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: 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: Slava’s Snow Show

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Slava's Snow Show

A show in the spectacular superlative: comedy touched with melancholic charm

Clowning belongs in the circus: beneath the big top, behind a big, red nose and between comics, not accomplished actors… yet Slava Polunin and his Snow Show are unequivocally proving that clowns really belong on the bright lights and beauty of the stage in his breath-taking blizzard of a performance.

Slava’s Snow Show is a show in the spectacular superlative: the brightest lights, the boldest ambition, and the biggest, ahem, bouncing balls. And yet, from the most outlandish and loudest laughs come the quietest moments of comedy touched with melancholic charm. Continue reading “Reflection: Slava’s Snow Show”

Reflection: English National Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet

Original review: Underdog Reviews

ENB Romeo and Juliet Jurgita Dronina and Aaron Robison

Passionate, poetic, powerful

The timeless tale of ‘star cross’d lovers’ and ancestral strife is one of the most well-known and widely adaptable works of literature, but just what makes an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet? Passion, poetry, power, pathos: even without the Bard’s words, English National Ballet’s staging of Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet is all that and more.

The choreography is perfectly poised between the grand and the gentle: the crowd scenes are feasts of chaos and activity, from families at war to flag-waving to fellas womanising away, and the Capulet ball is a grandiose pageant of patriarchal control as the men flaunt their women like fashionable capes and the brass of Prokofiev’s music beats beneath. The fencing and fight scenes are frenzied and furious and performed with such force by a male corps that really come to the fore in this production, with the opposing families captained by Pedro Lapetra’s petite but capricious Mercutio, James Forbat’s benevolent and beautifully-jumped Benvolio, and Fabian Reimair’s prowling Prince of Cats, the cavalier Tybalt. With much of the fighting between the young Montagues and Capulets founded on attempts to emasculate each other – crossing swords, kissing, hands sweeping across crotches – it cleverly captures the anxieties of masculinity in cultures contemporaneous to the play, this 1977 production, and the modern day. For a four hundred year old play and a forty-year-old production, the performance feels fresh, poignant, and full of life.

While the vigour and grandeur powers the production through the prose of the play, its poetry and gentleness lies with the lovers. Continue reading “Reflection: English National Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet”

Reflection: WNO’s Die Fledermaus

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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A farcical, fun-filled frolic

As the saying – and singing, in this opera – goes, ‘chacun à son gout!’: ‘to each his own taste’, and the taste of Welsh National Opera’s Die Fledermaus is champagne – bubbly, celebratory, flamboyant, but with a little bit of bitterness in the aftertaste.

Die Fledermaus is an operetta caught somewhere between Restoration and Shakespearean comedy: a well-moneyed misdemeanant – a markedly strong Mark Stone – seems more interested in other women than his own wife, everyone from the mischievous chambermaid to her suspicious mistress set about scheming their way into a masquerade ball, an elaborate if improbable plot featuring false identities, lots of flirting and a few faux-Frenchmen, and, of course, a finale where all is forgiven and the ruse is revealed. This is operetta with frills-and-all, and with all the fun and frolics, it’s more than just the misbehaving husband who’s getting merrily mocked, it’s the opulence and improbability of opera, too. Continue reading “Reflection: WNO’s Die Fledermaus”

Reflection: Kneehigh’s The Tin Drum

Original review: Underdog Reviews

The Tin Drum Kneehigh

Anarchy and artistry: a riot in every way

Kneehigh really do dance to the beat of a different drum. The Cornwall-based collective have created a monster from Günter Grass’ allegorical, wartime tale: a magical, musical monstrosity of chaotic mayhem with their trademark anarchy and inimitable artistry at its core.

