Friday, 13 May 2022

Julius Caesar - Review

Shakespeare's Globe, London


**


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Diane Page


Anna Crichlow

The political rhetoric of Julius Caesar is timeless. Recklessly shoehorned into today’s politically correct constraints however and the beauty of Shakespeare's verse is squandered. Diane Page’s production of the classic tragedy seeks to place gender politics centre-stage, with Brutus and Cassius both played by women. To be fair, Anna Crichlow’s Brutus is a well-spoken performance and she makes a fine interpretation of the role’s moral quagmire. But given that this casting decision has led to a part of Mark Anthony’s most famous speech being butchered into: “And, sure, she is an honourable man”, then the production’s incongruities are clear. 

There is sound work from Dickson Tyrrell as a credible Caesar and equally from Samuel Oatley whose Mark Anthony does a good job of whipping up the Globe’s groundlings into Rome's plebeians. But too much of the rest of the company’s diction, especially in dialogue rather than otherwise well-projected monologue, is garbled and inaudible.

When Cicero’s death is announced in Act 4, one is almost reminded of Chicago’s Cell Block Tango – “he had it coming” - than be lost in Shakespeare’s perfectly constructed prose, such is the play’s inconsistency. The battle scenes of the story’s endgame are mangled and the stage-combat (developed by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown), a vital component of any high body-count Shakespeare, is very poor indeed.

There’s enough here, just, to satisfy a schools audience looking for dramatic context in support of the play’s countless classic quotes and speeches, the groundlings in particular again adding heft. But otherwise, this is a brutal assassination of the play.

Et tu Shakespeare's Globe? Then fall Caesar.


Runs until 17 September, playing at both Shakespeare's Globe and on tour across England
Photo credit: Helen Murray

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Oklahoma! - Review

Young Vic, London


*****


Music by Richard Rodgers
Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
Directed by Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein


Patrick Vaill

In one of the most stunning interpretations of a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical to hit London in recent years, Daniel Fish’s interpretation of Oklahoma! crosses the Atlantic to open at the Young Vic. Fish developed his take on the show as a student production for Bard College in 2015. Three years later the show was to play Off-Broadway at New York’s St Ann’s Warehouse, before reaching Broadway in 2019 where it picked up eight Tony nominations with two wins including Best Musical Revival. Fish is accompanied at the helm by fellow director Jordan Fein.

Oklahoma! may hail from the Golden Age of Broadway but Fish’s vision is lean, simplistic and stripped back. Played almost in the round on a stage of bare timber, plywood and trestle tables, the only scenic enhancements are a sketched out backdrop of prairie farmland, with racks of rifles mounted high around the remaining the remaining three sides of the thrust performance space. Terese Wadden’s costumes are simple cowboy-chic with Levis de-rigeur for most, ranch chaps prevalent for the men and an array of purty frocks for the women as the scenes demand.

Amidst this simplicity of staging, the production has to stand solely on the strengths of its actors – and the troupe assembled here are amongst the finest musical theatre companies in town. Arthur Darvill and Anoushka Lucas lead as the hesitant lovers Curly and Laurey. Both are immaculate in their roles, with many of Curly’s numbers down sized to Darvill singing accompanied only by his own solo guitar playing. Powerful lighting plots wash some of the verses in The Surrey With The Fringe On Top and People Will Say We’re In Love into impassioned love scenes, never previously contemplated mid-number. It’s a bold move by the directors and lighting designer Scott Zielinski that is strikingly effective. There is boldness too in Daniel Kluger’s orchestrations of Richard Rodgers’ score that the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organisation have shrewdly seen fit to approve and which allows Musical Director Tom Brady to see his 9-piece band having more guitars than violins. With the musicians on stage, the new orchestrations give a powerfully Western twang added to the original, that only enhances the evening.

Arthur Darvill and Anoushka Lucas

The musical magic of this production however lies not just in its leads, nor in its creative enhancements, but in the extraordinary talent assembled around them in the featured roles and here follows a roll-call of excellence.

Lisa Sadovy as Aunt Eller is everything her character should be – and then some more. Fish and Fein play fast and loose with the show’s structure and where we may have expected the first act to conclude with Laurey’s Dream Ballet, itself preceded by a soprano chorus singing Out Of My Dreams, it is Aunt Eller who here kicks off the second act of the show with that number, before the ballet gets underway. It’s an innovative shake-up of the show that works. And in mentioning the ballet, a note of massive praise to Marie-Astrid Mence who mesmerizingly dances the solo work.

Next up on this roll-call is Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie Carnes. Wallace is simply sensational. For sure, Ado Annie provides welcome moments of comic relief in the narrative but Wallace immerses herself in the woman to provide a portrayal of her character that is more fleshed out than the typical two-dimensional comic-book portrayals of Ado Annie, so often seen in the past. Not only is Wallace’s acting out of this world, her vocals take the Young Vic’s roof off too. One to watch for next year’s Olivier nominations.

Ranking alongside Wallace in talent and impact are two actors who have travelled with the show from Broadway. James Davis’ Will Parker is again a thoughtfully presented delivery of a comedy classic. Davis’ hapless bungling, matched only by his character's  blinkered love for Ado Annie is simply a delight to watch.

Patrick Vaill has also crossed the pond with the show, with an even more intriguing pedigree connecting him to the production. His involvement incredibly dates back to 2015 when he was a student at Bard, creating this iteration of Jud Fry for Fish. Vaill’s Jud is extraordinary, taking this most complex of the canon’s villains and imbuing him with an unexpected tender sympathy. We find Jud to be “othered” by the community around him, culminating in his shocking death and while Jud clearly has a monstrous past, Vaill creates an intriguing, credible, complexity to the man, that has to be seen to be believed. Vocally magnificent too, Vaill’s turn leaves a deep and troubling imprint on the audience. A combination of contrasting light, blackout and video projections add an equally ingenious twist to the interaction between Curly and Jud.

Stavros Demetraki is a delight as pedlar Ali Hakim. His is a simple role to play in the narrative, oiling the story’s comedic wheels. Like all good comedy however, the role demands perfection in its timing and delivery and Demetraki hits his marks with pinpoint accuracy.

Another casting gem sees a grizzled Greg Hicks playing gnarled farmer Andrew Carnes, administering what Quentin Tarantino might have called 'frontier justice' in the show’s finale. It’s a troubling moment for the audience to reflect on, but Hicks delivers it with his hallmark first-class standards.

Producers Sonia Friedman and Michael Harrison have shrewdly backed this production, so one can only hope for its deserved West End transfer. Until then, at the Young Vic, Oklahoma! remains unmissable.


Runs until 25th June 2022
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

The End of the Night - Review

Park Theatre, London


*** 


Written by Ben Brown
Directed by Alan Strachan



Ben Caplan and Michael Lumsden

The End of the Night is a play that charts the remarkable, actual event of a meeting between Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler’s Reichsfuhrer and Norbert Masur, a Swedish representative of the World Jewish Congress. The meeting, brokered by Himmler’s masseuse Felix Kersten took place in the final weeks of World War Two at Kersten’s country estate just outside Berlin and achieved an outcome of seeing the negotiated release of several thousand women from Nazi concentration camps.

Writer Ben Brown was wise in spotting the dramatic potential of this meeting. Played out in the intimate cockpit of London’s Park Theatre, this should have been an enthralling night of theatre. But the enormity of the subject matter overwhelms both Brown’s narrative and the performance of Ben Caplan as Masur. There is too much poorly crafted irony in the script, alongside moments of tedious narrative that a sharper literary mind night have honed to greater linguistic counterpoint. And Caplan, who is tasked with delivering a truly complex challenge in managing Masur’s encounter with one of the architects of the Holocaust, fails to master his character’s depths.

There is sound and measured work from Richard Clothier (Himmler) and Michael Lumsden (Kersten), making the best of the script that they are given, but even so it all drags far more than a story of such magnitude deserves. 

There is a fine and noble history lesson that is told at the Park. If only Alan Strachan’s production could match the greatness of its underlying story.


