Author Archives: Louise Penn

About Louise Penn

Writer, reviewer, fan.

Penn & Teller  (Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith)

They’re back in the UK.  Penn – the big, loud one who has lost both his bulk and mop of frizzy long hair in recent years – and Teller, the little, mute one, are celebrating forty years together as a magic duo this year with a show chock-full of old favourites and new tricks.


With the usual formula of audience participation, manipulation, and a healthy helping of lying, stealing and cheating, the Vegas-based illusionists bring a bit of fairy dust and sparkle to a very hot Hammersmith night.

Teller’s sweet pantomime ‘Shadows’ remains strangely beautiful, and the coin and fish trick remains impressive even when you click how it’s done.  ‘Cell Fish’ is clever but based very much on misdirection and willing stagehands; while a barrel in which the 6ft 7in Penn has crushed himself makes everyone want to stretch their legs.

A new trick which seems to depend on advanced maths brings the whole audience into a ‘Find Love’ card game, while Teller displays a skilfull sleight of hand with a set of animal traps, before accidentally toppling their faithful rabbit into an industrial shredder.

An enjoyable night from true professionals who operate with the slickness of a corporate machine.  Penn seems to have mellowed with marriage, children and a move away from his beloved Slammer with the pleasure jacuzzi he developed with former partner Debbie Harry, although his abrasive stage persona could still peel the paint off walls.

It’s the simplest of tricks which still fox, though: a cup which regenerates coloured balls, an egg which appears and disappears from a bag.  Basic magic without the trappings of show.


Rainbow (O2 Arena, London)

We’ve all lost count how many iterations of Rainbow there have been since 1975, and this current line-up came together over twenty years after the last one: since that time, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, now aged 72, has made several albums with his Renaissance project Blackmore’s Night (featuring his wife Candice on lead vocals, she appears as one of the backing singers here tonight).

Ronnie Romero fills the large shoes of big former voices of both Rainbow (Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner) and Deep Purple (Ian Gillan, David Coverdale), and does admirably well, with a set list which opens with ‘Spotlight Kid’ and then goes through ‘Mistreated’, ‘Soldier of Fortune’, ‘Since You Been Gone’ (featuring writer and musician Russ Ballard on guest back-up vocals and guitar), ‘Stargazer’, ‘Child In Time’, ‘Burn’, ‘Black Night’, ‘Long Live Rock ‘n Roll’, ‘Catch The Rainbow’ and (of course), ‘Smoke on the Water’.

Supported by the Sweet, who, like Deep Purple, formed fifty years ago next year, and retaining just one original member (Andy Scott) entertained with a mix of glam and hard rock numbers from ‘Hellraiser’ to ‘Little Willy’.

But Rainbow, and the return of Blackmore to rock, was the main event here, and they didn’t disappoint: I was also really pleased to see Dio and Cozy Powell remembered by video footage in the background during ‘Long Live Rock ‘n Roll’, a lovely moment.  I hope this isn’t the last hurrah, but if it was, I’m going away happy.


Lettice and Lovage (Menier Chocolate Factory)

This revival of Peter Shaffer’s 1980s play is one of two productions running at the Menier at the moment, both directed by Trevor Nunn.  It is the story of a theatrical tour guide who embellishes historical fact to entertain those who visit Fustion House (‘fusty old house’, in our minds).

The first scene is replayed four times across a fifteen minute slot, in which Miss Douffet makes the most of an Elizabethan legend on an old staircase, delivered in an exaggerated stage voice.  Douffet is played by Felicity Kendal, who wears loud and vibrant clothes and has tattoos on her foot and ankle.

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Her over-the-top style gets her in trouble twice, first with a tetchy historian who asks for her sources, then with a civil servant who commands her presence in the offices of the Preservation Society.  This is the staid Miss Schoen, whose father was a German art publisher, but who hates theatrics.  She’s played by Maureen Lipman, who is stiffly arch, especially in her exchanges with twittery secretary Petra Markham.

The turning point comes with a very unconvincing prop cat, and a wildly addictive drink which contains the herb lovage.  It turns Miss Douffet almost human (and we discover her forename is Lettice), and allows Miss Schoen to unbend as she becomes more tipsy (and her forename is Charlotta).  Lettice talks of her mother who played both Richard III and Falstaff – with utilisation of the same pillow for costume.  Lotte tells of a bomb plot she and a boyfriend had in their youth to destroy the hated Shell Building.

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The final act is bizarre, with Sam Dastor as a solicitor defending Miss Douffet (she engages him because his name is Bardolph, which suggests something rather different to the reserved man we see before us).  It would spoil the fun to say why she has been arrested and charged, and we are caught up in an amusing piece of roleplay re-enacted for us in the final few minutes.

This is not a ground-breaking play, but it is acted well, and is a perfectly reasonable piece of entertainment.  I liked the relative simplicity of the sets, which include a picture frame which showcases the sense of where we are (the exterior of Fustion House, the terraces of Earl’s Court), and found the performances on point for the ridiculous plot.


Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Harold Pinter Theatre)

It must be Edward Albee year around the Haymarket area of London, with both The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? and this play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, running in high profile revivals within a few yards of each other.

This is by far the better known of the two plays, perhaps due to the 1966 film featuring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as George and Martha, and it is wearing its years well, with its cat and mouse domestic power games and the young guests trapped like rabbits in headlights, appalled but almost unable to get up and leave.

