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.

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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.

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‘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.


The Tragedy of Hamlet, 2002 – ★★★★

Peter Brook adapted two Shakespeare plays for the screen, and both are very interesting experiments. The 1971 ‘King Lear’ with Paul Scofield is perhaps the best known, but this version of ‘Hamlet’ is my favourite of the two.

Pared down to two and a quarter hours, with a third of the text removed and other passages moved around, characters cut, and with a multi-ethnic cast (black Hamlet and Ghost/Claudius, Indian Laertes/Ophelia, Oriental Player King, white Polonius/Horatio), this is a minimal production, sparsely staged, but with weight on the words without distraction.

Adrian Lester plays the Dane, and he is every inch the bleakly indecisive student. This was an early role for him but he ranks with the best of interpreters of this greatest of Shakespeare leads. Natasha Parry (Brook’s wife) makes a stately Gertrude, but without the artifice or middle-aged lust other actresses have given her. She is a tragic by-product of the dark court of Denmark.

Scott Handy is Horatio, and his verse-speaking is excellent, as befits a regular cast member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Last seen in the TV series ‘Hunted’ and ‘The Village’ he is the blank canvas on to which Hamlet can project his angst and dissatisfaction; he is the devoted friend who will not question even the madness that seems to afflict the Prince, causing his cruelest actions and thoughts.

This is not a starter Hamlet for those new to the play; rather one for those who are familiar with the piece and open to see it tweaked and explored for a new audience.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


She Loves Me (Menier Chocolate Factory)

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A delightful revival of the Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock musical is running on London’s fringe right now, and I heartily recommend it.

You might have come across this story before, in the films ‘The Shop Around The Corner’, ‘In The Good Old Summertime’ or ‘You’ve Got Mail’.  You might have seen the versions shown on television in 1978 and on digital live-streaming last year.

Georg Nowack (played at the performance I saw by understudy Peter Dukes, who was rather good, if a little plain) is an awkward bachelor who serves as one of the sales clerks in the perfumery of Mr Maraczek (Les Dennis, whose decision to use a truly awful accent colours his role) in 1930s Budapest.  He’s been corresponding with an unknown lady after placing an ad in the lonely hearts column, and he’s going to meet her soon for the first time.

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Amalia Balash (a perky Scarlett Strallen, who steals the show with her “Vanilla Ice Cream”) comes to the shop for a job and instantly finds herself at odds with Nowack, and she is also corresponding with a ‘Dear Friend’ which we quickly find out, is her nemesis himself.  In the meantime, Ilona Ritter, a vision of bad hair dye and thick make-up (played with scene-stealing effervescence by Katherine Kingsley, who has a whole library of comic expressions and barely disguised malice) is dating smarmy cad and fellow shop-worker Steven Kodaly (Kingsley’s real-life spouse, Dominic Tighe, who is perfectly hissable) and watching her life slowly slip away.

The main cast is rounded out by Ladislav Sipos (Alastair Brookshaw, playing the twitchy family man who ‘never disagrees’, with aplomb) and a new discovery, Callum Howells as delivery boy Arpad Lazslow, whose “Try Me” is an Act 2 delight.  Norman Pace has joined the cast as Head Waiter, and he’s lots of fun in the restaurant scene, and surprisingly strong-voiced.  I also liked the couple who found romance through reading: “Victor!”  “Hugo!”

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For a fringe production in a small venue, a lot of thought has gone into the revolving sets and production design, and Paul Farnsworth definitely deserves praise for his sparkles, bright colours, and leaf/snow combination indicators of the change of the seasons.  Fine choreography too, and a more-than-decent house band give the fifty-something songs life and breadth (although the repetitive ‘Thank you madam’ refrains could easily be chopped after the first couple of times).  If only the wigs had looked a little more realistic, it would have been quite perfect; but this is a fun little confection that certainly raises a smile in this winter season.

‘She Loves Me’ continues at the Menier until the 4th March 2017.


Hedda Gabler (National Theatre)

Ibsen’s difficult late play comes to the National Theatre in a new version by Patrick Marber, directed by Ivo van Hove.  In a modern production, set in one white box, minimally furnished, and airless except for one window (adding to the oppression of the story), it begins with two figures already on stage, one sitting motionless on a chair to the side, and one playing the piano, occasionally flinging themselves forward on to the keys in frustration or despair.

