Wednesday 17 November 2021

Little Women - Review

Park Theatre, London


Music by Jason Howland
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Book by Allan Knee
Based on the book by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Bronagh Lagan

Lydia White

In its UK premiere, Bronagh Lagan’s take on this 2005 Broadway musical makes for a charming night that defines much of what is excellent about London’s fringe theatre. Amidst a show of deliciously high production values (take a bow producer Katy Lipson) Lydia White as Jo leads a company of 11 in bringing Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale to life.

Playing out in the northern USA against the backdrop of the American Civil War, Alcott’s much loved fable speaks of love, dreams, ambition and tragedy mixed in with tenderly observed sibling rivalries and affection.

White has the lion’s share of the numbers and she gives life to storyteller Jo’s fiery arc of independence. Alongside her literary talents are her sister Beth’s musical flair and Amy’s talent for painting, as Meg makes up the quartet of the March sisters. All four young women are perceptively and very well performed, but in a stand out turn for sensitively delivered poignancy laden with highly charged understatement, Anastasia Martin’s Beth is sensational.

Jason Howland’s score may not be the most memorable but Leo Munby (MD and keyboards) together with his four string players perched high aloft the stage produce an exquisite and immaculately rehearsed sound. Credit too to Nik Corrall’s outstanding design and projections, and  Sarah Golding’s choreography, all of which make fine and imaginative work of the Park’s intimate space.

The first act drags a little but in this co-production with Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre the show will hopefully go on to enjoy a longer life on these shores. Fans of both the novel or the musical theatre genre will not be disappointed.

Runs until 19th December
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Thursday 11 November 2021

Abigail's Party - Review

Park Theatre, London


Written by Mike Leigh
Directed by Vivienne Garnett

Kellie Shirley

It is 44 years since Mike Leigh's Abigail’s Party premiered and what was then a cruelly incisive glimpse of England’s suburbia is now very much a period piece. Leigh’s creative scalpel was merciless in his exposition of social ambition, sexual inadequacies, and rat-race frustrations. Viewed through the prism of 2021, the play’s observations of domestic abuse and in particular Tony’s treatment of Angela his wife, are chilling. That the Park’s modern-day audience can laugh at some of Angela’s distress is even more worrying and offers an uncomfortable perspective on a part of today’s theatre-going audience as much as it does a comment on life in 1977.

Vivienne Garnett’s production is a carefully crafted drama and her company are an ensemble of perfectly weighted performances. Driving the piece is Kellie Shirley’s Beverley, perpetually disappointed by estate-agent husband Laurence (Ryan Early) and keen to impress her neighbours with her awkward and misplaced ostentatiousness. Shirley’s performance is a masterpiece of both under and overstatement, garishly dispensing gin and tonics yet smouldering with pent-up unsatisfied desire in the arms of a slow dance with Tony (Matt Di Angelo).

Emma Noakes’ Angela, albeit for differing reasons, is a performance as finely delivered as Shirley’s. A nurse by profession, Angela is a much belittled, humbled and humiliated woman. Not an easy part to portray but Noakes smashes it out of the park!

Early’s Laurence is a two-dimensional blustering popinjay but again, masterfully captured. Di Angelo’s ex-footballer Tony however is the menacing character whose underlying ugliness (hidden beneath a physique of muscular physicality) is only hinted at and about whom we want to know more. Completing the quintet is single-mum Susan, well delivered by Barbara D’Alterio, but whose role in the piece is little more than a foil to the complex dynamics that play out between the two married couples.

For those of us who lived the Seventies the cheese and pineapple cocktail sticks and Demis Roussos LPs are a blast from the past. For younger folk, they can gasp at the crap food and socially acceptable cigarettes that really were a sign of the times. Beth Colley’s set design is a garishly wonderful nod to an era that is thankfully many decades behind us.

At times a troubling play to watch and laugh at but above all, brilliantly performed. Another gem from the Park Theatre.

Runs until 4th December
Photo credit: Christian Davies

Monday 8 November 2021

Curated By Carlos - Review

Sadler’s Wells, London


Carlos Acosta

Birmingham Royal Ballet teased the capital with their tantalisingly brief visit to London’s Sadler’s Wells to perform Curated By Carlos, a beautiful three-act show that offered a fascinating and meticulously prepared narrative, immaculately performed and brimming with both emotion and talent.

