Author Archives: Alice

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park

There is no perfect setting other than the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to see a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The birds flying overhead, the gentle breezes and the tall trees rustling nearby help transport you to the magical woodland forest in this tale of fairies and young love, and it certainly made this season’s showing of the classic play all the more enjoyable.

As this story has been told countless times in many adaptations over hundreds of years, it comes as no surprise that this time, another new element was thrown in –  the setting of a gypsy community, complete with a caravan and the chaviest clothes known to man. The four young lovers – Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius – look strange juxtaposed with the enchanted and dream-like visuals of the fairies that manipulate and poison them, fusing the classic and the modern in quite a convincing way thanks to the performances from the actors.

Rebecca Oldfield played Helena with the perfect amount of humour and lustful devotion as she tottered around the stage in heels and a crop top, doting on and borderline stalking her love, Demetrius. George Buckhari plays Bottom, whose head is turned into that of an ass and who Titania, Queen of the Fairies falls in love with. His performance was brilliant and stole the show in terms of laughter, along with the other members of the acting troupe in the forest – builders and workmen – as they put on their performance at the end of the play.

The music mixed haunting and poignant melodies by Olly Fox with songs such as ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’, ‘YMCA’ and Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’, again blending the classic with the modern in a way that brought rapturous laughter around the auditorium.

The staging by Jon Bausor was quite simple but effective, with the caravan being the central piece at the beginning and dangling from a crane above the stage for most of the rest of performance as the main characters head into the woods. With a trailer transforming into a grassy patch of the forest and mist emitted throughout, the atmosphere seemed authentic, helped by the real trees from the park in the background.

Shakespeare’s enduring story of interweaving plots of love, magic and comedy cannot be criticised, and this new adaptation by Matthew Dunster is as amusing and evocative as ever. If, however, you are after a straight and standard version of the classic play then the outrageous costumes and music in this adaptation will leave you wondering what on earth Shakespeare would have made of the garishness of it all. But the beautiful setting and comedic genius cannot take away from the fact that this is one of the greatest Shakespeare plays. Were the traffic cones on heads and the dancing on the roof of a caravan nothing but a dream? You will have to watch it to find out.

Sweeney Todd Review

Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton are a brilliant gruesome twosome in this new revival of the classic Sondheim musical.

Sweeney Todd – Michael Ball and Imedla Staunton

With Sweeney Todd still in previews at the Adelphi Theatre in London, this show is sure to receive much praise after its opening night tomorrow. With dark humour, blood and horrible pies, the tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street ticks all the right boxes thanks to the creepy and spine-tingling score by Stephen Sondheim, and the perfectly-cast performances by Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball.

Ball is in the title role, playing a character filled with hate and revenge. At first glance it is virtually impossible to even suspect that this is indeed the happy, smiley man who has previously played roles in lighter hearted shows such as Hairspray and Chitty Chity Bang Bang, and he retains his portrayal of the dark and disturbed Sweeney throughout the duration of the show with his brilliant singing voice, tinged with bitterness. Ball seemed to get better as the show went along, initially being overshadowed by Imelda Staunton as the pie-filling sidekick of Mrs Lovett, who brings in the majority of the laughs.

Staunton shuffles about the stage in a hilarious and wickedly evil manner, whose eye is only on the customers that Sweeney Todd brings to his barber shop, as she uses his victims to fill her pies and bring her business back up to what it used to be. The audience responded well to her, often laughing at the wit and sarcasm of the title character’s sidekick and forgetting that cruelty and evil have been turned into humour.

With staging by Anthony Ward, the grand stage of the Adelphi Theatre is used brilliantly, with the dark and misty setting providing a creepy and disturbing mood, and one of the highlights is of course, Stephen Sondheim’s incredible and haunting score which will stay with you long after you have left the Adelphi Theatre. With songs such as ‘No Place like London’, ‘By the Sea’ and ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’, the dark and haunting melodies are accompanied by genius lyrics, also by Sondheim, which fill the audience with emotions ranging from compassion to disgust.

This brilliant new revival of Sweeney Todd is without a doubt a work of art, and it is shame that the show isn’t a permament fixture as it closes in September 2012. However, this only means that you should get down to the Adelphi sooner rather than later to witness incredible performances in a tale of horror, murder and wit.

If you want to purchase Sweeney Todd tickets, then check out Cheap Theatre Tickets.

Where I sat: C30, on the left side of the Dress Circle. Sitting in the Dress Circle is probably the preferred seating section, as a lot of the action takes place above the actual stage. I had a great view, if slightly off-centre.