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The former is the maid, Berte (Éva Magyar), who throughout the play is present, seeing everything along with the audience, but ignoring all just as she is largely ignored.  The latter is the titular Hedda Gabler (Ruth Wilson), newly married to academic Dr Tesman (Kyle Soller, here using his American accent rather than the one we have grown used to in his appearances as the doomed Francis Poldark on television) but bored and without purpose.

“Academics are no fun!” she whines, and even stapleguns flowers to the walls when she is particularly fed up.  Not for this new bride the glow of happiness – even the expensive house she now lives in is theirs purely through a quirk of fate, a caprice that made Tesman think she had “set her heart on it.”  She is trapped in circumstances she is powerless to change, in a cage from which she can not break free.

For Tesman’s part he can’t believe his luck, not just that the General’s daughter has chosen him, but that he has “special access” to her body.  This makes him just as unsympathetic a character as their supposed friend, Brack (Rafe Spall) who is a smooth but repellent sexual predator who, in the final few scenes of the play, defiles and abuses Hedda in a most appalling and shocking way, helped by an inspired use of prop design to provide the gore often missing from this play.

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Hedda Gabler is a proud woman, but not in any way a nice one.  She torments her school friend, Mrs Elsted (Sinéad Matthews) and ruins her life, under the cloak of supposed kindness.  She goads the weak-willed career rival of her husband’s, Lovborg, her former lover, into desolation and destruction while fantasizing of the beauty of his “wearing vine leaves in his hair”.  She lies, cheats, manipulates, and destroys.  She is a viper in her words, too, hurting the kindly but interfering Tesman aunt (Kate Duchêne), and pushing away her devoted husband.

This production may rely too much on musical interludes (‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell appears several times, and ‘Hallelujah’ the Leonard Cohen song, as rendered by Jeff Buckley – but clumsily edited – cuts into one scene), but its sparseness and the decision to stage much of the action on the fringes of the stage worked well for me, as it forces the eye to follow the characters as they separate or interact.  Entrances and exits are blurred, so we end up unsure as to the proportions of the room(s) we are viewing.  A video entry phone is the only concession to technology.

Marber’s adaptation may bring more laughs to the fore than the piece requires, but there is no denying the cumulative power of script, direction, and performance.  Wilson, Soller, Spall and Matthews are all excellent, with only Chukwudi Iwuji’s Lovborg missing that final note of mental disintegration that his fate would seemingly require.   Hedda’s final act may shock some, “People do not do such things”, but at least the events of this production are delivered in such a way that she clearly does not have a choice if she is not to spend her days in a living hell.

Image credit: Jan Versweyveld.


A Christmas Carol (Arts Theatre)

Just outside of the festive season a trip to see a retelling of the Dickens classic was in order, although when I say ‘classic’ I was amused to hear one person behind me having the whole story explained to them before the show started.

A one-man show, with Simon Callow in fine feckle as the grumpy and avericious old Scrooge, also essaying at various points the entire Cratchit family, the old Fezziwigs dancing, the jovial nephew Fred, the fat merchants, the spirits, and more.

The story may be familiar but this version has humour and effective simplicity in its sets (a solitary candle, some chairs, clever lighting, a screen, and a handful of props and ideas from a snowy street to an open window).  The power of suggestion comes from Callow’s gift as a storyteller, and this is a lovely festive piece of theatre.

Last performances today.


Katherine Jenkins (Barbican Centre)

This was the last date of Katherine Jenkins’ ‘Celebration’ tour, but with the Christmas carols dropped and a new guest performer in John Owen-Jones.

I am not much of a fan of Jenkins and her light classical crossover warbling, although taken purely as an entertainment her show certainly seems to please her hardcore fans of men of a certain age and their wives.

‘Santa Baby’ added a sprinkle of fun, and three dress changes and a crystal encrusted microphone gave a dash of glamour: there was strong accompaniment from the London Concert Orchestra conducted by Anthony Inglis (Die Fledermaus and Sleigh Bells opening both halves of the show).

In anticipation of the upcoming ENO production of ‘Carousel’ in which Jenkins makes her musical theatre debut in April, she treated us to a stirring ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, while more traditional repertoire included an Italian translation of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Sanctus’ (to the melody of Elgar’s Nimrod).

