Friday, 20 May 2022

My Fair Lady - Review

Coliseum, London



***



Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner
Directed by Bartlett Sher



Harry Hadden-Paton, Amara Okereke and Malcolm Sinclair


The plot of My Fair Lady sees Professor Henry Higgins set himself the challenge of transforming a poor Covent Garden flower girl into a passable member of England’s aristocracy. So it is with director Bartlett Sher, who defines his own challenge by having staged this famously satirical take on Edwardian England in his 2018 Broadway revival and then 4 years later transplanting that production into London’s Coliseum. It was in Guys and Dolls that Nathan Detroit sagely observed that “you cannot interpolate Chicago dice in a New York crap game”. The same is true of musical theatre, where Sher’s New Yorker’s take on this show fails to interpolate into a London venue. 

Harry Hadden-Paton’s Henry Higgins (for whom hurricanes hardly happen) and Amara Okereke as Eliza lead the cast and both are sublimely talented performers. But Hadden-Paton barely evolves from his Old Etonian caricature and Okereke, in the show’s opening scenes, fails to convince as an impoverished Cockney from Lisson Grove. From there on, the complex crucial chemistry between the pair is doomed. Only in her second act duet Show Me, with Sharif Afifi’s Freddy Eynsford-Hill, does Okereke - whose singing vocals are magnificent throughout - truly display Eliza’s passionate emotional potential.

The scenic design is curious - ranging from a meticulously created revolving interior of Higgins’ Wimpole Street home, through to economically designed exteriors that are dwarfed on the Coliseum’s cavernous stage. Sher appears to have set Get Me To The Church On Time in little more than a box-ticking version of Berlin’s Kit Kat Club and as for his enigmatic ending to the show, make of that what you will.

Malcolm Sinclair’s Colonel Pickering and Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Higgins offer up delicious work in support and for those who have missed the magnificence of Loewe’s score, the ENO Orchestra give those wondrous melodies a sumptuous treatment.


Runs until 27th August
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Looking Good Dead - Review

Churchill Theatre, Bromley


****


Written by Peter James
Adapted by Shaun McKenna
Directed by Jonathan O'Boyle


Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett

Looking Good Dead offers a cocktail of irresistible elements that make for fine modern theatre. A story from Peter James’ Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series and acted by stage stars and EastEnders icons Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett all contribute to a gripping tale.

The play starts with a young female sex worker, found dead with her throat slashed. As the plot evolves, Shaun McKenna's adaptation of James’ novel takes the audience on a gripping, moving tale that as well as encompassing the thrill of a murder mystery, also explores complex family emotions of love, secrets and deceit, against a stomach-churning backdrop of violent pornography and abuse.

Woodyatt’s take on protagonist Tom Bryce reveals the darkness of human beings. His is an innocent man, a good citizen and a loving father who has worked hard to provide for the family. The play’s plot is surprising, plumbing unexpected emotional depths as the first act outlines family conflicts that contribute to the plot’s unfolding after the interval. Secrets maybe the shadows of the soul but justice ultimately prevails. James tells us that everyone has their dark side, no one is innocent and that no good deed goes unpunished. But there is also the message that through the darkness there is light and hope.

Not just a thriller, director Jonathan O’Boyle extracts some well-played comic moments too, that all combine in an evening of cracking entertainment.


Runs until 23rd April, then continues on tour

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Anyone Can Whistle - Review

Southwark Playhouse,, London



***


Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Directed by Georgie Rankcom



Alex Young and company

Anyone Can Whistle is one of Sondheim's lesser known works and probably, rightly so. A curious piece that explores power, fascism and the othering of minorities via a curious interplay of an outdated mockery of mental illness, and an implausible melee of manufactured miracles. It all makes for an occasionally tedious 2 1/2 hours at Southwark Playhouse, interspersed by musical numbers that too often err towards corn rather than Sondheim's signature scalpel-like satire.

