Tuesday 28 May 2024

Hamlet - Review

Riverside Studios, London


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Selina Cadell

Eddie Izzard

With earrings, acrylics, heels and skin-tight leather trousers it is clear that Eddie Izzard’s take on the Prince of Denmark is at least as much about asserting the actor’s femininity as it is about an interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most enigmatic characters.

As a solo turn that lasts for two and a half hours incl interval this Hamlet is undoubtedly a display of remarkable stamina and fortitude but Izzard’s performance comes across as more about ticking the boxes of ‘doing a Hamlet’ rather than offering any new comment on the play. The clumsily truncated dialogue is frequently rushed and disappointingly for a press night, often stumbled over, and for those not familiar with Shakespeare’s carefully crafted verse the evening will have offered little insight into the nuanced classic yarn. 

Izzard's background in stand-up serves the performance well in the gravedigger scene which is genuinely funny - elsewhere however there needed to have been more matter with less Commedia dell'arte. Playing the final act’s swordfight for laughs, be they intended or not, detracts from the story’s tragedy.

Strip away Izzard’s celebrity status and it is hard to imagine this Hamlet commanding much box office success. As Shakespeare himself wrote (in a speech that Izzard's adapter, brother Mark Izzard, has chosen to excise from this production) “it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags.” Izzard and director Selina Cadell should have heeded those words.

Runs until 30th June
Photo credit: Amanda Searle

Friday 24 May 2024

Jerry's Girls - Review

Menier Chocolate Factory, London


Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Concepts by Larry Alford, Wayne Cilento and Jerry Herman
Directed by Hannah Chissick

Jessica Martin, Cassidy Janson, Julie Yammanee

A showcase of Jerry Herman’s most acclaimed compositions, Jerry’s Girls is an evening of a sung-through medley of numbers in a compilation that allows the songs to speak for themselves. Cassidy Janson, Julie Yammanee and Jessica Martin share the singing honours that sees Herman’s compositions either maintained as solo numbers or rearranged into duets or three-handlers. 

For the most part the evening is a delight, requiring little of the audience other than to sit back and enjoy the melodies, either free of the narrative that accompanied them in their original musical theatre outings or alternatively pricking our collective memories, inviting us to recall Herman’s marvellous shows and his gift for translating the human condition into song.

As always, Janson is fabulous, handling the big solos of I Won’t Send Roses and Time Heals Everything from Mack And Mabel with finesse. From the same show, Yammanee offers up a deli-cious Look What Happened to Mabel. Martin grabs the spotlight wonderfully in the comedy routine from Take It All Off. 

As would be expected Hello, Dolly! and La Cage Aux Folles feature heavily in the revue’s setlist as Janson powerfully closes act one with The Best Of Times. The second half goes on to include a gorgeous arrangement for three voices of I Am What I Am.

Hannah Chissick’s direction makes good use of the Menier’s compact space, but Matt Cole’s choreography could have been tighter. Some of his routines lacked precision and to replace the tap-dance of Tap Your Troubles Away with tapping typewriters rather than a short, but what could have been impressive, tap routine from his talented leading ladies was an opportunity missed.

Sarah Travis leads her 6-piece all-female band magnificently and her arrangements of Herman’s tunes are fabulous. If you’re looking for an evening of mellifluous musical pleasure, Travis’s music alone is worth the ticket!

Runs until 29th June
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Thursday 16 May 2024

People, Places & Things - Review

Trafalgar Theatre, London


Written by Duncan Macmillan
Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Denise Gough

The titular people, places and things are those that a recovering addict should steer clear of on their post-rehab journey if they are to maximise their chances of avoiding relapse. Duncan Macmillan’s play for the most part explores the journey in rehab as Emma, an actress, played by Denise Gough first has to acknowledge her addiction to alcohol and substances, before undergoing the clinical process of breaking her addictions.

Gough’s performance is stellar, her 2016 Olivier Award clearly justified in a brilliant interpretation of agony and human dereliction. On stage throughout and aided by Bunny Christie’s ingenious set designs and a talented company we witness the hallucinogenic nightmares and pain of Emma’s addiction, before a nirvana-esque second act that sees her receptive to group therapy and her ultimate return to her parents’ home. 

The production is as uncomfortable to watch as it is brilliant. There is a macabre credibility to Jeremy Herrin’s direction of this revived production that chills in its depiction of Emma’s agonies during her therapy followed by a tragic endgame that explores the impact of her addiction on her parents, who with Emma grieve their son and her brother. This nutshell glimpse of the impact of bereavement and familial resentments is acutely perceptive, recognisable and heartbreaking.

Sinead Cusack offers a masterclass in supporting acting, delivering a memorable double-act over the course of the evening, firstly as the clinician/therapist leading Emma’s recovery and then later as her deeply damaged mother.

Gough has taken her Emma from the National Theatre, to the West End, to Broadway and now returned to London. She is magnificent - and for those that can handle her interpretation of human suffering, People, Places & Things is unmissable.

Runs until 10th August
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Fawlty Towers - The Play - Review

Apollo Theatre, London


Written by John Cleese
Based on the TV series Fawlty Towers written by John Cleese & Connie Booth
Directed by Caroline Jay Ranger

The cast of Fawlty Towers - The Play

Written for television some 50 years ago and almost immediately entering the pantheon of comedy, Fawlty Towers was a work of scriptwriting genius by John Cleese and his (then) wife Connie Booth. 

Cleese himself has now adapted three of the (only 12) original TV episodes into a tightly paced show that runs for two hours including interval. The adaptation itself is a work of art, Cleese fusing those famous plotlines and gags into an ingenious confection designed to appeal to both fans and newcomers alike.

Of course the writing credentials of Fawlty Towers The Play were never in doubt. The challenge was always going to lie in the effectiveness of the on-stage resurrections of the beleaguered hotel’s iconically comic characters.

Anna-Jane Casey and Adam Jackson-Smith

Simply put, director Caroline Jay Ranger’s cast are sensational. Adam Jackson-Smith is the lugubrious hotelier Basil Fawlty, a role that many may have considered unplayable. In an immaculate combination of voice, nuance and sublime physical comedy, Jackson-Smith nails the performance with far greater skill than he manages to fix a moose’s head to a hotel wall. 

Alongside him, Anna-Jane Casey takes on the mantle of Sybil Fawlty, the other half of one of comedy’s most celebrated loveless marriages. Casey’s tone is magnificent and as the evening plays out, her portrayal of a woman who is as equally monstrous as her husband, only becomes more acid. Hemi Yeroham takes up the role of the much put-upon Manuel, the hotel’s Spanish waiter with Victoria Fox playing the maid Polly. Both recreate their characters to a tee.

But aside from those big four rocks of the Fawlty Towers series, what pushes this stage show into the stratosphere of excellence is the inspired casting of the supporting roles. It’s a breath of fresh air in these politically-correct times that Paul Nicholas’s interpretation of The Major, clearly suffering with the onset of dementia, is given such a beautifully weighted and perfectly pitched performance. Equally, Rachel Izen’s hard of hearing and cantankerous Mrs Richards (“What?”) is another comedy gem.

Paul Nicholas

Creative credits are due to Liz Ascroft’s set that cleverly captures the essence of the Torquay original, along with Kate Waters’ fight direction that has the physical slapstick honed to perfection. And Campbell Young Associates’ wig design for Sybil deserves its own Olivier Award just for looking so bloody brilliant!

This critic sat down with scepticism and left the theatre with eyes and cheeks wet from laughter. Quality comedy demands a holy trinity of first-class writing, acting genius and pinpoint timing. Fawlty Towers has all three - it’s the funniest show in town.

Runs until September 28th
Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning

A Song of Songs - Review

Park Theatre, London


Written and directed by Ofra Daniel

Ofra Daniel and the cast of A Song of Songs

Written and directed by Ofra Daniel, A Song of Songs is an adaptation of the biblical poetry, originally ascribed to King Solomon. Whereas the in the original text, the poetry is framed as a dialogue between two lovers, Daniel hones in on just the female voice, centring the show around the character of Tirzah who recites the tale of her romance with an anonymous stranger in the streets of Jerusalem.

