Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Review The Mikado

The Mikado
Music by Arthur Sullivan 
Book/Lyrics by WS Gilbert

The Perils of Nanki-Poo

Just think, before social networks, mobile phones, personal computers, VCRs (and there may now be a generation which does not know what the latter are!), young folks like TLT and her now vintage motorised cabriolet used to attend theatre! Not London's West End, but the local hall for hire - in what was once called 'the provinces' - for the amateur operatic society's latest offering - almost always the product of one of two partnerships, Rogers & Hammerstein or the Victorian double-act Gilbert & Sullivan (G&S).

Little TLT and her school chums glowed with pride as their primary school teachers in the cast, having disdained TV talent show Opportunity Knocks' or New Faces' auditions to remain big fish in a local pond, launched into an over-exuberant "There Is Nothing Like A Dame" or, that satire up there with Monty Python, "A Policeman's Lot Is Not A Happy One". Amateur dramatic society directors in those faraway times seemed to prefer traditional staging, although this may have been dictated by available costumes and scenery. 

Now after that flashback, we are back to the present day - and then back again to 1920s Japan for director Thom Southerland's spiffing The Mikado set in a fan and tailors' shop and re-imagined as a silent movie - with songs of course! 

Think Harold Lloyd with trademark thick-rimmed glasses for renegade Crown Prince Nanki-Poo (Matthew Crowe), in danger of losing his head. Also Gloria Swanson (the original Norma Desmond), an inspired parallel brilliantly reflecting the pathos and venom with which G&S endowed the character of spinster Katisha (a truly wonderful Rebecca Caine). Think of this and you'll get the picture ... 

And all kudos to Phil Lindley and Jonathan Lipman for set design and costumes respectively! Two cinema pianists accompany in this pared down production and the cast enthusiastically embrace the sweet dance routines created by Joey McKneely. As is only right, there is a delicious Yum Yum in Leigh Coggins with soaring assured vocals, a suitably craven Koko (Hugh Osborne with spot-on comic timing) and an imposingly expedient Mikado (Mark Heenehan). 

Ok, there is some variability in the unmiked singing - Nanki-Poo seems to be cast for fey comic charm rather than songbird ability. But as a whole it works. And beneath the colourful japonaiserie and tinkly tunes, the shark-like lurking dark satire of English politics and law still bites, perhaps more so than the customary crowd-pleasingly slick topical updating of the Lord High Executioner's 'little list'. 

So, a green light for both a brilliant director's concept and a non-Christmassy Christmas family entertainment! (And how often do you get all that in one sentence, as a Lord High Executioner might pun! ;) )

Thursday, 13 November 2014

White Christmas The Musical Review

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas The Musical
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by David Ives and Paul Blake

  *˛°.˛*.˛°˛.˛★˛˚˛*˛°.˛*.˛°˛.*★* Merry (Better Early *★* 。*˛.
˛°_██_*.。*. / ♥ \ .˛* .˛。.˛.*.★* Than Never) Christmas *★ 。*
˛. (´• ̮•)*.。*/♫.♫\*˛.* ˛_Π_____.♥ ♥ ˛* ˛* ★ 。*  *˛°.˛*.˛°˛.˛
.°( . • . ) ˛°./• '♫ ' •\.˛*./______/~\*. ˛*.。˛* ˛. * ˛°˛.*★*
*(...'•'.. ) *˛╬╬╬╬╬˛°.|田田 |門|╬╬╬╬╬*˚ .˛ *.