For a story this whimsical, a show’s company needs excellence throughout to carry the piece and disappointingly, for the most part, this cast lack the required emotional heft. And as the on-stage talent level wanes, so too does the audience's attention.

That being said, there are two standout performances from Alex Young and Chrystine Symone. Young captures wit, timing and a magnificent presence – with just a soupcon of channelled Hillary Clinton - as Cora, the town's corrupt and devious Mayoress. Young’s musical theatre genius sets her apart amongst her generation and in this production her take on A Parade In Town marks her out as a future Dolly Levi – one can only imagine, blissfully, what she could do with Before The Parade Passes By. 

As Nurse Apple, Symone is offered a more challenging role of obscure complexities. Vocally she is magnificent, never better than in her outstanding interpretation of There Won’t Be Trumpets. It is only a shame that in the musical’s exploration of the nascent love between her and Jordan Broatch’s Hapgood, that their performance falls short of Symone’s magnificence. 

Above the stage, Natalie Pound's 5-piece band make fine work of this rarely heard score.


Runs until 7th May
Photo credit: Danny With A Camera

Monday, 4 April 2022

Philharmonia At The Movies - E.T. The Extra Terrestrial - Review

Royal Festival Hall, London


*****


Composed by John Williams
Conducted by Anthony Gabriele
Directed by Steven Spielberg






Steven Spielberg’s genius in narrating a story through film, is unsurpassed. His envisioning of a plot’s evolution told through either grand scenic presentations or just the subtlest glance of a protagonist, holds us spellbound. And no more so is Spielberg’s craft evident than in his 1982 blockbuster E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, that told of an alien creature (E.T.) left behind in California when its spaceship had to hurriedly flee Earth to avoid capture, the movie then exploring the bond that evolved between E.T. and the young boy Elliott who found and befriended the creature.

The story is genius in itself – in a concept first explored by Spielberg in the 1977 movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, his aliens are friendly. They come in peace, with the theme of the 1982 picture being a child’s and E.T.’s innocent love for each other. And so, with a combination of stunning performances, ingenious special effects – all the more so when one recalls that this was before the time of today’s ubiquitous CGI -  and gorgeous photography, Spielberg’s story was told.

But there was a further component, critical to the hallmarking of this movie as worthy of the pantheon and that was its score. And in Spielberg’s wonderfully well-established partnership with composer John Williams, so was a symphonic accompaniment achieved that not only enhanced the arc of the story, it served to tell parts of the story too such is Williams’ talent.

Last week, under the baton of Anthony Gabriele and for one night only, London’s Philharmonia Orchestra played William’s score live alongside the movie being screened. Gabriele is a master of synchronising an orchestra’s live performance to the unforgiving fixed demands of a movie screening and his coaxing the aural beauty of the Philharmonia’s talent, opened up new layers of nuance to this wonderful fable.

No plot discussions here – most people know the tale, how it develops and how it ends. But when one recalls the movie’s unforgettable scene of Elliott, with E.T. in his bicycle basket, flying (cycling) in silhouette past the moon – an image that now defines Spielberg’s own production company Amblin Entertainment – it is Williams’ Flying theme that we hear. And to hear that glorious melody played live as Elliott dreamily pedals across the screen is just exquisite.

The Philharmonia are of course world-class, and their delivery of William’s score was flawless. To name individual performers is invidious – they are all masters (and indeed many are Professors of their chosen instrument) but amidst such a plethora of perfection, to be able to glance down from the screen and observe harpist Heidi Krutzen adding to the film’s gorgeous sensitivities or in contrast Antoine Siguré’s menacing work on the timpani was sublime. And of course, during Flying, it was Zsolt-Tihamer Visontay and Emily Davis whose violin sections were chiefly responsible for making the audience’s spirits soar.

This combination of a classic film, projected over the heads of the players and instruments of one of the finest orchestras around and all helmed under Gabriele’s masterful baton, created an evening that that was simply out of this world!