Drawing heavily on the poetry of the base text which, while beautiful in its recitation, creates a stark contrast with the newly written additions to the script, Daniel fails to match the original in both style and tone. Similarly, Hebrew language songs such as Elecha and Od Yishama were beautifully evocative, compared to many of the songs sung in the English narrative that felt muted and amateurish. Occasionally leaning into overacting at times, the seven main cast members remain on stage for almost the entirety of the show. The intimate nature of the Park Theatre demands more subtlety in performance which, at times during the evening felt like an enthusiastic school play. 

Daniel as Tirzah is a mesmerising lead, managing to keep the audience captivated even through some of the awkwardness of the on-stage costume and set readjustments. What really makes the show however, is the live band, led by clarinettist Daniel Gouly, whose backing music could almost be a show in and of itself. 

Marina Paz’s costuming was simple yet creatively constructed with scarves and shawls being used to convey different characters and a pleasing Spanish nod to music’s blend of flamenco and klezmer. The lighting however was sporadic with projections that often seemed out of place and which could have been toned down for the smaller space of the Park Theatre. 

With sound intentions no doubt, A Song of Songs could have been a fascinating spin on a very, very old classic. In this iteration however, Daniel disappoints.

Runs until 15th June
Photo credit: Pamela Raith
Reviewed by Dina Gitlin-Leigh

Thursday 9 May 2024

Opera Locos - Review

Peacock Theatre, London


Opera Locos, conceived by the Spanish Yllana theatre company, comes to the Peacock Theatre following its successful Edinburgh Fringe run last summer. The show is a bizarre carnivalesque romp through opera’s greatest hits performed by a troupe of five avant-garde opera singers. The performers weave through a veritable top of the pops of opera from Verdi’s La Traviata to Mozart’s Queen of the Night Aria, interspersed with some more modern hits, and isloosely centred on emerging romances between the performers. The plot lines feel merely incidental to the music and are, at times, difficult to follow as they are swallowed by exaggerated comedy. The show also takes a surprisingly darker turn with one of the performers struggling with alcoholism and suicidal contemplation, a plot choice that, while potentially nodding to the tragedy of opera, seemed stark and out of place in such an eccentrically comedic show. The operatic performances are brilliant with truly high class singing, most notably a breathtaking Nessun Dorma, performed by Jesus Alvarez. However, the performers voices surprisingly failed to carry the modern classics, not quite awarding the same power to Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You as was given to Bizet’s Carmen.

The ‘jukebox opera’ style of Opera Locos is formatted to make opera more accessible for non-opera goers by veering away from the long and involved classics and providing recognisable tunes to get the whole audience on board. While this goal is largely successful, with the showreel of best hits keeping up a constant tempo, the ‘all over the place’ approach lacked the normal pathos and commitment to story from a regular opera. The high degree of forced audience participation, while fun, could also be off putting for those who might not be as familiar with La donne e mobile yet find themselves being encouraged to sing it into a microphone.

The staging was simple with limited use of set or props which allowed the performers to really take the fore. Tatiana De Sarabia’s costuming gave a fun hint to the Spanish origins of the group however, did also give the impression of a child who had gotten overexcited playing dress-up.

Audiences should still expect to be delighted by this outlandish opera-come-pantomime although should be advised to thoroughly suspend their expectations of reality or the normal running of a theatre show with regular spurts of lights on audience interaction and one (hopefully willing) audience member even being taken on stage for the final curtain call.

Runs until 11th May
Reviewed by Dina Gitlin-Leigh

Wednesday 8 May 2024

London Tide - Review

National Theatre, London


Based on Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend
Adapted by Ben Power
Songs by Ben Power and PJ Harvey

The cast of London Tide

Like an incoming tide of the River Thames, so has London Tide, PJ Harvey and Ben Power’s musical adaptation of Our Mutual Friend, washed over Charles Dickens’ original reducing the 19th century classic to a slurry of mediocre melodrama that runs for more than a mind-numbing three hours. 

Alongside the writers, Ian Rickson’s direction is equally to blame for such an uninspiring evening. Rickson reduces the Thames’s majesty to a figment of our imagination, treating the Lyttleton’s massive proscenium space as a virtual warehouse, albeit one that has a floor that rises and falls along with undulating rows of lighting gantries - suggesting the river’s tidal flows.

