Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ Menier, SE1

MICHAEL ADAIR, 25  ¾ ,  APPROPRIATELY TAKES OVER AND WRITES..

 

 

Before The Inbetweeners, the most accurate reflection of the total embarrassment of teenage life in Britain was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾. Nearly 35 years on from publication, Adrian, who recently turned 50, has featured in 7 further books and stage radio and TV adaptations. Now Sue Townsend’s aspiring intellectual makes his way to the Menier Chocolate Factor with a musical rendition of his journey into adolescence by composer Pippa Cleary and lyricist Jake Brunger.

 

 

 

It’s set in 1981 . Adrian, played on this particular evening with some wonderful facial expressions by Benjamin Lewis, is a touch more confident and self aware than his literary template. He doesn’t need his grandmother to stand up to the school bully for him and his famous red socks are made to be much more of a deliberate act of political defiance. We are also given a greater insight into the adult relationships than our oblivious protagonist was able to share in his diary. Pauline Mole, played by Kelly Price, is at first quite troubled by the advances of John Hopkins’s suave Mr Lucas who slithers into the family kitchen, his booming baritone backed by a sultry clarinet. It is, however, in these moments of tenderness that the show loses its way. The ballads and flashes of poignancy are instead drowned out by rousing ensemble pieces and swooping moments of nostalgia and fun. We see a school disco complete with dry ice and utterly euphoric synth pop , and an amusing dream sequence where Adrian melodramatically foresees his own death from a bout of tonsillitis whilst accompanied by jiving doctors, funky basslines and an appearance from God himself.

 

 

 

The source material is lovingly adhered to, with many of the book’s most memorable lines given plenty of breathing space and still raising laughs and audible smirks of recognition. Sue Townsend’s sense of mischief is all too apparent in Barry James’s Bert Baxter, who is seen waving a lone Soviet flag amidst a sea of Union Jacks at the wedding of Prince Charles and ‘a virgin named Diana’. The knowing social satire at the heart of Townsend’s work remains, with the outstanding Asha Banks, playing 13 year old feminist Pandora Braithwaite declaring to her classmates ‘Inequality ends from today! We’ll get equal pay!’

 

 

 

The set by Tom Rogers is reminiscent of a 1980s toy advertisement. Cast members stream out of cupboards and wardrobes, manipulating the furniture like a game of Jenga, we see tattered editions of classic board games, a poster of Princess Leia, and Orville the duck amidst the various clutter. Patches of damp cover the walls of the cramped family home and the colour palette is both spectacularly naff and remarkably stylish.

 

 

 

In a world of reboots, relaunches and remasters, the return of Adrian Mole is entirely welcome. It’s a funny and enjoyable show, fresh and relevant and perfectly placed to take advantage of today’s market for nostalgia. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of its whip-smart peer Matilda, sometimes the singing sounded strained and the more serious scenes felt incidental – but it perfectly captures the spirit of a cult figure. One we can all relate to, probably more than we’d care to admit.

 

 

Box Office – +44 (0)20 7378 1713  TO 9 SEPT
https://www.menierchocolatefactory.com

RATING    3 ¾   3 Meece Rating1 Meece Rating

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GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY Old Vic, SE1

BOB AND CONOR: A NEW DIRECTION HOME…

 

 

Bob Dylan songs – from each of six decades – woven into a musical by Conor McPherson? At Dylan’s own suggestion? What? But here it is: moody and heartfelt as an old movie, a tale harsh as Miller or Tennessee Williams, storytelling resonant and drawing deep.

 

 

 

It is actually an inspired match, for Dylan’s songs share the playwright’s Irish sensibility. Apart from the obvious folk and hymn roots there is a particular melancholy, a dry regret, a sense of poverty knowing itself impotent but maintaining an irony, the consolation of a dance step or a late-night lock-in. Dylan and Irish song both tend to a melodic, poetic yearning which taps at the heart’s door with emotional authority and transcends time and circumstance. You can listen alone to It Ain’t Me, Babe even twenty years into a happy marriage; or weep in exile for The Old Bog Road even if you are at home.