John Owen-Jones is always a solid proposition, having served long stints in the musicals ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Les Miserables’, and we heard a song from each plus one from the underrated ‘Love Never Dies’, the lovely ‘Maria’ from ‘West Side Story’, one from ‘Miss Saigon’ (with a slight lyric fluff), and even the Eurovision winner from Conchita Wurst a couple of years ago, ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’.  

A duet of ‘Barcelona’ with Jenkins didn’t really work though, and she shone most convincingly in anthems like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’.


The Dresser (Duke of York’s)

Ronald Harwood’s play, inspired in part by his own experience as dresser to the actor-manager Donald Wolfit, creaks a little these days but this is still a very enjoyable revival.

dresser

‘Sir’ is the leading man in a touring company (‘next week, God willing, we will be in Eastbourne’), who, along with his ‘lady wife’, presents Shakespeare in a haphazard way to an audience who are probably as bored with the proceedings as those in the company (‘cripples, old men, and nancy boys’).  In this version of the play Sir is portrayed by Ken Stott, and at first I thought he was a little miscast, but as the play progressed he grew into the role and by the end was really rather effective.

In the main role of Norman, the dresser, Reece Shearsmith is wonderfully waspish and camp as the man who has been responsible for the cheering up of his charge and the ‘washing of his foul underpants’ for some sixteen years.  This man sees the lie of the land and realises that the game is up, and yet he still has to play-act just as much as those on stage.  His timing is faultless and his acting cuts straight to the heart, whether making us laugh with his constant refrain of ‘I had a friend’, or touching us with his final scenes of loneliness and desperation.

dresser2

Supporting roles go to Simon Rouse, as the doddery Thornton, who for years has soldiered on in the smallest of parts, but tonight has to play the Fool; Harriet Thorpe as Her Ladyship, now too old to care anything for her career or her sham marriage; and Selina Cadell as the quietly devoted but steely stage manager Madge.

I would like to give a nod to the set and staging too, Simon Higlett’s revolving backstage and wings, and Sean Foley’s direction, which is spot on, whether in the intimate two-handed scenes between Stott and Shearsmith, or the amusing opening of ‘King Lear’ (‘methinks I saw the King’) or the later storm, requiring all hands on deck.  In fact, Lear is the perfect depiction of the backstage drama, too, with Norman as the Fool, who although ever present, finds he has ‘slipped out of sight’ when he reads Sir’s book dedication.


Deep Purple studio albums revisited – part two

Following on from part one, which dealt with the output of Deep Purple pre-split, this post will look at their reunion albums up to and including Purpendicular.  This means the most recent four albums are missing, but I no longer actively follow that line-up of the band and it would be wrong of me to comment on something in which I had no interest!

Mark Five (Mark Two, rebooted)

  • Vocals – Ian Gillan
  • Guitar – Ritchie Blackmore
  • Bass – Roger Glover
  • Keyboards – Jon Lord
  • Drums – Ian Paice

This definitive line-up returned in 1984 with one of the best rock records ever made, which still stands up today.  Then a mis-step towards commerciality and another breakup caused the band’s musical style to waver, before a final catastrophic collapse in 1993.

The albums

‘Perfect Strangers’, released October 1984

  • Knocking at Your Back Door
  • Under The Gun
  • Nobody’s Home
  • Mean Streak
  • Perfect Strangers
  • A Gypsy’s Kiss
  • Wasted Sunsets
  • Hungry Daze
  • Not Responsible (cassette and CD only)

High point: there are so many, with hardly a dud throughout the album.  But if pushed, the beautiful ‘Wasted Sunsets’.

Low point: A Gypsy’s Kiss is probably the one I listen to least of this set.

Marks out of five: five.

‘The House of Blue Light’, released January 1987

  • Bad Attitude
  • The Unwritten Law
  • Call of the Wild
  • Mad Dog
  • Black and White
  • Hard Lovin’ Woman
  • The Spanish Archer
  • Strangeways
  • Mitzi Dupree
  • Dead or Alive

High point: it’s a strange album which is far too geared to the idea of the ‘radio play’ single.  But I love the organ bits on Bad Attitude.

Low point: Black and White is pretty unmemorable.

Marks out of five: two.

Mark Six

  • Vocals – Joe Lynn Turner
  • Guitar – Ritchie Blackmore 
  • Bass – Roger Glover 
  • Keyboards – Jon Lord 
  • Drums – Ian Paice 

Ian Gillan’s departure from the band brought former Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner back to be reunited with former colleagues Blackmore and Glover, with a new slick sound for the band.  Sadly after one excellent album and tour this association came to an end.

Album:

‘Slaves and Masters’, released October 1990

  • King of Dreams
  • The Cut Runs Deep
  • Fire in the Basement
  • Truth Hurts
  • Breakfast in Bed
  • Love Conquers All
  • Fortuneteller 
  • Too Much is Not Enough
  • Wicked Ways

High point: Fortuneteller is worth a couple of minutes of anyone’s time.

Low point: I like Too Much is Not Enough, but it isn’t a Deep Purple song.

Marks out of five: five

Mark Seven (another reboot for Mark Two)

This reunion was a mistake and the resulting album does not stand up well today. Perhaps it is a conflict of styles. But its dated rock sounds and pretty dreadful lyrics have killed it.

Album:

‘The Battle Rages On’, released July 1993

  • The Battle Rages On
  • Lick it Up
  • Any
  • Talk About Love
  • Time to Kill
  • Ramshackle Man
  • A Twist in the Tale 
  • One Man’s Meat
  • Solitaire 

High point: I love Solitaire.  But Ramshackle Man is almost back to Purple at their finest.

Low point: One Man’s Meat and Lick it Up suffer from really childish lyrics.

Marks out of five: three

Mark Eight

  • Vocals – Ian Gillan
  • Guitar – Steve Morse
  • Bass – Roger Glover
  • Keyboards – Jon Lord 
  • Drums – Ian Paice 

After the 1993 tour conflict reared its head in the band and for whatever reason,.Ritchie Blackmore departed to reform Rainbow.  The new album was an odd mix of material which could have been on any earlier album plus new songs which were a stylistic departure.

The only album I will comment on is their first.

Album:

‘Purpendicular’, released February 1996

  • Vavoom: Ted the Mechanic
  • Loosen My Strings
  • Soon Forgotten
  • Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming
  • Cascades: I’m Not Your Lover
  • The Aviator
  • Rosa’s Cantina
  • A Castle Full of Rascals
  • A Touch Away

High point: A Touch Away and Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming are good songs

Low point: Ted the Mechanic.  The lyrics are awful. 

Marks out of five: one.


The Human League (Royal Festival Hall)

I’ve been a fan of The Human League since the early 80s: not their Don’t You Want Me phase as I was only nine years old then, but not that long after when The Lebanon was in the charts in Spring 1984.  Quite soon after like many other teenagers I sang along to the whole of ‘Dare’ on cassette in my bedroom many, many times; I had posters of the band on my wall; and loved their big selling singles Louise and Human.

hlthree

I lost them around the time the 90s hit, but eventually came back and now, finally, have seen them live, so it’s been a long wait.

As with anything else which teeters on the ‘nostalgia’ tag (although I know they hate that and they haven’t really, technically, been away) you never know what you are going to get, but the moment the set appeared with the pulsing beat of the opening song, Being Boiled (a showcase for Phil Oakey alone, as it dates from the days of The Human League #1, when they were a kind of Yorkshire Kraftwerk electro outfit) and the video projections kicked into life, I knew we were in for something special.

Watch a bit of ‘Seconds’

hlsix

The songs from ‘Dare’ were liberally sprinkled through this set: The Sound of the Crowd, Seconds, Open Your Heart, Love Action, The Things That Dreams Are Made Of.  There were those big singles I loved, too, plus Mirror Man (which I had forgotten, not having heard in years) and, of course, Don’t You Want Me, with the neat conceit of having one of the backing band playing an instrumental introduction of it which just got the crowd more fired up.

hltwo

Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley are the decorative side of the band, and an integral part of their trademark sound, and they were showcased well on their own with One Man In My Heart as well as (particularly Susan) providing energy to keep the audience going throughout.  Their costume changes were slightly exceeded by the parade of Phil’s designer wardrobe, but it all adds to the spectacle.

hlfive

Can I just pause to say how fantastic Phil Oakey’s voice still is?  It’s been said in some quarters that he isn’t one of the best popular vocalists, but I have to disagree: he has such a recognisable vocal style that fits the band’s songs perfectly; and I was so pleased that we got to close with Together In Electric Dreams, a song which I have always loved, even if the film it was written for is now hopelessly outdated.