In this production Imelda Staunton plays Martha, a sarcastic, gin-swilling, braying, frustrated, pathetic shadow of the girl she must have been during the war years in which George courted her.  Now she – as she admits in one revelatory moment – repels his kindness, attention and love with insults, clawing, and hatred.

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

Conleth Hill is absolutely superb as George, who has been squashed and silenced for so long that the bitterness has grown and simmered under a sad surface.  He’s a man who perhaps once had ambition to lead and rule, but the years have got to him.  Six years younger than Martha, he looks fifteen years older, with a careworn air and a resignation to the life fate has dealt him.

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

Into their gameplay come a young biologist who has recently joined the college, a blond muscleman who has a clear career trajectory and a healthy dose of contempt for those around him, and his mousy wife who drinks to mask her unhappiness at being unable to conceive or cope with the social demands of her world.  Luke Treadaway plays the young blade Nick who is played to perfection by the older couple as they have done so many times before; while Imogen Poots is tragically wan as his constantly upchucking wife, Honey, who has a love for brandy which might yet turn her into a Martha.

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

This is a wordy play, but one in which each word has weight and meaning, and the full effect is one of an emotional rollercoaster by the end of act three.  Starting as something of a black comedy, there are laughs to be found through the earlier scenes (trying to identify a Bette Davis movie) which quickly turn into something much more uncomfortable with the arrival of the guests and the games people play.  There was mainly pin-drop silence in the final scenes, which were beautifully done.

This is a sensational revival full of screams, shouts, spittle, smoking, sadness and occasional silence.  James Macdonald directs with a sense of space and occasion, with the one living room set and a number of off-set locations (upstairs, the downstairs cloakroom, the kitchen).  The language has perhaps been a little ripened since the original (the opening salvo to the young couple of ‘screw you’ has become rather stronger) but the meat of the piece is there.

I saw this from the front row so every nuance of gesture, reaction, or interaction was captured, giving the feeling that we were almost additional trapped guests ourselves.  As an honest depiction of two marriages this play gives us much food for thought, conjuring up images of the youthful George and Martha before life and circumstance trapped them, and a vision into the future to what awaits Nick and Honey.

Be quick if you want to see this as final performances are on Saturday 27th May.


42nd Street (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)

This is a big show.  A big big big show which opens with a chorus of 42 pairs of tapping feet as the curtain rises as if to say, top this!


Sheena Easton is still out with the ‘flu, so CJ Johnson is playing the brittle and slightly past-it Dorothy Brock, and she’s a knockout.  The Boulevard of Broken Dreams number is marvellous, and I Only Have Eyes for You is sweet.

As the young juvenile Billy Lawlor, Stuart Neal has bags of energy, and his musical comedy made me think of the great vaudevillian Bert Wheeler, a comic hoofer who also sang and played the eternal youth.

The pivotal role of Peggy Sawyer, who ‘goes out a youngster, but has to come back a star’, only works if the actress has that sprinkling of fairy dust which makes you think she has it, and Clare Halse has the innocence of a Ruby Keeler as well as the steel of a Ginger Rogers.

Tom Lister’s Julian Marsh may well be charmed by this fresh young thing who still believes in her dreams: she makes him less jaded, he makes her more knowing.

Also of note in the leading cast are Jasna Ivir and Christopher Howell as writers and low comedians Maggie and Bert.  Howell teams with Emma Caffrey’s Anytime Annie (‘the only time she said no she didn’t hear the question’) for Shuffle Off To Buffalo, while Ivir leads the girls in Go Into Your Dance.

I also like Bruce Montague’s hick millionaire Abner and Graeme Henderson’s dance captain Andy, the former a good comic foil and the latter an accomplished showman.

As for those routines, we get big staircases, a railway station, a mirror which reflects reclining ladies in a sequence which apes the best of Busby Berkeley, chorus lines of high camp and high kicks, beautiful costumes and countless set changes.

The songs are by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, direction by Mark Bramble, and the fabulous orchestra is conducted by Jae Alexander.


Carousel (London Coliseum)

This musical is one of my firm favourites, but the lead casting choices didn’t fill me with joy when they were first announced.  I’m familiar with both Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe as popular singers of mainly operatic fare (although neither have ever sung in a full-length opera), and to me they were hardly the embodiment of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan.

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However, the supporting cast and the spectacular full-staging has been gathering praise despite some lukewarm reviews from both professional and blogging critics, and I do like the score, so I bit the bullet and bought a couple of tickets in the Upper Circle, which were overpriced and allowed fairly awful views and minimal leg room.

The show, though, has some great numbers and the ensemble pieces were well-delivered (‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’, ‘Blow High, Blow Low’, ‘What’s The Use of Wond’rin’), with some excellent chorus work and choreography.  Derek Hagen as Jigger, Brenda Edwards as Nettie, and Davide Fienauri as the dancing Carnival Boy need special mention as they lifted the energy and engagement levels whenever they appeared.

Gavin Spokes gives a real comic edge as well as some serious singing class to the role of Mr Snow, while Alex Young is a splendid Carrie, rightly getting warm applause for ‘When I Marry Mr Snow’ and ‘When The Children Are Asleep’.  This last song is a duet between Young and Spokes, who demonstrate the chemistry that is sadly lacking in the big lead duet ‘If I Loved You’, which should pull the audience in to the sudden emotional and deep love between Billy and Julie.