Saturday, 19 March 2022

The Woods - Review

Southwark Playhouse


****


Written by David Mamet
Directed by Russell Bolam


Francesca Carpanini and Sam Frenchum

Catching up with The Woods late in its run at the Southwark Playhouse, offers an opportunity to consider this by-now well matured interpretation of David Mamet's 1977 study of the sexes. 

Covering one night from dusk to dawn the tight two-hander sees Nick and Ruth staying at his remote summer house in the northern USA. Mamet deliberately leaves the history of the couple's relationship opaque, it is evident that there once was a burning love between the pair, the smouldering ashes of which are extinguished before our eyes in the play's 90 minute one-act narrative. 

Mamet's text outlines a clear connection with nature and the gods even as Nick and Ruth’s love breathes its last, flailing like a landed fish that dies before our eyes. Sam Frenchum's Nick is the more damaged of the two, lurching from tender intimacy through to violent misogyny. But while Nick clearly can exert physical power over Francesca Carpanini's Ruth, it is she who ultimately wields the emotional axe. 

Typically Mamet holds the drama's darkest menace back until the play's bloodied, enigmatic endgame but as Nick loses control, Ruth emerges to dominate her beastly, beasted ex-lover by the final curtain.
 
Russell Bolam directs with sensitivity with an equal nod to Haruka Kuroda for staging the moments of undoubtedly complex intimacy with a convincing authenticity. Likewise, Anthony Lamble’s simply stark set and Bethany Gupwell’s lighting are as effective.

A rarely performed piece, this iteration of The Woods has one week left to run and is well worth seeing.


Runs until 26th March
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Primo - Review


*****



Antony Sher


Adapted by Antony Sher from If This Is A Man by Primo Levi
Directed by Richard Wilson


The film of Primo,  Antony Sher's translation of Primo Levi's  If This Is A Man from page to stage, has recently been released to stream by Digital Theatre. Made in 2005, the movie is directed by Richard Wilson who also helmed the original 2004 Royal National Theatre production.

Levi's work is an opus on the horrendous scale of the horrors of the Holocaust, but viewed from his very singular perspective as a man who was not only subject to the nightmares of the concentration camps, but who ultimately survived Auschwitz. Sher's interpretation of Levi's testimony is a tour de force.

The brutality of the Holocaust so often spelled out in the scale of its slaughter, is reduced by Levi to the minutiae of individual humans, the unimaginable detail of their lives and deaths in the hell of Auschwitz, but described with a harrowing eye for detail. From the glimpses of passing stations and landscapes, momentarily seen through the gaps in his cattle truck's walls, through to recognising the provenance of different camp inmates through the number tattooed on their arm, it is the detailed horrific picture painted by Levi’s, and ultimately Sher’s, words that define this unique narrative.

Hildegard Bechtler has designed a stage that is bare save for a solitary chair, amidst Paul Pyant’s stark but carefully plotted lighting designs. A haunting cello accompaniment from Jonathan Goldstein underlies Sher's eloquent reverence as his spoken narrative transports the audience/viewer from Italy through Austria, Czechoslovakia and ultimately Poland, all under the malevolent control of the Third Reich. 

Levi died in April 1987 and Sher much more recently in December 2021. The recording of this drama is a tribute to them both – it is unmissable.


Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Waitress - Review

Churchill Theatre, Bromley


****


Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Book by Jessie Nelson
Directed by Diane Paulus



Evelyn Hoskins and George Crawford


After a triumphant run in the West End, Sara Bareilles’ smash-hit musical comedy continues to wow audiences across the UK with this heartwarming show arriving at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre for one week only.

Waitress tells the emotional yet empowering story of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress and baker who is in an abusive relationship. The show sees her battling to transform from an anxious wife into a strong and determined woman, with ups and downs along the way.

