Category Archives: Five Mice

THE STEPMOTHER Minerva, Chichester

A DELICATE TREASURE

 

 

Rarely seen, half-forgotten, Githa Sowerby’s 1924 play is sharp, entertaining, truthful and elegant: Richard Eyre’s direction respects it with delicate precision. It’s altogether a treat, and makes you wail with sadness that – though her better-known Rutherford And Son was a big success – Sowerby never wrote enough to stand known amid acknowledged classics. She is socially as hard-hitting as Priestley, more sharply economical than Shaw, with as good an ear for suppressed emotion as Rattigan. And at moments can be both as agonizing and as humorous as Chekhov.

 

 

 

The story is fuelled by a righteous, exasperated and perceptive anger about the position of women in England either side of WW1. Remarkably, it offers broad human sympathy even to the most appalling character: Eustace Gaydon. He is a marvellous case-study, rendered with (among other qualities) great physical brilliance by Will Keen. Every hunch, every swagger, every snakelike wriggle, reveals almost as much stupidity and deviousness in the man as the script.

 

 

 

Eustace is a middle-aged widower with two young daughters and a taste for vainglorious duff investments. He discovers that he is left nothing by his late sister (who wisely kept her fortune under her own control) . Moreover, she has left the lot to a 19-year-old protegée, the sweetly grieving and grateful Lois (Ophelia Lovibond), In a brief first scene in 1911, he begins a wooing which – as we find on the far side of an elegantly designed time-lapse – results in her marrying him. And devoting herself to his daughters. And finally funding his household by working very hard and setting up a fashion business.

 

 

 

The 1921 scenes are tremendous, as the eldest flapper daughter Monica (a spirited Eve Ponsonby) is in love with a boy back from the war whose father knows how financially flaky Eustace is, and demands a settlement; Lois lovingly promises it from her capital, but we can guess what has happened to that…

 

 

Let there be no spoilers, but the brilliance of the play, revelation after revelation and shock after shock, is served neatly and gorgeously by Lovibond as the now matured, businesslike Lois, by Keen as Awful Eustace and by David Bark-Jones as Peter, the man she should have been with. The audience gasps sometimes, moans sometimes. At one point three of us in our row clapped our hand over our mouths. That’s when Eustace arrives at the fashion shop, his ruined uncertainty buoyed by delusional vanity, and pronounces “I’m our husband, I look after your wealth” . It was all we could do not to shout “O No You DONT!” panto-style.

 

Yet the play’s heart is warm: sharply written lines from the blustering Eustace are balanced by a remarkable tolerance of sexual temptation and some gentle, very womanly wisdoms: not least Peter’s warning to the devoted stepmother not to strip herself of everything for the young. “Life has taken hold of Monica..she’ll have children. Children make everything else a memory”.

 

It is terrific. And I have hardly space to mention that Joanna David, playing far older than usual as Great-Aunt Charlotte, gives it another layer of warmth and a pivotal moment of real sadness, and of awareness of where female self-sacrifice can lead. . The final , expected lines from Eve Ponsonby as the suddenly matured Monica are superb. Eustace’s final firework of spite fizzles, as well it should. We leave happy.

 

 

http://www.cft.org.uk or 01243 781312 to 9 Sept
rating: blimey, it’s another five for the new regime’s first season!

5 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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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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QUEEN ANNE Theatre Royal, Haymarket WC1

A MODERN WORLD GROWING, BENEATH THE PERIWIGS

 

 

I saw Helen Edmundson’s marvellous RSC history-play about Anne’s short reign some eighteen months ago; the review is here – http://tinyurl.com/y7u6ydas – a gurgle of pleasure and interest, background sketched in, and five mice-worth concluding with a plea for a transfer.

 

 

So here it is: some cast changes to note, though all more than up to standard. Natalie Abrahami’s cast again centres on Emma Cunniffe’s Anne, touchingly needy then increasingly determined, a woman of sorrows growing into wisdom and a matriarchal affection for the people tormented by war and poverty. Romola Garai becomes the schemingly glamorous Sarah Churchill, Chu Omanbala the great, flawed General Churchill, and Jonny Glynn Swift leading the tavern mob. Hywel Morgan takes over as the endearingly hopeless Prince George, but Carl Prekopp is back as Defoe, and Beth Park reprises her role as the strong, plain, skinny, scornful and decent Abigail.

 

 

 

But I return to it fascinated, because it feels different, stronger even, on this second viewing – in the capital, and in a country which since the first production has become more startlingly riven and confused . Although the personal relationships and court struggles are as fascinating, and the riotous satirical interludes among tavern wags still make our own satirists seem restrainedly wet, I found that the politics resonated far more strongly.

 

 

Wars in Europe, plotters and spinners surrounding power, uneasy alliances and a borderline superstitious horror of religious fanatics at the door (Catholics in this case). There is even a stock market crash scare, and a looming budget deficit, and peculation and bribery in high places, and a tendency in a male hierarchy to feel suspicious and thwarted at any display of “rampant femininity”. Edmundson’s delicate rhythm and powerful bursts of monosyllable (“What mean the Scots? What irks them now?”) are as fresh and sharp as ever. Seek out the bargains. Don’t miss it.

 

 

 

Box Office   020 7930 8800 trh.co.uk to 30 September

rating: still five  5 Meece Rating

 

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LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR AND GRILL Wyndham’s , WC1

A GREAT HEART AND TALENT,  REMEMBERED WITH LOVE

 

O my days! If you have any feeling for jazz and blues, for women, music or the historic trials and triumphs of black America, don’t think of missing this. Fight your way in. In ninety intense, absorbing minutes is distilled a troubled spirit and a half-century of change. As a performance it is unique, electric: as a tribute to a great performer it more than equals Tracie Bennett’s remarkable evocation of Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow.

 

 

This time the subject is Billie Holiday, in the last year of her life: high and drunk and needing to tell her stories in the womblike, midnight world of a run-down Philadelphia jazz club. Tables are scattered on stage and in front of the stalls; the reality of the lamplit setting has a jazz trio playing moodily onstage before the start, with Neville Malcolm astonishing on the bass and Frankie Tontoh jokey and slick on the drums. It draws you into a world.

 

 

Audra McDonald is the real thing. As a singer of course: she catches Holiday’s strength and vulnerability, high moments, delicate phrasing and despairing growl. But equally her acting is shatteringly real: intense, sincere, witty, troubling. Lanie Robertson’s play is rather a marvel too: never a false note. It was written after hearing a friend’s account of a real day in 1959 when, at just such a club, washed-up and unreliable the Lady staggered in with her little dog and performed a handful of songs to half a dozen patrons. She did not have long to live with a weak heart, a heroin habit, a year in jail for possession, a long humiliation by the US colour bar, and a constantly refilled glass. But she was a legend. And the legend is served here with heart-stopping sincerity.
McDonald staggers, giggles, growls, but suddenly straightens, lets herself be carried by the music, a true Lady in white ballgown. She remembers the wonder of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, her mother “the duchess” at the cat-house, the no-good husband who got her onto heroin and her friend the sax player Prez who tried to get her off it. A hard wit condemns Philadelphia as a “ratsass” place , especially its white police who “after dey freed coloured people, dont know what to do with them, so dey lock us up again”. She jibes cheerfully at white people – “like us, only meaner” – but tearfully remembers how Artie Shaw’s white band would eat with her in the kitchen -paying double – when “coloureds” were not allowed in a restaurant, and how when refused use of the lavatory she took revenge.

 

 

She barracks her pianist Jimmy (Shelton Becton) as he visibly tries to coax her out of rambling and into each new number. There’s real tension in that: the drama (directed by Lonny Price with tight attention) rises with some flare of temper, evoking the real uncertainty of a failing maverick talent. Late in the show “Strange Fruit” carries real shock, as it always has done; but is followed by her vanishing offstage, awkward apologies and claims of medical problems from the pianist, and a sudden return of the diva, happily clutching a real chihuaha which licks her face as she belts out “T’aint nobody’s business”.
Go if you can. You’ll not forget it.

 

 

box office https://tickets.delfontmackintosh.co.uk to 9 Sept.
rating five   5 Meece Rating

 

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INK Almeida N1

GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES GLORIES IN JAMES GRAHAM’S SUN BACKSTORY 

It’s a solid stunner of a play which has you punching the air for Rupert Murdoch by the interval. Bertie Carvel’s Murdoch asks in the opening scene, lit only by a sharp smokey beam of light, “What’s a story?”.

The transformation of the stuffy broadsheet into a popular tabloid with knicker week, Page 3 models, free giveaways and chunky font is one. It’s a sprawling real-life tale of competing egos, competing morals and competing ideas of Britain and of the press.

And sprawling real-life tales in need of snappy and dramatic condensation is James Graham’s speciality. If he had business cards (I doubt it, who does?) that would be on them. His translation of the potentially dry backroom machinations of the House of Commons under the 74-79 Labour government (This House) got theatrical juices flowing everywhere.

And here they flow freely again. The first year of the rejuvenated Sun could have run for hours and hours on stage. But Graham’s play is pacy and witty. Key moments are in there (the murder of Muriel McKay, the origin of Page 3) but it never feels like just a skip through a timeline. The full arc of the play is neat and laser-focused, and the cast are fat with good lines and fulsome, colourful, sweary and undeniably entertainingly British character.

Director Rupert Goold ensures nothing is extraneous. The scenes whip through like a snappy TV drama, although of course TV would never be this good. He’s also unafraid of a slightly musical vibe. Bunny Christie’s set is a mount of desks the cast clamber all over, the lighting is colourful and active, and the transitions are regularly helped along by bursts of music and ‘almost-dancing’. Anywhere else this could feel a bit forced. But in the office of the new fun Sun, which gives knickers away to readers in a can, it seems bang on.

At the helm, Bertie Carvel brilliantly dishes all the dirty ambition of the Dirty Digger. But nicely mixed with the underdog fighting spirit we all like to get behind. The line between charming trailblazer and ruthless exploiter is nailed perfectly with a sly Aussie accent and a slightly twitchy mannerism. Likewise Richard Coyle (as editor Larry Lamb) embodies so smoothly the transition required by the play; go-getting outsiders turned liable players.

The entire cast (many flitting between numerous parts) have perfected the tricky line many of Graham’s characters tread. They’re warm, slightly boozy, bawdily-British triers. But they make mistakes, they misjudge, they veer off the straight and narrow. But the play doesn’t come down on them like a tonne of bricks. There’s no handwringing finale, no “CENTRAL MESSAGE” slapped around the audience’s faces. Graham simply uses the weight of research he’s compiled to confidently open a dramatic window on this world. But always, unlike so many new plays, with an eye firmly on what’s the story.

~ LUKE JONES

Rating: 5 Mice

 5 Meece Rating

Until 5th August

Box Office: 020 7359 4404

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BAT OUT OF HELL           London Coliseum WC1

WHERE ROCK ‘ N ROLL DREAMS COME TRUE

 

“On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?”
Or in this case, a red carpet  lined with Hells Angels and three generations of fans. Would you? Swelteringly, yes!. On this hot summer night, the howling, raw-rocking, Fender-bashing wolf can have us, throats and all.

 

 

Jim Steinman’s astonishing rock ballads, brought to our hearts (and my car stereo, pretty well daily)  by Meat Loaf, were originally meant for the stage, rather than just that immortal album. So this isn’t some limp jukebox musical, with a thin storyline by some dreary Ben-Eltonish  hack. They were already storytelling songs, all soul and muscle and poetry and the innocent violence of  teenage yearning: “the flesh and the fantasy, the mystery and the muscle of love”.

 

 

So of course they should be onstage: and now they gloriously are, with exploding bikes and flames and a car, and guns and multicoloured smoke and somersaults and projections.    And, at their heart not just  burning jealousies but the sudden  jokes which bubble up in the deadliest of times if you are young, as they have done ever since Mercutio punned on his deathbed.

 

 

 

Jay Scheib’s production is a technical spectacular, Jon Bausor leading the design, and wild exuberant choreography by Emma Portner – the ensemble are unbelievable, both in song (Michael Reed is musical director) and in the street-wild movement. But  its chief glory is narrative and emotional. It is set in a scifi  urban dystopia where a  tribe of the  “Lost”‘ ,permanently mutated to be forever eighteen, live in tunnels under the rule of Falc, the rich property landlord. Nicely topical for London: he  rules  in his tower with his discontented wife Sloane . But Falco’s daughter Raven is loved by the gang leader Strat, who comes to her  bedroom as if in a dream (shades of Keats’ Eve of St Agnes, and rather more of Peter Pan and Wendy, since Strat can’t grow older and has a jealous best friend called, er, Tink, who hates Raven).

 

 

 

Andrew Polec, a rising US star, is a powerful intense Strat in both snarling and sentimental rock mode. Christina is Bennington an enchanting Raven:  a Juliet sometimes hesitant, sometimes headlong.  Both have great rock voices, but equalling them , often cripplingly funny and occasionally touching, are Rob Fowler’s Falco and Sharon Sexton as his wife Sloane. The joy of Steinman’s construction is that the beloved songs are parcelled out to different characters, often  with a chorus and other subplots joining in. So Fowler and Sexton’s rendering of Paradise by the Dashboard Light, (“we were barely seventeen, we were barely dressed”) may, in its wicked hilarity get me back there. Danielle Steers’ bluesy Zahara gets the heartbreak of “One outa three aint bad”, , and – when imprisoned and beaten by Falco –  the gang members in Guantanamo orange jumpsuits get to break your heart with memories of those objects in the rear view mirror: (“So many threats and fears, so many wasted years, before my life became my own..life is just a highway and the soul is just a car..”
 

 

I keep quoting, and call on Keats and Shakespeare,  for good reason. For Steinman is a real poet: an emotionally intense balladeer of thrilled new love, when electricity runs through a beloveds  very hair, and bodies seem to rhyme:  of doubt and desire and daring and regret and absurdity, and longing for sex to be more than the moment. As an expression of eroticism it is the antithesis of porn; as a bard of biker bravura and rebellion Steinman is refreshingly uncynical.
 

 

And the music! Real rock, melodious and violent, ragingly operatic. Generations gather round it like a fire: I went with my daughter; one fan group had been over twenty times, and not all were anywhere near young. Actually, the middle aged even have a new song in which to laugh at ourselves and be laughed: Falco and Sloane’s  furious number “Who needs the young? when all WE have is traces – of the faces we once were..”

 

In short, it’s three kinds of bliss. Only those now locked impenetrably into their middle age will resist it.

 

box office   020 7845 9300        to 5 August     Off to Toronto in autumn.
Rating. Five.  5 Meece Rating

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