 

 
Wisely, Matthew Warchus of the Old Vic left it to the writer to direct, and Rae Smith’s setting is sparse, unpretending, with microphones and onstage instruments as if the story was being told by buskers , as well as lived before us. Simon Hale’s arrangements and musical direction allow for a slight roughness, an air of spontaneity. The setting is a cheap lodging-house in Duluth, in 1934. The players are a community living on the edge. Ironically, just as the sunny Annie is playing just across the river with its orphan chirruping advice to the President, this is the second musical play about FDR’s Depression America to open this summer. But there is no New Deal for Duluth here. As its hero says, “We ain’t go no nets to catch us”.

 

In early film style, the local doctor (Ron Cook) narrates posthumously at beginning and end, adding to the sense of distance.   Nick (Ciaran Hinds) is the solid, striving host , on he last three weeks before  foreclosure on his house. One hope is his mistress and  lodger, widowed Mrs Neilson, with whom he has a fragile plan to start another hotel. His care for his wife continues, through the hopelessness of her dementia: there is a basic decency in the big beaten man, understated,  sometimes immensely moving, feeding her chicken stew as she berates him.  Their foundling negro daughter Marianne (a magnificent, dignified Shiela Atim, towering over her tiny adoptive mother) is pregnant: Nick hopes to marry her off to the only affluent man they know, a widower thrice  her age.

 

 

 

In from the Minnesota storm come two more to drive and aggravate the plot: Michael Shaeffer as a smoothly nasty Bible salesman, Arinze Kene as as an ex-convict boxer. Whose first welcome , in that racist age, is being called “Boy” and taunted by the son of the house, a drunken would-be writer Gene (Sam Reid). In the house too are the Burkes, failed in business, and their feebleminded, threateningly strong son Elias who is growing beyond safe control.

 

 

 

It is a big cast to manage, each with depths of hurt and failure and disappointment; but the songs knit them together in a poetic weave as powerful as the stormbound austerity itself. All the actor- musicians sing, superbly, resonantly, from depths of feeling,  with a particularly astonishing, mould-breaking performance by Shirley Henderson as Nick’s wife Elizabeth. Every line of her slight, skinny body is expressive of dementia, disinhibition and disillusion. Sometimes she is cowering like a scared animal, coaxed towards food or restrained from violence  by Nick and Marianne: sometimes dancing, unsettlingly wild, a mad Maenad parting her legs at any man, speaking inappropriate truths. But sometimes she comes to a stillness, and in an immense bluesy voice sings the wisdoms , sorrows and strangeness of some half-forgotten Dylan song.

 

 

 

I say forgotten, because drawn from fifteen different albums, only two or three are familiar anthems like Slow Train. Under McPherson’s guidance they simply grow almost miraculously from the unfolding story, from the desires and despairing secrets of these people on their various edges. Here is lost love, compromised love, failure, weakness, loneliness, endurance. Solos become duets, lines are handed from one to another, sometimes choruses form: women group round a microphone in 1930s radio-hour style, or echo the gospel roots with tambourines.  Some solos are beyond electrifying: Elizabeth’s Like a Rolling Stone, or her final, heartshaking Forever Young, an anthem of hope in the dark, a hand held to humanity. Which comes right out of one of the bleakest speeches on any stage. Duquesne Whistle makes your hair stand on end; Is Your Love In Vain, from the Burkes in their darkest moments, stuns.

 

 

Dylan and McPherson are both poets. Here they meld, mesh, converse. The roughness is necessary. It’s a privilege to watch.

 

 

box office 0844 871 7628 to 7 oct
Principal partner: ROyal Bank of Canada
rating four   4 Meece Rating

 

 

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MOSQUITOES Dorfman, SE1

A COSMIC CLASH OF PHYSICS AND FAMILY

 

Ah, now this is what the National Theatre is for1 A great reckless sprawl of a brand-new play, with spectacular technology, extraordinary design (Katrina Lindsay!) and the very best of actors: all thrown at it, and directed with wit, clarity and humanity by Rufus Norris . It’s not perfect, but it’s not afraid of anything. That is to love. That wins the fifth mouse.

 

 
For Lucy Kirkwood’s latest is a Catherine-wheel run amok, hurling out ideas and themes , questions and feelings and paradoxes and jokes. It is about cutting-edge physics, cosmology, grief, adolescence, pregnancy, sisterhood, sexting, psychosis, exasperation, the limitations of intelligence , and sad physical decay. It is set amid scientists on the Great Hadron Collider , with added Toblerone and three very funny jokes about Switzerland.

