‘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.
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.
We all come from away… but what can you do when the world comes to you? The Canadian islanders from Gander welcomed the strangers that were grounded on their shores in 2001 and stranded there in the week after the attack on the twin towerswith warmth, wit, and a kettle that was always on. The musical Come From Away, with its focus on compassion and community, follows these funny-accented locals as they care for, clothe, and comfort these ‘come from aways’, and this touching and uplifting tale is coming in to land in the UK in early 2019.
With as warm a welcome for the cast as for the come from aways, the West End islanders performed the rousing ‘Welcome to the Rock’ to welcome us all. Introducing the islanders, their eccentricities, their accents – ‘you probably understand about a half of what we say!’ – and where they all were when they learned of the 9/11 attacks, the song opens Come From Away with a folk-rock sound.
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.
Like the English at Agincourt, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory aren’t unshaken, but they are victorious
Henry V, the final play in Shakespeare’s historical tetralogy, focuses on King Henry’s campaign for France, victory at Agincourt, aggressive patriotism, coming-of-age, and eventual political treaty and promise of peace with his marriage to Katharine of Valois.
From the English court to the fields of France, the performance asks a lot of our ‘imaginary forces’, even to ‘piece out [its] imperfections with [our] thoughts’, and this overt theatricality is, like King Henry’s army at Agincourt, defensive – attacking, forgiving and apologising for its faults – and defenceless in the face of a much greater force: the audience.
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…’
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.
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.
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.
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.