Monthly Archives: March 2018

MISS NIGHTINGALE Hippodrome, Leicester Square WC2

IT’S THAT SHOW AGAIN, AND VERY WELCOME TOO

 

It’s WW2 themed. Gas masks, posters, programmes in an ARP fire-bucket and rude songs to cheer the troops on leave and show Hitler that Britain can take it. Our rorty show is upstairs while below on the broad casino floor black-tie gamblers – the real 2018 ones at the Hippodrome, serving unknowingly as atmospheric decor – rake the chips and spin the wheels as in frenzied semi-legal blackout London dive. For Matthew Bugg – creator, director producer of this spirited musical – has found the ideal glam-louche  venue for his tale of cabaret and illicit love. I always knew it would work even better at tables with drinks on them.

 

 

I feel inappropriately maternal, or auntly, about this show because I welcomed it first in 2011 at the Kings Head, writing that “Its theatrical roots spread from Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret to new burlesque, with a dash of Design for Living, touches of Rattigan angst and echoes of many a nightclubby, Blitzy, wartime-blackout romance of gin, gents and garter belts”. It was only 90 minutes then, with Ilan Goodman as the male lead; later I caught it on tour in Ipswich, all-grown-up and full length, and here it is again: tweaked and polished with a group of six versatile actor-musicians including the author himself and a hero who can play the kazoo and concertina simultaneously while his character’s heart is breaking. Lauren Chinery, brings to the title role of Maggie, the Lancashire nurse breaking into cabaret by night , a tough sturdiness which does fishnet glamour or comedy character songs with equal relish,  but gives the emotional, heartfelt numbers a real pindrop quietness.  When she reads a telegram about her soldier brother and sings , “They promised there’d be bluebirds” , it is a strong, sudden mood-changer.

 
For this is the balance the show has to strike, between Bugg’s  gorgeous pastiche ,comic-daring  patter songs and the emotional engine of a plot set against the serious miseries and social clashes of wartime. Maggie took into her lodgings George the Polish-Jewish exile , who now writes songs to launch her night job and falls in love with Sir Frank, the war hero and club impresario . This, remember, at a time when homosexuals were illogically arrested as presumed spies, “the enemy within” ; when fleeing into a sham marriage with a girl pregnant by a caddish blackmailing black-marketeer might be a way out of trouble. A time when George, as a gay Jew who fled Berlin, can say with ironic bitterness of gay arrests “This is how it begins…I have seen it”.

 
The show works a treat here, assisted by the Hippodrome ’s own echoes of Judy Garland . I still think Bugg’s first half is hampered by slowing the development of the plot and the tricky three-way relationship by indulging in one too many big cabaret numbers. But hey, we liked the songs for themselves. And there are some very different, seriously plot-developing emotional songs too. Matthew Floyd Jones is a find,  perfect casting as a waspish, pallidly troubled, camp and reckless George.  He is homesick for love and for Weimar freedoms:  his Meine Liebe Berlin (“fount of original sin..”) is unbeatable. Oliver Mawdsley’s Frank catches the awkward public-school-toff dread of scandal and exposure, and grows convincingly through cowardice to courage. Both acts  have  tremendous, complex trios as the three of them express their unachievable crossed desires.  And Chinery’s ability to change costume at lightning speed and storm through rude character sons about sausages, joysticks etc brings the house down. Welcome to Meine Liebe Hippodrome.     Not bad prices, either.

 

missnightingale.co.uk to 6 may
raating four  4 Meece Rating

Advertisements

Comments Off on MISS NIGHTINGALE Hippodrome, Leicester Square WC2

Filed under Four Mice, Uncategorized

SOLDIER ON Playground, W10

HARD HOMECOMINGS FOR THE DOGS OF WAR

 

Boots, boots, boots, boots: stamping out the immemorial rhythm of army discipline, nineteen men and women move as one, expressionless, freed for a time from the burden of individuality .Then, a moment later, there is just one lone figure surrounded by empty boots. In the first of the strong visual metaphors in Jonathan Lewis’ play about ex-servicemen with PTSD devising a play together, a cleaner briskly sweeps the empty , useless boots away. There have been so many deaths.

 
That ensemble movement is echoed at times during the absorbing, sometimes violent, often funny, always engaging piece: Lily Hawkins’ movement direction is stunning, at times exploding into unexpected violent encounters, at others abruptly bringing the fractured , fractious group together in something beautiful. The first-half closing moment in particular sees a dignified officer crippled by MS and memory (played by Mark Kitto, ex Welsh-Guards). Ashamed of his deterioration in that most physical of environments, HM Royal Marines base at Lympstone he admits his tears and is supported by reaching hands, and lifted flying by an ensemble singing Coldplay’s “Fix You” . The heart lifts too.

Lewis – an actor and playwright now but formerly serving in the Army, is known for his west end success Our Boys, but in creating and directing this he focuses on PTSD: the disorder driving too many veterans of our recent wars to the divorce courts, streets and prisons. It is set in what the reluctant Sgt Major (Thomas Craig) calls a “rehabilitation exercise” – he would prefer some healthy Invictus sport. It is David Solomon as an eager director who has to entice a motley group into drama school improv and “sharing” stories which are still real and troublesome to them. A few are wives or mothers , struggling with their men’s impossible behaviour; one is a nurse from the Afghan front line who cannot forget one trembling, mutilated child.

 

The edge here is that Lewis is mixing professional long-term actors with veterans, only a few of whom have previous stage experience. Or in the case of Cassidy Little who plays “Woody”, subsequent experience: we remember him and his prosthetic leg as the star of the successful ex-soldiers play Charlie F, and he has worked widely on screen since. Not hampered, I must say, by rock-star looks and a certain risky energy. In this role, Lewis makes bountiful and aggressive use of that: . you really wouldn’t relax in a drama-school trust exercise with Woody in a bad temper. But then Jacko, Flaps, Hoarse and the rest are not peaceable or predictable either, and the pain and reluctance of real experience of horror is no easy fit with the (sometimes very entertaining) theatricality of the director.

 

Role-play of their real lives melts in and out of rehearsal arguments, army banter, a few sly jokes at the expense of theatre people and explosions (usually from Woody). A mother greets her returning soldier son: a wife tries to hear a precious five minute satphone call from the Indian Ocean while her children bicker in the kitchen, a squaddie with PTSD breaches an injunction to visit his alarmed wife and plead that it was his medication that had made him violent. And the real experience of the personnel from Soldiers’ Arts Academy melts seamlessly into the professionalism of staging and script. Theatre of war, theatre of theatre. Hard to beat.

 

 

box office 020 8960 0110 theplaygroundtheatre.london to 31 March
Planned transfer to York and Oxford. Keep raising the money. It’s worth it.
rating four   4 Meece Rating

 

Comments Off on SOLDIER ON Playground, W10

Filed under Four Mice, Uncategorized

GOOD GIRL Trafalgar Studios SW1

A SOLO REFLECTION ON PUBERTY AND AFTER.

 

 

Naomi Sheldon’s solo, semi-autobiographical hour comes from Edinburgh crowned with plaudits, though cunningly in the programme she does an “alternative poster” of rude things people have said about it. Like “Posh bird talks about women’s ‘hardships’”, and “stereotypical vagina talk”. Crafty, that. And indeed there is much to like in a well-crafted monologue, delivered with considerable physical and verbal agility as she comically manoeuvres as a sub-teen worrying about her lady-bits, or takes on the persona of Laura the Cool Schoolfriend who is less intensely bovvered about everything.

 

 

She also knowingly laces it with references which delighted the audience (mainly women, nearly all her own age). Patrick Swayze in Ghost, the Spice Girls, potato waffles, LIam Gallagher, Michael Jackson (one of her teenage pinups alongside Henry VIII). And, of course, that cliché of a self-help question so utterly baffling and faintly repellent to my generation, “What would Madonna do?|”. Her evocation of Sheffield schooldays is one of the best bits, the boys forever drawing dicks on “any flat surface” including her art project, the conspiratorial conversations about what sex might be, the amateur witch-coven round a dying hamster.

 

 

So I can see why it shone in the frenzied Fringe environment. And I would very much like to see this actress – sweet-faced, dungareed child of the millenim, in a play interacting with others. And, to be frank, with more gripping issues. I know I am older, raised in a culture more restrained and more broadly idealistic about love, honour and faith; , but I have vivid teenage memories too, and do not entirely believe in the utter fixation on sexual physicality which is the core theme, diluted only with repeated confessions of “rage”, not against anything specific, and with her metaphor of feeling that her body had no edges.

 

Certainly it is clear that sexual developing for some of her generation has often been an utterly joyless, mechanistic, impersonal affair, improved only by a short-lived obsession with lonely vibrator sessions so intense that even the sight of an AA battery could set her off. Similar female angst was better done in the solo version of FLEABAG, which was more bitterly honest about the damage of a sexually obsessive culture. But here, there is no sense of search for an actual lover or actual love – beyond the all-girls-together school gang . Nor do I entirely believe the narrative about the character selling herself at a masked sex-party, or fully buy her conclusion that it is good to be like her, full of passionate vague self-absorbed rage, one of the “people who burst at the seams” ; as against the “good girls with tidy little emotions and tidy little vaginas”.

 

www atgtickers.com to 31 April
rating three   3 Meece Rating

Comments Off on GOOD GIRL Trafalgar Studios SW1

Filed under Three Mice, Uncategorized

KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Menier SE1

FOR ONCE IN A LIFETIME THE DEAR MENIER DOES NOT MAKE GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES HAPPY. NOT HAPPY AT ALL.  EXCEPT AT THE PROJECTIONS. 

 

 

Two prisoners are locked in an Argentinian cell. Hungry, tired, nauseous, bored out of their minds…this critic jots down a handy metaphor for the whole evening. Kiss of the Spider Woman has had many lives (a novel, a play, a film) but one wonders how it passed the high bar of the Menier for another outing.

 

Sat in this dark, muddy cell is one man jailed for his gay life and another for his political life. Brightly drawn for us are chalk and cheese; gay and straight. This play wants to discuss masculinity…so two cartoon men have been wheeled in to discuss it for an hour and half. Laurie Sansom’s panto direction doesn’t help.

 

This adaptation (by José Rivera & Allan Baker) is a difficult watch; in that it’s hard to concentrate on trite themes being explored with flat dialogue. It is a rambling sentence with no chance of bail or an interval. The plot, despite a twist, is loose and fails to grip and a suddenly blossoming romance which fails to convince. Someone frequently making reference to “the resistance” and how they love it, believe in it and miss it isn’t dramatic. It’s a classic failing of show me,  don’t tell me.  It was one of those theatrical evenings where, out of desperate boredom, I lost myself so deeply in my own thoughts and mental wanderings I was almost entertained.

 

 

Both Sam Barnett and Declan Bennett are fine actors but their camp and macho double act here felt more at home in unfunny sketch comedy. Some cheap gags landed with those around me but for the most part it just felt like they were both just furiously punching flat lines hoping for a bit of life. The only reprieve and the only place these broad voices, dancing expressions and loud gestures made sense, were Sam Barnett’s character’s monologue retellings of his favourite romantic, melodramatic films. Jon Bausor’s wonderfully dank cell comes alive with some really impressive projections by Andrzej Goulding. Silhouetted figures from the tales come alive on the wall, dancing round the bricks and across the cell doors.  But pretty projections can’t raise this wreck.

 

Until 5th May

Box Office 020 7378 1713  to 5  May

rating  one  1 Meece Rating

 

Comments Off on KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Menier SE1

Filed under One Mouse, Uncategorized

MACBETH Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

IT’S THAT MAN AGAIN

 
It is awkward that two major new productions of the Scottish Play, by two determinedly auteurish directors, open in the same month. Rufus Norris’ bleak “post-Brexit” apocalyptica at the National Theatre came first, and now Polly Findlay’s RSC version takes the Stratford stage. Double, double, toil and – yes – trouble.

 

 

Impossible not to compare the two: both modern dress, both strongly directorial in concept,  both led by eminent actors – the seasoned Rory Kinnear at the NT, and here Christopher Eccleston, far newer to major Shakespeare. Both productions also share a taste for plastic baby dolls: at the NT dismembered and fixed to witches’ tummies, here carried by three witches who are for some reason small girls in pajamas and pom-pom bootees . The creepy chants become nursery impertinence, competently , but short on impact.

 
But if the Norris NT version was a graffiti Macbeth , scrawled on a pee-stained blockhouse, Findlay’s is more like one written in bold block capitals (which indeed are projected overhead, echoing significant lines). Its pace is unrelentingly staccato, emphatic, and with little variety of pace.  Where Norris’s was all swagger and bash, this one is strut and fret.   Violence is largely offstage till the end, and it is mercifully free of decapitations. But there hangs about both productions a sort of dismayed ambition: a desire for modern relevance at all costs and resentment of tradition and of verse. Wrong to compare, I suppose, but I yearned back to the Michael Boyd production which launched this RSC theatre . With less fear of “historic” trappings, ironically it hit home with stronger human power.

 

Findlay has some interesting ideas: she picks up the play’s repeated mention of time, with a digital clock running inexorably backwards like a bomb timer on SPOOKS, from the moment of Duncan’s murder to the death of Macbeth. The flash-freeze LATER moments give impetus to the final battle. One very sharp perception too is that Lady Macbeth’s emotional deterioration is triggered by hearing the cries of Macduff’s murdered children relayed to her mobile phone (one can sometimes wonder why she loses it so abruptly).

 

But those are consolations. Mostly, the production suffers from one-note, race-the-clock vigour; Ecclestone’s delivery (with the sole exception of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow) is a real problem: jerky, seeming actively hostile to the idea that it is a verse play. Even in soliloquy he seems to be fighting to prevent us recognising the familiar words or reflecting on their extraordinary painful depth : more The Bill than the Bard.  Niamh Cusack is more at home with the text but plays Lady Macbeth hectic: an ambitious Rotary wife who  never got over being captain of games. As a scold to her husband she is good, and the sleepwalking is finely done. But like her husband she is rarely allowed to express any of the the interiority  of feeling, horror, determination and remorse which make the play so disturbing .

 

The only frisson of real feeling and arresting, affecting delivery is from Edward Bennett’s Macduff: the only one of the classic scenes which strikes properly home is his receiving the news of his family’s murder – his “What, all..?” is superbly shocking, with Luke Newberry’s fine public-schoolboy Malcolm crassly interrupting his grief to urge revenge.

 

As to Fly Davis’ set, it might be a concrete hall in a brutalist 1960’s college of further education, with a sharp rectangular gallery.  You don’t feel that Macbeth wins any kingdom worth murdering for. The porter is an all-purpose janitor in white socks (Michael Hodgson does get a couple of laughs) and sits gloomily at the side throughout, delivering odd messenger lines or wandering round with a Bex-Bissel carpet sweeper.

 

Polly Findlay is an excellent director – BEGINNING, LIMEHOUSE, TREASURE ISLAND in London, an inventive Merchant of Venice in the big house here, two very good Renaissance plays in the Swan. But this is not her finest hour. And between them, the two March-beth openings make me cry “Hold, enough!” and hope that soon the pendulum will swing. And directors stop being scared of the Scottish Play and return to more reflective and respectful renderings . Meanwhile, the unfortunate A level set-book class of 2018 are at risk of associating it only with concrete, gaffer-tape, plastic dollies and carpet-sweepers.

 

box office 0844 800 1110 to
rating, three.  Just. 3 Meece Rating

 

Comments Off on MACBETH Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Filed under Three Mice, Uncategorized

CAROLINE OR CHANGE Hampstead, NW3

GUEST CRITIC JENNIFER-JANE BENJAMIN FINDS WHAT MATTERS

 

Lights up. A confederate statue. A blackout. And it disappears. It’s November 1963 and we’re in Lake Charles, Louisiana. JFK has just been assassinated. There’s a rumble of a shift of something in the air but for Caroline Thibodeaux, nothing ever changes in Louisiana. She’s 39, divorced, and has four children. For twenty-two of her thirty-nine years she has worked as a maid for a wealthy white Jewish family. She dreams of being kissed by Nat King Cole. 

Musicals rarely get to be this important. And important this one is. The Chichester revival of this play was performed in the wake of the Charleston Church shooting by then 21-year-old white supremacist Dylan Roof. Shortly after the end of the run came the Charlottesville Rally – a rally organised in protest at the proposed removal of a bronze statue of Confederate General, Robert E Lee. It is sobering to think that though more than 50 years have passed since the time of this somewhat autobiographical Kushner piece, black Americans still are still fighting the same fight, still in all the same places.
The state of our world increasingly forces those who live in it to face the conundrum of trying to reconcile diametrically opposed philosophical ideals. It’s a recurring quandary in this play: Should we love the men who abuse us? Is an ally really an ally if they promise change but act in a complacence that perpetuates the status quo? Who is right in the conflict of the elder who just wants a quiet life and the younger who is ready for a revolution? Is it ever OK to use immoral means to attain moral ends? Can we justify the use of moral means to preserve immoral ends? In Caroline’s final solo number she calls to God for an answer, but there are no simple ones.
The power of the 17-strong ensemble produced the the kind of chemistry that draws you to the edge of your seat. I saw much of my younger self in Abiona Omonua’s portrayal of Emmie Thibodeaux, the sixteen-year-old ‘high-spirited’ daughter of Caroline, who doesn’t believe in the idea of unquestionable respect and spoke back to the adults around her accordingly. Similarly relatable was Naana Agyei-Ampadu as Dotty Moffett, the bobby sock and saddle shoe wearing black woman who was using education as a means to a better life. The Radio trio that was T’Shan Williams, Carole Stennett and Sharon Rose gave TLC mixed with The Supremes vibes. It was special. In fact, all of The Objects deserve a shout out: Me’sha Bryan as the Washing Machine, Angela Caesar as The Moon, Ako Mitchell as The Dryer and The Bus. inanimate by name, but definitely not by nature. And of course, there was Sharon D Clarke. There are places deep inside us that only song can reach; when her – sometimes mellifluous, sometimes scorching – tones reach that place, they shake your soul and awaken your spirit.
The two-and-a-half hour performance is visually gorgeous thanks to stage and costume design by Fly Davis and Ann Yee’s choreography. Jeanine Tesori’s music teamed with Tony Kushner’s book and lyrics were made for each other. Add to that the direction by Michael Longhurst – the man who brought us the five star spectacle that is Amadeus, currently on at the National Theatre – and it is a recipe for a perfect production. It is impossible to fathom how this musical was a Broadway flop; those Americans clearly don’t know a good thing when they see one.
il
Box office 020 7722 9301  TO 21 APRIL
£10 tickets for under 30s
RATING  FIVE
5 Meece Rating

Comments Off on CAROLINE OR CHANGE Hampstead, NW3

Filed under Five Mice, Uncategorized

THE FOUR SEASONS – A REIMAGINING Wanamaker, SE1

SILENT, SIGNIFICANT CREATURES

 

The candlelit Wanamaker has proved its worth as a music-room, notably with All The Angels and the divine Farinelli. This takes it further with the first wordless performance: Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié of Gyre and Gimble the master-puppeteers create a silent story with half-sized, fully-jointed physically expressive but undecorated hard-foam “bunraku” puppets. Five expert puppeteers control them, one or two at a time in perfect concord so human and object blend into something other. Their narrative is an expression of Max Richter’s “recomposition” of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. A six-piece orchestra plays overhead: baroque violins, viola, ‘cello and harpsichord/synthesizer.

 

 

Which all sounds a bit recherché: could be a tough hour, you’re thinking, since anything drawn from Japanese theatrical tradition can be an acquired taste . Actually, it is a beautiful and accessible performance, somewhere between mime, dance and theatrical epic. Sometimes, indeed, you are so bound up in the emotional lives of the pale puppets that you suddenly think “hang on, what’s that stuck on his foot?” before realizing that it is the fingers of the puppeteer, and that every movement of this seemingly vivid being is being controlled by humans you have somehow stopped noticing…

 

 

It is a story they tell – of lovers and their child, of ordeals, travels, death and loss and discovery. But as the creators teasingly insist, it is one onto which we project our own interpretations. However, there is certainly folktale in there, because the puppet figures are sometimes physically literal – walking, running, falling, struggling, fighting their handlers or slumped in wrenching despair – but they can also fly and float surreally as if becoming their own dreams. In one extraordinary sequence near the end the central figure relives the events of a whole life.

 

 

The story begins with a sweetly awkward park-bench courtship, and a breathless pause when father kneels before mother as she holds her belly. There is a suitcase and a parting, one parent gone far from a child-puppet who crawls, stumbles, takes first steps with the other. Separation, obstacles, struggle; deaths, a trek home, a graveyard or mortuary of strange gnarled shapes like old bark , weeping desolation. Once mother and child fight together through great hard shapes, leap a ravine. A river, swimming, a corpse…any of it could be a dream, or a real refugee journey, or both.

 

 

Late on a lonely figure fights for life, or maybe just sanity, against a cloud of blue flapping inchoate cloths which become ghost figures. You’re engrossed, the music sharp in your head, every note and move significant, very human. By the way, there are a couple of “relaxed performances”: for some, it may form an even stronger connection than it does to us “neurotypicals”. And that is overwhelming enough…

 

 

box office https://tickets.shakespearesglobe.com/
to 21 April
rating four  4 Meece Rating

Comments Off on THE FOUR SEASONS – A REIMAGINING Wanamaker, SE1

Filed under Four Mice, Uncategorized