Let’s talk about Katherine Jenkins as Julie.  It’s been reported that as well as company voice coaching she has been receiving private acting lessons, and they have rubbed off as well as can be expected.  However she cannot both sing sweetly and put across the complex emotional range needed for the character, leaving her numbers to be simply very nice to listen to for the melody.  But in Act Two, where she has to engage with her wayward daughter, she’s fairly convincing, and her casting wasn’t the disaster I feared.

Which leaves Alfie Boe as Billy.  Reviews have not been kind, primarily to the wig which has now been replaced with something more in keeping to what a carnival barker might have worn.  His acting has been derided, too, with him being described as ‘a floorboard’, ‘a child pretending to be an adult’, and similar.

It may be the way the role was directed, but his stance is not in the least sexy or smouldering as it should be, and he’s just not convincing, and we don’t really understand what Julie sees in him.  In fact at the start of the big seven-minute Act One closer, ‘Soliloquy’, the way he stood made me think of the actors who taught thick Prince George how to deliver a speech in Blackadder.

The ‘Soliloquy’, though, is the undoubted highlight of the role, and by the end, the strength of the song came through and the effect was rather touching; we did, at last, believe that this man had found the heart within himself on discovering he was to become a father.

The staging though was odd, with the revolving circle which had been used to great effect in the opening ‘Carousel Waltz’ overture to introduce all the character and the show’s name itself, in letters revolving, oddly, backwards.  In the ‘Soliloquy’ Boe spent most of the number alone, as is right and proper for a number in which the character vocalises his thoughts,  but I expected a bit more use of both space and backdrops than we got.

Act Two started with some drama, as we were told that Alfie Boe had been feeling progressively ill during the first act and was unable to continue, leaving understudy Will Barrett to come on and deal with the tricky scenes of Billy’s death, engagement with the Starmarker (Nicholas Lyndhurst, in little more than a cameo), and as an invisible observer to his daughter’s childhood.  It would be hard to judge Barrett’s singing in Act Two as not much is required, but I felt he acted the part better, overall, and had a more believable engagement with Jenkins, as well as with Amy Everett, playing their daughter Louise.

Lonny Price directs, and Josh Rhodes is the choreographer, with David Charles Abell conducting the ENO Orchestra.  And no matter what the publicity says, this is most certainly not a semi-staged musical, there is a full set, costumes and flavour.  I can’t recommend it unreservedly due to the weakness of the two leads, but it is not the dud I thought it would be.


The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (Theatre Royal Haymarket)

Edward Albee’s 2002 play is only on its first UK revival, and perhaps this is understandable as the audience for a black tragi-comedy about bestiality may be rather specialised.
When we first meet Martin  (Damian Lewis) and Stevie (Sophie Okonedo), their affectionate banter has the flavour of Noel Coward about it, mundane matters of forgetfulness and old school ties.

Hints that not all might be well come with a mysterious business card and an even more mysterious smell, which Stevie detects on her husband.   However his admission that he is in love with Sylvia, who is a goat, is only met with laughter and a joke about ‘the feed store’).

Martin’s friend Ross shows up to interview him, and finds him preoccupied.  Sensing a juicy story about an affair he’s primed to listen, enjoying the details until a photo of the other woman is revealed.  Yes, she is a goat.

Act Two is a moment of revelation, with wife and son incredulous at the news of the identity of ‘a certain Sylvia’.  This is Okonedo’s star turn,  quietly smashing plates and trying to fathom how her perfect marriage has collapsed (‘I’ve never been unfaithful, nor even with a cat.’).

Martin’s ‘epiphany’ when gazing in the eyes of Sylvia seems normal to him, and he displays obvious bewilderment about the other members of his animal-loving support group, with their regret about toying with pigs, geese and German Shepherds.

What starts as an uncomfortable black comedy slowly turns tragic, with the gay son of the house  (Archie Madekwe) struggling to accept his perfect dad could do such things.  His disturbance moves the plot into other taboo areas, briefly, but it is Okonedo’s final entrance and the killer punch concerning Sylvia which underlies the tragedy.

Lewis’ accent seems as vague as his character, but he pitches the role well, and the set design with expanding walls and breakable clay and sugar glass items sets the piece off perfectly.

This play isn’t for everyone – from the gasps in the theatre it hasn’t lost its power to shock, and the language as as ripe as you might imagine given the subject – but if you want something a bit different you might want to give this limited season (into early June) a try.


Window to the soul: singers I would recommend you try

Not movie related but something a little bit different, taking one aspect of film we all take from granted, music, and looking at the greatest instrument of all, the human voice.

These are the singers who have touched my heart, made me smile, made me laugh, made me cry, made me horny, made me dance with the sheer joy of being alive, made my jaw drop with their sheer awesomeness.

Some have been with me my whole life, some I found late, some far too late, but they are all in their own way incredible and part of the fabric of my musical DNA.

I know I have forgotten some. But in the spirit of diversity I have tried to cover most decades since film began. I’d like to include more ladies. I’m sad about the short lives of many of those listed here.

Discuss, ignore, celebrate. Entirely up to you.

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

J

K

L

M

N

O

P

Q

  • Philip Quast (1957- ). Definitive Javert. Play School Presenter in Oz. Amazing Eyes. Track of choice: Some Enchanted Evening youtu.be/4AgWWBcJ19c

R

S

T

V

W

Y

 


An American in Paris (Dominion Theatre)

The poster and publicity for this present it as ‘a new musical’, but that might surprise the Gershwins, who wrote this parade of songs (some from the 1951 film, some from other sources) which move along the story of Jerry Mulligan – here played by alternate Ashley Day in his debut in the role – and Lise Dassin, played by Leanne Cope, who also did the role on Broadway.