 
Possibly there are too many themes in it, streaming out and colliding like the proton chaos far below, sometimes threatening that there won’t be enough gravity to hold the play’s atoms together, or creating a Black Hole too dense to comprehend (see how dizzy atomic physics makes us laymen, and that indeed is part of the point). But Kirkwood it fetches you back, generally with a snort of laughter. Not least from Amanda Boxer as Granny Karen, mother of the two ill-assorted sisters at its heart, who steals every scene she stumps into. She isn’t quite its centre, but has a doll of a part as the matriarch who once nearly won a Nobel prize and has no illusions left. “Love! Everyone thinks love is the greatest force i the cosmos and it isn’t, you know. The greatesr force in the cosmos is the Nuclear Strong Force. Love’s about twelve things down the list, after gravity and superglue..”

 

 

At its heart, though, displaying the complexities and infuriations of family love with pitiless admiration, are two tremendous performances: Olivia Williams as Alice, a brilliant atomic physicist working on the Great Hadron Collider at Cern, and her sister – the matchlessly funny, subtle, nuanced Olivia Colman as her dimmer but sparkier sister Jenny. In the opening scene clever Alice is on a flying visit to her sister, who after eleven years and IVF is pregnant and anxious, Googling too much and refusing an ultrasound because she read it causes dyslexia (in rats!) she provokes Alice’s cry of “Just because you have access to information doesn’t mean you’re equipped to use it!” . Ah, that speaks for many exasperated experts in the age of the Internet.

 
Then we are in Geneva, where the physicist’s son Luke, a wonderful portrayal by Joseph Quinn as a mass of teenage hormones, anxiety and goodwill, is online with a minx called Natalie. Overbright, underconfident, lonely at his international school, at odds with his mother, infuriated by the merry illogicality of his aunt Jenny, he careers towards a tiny personal collision which, in the moment, is cosmic to him. His father by the way has disappeared, becoming a strange wandering narrator and scientific expatiator who wanders throughout around the edge or occasionally takes the centre of the round stage in a whirl of projected atoms to explain the beginning and end of all matter: in the cast list he is”The Boson” (Paul Hilton) but the part has is a human resonance and importance to the others which is intensely moving.

 

 

 

The family dynamic, driven by a real and ordinary sadness, is as unpredictable and potentially disastrous as the rumours about the great machine beneath them. The GHC is switched on with fabulous sounds and lights, on the very day that Jenny and the troublesome old mother Karen turn up on a visit to a too-small apartment. No spoilers, but as particles collide so do sisters, parents and children. A black hole of despair is swallowing Jenny. The perils and glories of ignorance are nicely counterbalanced by those attached to intense, brain-frying intelligence. It is an intimate family story and a chalice of familiar bitterness , capable in its fearless author’s hands of lurching into a sci-fi-future and back into a messy redemption. Love it.

 

 

At the Dorfman to 28 September
rating five atomic mice  5 Meece Rating

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DESSERT Southwark Playhouse SE1

FINE DINING AND FINANCIAL FURY

 

Piquant idea, to open Oliver Cotton’s play about financial inequality in BBC Salary Embarrassment Week.  While the inequity between multi-million popinjays and mere 149k losers in the weird world of showbiz is perhaps not especially  worth angsting about, there were nice resonances.

 

For it’s a good subject: Cotton is having a spirited pop at the Philip Green fatcat amassers of money, and especially the asset-strippers who leave investors broke like the antihero Hugh – who is Michael Simkins, always a treat. Trevor Nunn’s production (so soon after his latest Rattigan) wins another lovely drawing-room-play design – all Farrow& Ballish with old masters which are part of the plot tastefully framed in elegant white mouldings against fashionably duckshit-green walls. At a selfconsciously posh dinner table we meet two couples – Hugh and lady Gill (Alexandra Gilbreath) entertaining American friends, who are played by Stuart Milligan and Teresa Banham with a nice annoying edge. They are contacts in the murky world of enormous investments . Milligan has less to do, but as the trophy-wife Meredith, Ms Banham navigates hilariously from being a defiant ignorama droning on about some ridiculous Blairish spiritual healing in South America, through a brief hysteria to display in the crisis an unexpected rather likeable solidity. Which is more than can be said for Graham Turner, who does a splendid turn as a burnt-out City maths genius turned herb-cookery nut and butler. He has become Hugh’s loyal factotum and has, as it turns out, a remarkable gift for making disasters even worse.

