25 January 2011

Jekyll & Hyde - Churchill Theatre Bromley, Monday 24th January 2010


A short introduction sees Henry Jekyll tending to his father in an asylum for the insane. It is Jekyll's belief that the evil in his father's soul has caused his illness, and he swears to investigate a way of separating good from evil.
Jekyll presents a research proposal to the Board of Governors of St. Jude's Hospital. All, with the exception of Sir Danvers, the Chair, are pompous, rich semi-hypocrites. When Jekyll proposes to test his theory and his formula on a human subject, they reject the proposal. Utterson urges his friend, if he feels he is right about his theory, that he should continue with his research.
Sir Danvers throws an engagement party for his daughter Emma's engagement to Dr. Jekyll. Stride, who has feelings for Emma, tries to reason her out of her engagement, but she quickly turns him down, saying she feels she can be who she wants to be with Jekyll.
Jekyll and Utterson go to a dingy pub. Prostitute Lucy Harris arrives late and is in for some trouble with the boss, known as "the Spider"; Lucy begins to circulate among the clientèle. Jekyll and Lucy are drawn to each other Before he goes, he gives Lucy his visiting card and asks her to see him should she ever need anything.
Jekyll proceeds to his laboratory, excited that the moment has come to do his experiment Keeping tabs on the experiment in his journal, he mixes his chemicals to create his formula, and injects it into the subject: himself. After a minute of the potion's side effects, he writhes in pain, transforming into an evil form of himself. He gives himself a name: Edward Hyde.
Lucy arrives at Jekyll's residence with a nasty bruise on her back. As Jekyll treats it, she tells him a man named Hyde did it. Later, the Bishop of Basingstoke is attacked by Hyde after the Bishop is seen by him to engage prostitutes.
The citizens of London gossip about the Bishop's murder. After the funeral, General Glossop and Lord Savage leave St. Paul's, mourning over their deceased colleague. Hyde corners Glossop and stabs him through the mouth with the swordstick while Teddy watches, petrified in horror. Stride quickly enters the scene, just in time to see Hyde escape. As Londoners discuss the second murder, Later one night, Teddy is seen leaving the Mayfair Club with Sir Proops and Lady Beaconsfield. Hyde emerges from the shadows, pulls out a dagger and stabs Archie in the side before snapping Bessie's neck with her own diamonds. Teddy,seizes the opportunity to escape but is cornered by Hyde at Victoria Station as he tries to flee London. Hyde breaks Teddy’s neck and kicks his corpse onto the tracks. By now, all five Governors who rejected Jekyll's proposal are dead.
Emma lets herself into Jekyll's laboratory. She finds his journal open and reads one of his entries. Jekyll begins to face the fact that Hyde is a part of him. At the same time, both Lucy and Emma wonder about their love for the same.
Lucy is then visited by Hyde, who tells her that he is going away for a while. He then warns her to never leave him Lucy is terrified, but seems to be held under a sexual, animalistic control by Hyde. Utterson comes to Jekyll's lab and discovers Hyde, who injects the formula into himself, roaring with laughter as he transforms back into Jekyll in front of an appalled Utterson. Jekyll tells Utterson that Hyde must be destroyed, whatever the cost. He then begs Utterson to deliver money for Lucy so she can escape to safety. Utterson visits Lucy with the money, along with a letter from Jekyll that entreats her to leave town and start a new life elsewhere. After Utterson leaves, Lucy wonders of the possibilities ahead. Hyde returns; he slowly and savagely kills her. Covered in blood from stabbing Lucy, Jekyll returns to his laboratory and faces off with Hyde in a final battle for control.
Several weeks later, Jekyll seems to have won as he and Emma stand before the priest at their wedding.. As the Minister begins the ceremony, Jekyll doubles over in pain and transforms into Hyde. Hyde then kills Stride before taking Emma hostage. At the sound of Emma's pleading voice, Jekyll is able to regain momentary control. He begs Utterson to kill him, but Utterson cannot bring himself to harm his friend. Desperate, Jekyll impales himself on Utterson's swordstick. Emma weeps softly as Jekyll dies.
Dr Henry Jekyll/Mr Hyde – Marti Pellow
Lucy – Sabrina Carter
Emma – Sarah Earnshaw
Sir Danvers – David Delve
Utterson – Mark McGee
Lady Beconsfield/Nellie – Amira Matthews
Simon Stride – Michael Taibi
Glossop – Martin Dickinson
Proops – Matt Stevens
Lord Savage/Spider – Jacob Chapman
Bishop of Basingstoke – Jon de Ville
Poole – James Gant
Bissett – Daniel Robinson

Creative Team:
Book/Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse
Music: Frank Wildhorn
Director: Martin Connor
Choreography: Bill Deamer
Set: Mark Bailey
Costumes: Jonathan Lipman
Ah, the cult of celebrity. When people “famous” for one thing try their hand at something else and believe they are good at it. Just because you’re a singer, it must therefore follow that you will be a whizz at musical theatre, right? WRONG. Its only going to expose your shortcomings, particularly when surrounded on stage by people who aren’t famous but are actually good at what they’re doing. Mr. Pellow, having gained a reasonable amount of success in the late 80s in Wet Wet Wet, tries gamely to convince us all that because he can hold a tune we’ll be duped into believing that he can act, but fails miserably. Oh, the boy can sing, but his shortcomings are cruelly highlighted in this show by those who make a living out of being in musicals. Basically, the professionals mop the floor with him. Not only can they hold a tune, they can also enunciate while holding it. Mr. Pellow does a fairly good impression of a Blue Whale for a lot of the evening; all you can hear are vowel sounds. Oooo eeee aaaaahhhh owww eeiiiiii ooooouwwww. There are very few consonants, and certainly no T’s, no D’s, no B’s or K’s to be heard. While they are using him as a mop, the professionals also manage to act convincingly, making a credible attempt to perform what on closer inspection is fairly risible dialogue. Mr. Pellow flails about trying to convince us of his acting credentials, but only manages to look self conscious and faintly ridiculous in their company. Basically, the professionals work their cotton socks off, walk away with the entire evening and leave Pellow treading water in their wake. However, Mr. Pellow is a “name”, so gets the star treatment – a “big star walk down” at the end of the bows, with his two leading ladies (who have sung their tits off all evening) forced to do a “here comes the star” gesture by turning halfway upstage and holding their upstage arm out to him. Cue whooping, ovating and probably ovulating from the mums in the audience who bought Wet Wet Wet’s CDs in the late 1980s and who have dragged their unwilling husbands along this evening (a wonderful press release from the Churchill received the day after this performance was headed “Standing Ovations Greet Bromley Premiere!” – I think I counted about 8 people in the entire theatre who thought it necessary to stand up and clap, which is hardly a “standing ovation”. In fact, Him Indoors also got up, and I hissed “Sit down! People will think you liked it!” He was actually getting up to make a quick getaway from the strange couple from Upminster sitting next to us, but I didn’t realise that at this point.

Admittedly, a lot of the problem is the material. Jekyll (correctly pronounced as to rhyme with “treacle” and not “heckle”) and Hyde suffers from a mismatch between libretto and score. The former was written by the guy who wrote the music for Victor/Victoria, songs such as “If I Ruled the World” (for the musical Pickwick), “If I could Talk to the Animals” (for Dr. Doolittle), “You Only Live Twice” for the James Bond film and “Ooompa Loompa Doompity Doo” for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Basically, the man has a track record. The latter was written by the composer of such hit shows as The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Count of Monte Cristo, Camille Claudel, Svengali and Harlem Song. No, me neither. What doesn’t help is that the score feels extremely dated already, as its written in the same “sung through” style (ie with very little actual dialogue but lots of very dull recitative) as Les Mis, Phantom and Notre Dame de Paris. This plonks it very firmly in the mid to late 1980s or early 1990s, when the genre had been done to death and the public were getting tired with it. In overall style and feel, it bears a remarkable family resemblance to Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White, which basically killed off not only the “sung through” style but also the “gothic musical”, of which so many of the “sung through” genre are examples. You only have to look at the hoohaa that Love Never Dies caused when it opened to realise that this style is one particular theatrical corpse that should have been left to sink to the bottom of the river rather than being dragged out and resuscitation attempts made on the shore. Jekyll and Hyde lumbers along like a reanimated cadaver, zombie-like, with squelchy bits dropping off it occasionally.

Another problem is what I would inelegantly call “over-wroughtness” Its all so earnest, but schlock-horror (you know – dark alleyways, rolling fog with mysterious caped figures flitting about it in, Whitechapel prostitutes and laboratory shelves covered in glass bottles) has to be handled very carefully lest it descend into parody. Jekyll and Hyde tries very hard to be taken seriously – too hard in fact; it ends up crossing that very fine line – and becomes risible. In fact, it began to remind me of “The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Olde London Town” by the Two Ronnies (YouTube clip below – hysterical!).

Probably the major obstacle to this particular production's success is Pellow himself. Seemingly unable to make any discernable difference between the morally upright Dr. Jekyll and his brutal alter ego save stooping his shoulders, donning a cape with an enormous fur collar and jamming a top hat over his ears, Pellow gibbers around the stage trying to be evil, somehow managing to avoid being recognised by intelligent people who have known him as Jekyll for 20 years or more. Hyde is supposed to be brutal, animalistic and sexually dangerous, but Him Indoors summed it up by saying “Marti Pellow is about as sexually dangerous as a bowl of raspberry jelly”. Pellow’s lack of acting skill is cruelly exposed during the denouement, in which he plays Jekyll to a projected film of him as Hyde. The two are supposed to be in conversation, but Pellow isn’t an experienced enough actor to “hit his marks” and Jekyll never seems to be in the place where Hyde’s eyes are looking.
Thankfully, the rest of the cast act and sing and dance round Mr. Pellow in an attempt to cover up most of his faults, but leave him stranded and looking, as I’ve already said, faintly ridiculous. Sabrina Carter invests her “tart with a heart” with a great deal of heart, lots of cleavage and a hideous wig, and belts out her numbers with style, volume and an impressive technique. In fact, it really is rather a shame that her character gets brutally raped and murdered (for which read “fumbled with inexpertly and unconvincingly”) by Hyde just as she is about to flee London in search of a better life (a plot “twist” which is about as hackneyed as a horse-drawn cab). She is all but matched by Sarah Earnshaw as Emma, but Carter has just that bit more lung capacity and manages to outsing Earnshaw by 3½ bars in their duet (which bears more than a passing resemblance in style, construction, content and placement within the show to “I Know Him So Well” from Chess). Everyone else changes costumes every 12 seconds in order to try and populate the entire stage, doubling and tripling and quadrupling up to be named characters, aristocrats, cockerneys, prostitutes and general ensemble (although one particular costume should never have been sanctioned – the Bishop of Basingstoke appears in Cardinal’s robes during the engagement scene. Not only did England not have any Catholic Bishops during the 19th century, appearing in such a costume would have been unthinkable and unheard of for a Church of England Bishop. Costume Designer fouled up big time on that one). In the main, they do a reasonable job of propping up the body, but  in the light of the musical shortcomings, over-wrought plot and dated overall style of the piece, it will probably spend the rest of its shelf life touring the provinces until it sinks mercifully to its end in the Elephant’s Graveyard of Musical Theatre. If you’ve got all of Wet Wet Wet’s CDs you might enjoy it, but otherwise it’s a mis-shapen monster that should have been put out of its misery long ago.

04 January 2011

Beasts and Beauties - Hampstead Theatre, Thursday 30th December 2010

Classic tales from Grimm, Andersen, Aesop and Perrault, mixed in with less well-known children’s stories from around the world.

Justin Avoth
Elaine Claxton
Rhiannon Harper-Rafferty
Emily Mytton
Al Nedjari
Jack Tarlton
Jason Thorpe
Kelly Williams
Creative Team:
Writer : Carol Ann Duffy
Director: Melly Still
Design: Melly Still, Anna Fleischle
Lighting;Chris Davey
Music: Dave Price
Costumes: Ilona Karas
Anyone who has ever been a child will remember how exciting it was to be read stories at bedtime, and this evening’s outing served to confirm that the magic of storytelling is alive and well. This was a deceptively simple evening, during which various fairy stories from different countries were presented on stage by a small, extremely talented cast backed up by an even more talented musician, a (very) large box of what were essentially dressing up costumes and lots and lots of props and found objects. Designed by the same person who did the Young Vic production of Grimm Tales which I saw more years ago than I care to remember, this was a production in essentially the same vein –“we provide the stage, a few costumes and a few props, and you bring your imagination”. Its success proves that, with imagination, anything is possible. It’s a pity, therefore, that the adults in the audience far outnumbered the children, as this production would have been guaranteed to weave its spell over the young and make them theatregoers for life.
From the technical point of view it was an extremely challenging show, with dozens of large items like stepladders dropping down from the ceiling or popping up from under the stage (in fact, during the interval, there were as many backstage staff hanging new props from the ceiling as there had been actors on stage during the performance), merely proving that “simple” can be really, really complicated. Costuming must have been an absolute nightmare, as the majority of stories needed the full cast and each story was presented in a different style, necessitating hundreds of costume items. Particularly inventive were the animal costumes, showing that strict adherence to reality – or indeed anything approaching realism - is not necessary when you have a talented costume designer. My favourite (and, judging by the audience reaction, many other peoples’ too) was the cow costume, which was essentially a long flared tweed skirt, a baggy white shirt, a pair of large false eyelashes, a cowbell and a pink rubber glove. Judging by the near-hysterical laughter of a little girl at the other end of our row, her vote probably went for the costume worn by Jack Tarlton as the Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” which consisted of a crown, grey shoes, yellow socks and a strategically placed clipboard, flag or bunch of flowers.
What particularly liked was that each story was presented in a different way – Bluebeard was set in the 1820s, Beauty and the Beast in Renaissance Italy, The Emperor’s New Clothes in modern dress, with others in more-or-less “traditional fairy story costumes” or in improvised costumes, or even in a blend of different styles. One of the stories (which I wasn’t familiar with and which dealt with an unlikely alliance between an old dog and a cunning wolf and which, on reflection, was probably an obscure Aesop’s Fable) was presented “junkyard style” – the guy playing the dog wore odd carpet slippers, baggy brown cords and a threadbare Fair-Isle pullover and scenery such as the windmill, the forest and a broken window were drawn on transparent film and projected onto the walls using OHPs. Another story, that of a man dissatisfied with his work who swaps places with his wife for a day, used “Grimm-style” costumes for the “humans” but slightly surreal costumes for the “animals” – such as the cow costume I’ve referred to earlier. A stepladder became the gable of the house on which the cow ultimately gets stuck – and that was that. As I said before, just add imagination. Also very good was the fact that these weren’t the saccharine, Disney-fied versions of the stories; the Beast in Beauty and the Beast was truly beastly, Bluebeard was smoothly charming but plausibly evil, the “chopping up the child” scene in The Juniper Tree (done in silhouette) was really, really frightening and the Troll Hag in the story about the North Wind (Scandinavian in origin, by the looks of) was so gruesome that at least one child was carried screaming from the auditorium. And a bloody good job too – half the appeal of this kind of story is that children love being scared witless as long as good is seen to triumph eventually and evil seen to be punished. Did you know that Beauty’s horrible sisters were turned to statues outside her castle gates so that they had to spend all eternity watching their sister coming and going in happiness? No, nor did I – but it makes a very satisfying ending to see on the stage.
The sheer amount of energy on stage was amazing - and exhausting.  One of the adapters is apparently in the process of creating a similar production based on The Thousand and One Nights, and if its anything near as inventive and entertaining as Beasts and Beauties, then believe me I’m first in the queue for tickets.

What the critics thought:



02 January 2011

And the Winner is........

(Drum roll please........)

Category: Best Play (non-shakespeare)
After the Dance
London Assurance
A Christmas Carol



Category: Worst Play (non-Shakespeare)
Danton’s Death
Love the Sinner


Category: Best Shakespeare Play
Macbeth (June)
Measure for Measure (March)
Henry V (February)


Category: Worst Shakespeare Play
Comedy of Errors
As You Like It


Category: Best Musical
Pirates of Penzance


Category: Worst Musical
Paradise Found
Shirley Jones in Concert

(no real surprise there!)

Category: Best Ballet/Dance Production
Cinderella (Royal Ballet)
Cinderella (Adventures in Motion Pictures)
The Snow Queen


Category: Worst Ballet/Dance Production
Le Corsaire
Royal Ballet Triple Bill
The Nutcracker (ENB January)



Category: Best Individual Performance
Elena Roger – Passion
Fred Lancaster – Curtains
Simon Russell Beale – London Assurance



Highly commended:
David Fielder – Scrooge
Tom Greaves – Henry V
Nick Sampson – London Assurance

Category: Worst Individual Performance
Laura Blackmore – Dracula
Mandy Patinkin – Paradise Found
Shirley Jones – Shirley Jones in Concert

(seriously folks, three of the worst performances I have ever had to sit through)

Category: Worst People to Sit Next To

The West End Whingers - Passion
Drunk and Obnoxious Couple - Cinderella
Practically everyone – Carmen