Saturday, 14 July 2012

Review Mack and Mabel

Mack and Mabel
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman, Book by Michael Stewart
Based on an idea by Lionel Spigelglass, Revised by Francine Pascal
Southwark Playhouse SE1

More Than Bagels and Knishes

With a ravishing 1974 score by Jerry  Herman, musical Mack and Mabel, a saga of silent movies, stardom, drugs and a doomed love affair should be a stonking success. Knowing the wonderful songs beforehand, TLT and her firing-on-all-cylinders sidekick were inclined to be kindly disposed and doubt the criticism of the late Michael Stewart's book as some sort of 1970s’ theatrical politicking.  Any musical with the song “Look What Happened to Mabel”, where lyrics impeccably rhyme “ambitious” and “knishes” and still manage to convey touchingly the revolutionary impact of movie technology on people’s lives,  must have something going for it.  Well, your dynamic theatregoing duo came out humming the tunes and admiring the intermittent dance routines but understanding,  through experience, what the critics meant. As silent movie pioneer, Mack Sennett, Norman Bowman is a tad young for the role but has the charismatic brooding look, bone structure and power in his voice to take on the classic Herman bitter-sweet hymns to life, love and the movie industry. Flame-haired Laura Pitt-Pulford's singing performance also reaches powerful heights as deli delivery girl turned Sennett star and lover Mabel Normand. Classy performances emerge too from Jessica Martin as tough-talking Lottie Ames and Stuart Matthew Price as quietly efficient and tactful up-and-coming director Frank Capra.  The problem is the way the main characters of Sennett and his star Mabel Normand are written rather than the performances. The personalities dissolve as the show progresses, pulling any number of ways with no exact trajectory and fudging the melodrama. Maybe in the 1970s, an early twentieth-century tale ending in drugs and eventual death,  with lunatic antics, vagaries of film finance, drug dealing, hints of abortions, gangland hits and something darker underlying even the zany Keystone cops were just too close to home to write about in an uncensored fluent fashion.  In contrast, Fred Ebb's and Bob Fosse's satiric book for Chicago achieves an upbeat, if perverse, slick American Dream ending. Despite revisions by Stewart’s sister Francine Pascal, Herman’s soaring musical peaks can’t hide the dips into anti-climactic dialogue, hurried transitions and narrative clumsiness. Yet, it’s worth keeping the faith for the songs, set numbers, the ragged, atmospheric true-life tragedy and the sisyphean task just about overcome by a talented, hard-working  cast and team, including director Thom Southerland and choreographer Lee Proud. So, still totally worth seeing and an amber light.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Democracy Review

by Michael Frayn
The Old Vic SE1       

It’s Complicated 

TLT and her motorised assistant made their way to the white pillars of the German Chancellery, sorry, The Old Vic, for a  performance of Michael Frayn’s 2003 spy drama  Democracy. In a time of coalition and European nations yoked uneasily together, this proved to be an intriguing, if uneven, evening. Democracy is based on a real-life 1970s’ scandal when the knife-edge task of keeping political parties, straining-at-the-leash diverse Western German states and an East German Communist neighbour on side falls on the enigmatic figure of Chancellor Willi Brandt played with wry downbeat charm by Patrick Drury.  Meanwhile by his side is the scuttling, loyal assistant Guenter Guillaume (Aidan McArdle looking for all the world like a stocky Groucho Marx who really was of German descent!), eventually exposed as a Stasi plant. From the Lilian Baylis seats (the Upper Circle) the dry complex wit of the dialogue was sometimes a little lost in the first act. Perhaps the play’s poetic pace and rhythms are more suited to an intimate stage, despite the striking evocation of  governmental conference rooms, corridors and the over-the-border spy control room.  As a blogger, TLT doesn’t have to play the lofty critic and it’s worth eavesdropping audience reaction. Some were totally engrossed in the deadpan evocation of 1970s' politics, personalities and geography. Others were noticeably less enchanted: “A history lesson” and “lack of women” were two comments.  It’s the second act where the ruthless all-male politicking, symbiotic spy network, personal dilemmas and, most of all, the mystery of human behaviour at the heart of this play, come into their own . So mixed feelings reflected in a verdict of an amber with some flashes of green light.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun Review

Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun
by John McGrath
Finborough Theatre, SW10

A Busy Day At The Barracks

Time to take the dust sheet off TLT’s sidekick to trundle once more to the Finborough Theatre for a play with a documentary-sounding title about British soldiers in the 1950s' German Rhineland as part of the Allied occupation.  Or maybe the title has the dispassionate power of All Quiet on The Western Front. For this proved to be a thrilling evening with a 1966 play rightly dusted down and given a sterling production directed by Robert Hastie with a uniformly strong cast matched by clever, under-stated but resonant design, lighting, sound effects and staging. Inspired by the writer’s own bout of National Service, it somehow manages to combine seamlessly a cross section of characters familiar from many a wartime film with a grittiness, rawness, plus a leavening humour, borne from real-life experience, and a state-of-the-nation play: A sort of Journey’s End for post-imperial conscription Britain. John McGrath has now entered into TLT and her metallic steed's top of the pops top ten as a writer of plays to see and it's an unequivocal green light which needs no defending for this must-see watch on the Rhine.