The Sound of Berlin

It was three quarters of the way through the perfectly enjoyable, toe-tapping “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas the Musical” (based on the 1954 movie) when your blog mine host found herself wracking her brains for the other story which ended up in an inn in Vermont. Suddenly it came to her –  the Von Trapp family of the later musical The Sound of Music (1959)  walked over the Alps – but after the credits rolled set up a successful family music franchise - in an inn in Vermont ! Was this in the mind of movie makers when they changed  location from Connecticut in Holiday Inn (1942) to Vermont twelve years later in the White Christmas movie directed by Hungarian-born Michael Curtiz? Here of course nearly all similarities between White Christmas and the Sound of Music – almost – end. In both there are strict military types who eventually melt into good guys with their hearts in the right place.  But all this is by-the-bye – how does the current musical extravaganza  – a US 2004 creation with several Irving Berlin songs not in the movie – shape up? It’s no masterpiece (and there were a few initial microphone sound issues, although this improved as the performance progressed), but it’s a great seasonal show directed in this West End première by Morgan Young, pressing all the right buttons without feeling too contrived. Classic songs from the Berlin catalogue. Infectious platoons of tap dancing chorus boys and girls. Two couples whose affairs are bolstered by beautiful melodies and smooth dance routines. Three roles for veterans including a comically monosyllabic Phil Cole as handyman Ezekiel and a suitably gruff Graham Cole (are they related?!) as retired General Waverly, and a pigtailed granddaughterly swot of a little lass who by the the show's end holds her musical theatre own with the best of them (not sure which of four Susie Waverlys we saw, but taking turns are Tatum Confrey, Sophia Pettit, Emily Robins and Amy Snudden). No cute dog, but you can’t have everything ;). A few design choices meant some scenery seemed dwarfed by the large stage near the beginning but even a couple of mentions of larceny can’t dim the bright later design, inventive costumes, lighting and happy ending story. Aled Jones as Bob Wallace and Tom Chambers as Phil Davis respectively take on the Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye roles, ex-army pals and celebrity song-and-dance men working to save a mountain inn, the investment into which their beloved former commanding officer has (inexplicably!) poured his savings and pension. Aled Jones has a truly excellent clear melodious voice while Tom Chambers dances, sings and cracks gags with an impish Jack Lemmon-like glee, although their parody “Sisters” number is perhaps not as sharp and hilarious as it could be. Wendi Peters leaves Coronation Street's Cilla Battersby-Brown far behind as entirely believable American Martha Watson - busybody switchboard operator, receptionist and closet-Ethel-Merman in an engrossingly spot-on performance, using her powerful showstopping voice with Broadway ease. Meanwhile blonde Judy (Louise Bowden) and redhead Betty (Rachel Stanley) warble and tap-dance pleasingly and more-than-proficiently through some terrific numbers as the love interests. And who can resist a stand-out song and dance routine on the pleasures of the piano accompanied by lyrics such as "I know a fine way to treat a Steinway"?! ;) With lush sounding orchestra, glorious choreography and costumes, it’s really a show that can’t fail to be a crowd pleaser for those who like their musicals bold, brassy and predictable, so, despite some flaws, a shimmering green light from this happy punter and her jalopy, now garaged, but with an engine still humming those irrepressible songs from the Irving Berlin stable :).

_██_*.。*. / ♥ \ .˛* .˛。.˛.*.★*
˛*.。. (´• ̮•)*.。*/♫.♫\*˛.* ˛_Π_____.♥ ♥
★*.( . • . ) ˛°./• '♫ ' •\.˛*./______/~\
* 。* (...'•'.. ) *˛╬╬╬╬╬˛°.|田田 |門|

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Speed-The-Plow Review

by David Mamet


With the press feeding frenzy on the first ever stage appearance of LiLo (yes, TLT and her coupé are down there with the yoofspeak!), it sometimes felt like life imitating art, or maybe commerce, at the Playhouse Theatre. 

Yet scaffolding outside turned out to be real,  not perches for the papps. And as hard-hatted builders did not leap to attention when TLT drove up in her limousine, they were probably not undercover reporters. Even so, advance publicity for David Mamet’s 1988 play “Speed-The-Plow” indicates  the baying hacks have never studied  Hillel the Elder’s monoped precept of brotherly love. Or maybe they view LiLo as some parole-breaking ho rather than a brother ... 

So ...

Will LiLo overcome the Mean Critics, learn some life lessons - surely every feelgood Hollywood film has a pseudo morality? -  and emerge triumphant ...?” 

Well ... 

Firstly, all three actors in this preview performance had acting chops but – TLT is undecided whether it is the play or the direction by Lindsay Posner which make this an uneven theatrical experience. 

Bobby Gould (Richard Schiff of "West Wing" fame) is a newly-promoted or appointed (TLT and sidekick didn't know the play before seeing this) Hollywood executive with the power to “green light” new studio productions. (How thrilling ... has David Mamet read TLT’s blogs ;)?!. 

Erstwhile colleague Charlie Fox (an exuberant Nigel Lindsay) sees his seemingly more cerebral former colleague, suddenly lifted on the shoulders of a corporation, as the gateway to riches with his own populist hack work – a predictable prison violence-fest. 

Add to this testosterone mix a shapely tomato  - yes, TLT  is also down there with the male chauvinist slang! - Karen the temp secretary (Lindsay Lohan) who becomes a tool in Charlie’s blinkered aggression to promote his private interests but turns out to have her own unhealthy (for Charlie) interest in radiation ...

Nigel Lindsay is the most consistent of the performers in this office (and bedroom) satire with an ebullient Charlie invading the stage as he intends to make a cinematic killing, let loose to become a Hollywood made man. Richard Schiff looks and moves the part as Bobby but until the second act his faltering diction upsets the play's balance.

OK, OK, I’m coming to her – in the first act Lindsay Lohan, while slightly constrained, projects her lines clearly, naturally, bringing a poise and dignity to the role of Karen. But oh, and oh, did someone threaten her in the interval? Or did the boys not let her in to the secrets of the rest of the plot? 

Although still clear, she seemed nobbled, delivering her second act lines as a perfunctory duty. She appeared relieved to be viewed a part of the team when taking her bow (ok, from the lofty heights of The Gods, TLT has given in to the common mob, making up her own plot and indulging in a bit of unwarranted amateur psychology like everyone else) !!!  

While  Lohan goes down like a bear market automated trade, Schiff grabs his opportunity and somewhat frenetically but authentically comes into his own. The problem is all three actors throughout feel as if they are acting in different plays, leaving the rhythm of the plot in tatters, not helped by a prolonged gap for a scene change in the second act. Maybe by press night, it’ll be pulled together. In the meantime, TLT and her roadster cannot bring themselves to present their coveted green light but are happy to shove it on the amber light “maybe”  pile.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Invincible Review

by Torben Betts

Yorkshire Tour De Farce

We like to wear our learning lightly here at TLT Towers, that’s TLT and her petite bagnole.  So this just might be, in this fast-moving media age, the world’s first post-Thomas-Piketty-Capital-in-the-21st-century play. 

Not that we’ve actually read this current favourite of the chattering classes - a French book analysing  global economics - only the reviews. But as part of Ye Olde Internet Guild of Theatre Bloggers, founded some time between the Frankish Empire and – ahem – July 2014, we’ll always promote our own trade and tradesmen ... ;)

Anyway, a genteely shabby London couple (Darren Strange and Laura Howard), with two children in tow, give up the cost-of-living struggle in the capital (no pun intended) and move to Yorkshire, hoping to integrate with their neighbours by plying them with wine, olives and 16th century church music

The ex government PR man, Oliver, and the left wing misanthropic painter, Emily, are confronted with rotund postman and would-be artist Alan (Daniel Copeland), who wisely brings his own beer, and dental assistant Dawn (Samantha Seager), Yorkshire’s answer to an Essex girl. 

And there’s the rub – there’s a bellyful of laughs, juicy situations whet the appetite and very canny direction by Ellie Jones draw us into the characters’ psychic space.  But finally the stereotypes win out and the characters fail to engage in a coherent meaty dramatization of unfairness and the family divides the play so nicely (and often hilariously) sets up in the first act. 

The naïve gulf between contemporary London and a Yorkshire town and tragic twists feel a little contrived. While the Piketty elements are there –  a widening gap between rich and poor actually rooted in inherited wealth via a salaried route rather than entrepreneurial nous - some curiously dated elements turn the play’s ending into a rather spiteful face-value equivalent of a drunken middle class lottery fantasy wish fulfilment.  

Yet the entertainment value remains high, and, even if the story ultimately feels underachieved,  it scrapes through into a green light with playwright Torben Betts’ witty dialogue plus excellent directing and acting sustaining the evening. In fact, we think we may be looking forward far more to Mr Betts's next play than Monsieur Piketty's next book unless the latter manages a few more gags. ;)

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Review The Silver Tassie

The Silver Tassie
by Seán O’Casey

The Wasted Land

The Silver Tassie,  rejected for the Irish stage, appeared first in London in 1929  -  the  year after the Irish Republic issued its own silver coins produced in London’s Royal Mint.  Local Gaelic football star Harry travels from a glorious peak, carrying off a silver cup (the "Silver Tassie") for his team plus the local beauty with her primed Post Office savings account,  to First World War army service and then the contemporary Ireland of the 1920s. 
It's all downhill for Harry as he joins the maiming and slaughter on the killing fields of France. Returning home a cripple after being given false hope in a hospital ward, he finds himself a buffeted dependent outcast, alongside a blind comrade,  in a world that has moved on.  Or maybe the world has moved into his Dublin tenement, eventually filled with newly minted Irish citizens. 

This play is apparently in part an example of expressionism. Anyway TLT and her metallic red motorised companion were riveted by the fine, clearly spoken performances from all the cast and the eclectic but focussed nature of Seán O'Casey's writing. TLT’s take on it is that it does have spades of dialectical argument in its four acts (don’t worry, a two hour and twenty minute play!) but  disguised within a characterful domestic and wartime setting with a hefty dose of dark humour.

We also found it powerfully visualised in Howard Davies’s staging, Vicki Mortimer’s design and Paul Groothuis’s equally powerful sound effects (bring the ear plugs for occasional use if you have sensitive ears!). 

Anyone who has managed to read James Joyce’s Ulysses - this is meant to be an insight rather than a boast ;)! -  will have some inkling of the literary, musical and political landscapes through which the characters travel in this often prescient play, emerging into the false dawn of the Roaring Twenties. 

For, by  the end of the year in which the play was produced in London, following  poet and politician WB Yeats’s rejection of an Irish performance, we know with the benefit of hindsight all finished in a huge domino-effect financial crash.

This production of The Silver Tassie certainly receives our own highest green traffic light medal for embodying with humour and dramatic clarity a bitter, resonant turning point in history.   

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Review A View From The Bridge

A View From The Bridge
By Arthur Miller

Family Guy

Yes, we’re back. Do we have to make excuses for our absence? We think not  – after all, you’re reading this blog and hopefully hooked like a fish on bait or a side of meat hung in an abattoir. ;) Nor, unlike some others, will our narration misdirect you. This is a wonderful production of Arthur Miller’s 1950s’ fable, A View From The Bridge, with not a dud coin amongst the performances. 

At the same time, TLT and her well-oiled and speedy-wheeled chariot have to admit, although they would always race to a Miller play, they have always found his writing a little  – well - schematic. Yet in their humble opinion, the rendering of director Ivo van Hove, along with Jan Versweyveld's design and lighting, of A View From The Bridge turns this into a strength.

At the height of an economic crisis, the arrival of a wife's cousins as illegal immigrants from the old country disturbs the tenuous status quo of the Italian-Brooklyn Carbone family: Eddie (Mark Strong), good natured patriarch eventually descending into despairing self-defeating revenge, Beatrice (Nicola Walker), torn between her family and her isolated husband, and Eddie’s young niece Catherine (Phoebe Fox), chafing at the bit to experience life. 

A simple stretched length-wise stage   without props, bare-bones black and white with long box benches rising on every side can change within a few words into a dockyard pier, a Brooklyn home, an attorney’s office, a boxing ring or maybe even a court house foyer, a political cell,  an international conference room - or a man trap.

Cousin Marco (Emun Elliott) sets out methodically to earn precious dollars to send back to his own wife and children in Italy but, to the horror of her Uncle Eddie, Catherine is charmed by ambitious Rodolpho (Luke Norris) with his matinee-idol looks. 

Yet there is an explicit indication this play means more than the one man’s tragic (alleged) incestuous, jealous obsession. The two Italians speak perfect American from the start, although TLT and her motorised compatriot willingly took part in the audience's suspension of disbelief, while glimpsing the possibility of parallel stories.

Alongside a masterly use of sound (Tom Gibbons), lighting and choreography, the staging reminded TLT of a previous Young Vic production – the circular heartbeat simplicity of  The Brothers Size. And like Richard Eyre’s recent absorbing Ghosts, this production gathers momentum by eschewing an interval (back to its one-act verse roots) and the two hours fly past. 

The twists and turns of this piece’s tragic trajectory and insistent lawyer-narrator demand attention and open up the possibility of an audience analysing the action and words for itself rather than accepting the say-so about any character from others.

Naturally the pacing is superb with seemingly sympathetic but seedy lawyer Alfieri (Michael Gould) and the increasingly tortured and trapped longshoreman Eddie Carbone juggling the action until all hell breaks out and events spiral out of their control.

A minor quibble alone -  for us, using coloured lighting in the denouement might have made a more visceral impact than a final prolonged clinch in an actual liquid tide, although (we think) we can understand the reasoning for this. 

Anyway this may seem rather churlish as, for us too, the tragic human consequences acted on an anosmic (look it up! :) ) set of otherwise almost digital cleanliness gives the play recognizable currency in our globalized electronic age of video games and drones. A great ensemble effort to which TLT and her rootin’, tootin’ buggy give an unadulterated green light!