Recommended: Definitely recommended for Sondheim fans and those unfamiliar with his work as it will not take long to realise his genius. Also for those interested in dark, sinister humour.

Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn

  Dark humour and a brilliant cast make this new production of the classic play one to watch

The recently renamed Harold Pinter Theatre welcomes a revival of the classic 1974 play by celebrated British playwright, Alan Ayckbourn – Absent Friends. With a brilliant cast of six, the play is more character exploration and development than plot, and enables the audience to really delve into the lives and troubles of this dysfunctional group of friends which Ayckbourn presents with dark humour.

The setting is the living room of couple Paul and Diana played by Gavin and Stacey’s Steffan Rhodri and the IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson, and the period is the 1970s, made obvious with the flares and flicky hair donned by the characters. When old friend Colin, played by Reece Shearsmith loses his fiancée, the group of friends take it upon themselves to cheer him up by hosting a tea party to comfort him. Slowly but surely the deep-rooted problems of the hosts are unravelled leaving Colin to look like the only sane one left!

A highlight is the comic contrast between two of the leading ladies Evelyn – played by Strictly Come Dancing winner Kara Tointon and Marge – played by Elizabeth Berrington. Both characters provide humour of the opposite kind, with Kara’s character a dark and secretive woman who barely says more than a sentence as she sits in the living room hastily flicking through magazines, and Marge, a loud and flouncy woman, mothering her sick, at-home husband on the phone whilst being aware of her friend’s marital problems and trying to unsuccessfully solve them. The two of them provide much of the laughter from the audience in completely different ways, along with David Armand as husband to Evelyn, John, a man fearful of the mention of death and physically unable to sit still.

As the characters and their deep-rooted problems involving affairs and distrust are developed and unravelled in the first act, the second is where most of the action takes place. The tea party comes to a climax when Diana breaks down due to the build-up of her inner fears that her husband is having an affair Evelyn, a woman who is sitting in her house, reading her magazines and drinking her tea. It is difficult to feel sympathy for her character however, as the accumulation of her worries seems to simmer for a long time before exploding, causing her collapse to feel slightly out of place.

Absent Friends is dark and witty and will make anyone who has dysfunctional friendship groups feel as though they are certainly not alone. The strong acting and development of characters is what makes the play a worthwhile watch, even if some parts were not entirely so convincing.

Where I sat: M9, directly in the centre of the Stalls. This is probably the best seat I have ever sat in at the theatre. I had no seats in front of me as there was a centre aisle which meant I had enough legroom to lead me right up the stage, and I also had a completely unobstructed view.

Recommended: Yes if you like your plays to be more character development than plot, but not for those who like quick, fast-paced shows as this one takes a while to really get in to.

The Lion In Winter Review

The Haymarket Theatre, London

 

“What family doesn’t have problems?”

With a new chill tinging the air, darker nights ahead and Christmas around the corner, it seems inevitable that London’s Theatreland would see shows based around the festive season pop up here and there. A play that is set around Christmas time been brought to the Haymarket by Sir Trevor Nunn, but is a far cry from the usual kiddies pantomimes that litter this season. The Lion In Winter whisks us all the way back to 1183, when a family Christmas turns into a family at war.

Written by James Goldman, the story shows an aged Henry II as he invites his wife Eleanor of Aquitane, who he has kept locked away in a dungeon, to spend Christmas with him along with their three sons John, Richard and Geoffrey, and his mistress Princess Alais. Tensions are already rife before the festivities have even begun, with Alais set to marry Richard and the three sons battling out their father’s affections to succeed him and become King of England. The tension remains in the air throughout the 2 and a half hours of the play, with many moments of games and comedy spliced into the picture, such as when the three sons are hiding in King Philip’s bedroom whilst Henry II and the young King battle out their differences, only for them to emerge and confuse Henry, causing laughter throughout the auditorium.

Leading the cast is Robert Lindsay as King Henry II and Joanna Lumley as his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitane. Both performed on top form with emotion and passion, sexual tension as well as the thin line between love and hate obvious between them, as they argue, fight and battle out their demons with each other during the yuletide celebrations. Joining the two big names in drama are the lesser known actors of Tom Bateman, Joseph Drake and James Norton playing sons Richard, John and Geoffrey respectively, Sonya Cassidy as mistress Alais, and Rory Fleck-Byrne performs as her brother, King Philip of France. The small, whiney and ‘favourite’ to Henry II, John, provided much of the comedy of the performance as he sauntered around, convinced his father would announce him as his successor. Joseph Drake portrayed the part convincingly as he longed for the throne throughout the duration of the play, battling out the affection of his father with his two much bigger and stronger brothers.