Opening with a love letter to Birmingham, in City of A Thousand Trades the company delivered a modern abstract ballet inspired by the city's diverse cultural and industrial heritage, including stories of people who have decided to move there. While Birmingham may have been the focus of the piece, its narrative could have applied to any large English city. Places that albeit densely populated, are still lonely and isolating, especially for immigrants who may have left their families to move to this different country. 

City of a Thousand Trades was created by choreographer Miguel Altunaga and co-directed with Madeleine Kludje, with music inspired by its legacy as the birthplace of Heavy Metal, composed by Mathias Coppens.

The second act Imminent invited the audience to recognise that a window of opportunity is now calling upon us and that there is hope. It focussed on the the importance of letting go of the past, to take action and move boldly on.

Completing the triple bill, Goyo Montero’s Chacona featured the world premiere of a new duet created for Carlos Acosta and Alessandra Ferri. Having danced Manon together in Havana many years ago, this duet sees two of the all time greats reunited. Montero’s thrillingly physical work is set to an electrifying Bach score, performed live on stage by violin, guitar and piano

If the stories may have been abstract the dancing was impressive, filled with humanity, passion and sublime physicality. The evening offered a fabulous glimpse of modern ballet and the opportunity to admire what human bodies are capable of.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Indecent Proposal - Review

 Southwark Playhouse, London


Music by Dylan Schlosberg
Book & lyrics by Michael Conley
Inspired by the novel by Jack Engelhard
Directed by Charlotte Westenra

Norman Bowman and Lizzy Connolly

Drawn from the novel by Jack Engelhard, Adrian Lyne’s movie of Indecent Proposal was a 1993 blockbuster. Fast forward 28 years and in an ambitious roll of the dice, Michael Conley re-works Engelhard’s original, moving the narrative from Las Vegas to the eastern seaboard’s Atlantic City, re-naming all the characters and stamping his own (albeit diminutive) imprimatur on Engelhard’s plot.

Conley’s take on the fable tells of Jonny and Rebecca a young married couple, deeply in love but financially on the rocks until billionaire businessman Larry offers them a million dollars if he can spend one night with Rebecca. Back in its day the movie worked for a multitude of reasons - not least the credibility of its brightly photographed Vegas, full of slot machines and tables and gluttonous greed, an environment where for the mega-rich or the deeply addicted, a million-bucks coin toss or indecent proposal was as believable as it was horrific.

But for a show (or a movie) to tell a million-dollar story, it needs a million-dollar budget and for all the abilities of this show’s talented cast, the audience’s disbelief is never truly suspended. Maybe if tonight’s stage had been the West End’s Palladium, awash with a casino’s twinkling tackiness of noise and sparkling lights, rather than the Southwark Playhouse, the illusion may well have worked. It takes a certain skill to transform south London's Newington Causeway into a sin city and although its been done before, it doesn’t happen here. Likewise if Conley with Dylan Schlosberg had maybe written just one memorable song, that too would have helped.

When the chips are down however, it is down to Charlotte Westenra's cast to turn in platinum-plated performances and they all come up trumps. Norman Bowman’s Jonny is a perceptive take on a man being forced to consider the ultimate in emasculating cuckoldry, while Lizzie Connolly as Rebecca is equally skilled in a role that demands considerable emotional complexity. Opposite them is Ako Mitchell’s Larry, a magnate who believes that everything and everyone has their price. Essentially a two-dimensional villain, Mitchell throws Larry’s amorality into a horribly plausible relief. Alongside this triumvirate is the also excellent Jacqueline Dankworth as Annie, the casino’s world-weary chanteuse who turns out to be quite possibly the most believable character in the piece.

Viewed through the modern prism of a post #MeToo perspective, the film was a period piece that treated a woman's body as a buyable commodity and in the show’s programme notes Conley makes the arrogant confession of never having seen Lyne's movie. If this musical is to go on to any form of future life it needs a major structural overhaul alongside a respectful understanding of quite what made the movie the box-office success that it then was. The show's producers and creatives should also recognise that nearly 30 years on, what makes for entertainment, has changed.

Runs until 27th November
Photo credit: Pamela Raith