The tale of Oskar, a boy banging his tin drum in rebellion against an adult world of war and responsibility, is a tough one to adapt: a bildungsroman where the boy won’t grow, a parable whose moral compass points all the wrong ways, and a myth with too much grit to be truly magic. Undaunted by the dangers, Kneehigh unites the novel’s density and diversity in their adaptation. Part epic, poetic opera, part Spring Awakening-style musical, part creeping electronic soundscape, The Tin Drum has music at the heart of its storytelling. Continue reading “Reflection: Kneehigh’s The Tin Drum”

Reflection: Wardrobe Ensemble’s Education, Education, Education

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Education Education Education

90s nostalgia cut through with political poignancy

Twenty years ago, in 1997, it was a time of Take That, Tamagotchis and British teachers celebrating in the staff room after Tony Blair and the Labour party were elected with the mantra ‘education, education, education’. Wardrobe Ensemble’s eponymous play unpacks the politics of this cultural moment with wit, warmth, and winning charm, exploring the optimism and the realism that cuts through the 90s nostalgia with political poignancy.

Set in a well-meaning but not-quite-comprehensive comprehensive secondary school in the immediate aftermath of the election, the Ensemble places the individual at the centre of political change. From the highly-strung but ever-hopeful holistic teacher hopelessly losing control of her classes to the stroppy student trying to petition her teachers for a place on the school trip. Wardrobe Ensemble is unmistakably a devising company, with each character so well developed in communication and movement that even when saying the same things or doing the same dance moves, the characterisation is unmistakable, and the creative doubling of each teacher as a student sharing the same name as their actor counterpart is clearly distinct.

As the plot balances the optimism and pessimism of a new political landscape, the play is a practiced blend of the lifelike and the stylised: Continue reading “Reflection: Wardrobe Ensemble’s Education, Education, Education”

Reflection: Crazy For You UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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Good old-fashioned fun: ‘Gaiety’ in all its glory!

George and Ira Gershwin first composed music for the romantic comedy film Girl Crazy in 1930, at the dawn of the golden age of the cinematic American musical, but the thirties in America were also famous for the Great Depression, and audiences craved the escapism offered by such musicals. Eight decades later, the name might have changed but the escapism hasn’t, as Crazy For You dazzles and delights anew in an age where we definitely need it again.

The story itself has little to say – the tale of budding but blundering performer Bobby, who’s sent to shut up a failing theatre in Nevada but ends up falling for the proprietor’s daughter Polly and putting on a show to save it – but it’s the score that’s literally the star of the show. Full of favourites from the Gershwin catalogue, including ‘Shall We Dance’, ‘I Got Rhythm’, and ‘Embraceable You’, the score is a jukebox of jazz classics that are joyful and filled with infectious rhythm that only catches quicker because it’s performed onstage by a crazily-skilled cast of actor-musicians. Nathan M Wright’s choreography incorporates the instruments into every number, including a wheel-mounted double bass, and Diego Pitarch’s gorgeous designs, set on-and-backstage in the Gaiety Theatre that Bobby sets off to save, go from dilapidated to dazzling under Howard Hudson’s ingenious lighting, and even make use of some meta-theatric tricks in revealing the run-down but once-magnificent theatre auditorium. Continue reading “Reflection: Crazy For You UK Tour”

Feature: Wicked UK Tour Launch

Original feature: Underdog Reviews (26th September 2017)

Wicked UK Tour Launch

Over a century ago, the Wicked Witch of the West first flew into Oz in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; green and ghastly, she was after silver slippers and had only one all-seeing eye. In 1939, she was immortalised, in a certain shade of green and on screen, by Margaret Hamilton in MGM’s musical The Wizard of Oz, this time on the hunt for ruby red slippers to make the most of Technicolor technology.

After frightening families for over fifty years, Gregory Maguire reimagined the green-skinned miscreant as a green-skinned, misunderstood young woman with, for the first time, a name: Elphaba, fashioned from L. Frank Baum’s own initials, in the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. This previously untold story of the Wicked Witch’s life and times prior to Dorothy’s appearance was adapted into a stage musical: Wicked. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, the musical opened on Broadway in 2003, starring Idina Menzel as Elphaba, and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, winning three.

Now, on a September day in 2017, it’s over 10 years since Wicked opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London’s West End and it’s the announcement of a new Wicked UK Tour, to begin in Bristol in the New Year, and a new Elphaba. Continue reading “Feature: Wicked UK Tour Launch”