The set designs by Stephen Brimson were extremely impressive, especially one of the final scenes of the dungeon. Streams of light beamed through onto the stone-slabbed floor and the voices of the actors were immediately altered with a slight echo, giving convincing atmosphere to the scene. I felt as though I had been transported to this dungeon with the rest of the cast, and overheard other members of the audience murmur to their companions about how good the set design is.

The Lion In Winter is full of tension, distrust, power games and deceit, interweaved with moments of comedy and fine acting from a fine cast. The show is only playing until 28th January 2012 at the Haymarket Theatre in London, so be sure to find the time to visit the Middle Ages and a family who had their own share of problems at Christmas.

 

 

Crazy For You Tap Dances into the West End

Tap dancing its way from the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park to the Novello in the West End comes Crazy For You, the great musical spectacle that is a throwback to the golden age of Hollywood musicals with glittering choreography by Stephen Mear that is reminiscent of the elaborate Busby Berkeley numbers of the 1930s.

Crazy For You first dazzled the stage in New York in 1992 and became an instant smash-hit in London the following year. The show uses classic songs from George and Ira Gershwin who wrote the musical Girl Crazy in 1930, but was adapted by Ken Ludwig to form a completely different production keeping the exuberant theme tune to the production – I Got Rhythm. Rhythm, they certainly do have, as the highlight to the show was surely the chorus girls and their impeccable tap dancing that peaked with the ensemble tapping out the rhythms on tin cans and pots.

The plot involves Bobby the New York banker who is sent out to the deserted little town of Deadrock, Nevada, where he tries to save the only theatre for miles. Polly, the daughter of its owner and the only female in the entire town, soon catches his eye as he falls for her. Assuming the veneer of  Mr Zangler, the Hungarian entrepreneur, Bobby, with the help of the sleepy and lazy locals, sets out to transform the theatre and the town, whilst getting himself in trouble for his deceiving disguise.

Leading the cast is Sean Palmer as Bobby Child, who shines as the charming banker-turned-theatre producer. His impersonation of real producer Bela Zangler delivers much of the humour in the show. As Polly Baker, played by Clare Foster, falls for the fake Bobby, he finds himself slowly turning into the actual man himself as he wallows in his misery by getting drunk at the same time as Mr Zangler, providing the hilarious scene in which the two of them are side-by-side and mirroring each other with their pinstriped suits and grey streak in their hair.

Foster plays her role as feisty heroine Polly well but lacks a certain oomph that was originally seen by Ruthie Henshall in the 1993 London production. Her vocal ability does not match up to Palmer’s but she does perform with enthusiasm and playfulness at times.

Having plucked out a handful of the classic Gershwin songs that weren’t in the original Girl Crazy – bar I Got Rhythm – such as Nice Work If You Can Get It, Slap That Bass and They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Crazy For You does not hit a dull note and with revolving sets from Peter McKintosh that sweep us from the bright lights of Broadway to the dry desert of Nevada, and with sparkly costumes and smooth vocals , viewers are authentically transported back to a classic and simple era of song and dance for a classic evening.

Novello is Crazy for You

Crazy For You Cast

Sean Palmer as Bobby Child and Chorus

“The world is in a mess/with politics and taxes/and people grinding axes/There’s no happiness”

Ira Gershwin’s lyrics sound as current today as they did back in 1937 when first used for the Astaire-Rodgers musical Shall We Dance. Just like the Great Depression the current global economic climate has put a dampener on many people’s theatre habits, but upon entering the theatre the woes of the world are left far behind. The show may be ‘frothy’ and ‘effervescent’, but it comes at just the right time to remind audiences of exactly what ‘feel-good’ theatre can achieve.

This new production of Crazy for You at the Novello Theatre transfers from the Open Air Regent’s Park Theatre with all the glamour and glitz of an episode of Strictly Come Dancing. A critical smash this summer on the large amphitheatre stage, Director Timothy Sheader’s production glides into the West End looking like it has been designed to last. After being lucky enough to see the original without being rained off, the bar was set extremely high and I was doubtful that the production would be able to recreate the magic of a starry night sky and a crisp summer breeze. True, the stage becomes smaller and the front row of the Stalls are practically tap danced upon, but the energy remains the same, feeling only at times a little big for its new home. Whilst still in previews the show is certainly finding its feet. A few staging problems due to the lack of floor space resulted in some of the humour being missed, as the book scenes seem less tight than before. Each production number however glitters with intensity and energy, only sometimes verging on the edge of overwhelming. Unlike the Open Air production, the Novello contains this enthusiasm which is projected well above the stalls. Better seats may be in the Upper Circle to give a better perspective of the stage and dancers.

