Sunday 18 March 2012

Floyd Collins - Review

Southwark Playhouse , London
March 18 2012

Music and Lyrics: Adam Guettel
Book: Tina Landau
Director: Derek Bond

Deep below platform 1 of London Bridge Station, the Vault at the Southwark Playhouse, has again yawned open to reveal a theatrical gem. Floyd Collins tells the fascinating tale from 1925 of the caver of that name. Trapped underground following a rockfall, Collins could still be reached and contacted by those who climbed down to attempt his rescue. That connection provided a conduit for the caver’s hopes and fears to be brought to the surface, and as the days of his entrapment passed, so the media interest in him grew. Collins’ father's farm in Edmonson County , Kentucky, became the first ever site for a media “circus” as radio, press, and newsreel cameramen sought to broadcast the sensational events playing out deep underground. Such was the interest in Collins’ plight that President Coolidge himself was kept informed.
Tina Landau and Adam Guettel have set this slice of American history to music, where it was first performed off-Broadway in 1996. De-constructing the legendary tale of Collins, their musical is structured around a close observation of the people whose lives were caught up in these events.
As Collins, Glenn Carter clearly  has the physique and vigour of a man who earns his living exploring caves.  By simply climbing over, and  wriggling through and around, the simplest of ladders and boxes , he  transports us to the “Indiana Jones” type world, deep underground, that he loves. When the rock-fall occurs, staged by the use of sound and the clever movement of fellow cast members, it is quite simply Carter's exceptional acting that screams at us terrifyingly that here is a man, trapped,  quite possibly for life. Carter’s voice is also a delight, and his transition from youthful gusty optimism and vigour, to troubled fear and grim realisation, is beautifully performed.
Robyn North plays Nellie,  Floyd’s sister. A character that is complex and fragile, recently having been discharged from an asylum and whose love for her brother is clearly deep, possibly too deep. North’s performance is enchanting, and her performance of Through The Mountain is both moving and passionate. Her failure to comprehend the cynical media razzmatazz, when all that she simply wishes is her brother’s safe return, is touchingly performed.
Ryan Sampson also delivers a great performance. As Skeets Miller a local cub reporter, whose diminutive physique enables him to squeeze through the cave to bring succour and comfort to Collins, his reporting of the events were to win him a Pulitzer Prize. Sampson’s journey from intrusive hack to hero is well brought to life.
The show’s design by James Perkins fully exploits the depth and architecture of the Vault, the ancient railway arches almost naturally evoking the Kentucky catacombs.
The 8 piece band are excellent under Tim Jackson’s direction, with banjo and harmonica lending a subtle air of authenticity. A minor fault, but three weeks into the run and with the benefit of microphones and clever modern technology, the sound balance should by now be excellent. It was therefore frustrating that solo male voices were often inaudible above the music.
The show is unquestionably a triumph, and should be seen. A moving piece of theatre in which director Derek Bond has coaxed excellence from every member of his talented company. Oh, and in the opinion of the wives in our party, Glenn Carter is gorgeous!

Plays untlil March 31st

Thursday 15 March 2012

Piaf - The Songs - Review

Pleasance Theatre, Islington


This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

Simply staged, with roses adorning two tables, and a white backdrop, Eve Loiseau as Piaf evoked “ the Little Sparrow” with a delightful precision and clarity in an evening that paid homage to the French legend. Opening with La Vie en Rose, Loiseau delivered Piaf’s classic with an authentic yet fragile strength and on closing one’s eyes, it was possible to truly hear the subtleties and nuances of Piaf’s timbre in Loiseau’s performance. The quality of her mimicry put me in mind of Tracie Bennett’s recent Garland, and Jane Horrock’s wonderful Little Voice.

The set list for the evening was well thought out and included most of Piaf’s classic hits, together with a sprinkling of lesser known numbers. At times, Loiseau interjected with stories of Piaf, marking out not only the singer’s achievements but also the tragedies of her difficult life.

But whilst the music and singing were superbly performed, the production as a whole was less than perfect. The show’s first half was beset with sound faults that should have been picked up in rehearsal and the backdrop was an extremely creased fabric. Much of the performance’s visual impact was created by back projected stills and grainy archive footage shone on to the backcloth and the poor quality of this screen created an air of unprofessionalism that the performers did not deserve. The lack of programme to credit the performers and creative team also did them a disservice.
Accompanying Loiseau were Fiona Barrow on violin, and Edward Jay on accordion. Their delightful performances were as evocative as those of the singer. The show’s overture and subsequent entr’acte, whilst perhaps a little too long, were delightfully atmospheric, lacking only the pungent smell of Gauloises to replicate the air of 1950s Paris.

Notwithstanding the various flaws, the show packed a punch. Act One included such gems as Padam Padam and Autumn Leaves and the second half built to a skillfully manipulated climax with Loiseau singing a feisty Milord, before closing the show with Piaf’s signature tune Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, that had many of the audience clearly moved.

Loiseau treats her material with a combination of respect and excellence and she and her musicians are 5 star performers in a show that needs just a little tightening up. If you enjoy the Piaf sound, then go: you will not be disappointed.