws and occupies a decidedly dated time and space. While wonderfully entertaining, and a comical, musical, and colourful delight, without distinct commentary on the seventies setting or a timely political parallel, Bristol Old Vic and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh’s Twelfth Night is dated to the whimsical, psychedelic revels of a 1970s evening.
Housed in a beautiful abandoned building, New Age energy abounds in this gender-bent Bohemia: Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night – Bristol Old Vic”
A transformative fairytale: the charm of this Cinderella is in the transformation
Cinderella is a fairy tale about transformations: across the ages, the archetypal rags-to-riches tale has enchanted all cultures, imaginations, and artistic forms with its transformative magic. From glass slippers, balls, and a prince to gas masks, bombings, and a traumatised pilot, Matthew Bourne reimagines the classic and richly and wittily transforms it into a wartime romance. With Prokofiev’s euphonious score, Lez Brotherston’s glamorous forties costumes and cinematic sets, and Bourne’s charming choreography, this is a fairy tale that glitters in the gloom of the Blitz.
The charm of this Cinderella is in the transformation: an unloved Cinders is whisked away to a ball, but it’s in a rocking café, not a royal castle, underneath the war-torn streets of a bombed-out London, and it’s a pilot, not a prince, she falls in love with. At the ball they dance jazz and jitterbugs as well as waltz, and it’s a fairy godfather in a white silk suit that whisks Cinderella away in a sidecar. As the determined dreamer Cinders, Ashley Shaw’s playful pas de deux with a dummy – in place of dancing with her broom in the ballet – is delightful, and her dream blossoms into life as Andrew Monaghan’s dashing pilot in an inspired act to introduce the prince before the ball.
The setting for the ball is based on a real-life cabaret bombing during the Blitz, each act prefaced by Pathé projections with real images of air raids, and the drama of Bourne’s Cinderella makes the stakes much higher than being home before the clock strikes twelve: Continue reading “Review: Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – Illuminations DVD”
God Save the (drag) Queen: part drawing-room comedy, part clowning, and part drag, Parlour Games is a most unconservative portrait of the Victorians. With a grande dame, a Deutsche clown prince, and any delusions of grandeur doused with playful cross-dressing, it’s a comic delight with a melodramatic crown.
From Sharp Teeth – and with even sharper wits – the show bites into the beliefs one has about Victoria and Albert and clothes the bare bones in cabaret, biting wit, and an unbelievably bad wig. Playing parlour games while a political revolution rages in England, Victoria and her Prince Consort wait out the people’s anger with their pathetic, piano-playing servant – the wondrously droll and overworked Andy Kelly – as the past, overprotective ghosts, and their courtship appear in a series of raucous vignettes.
With revolution reigning overseas and Chartists threatening the English throne, Continue reading “Review: Parlour Games – The Wardrobe Theatre”
Haunting and humorous: an experimental examination of the history of homosexuality
‘You may find this morally wrong. I don’t’: the irreverent, fearlessly truthful, revolutionary reaction of Geoffrey Patrick Williamson, a teenager arrested in Taunton in the fifties after approaching a plain-clothes police officer while travelling on a train. His crime? Existing as a homosexual, and what a haunted existence it was.
A Haunted Existence is writer and performer Tom Marshman’s response to this South West story, the arrests, imprisonment, and inhuman treatment that followed, and the haunting effect the history of homosexuality still has on its future. Hosted at The Island, an old police station with some insightful installations to explore in the empty cells, A Haunted Existence is a lecture-come-floorshow with a little séance at play, too. The performance focuses heavily on the collective past of homosexuality, with Marshman echoing the harrowing experiences of these men with repeated phrases like ‘they were in it together, they were in it alone’, and ‘I imagine…’
And Marshman’s imagination is magnetic. Continue reading “Review: A Haunted Existence – The Island”
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”