hlone

Now slightly north of 60 years old this singer has unbounded energy and enthusiasm, and he is a total showman.  It is always a pleasure to see an act coming across so professionally, and The Human League are one of the most professional and accomplished acts I have seen.  Compare last night’s work with something way back like The Path of Least Resistance from nearly forty years ago and the look may be different (a sleeker hairline these days, but that’s no bad thing) but the voice hasn’t changed much.

hleight

I haven’t danced so much in years, and loved every minute.  How could I have waited so long?  My husband (not really a fan) enjoyed himself too, and yes, first thing we did on the way home was order a CD copy of ‘Dare’ to replace that tired out 80s cassette!

hlfour

I wanted to give a nod to London band Ekkoes who were the support act, right at the start of their career.  Their cover of the late Laura Branigan’s Self Control was excellent and I liked their own song Last Breath as well.  I hope they go places and it was a bonus to see them, even if I would have rather liked (for 80s nostalgia again) to see Blancmange, who are doing some of the other dates on the tour as support.

You can investigate Ekkoes a bit more at http://ekkoes.com/.

Here’s the twenty song setlist from The Human League: Being Boiled, The Sound of the Crowd, Sky, Heart Like a Wheel, Filling Up With Heaven, Open Your Heart, Soundtrack to a Generation, Seconds, The Lebanon, One Man In My Heart, Human, Louise, Stay With Me Tonight, Love Action, Tell Me When, Keep Feeling (Fascination), Mirror Man, Don’t You Want Me, The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, Together in Electric Dreams.

hlseven

Photographs taken by Louise Penn and Colin Penn.  Video clip by Louise Penn.

 

 


Remember the Night, 1940 – ★★★★

Everybody’s favourite Stanwyck (to Letterboxders, anyway), and one I hadn’t seen until today. Putting aside the fact that bits of it remind me of ‘The 39 Steps’, others of ‘Susan Slept Here’ and others of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘Mr Deeds Goes To Town’, I have to add my praise to that of the general majority.

Barbara Stanwyck is Lee, a jewel thief (must be something in the air, as yesterday I was watching a film with Myrna Loy in a similar profession), and here she is teamed for the first time of three with Fred MacMurray, here playing a prosecuting attorney, John, who succeeds in getting her trial postponed for decision til after Christmas, and ends up taking custody of her over the festive season instead.

MacMurray isn’t one of my favourite actors, but he’s very good here, and Stanwyck is in good form as the career criminal who opens proceedings in the court by watching her defence lawyer with barely-disguised amusement.

She’s no victim here, and in fact she is perhaps better than she was in femme fatale mode in ‘Double Indemnity’. Her gift for fun eventually paid off as Preston Sturges, screenwriter here, went on to write and direct ‘The Lady Eve’ for her, which gave her a chance to broaden her range.

Willard Robertson’s speech as the flowery defence chap is hilarious, and even more so when you note in real life he gave up a career in law for the stage. Sterling Holloway, always fabulous, and with the weirdly musical voice, is fun as a cousin of MacMurray’s. ‘Snowflake’ Toones plays John’s slightly slow servant but he isn’t quite as daft as he first appears. And Beulah Bondi ages up yet again to play MacMurray’s mother.

This is a romance, a festive one, and a courtroom drama, and succeeds at all of them. What a happy discovery!

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Whipsaw, 1935 – ★★★½

Spencer Tracy had switched studios from Fox to MGM in 1935, and this role has more in common with his tough guy programmers than the more sophisticated fare his new studio would eventually offer him.

This is a fairly minor crime picture but it’s lifted by the sparkling chemistry between Tracy (as a G-man posing as a crook) and Myrna Lou (as a hard-boiled jewel thief). They positively crackle in their scenes together, which makes this film a pleasure to watch.

Director Sam Wood is content to let his stars just do their thing, and they do it well. Romance beckons by the halfway point, and the whole story of the stolen pearls sinks into second place.

A happy discovery, currently available on YouTube.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


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

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

Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Loud Alien Noize

Revealing the True Origins of Silence

Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies

Blog titling at its best

Emily Baycroft

Freelance Theatre Producer and Administrator

MTAS

WE MADE BADGES COOL AGAIN

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

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

LIFE'S TOO SHORT TO BE NICHE ...

[insert title here]

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

buchanblog

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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?"

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