Runs until 28th May
Photo credit: Mark Douet

Sunday, 1 May 2022

New York's TWA Hotel - Review

****





Opened in 2019, and listed by Time Magazine as one of the World's Greatest Places of that year, New York's TWA Hotel located in JFK Airport is built in and around Eero Saarinen’s stunning TWA Terminal building, constructed in 1962 and now a New York designated landmark as well as being listed in the USA’s  National Register of Historic Places.

Arriving by plane or train the hotel, adjacent to Terminal 5, is reached via the Airtrain shuttle and then a short walk. As one approaches the building piped music plays Jimmy Webb’s 1967 Up, Up And Away, recorded by The Fifth Dimension, a tune that TWA was to incorporate into their advertising a few years later. Vintage cars are parked outside, before one then enters Saarinen’s building where the design touches are the perfect combination of class and kitsch. There's even a Twister room!

1960s Kitsch







Checking in on arrival takes place at what was once the airline’s check-in counters, before taking one of the two original (and would have been very futuristic in their time) tube-like corridors to the respective accommodation buildings - both of which are new-build - that provide approximately 500 well appointed and spacey rooms. And yes, before one asks, the sound-proofing is immaculate. In the bedrooms the peace and quiet is better than a typical NY midtown location with not even a whisper of JFK’s aircraft noise.

But back to the 1960’s theming. Throughout the public areas the muzak, set at a comfortable background level, is appropriately calibrated to a mix of Beatles, Monkees, Sam Cook and other era-appropriate classics. But it is so much more than that. TWA’s original departure boards (with the letters that clicked and flicked over) have been lovingly overhauled to display fictitious departures and arrivals that update throughout the day, that flicking sound in itself a blast from the past, with airlines of the period listed by their respective flights. To the UK, the departure board includes both the BOAC (remember them?) and TWA flights. American competitor Pan Am is noticeably absent from the display.





The payphones are of the period too, with 1960s posters and memorabilia (typewriters, luggage carts) subtly positioned to add to the ambience. Above all though it is Saarinen’s magnificent, swooping, functional architectural curves that define the hotel’s beauty.










It is a note of historical irony, that Saarinen’s building (conceived some years’ earlier in the 1950s) was created for the passenger loads of the turbo-prop Constellation aircraft, the hitherto backbone of the TWA fleet. Saarinen could not have foreseen the impact of Boeing’s 707 jet airplane onto the airline industry, a plane that was to ramp up both passenger volumes and journey range and thus almost started his terminal building’s decline into obsolescence from the outset. The hotel however pays a further remarkable tribute to the airline’s flying history with “Connie” a vintage, de-commissioned Constellation now serving as one of the coolest cocktail bars in New York City!

Connie









There’s a wonderfully and very warm infinity pool on the roof. So as the chilly NY winds whip in from the Atlantic, to sit in the pool with (another) cocktail in hand watching the planes take-off and land is another great way to pass the time. For those keen on fitness there is also a large and very well appointed 24-hour gym.




The cultural, design and architectural impact of the building was significant and the hotel has curated replicas of Howard Hughes' office and Eero Saarinen's design workstation together with a collection of TWA uniforms.


  



The food in the Paris Cafe restaurant is freshly made and well presented at typical NY prices. On my first night the tuna tartare followed by pizza were both impressive. On the second night the fillet steak was equally well prepared and served. There is also a 24-hour food court serving simpler and far more average fare, which is itself a nice touch given that many guests could be arriving/departing the hotel at anti-social hours.

Located on JFK's remote outcrop of Queens and at least an hour away from midtown Manhattan, the hotel is niche and not best located for those looking to either enjoy the city’s traditional tourist spots or commercial centres or indeed to load themselves down with shopping. But no matter - if you are flying into or out of New York and your schedule permits, the TWA Hotel makes for a sublimely styled experience.

Oh, there's a roller-skating rink around Connie too that this visit was not able to include. However it can be reported that Connie’s Mile High Margaritas are terrific!

Owned and managed by MCR Hotels, to book the TWA click here