 

 

 

For a disaster is what the evening rapidly becomes. One hesitates to offer spoilers, but you should at least know that “Dessert” is a joke: they never get to the pudding because a young man in camo gear breaks in with a gun to lecture them on the evils of undeserved wealth (desert, geddit?) .  He has come make threats and demands which fatcat Hugh (Simkins rather splendidly drawing a tiny bit of sympathy from some of us) won’t meet.

 

 

 

It certainly keeps you watching, Nunn’s direction is sharp, and gunshots and other surprises come just when you aren’t quite expecting them. But Cotton’s play has one serious flaw: it puts an unreasonable weight on the tough young intruder Eddie, played as well as he could be by Stephen Hagan. It is an unusual, if not incredible, portrait of a self-educated, art-fancying, justice-seeking young soldier; but it is plain unfair to bestow such immense, Guardian-leader sprawls of angry egalitarian and ethical argument on one character. There is – certainly at first – far too little interruption and dialogue with the others to sharpen it. Eddie, frankly, goes on and on in a way few characters have been allowed since the days of George Bernard Shaw. It slows the play and detaches you.

 

 

 

With some cuts, it could be sharp indeed. And is certainly topical. And Eddie is morally quite right. But it’s not good being right if you’re boring, and even a Rylance would be hard put to make some of the character’s scenes anything else. Cotton has done this ranting before, in DAYTONA: looking back, I notice I wrote about “long, emotionally charged narrative monologues demanding from the other [cast members] the equally difficult art of listening and reacting.” But I did enjoy the dénouement. I hope for more Cotton, because he’s a great plot-maker. All it needs is a bit less of the GBS speechifying .

 

 

box office 0207 407 0234 southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
rating three   3 Meece Rating

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INK – more thoughts

With the news of its West End transfer in autumn – well deserved –  I  finally caught up with INK (reviewed here on opening night by Luke.

 

I agree with his rating of five, and am as ever dazzled by James Graham’s remarkable ability to recreate a past world and a half-forgotten crisis which still matters, and above all to do it  without tiresome message-signalling or caricature.

It is a remarkably humane and thoughtful piece. And Goold and designer Bunny Christie make marvellous dramatic use both of newspaper office mess and hot-metal drama, now almost forgotten as the grey screens flip silently before dazed eyes in quiet offices or the bedrooms and cafes of freelancers.

A few fresh observations:
,
– Carvel’s body language as Murdoch is clever: shoulders round, somehow both slouching and looming. I like the the gentle upscale Aussie accent, so far from the cruder “Aussie hooligan” caricatures of satirists. Graham’s script also catches the chip on the shoulder and the underreported but well-attested Murdoch primness: an instinctive recoil at the more knickery end of pop journalism.

 
– I wondered whether the story – though true – of Muriel MacKay’s horrible fate would feel bolted-on, but Graham has used it to make the darkening of the play a Faustus legend, a story of fun turning to decay as Larry Lamb chases the chimera of beating his old paper, the Mirror, with any weapons to hand.

 
– The fun itself, the defiant Fleet Street romance and cheek, quite brilliantly done. I had forgotten about the tinned knickers and the Southend werewolf…

 
– In this age of stripped red carpet celebs waving their sideboobs, and innumerable online and lad-mag titshows , it hard to believe now that a nipple could cause such outrage and panic. Even from Cardinals and Downing Street and Mary Whitehouse. And the first page 3 girl disgraced,  told not to come back to her drama school..today she’d be summa cum laude.

 
– But above all, it was mesmerising to find so much of our own age foreshadowed – The understaffed new Sun was getting readers to supply stories ,long before citizen journalism was coined and social media dreamed of.   And beyond that there’s the populism, exuberantly crass, so dismaying to the sober Cudlipp and the broadsheets. A sense of angry insouciant mass feeling and reckless appetite prefigures both   Brexit and Momentum.

Or, at least, the  chinstroking liberal establishment reaction to them…plenty of Cudlipps out there..

 

So, still five enthusiastic press mice.    No point battering down the doors of the Almeida now, it will transfer quite beautifully to the Duke of York’s…

 

5 Meece Rating

 

 

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FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Chichester Festival Theatre

FROM HIS MOUTH TO GOD’S EAR…

 

 

We know Omid Djalili best as a comedian: one of our few Iranian standups. Great timing and great heart, a good Fagin but comparatively new to the stage (he improved before our very eyes in What the Butler Saw). Yet he is dream casting here as our hero Tevye the milkman: Ashkenazi Jewish, heart and butt of a 1905 shtetl, a precarious community in Imperial Russia. To lead in this Stein/ Bock/Harnick musical is a challenge: Tevye has been beloved these forty years, and even I have seen both Topol (in distant youth ) and Henry Goodman (recently). But Djalili’s Tevye is, in its freshness, humour and commitment, once again one to love.

 

Beneath his permanent hat there is a grin and a disgruntlement, patriarchal pride and husbandly henpeck and asides of puzzlement shared with us as he reasons with God and neighbours. There are the quips – “Money is a curse? God smite me with it!”. Under the jerkin and woollen prayer-shawl a warm heart beats; on clumping feet Djalili joins the occasional dance, graceful as a Disney hippo and camp as ninepence. Joyful.

 

 

I say “camp” advisedly, by the way, for camp is not exclusive to gayness but a presentation merely rueful, self-mocking, ironic , fluently expressive (even in the wedding-dance with a bottle on his hat). His scenes with Tracy-Ann Oberman as his wearily dominant wife Golde are suitably gold; so are all his interactions, warm and nimble. Whether deploying drop-dead for necessary laughs, becoming suddenly earnest in solemn Hebrew prayer, or flashing into a genuine horror of Faith at his youngest daughter’s defiant marrying-out, he feels quite simply right and real.
Ah, faith. Living in an regime as dangerous and unwelcoming as Tsarist Russia under the pogroms, Faith and community becomes something to cling to. So is a apt and necessary that Daniel Evans’ direction – as in all his work – is joyfully and solidly ensemble. The daughters are excellent – especially Simbi Akande’s   Tzeitel, who longs for Motl the tailor, and Emma Kingston’s Hodel who follows the revolutionary student to Siberia (Louis Maskell is a quietly impressive Perchik) to Siberia. Liza Sadovy is wickedly funny as the appalling matchmaker, and there is some very classy spitting. But there is nobody on that stage who is not heartfelt: part of the picture, more than a stereotype even in the lightest moments. Even the most briefly drawn romance, Fyedka the Russian and the bookish shy Chava, moves the heart almost inexplicably. So do quintessentially Jewish moments: as when Tevye gives bread to the hungry Perchik with a grumpy “to give is a blessing” and Perchik as he leaves the stage, gives a piece of it to Nachum the beggar. For the Talmud lays down that the beggar who receives charity must give a part in turn to a hungrier one.

 

 

The whole production shines as much in such tiny moments as in big showpieces. There is a real fiddler on the roof outside near the car park, safely tethered by a safety-harness as he plays into the rising summer wind, and inside the theatre, perched vertiginously overhead below the orchestra, agaiin here he is: an emblem of defiant fragility . For as Tevye says they all just “trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking our necks”.

 

 

 

No need to enumerate the laughs and the reflective poignancies in this flawless revival: but by programming it Evans’ Chichester is on particularly sure ground anyway. It feels as sharp as a news bulletin. Consider that Ashkenazi Jewish settlement of Anatevka on the verge of persecution, family-rooted and patriarchal , suspicious of a new and puzzling world of women’s choice . It speaks all too clearly of our own communities which stand aside , poor, wary of the mainstream, loving in families but hopelessly clinging to patriarchal authority as Tevye tries (and fails) to do as his daughters step into a new century. Reflect that perhaps for our own Muslim communities tradition is, as for Tevye, a security blanket: “Everyone knows who is is and what God expects him to to”.

 
And among us too too are refugees from villages flattened with just the same brutality as Anatevka in the last act. Weary processions of men and headscarved women trudge nightly through the ten o’clock news with cases and bags echoing the handcarts and bundles of the past (much of the set’s furniture, significantly, is suitcases). From Syria to Stockport, Fiddler has messages for us. About how a community can be a choking restriction or a defiant victim, but at the same time be security and shelter , a rumbustious family joke and a cherished memory.
Impossible not to reflect on all this as you watch this glorious production.

 

 

But even if reflection and tears for the past and present are not your thing, just go for fun This is, after all, a Daniel Evans production, and stage machinery must not be ignored. Tevye’s dream and Grandma’s ghost will knock your socks off. Oh yes. Send it up West soon. Please.

 

http://www.cft.org.uk or 01243 781312 to 2 September
rating five  5 Meece Rating

 

 

 

We know Omid Djalili best as a comedian: one of our few Iranian standups. Great timing and great heart, a good Fagin but comparatively new to the stage (he improved before our very eyes in What the Butler Saw). Yet he is dream casting here as our hero Tevye the milkman: Ashkenazi Jewish, heart and butt of a 1905 shtetl, a precarious community in Imperial Russia. To lead in this Stein/ Bock/Harnick musical is a challenge: Tevye has been beloved these forty years, and even I have seen both Topol (in distant youth ) and Henry Goodman (recently). But Djalili’s Tevye is, in its freshness, humour and commitment, once again one to love.

 

Beneath his permanent hat there is a grin and a disgruntlement, patriarchal pride and husbandly henpeck and asides of puzzlement shared with us as he reasons with God and neighbours. There are the quips – “Money is a curse? God smite me with it!”. Under the jerkin and woollen prayer-shawl a warm heart beats; on clumping feet Djalili joins the occasional dance, graceful as a Disney hippo and camp as ninepence. Joyful.

 

I say “camp” advisedly, by the way, for camp is not exclusive to gayness but a presentation merely rueful, self-mocking, ironic , fluently expressive (even in the wedding-dance with a bottle on his hat). His scenes with Tracy-Ann Oberman as his wearily dominant wife Golde are suitably gold; so are all his interactions, warm and nimble. Whether deploying drop-dead for necessary laughs, becoming suddenly earnest in solemn Hebrew prayer, or flashing into a genuine horror of Faith at his youngest daughter’s defiant marrying-out, he feels quite simply right and real.

Ah, faith. Living in an regime as dangerous and unwelcoming as Tsarist Russia under the pogroms, Faith and community becomes something to cling to. So is a apt and necessary that Daniel Evans’ direction – as in all his work – is joyfully and solidly ensemble. The daughters are excellent – especially Emma Kingston’s Tzeitel, who longs for Motl the tailor, and Hodel who follows the revolutionary student to Siberia (Louis Maskell is a quietly impressive Perchik) to Siberia. Liza Sadovy is wickedly funny as the appalling matchmaker, and there is some very classy spitting. But there is nobody on that stage who is not heartfelt: part of the picture, more than a stereotype even in the lightest moments. Even the most briefly drawn romance, Fyedka the Russian and the bookish shy Chava, moves the heart almost inexplicably. So do quintessentially Jewish moments: as when Tevye gives bread to the hungry Perchik with a grumpy “to give is a blessing” and Perchik as he leaves the stage, gives a piece of it to Nachum the beggar. For the Talmud lays down that the beggar who receives charity must give a part in turn to a hungrier one.

The whole production shines as much in such tiny moments as in big showpieces. There is a real fiddler on the roof outside near the car park, safely tethered by a safety-harness as he plays into the rising summer wind, and inside the theatre, perched vertiginously overhead below the orchestra, agaiin here he is: an emblem of defiant fragility . For as Tevye says they all just “trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking our necks”.

 

No need to enumerate the laughs and the reflective poignancies in this flawless revival: but by programming it Evans’ Chichester is on particularly sure ground anyway. It feels as sharp as a news bulletin. Consider that Ashkenazi Jewish settlement of Anatevka on the verge of persecution, family-rooted and patriarchal , suspicious of a new and puzzling world of women’s choice . It speaks all too clearly of our own communities which stand aside , poor, wary of the mainstream, loving in families but hopelessly clinging to patriarchal authority as Tevye tries (and fails) to do as his daughters step into a new century. Reflect that perhaps for our own Muslim communities tradition is, as for Tevye, a security blanket: “Everyone knows who is is and what God expects him to to”.

And among us too too are refugees from villages flattened with just the same brutality as Anatevka in the last act. Weary processions of men and headscarved women trudge nightly through the ten o’clock news with cases and bags echoing the handcarts and bundles of the past (much of the set’s furniture, significantly, is suitcases). From Syria to Stockport, Fiddler has messages for us. About how a community can be a choking restriction or a defiant victim, but at the same time be security and shelter , a rumbustious family joke and a cherished memory.
Impossible not to reflect on all this as you watch this glorious production.

 

But even if reflection and tears for the past and present are not your thing, just go for fun This is, after all, a Daniel Evans production, and stage machinery must not be ignored. Tevye’s dream and Grandma’s ghost will knock your socks off. Oh yes. Send it up West soon. Please.

 

http://www.cft.org.uk or 01243 781312 to 2 September
rating five
 

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YANK! Charing Cross Theatre, SW1

NEW GUEST CRITIC THOMAS HOLLOWAY FINDS A NEW MUSICAL

 

 

Arriving at the Charing Cross Theatre this weekend, in the wake of London’s Pride weekend, is this transfer from the enterprising new Hope Mill Theatre.Inspired by the musical traditions of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Yank! was written by Joseph and David Zellnik: in this Pride week it tells a tale those veterans could not have dared to: the story of Stu and Mitch, two soldiers who fall in love whilst in the US Army. Dressed in the drag of the old MGM musicals Yank! becomes both a homage to 1940’s Hollywood glamour and a testament to the bravery of the gay American men and women who fought on the front lines during World War II.

 

 

It’s a fascinating concept: it feels as though this is a lost musical from the era’s canon, recovered and reinserted into history. This seems to be exactly the Zellnik Brothers aim: they have reclaimed a pivotal moment of gay history which has been lost to the record, by using the very iconography with which the gay identity found itself.

 

 

However, the execution seems slightly unfocused. Incorporating an overabundance of themes, David Zellnik’s book never concentrates on the beats it truly wants to explore, playing erratically with plots and motifs, not awarding the themes the complexity they deserve. There is too much extraneous fluff built into it, which combined with some of the show’s anachronistic humour muddies what it has to say about sexuality and gender.

 

 

This extends to his characters, which are mostly stereotypical tropes, many of whom who do little to serve the narrative. The two lovers are very much of the masculine protector/feminine protected type seen in a lot of queer media, and despite the World War II setting that feels a little tired. This is particularly a shame, as the play makes it clear that this is a crucial moment of history where the concepts of gender and sexuality are being discovered, so it seems somewhat of a missed opportunity.

 

 

This is to not slight the performances, which are all exceptional. Scott Hunter is incredibly affecting as Stu, masterfully guiding his character’s subtle transition from nervous youngster to brave freedom fighter. He is supported wonderfully by Andy Coxon’s Mitch (whose honeyed voice is nothing short of excellent), who excellently conveys his character’s internal struggle with the expectations of masculinity, and Chris Kiely’s Artie, who gives the show a much needed comic flourish.

 

 

However, best in show is Sarah-Louise Young, whose smoky vocals and bold character turns makes her a wonderful ode to both the struggle of women throughout the war and the glamorous old Hollywood starlets who occupy queer iconography to this day. All of the company’s tight vocals and choreography are up to any West End performer’s: it’s just that some of the characters get lost in the mix.

 

 

But this is definitely worth seeing, and a great insight into American queer culture during the Second World War. The Zellnik brothers produce a score of fantastic tunes, conveying both the vibrant hope and suffocating loss of the era. Victoria Hinton’s set uses the space well, and has a wonderful sliding door element revealing a wide array of characters, musicians or obstacles, meaning you never know what awaits our protagonists next. Particularly fantastic is Aaron J. Dootson’s lighting design, a wonderful spectrum of scenes and moods, all the way from the horror of war to the glamour of the silver screen.

 

 
So Yank! is definitely a much-needed, and charming, ode to the courage of these lost heroes – it just gets a little distracted along the way.

 

 

box office 08444 930 650 http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk to 19 August
rating three   3 Meece Rating

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