16 March 2014

Blithe Spirit - Gielgud Theatre, Friday 14th March 2014

Synopsis:

Charles Condomine, a successful novelist, wishes to learn about the occult for a novel he is writing, and he arranges for an eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to hold a séance at his house. At the séance, she inadvertently summons Charles's first wife, Elvira, who has been dead for seven years. Madame Arcati leaves after the séance, unaware that she has summoned Elvira. Only Charles can see or hear Elvira, and his second wife, Ruth, does not believe that Elvira exists until a floating vase is handed to her out of thin air. The ghostly Elvira makes continued, and increasingly desperate, efforts to disrupt Charles's current marriage. She finally sabotages his car in the hope of killing him so that he will join her in the spirit world, but it is Ruth rather than Charles who drives off and is killed.
Ruth's ghost immediately comes back for revenge on Elvira, and though Charles cannot at first see Ruth, he can see that Elvira is being chased and tormented, and his house is in uproar. He calls Madame Arcati back to exorcise both of the spirits, but instead of banishing them, she materialises Ruth. With both his dead wives now fully visible, and neither of them in the best of tempers, Charles, together with Madame Arcati, goes through séance after séance and spell after spell to try to exorcise them, and at last Madame Arcati succeeds. Charles is left seemingly in peace, but Madame Arcati, hinting that the ghosts may still be around unseen, warns him that he should go far away as soon as possible. Charles leaves at once, and the unseen ghosts throw things and destroy the room as soon as he has gone.


Cast:
Edith – Patsy Ferran
Ruth – Janie Dee
Charles – Charles Edwards
Dr. Bradman – Simon Jones
Mrs. Bradman – Serena Evans
Madame Artcarti – Angela Lansbury
Elvira – Jemima Roper
Creative Team:
Written by: Noel Coward
Director : Michael Blakemore
Designer – Simon Higlett
Lighting – Mark Jonathan
Wardrobe – Traipsy Drake (what a name!)
 
Working in the back of beyond and living in the burbs, I don’t often get into Central London on a Friday night.  Which is probably just as well, as I don’t think I could stand it.  Readers, it was chaos.  Pavements outside every pub were practically impassable, lost tourists stopped in the middle of the path and consulted maps, couples canoodled and dawdled and wrapped their tongues round each others tonsils, idiots looking at mobile phones and iPads wandered  aimlessly from one side of the pavement to the other with eyes fixed on their gadgets, rickshaws trundled along, vans tried to reverse round corners, pedestrians drifted across the road willy-nilly, police sirens wailed and from every doorway in Chinatown came the clang of a different radio station..  At several points on the walk from Charing Cross to Shaftesbury Avenue, Him Indoors drifted in and out of visual contact as I occasionally got caught up in the melee and lost him in the crowd.  On Shaftesbury Avenue itself, just outside the theatre, I got caught up in a particularly intense eddy of humanity and was literally swept past the door for about 50 yards, eventually managing to save myself by clinging to a tree and waiting until the flow had subsided.  Dazed, hot and bewildered I staggered into the foyer resembling Robinson Crusoe washed up on the beach. Even then I thought that the wildlife had followed me through the door as an incredibly sour faced chap wearing trousers of the loudest shade of emerald green I have ever seen waddled by, leaving me briefly wondering if I was being stalked by a mallard with a face like a slapped arse.  Just by my elbow a woman practically screamed to her companion “Do you want coffee or champagne in the interval?”  Personally, I thought, I could do with a couple of valium and a swig of Rescue Remedy if she was offering, but she didn’t.   So was it all worth it?  Of course it was.  Angela Lansbury could have stood on the stage and read from the telephone directory and it would have been worth it. 
 
On the face of it, Blithe Spirit is a strange animal to be inhabiting the West End.  It’s a gentle, amusing play without flash or dash, wasn’t written by Lloyd Webber, isn’t based on a 1980s film and doesn’t feature animatronic sets that would make Alton Towers look like a local playground.  Its audience isn’t going to be families with screaming kids nor groups of slaggy girls out on the lash.  It has a slightly faded, “Home Counties Rep. Company” air about it.  It is, in fact, a bit of a war horse (as opposed to War Horse).  But it has stood the test of time surprisingly well as an example of period “drawing room comedy”. (albeit with ghosts)  and continues to provide endless ladies of a certain age (Penelope Keith, Felicity Kendall, Joanna Lumley and so on) with employment and endless audiences of a certain age with entertainment.  And, of course, when your Madame Arcarti is a Broadway Legend as well as Hollywood Royalty, entertainment for endless numbers of Gentlemen who prefer the company of other Gentlemen.  Very high PPSI ratio throughout the auditorium. 
Of the assembled cast, only Jemima Rooper’s Elvira really fails to shine.  Her Elvira is not quite classy enough to have been married to Charles Condomine, a little too earthy and a little too earthbound.  I wasn’t terribly impressed with the fact that there was no apparent effort to give her an appropriately ghostly pallor – not only has Elvira been dead for seven years, but she was recovering from the flu at the time of her death, so a touch of pale makeup would have been appropriate.  The only time she looked really ghostly was whenever she stood in a particular spot down stage left where the lighting seemed particularly pale, in contrast to the warmly lit remainder of the stage.  The fact that Ms. Rooper is dark-haired underneath her white wig is unfortunately evidenced by her very dark eyebrows, making her look a little badgerish.  She is totally outclassed  on the stage by Janie Dee’s Ruth, looking considerably better coiffed and attired than the last time I saw her.  In fact, if I hadn’t been told she was Janie Dee, I wouldn’t have recognised her.  Charles Edward’s Charles is a perfect rendition of a part that must be very tempting to over-do.  I would imagine that there is a temptation to make him rather louche and brittle, in the manner of Coward himself.  Apparently Rupert Everett played the role on Broadway before this production transferred to London, and I would imagine that he over-did the role terribly.  The minor parts of Dr. and Mrs. Bradman are well handled, with the part of Mrs. Bradman particularly well defined. Congratulations are due to Patsy Ferran, making her professional debut in the tiny but vital role of Edith, the housemaid – what a production to launch your career with, sharing a stage with a Legend.
 
 
They are, of course, only there as padding to support Angela Lansbury, whom everyone has come to see.  I tell you, you wouldn’t know the woman was well into her 80s.  Despite playing the part of Madame Arcarti as much younger than she is herself, Lansbury rarely, if ever, shows any that she is not physically up to the role.  There were a couple of wobbles with the dialogue – several times you can see she is fumbling to remember the exact words, and one major clanger dropped when she gave the date of Daphne’s death (Daphne being her spirit guide) as 1994 rather than 1884 – but the woman is a natural comedian both physically and verbally and oozes class from every pore.  She wisely avoids making her Madame Arcarti over-hearty in the style of Margaret Rutherford, and brings a certain wistful common sense to the role, although she is perhaps a little too frail physically for the audience to believe that she has cycled 8 miles to the Condomine’s house (although, again, this was a tiny slip; in the script, its 7 miles).  At times, there is more than a touch of the Salome Otterbourne about her  portrayal, but who cares?  It’s a stunning performance, full of lovely deft touches of comedy timing  I admit that I did get slightly annoyed with the audience’s tendency to applaud her every entrance and exit, and wonder whether she deliberately “wrong footed” the audience at one point by exiting in her final scene and then suddenly popping back onto the stage halfway through the applause with an interpolated line (not in the original script) about wanting another cucumber sandwich. 
 
 
The nit picker in me noticed quite a few slip ups in terms of the stage design. In the first scene we hear a cuckoo calling outside the French windows (and this is commented on in the script), which would make the action set no later than the end of May, and yet one of the flower vases contains a sunflower, a species which doesn’t bloom until late July at the earliest.  There are two vases of flowers on stage during Act 1, both of which remain untouched and unchanged as the curtain rises on Act 2 and yet in Act 2, scene 1, (set the next day), Ruth mentions having done the flowers that morning.  Edith is supposed to bring in a tray of bacon, eggs and toast for breakfast (all of which are referred to in the dialogue), but the toast rack holds only slices of raw bread.  Yes, yes, I know. 
 
 
A wonderful evening’s entertainment, well played and excellently cast.  But the entire show rightly belongs to Lansbury who takes the audience in the palm of her hand and walks away with their hearts and minds, for which she rightly and justifiably received a standing ovation at the final curtain.  One final note of approval – there was none of this “communist bowing” that Him Indoors loathes and always comments on; Edith the maid takes a solo bow, followed by the Bradmans, then by Ruth and Elvira, then by Charles and finally Madame Arcarti, giving the audience the opportunity to show their appreciation by rising from their seats as a single unit and giving Lansbury the ovation she deserves.    
 
Blythe Spirit officially opens tomorrow - I will post up some reviews, and hopefully a youtube video later in the week.

23 February 2014

Finian's Rainbow - Union Theatre, Sunday 16th February 2014

Synopsis: 
Finian McLonergan arrives in Rainbow Valley,, with his daughter, Sharon, and a "borrowed" pot of gold. His theory is to plant the gold near Fort Knox. Surely it will multiply just as America's bullion burial has made all Americans rich. They encounter poor sharecroppers who are about to lose their land. Henchmen of Senator Billboard Rawkins are ready to pay back taxes and take over. However, his plan is foiled by Woody, who returns from the big city with the tax money, and by Finian, who covers the hidden charges when Woody cannot. In exchange, Finian gets property rights for enough land to sow his golden dream.  
While Sharon and Woody are falling in love, Og, a leprechaun, confronts Finian and demands the return of his pot of gold, without which he will start to become human and mortal. But Finian ignores him, as a figment of his imagination. Geologists, working on a secret dam project, detect gold on the sharecroppers' land. Learning this, Rawkins moves in to take the land by force. As he is manhandling a Negro sharecropper, Sharon wishes that Rawkins was black. Unwittingly, she is standing over the magical pot, and her wish is granted. Rawkins dashes into hiding.  
A telegram arrives from Shears and Robust granting unlimited credit to the people of the gold-rich valley. Woody persuades them to use the credit to buy tractors and equipment to improve the harvest. Without his gold, Og will become mortal. However, his search for the pot is interrupted by Sharon with whom he immediately falls in love. When Shears and Robust arrive to collect for all the merchandise, Woody satisfies them with proof of future profit. The McLonergan economic theory is working, but Sharon is charged with witchcraft and the mysterious disappearance of Rawkins. Og encounters Billboard in the woods and magically improves his disposition. Arriving back in the Valley, Og encounters Susan the Silent. Love strikes again, only harder. He also learns Sharon is to be burned as a witch unless a white Rawkins can be found. Og believes Susan can tell him where the gold is hidden and so wishes. She talks. He is sitting above the crock. He unearths the pot and makes the final wish that saves Sharon for Woody, but renders himself completely mortal. But Og has Susan. Finian, having proven his theory without a shadow of doubt, moves on to spread joy elsewhere. 

 Cast: 
Finian McLonegan – James Horne 
Sharon – Christina Bennington 
Og – Raymond Walsh 
Senator Rawkins – Michael Hayes 
Sherrif – David Malcolm 
Woody – Joseph Peters 
Susan – Laura Bella Griffin 

Creative Team: 
Adaptation – Charlotte Moore 
Drector – Phil Willmott 
Choreography – Thomas Michael Voss 
Costumes – Kirk Jameson 

Well, I don’t know what I was expecting and I still don’t know whether I got it or not. What an odd, odd show. I have to say that I think the cast did the best they could with this oddity, which is really neither fish nor fowl. To call the plot “paper thin” is really to insult thin paper. And SUCH a strange story, made even stranger by having to be toned down so as not to offend any sensibilities. Let’s get it straight – in the show as originally written and performed, Senator Rawkins issues an edict preventing black people and white people from living and working together. He manhandles a black woman (for “manhandle” I suspect “assaults” or even “attempts to rape” would be more accurate). As punishment, he is turned into a black man so that he can experience how black people are treated. This, I suspect, would have Guardian readers the length and breadth of the country rising up in arms, so all three points have been quietly glossed over in this production. Unfortunately, doing so rather takes the wind out of the storyline. Senator Rawkins remains white, and merely becomes “nice” as opposed to “nasty”. This fails to explain to the audience exactly why Rawkins is turned away from his home and put out of a job. Are we supposed to believe that nobody recognises him just because he is wearing a smile instead of a frown? It also fails to explain why he loses his nice clothes and appears after his “transformation” wearing a slightly grubby Tshirt and a pair of tattered jeans. As it is, it makes no sense. 

Not that the story makes much sense anyway. A man steals a pot of gold from a leprechaun, and then goes to America to bury it. The leprechaun follows him, discovers women and becomes human. A mute girl finds the pot of gold and acquires the ability to speak. The gold is used to buy a farm, an evil politician is punished by being turned black, learns the error of his ways and everyone lives happily ever after. I mean, what were the writers smoking? Were they going for whimsy or hard hitting social comment? A love story or a supernatural story in the vein of Brigadoon? But with Irish characters instead of Scottish ones? Honestly, there are parts of this that are so hokey with stereotypes (Irish colleens, leprechauns, Boss Hogg-esque Senators, black sharecroppers a la Gone with the Wind) that sitting through it becomes a constant effort not to vomit. The “twee” element is so “twee” that it “out-twees” anything I’ve ever seen. Mind you, the auditorium was so full of stage mist (presumably to make everything look soft focus and dreamy) that for quite some time I couldn’t see much of anything anyway. 

And the director missed something – the show is called “Finian’s Rainbow” – and nary a rainbow was there in sight, even right at the end when one is supposed to appear with the first drops of rain that Rainbow Valley has apparently seen in some time.. A budget production this may be – but I think there should be some attempt at putting some kind of meteorological effect on the stage, even if it were only made out of strips of coloured paper. Sometimes, I think it is better that a show slips into theatrical oblivion and dies a quiet death. Finian’s Rainbow is one of those shows. The plot is laughable, has to be changed to fit “modern sensibilities”, and can’t even be filed under “period whimsy” any more. Presumably set in the late 30s (there are references to the land being worn out through over-cultivation and everyone is hungry, so we are well into Grapes of Wrath territory here), this production has more of a late 40s feel – everyone is nice and clean, tidily and neatly dressed, well shod, recently coiffured and happy. There is little evidence of hunger or misery. Its all nicely sung, and there is lots of dancing. But nothing can hide the utter vacuousness and paucity of the plot. Personally its not something I would care to sit through again. 

What the critics thought: 

http://www.broadwayworld.com/uk-regional/article/BWW-Reviews-FINIANS-RAINBOW-Union-Theatre-February-14-2014-20140216#.Uwp9Q-N_s1I

http://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/finians-rainbow

http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/finian-s-rainbo-union-theatre-9886

 http://www.thepublicreviews.com/finians-rainbow-union-theatre-london/


20 February 2014

A Taste of Honey – National Theatre, Monday 10th February 2014

Synopsis:

Jo is an awkward, shy 17-year-old girl living with her promiscuous alcoholic mother, Helen. Desperately longing to simply be loved, when her mother's latest "romance" drives Jo out of their apartment, she spends the night with a black sailor on a brief shore leave. But when Jo's mother abandons her to move in with her latest lover, Jo finds a job and a room for herself, meets Geoffrey, a shy and lonely homosexual, and allows him to share her flat. When she discovers that she is pregnant with the sailor's child, Geoffrey, grateful for her friendship, looks after her, even offering marriage. Their brief taste of happiness is short-lived for Jo's fickle and domineering mother, her own romantic hopes dashed, appears back on the scene, determined to drive the gentle Geoffrey from the flat and take over the care of her daughter 

Cast:
Helen: Lesley Sharp
Josephine, her daughter – Kate O’Flynn
Peter, her friend – Dean Lennox Kelly
Jimmie, a black sailor – Eric Kofi Abrefa
Geoffrey, a student – Harry Hepple

 Creative Team:
Written by: Shelagh Delaney
Director: Bijan Sheibani
Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting: Paul Anderson

 My only reference point for this play up until now had been an old Victoria Wood sketch, in which she bemoans the lack of sex education she got at school – “I thought you could get pregnant walking along the canal while someone played the harmonica, like Rita Tushingham in that film A Taste of Honey”. So I more or less knew it was going to be an “Its grim oop North” kind of play. I’ve still not seen the film – although a lot of the audience obviously had and were therefore purposes of comparison, rather than taking the play on its own merits. I heard a couple of several slightly sniffy comments at the end along the lines of “Well, its not as good as the film”. Well, I’ve got news for them. You have to take a play like this on its own merits, rather than compare it with what it spawned. To compare the play with a film based on it is like, well, comparing a mother and daughter. Yes, they have obvious similarities, but you cannot say that one is better than the other when they are completely different media. And you surely have to look at the play in the light of the fact that it was written by a 17 year old girl from Salford who was taken to the theatre for the first time in her life to see a dreary play by Terence Rattigan and went home afterwards thinking “I can do better than that”. Which she proceeded to do, presumably not yet knowing her upstage right from her downstage left. And which by all accounts was a massive, massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic. I bet Rita Tushingham never managed that. Granted that Delaney was effectively cursed by the play and barely wrote anything of note for the rest of her life, but ask your average 17 year old to write a play and I bet you won’t get anything like this. (In fact, ask your average 17 year old to write a play and they will probably stare blankly at you and ask you what a play is, and is it something to do with Spotify?) Its not Hamlet, but come on….

Actually, in some respects, its better than Hamlet, because its written with an ear towards the truth. I bet all the characters were based on people that Delaney knew or had seen or had overheard talking on the bus – and Hamlet has fewer laughs. Because although this is, on the face of it, a fairly grim couple of hours, its actually quite heartwarming. We know that, despite her awful mother’s reappearance at the end in order to wrest back control of things, Josephine is going to come through it more or less the winner. Her baby is going to be loved and cared for, and will probably have a better life than Josephine. 

The evening fairly crackles along, mainly thanks to Lesley Sharp’s Helen, who keeps the dialogue coming at a frenetic pace. She plays Helen without asking for a shred of sympathy, which is lucky because the woman is a peroxide monster, selfish, thoughtless and deluded – as my grandma would have said (and often apparently did) “All fur coat and no knickers”, and probably also “Net curtains in the window, nowt on the table”. Kate O’Flynn pulls off the role of Josephine triumphantly – all those Daily Telegraph readers who comment online on articles about the theatre that “those luvvies should go and get a proper job” should think themselves lucky that they don’t have to play this role 8 times a week. Harry Hepple does a nice job with the role of Geoffrey, which could potentially be one of the most stomach-churningly camp roles in theatre, but here its quiet and restrained. 

Him Indoors always chunters about “communistic bowing” (which basically means all the cast coming on to take one communal bow rather than taking individual ones) and generally I nod and say “Yes, dear” sympathetically but I’m with him on this one. Two of the characters are only on stage for, say, maximum 10 – 15 minutes (if that) and O’Flynn is on all the time, with Sharpe not far behind her. Hepple is on for the entire second act. And yet all five cast members get to take a communal bow. That’s not right. The two minor characters should take the first bow, Hepple next, and then the two women together at the end. That’s the only way that the audience can show their appreciation of the fact that these two women have just done the theatrical equivalent of scaling, if not Everest, then at least Ben Nevis.

There is a wonderful, artful and very telling moment when, almost at the end of the play, Lesley Sharp’s character breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience, asking them “What would you do?” – and then the moment is gone and the play continues. Well, its an interesting question, and our answers today would be very different from the answers that an audience would have given back in 1958. Things were different then – and not only in real life. Theatre was different too – unmarried mothers, teenage pregnancy, infidelity and poverty didn’t appear on stage until the “Angry Young Men” started writing “Kitchen Sink Drama”. Which is pretty rich as it was the Angry Young Women who were chained to that sink until Delaney came along, scooped up the bowl full of dirty dishwater and poured it all over the stage in a wonder act of rebellion.

The set is very evocative, although a little disturbing – what on earth has been going on in the room upstairs? And can someone more enlightened explain the title of the play to me? What exactly is the honey that has been tasted? Is it sex? Freedom? Self knowledge? Something to do with a harmonica and Rita Tushingham?

What the critics thought:
(and if anyone can tell me why my links no longer paste in as actual clickable links, I would be very grateful!)

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/1610ec32-9950-11e3-91cd-00144feab7de.html#axzz2ttRlKtLv

http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/a-taste-of-honey-nationals-lyttelton-lesley-sharp-is-superb--review-9137916.html

http://oughttobeclowns.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/review-taste-of-honey-national-theatre.html

http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/taste-honey-national-theatre

http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/feb/19/taste-of-honey-review
 

29 January 2014

American Psycho - Almeida Theatre, Tuesday 28th January 2014

Synopsis:

Living the high life in 1980s Manhattan, Patrick Bateman has it all – looks, money, style and status.  He and his entourage buy the most expensive designer clothes, eat at the most exclusive restaurants and party at the hottest clubs.  But privately, Patrick indulges in another kind of transgression. And people - including those closest to him - keep disappearing.

Cast:
Patrick Bateman – Matt Smith
Paul Owen – Ben Aldridge
Craig McDermott – Charlie Anson
Jean – Cassandra Compton
Courtney – Katie Brayben
Evelyn – Susannah Fielding
Detective Kimball – Simon Gregor

Creative team:
Director – Rupert Goold
Set – Es Devlin
Costume – Katrina Lindsay
Choreography – Lynne Page


Well, what an odd choice of material for a musical.  I enjoyed both the film and the original book, and was really interested to see how this would be turned into a stage production.  The answer was that technology has been thrown at it in buckets – and tonight that technology proved unreliable.  10 minutes in, just as the threads of the spell were being woven and starting to come together, I noticed something had gone wrong with the lighting.  The cast carried on – and then a techie appeared from nowhere and announced that the performance would have to be suspended until it had been sorted.  And then Matt Smith (who should know a lot better) did something completely unbelievable and totally unprofessional.  He “broke the fourth wall” and addressed the audience direct.  And what is worse, he cracked a couple of jokes and started clowning around.  This amused the audience – but it broke the spell completely.  The threads fell apart, reality entered in and it gave the audience permission to laugh.  And then, when the show resumed, Mr. Smith carried on with the clowning, interspersing his dialogue with a couple of comments about déjà vu, giving the audience permission to carry on laughing.  And that is what they carried on doing, almost to the very end of the show, interpreting the show as some kind of comedy, which completely destroyed both the spell and any tension.  I got irritated with the laughter, and with the audience, and ultimately with the show itself.  What the cast should have done is just left the stage quietly, and then returned after the tech problems were sorted out and carried on weaving the spell.  But at least two of them took the opportunity to clown about.  It was Unprofessional with a capital U.

The script of this is very, very strange. It’s a psychological thriller, but there are too many lines which could be interpreted as funny. And when your audience has been given permission to laugh (by your clowning), they will laugh at them, and turn your thriller into something humorous.  And then they will actively look for other things to laugh at, and laugh at them, and unfortunately there are too many things in the production that could be seen (by someone looking for something to laugh at) as funny; someone doing a silly accent, someone wearing a funny wig, four people standing with their heads through those boards you used to see at the seaside when having a comedy photograph taken, even (and these are very cheap laughs indeed) someone camping it up when playing a gay character.  I did wonder why the writer thought it would be appropriate to make this a musical, when it would have functioned rather better as a straightforward play with music.  It certainly would have increased the tension, and made the production feel somewhat less superficial.  It is certainly far more superficial than the book or the film – there is an empty kind of gloss about it all.  Now, this could be a very clever aspect – the lives of most of the characters are very, very glossy and very, very empty.  But I don’t think that this is how the production was planned. 

There is certainly not a great deal of blood.  The first death doesn’t come until almost at the interval. The tension has taken just that bit too long to build to a decent level; until then, we’ve just been watching a musical play about some fairly repellent people being repellent to other people.  In fact, there really isn’t a decent “Silence” until 15 – 20 minutes from the end.  Here I have to digress for a second and explain the term “Silence” (note, capital S).  I’ve used the term before but not for a long while, and new readers may welcome some explanation.  Silence is the absence of noise, but a “Silence” is one of those moments in the theatre when the entire audience is holding its collective breath and concentrating really, really hard – nobody coughs, nobody fidgets in their seat, all eyes are on the stage and everyone is more or less holding their breath, because there’s something deeply dramatic going on and everyone is focussing totally.  I’ve defined “Silence” in the past as “the noise that black velvet makes”.  And we get a “Silence” in the scene where Bateman takes his secretary Jean back to his apartment – and none of the audience are completely sure what is going to happen.  Is he going to murder her with the nail gun or will she get away?  But its too late – there should have been more of them, and they should have come earlier.  The tension has taken too long to build up, and much of it has been dissipated by the jolly musical numbers and the opportunities for humour. 

I also think that the show is too overladen with technology for its own good; the slightly thin story gets rather overwhelmed by it.  Not that the technology isn’t wonderful in its own right – it certainly adds an extra dimension.  But does the script warrant it, or even need it?  With horror, simpler is usually better.  You have only got to go see a performance of The Woman in Black to prove this – you’ll be scared out of your wits by a production that uses only one set and some odds and ends of furniture.  Your imagination will provide the rest.  The film version of American Psycho is so bloody, so visceral, that the stage cannot compete with it.  It attempts to become a psychological drama – and in the main fails badly. 

Not that there isn’t a great performance going on here.  Matt Smith really shows his craft– you need considerable talent to pull off the role of Patrick Bateman and in less competent hands the role would be a write-off and just wouldn’t work.  The problem is that most people aren’t here to see Matt Smith’s talent – they’re here to see the man who played Doctor Who, and probably wouldn’t recognise decent stagecraft if it came and sat on their face.  In the second act, Smith gives a performance that is increasingly spellbinding and is totally riveting by the final scene.  But the rest of the cast are hampered by the comedy, the role of Detective Kimball is under-written and Cassandra Compton’s attempts at winsomeness are scuppered by her inconsistent accent and insistence on using a voice that even Minnie Mouse would find irritating.


Despite the stunning central performance, despite the incredible technical aspects of the show, I have to give it a resounding “meh”.  

What the critics said: 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/10514037/American-Psycho-review-Glib-heartless-and-pretentious.html

 http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/american-psycho--theatre-review-matt-smith-regenerates-as-ripped-ubernarcissist-9001356.html

 http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/american-psycho-theater-review-665754

 http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2013-12-13/matt-smiths-performance-in-american-psycho---review-round-up

 http://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/reviews/12-2013/american-psycho-almeida_32952.html


 

18 January 2014

From Here to Eternity - Shaftesbury Theatre, Wednesday 15th January 2014

Synopsis:
In 1941, bugler Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt transfers to G Company on the island of Oahu. Captain Holmes has heard he is a talented middleweight boxer and wants him to join his regimental boxing team. Prewitt refuses, having stopped fighting after blinding his sparring partner. Holmes is adamant, but so is Prewitt. Holmes makes life as miserable as possible for Prewitt, hoping he will give in and orders First Sergeant Milton Warden to prepare court martial papers after Sergeant Galovitch insults Prewitt to goad him, then gives an unreasonable order which Prewitt refuses to obey. Warden, however, suggests that he try to get Prewitt to change his mind by doubling up on company punishment. The other non-commissioned officers assist in the conspiracy. Prewitt is supported only by his friend, Private Maggio.  
Warden begins an affair with Holmes' neglected wife Karen. As their relationship develops, Warden asks Karen about her affairs to test her sincerity. She says that has been unfaithful to her husband for most of their marriage having had to undergo hysterectomy as a result of being infected with an STD by her husband after he had visited a prostitute. Prewitt and Maggio spend their liberty at the New Congress Club, where Prewitt falls for one of the whores, Lorene, who is saving all she earns in pursuit of a respectable life back on the mainland.  
Maggio and Staff Sergeant Judson nearly come to blows at the club. Judson warns Maggio that sooner or later he will end up in the stockade, where he is the Sergeant of the Guard. Karen tells Warden that if he became an officer, she could divorce Holmes and marry him. Warden reluctantly agrees to consider it. Warden starts to fall in love with Lorene. Both men, broke, try and make some extra cash by flirting with men at a local gay club, where they spot Bloom, another member of the company. The military police arrest Maggio, and he is sentenced to six months in the stockade, where he is beaten to death. Their friendship is mocked by Judson. Prewitt tracks Judson down and kills him with the same switchblade Judson pulled on Maggio earlier, but sustains a serious stomach wound and goes into hiding at Lorene's house.  
The Japanese attack Pearl Harbour. Prewitt attempts to rejoin his company under cover of darkness but is shot dead by a patrol. Warden realises that he cannot leave his men. Lorene leaves for the mainland, accompanied by Karen. 

Cast:
Private Robert Prewitt – Robert Lonsdale
Private Angelo Maggio – Ryan Simpson 
First Sergeant Milt Warden – Darius Campbell
Captain Holmes – Martin Marquez
Karen Holmes – Rebecca Thornhill
Lorene – Siubhan Harrison

Creative Team

Music – Stuart Brayson
Lyrics – Tim Rice
Script – Bill Oakes
Director – Tamara Harve
Sets and Costume – Soutra Gilmour
Choreography – Javier de Frutos

The power of contrast, ladies and germs. Late last year we had the joyous enthusiasm that was Candide followed by the awfulness 24 hours later that was The Duck House. Yesterday we had Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – an expensive, hyped up, slick load of emptiness - and today we have From Here to Eternity, an intelligent, well crafted, solid piece of musical theatre. The power of contrast.

I admit that I went in expecting very little. The Shaftesbury has nearly always been a graveyard for productions – apart from Follies and They’re Playing Our Song in the early 80s and Hairspray, there have been few major success stories here. Notable among disasters was the Michael Barrymore “comeback show” that sold about 17 tickets in total and closed the day after it opened, a musical called Napoleon (no, me neither) and a musical version of The Far Pavilions (no, me neither). So I wasn’t expecting much. I had only the very vaguest idea of what the story might be about (the only bit of the film I’ve seen is the clip where Burt Lancaster rolls around in the surf with Deborah Kerr, the little minx). I wasn’t even aware that it was based on a book. The only clues I had came from the foyer display – I got the vague idea that it was set sometime during WW2 and possibly somewhere like Hawaii. I knew Darius Campbell was in it – he was in Carmen at the O2 but I didn’t manage to spot him because the direction was so poor and we were sitting about 2/3 of a mile away from the stage, and I lusted after him in Gone With The Wind but frankly, my dear, he didn’t give a damn. I knew it was a musical, so I was more or less expecting a slightly different version of South Pacific. You know, something lightweight and a little vacuous. Trite is the word I think I used. I came out shaking with emotion and wiping tears from my eyes, having sat through 2 ¾ hours that whizzed past like a bullet. There was so much talent on display that frankly, my dear, I don’t really know where to start

How about starting with the music then? Well, the composer and lyricist make those of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory look like total, utter amateurs. Granted that the lyrics are by Tim Rice. The score is amazing, full of solid, tuneful numbers that stick in the brain (I am still humming a couple of them – always the sign of decent music, whereas if you asked me to give you a couple of bars from Charlie then I would have to look at you blankly and sidle away in embarrassment). The harmonies are powerful and sung with gusto. The lyrics are meaningful and never schmaltzy. I did have a moment’s concern that the show’s title number was going to be a big power ballad with “From Here to Eternity” repeated ad nauseam, but the expression is used once and once only. You’re not bashed around the head with it. There is a touching love duet (Love Me Forever Today), a great Blues number, a rousing finish to Act One and an Act Two finale that sticks a hand down your throat, grabs your heart and twists it until it cries. There are 18 (18!) musicians in the pit – and not a bar of it clicktracked, dammit. It sounds like a Hollywood Blockbuster

And the story? You know, I can tell why this show isn’t doing the big business that it deserves; its because its well written, serious and intelligent, and that ain’t what is selling in the West End at the moment. Fluff is what is selling. And that is a real shame. Also, this is a show that you could quite happily take practically anyone to. Your Auntie Doreen will like it (she’s seen the film and she likes a bit of romance) and so will your Uncle Fred (its got soldiers in it, it has a butch storyline and it won’t insult his intelligence). But the kid’s won’t enjoy it – and that’s why it isn’t selling. Because this is a show for grown up people. Adults who can follow a storyline and think for themselves. Chantelle and Tracy are best sent to go see The Bodyguard, because this isn’t for them, either. They will be missing out on a bloody good night at the theatre, though

The sets are simple and aren’t intrusive and don’t get in the way of the action. The choreography is, simply, stunning. Athletic, perfectly drilled and stunning. The sheer muscularity of the men’s routines is amazing. Nobody puts a foot wrong, everything is done with parade-ground precision. If anyone you know is still of the opinion that dancers are camp, this show will disabuse them of that. These are MEN, and they ain’t gonna let you forget it.

The cast (one of the biggest I’ve seen on a stage in some considerable time) are all absolutely top notch. Robert Lonsdale is amazing – he sings like a rock tenor, acts like his life depends on it, plays the guitar like a professional – and displays serious talent, all the more amazing in that according to his biog in the programme he doesn’t have a background in musical theatre. There is a nicely observed performance from Darius Campbell as Milt Warden – nothing flashy, nothing “starry luvvie”, but quiet, restrained and intelligent. I was half expecting him to get the final bow at the curtain because of his “star status” but no, even this is well handled and the final call is Lonsdale’s, which is as it should be. Shiubhan Harrison gives an intelligent performance, sings like a blackbird, dances with grace and charm and wisely avoids the stereotypical “tart with a heart” portrayal that her role could so easily become in less talented hands. There is moving support from Ryan Sampson as Maggio and a performance of quiet restraint that Deborah Kerr would have been proud of from Rebecca Thornhill as Karen

All in all, it’s an evening that the entire cast should be proud of. Its not your average lightweight night out in the West End and certainly none the worse for that. It’s the type of show that there should be more of. And its closing in April. Go and see it. Don’t be put off by the subject matter. Buy a ticket (in fact, buy two, because I want to see it again and I’ll happily come with you). Take a gamble – because believe me, this time it will pay off.

What the critics said:

 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/f60b681e-3c97-11e3-a8c4-00144feab7de.html#axzz2qk6Fsrv4

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/10405520/From-Here-to-Eternity-Shaftesbury-Theatre-review.html 

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/review-from-here-to-eternity--sir-tim-rices-musical-has-many-faults-but-it-wins-you-over-8899785.html

 http://oughttobeclowns.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/review-from-here-to-eternity.html

 http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/from-here-to-eternity-shaftesbury-theatre--theatre-review-8900725.html


17 January 2014

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Tuesday 14th January 2014

Synopsis:
A poor but virtuous boy, Charlie lives in a tiny house with his parents and all four of his grandparents. His grandparents share the only bed in the house, located in the only bedroom. Once a year, on his birthday, Charlie gets one bar of Wonka chocolate, which he savours over many months.
Mr. Willy Wonka, the eccentric owner of the greatest chocolate factory in the world, has decided to open the doors of his factory to five lucky children and their parents. In order to choose who will enter the factory, Mr. Wonka devises a plan to hide five golden tickets beneath the wrappers of his famous chocolate bars. The search for the five golden tickets is fast and furious. Augustus Gloop, a whose only hobby is eating, unwraps the first ticket, for which his town throws him a parade. Veruca Salt, an insufferable brat, receives the next ticket from her father, who had employed his entire factory of peanut shellers to unwrap chocolate bars until they found a ticket. Violet Beauregarde discovers the third ticket while taking a break from setting a world record in gum chewing. The fourth ticket goes to Mike Teavee, who  cares only about television.
A tremendous stroke of luck befalls Charlie when he spots a coin buried in the snow. He decides to use a little of the money to buy himself some chocolate before turning the rest over to his mother. After eating his first bar of chocolate, Charlie decides to buy just one more and within the wrapping finds the fifth golden ticket. He is not a moment too soon: the next day is the date Mr. Wonka has set for his guests to enter the factory.
Charlie’s oldest and most beloved grandparent, Grandpa Joe, springs out of bed for the first time in decades and the pair go off to the factory.
 Augustus Gloop falls into the hot chocolate river while attempting to drink it and is sucked up by one of the many pipes. Violet Beauregarde steals  a stick of experimental chewing gum and turns into a giant blueberry.  Veruca Salt demands one of Mr Wonka’s nut sorting squirrels to take home but is attacked by them and thrown down a rubbish chute.   Mike Teevea disobeys instructions and is miniaturised. Only Charlie remains and Willy Wonka congratulates him for winning. The entire day has been another contest, the prize for which is the entire chocolate factory, which Charlie has just won.
Cast:
Willy Wonka – Douglas Hodge
Charlie (at this performance) – Troy Tipple
Grandpa Joe – Nigel Planer
Grandma Josephine – Roni Page
Grandpa George – Billy Boyle
Grandma Georgina – Myra Sands
Mr. Bucket – Jack Shalloo
Mrs. Bucket – Alex Clathworthy
Mrs Gloop – Jasna Iver
Mr Salt – Clive Carter
Mr. Beauregarde – Paul Medford
Mrs. Teavee – Iris Roberts

Creative Team:
Director – Sam Mendes
Choreographer – Peter Darling
Sets and Costumes – Mark Thompson
Music and Lyrics – Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman
Script - David Greig

THANK YOU TO REBECCA FELGATE AT  www.officialtheatre.com FOR PROVIDING THE TICKETS

Imagine – an expensive, beautifully wrapped chocolate bar.  The packaging oozes quality and hints at the delights beneath.  This is none of your Dairy Milk rubbish, struggling to reach 10% cocoa solids and laden with sugar.  This is Drury Lane, the latest invention from the Wonka Chocolate Factory.  It subtly promises to make you happy, to entertain you royally (for this is, indeed, a singing and dancing chocolate bar). Expensive, but oh – so worth it.   It whispers that it is a talisman against the cold, the dark and the rain, as well as that miserable feeling of emptiness that has been nagging you.  Come, it says, peel away the wrapper and run your hands over the foil, which clings seductively to the delights beneath, hinting at the solidity of the pleasures to come, the lingering sweetness melting across the surface of your tongue, come and taste.  You know that not only chocolate lies beneath the foil, for this is indeed a very special bar of Drury Lane.  Hidden under that crinkly, crackly foil there is a sheet of pure gold , hammered as thin as the promise on a politician’s lips.  A sheet of pure gold that provides the means of entrance to a world of enchantment.  A Golden Ticket.  Slowly you pull aside the foil……

 and what lies beneath is merely a bar of workaday chocolate.  There is no golden ticket.  No treasure.  No prize.  Nothing.  And, now you look at it, even the chocolate seems less rich and dark than you expected.  Its pale, almost sweaty in consistency, and there is no comforting snap as it breaks, merely a slightly flabby dampness.  You’ve been (as they say in the trade) well and truly had.  Welcome, my friend, welcome to Drury Lane

Just like the chocolate bar, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory promises a lot on the wrapper.  There is a list of quality ingredients – Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka, Nigel Planer as Grandpa Joe.  Sam Mendez (one of the big shots) is directing.  There will be technology and theatrical magic blended with a story written by one of the most beloved and enduring of children’s authors.  A chance to watch the images that were once inside your head pass before your very eyes.  A chance to relive your childhood. A chance to share that childhood with your children.  “Act One” might almost be printed on the wrapper, and it’s a pleasurable enough experience taking the wrapper off.  At the finale when that wrapper is gone, the foil underneath is printed with the words “Act Two” and promises even more – the interval comes right at the most exciting moment possible as the doors to Willy Wonka’s wonderful factory swing open and we are invited inside by the trickster, the charlatan, the madman, the inventor – Mr. Willy Wonka himself, decked out in clothes with the colour and shine of Quality Street wrappers (the pale green triangular one and the big purple one shaped like a brazil nut, in case you ask). The curtain falls and we are left literally on the edge of our seats – hurrah, after the interval we are going inside!  The magic is about to begin! We start to peel off the foil that is Act Two – and find just an ordinary chocolate bar underneath.  The anticipated magic isn’t there.  Its just a chocolate bar – and not a very good chocolate bar either.  And there’s no Golden Ticket either.  All the money seems to have been spent on the outer wrapper and the list of ingredients.  All the excitement and promise that built up during Act One and the interval goes ppppppppppppppttttttttttthhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… and you come back to earth with the kind of bump experienced after drinking Fizzy Lifting Lemonade. 

Largely this disappointment is due to the paucity of the musical numbers.  There is nothing remarkable, nothing really memorable, nothing you can leave the theatre humming – except, of course, one musical number patched into the recipe right at the last minute.  In a dazzling show of laziness, Shaiman and Whittmany throw “Pure Imagination” at you – the song sung in the 1971 film by Gene Wilder as WW.  Its almost as if the writers have either been too lazy to come up with something decent or have tacitly admitted defeat at the final fence -  given the lack of a good tune to send you out humming, they’ve thought “Everyone knows and loves this song – lets give them that”.  Particularly poor are the numbers which open Act One (“Almost Nearly Perfect” – is this a nod to “Practically Perfect in Every Way” from Mary Poppins?) and Act Two (the instantly forgettable “Simply Second Nature”).  The other musical numbers are wildly diverse in style to the point of incomprehensibility – from the rap of “The Double Bubble Duchess” via the yearning ballad of “If Your Mother Were Here” to  the techno of “Vidiots”.  All the big ensemble numbers are clicktracked – recorded beforehand and mimed to.  This is a real rip-off when this happens – its just a way of fooling the punters.  Nobody on stage is actually singing.  What is truly amazing is that Really Useful Group have actuall had the audacity to release a YouTube video (see below) showing the recording sessions actually in progress.  “Hey look everyone!  We’re fooling you and are arrogant enough to show you how you’re being fooled!”.  The libretto isn’t that great either – there is little of Dahl’s witty wordplay, and what does exist is gabbled or muttered in a way that suggests the cast (particularly Hodge) are embarrassed at how bad it is. 

And what makes it all the more frustrating is that the first half is really good, full of slightly hokey charm, nicely paced and with the promise of even better things ahead.  The roles of Grandpa George, Grandma Georgina and Grandma Josephine are expanded so that each develops their own personality (one thing you don’t actually get in the book, where Grandpa Joe is the only one of the four to take on a real character).  Mrs. Bucket – Alex Clatworthy; last seen in the notorious Kiss Me, Kate at the Guildhall School – is turned into a living, breathing person and is well supported by the role of Mr. Bucket (another almost invisible role in the book).  There are some genuinely funny moments (most of which involve Augustus Gloop) and some genuinely moving ones (both me and Him Indoors thought, during the interval, that these were leading to handkerchiefs being required at the end of Act Two – but the emotional twist we both anticipated never came).  The story is updated gently and appropriately (in the book, Charlie is able to buy two chocolate bars with 50p he finds in the snow and the family read of the discovery of the Golden Tickets in old newspapers; here Charlie finds a discarded £1 note and they watch the announcements on television) to make it more “relevant” to today’s children and this is done sympathetically to retain the tales’ original charm  (although this is inconsistently done; Violet Beauregarde is a mini-rapper, Mike Teavee an Atari addict.  There is a strange attempt at making it “transatlantic” – both TV anchors are unmistakably working for an American news channel.  Are the producers looking for a Broadway transfer?).  There is so much promise in that first act – its not perfect, but with a bit of tweaking and some better musical numbers, it could be really good – but all that promise simply fades away in the second half.    The costumes are inventive, the Oompah Loompahs are portrayed in a variety of clever ways, the sets are impressive – but the music is dire, the dialogue thin, and the emotional promise of Act One is never realised.  The flight of the Great Glass Elevator, which could be a great coup de theatre in the manner of Mary Poppins sailing up through the auditorium, is a bit of a damp squib.  I expected the Elevator to go sailing up and out across the audience (how fantastic would that be?), but it simply rises up about 8 feet, moves about the stage a bit and then plonks back down, while we are treated to the song made famous by Gene Wilder. 

There are a couple of notable performances.  Troy Tipple (great name that!) was perfect as Charlie, even though he has an Oop North Accent while his stage parents remain resolutely Home Counties.  I’m no great fan of Nigel Planer but he was an excellent Grandpa Joe.  Iris Roberts gives a pitch-perfect performance of the manic Mrs. Teavee, and Jasna Iver as Mrs. Gloop just takes over the entire stage whenever she appears. Jenson Steele is a perfect Augustus Gloop, and Alex Clatworthy a warm and believable Mrs. Bucket.  Douglas Hodge’s performance as Willy Wonka does leave rather a lot to be desired – he mutters a lot, gabbles a lot, elides over the occasional word and often appears physically uncomfortable when dealing with his badly written dialogue.  Give the man a better script and better music and he would probably bring the house down. There is a strange “framing device” where Wonka appears at beginning and end as a tramp, and I could see little point for this.  It adds nothing to the story and is just superfluous and odd.   Neither of the children playing Violet Beauregarde or Mike Teavee (I couldn’t work out from the programme exactly which child sharing the roles were playing this performance) had intelligible diction, but granted that neither were helped by the speed of their musical numbers.  The dialogue written for the role of Mike Teavee is dire, and that for Violet Beauregarde not much better.  Tia Noakes played Veruca Salt with a seemingly permanent gurn that simply made me want to slap the child, and in a fashion that recalled the puppet version of Fergie in Spitting Image. 


I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so let down by a theatrical performance.  It promised so much, looked initially as if it were going to hit every single one of its marks and then singularly failed to deliver.  It is, after all, just an ordinary bar of chocolate in very fancy and expensive wrapping.  

What the critics thought:

http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/jul/01/charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory-review

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/10141934/Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory-Theatre-Royal-review.html

http://www.londontheatre.co.uk/londontheatre/reviews/charliechocolatefactorymusical13.htm

 http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/theatre-review-charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory--never-judge-a-sweetie-by-its-wrapper-8679742.html




16 January 2014

Le Corsair - English National Ballet @ The Coliseum, Saturday 11th January 2014

Synopsis:
A pirate shipsails across the high seas, captained by Conrad and his faithful pirate crew as they navigate towards the Ottoman Empire. They are on a mission to rescue Medora, Conrad’s love, from the hands of the slave trader Lankendem. Conrad and the other pirates enter the bazaar where Lankendem is selling his slave girls. Conrad is looking for Medora and sees her peering from a balcony. She throws him a rose as proof of her love. 
The Pasha arrives and Lankendem presents three young women he wants to sell to him. When all are rejected, he presents the young slave girl Gulnare and the Pasha buys her immediately. Medora is freed by Ali, Conrad’s slave and tries to escape but is prevented by the Pasha, who faints at the sight of her beauty and insists she must dance for him - , unable to resist such beauty, he buys her as well. Conrad instructs Ali to steal Medora from the Pasha, and also kidnaps Lankendem. 
Conrad shows his hideout to Medora, and promises her all his treasures and possessions. Birbanto, his lieutenant  objects and tells Conrad that the riches are not his to give.  
Conrad summons the pirates to bring their stolen bounty into the cave including the slave girls and the kidnapped Lankendem. Medora pleads with Conrad to free all the slave girls. Conrad agrees but Birbanto rebels and persuades the pirates to mutiny, but Conrad quells them.   
Birbanto devises another plan. Spraying a rose with a sleeping potion he forces Lankendem to help him give the flower to Medora, who unaware of the poison, hands the rose to Conrad.  He smells the flower and falls into a drugged sleep. The pirates return to the cave, see Conrad unconscious and decide to kidnap Medora. In the struggle  she cuts Birbanto’s arm.  Lankendem steals Medora back and escapes. Birbanto is about to kill the comatose Conrad when Ali interrupts him. Conrad awakes to discover his beloved Medora is missing once again, the evil Birbanto feigns ignorance and swears his loyalty to Conrad.  
Gulnare is entertaining the Pasha by dancing and teasing the Vizier, but they are interrupted by Lankendem bringing back Medora. The Pasha is delighted Medora has been recaptured and declares he will make her his most treasured wife. Conrad, Birbanto and the pirates arrive disguised as merchants. Conrad and Birbanto distract the Pasha as the pirates kill his guards. They reveal their true identities and chaos erupts within the palace. Birbanto chases Gulnare and  they collide with Conrad and Medora. Medora exposes Birbanto as a traitor and Conrad shoots him. Ali helps Medora, Gulnare and Conrad escape and they flee to the ship chased by Lankendem. They set sail but suddenly a fierce storm breaks and the ship sinks.  Ali and Gulnare are drowned.  Conrad and Medora, having survived the shipwreck, desperately cling onto a rock. Conrad pulls out the symbolic rose that Medora gave him when they first met and hands it to her declaring his undying love. As she takes the flower into her hands Conrad collapses and dies. 

Cast:


Cast:
Medora – Tamara Rojo
Conrad – Matthew Golding
Gulnare – Lauretta Summerscales
Ali – Vadim Muntagirov
Birbanto – Fabian Reimair
Pasha – Michael Coleman
Pasha’s Assistant – Juan Rodriguez

Creative Team:
Choreography – Anna-Marie Holmes (after Marius Petipa)
Music: Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Leo Delibes, Ricardo Drigo, Pyoty van Oldenbourg, Ludwig Minkus, Yuly Gerber, Boris Fitinhof-Schnell, Albert Zabel and Uncle Tom Cobley and all!
Sets and Costumes – Bob Ringwood
Lighting – Neil Austin

Well, I hope you’re still all with me after reading the synopsis (believe me, I edited it down by at least half and its still bewildering unless you concentrate).  There isn’t really any real necessity for it to be so bloody complicated – once you boil it down to the essentials, its fairly straightforward.  What makes it complicated is the constant repetition of people’s names.  And actually, once the ballet is in progress, it all seems so much easier.  You can just sit there and let it wash over you, to a large extent.  There is so much padding of the story that if you miss anything, you can work it out for yourself in the next bit of padding. There are a few little bits where you have to be looking out for details like a bit of mime (the poisoning of the rose, for example) and if you miss those you are slightly sunk.  But on the whole, as someone once said to me “With Corsair you don’t need to bother about the plot – you can just sit there and enjoy the dancing”.  And by and large I did.  I was aided in this by the quality of the dancing itself – Tamara Rojo has recently taken as Artistic Director and seems to be pulling it up by its collective jockstraps.  Standards have been pretty ropy the last couple of times I’ve seen ENB (although appeared to be rising with their new production of Nutcracker a year or so ago), and now that Alina Cojocaru is now a member of the company as well, things seem to be looking up quite a bit.  The fact that ENB have now invested in a new production of Corsair (a surprising choice, given that its quite an obscure ballet – although perhaps that is why they have done so, because practically nobody else has got a decent production of it in their repertoire) is a good indication that things are on the up.  Perhaps they are about to invest in a new production of something else soon – perhaps a new Bayadere?  That would be interesting to see – anything would be better than the Royal Ballet’s tired old production.  But please – no more Swan Lakes!

Visually the production is stunning.  Bucketloads of lovely new sets and some stunning costumes – some so covered in glittery bits that they could almost walk around the stage themselves.  I expect shareholders in Swarovski are rubbing their wrinkly old hands in glee.  The Pasha, for instance, was so lit up that at times I had difficulty actually seeing his face through the glare.  And that was just his first costume – his second one probably needs a pair of big stagehands to lift it out of the cupboard and I doubt very much that it will have been hanging in that cupboard on one of those bendy wire coathangers.   I have a mental image of the Head of Wardrobe looking sadly at a pile of mangled metal and shouting over her shoulder “Doreen!  The Pasha’s costume’s eaten another coathanger!” Meanwhile, a pile of bejewelled fabric slips round the corner and cackles quietly, burps and settles down for a nap.

Lovely too are the sets – the whole production looks like a pantechnicon full of backcloths for Aladdin has mated with one full of scenery for La Bayadere, with a touch of The Mikado for good measure.  The first act cloth showing the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul wouldn’t disgrace the world’s most expensive box of Turkish Delight. The Pirate Cave is a bit worrying – there seem to be strange bits of Moorish architecture sticking up all over the place which are so large and loud that under no circumstances could the cave be described as a “hideaway” – you could give directions to it by saying “Sail Southwest for 20 minutes until you see the big yellow and red horseshoe arch sticking out of the rocks”.  Even more worrying (but still very pretty) is the set for the enchanted garden – from Istanbul we seem to have arrived in Agra because there is a dead ringer for the Taj Mahal in the background.  I know the Pasha is meant to be under the influence of his hubbly-bubbly pipe when he sees the flowers dancing in the garden  - but India??  It is, however, in its cool mint green a refreshing contrast to the strong reds and oranges of the other sets and nicely wispy (as if seen through a slight mist) for a dream scene.  The palace set is your standard pillar box red/emerald green/fretwork fencing jobbie. 

Dance-wise (because this is, of course, what we have come for), Rojo seemed on top form as Medora, nicely contrasting with Lauretta Somerscales in the smaller (but just as technically difficult) role of Gulnare.  Matthew Golding seems a bit anodyne to be playing the dashing pirate captain, Conrad – the role is very much a “penny plain, tuppence coloured” one and we seemed to be getting the “penny plain” version here.  A certain lack of bravura, perhaps?  Or just uninspiring choreography?  Fabian Reimar seemed to be giving rather more oomph to the “bad guy” role of Birbanto.  The part of the slave – here called Ali – is a showpiece role for your company Nureyev as it needs a jumper and spinner of considerable technical skill and this is demonstrated in buckets.  It’s a shame that it’s such a weak part – for the most, you run around in a pair of silky pyjama bottoms (sometimes you get a feather to wear on your head) doing vaguely Middle Eastern salaams all over the place, then you do your big set piece in the Pirate Cave and everyone goes bananas, then you spend the rest of the show more or less running about the stage chasing people until you fall overboard in the closing minutes and drown.  What a thankless life. 

Anyhoo, ENB’s new Corsair is a joyful, colourful romp and makes for a good, undemanding night out (unless you read the synopsis in the programme, in which case you may have to sit there with your head wrapped in wet towels for a couple of hours until the pain stops). 

What the critics said: