Category Archives: Five Mice

TRAVESTIES Apollo, WC1

FIVE GO ROARING UP WEST…

 
This is a transfer, and well deserved. My Menier review is below…and I stand proudly by every star of it. Five playful mice.
But below you will find an Apollo aftwerword….
Zurich, a century ago: the still centre of a wheel of war, neutral refuge of “spies, exiles, refugees, artists , writers , revolutionaries and radicals” .  James Joyce was there writing Ulysses;  Tristan Tzara was pioneering the redefinition of Art in Dada events in a nightclub,   breaking things and cutting up sonnets and having Concerts of Noise. The exiled Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was beavering in the library on his book on imperialism.   And there too  – mentioned in Ulysses  –  was the  insignificant figure of one Henry Carr, invalided from the trenches with a leg wound,   under protection of the British Consulate.  So Joyce – grumpily, we are told – did actually direct Carr in an am-dram performance of The Importance of Being Earnest.
Well!  What richer soup of personalities could be offered to the acrobatic mental, verbal and parodic skills of a younger Tom Stoppard?  He revives it now, with director Patrick Marber making absolutely the best of its vaudevillian surrealism (I am happy to say there is a stuffed beaver at the edge of the stage, wholly and correctly unexplained) . And the author muses that actually the dates don’t quite fit,  and he couldn’t face much research,  so the answer was “to filter the story through the recollections of a fantasising amnesiac”.

 

The result is a glorious intellectual spritzer,  with Carr at its centre in a magnificent,  defining, wittily commanding and endearing performance from Tom Hollander ( fresh from acting Tom Hiddleston off the screen in The Night Manager). As Carr in senility he frames the tale, a stooping querulous old mole in a  ratty brown dressing gown and long-dead straw boater:   in between times he and the hat reclaim their youth and the  Zurich days.    As old men and dreams will,   he reinterprets memory,   so that  all  the characters drift  in and out of  the war and of Wilde’s world together:  Lenin, Joyce, Tzara,  the play’s Gwendolyn and Cecily, Lenin’s Nadya  and a bolshevik butler (a saturnine Tim Wallers)  who maybe was actually the consul that Carr in reminiscence thinks he was…

 
Treasure the moments:   James Joyce suddenly Lady Bracknell, Clare Foster’s prim Leninist Cecily doing a bump-and-grind with a volume of dialectic over her crotch,;  sudden brief musical numbers decaying into nonsense as dreams do.  There’s    Hollander’s yearning  riff about a magnificent series of Savile Row trousers he ruined in the trenches;   his clipped gentlemanly confusion about the new age (“A socialist revolution ? You mean unaccompanied women smoking at the opera?”).   Cherish  Freddie Fox’s spiritedly arrogant Tzara,  decomposing Sonnet 18 in Joyce’s hat to woo Gwendolyn,  or the Irishman’s first appearance talking entirely in limericks and  the two girls’ Wildean row in rhyme.  Pause for   a curious, sharp solemn moment as Lenin and Nadya board the secret train which (it really did) smuggles them to Russia to join the revolution.

 
This is Stoppard the entertainer, constructor of glittering yet oddly logical follies, silly and serious at once, roaming in the half- imagined chaos that made modern Europe.  It’s a joyful stew of word and thought games, determined frivolity,white-hot belief and  terrible limericks.     But it is also studded with great arguments:  angry Marxist fervour oddly topical now in the age of Corbyn and Momentum,  and – inextricable from it  –  the argument about art:  whether it is or should be useful, its endurance and  the  importance of beauty to the human soul.   Art is championed by Carr and by Joyce,  and debunked sometimes by Lenin’s words  (real ones)  about its only use  being social critique,  and sometimes  by Tzara the dada-iste averring that the age of genius is past and “now we need vandals”.    See? Topical again, in the age of Serota, Saatchi,Emin, Hirst, the Turner Prize.
And a lovely hard hit ,  at a time when affluent artists have bewailed the Brexit vote and excoriated those who did it,  is Carr’s lucid observation that it’s like  having a chit from matron to avoid real work :  “To  be an artist at all is like living in Switzerland during a world war”.  Ouch!  It takes a deft playwright to kick himself in the crotch. Gotta love it.

Five mice   5 Meece Rating
And now at the Apollo, some thoughts…
It is interesting to meet this spellbinding cast and learnedly barmy script , now transposed, with a grandeur of exploded scenery, into the Apollo and offering a view from further off.

 
It does grow, and flourish, and gain space for a pair of crazy unexpected dances and a spectacular, oddly moving, evocation of Lenin’s train east.   Still a hock-and-seltzer reviver, though, still with that Stoppardian ability to make you feel  cleverer and better read than you actually are.

 
But what springs from it fresher’ on a second viewing, is how passionate are the arguments about what art is for: Fox as the Dadaist, challenged by Hollander’s practical ex soldier Henry,  speaks for today”s  self-satisfied new redefiners of the very word art: Joyce  by contrast berates him on behalf of art’s value outscoring the world of war and industry.
It shimmies and shimmers. Fills the big theatre. And the limericks are priceless.
If it lasts in the West end – I think it will – it does the London audience’s adventurousness and intelligence credit. But even more,  the credit of Marber’s production rests on the dishevelled, reminiscing, indignant Hollander. What a star!

Still five mice.  5 Meece Rating

Box office 0330 333 4809 to 29 April

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ART Old Vic, SE1

SHOULD AULD ACQUAINTANCE FORGET THEMSELVES….

 

 

When Yasmina Reza won an Olivier for best comedy, she joked “I thought I had written a tragedy”. She did both: the French actor-novelist-playwright sees far enough into the cracks in human confidence to illuminate both absurdity and pathos. ART made her name internationally, and for Matthew Warchus to revive it at the end of a chippy 2016, just when we need to wince, laugh, and reflect on the perils and underlying disagreements in any friendship. Hang out together long enough in empty breeziness, and the odds are there will be dangerous things unsaid. Even if it isn’t about Brexit.

 

 

The beauty of this piece is that the unsayable things are well and truly said, by all three characters, as deep chasms open. The trigger is when Serge, a prosperous doctor, spends 100,000 euros on an apparently blank white painting. Except he says it isn’t white, it’s subtler than that, an important work by a contemporary artist. He shows it to Marc, an aero engineer as stubbornly wary of modernism and art-that-needs-explaining as our own dear Michael Gove (very topical, lucky Old Vic!). Marc laughs and says it is shit, and seems oddly affronted by Serge’s purchase; this opens an unexpected vein of vulnerability in Serge. The third of the old-pals trio, Yvan, tries to mediate between them . Disastrous. In between ripping one another apart they turn on Yvan, whose life is tricky enough already, between professional failure (“Does any man wake up every morning looking forward to selling expandable document wallets”) and a wedding involving warring stepmothers, an affronted mother and a demanding fiancée.

 
Too much drama is fed by romantic and marital shenanigans: the glory here is that Reza explores the too-little charted territory of commitment and jealousy among adult friends. We gasp when Marc accuses Serge of betraying him with his new art mates – “Never leave your friends unchaperoned!” and cannot but agree with the reported comment of the shrink “Dr Finkelzone” when Yvan tells the affronted pair that he has discussed them in therapy. It’s actually quite profound: “If I’m only who I am because you are who you are, then I’m not who I am”. Fink has a point there.

 

 
In a series of encounters a-deux or a-trois the men’s friendship ruptures and reshapes, partly with absurd art-talk about “the resonance of the monochromatic” and partly with personal comments about their attitudes, partners, and assumptions. Serge thinks he is about Art and modernity, Marc pretends to tradition and commonsense, albeit laced with obedience to his unseen Paula’s homeopathic prescriptions. Yvan has decided that life’s just about ‘Marriage, children, stationery, death. That’s it”. We learn that “Read Seneca” is a brilliantly dangerous thing to say to anyone, quite as bad as “You have no sense of humour”. I may try it.

 

It zings, it ricochets, it sends a shiver, the cast are perfection. Rufus Sewell as Serge has the stillness and the deadly strike of an affronted black mamba; Paul Ritter’s Marc subtly reveals below his bluff man-of-the-world air an edge of controlling megalomania; Tim Key as Yvan, trapped between them both, has real pain and pathos, knowing his chaotic life is a kind of necessary validation to his more successful mates. His cry “I just want to be your FRIEND!” got an audible “aaahh!” from the audience, as serious as a Miller or Tennessee Williams moment.

 

 

So good grief, it’s another five-mouse night for Warchus’ Old Vic. For this, on its 20th anniversary, sets up echoes in all of us. Indeed anyone who has had a long friendship blow up in their face might even , on leaving, feel a touch jealous of its sheer articulacy. Theatre is better than life sometimes; often, the kind of lines Reza gives these furious, vulnerable men are the sort that in real life one only mutters to oneself, walking angrily down the street after a Wrong Text…

 
box office 0844 8717628 to 18 feb http://www.oldvictheatre.com
Principal partner: Royal Bank of Canada
Rating five   5 Meece Rating

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SHE LOVES ME Menier, SE1

O THE PRETTINESS, O THE JOKES…

 

 

Our heroine gets a job as sales clerk in Maraczek’s perfumery by selling a customer ia gorgeous hand-painted musical candy box. Which sums up the show: a decorative, ravishingly pretty container full of irresistible treats. Characters to love, properly funny jokes, soaring melodies and fabulously witty lyrics (it was a treat to see the lyricst himself, the aged Sheldon Harnick, joining the curtain call and saying, justifiably, that the little Menier’s is the best production of it he’s ever seen.)

 

 

Camp but sincere, mischievous and intelligent, light as air with a fluttering heart and a Christmassy conclusion, this romance of 1930’s Budapest is the tonic for the moment. It’s been around a few times: Miklos Laszlo’s play about sparring colleagues who are anonymous pen-pals inspired the films “The shop around the corner” and “You’ve got Mail” , and better than either this 1963 Broadway musical by Bock and Harnick. Matthew White directs, on its first UK outing since Stephen Mear did it with his own stunning choreography at Chichester. So I feared the dancing might not thrill the heart as much this time.

 
But with little space for big numbers Rebecca Howell delivers sharp wit instead, from the first moment when an arriving worker jumps over a passing postman. The bust-up sequence in the Cafe Imperiale is chokingly funny, daren’t take your eyes off it for a second; the accelerating craziness of the Christmas-shopping finale has the ensemble of eight half breaking their necks while wearing full 1950s rich- ladies-who-lunch finery , perms and feathered hats. As to the look of it, it isn’t often I look at the first line in my notebooka nd fine “O THE PRETTINESS!” in capitals the gilt, roses, grapes, lovebirds, shining bottles and barocco curlicues of old Mittel-Europa are enough to drive you straight onto the Eurostar for a taste of Budapest. Which would probably disappoint, compared to this dream.

 
But the point is that it is really, really funny: Scarlett Strallen as romantic, stroppy yet lovesick Amalia is perfection, all comic sincerity and vulnerable spirit. I want to see her “Where’s my shoe?” number every day for the rest of my life. Her lover Georg is Marc Umbers, just dislikeable enough at first; and as old Maraczek Les Dennis, newly liberated from being a reformed burglar with a heart-attack on Coronation Street, reminds us of what a poignantly likeable, gently funny stage performer he is.

 
But all the roles are taken perfectly, and all have their moment of glory in this peerlessly generous piece. 17 year old Callum Howells as Arpad the messenger-boy; nervous kindly Ladislav is Alastair Brookshaw; Cory English’s head waiter, surrounded by crashing silver trays; all in turn stop the show. And the lovely thing is that somehow this cast convince you, from the start, that they really are daily confreres, colleagues and friends. They make you want to apply for a job in a Budapest parfumerie half a century ago. And if that isn’t pure stage fantasy, what is?

 

box office 020 7378 1713 to 4 March

rating five   5 Meece Rating

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THIS HOUSE Garrick , WC1

DIVISIONS…DIVISIONS…DIVISIONS….

 
The Parliamentary chaos of the 1970’s – hung parliaments, fragile alliances and lost divisions which predated the dawn of Mrs Thatcher – make for a tale hard to believe now . Even with 2016 Labour in chaos again and rebel-ridden Tories in precarious authority. James Graham wrote this astonishingly perceptive, funny, and thoughtful reconstruction of the mid-70s years, focused on the wrangling in the Whips’ offices and it was first seen in 2010 (Coalition years) in the NT’s little Cottesloe, with the front row seated on green Parliamentary benches. Even then, dazzled by young James Graham’s achievement, I wrote that it would last longer than the half-dozen chaotic years it depicted.

 

 
When it moved to the Olivier, and the Speaker’s Procession in full rig came up the central aisle, its meaning suddenly deepened because the pomp reminded us that these furious combatants were actually – gulp! – running a real country, with real people working, striking , living and dying in it. I said this to Nicholas Hytner who mused “Yes, it turned out to be a bigger play than we thought”. So now at last it reaches the West End: brave for a commercial theatre because it needs an enormous cast. Even with the doubling and trebling of numerous roles, there were sixteen players in the Garrick. Jeremy Herrin has them flowing nimbly around an evocative WEstminster stage (Big Ben overhead, a Speaker’s chair reappearing, an iron stair, offices: at one striking point lighting turns it all into the echoing medievalism of Westminster Hall and its angels). Some lucky audience are in the gallery or on benches; sometimes MPs are down by the front row or yelling from boxes.

 

 

It still bites, perhaps even more now that Labour is in disarray, the SNP ascendant, and Conservative rebels rolling up their sleeves to destabilize the old order still further. Graham has fun with the old 1970’s dualism, real, in the pre-Blair years: a Tory Chief Whip despising “Foul-mouthed, brutish, trade unionist thugs” , his Labour opponent jeering about “silver spoons in their mouths and rods up their arses”. It is more noticeable though how artfully he acknowledged the blurring which was already under way: Steffan Rhoddri’s Labour deputy chief whip listening to Wagner on his own, NAthaniel Parker’s engagingly smooth Weatherill on the other side finding Coronation Street entertaining, much to the horror of the peerlessly funny silver-fox ur-Tory Sir Humphrey Atkins ( Malcolm Sinclair). Mean while the new Chingford member (Tebbitt!) is winced at as “an egg and chips man” and ever more Labour members are not battered, noble old miners and steelworkers but thrusting young Blairish lawyers.

 

 

It’s fabulous drama: the rows, the desperate wooing of the “odds and sods” from the nations and regions, the almost incredible Stonehouse affair, the brief Lib-Lab pact with the preening David Steel, the furious row after the Heseltine mace incident when pairing was suspended and Labour had to wheel in desperately sick MPs to vote and cajole its drunks and recidivists, and a new mother had to come in and breastfeed her new baby, horrifying the prim old-boys’ club that Parliament once was. Capricious minorities and mavericks tormented the whips, one Labour member crossed the floor, 17 died; the supposed government lost no fewer than 57 divisions in the last Parliament.

 
Graham worked from facts and memoirs and an imagination of great wit and flexibility, catching the sometimes brutal tone of politics (“I’d better go and twist a few more Liberal arms” – “Don’t try too hard, they’re flimsy”.) But it is moving, too: these are – especially on the left, because Labour was so beleaguered – individuals wanting to do their best for the country. Phil Daniels as Bob with his ducktail hairdo and savage sweating catches the angry sincerity of the old left; Weatherill’s relationahip with his opposite number is, in a final moment of decency, touching. And ever in the background comes the reported rise of the member for Finchley and the dawn of her 1980’s. During which, of course, James Graham was born. Another salute to him for this fantastic exercise in pre-natal nostalgia. The small flaws – odd awkward doublings and some really dodgy Northern Irish accents – can’t knock off the fifth star. Honour to it.

 
box office 0844 482 9673 http://www.nimaxtheatres.com
rating five   5 Meece Rating

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THE SHAKESPEARE TRILOGY – Donmar at Kings Cross

O BRAVE NEW WORLD, IN BRAVE CAPTIVITY

 

Three years ago the Donmar’s all-woman Julius Caesar, set in prison, left me feeling that something genuinely new had happened: a revolution, a seismic shift in the possible. Gender was made irrelevant by the unforgettable performance of Harriet Walter as Brutus: pale, handsomely chiselled, androgynous and tragic, her bright, dangerous eyes gave a strung-out sense that beneath the utter control Caesar’s assassin is haunted, “sick of many griefs’. I wrote then: “if this extraordinary human being gets shoved back full-time into frocks it will be a shocking crime against theatre.”. I wanted to see her Iago, Leontes, Richard III, Macbeth, Lear – possibly in a mixed cast. Individuality transcended gender.

 
Since then we have had other women tackling the great male Shakespeare roles: Maxine Peake’s Hamlet, Glenda Jackson’s Lear. But now, following an equally successful Henry IV (both parts truncated into two sharp hours) Phyllida Lloyd brings both back, in this tented Donmar outstation which convinces all too easily as a prison gym. And the team add a third: The Tempest. So Walters is Brutus, Henry IV and Prospero; and on some courageous days you can see all three, with a lively versatile cast. That Storm Angus made me miss the Caesar with this largely different cast is a source of great annoyance: but as Walters’ Brutus, at least, it is imprinted on my memory so strongly never mind. The other two were tremendous.

 
The setting is more than a directorial conceit to roughen and de-gender female actors: the company worked with real prisoners and with their Clean Break theatre, some of whose members have been cast. Several actually studied to represent real inmates: Walters takes (watch their online video) powerful identification with an American woman lifer who has served 35 years after playing getaway driver in a political heist which – not directly through her – killed   two policemen.  Walters reports that this woman has found, over years, a remorseful private peace. The result of this play-within-a-play is an intriguing double vision: women sometimes wholly being men, sometimes revealing that they are women damaged by life, sometimes slyly aping male swagger and aggression. After all, a collection of rough-edged women of all ages can be as larky and prankish and teasing as any Cheapside revellers, as combative as soldiery, as quick to stir as a Roman mob.  Sex ceases to register, though one extraordinary musical ensemble in the Henry IV – led by Sheila Atim as Lady Percy lamenting Hotspur’s departure – is deeply womanly in its grief.

 
There are brusque interruptions from staff (very handy to make sense of the quick scene changes in The Tempest) , and occasional slang and seeming losses of cool by the “inmate” performers. Fights are subdued by officers, Falstaff suddenly can’t take the rejection of Prince Hal and disrupts the final scene, Brutus collapses sobbing when the ordeal is over. And when Falstaff’s gang turn too explicitly and brutally on Mistress Quickly she stops the scene in tears.

 

 

Apart from the centrality of Walters there are some terrific performances: notably Jade Anouka as a willing subservient Ariel and a red-hot, ferociously athletic Hotspur. Sophie Stanton is a swaggering Falstaff, the class joker and a fine grumpy Caliban; Clare Dunne a forthright lad of a Hal, Karen Dunbar an extraordinarily pitiable drunken Bardolph and a downtrodden Trinculo.

 

It is playful, poignant and electric in turns. The pathos of the tatty props – a tinfoil crown, an island made of rubbish on a string, a toddler chair Falstaff straps on as a cod crown – adds to the sense of urgency: these are desperate people, imprisoned both literally and mentally but escaping through the telling of a story and the imagining of other personalities. The storm in The Tempest is a prison riot, banging on doors, Prospero whirling in shouting frustration in her cell below: Miranda’s shocked “Oh that I have suffered with those that I saw suffer” takes on an urgent meaning as the rioters are returned behind the mesh. When Ariel is reminded of Sycorax she curls on the prison bed like an abused child. When she is set free it is to leave the prison, as do others: they thank Prospero as he/she settles once again, in the cell and poor Caliban goes round with the floor-polisher in the corridor beyond. When the two plays about political power end, an officer strides in for lock-up and for rulers and citizens alike it is “Line up! Lead out!” . The bruised faces lose their intensity and performance energy  to become once more immpassive, sullen social rejects. It hits you on the raw. Just as theatre does in real prisons.
http://www.donmaratkingscross.com 0844 815 7151 to 15 dec

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rating five

5 Meece Rating

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THE TEMPEST Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon

O BRAVE NEW WORLD….

 

 

The talking-point is Ariel: a daring innovation for live theatre. Motion-capture technology sensors on Mark Quartley’s graceful body – skintight in an airy suit of cloudy blue muscle give him a double presence. So sometimes (not constantly) as he leaps and crouches and gestures a vast projected avatar of flame, nymph or terrifying harpy can fly or flare overhead. And indeed the production is visually beautiful: Stephen Brimson Lewis’ design and the Imaginarium studios update the mission of 17c masque to make us gasp and marvel. Framed in the ribs of a great wrecked hull we see marvellous things: even Prospero’s classical display of fertility spirits does not slow the final scenes, but shimmers with high operatic intensity (Paul Englishby’s music breaks your heart). Even if Iris and Ceres do, in their fantastical costumes, evoke a sudden curious memory of Edina and Patsy.
But never mind all that. For all the glory and ingenuity of spectacle, the point is is that Gregory Doran’s superlative production, with Simon Russell Beale as Prospero, is the gold standard: the Tempest against which others are compared for decades to come. For Doran the text must always yield up its secrets, not a word or phrase unconsidered, so that even the most familiar plays spring to life and startle under his direction.

 

 

This is my third Tempest this year alone, yet aspects of the play hit me afresh. I have never seen more clearly the delicacy of the scene where Antonio and Sebastian move from irritable shipwrecked banter to murderous conspiracy: it is like a telescoped Macbeth, with Tom Turner’s swaggering Sebastian tempted and Oscar Pierce, smaller in heart and stature, at moments jesting about murder like Richard III. Nor, for a moment, did I understand the reason for a brief comic moment when the herd of strange pale ragged spirits tease the labouring Caliban : Joe Dixon, huge , menacingly ungainly, primitive in pathos, always clutching a fish like a great twisted child with a comforter . But a moment later Caliban’s own line “for every trifle are they set upon me!” recounts his torments and in that deft flick of a touch, his inwardness is laid open. Some of the text’s strange meaning is illuminated simply by the physical: as Ariel sings Full Fathom Five the spirits become floating corpses between the old timbers, and often you glance aloft at the ragged beams and see Quartley’s graceful shape watching, vigilant, his spirit-face intent as he observes human behaviour. This haunting presence, and a sudden still, unplayful moment at his “Do you love me, Master?” add new depth to his final, shattering evocation of pity.

 
It is a deep production: full fathom five. Russell Beale’s Prospero is a marvel of thoughtful intelligence as one would expect: wound with tension from the opening, too lonely in his power for private peace. This is not a lordly magical ruler but an old man half- broken by long painful scholarship, burning resentment and the vengeful heart which is his own “thing of darkness” . Odd irascible paternal moments (SRB can do comedy, as we know) do not diminish a deeply human evocation of pain and need. Done with such feeling the play shakes the heart more deeply even than Lear, because of the electric moment when Ariel, inhuman, has been watching the suffering of the captives and confronts his master with the need to let his heart move : “Mine would sir, were I human!” . Beale roars, suddenly, terrifyingly: twelve years’ frustrated vengefulness escaping in broken breath. For he must forgive, break his staff and drown the book, and imagine no more harpies. This Prospero, in sudden painful gentleness, finds the reconciliation and redemption which Lear never does. I was shaken, close to tears, still held by it through a four hour drive home in the windy dark.
Ah well. If this earnestness puts you off, let me reassure you that there are some excellent laughs. Trinculo and Stephano are genuinely funny, their relationship mirroring the theme of dominance. And very fine jokes are the Miranda-firewood one and the “brave utensils”. Oh, see it for yourself.
box office 0844 800 1110 to 21 January
rating five    5 Meece Rating

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SCHOOL OF ROCK New London Theatre WC2

TWO LORDS A-ROCKING…

 
Now we know why Lord Lloyd Webber got so grumpy about being summoned back from the US to vote. Been head-down and happy, revelling in his first Broadway hit since Superstar and polishing up heavy-metal numbers for a rabble of underage whoopers, ten-year-old guitarists and mini rock-gods in school blazers. Result: the wildest bunch of swirling, stamping, joyful muppets on a London stage since Matilda, and an irresistible, feel-very-good-indeed show.

 

 
With Laurence Connor over from the US to direct a fresh British cast, ALW has a stonking hit on his hands: light, joyful, touching, youthful and musically inventive. Three years ago his wife Madeleine “chased” the rights to the film School of Rock, and he set to recreate it as a new musical. The film was about Dewey, a failed rocker who impersonates a schoolteacher in a strict dull pushy preppie school to raise the rent, and surreptitiously turns his fourth-graders into a rock band for a contest. The film used rock standards, and while the book (by Julian Fellowes) follows the story closely, Lloyd-Webber’s songs and Glenn Slater’s lyrics are entirely new, and more satisfyingly woven into the developing story.

 
It’s a romance, a lovely fantasy about a redemptive teacher and a yearning for the semi-fictional days of rock’s rebellious innocence, before the calculating boy-bands and grasping industry managers. It’s a heartfelt plea for freedom, creativity and musicality (ALW, onstage on press night, was almost tearful with pride at his young talent: as I long suspected from those daft throne-shows on TV, the man is at heart a music-master himself) . It’s witty, too: the big stomping “Stick it to the man!” is none the less stirring because Dewey defines The Man as guilty of every vague thing “global warming, Pokemon Go, Kardashians..” . Principal Mullin’s ballad “Where did the Rock go?” as she briefly unbends her martinet strictness is a beauty, full of Lloyd-Webber’s old emotional intervals and soaring romance; delivering it Florence Andrews mourns all of our lost youth: “The world spun like a record, as the music faded out”.. The various quartets and ensembles in which the children plead “if only you would listen” make the hairs on your neck stand up too. Indeed the children – there are three teams of thirteen, all very young – include serious talent on guitar, drums and keyboards, and the characterization: geek, outcast, bossy girl, hidden talent, and gayish stylist, is neat and good-humoured. The staging and choreography swirl and stamp with glee, the children always childlike. The furious parents’ evening scene is a masterpiece of chaotic precision.

 

 
And as for the star… David Fynn is a find, an enchanting evocation of a slobbish enthusiast, ambitious dreamer and parasitic pizza-muncher whose selfish longing for stardom mutates into respect and leadership for his plaid-uniformed band of ten-year-olds. He rocks, he leaps, he falls over, he skids across desks, he is abashed and cunning, reckless and feckless and rock ’n roll . Your whole heart, willing or not, goes out to him from the start.

 
Lovely, altogether. It includes good musical jokes too: one when a girl auditioning attempts a few bars of “Memories” and Dewey howls “never sing that in this building ever again!” for CATS monopolized the New London for 21 years. And another involving Mozart’s Queen of the Night Aria. Wait and see.

 
One prosaic thing I’d mention, being of sensitive hearing: you may want to know that it’s not deafening. I was in the fourth row, and at the sight of the vast speakers (‘the weight of a Land Rover Discovery” says the programme) I cringed in anticipation. I once had to flee HAIRSPRAY with a headache. But the sound is immaculately pitched, not overwhelming even when you can feel the floor shake (not only in the stamping dances: it moves when Fynn falls over, too, he’s a big lad). So if great-Aunt Ermitrude volunteers to take the kids, she’ll be fine. She’ll love it as much as they do.

 

 

box office 0844 811 0052 to 12 Feb
rating five   5 Meece Rating

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