The show is enhanced by the full company, lead by Sean Palmer as Bobby Child and Clare Foster as Polly Baker. Their performances are still a little too large for the new venue, and it is clear that they are both working on finding the appropriate level. This resulted in Palmer’s first showstopper giving away too much, leaving him little room to grow throughout the act. He performs with charm and wit, displaying his extraordinary talents as a true ‘triple threat’. Foster’s vocal performance continues to let the production down as it does not demand any level of intensity, placing her somewhere between a sassy Annie Oakley and a reinvented Laurey Williams. Her conflicted character begins to grate, and she rarely lives up to the stunning 1993 performance by Ruthie Henshall in the Prince of Wales production. The female ensemble continue to steal the show, delivering Stephen Mear’s groundbreaking choreography, with more than the occasional nod to Stroman via nooses, anvils and human double basses.

With a few staging revisions and some careful sound mixing (the orchestra played above the singers all evening) Crazy for You will prove to be a hit yet again in it’s new home. How long it will last however is unknown, and with West End transfers of both Singing in the Rain and Top Hat in the New Year London is in for a nostalgic time. Perhaps that is precisely what it needs.

Dominic O’Hanlon

 

10/10/11

Backbeat Review

 Transporting us back to when The Beatles were barely known, Backbeat explores the tragic life of original bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe

 

Everyone knows who The Beatles are. With over 700 million albums sold worldwide, they are the most successful band in history, and to this day, their influence on popular culture can be seen with countless bands covering and performing their hits. Not everyone, however, knows the story of just how they rose to fame, including the turbulent friendship between  John Lennon and the original bassist of the group, Stuart Sutcliffe. New West End musical, Backbeat, explores the band’s early days, and opened with previews at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 24th September 2011. The show has previously been performed in Glasgow and is based on the 1994 film of the same name.

Back in the early 60s, five young men – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe, left the docks of Liverpool to search for success in the seedy district of Hamburg, performing rock’n’roll classics and getting their name heard. With a departure from the old band name of The Quarrymen to The Beatles, suggested by Sutcliffe, their name was spread throughout the industry, including to the beautiful German photographer, Astrid Kirchherr. Astrid became an annoyance for John Lennon, as she falls in love with his best friend, Stuart Sutcliffe, eventually becoming engaged to him and seeing him drop out of the band. The struggle between best friend and Astrid is portrayed in Backbeat, as Sutcliffe is made the focus of the show with his tragic death from a brain haemorrhage at only age 21, during the same year that The Beatles signed to Parlophone Records and released their first single ‘Love Me Do’.

Interweaving classic rock’n’roll tunes with a dramatic story about friendship, love and being true to yourself, Backbeat is authentic and touching, with the cast portraying their characters with vivid likeness, especially Daniel Healy as Paul McCartney, with his soft voice and bouncing head-rhythms, who really shows the essence of the star.

The set designs are well done, with the blood-red splashes of paint from Sutcliffe’s art work appearing on a giant screen behind him as the art college student creates the image. The cinema-like screens are also used to display the original images that Astrid took of the group, as the stage below shows the actors portraying them recreating the moment. The seedy, red-light district of Hamburg is shown in the dingy lighting and random girls dancing around the group during performances.

Music to the show is played live and loud, with songs such as Twist and Shout, Please Mr Postman and Rock ‘N’ Roll Music performed on the stage throughout the story. At the end, a ten minute jamming session is played by the performers including their first single, Love Me Do. The whole audience was on their feet at this stage, with characters making their way into the audience to encourage those not too impressed, to stand up and ‘twist and shout’.

There are funny moments in Backbeat, including when George Harrison is upset at having an audience the moment he first beds a woman, but overall, the show holds a certain poignancy throughout, which peaks the moment when Stuart Sutcliffe collapses and dies. The heartbroken John Lennon has to deal with the death of his best friend along with the sudden fame and acclaim that his band has finally received, and even though the medley of hits at the end was enjoyable, it was sadly sorrowful as well.