Bromley's press night saw both first covers stepping up to the roles of Jenna and her gynaecologist Dr Pomatter, with incredible performances from  Aimée Fisher and Nathanael Landskroner respectively.  Fisher made the role her own, playing Jenna as comedic yet endearing. She had exceptional attention to detail, particularly in What Baking Can Do and It Only Takes a Taste. Her beautiful rendition of She Used to Be Mine had the audience on the edge of their seats, with the whole theatre erupting into rapturous applause almost before she could finish her last note. Landskroner’s Pomatter was full of the awkward, nervous charm we know and love, with flawless and tender vocals.
 
Other standout performances were from Evelyn Hoskins and George Crawford, playing the geeky and loveable Dawn and Ogie. Crawford’s Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me was comedic and witty with fantastic diction. Sandra Marvin’s Becky was hilarious and full of sass, and her powerful vocals in I Didn’t Plan It brought the house down.

Waitress is as refreshing as ever and hasn’t lost an ounce of its West End charm, despite occasional sound and lighting blips. A show that’s full of cheers and tears, often at the same time.


Runs until 26th February then continues on tour
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Shepherd - Review

***


Written and directed by Russell Owen



Tom Hughes


Eric Black (Tom Hughes) is a man with a troubled past who, in search of inner peace and resolution, accepts a job offer as a shepherd on an otherwise uninhabited Scottish island. The location is a remote wilderness, and if these few words of description hint at Jack Nicholson’s performance for Stanley Kubrick as Jack Torrance, then you won’t be far off the mark. But while there is much about Shepherd (even the opening helicopter shot of a car driving into the remote hills) that hints at Stephen King’s masterpiece, this movie lacks The Shining’s shine.

As Black comes tries to come to terms with his past, he is tormented by scenes with his devoutly Christian mother (passable work from Greta Scacchi) and an enigmatic local fisherwoman (Kate Dickie), whose faith is far more dark. Ultimately the narrative here is too focussed on Black’s self-indulgent introspection, rather than a terrifying psychological horror. If there were less of his soul-searching and more (and better) graphically visual excitement, then the film would have been immeasurably improved.

Wags may spot a brief nod to The Italian Job, while a field full of crucified sheep did little more than amusingly suggest The Slaughtered Lamb inn from An American Werewolf In London.To its credit the film’s aerial and drone photography of the Scottish and Welsh landscapes is gorgeous, easily passing as a promo for those two countries’ tourist boards. But as a worthwhile horror movie, this Shining-lite, lacks polish.


Shepherd will be available on Blu-ray and Digital Download from 21st February

Friday, 11 February 2022

The House On Cold Hill - Review

The Mill at Sonning


***


Written by Peter James
Adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna
Directed by Keith Myers


Debbie McGee works her magic with the company


The House on Cold Hill is a ghost story with all the traditional mcguffins. The doors creak, the pipes creak - hey, even the script creaks as Caro  and Ollie with-their teenage daughter Jade (Madeleine Knight, Matt Milburn and Hannah Boyce respectively) move into Cold Hill House, an ancient mansion with dark and haunting secrets.

There's just a hint of Ghostbusters and The Exorcist in the mix here and for those who prefer some magic with their supernatural thrills and chills there is even Debbie McGee making her acting debut as Annie, the local cleaning lady with a double life as the village medium.

The horror may be more ham than Hammer but this being The Mill At Sonning the ticket price includes a delicious meal to get the evening started. (The salmon was wonderful!) And recognising the senior demographics of Sonning’s typical audience, it is also fair to say that for the most part the mild scares are more corny than gory.

A pleasant evening's entertainment that’s unlikely to give you nightmares.


Runs until 26th March
Photo credit: Andreas Lambis

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Hamlet - Review

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe, London


*


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Sean Holmes



George Fouracres


"Fuck you Fortinbras!", as uttered by Claudius, is but one of the early revisions to Hamlet that Sean Holmes subjects us to in this, the first production of the play to be performed in the candlelit intimacy of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe. 

At least in 1994, when Disney offered up their take on Hamlet, they had the decency to re-name their version 'The Lion King'. The artistic team at the Globe lack such grace. Their interpretation of this finest of tragedies is sloppy in its revisions with text chopped and re-written, inappropriate songs and chants introduced and amidst a general demolition of the fourth wall, audience singalongs included too. Perhaps the Globe's team had taken Shakespeare's description of his audience to heart, the groundlings being "for the most part capable of nothing but inexplicable dumbshows and noise". Either way, it is notable that no name is posted in the credits to take responsibility for this ghastly adaptation.

This Hamlet comes across as no-more than a big budget student production, a play more likely to have graced the Edinburgh Fringe, rather than one of the country's leading Shakespearean venues. At least at Edinburgh the tickets would have been considerably cheaper and the show would have been likely to have lasted little more than 1 hour, rather than the interminable 3+ hours on offer here.

Ultimately it is hard to say what is more troubling. The butchery to which Shakespeare's prose has been subject or the rapturous applause, standing ovation even, that the whooping audience bestowed upon the production. This reviewer is privileged to be familiar with the text, having seen the play on many occasions over the decades. On the night that this production was attended, the Playhouse was packed with at least two parties of of school students. What a betrayal that these young people are being exposed to, seeing Hamlet perhaps for the first time in their lives, performed at times as little more than a pantomime with so much of Shakespeare’s verse savaged.

This is cultural vandalism of which the Globe’s trustees should be ashamed. The one star rating is for George Fouracres' decent work in the title role and by John Lightbody as Polonius. The rest is silence.


Runs until 9th April
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Saturday, 15 January 2022

Luzia - Review

Royal Albert Hall, London



****


Written and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca






After a Covid-induced interregnum exceeding 600 days, Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia returns to the Royal Albert Hall, reprising its Mexican themed extravaganza of human skills and water-based artistry.

As is nearly always the case in touring circuses that pitch up in the capital, the physical talent on display is stunning. The power, stamina, precision, courage and sheer human genius of the aerialists, pole artistes, trapeze performers and many more defies our understanding and we rightly gasp in awe at the skills on display before us. What is not the case for most touring shows however is the price tag. At Luzia most adult tickets sold at less than £100 will deliver a restricted view, while for the best seats in the house, the cost edges closer to £300 each. 

Is it worth it? Well for 2 ½ hours – including a 25 minute interval – the circus craft on display is world class. Combining mime, physical theatre and music – with supreme physical agility, Mexican culture ranging from the Aztecs through to the nation’s renowned talents with a football are cleverly interweaved. There is some gorgeous animal work too, including a horse and a big cat, cleverly brought to life by their human puppeteers.

Rain and water form a large part of the evening’s imagery, with a fiendishly smart spray arm sitting above the revolving stage and a centre pool. From here, sheets of water not only offer an enchanting backdrop to some acts, they also deliver up some clever images captured in the rhythm of the cascading drops. Ingenious? For sure. But these waterworks display the talent of designers and technicians, supported by state of the art technology. For decades, the essence of Cirque du Soleil's magic has been drawn from its displays of human talent, wowing audiences with unimaginable feats of strength and style that are live, vibrant and risky. By contrast, this aquatic display of digital wizardry could arguably be better presented around the corner at London’s Science Museum.

With a cast of 50 and a backstage crew of at least equal numbers, Luzia is lavish and, for the most part, great fun. For sure this is a feast for the eyes, including the eye-watering skills of Russian contortionist Aleksei Goloborodko who shows his body to be far more serpentine than the famous pond that’s just across the road. But at the risk of sounding churlish, alongside the show's unquestioned beauty and talent, more death-defying acts wouldn’t have gone amiss. From Holland, the appropriately named Fool Koller delivers occasional clown routines that are at times more subtle than hilarious.

In Hamlet, Gertrude asks for “more matter with less art” and there are moments in Luzia when that sentiment rings true. But where a family of four will need to spend close to a grand for ringside seats with a view, one cannot help but recall the words of Phineas T. Barnum...


Runs until 27 February 2022