Hansel and Gretel

29 May

Of course a production within the confines of St.Paul’s delightful gardens is likely to have a plus written right through it. Normally, this is the case, but this production has several things that I find worrying. There are a lot of – possibly unconscious – double entendres, which receive titters from some members of the audience but they are not encouraged to laugh. In fact, the first few scenes of this poverty ridden family are deadly serious with not a single chance for the audience to express any pleasure.
A great deal is made of the delight children have in horror but there is a way of handling it. The only sympathetic character is little Gretel played by Rosie Abraham but she gets roasted in the witch’s oven during act one. It is upsetting that the real mother is so evil so that she wants to kill her children so she and her drunken husband (Nick Howard-Brown) can use what money there is to have a good time. She persuades her husband to take them out into the forest and leave them to their fate.
To cheer everyone up there is an exceptional scene change by Amber Scarlett as a huge bunch of trees opens up to reveal the gingerbread house. The starving Hansel, (Deshaye Gayle) of course, is tempted by any kind of food and he breaks off a bit of the window frame to eat. Then it is when the mood changes to comedy as the lovely Josie Brightwell as Baba Yaga Korizima emerges through her front door and invites him inside. Then the set opens again and we are in the witches’ kitchen. This number one witch speaks in a kind of nursery rhyme verse which is very funny and Josie Brightwell makes the most of her comedy performance – to the relief of the audience after all the solemnity we endured in the previous scenes.
This is certainly the most fun scene in the entire play although even this could do with chopping down.
The plot becomes totally confused during act two. Gretel is now a fairy up a tree and Hansel is in the kitchen of another witch – I think it was Baba Yaga Gorska – or it might have been Baba Yaga Martzanna, who gave him some disgusting sick making things to eat and drink. Maybe that bit was put in for the kids.
The play needs editing and have great chunks removed. It also need to have people smile a little more. It is a heavy show, too intense. I am not a Disney fan but I do like to have one or two pleasant and/or comical characters. The only good person was little Gretel who got roasted.
This is not the Hansel and Gretel we all know and love from Engelbert Humpedinck – I missed the Sandman who could have turned up and put us all to sleep.
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miss julie by august strindberg

16 Nov

Miss Julie
By August Strindberg
Newly adapted by Howard Brenton
At Jermyn Street
Miss Julie was first presented in 1983 in Paris. It was of course considered shocking as it offended  too many prejudices, the characters behaved in a naturalistic manner, it criticised the great divide in the class system, and there was near nudity on stage. It was just too Real. It is a story full of real passion and much sex. The actual act is performed off stage although the lead up to it is graphically performed in front of us.
The action takes place in the kitchen of an aristocrat’s mansion. Kristin the cook  enters the excellently appointed kitchen without preamble as if she was at home and begins to prepare food. We are convinced that this is a naturalist play when the smell of kidneys cooking wafts over the audience and we wait patiently for her to finish the washing up in real time.
Kristin is somewhat loosely engaged to Jean the Count’s valet. Jean is a young man of ambition, determined to better himself in any way he can. He has travelled and discovered there other things in life than polishing boots and answering his master’s bell. We do not know why he came back. He says he is in love with Julie, the Count’s daughter but maybe he just thinks she might provide the way out of his present situation. Julie’s motives are just as inconsistent as his. She treats him with contempt and then seduces him reversing their relationship and beginning a kind of war in the survival of the fittest..
This is a new edition of the play by Howard Brenton which he wrote from a literal translation of the work. It seems very authentic, looking at a group of people as they really are, changing their minds, their attitudes, their relationships to each other.
Louie Whitemore’s set is stunning – the most perfect, practical kitchen, sparkling and clean with copper saucepans and the costumes are attractive and appropriate for the time and place.
The play is well directed by Tom Littler, Jermyn Street’s new artistic director and the piece is exceptionally acted by Charlotte Hamblin as Julie, James Sheldon as Jean and Isabella Urbanowicz as Kristin.
A highly successful interpretation of this famous play.

eve ferret’s fabaret

15 Nov

Eve Ferret’s cabaret
At the Lounge Leicester Square

There is no cabaret artist in the world like Eve Ferret. Her thick red hair, bundled up on top of her head, her voluptuous body loosely swathed in a peignoir she is a true force of nature.
She has been a veteran theatrical presence since the days of Blitz “No not the wartime one. The night club” After appearing in several movies as an ideal heroine of the popular Hammer films, she took time off to deal with family matters and re-entered the cabaret scene three or four years ago,
Her accompanist is Simon Wallace, a genial chap who obviously has no idea what she is going to do next. He strikes up the overture and in she sweeps with her big warm smile, and begins to sing with her strong bluesy voice, then after a few bars, stops to say hello to the audience all of whom will become friends by the end of the evening even if they are not already.
Eve does a lot of talking with dozens of stories about her early days, the movies she was in and the stars she worked with. She makes mock of the fact that she is not always the luckiest card in the pack. She does a number where she describes herself as ‘Last Night’s Pate. Constantly reminding herself not to swear, she still does, but who cares? We will love her whatever she does. We happily join in when she requests it. and we throw around her big dolls when she asks us to.

Her songs are mostly autobiographical. Although she doesn’t believe in crying n public, all her emotions turn into songs. She can fall in love with the wrong person like everyone else ‘Congratulations’, she sings wryly, ‘You got me’. Her most passionate plea is ‘Don’t change me’ which is her outcry for indulgence and understanding. A woman must be her own person. Eve could be a great dramatic actress as well as a serious songstress
But whatever her adventures, she is still the Pimlico Belle-She lauds the area where she was born and where she has always lived. She loves her borough.

Towards the end of her set she gets some fun out of her parody of the Garland torch song ‘The Man That got Away’.
”The Night is bitter” she sings “I’ve spent the night on Twitter” as she enlarges on the hazards of the technological phenomena.
Here last number is ‘It’s not over till it’s over’

I overuse the word Wonderful, but in her case it is completely justified.

JAMAICA INN by daphne du maurier

12 Nov

Jamaica Inn
By Daphne Du Maurier
Tabard Theatre
Daphne Du Maurier’s creepy thriller set in deepest Cornwall is Adapted by Lisa Evans and Directed by Anastasia Revi.
It is a play heavily dependent on the set by Maira Vazou and atmospheric lighting by Ben Jacobs. Jonathan Bratoeff provides appropriate music and much of the wreckers’ scenes are sung through – adding to the general strangeness of the country side and the images of men working on the ocean, wrecking and murdering for the richness on board ships.
Kinberley Jarvis plays Mary Yellan the innocent (to begin with) heroine who has merely come to Jamaica Inn to take care of her half mad Aunt Patience. She reckons without the cruel man Joss Merlyn, who is married to her Aunt. He has beaten her into submission and she clings to him submissively and with the love of an illtreated animal – hoping for a few crumbs of kindness if she joins in his nefarious crimes. Helen Bang has her own sweetness which she brings to bear in the character of Aunt Patience. It is no wonder that Mary wants to help her, but does not know how as her aunt is so obsessed by her love for the bullying husband. An interesting casting note – both Mary and her Aunt have exactly the same shade of Titian hair. Is it an accident or where they chosen for their appearance? Even if that is the case, it succeeds brilliantly as they both did a great job in their varied roles.
Mary is made of stronger material than her Aunt. She has been running a farm on her own and she considers she has equal strength of any man. She is apprehensive but not fearful of the wreckers who come to the pub to get drunk before every wrecking. Josh protects her from molestation,– and in a way admires her courage and confidence.
Another man is secretly part of her life. Joss’s younger brother, the horse thief, played by Samuel Lawrence– he and his Brother are not on speaking terms, so he only calls when he knows his brother is absent. He is a much friendlier and kinder person than Joss and treats Mary with a measure of respect. As does her other champion she meets while lost on the moors –( which happens quite often – not surprising) He is the strangely pallid local Vicar played by Peter Rae.
This is a thriller that actually thrills and nothing turns out to be as it seems. It is often difficult to work out where they are and the time scales of the plot. This probably cannot be helped with such a big melodrama on such a small stage and with so many of the cast doubling up .
But the show is as creepy and thrilling and one feels very satisfied by the ending after all the traumas are over and the true culprits are revealed.

THE TAILOR MADE MAN

10 Nov

The tailor-made man *****
By Claudio Macor
This beautifully directed show is one of the most entertaining running in the Off West End circuit. It tells the story of William Haines who was the biggest film star A list off his generation. He was charming, intelligent, very handsome but he was an individualist. Everybody loved him except those in charge at MGM studios – names Louis B Mayer and his cohorts. They hated him because he was the lover of another young man. He was what Louis contemptuously called A Faggot – but he was a huge favourite and so his private life was kept carefully out of the papers. The two greatest gossip writers in Hollywood, Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper were sworn to secrecy and Billy’s great friend was Marion Davis, the girlfriend of William Randolph Hearst.
Even so Billy just refused to behave in the way MGM players were supposed to play – with utmost propriety – at least in public, but Billy was proudly and unashamedly in love with his partner Jimmie Shields
Mitchell Hunt is every inch the movie star Billy and Tom Berkeley is warm and loving as Jimmy. Their scenes together are full of humour and affection – never mawkish or oversentimental. They were known as simply the happiest couple in Hollywood. Louis B Mayer became more and more irritated by his number one star and tried to marry him off to Pola Negri.
Plays about the old Hollywood are always fascinating to watch, but often they are not as well presented as this one. The set is beautifully elegant and adaptable, and the costumes of the ladies are simply divine – all the work of designer, Mike Lees, who used actual twenties and thirties costumes, reinventing the dresses, and making them fit the different shapes of twenty first century actresses, Yvonne Lawler and Rachel Knowles. They play all the actresses, with huge energy, without inhibitions and obviously enjoy themselves hugely using all the affectations of the two great movie periods.
At last Billy blots his copy book completely and Louis manages to destroy every evidence of his existence at MGM. His plan was to make Hollywood rid of him for ever. Which is why we have never heard of him in list of old Hollywood movies.
The play is great fun all the way. By turns funny, witty, moving all the way through. But I must give voice to my admiration for Dean Harris who gives a positively stunning performance as Louis B Mayer. He was a man of varying moods and he tells us a little of his pre Hollywood story with great feeling. He longs for his old life without having the stress of running the studio with recalcitrant stars like William Haines. He makes us understand his fury and easily brings us on to his side at various moments throughout the story.
Such clever writing by Claudio Macor and loving, inventive direction by Bryan Hodgson..

MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN

8 Nov

Mother Courage and her children
By Bertolt Brecht, translated by Tony Kushner
Southwark Playhouse
Josie Lawrence plays the eponymous role heading the cast in this three hour long production of this anti-war epic. Brecht wrote it while in Scandinavia escaping Nazi Germany during the invasion of Poland, and it prophesised the events of the second world war, offering a warning that war doesn’t ever end. Though written before the war it was not produced in Germany until 1949 when Brecht founded the Berliner Ensemble
Set during the thirty years war in seventeenth century Germany, it tells how history repeats itself, This is not so much a play about characters as about issues and the reaction not only the war but also the peace has on people. The chaplain played by David Shelley must eventually abandon his calling to survive, helping Courage in her attempts to save her life and those of her children by any means fair or foul.
Mother Courage is a pedlar selling goods to the army. She travels in a cart pulled along by her two songs Eilif and Swiss Cheese. She has three children all with, different fathers. Her daughter, Kattrin beautifully played by Phoebe Vigor is dumb due to a traumatic experience with a solder when she was a child. The two boys are anxious to become heroes and want to join up much to their mother’s distress.
The music is very suitable and could easily have been written by Kurt Weill – but it was by Duke Special and it is wonderfully evocative as the songs are sung, groaned, or screamed appropriately by the actors.
Laura Checkley as the prostitute Yvette has a wonderful voice with much power and is a true audience pleaser. Ben Fox enjoys himself and is very funny as the predatory cook. But it is Josie Lawrence who dominates every aspect of this production with her passion and indomitable humour. She has enormous energy resonance and sensibility and gives a haunting performance. Never asking for our sympathy, but doing what she must do to survive the war – and the peace – with her enormous strength of character and ability to adapt to any situation.
However, despite the work of the well-chosen cast, this is not a completely successful production. The costumes display a kind of confusion about the century they are supposed to be in. (In some cases, the nineteen fifties?). The sound is in no way perfect, quite a lot of the dialogue is muffled and for some reason there are several important scenes played up high on a balcony behind half of the audience. So, the whole audience on the left-hand side either have to twist themselves round and stretch their necks to look upwards – very painful – or like most of them, give up and wait for the next scene on the conventional playing area.
This is such a shame as Lawrence’s performance deserves something better.

picasso

8 Nov

PICASSO
At The Playground Theatre.
At the brand-new theatre in Latimer Road there is a character assassination going on. Senor Picasso is surrounded by three of his women who all behave like idiots crazily in love with him. He fell in love easily and left them just as easily. He would nowadays be considered a Love Rat.
The play was written by the late Terry D’Alfonso who said that if she met Picasso, she might have succumbed to his charm. The play was brought to the theatre by Peter Tate who is one of the two artistic directors of the place and who plays the central role. The other artistic director is Anthony Biggs who was previously at Jermyn Street. This production is directed by Michael Hunt.
The new theatre is spectacular with a huge screen backing a circular stage filled with sand so the actors – in this production anyway – work in their bare feet. All around and under the circular stage are lights that change colour constantly to suit the mood of the play. There is a good audience rake giving excellent sight lines.
This is the year of the sex rat. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacy and others have been vilified for their interest in under age women and boys or for using their power to blackmail workers into sex slaves. So many people have said ‘Boycott Weinstein movies, and Spacey productions’. I thought this was just silly being unable to separate the personal life of the man from his artistic achievements, until I saw the Picasso play and wanted to tear down all the Picasso prints in my room.
There are only three ladies in the play – they begin as models, turn into lovers, and end up as cast offs. There were many more. I knew some of them when I lived in Chelsea in the old days, there were several ladies hanging around the Chelsea boites, all of them proclaiming they modelled for Picasso. True or not, most of them were a little more intelligent than those in the play.
The production starts very effectively with a meld of his real women and his paintings of them portrayed on the screen. During the evening many episodes of his life are on film with Milena Vukotic, Margot Sikabonyl and Sandra Collodel appearing. On stage there are Adele Oni as Genevieve who comes to interview him; Claire Bowman as Marie-Therese as his first teenage mistress and Alejandra Costa as Jacqueline Roque the woman he married late in life and who tended him when he died.
The play originated as a trial of Picasso after his death, and the accusations of the women in his life. – then it was decided to feature Picasso as a central character. Oddly enough this brought him to life and made him more despicable because he was no longer a figure from the past – like Leonardo or Michael Angelo. He was there in the flesh asking to be punched in the face.
I realise this had a nasty effect on me. Maybe others will find it less unpleasant.
Still it is a lovely new theatre space and I am looking forward to seeing something a little less controversial.

21 Oct

ANYTHING THAT FLIES
A new play by Judith Burnley
At the Jermyn Street Theatre

A beautifully appointed flat in Belsize Park in 1991 colourful in contemporary colours and antique furniture with exquisite pictures on the walls and a viola lying on the chaise Longue. There is a very sophisticated radio system with two enormous speakers and Brahms filling the room with sound.
Otto is an irascible, elderly musician, after adjusting the sound, he picks up the instrument and begins to mime playing to the music.
The doorbell interrupts him. He shouts For two or three times ‘Go away I’m working’ and refuses to answer it , but the person behind the door is very persistent so eventually he opens the door a little and the woman outside it stops it from shutting on her.
She addresses him in German. This makes him angry. He doesn’t want German spoken in his house. He has concentrated on absorbing Englishness and is to all intents and purposes English. He wants to kill the past. He is the only member of his family not to be murdered by the Gestapo and he carries guilt by being the only survivor.
He has recently had a stroke and she has been sent by his daughter to be his Carer. It would be an obvious thought to send a German person, thinking that they would have something in common, but for most of the play they are at loggerheads. She is from an Aristocratic family, but she also is a displaced person. She had an English nanny who died in tragic circumstances – being thought of as an English spy in Germany. Otto suspects her, he sits her down and shines a light in her eyes and questions her like an inquisitor.
Lottie just a child during the war but her family were the victims of an air raid. Her English nanny had taught to be Anglophile by reading her stories from Winnie the Pooh and she has lived her life dreaming of the Hundred Acre Woods and the games of Poohsticks which she thinks is a way to live her life. Otto hates Winnie the Pooh, calling it sentimental and childish.
Finally, they begin to realise they are both Citizens of Nowhere and are trying to live their lives with the Guilt engendered by being survivors.
This is a beautifully written and produced play. The perfect period setting and costumes are by Emily Adamson and Neil Irish and lit by Elliot Griggs.
But of course, in a two hander the greatest applause must be for the amazingly truthful, funny and deeply moving performances by Clive Merrison and Issy van Randwyck. The casting and expert direction is by Alice Hamilton.
The new Artistic Director of Jermyn Street, Tom Litter, is showing his talent for finding unusual, thought provoking works for this little theatre.