Alice Bzowska

Singin’ In The Rain Opens in 2012

One of the best-loved musicals of all-time, Singin’ In The Rain, is set to make a splash onto the London stage in 2012. Following a successful, sold-out run at the Chichester Festival Theatre over the summer, it will take over from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert once it closes at the Palace Theatre and will open with previews from 4th February 2012.

Starring Adam Cooper in the role of Don Lockwood that Gene Kelly made famous in the 1952 MGM film, Singin’ In The Rain transports us back to the era of the roaring 20s, where the giant stars of silent movies soon find their careers in disarray as the cinema finds a voice and the ‘talkies’ come to fruition. Don Lockwood is one of these stars, and with a chance meeting with a talented young chorus girl about to steal his heart, things are not only about to change for Hollywood, but for Don as well. Starring alongside Adam Cooper in the leading role is Daniel Crossley and Scarlett Strallen, and the stylish choreography has been created by Andrew Wright.

Singin’ In The Rain is currently taking bookings until 29th September 2012 and will officially open at the Palace Theatre, London on 15th February 2012.

Broken Glass

Personalities are shattered and unravelled in this classic play by Arthur Miller, revived on the London stage

 

Set in 1938 just before the Second World War shook the Earth once again, Broken Glass whisks us over to Brooklyn to reveal the secrets of troubled Jewish couple Sylvia and Phillip Gellberg. Sylvia (Tara Fitzgerald) is wheelchair-bound, much to the dismay of her anxious husband, Phillip (Antony Sher). Having been looked over by her flirting physician Harry Hyman (Stanley Townsend), the Gellberg’s are told that Sylvia’s condition isn’t a physical one, and that her loss of ability to walk is a psychological defect that she must help fix by finding the source of her anxieties. Near the start of the play, Sylvia reveals that the stories that she is constantly reading about the Jews in Germany may just have brought on her panic and paralysis, but as the story develops, we realise that her worried little husband may play a bigger part.

Written in 1994 by playwright Arthur Miller and brought to the modern stage by director Iqbal Khan, Broken Glass delves deep into the characters’ emotional and sexual history, with Sher stealing the show as the nervy Phillip, who loves his wife more than life itself and only wants to do good for her. His portrayal of anguish and failure is put across to the audience convincingly, allowing us to feel empathy for his character. Fitzgerald plays a compelling Mrs Gellberg who captures the audience with her emotional and physical strains without even having to stand up. Townsend also stood out with his excellent Brooklyn accent and strong personality, making the overall cast of Broken Glass a brilliant one.

The beautiful and haunting music from the sole cellist through the show added even more poignancy to the production and the bare walls of the stage settings allowed the audience to not be distracted and to become fully immersed in the complex characters on the stage. The peeling wallpaper however, reminds us that there are deeper layers to what is initially seen on the surface.

If you are looking for a play that doesn’t waste time on gimmicks and flashy production and instead focuses on dialogue and unravelling personalities, then Broken Glass may be the show for you. It is currently playing the Vaudeville Theatre in London and closes on 10th December 2011.

Alice Bzowska

 

 

 

 

 

Phantom of the Opera to be Filmed and Screened in Cinemas

The 25th Anniversary performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, will be screened live in cinemas across the globe in October. The most successful stage show in history celebrates its 25th year of performing to audiences this year, having first opened at London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1986, where it remains to this day.  For two sold-out performances at the Royal Albert Hall on 1st and 2nd October 2011, The Phantom of the Opera will perform to eager fans and will feature the original stage designs of the show.

The lead characters of Christine and the Phantom will be played by Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo who originated the roles in Lloyd Webber’s follow-up to the hit musical, Love Never Dies in London in 2010. The show will be directed by Laurence Connor and will feature some surprises and special guests to mark the 25th Anniversary of the London premiere.

The show which promises to be a spectacular performance will be screened live in 250 cinemas across the UK, and will also be screening across the globe in theatres in the USA, Canada and Australia. There will also be a DVD of the special that will be released shortly afterwards.

The Phantom of the Opera has grossed more money than any other stage play in history, and has even grossed more than any film ever made, including Titanic, Star Wars and ET. It has been seen by over 130 million people throughout the globe, making it a recent global phenomenon. If you are a Phantom phan or you haven’t yet seen the show but want to see what all the fuss is about, then make sure you check out the special screening on 1st or 2nd October.

Have you seen The Phantom of the Opera? Do you think it lives up to its hype? Are you going to go to one of the cinema screenings? Comment in the box below!