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He’s a soldier who stays in Paris after the Nazi occupation has been routed to become an artist, as idealistic Americans often do.  He keeps seeing pretty Lise and falls hard for her, knowing it cannot just be coincidence.  Soon they start meeting by the Seine, but she doesn’t want to discuss her past or personal circumstances.

Abrasive Adam Hochberg (David Seadon-Young) is the piano player and the commentator on the action, and it was fun to see him deal with a technical malfunction in the first scene which stopped the show at the big reveal of the video projection: we were soon off again, though, into the busy streets where Nazi sympathisers were still about and idealistic Frenchmen like Henri Baurel saw lucrative futures for them across the Channel.

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Jerry finds a patroness in the ‘international dilettante’ Milo Davenport (Zoë Rainey), a Ginger Rogers-like cougar who likes a lot more than his paintings, while on the periphery Henri’s parents M and Mme Baurel (Julian Forsyth and Jane Asher) worry about their son’s lack of interest in settling down to marriage, and slowly find their shared love of jazz music coming to the fore again.

The leads are required to mix styles from both grand ballet and musical theatre (Day is primarily from the latter, but his moves look stellar enough to me, and he has a glorious toothy smile which makes you warm to the character; Cope is a ballerina but displays a fine singing voice in her solo ‘The Man I Love’), and the show benefits from a talented company of dancers, swings and chorus.

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The sets need to be mentioned: Bob Crowley (formerly with the National and the RSC) is scene and costume designer, and 59 Productions Ltd are responsible for the many projections which conjure up time and place, as well as a feeling of being in a city which celebrates the creative arts.  And the music by George Gershwin with lyrics by brother Ira both feel timeless and a world away, with the friend scene-setting of ‘I Got Rhythm’ rubbing shoulders with Jerry’s solo ‘I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck’ and the four-part ‘For You, For Me, For Everymore’.

A couple of things I would change: ‘Stairway to Paradise’ cries out to be a huge production number with showgirls from the start, and Adam’s part is really reduced (OK, he’s not Oscar Levant who was essentially playing himself in the film, but still) so we lose some of the humour and asides the character could make.  There’s also something of a running joke of Henri being possibly gay which felt forced.

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Christopher Wheeldon directs and choreographs in the old style, and he does brilliantly, using his cast and his orchestrations (by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott, conducted by John Rigby).  This is just a good old-fashioned musical, with great tunes, more than competently performed.

And yes there is a long ballet to the ‘An American in Paris’ suite, full of eye-popping colours and flashy moves, punctuated by some tender pas de deux between Day and Cope.  Elsewhere, there are mirrors and windows, and misunderstandings, and even a Jew in hiding subplot, but the story isn’t really why we’re here.  Superlative.


Shirley Valentine (Richmond Theatre)

Willy Russell’s witty and poignant monologue is currently on its 30th anniversary UK tour, with Jodie Prenger playing the part of the mother and wife who grabs the opportunity to go to Greece for ‘sun, sea and taramasalata’.

When we first meet her she’s preparing a meal of chips and egg for her husband Joe, while talking to the wall and to us about this opportunity to go abroad with her friend Jane, and about her children Malandra and Brian, and her old schoolfriend Marjorie who has grown wealthy travelling the world as a hooker.

Shirley-V-83-700x455Jodie Prenger, photo by Manuel Harlan

Shirley Bradshaw, as she is now, has no time for adventure, and has seen the romance slowly decline from her marriage.  Her daughter takes her for granted, and her son has become something of a dropout (the story about his Nativity play appearance is a hoot).  She wonders where the girl she once was has gone and finds herself, at 42, afraid of ‘the life beyond the wall’.

Act 1 introduces these main characters, plus next-door neighbour, nosy Gillian.  Prenger gives Shirley a believable voice, although her accent wavers now and then.  In her very detailed 80s kitchen, with the dated decor she and Joe painted a lifetime ago when they were in love, splashing each other with paint and then washing it off together in the bath, she confides that she is now ignored and although Joe claims he loves her, he’d hardly notice if she wasn’t there.

By Act 2, she’s got her suitcase packed and is ready for Greece in an eye-poppingly awful hat and suit.  There’s a story about her temptation to buy M&S scanties and shocking Gillian with a tall tale about a lover, which her neighbour believes, dropping off a silk robe for Shirley to wear on holiday.

Shirley-V-122_1000_667Jodie Prenger, photo by Manuel Harlan

Act 3 is in Greece, where Shirley has swapped her wall for a rock to talk to, and has discovered love while skinny dipping with Costas from the local taverna (‘I call him Christopher Columbus’).  It’s a holiday fling, as transient as the dream she has of sitting and drinking wine by the sea, but slowly the confidence returns and Shirley Valentine, as she once was, overshadows Mrs Bradshaw.

There are laugh out loud moments in this clever play (‘Gooey’ being one of them, and the anecdote about the stretch marks another), but I found the ending rather sad in a way, as we guess that Shirley may eventually go back to England and home and family, and go back to the life of cooking for Joe and talking to the wall.  Is her Greek adventure simply a middle-aged fantasy?


Amadeus (National Theatre, Olivier)

This production of Peter Shaffer’s play came to a close last night, but returns to the National in 2018, so don’t despair if you missed out this time.

The Oscar-winning film, made in 1984, might be the version most people know of this play, but that was considerably opened out with some plot points changed.  F Murray Abraham gained a Best Actor win for his performance as Salieri, the Court Composer who wished to remain as immortal as his professional foe, the childish yet supremely gifted Mozart.  Mozart himself was played by Tom Hulce, who gave the role a considered amount of pathos alongside the hyper crudeness of the man.

I mention all this because I rate the film as one of my all-time favourites.  I have seen the play performed before, at the Theatre Royal York, fourteen years ago, with Malcolm Rennie as Salieri and Daniel Hart as Mozart, in a production directed by Tim Luscombe.  Looking back now, it seems the press didn’t think much of it, and it was presented very much as an intimate monologue by a man well aware of his own mediocrity.

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The National’s revival, directed by Michael Longhurst, is a large-scale production which uses the Olivier’s drum revolve as an orchestra pit, presents dance versions of Mozart’s greatest pieces, and suffers from an absolutely ghastly performance from Adam Gillen as the precocious composer who crashes about, pouting, posturing, gurning, and lisping, throughout.  Some may argue this is the part ‘as written’ but it has no colour, no gradients, no balance, and as such is a fatal flaw in the play for me.  You may wish to laugh at Mozart or even cringe at his foul-mouthed excesses, but when the play turns tragic and the final scenes require pathos, I didn’t get any sense of it.

 

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Lucian Msamati plays Salieri, and, some curious accent choices aside (if you’re playing Italian you either play it throughout, or don’t bother), he is very good indeed, whether ingratiating himself with the audience, or raging at the God who has left him with the ambition to achieve fame, but has bestowed only an average talent, destined to be forgotten.

His ravings as an old man, wheelchair-bound, and stating that he killed the great composer Mozart, is not believed, and so in obscurity his name will remain.  I didn’t care for the modern-dress staging of the early scenes, where the orchestra (Southbank Sinfonia, who are wonderful) take selfies on their phones, and Salieri takes a pause to guzzle Krispy Kremes.

But the music – and the set staging for these pieces – can forgive a great deal and elevate a middling and long-winded production into something rather more.  You may agree with Tom Edden’s Joseph II, who complains that there are ‘too many words’, but I guarantee you will be moved by the Kyrie from the Requiem.


Honeymoon in Vegas (London Palladium)

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra presented a special concert version of ‘Honeymoon in Vegas: The Musical’ last night at the London Palladium, conducted by the composer, Jason Robert Brown.

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Based on the 1992 film, this musical teams a rather silly story with an old-fashioned but punchy score from Jason Robert Brown, who also penned the lyrics, which are sometimes clever but now and again straying into the area of corn (a ballad ‘Out of the Sun’ provoked giggles across the auditorium with its SPF references and it didn’t quite hit the funny/touching vibe I suspect the song should have).

The book by Andrew Bergman is slight but keeps the action moving, and even in a concert version, images of Vegas showgirls and parachuting Elvii (a definite showstopping number referencing the stance and vocal inflections of the King) are effortlessly conjured up.

Arthur Darvill’s Jack opens up proceedings with one of those delightful list songs, ‘I Love Betsy’, which references all the things his girlfriend likes (“she likes hockey, no, I swear / she likes guys with thinning hair’) while celebrating his love for her.  He puts the song across well, with good engagement with the audience while acting out the text.  His singing was a nice surprise as well, with an old-timer charm.

Betsy is played by Samantha Barks who is slinky and playful, but stronger in her solo numbers (especially ‘Betsy’s Getting Married’ which sizzles and fizzes) than in her duets with Darvill.  Having said this, the whole cast feel more relaxed and comfortable in their roles and in the concert format as the show progresses, and everyone essentially does a good job.

Gangster sleazeball Tommy, who sees in Betsy a resemblance to his dead wife, is played well by Maxwell Caulfield, who makes up for a lack of singing ability with the right characterisation of a wealthy man who thinks he can buy happiness but eventually knows when he’s been bested – by Betsy!  Rosemary Ashe does her best to steal scenes as the ghost of Jack’s mother, while Simon Lipkin is both the Bublé-like lounge singer and the hip-shaking leader of the flying Elvises. 

This show, directed by Shaun Kerrison, is a lot of fun, with the kind of music that makes you want to tap your feet and click your fingers, while the songs move on the action just as they did in the golden age of stage musicals.

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra, now in its second full year, is packed with excellent musicians who can do anything from put on the jazz to provide a beautiful melody.  Their vision is to have fun with music, and also to develop new professional players, and they do both with aplomb.

Thanks to Premier PR for arranging this night out.


Lost Without Words (National Theatre)

On the look for something a bit different, I went to see ‘Lost Without Words’ yesterday evening.  It’s a co-production between the National Theatre and Improbable, a company who work heavily on improvised pieces.

In this case the actors are a group of veterans all over seventy.  Caroline Blakiston, Lynn Farleigh, Georgine Anderson, Anna Calder-Marshall, Tim Preece, and Charles Kay (although he did not appear last night).  They are gently prompted and given suggestions by the directors (Lee Simpson and Phelim McDermott) who are on the stage, and there are additional people improvising lighting, sound, and musical accompaniments.

lostforwordsimageTim Preece, Anna Calder-Marshall, Caroline Blakiston, Lynn Farleigh.  Photo by Atri Banerjee.

I really liked it.  It ran for an hour and I think we had six different scenes.  The first was a mother and daughter at the beach, eating fish and chips, then swimming (Farleigh and Anderson did this one, with some nice work relating to Anderson’s reappearing walking stick).

Then a ‘game’ where the letter s could not be included, which was played as a father emigrating with work and his daughter worrying about it, with slips from both getting oohs from the audience (Preece and Calder-Marshall).  Following that a piece between two people who have lived together a long time but still find everything interesting, at breakfast (“Marmite toast!”), which turned out to be two sisters plus a ghostly visit from mum when one sister had gone for a lie down (Calder-Marshall and Blakiston, plus Farleigh at the end).

A piece where a couple trade wishes and have the last dance of their lives under a conveniently descending glitterball (Preece and Farleigh).  A group scene for a birthday which ended up hinting at cross-dressing and a lovely line about being allergic to rabbit skin (all five).  And a largely solo piece including a brokenly sung aria about love, with a ghostly husband visiting at the end (Blakiston, and briefly Preece).

It was a joy to watch this group of actors at work in a playful, funny, and ultimately touching piece about relationships, age, and dreams.  It is, apparently, totally unscripted, so there were prompts like “this is called Mum decides to swim for the first time”, “one of you says they feel tired and are going for a lie down, leaving this character alone”, “this is the last dance of their lives”, “you were singing something then and it was lovely, so let it come out”, etc.

It doesn’t feel forced or fake, and is beautifully performed.  I’m assuming each show is unique given the improvising aspect.

It plays until the 18th of March and if this sounds like your kind of thing, do check it out.


Twelfth Night (National Theatre)

Gender-bending in Shakespeare is nothing new.  We have had female Hamlets (Frances de La Tour, Maxine Peake), Lears (Kathryn Hunter, Glenda Jackson), Richard IIs (Fiona Shaw), Henry IVs (Harriet Walter), Prosperos (Helen Mirren), and even Horatios and Poloniuses on film.  Last year I saw a gender-flipped Taming of the Shrew with the male roles played by women, and the female roles by men.

Twelfth Night itself has been played by an all-male cast before, and here we have women playing the roles of Malvolia (Malvolio), Feste, and Fabia (Fabian), together with an obviously signposted gay Antonio (Adam Best – his suggested meeting place for Sebastian is a bar which has leather types and a Kinky Boots Lola-lite drag singer).   It gives a freshness to the story of the twins who believe each other lost at sea, and the choice of Viola to assume a male identity as one Cesario, in which guise both Olivia, and Orsino, fall in love with her.

tn1Tamsin Grieg and Doon Mackichan, image by Marc Brenner.

Tamsin Greig is top-billed as Malvolia, who spends most of the early part of the play as a Mrs Danvers-type of overbearing lesbian housekeeper, with a severe hairstyle which befits her station.  As the plot progresses we have a delicious piece of comedy with the letter scene, where she ends up cavorting in the garden’s fountain, a dark interlude where she is imprisoned and tortured by Sir Toby and cohorts, and a final reveal and climb during ‘The Wind and the Rain’.  Greig gives life to the often-thankless role of the steward, and we feel truly sorry for her at the end.

The set design of this production (Soutra Gilmour, James Farncombe, Christopher Shutt) is truly inspired, dominated by two staircases which move and morph, utilising the Olivier’s drum revolve beautifully, and by water features which appear and disappear (the fountain, a swimming pool into which Olivia hauls Cesario, and an eventual fall of rain).  The lighting and the sound are both excellent, from the chandelier which comes down to signpost an opulent living space, to the distant thump of the beatbox to which Toby and his drunken friends carouse while Malvolia watches Olivia sleep.

Orsino (Oliver Chris) is largely played for laughs, although his maturity is signposted by a 40th birthday party scene in which Viola/Cesario first realises her love for him (and he for her/him?).  Sir Toby (Tim McMullan) is a bawdy drunk, but not a Falstaff-like one – he cuts a fine dash in his swimming trunks and in a certain light might even be called attractive.  Sir Andrew (Daniel Rigby, who was so memorable as the young Eric Morecambe on television), is a hipster who shows both his active side (raucous dancing moves), and his softer side (hugging the teddy bear Orsino gave to Olivia at the bus stop in the closing scene of the play).

twelfth-night-2017-12Daniel Ezra and Adam Best, image by Marc Brenner.

Viola and Sebastian don’t really look like each other – she’s smaller and slighter – but Tamara Lawrence has a youthful swagger that might pass for a young man trying out his muscles, and Daniel Ezra does well in the scenes with Antonio, and where he recognises his thought-dead sister.  Phoebe Fox is a fine Olivia, nominally in mourning for her brother but given to boogieing when she thinks no one is looking, and her anger at the deception which has cruelly wronged Malvolia feels real.  Niky Wardley is Maria, with her nose and cheeks coloured by red lipstick in the drinking scene, and she’s good.

Imogen Doel is Fabia, Doon Mackichan has the tricky role of Feste, and although she has a great singing voice, the comedy of the part is lost (I don’t think the gender change is a successful one here).  Simon Godwin directs, and this adaptation goes on for three hours, but feels less.

I’d call it a definite success, which brings out the emotional heart of the play as well as the broad comedy underneath.

tn3Daniel Rigby and Niky Wardley, image by Marc Brenner.

Twelfth Night runs at the Olivier, National Theatre, until 13th May 2017.


The Little Foxes, 1941 – ★★★★½

This rarely seen Bette Davis drama is the ultimate study of greed within a family, with the monstrous Regina (Davis) plotting the life and fate of her winsome daughter Alexandra (Teresa Wright, making her screen debut).

This story of the old South does not move much from its stage origins – in which Tallulah Bankhead played Regina. It cries out for colour but with Gregg Toland’s camera work and William Wyler’s direction it looks fairly sumptuous as it is.

A fizzing plot keeps this family saga going, and when the estranged and ill man of the house (Herbert Marshall) comes back we can sit back and enjoy a couple of stars at their best.

Davis was Oscar nominated for her turn as the austere, white-faced matriarch plotter, but lost the big prize to Joan Fontaine, who won for Suspicion .

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


West Side Story, 1961 – ★★★★★

UK viewers, this is on right now on My5. So if you haven’t seen it, tune your television this minute!

Romeo and Juliet in New York. Natalie Wood wasn’t Puerto Rican, nor could she sing (she’s dubbed by Marni Nixon), but she’s, as her character Maria tells us ‘so pretty’, she falls in love so sweetly, and her last sentence is absolutely heartbreaking.

Richard Beymer couldn’t sing either (he was dubbed by Jimmy Bryant) but his Tony is chiseled perfection, the gang member who would rather have a job, who grows up but still stands up for his best friend Riff (the Mercutio of this tale, played by ever-acrobatic Russ Tamblyn), and in doing so, pitches both sides into tragedy.

Leonard Bernstein provided the music, a fusion of Latino with street slang, and a young Stephen Sondheim started his lifelong flirtation with wordplay on the lyrics. Jerome Robbins did most of the choreography, and directed key pieces although Robert Wise gets the credit. Robbins did ‘The Jet Song’, ‘America’, ‘Cool’ …

Tucker Smith plays Ice, and he also sings for Riff in the opening number, and his flicked hair and pale blue eyes make you look out for him in scenes. Eliot Feld, a glorious dancer, is Baby John, and just watch him go in the ensemble numbers. Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, real-life lovers in 1961, sizzle as Anita and Bernardo, both gaining Best Supporting wins at the Oscars for their trouble. Moreno is a sensation in the role most comparable to Juliet’s Nurse.

Then there’s the song ‘Maria’. Maria, Maria, Maria. The most beautiful song for the most beautiful girl sung by the most beautiful boy after their eyes have locked across a crowded dance floor and everyone else melts away to blurs. It’s a shout-out of love and joy and one of the greatest musical movie moments ever put on the screen.

Tony and Maria in the wedding scene, in the bridal shop, in the evening. Doc (Ned Glass) in the Friar’s role, letting the lovers meet even though he knows and understands the dangers. The tenements that gleam when they should be downtrodden. John Astin trying to keep order at the dance, while the boys and girls spit and hiss at each other, sometimes with hate, sometimes with lust.

Susan Oakes as Anybodys, who might just be the first musical depiction of a trans boy. Gina Trikonis as Riff’s girl, Tony Mordente as Action, David Winters as A-Rab. Maria wanting her neckline lowered just a little bit, just a little bit, as she is no longer wanting her dress for playing.

The perfection of ‘A Boy Like That/I Have a Love’, where Anita glimpses the rumpled bed and where Maria asserts her newly found knowing-ness. Love is love is love even after the unthinkable has happened, and Anita in her grief can help or hinder just anything.

Jose DaVega is Chino, and he’s a decent sort, but he will cause us to cry by the end, and even sarcastic Lieutenant Schrank to take a breath, just a little. That ending, the saddest of all endings, but a glimmer of hope, just maybe, before we switch to the graffiti inspired credits.

Did I mention how much I love this film?

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Sense and Sensibility, 1995 – ★★★★

Watched for Valentine’s Night, of course!

I remember very clearly going to see this at the cinema twenty-two years ago.

It was the evening of ‘sighs’ with three factions of female viewers, interested in either Hugh Grant (Edward Ferrars, the nice brother of the ghastly Fanny Dashwood, whose selfishness has turfed the second family of the dead Mr Dashwood from their family home), Greg Wise (the gentleman cad John Willoughby, who sets aflame the youthful heart of silly Marianne), or Alan Rickman (the solid, dependable and quaintly romantic Colonel Brandon).

This adaptation of the Jane Austen novel was scripted by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee, and does its best to cover the emotional ground of the story within a couple of hours. The Dashwood sisters are played by Thompson herself (Elinor), a youthful and rather delightful Kate Winslet (Marianne), and Emilie François (Margaret).

Aside from the burgeoning romances (which are beautifully done) there are lots of simple pleasures: Robert Hardy’s blustering cleric, Elizabeth Spriggs’ gossip, Imelda Staunton’s twittering gossip’s daughter, Gemma Jones’s stately widow, Imogen Stubbs’s scheming fortune-hunter and Harriet Walter’s awful snob do great supporting work in bringing Austen’s strong characterisations to life.

All is well that ends well, of course, and off the screen, too, as Thompson and Wise started their own romance which has endured since then, while Richard Lumsden (who plays Fanny and Edward’s brother Robert) married Thompson’s actress sister Sophie.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


The Cuckoos, 1930 – ★★★½

“I love you so much, I can’t conceal it. I love you so much, it’s a wonder you don’t feel it.”

This film adaptation of the 1920s stage musical The Ramblers was the second teaming of the vaudeville comedy team Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, and their first as the stars, following their successful supporting turn in Rio Rita the year before.

The team’s brand of cross-talk, cutesy spiel, and musical routines may look a little clunky now, but before RKO launched their series of musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, these two were the biggest money-spinners for the studio.

I personally enjoy them very much, and here there is the benefit of some scenes in two-strip Technicolor, plus the kewpie doll Dorothy Lee and the statuesque Jobyna Howland in support. Hugh Trevor and June Clyde play cloying young lovers who are secretly engaged, but the real interest as ever is in seeing Bert and Dottie find their way through tentative flirting.

Raymond Maurel leads an opera chorus, while there are fiery Gypsy routines in front of an admittedly static and stage-bound set. This musical comedy is sparky, cute, fun and leaves you with a smile on your face, if you’re so inclined.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Her Man, 1930 – ★★★½

A nice restoration for this Pre-Code film, directed by Tay Garnett and showing at the BFI Southbank as part of a season curated by Martin Scorsese.

Ricardo Cortez is the psychopathic Johnny whose girl, Frankie, the sad-eyed and down at heel thief who entices chaps in the bar with promises of gin and companionship, dreams of a new life away from the filth and grime of the island on which she was born and is trapped.

James Gleason and Harry Sweet provide the comedy, in a long running gag about an one-armed bandit game and the fey Franklin Pangborn’s hat.

Hot Toddy (Thelma) isn’t a blonde for a change but she’s bad through and through, while Dan the hero sailor, played by a singing Phillips Holmes with ever increasing holes in his shirt, charms Frankie, eventually replacing her worn old shoes and praying next to her in church.

Dark as pitch in places (Johnny’s knife throwing, and glowering watching of Frankie), with clever sand and sea wave titles, this has a nicely done if obvious drunk old broad routine from Marjorie Rambeau, whose cackling laugh in the film’s closing scene is oddly moving.

Perhaps not a lost masterpiece, but certainly worth a second look.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Round the Horne (Richmond Theatre)

This show is currently touring as the ’50th anniversary tour’ and if it isn’t quite as opulent and high-budget as the version which took up residence in the West End some years ago, it does include a number of spot-on impersonations of the cast of the much-loved radio programme – which you can hear for yourselves in repeats currently running on Radio 4 Extra.

roundthehorne

‘Round the Horne’ carried on from where ‘Beyond Our Ken’ left off, and had the deep-voiced Kenneth Horne as the master of ceremonies and participant in a range of songs, skits and characterisations in each half-hour show.  Douglas Smith was the announcer, with Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Kenneth Williams as the cast who gave us some memorable characters as Julian and Sandy, Dr Chu En Ginsberg, Seamus Android (a parody of Eamonn Andrews), Rambling Syd Rumpo, Fiona and Charrrrrrles, J Peasemould Gruntfruttock, and more.

Musical interludes included manglings of ‘I Remember It Well’ and ‘Poor Old Father’, while Douglas Smith, when not slipping in adverts for ‘Dobbieroids’ plays a life raft, a volcano, and other inanimate objects.  Horne is a spy in ‘The Man With The Golden Thunderball’ and Lord Horseposture in ‘The Admirable Loombucket’.  Paddick and Williams give us Shakespeare’s ‘Seven ages of man’ in Polari, and Betty Marsden shares her recipes to cook rhinoceros and yak.

It’s a tribute to the talented cast to say that at many points they do conjure up the actors they are playing.  Colin Elmer is especially good as Williams, whether singing about cordwangles or going off piste with the script in mock outrage, while Eve Winters is a glorious Marsden, whether throwing herself into the ‘I know you know’ routine or the ‘Many, many times’ in a shaking Thatcherite voice.  You may remember Marsden as Terry Scott’s bossy wife in “Carry On Camping” with the braying laugh.

Alex Scott Fairley is Paddick, Julian Howell McDowell is Horne, and Alan Booty is Smith, and all are excellent.  Miles Russell is the sound engineer who provides musical and effects accompaniment, and the cumulative effect is that of a true radio production back in time at the BBC.


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Emily Baycroft

Currently a final year English student at the University of Cambridge. Producing Intern for Fuel Theatre July-October 2016. Aspiring Arts Administrator/Theatre Producer, blogging about my projects (mostly).

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"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

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Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

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Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

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just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

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The Phantom Frame

Information about the creative works of Gareth Preston

West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Archive Television Musings

"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

The Actor's Advocate

In defence of acting

Loud Alien Noize

Revealing the True Origins of Silence

Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies

Blog titling at its best

Emily Baycroft

Currently a final year English student at the University of Cambridge. Producing Intern for Fuel Theatre July-October 2016. Aspiring Arts Administrator/Theatre Producer, blogging about my projects (mostly).

MTAS

West End Reviews | West End Challenges | Exclusive West End News

A Red Lip And A Nude Shoe

Dior Dreams On A Kmart Budget

is there room for me to sew?

Quilting, Reading and the Movies

Jaime Rebanal's Film Thoughts

Cinema - moving around life one film at a time.

The Case for Jeanette and Nelson

"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

Hiss and Tell

Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

Random Blogger from Jersey, Channel Islands, UK. Not Noo Jersey, USA. Expect the unexpected. Life's too short to be niche.

[insert title here]

just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

buchanblog

A trip down Memorex lane

The Phantom Frame

Information about the creative works of Gareth Preston

West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Archive Television Musings

"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

The Actor's Advocate

In defence of acting

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