Of the acting company Jake Wood is woefully underused as Gaffer Hexham a muscular, menacing Thames Boatman. Elsewhere, the actors try to make the best of this ghastly script, in a show that is not helped by Harvey’s monotonous melodies being poorly sung. The modern songs are grim and lazily written. By way of example, “London is not England, England is not London” must surely rank as one of the most inane lyrics ever to have been sung on stage.

It’s not just the wilful damage that Power and Harvey have wrought on Dickens’ writing - it’s that a sizeable slice of the National Theatre’s all too precious budget will have been consumed in this deluge of pretentious moralising.

London life has been far better served by Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady and Barrie Keefe’s The Long Good Friday, both of which portrayed the city’s gritty contrasts. When it comes to musical interpretations of Dickens, the capital can consider itself well in to be seeing the return of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! later this year.

Runs until 22nd June
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Sunday 5 May 2024

Making Marilyn - Review

Horatio’s Bar, Brighton


Written by Julie Burchill & Dan Raven
Directed by Carole Todd

Making Marilyn that played for three nights at the Brighton Fringe this week, is the fusion of some remarkable writing combined with one of the more outstanding performances to have been seen this year.

Suzie Kennedy is Marilyn Monroe in Julie Burchill and Dan Raven’s play that gives a voice to one of the most enigmatic women of the 20th century.

The plot projects Marilyn into a dialogue set in the modern era and through Burchill’s incisive analysis, offers us the chance to hear Monroe give her take on her tragically short life, reflecting on her achievements and her experience of exploitation. Set against what the #MeToo movement has highlighted about Hollywood, Monroe’s words offer much to contemplate - and Kennedy’s performance in both sound and appearance, is astonishing. As the star remarks that she was “better at being a personality than a person” there is much to reflect upon, and her coruscating critique of Elton John’s Candle In The Wind is brilliant.

The play’s underlying vehicle however is creaky. Two time-travellers from 2024 (Josh and Candy, played by Luke O’Dell and Kirsty Brewster-Brown) are sent back to the 1960s to collect a sample of Monroe’s DNA to bring back to the future so that replicant Marilyns can be cloned for today’s rich and powerful. Candy is perhaps the more interesting of the pair with Josh’s character proving ham-fisted, weighed down with too many clumsy references to his onanistic adulation of Monroe.

Think H.G.Wells meets Back To The Future, combined with The Boys From Brazil but lacking that trio’s carefully crafted approach to science fiction. The evening offers an overly ambitious storyline that ultimately defies credibility, letting our suspended disbelief crash to the floor as the narrative cries out for the nuclear-powered intensity of Doc Brown’s flux capacitor.

The play needs a lot of work. But Burchill and Raven’s interpretation of Monroe is little short of genius and in Suzie Kennedy’s voicing of the star, all three have truly been making Marilyn.

Thursday 2 May 2024

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) - Review

Criterion Theatre, London


Written by Jim Barne & Kit Buchan
Directed & choreographed by Tim Jackson

Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) is inspirational new musical theatre. Jim Barne & Kit Buchan’s two-hander takes the wildly inventive plot of a young Brit, Dougal (played by Sam Tutty), flying in to New York’s JFK to attend the wedding of his father who he’s never met and being met at the airport by Robin (Dujonna Gift), the sister of his father’s fiancĂ©e. 

This bold rom-com requires a steely narrative to sustain two acts and sixteen songs, but Barne and Buchan pull it off with an ingenious story that exposes both characters’ vulnerabilities and dreams, revealing credible plot twists and turns that are as surprising as they are both witty, shocking and ultimately moving.

Tutty and Gift are perfectly cast. He as the gauche young Englishman and her as the brash New Yorker, with both singing to perfection and giving immaculately nuanced interpretations of their respective complex characters.

Soutra Gilmour’s set is cleverly built around suitcases - some deliciously oversized - on two concentric revolves that define the brief transitory nature of the friendship that evolves between the pair. Tamara Saringer with only a 4-piece band under her baton makes fine work of the writers’ compositions.

A fine romance with today's zeitgeist baked-in!

Runs until 31st August
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton