Archive | February, 2018

A PRINCESS UNDONE

28 Feb

A PRINCESS UNDONE
At the Park Theatre

‘Opera? Fat bloated people shouting at each other’, A typical remark by Princess Margaret played by Felicity Dean as a bitchy, intelligent, resentful woman who hates her station in life and takes out her discontent on other people
She is squired in this piece by a young fair haired Billy, William Tallon, butler to Her Majesty the Queen Mother, but for some reason spends his spare time looking after the most difficult member of the Royal Family. She bullies him abominably – the way she treated most other people! Only excepting the Queen her sister to whom she is fiercely loyal.
This play takes us back to 1986 when a photograph inspired the Richard Stirling to pen this play. In the picture she is holding a cushion with the words. “Its not easy being a Princess” a phrase she uses many times during the performance.
Margaret was a very popular in her youth with people around her age. When she broke off her engagement to Captain Peter Townsend, her true love (they said) because it was against Royal protocol for a member of the Royal Family to marry a divorced man, this was a sad love story that they found very moving.
Finally she married Antony Armstrong-Jones, well known as a show business photographer taking many photos of attractive young actresses. When they married his life took a new turn, he became the Earl of Snowden and the prime member of what was known as The Margaret Set.
Stirling’s play is concerned with her life after the divorce. The eighties had brought in a new phase in the lives of the Royals. With the assistance of the wives of the Queen’s children they became targets for the press instead of the darlings of them. All the infidelities including Margaret’s rude treatment of others became public news.
When she is busy trying to get rid of incriminating documents about the family, she is visited first by a charming young thief (Alexander Knox)and then by an unpleasant, ex lover (Patrick Toomey)who treats her without respect.
It is a tragic story.
The play ends with her saying “It’s not Easy, being a Princess”.

HAROLD AND MAUDE

28 Feb

HAROLD AND MAUDE
BY Colin Higgins
At Charing Cross Theatre.

This is not a play for the cynical at heart.
The existential theories expressed by Sheila Hancock as Maude are beautifully displayed, but hasn’t all this been said before, when we used to say “All you need is Love”? Sadly ignored by the eighties generations who seem to have thrown all that out the window in favour of “Money Money Money!”
At curtain up, the on-stage musicians are playing light music. A young man is standing on a chair with a noose around his neck.. The boy jumps and presumably hangs himself. The maid screams. Is this going to be a murder mystery? Of course not, unless it is all played as a back story. We know that the young man is Bill Milner who is obviously one of the stars of this play so we are sure to see him again.
We are not alarmed.
Nor is the boy’s mother – a wonderfully funny straight faced comedy performance by Rebecca Caine who talks to Harold as if he is not hanging from the ceiling with a rope around his neck. She chides him for wearing brown socks with black shoes and is shocked to see he is not wearing a necktie.
She is the one responsible for telling us this is comedy – a great opportunity which she takes with both hands.
The boy of course comes back to life and we find out that he is fascinated by death and loves to visit funerals. This is where he meets the strange old lady Maude, a human being who still believes in the power of imagination and individuality. She is played, of course, by the great Sheila Hancock who wears wonderful hippy colours and who carries off her gentle goodness with great aplomb as to the manor born.
It is an amusing piece but, I felt, somewhat old fashioned and I wonder if it is to be enjoyed by a modern audience.
It is of course exquisitely directed by Thom Southerland and brilliantly acted. Francis O’Connor has devised the adaptable set , and for our especial delight, there is music. Most of the roles – apart from the featured star performers are played by actor/musicians who are set up on stage and play at times during the performance.
For an ancient hippy it is a delightful escape into the past – Love ins and Flower Power.
The more cynical might find it rather soppy.

BIDDIE AT THE PHEASANTRY

28 Feb

BIDDIE -James Biddlecomb – at the Pheasantry
There is nothing more happiness inducing than a table in a beautiful restaurant having good food and being entertained by a stylish, sophisticated and, dare I say, handsome singer.
It is with great delight and pleasure to see Biddie at the this lovely Chelsea venue run by Ruth Leon, also well known for hosting the Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly.
The singer’s versatile vocal chords are a legend. I remember his work with Opera Della Luna and his cabaret act with Eve Ferret, both of whom had disappeared from the cabaret scene until just recently. But they have returned and no wonder, Cabaret is such a big deal now and he and the gorgeous Eve are storming the scene once again with their own stylish performances.
Much of Biddie’s wealth of songs and comedy material is written by him and his lovely musical director Chris Marshall. This is a match made in heaven as they seem to live in others minds. Necessary as Biddie likes to spring surprises on us – and him – but he is never daunted and reacts perfectly.
This performer could be a modern style belter but prefers not to be. He sings everything beautifully and interprets the numbers with as much attention to the lyrics as old style performers like Noel Coward or Marlene Dietrich.
He works the room, happy to have the audience sing along with him in songs like Le Dolce Vita and Marlene ( a parody of Jolene) His persona as a Southern Belle illustrates his versatile vocal chords coming into their own.
He renders a little sentimental in “Me and the Elephant will always remember you” and in the sweet and to me unknown Cole Porter song involving a Proud little Oyster who wants to live above his station.
The material is a mixture of daft comedy, satire and frankly rude. Some bawdiness and double entendre, some silly but poignant. All of them greeted with joy by the audience.
This is a man who has learned so much over the years, working in various cabaret joints around the world. But it is in England he is able to do his complicated verbal routines. “Old Bazaar in Cairo” and “ If I love you then I need you etc” But all can understand his “Broadband Bossanova”

His next performance at the Pheasantry is in July

FOUL PAGES

25 Feb

FOUL PAGES
By Robin Hooper
At the Hope Theatre

Plays involving William Shakespeare are always fascinating. However his hear and his brain have been investigated by so many different writers with so man differing results that it is a joy to see him as a simply working writer collaborating with his friend The Countess of Pembroke (The impressive Clare Bloomer)who is playing host to the players escaping from plague ridden London.
Another advantage here is that the actors are all living in close contact so, like an old fashioned play there is just the one set.
However he has written it in short scenes, and it takes a while to get ones brain into the correct gear, especially as between each little scene there is a whole of over loud music which I found not only annoying, but in my case actually painful.
The main occupation of Mr Shakespeare (played with dignity by Ian Hallard)is to finish his play in order to win the favour of the new Scottish King James the first. A familiar problem arises when one is writing under orders, the patron insists on undesirable alterations in the casting. The leading role is Rosalind and the leading juvenile of the company is being pushed aside to give room to the Innamorato of the King .
Of course much is made of the casting of plays most especially the use of young men to play the leading ladies and there are many slightly bawdy and very gay jokes during the whole of the performance.
The play begins as a crazy comedy, the main character being a talking dog who is the unnamed and unrecognised narrator of the action. It is a great and unusual part for an actor and it is played with lots of fun and dedication by James King. A terrific role where he doesn’t have to communicate with the actors except to get a lot of cuddles.
Clare Bloomer is an imperious countess and a lot is made of the fact that Will collaborates and takes advice from a woman, so that women had their place even though they were not allowed to perform. Peg, her maid is played by Olivia Onyehara and is also a featured role, but these are the only two women in the cast.
All the young men are absolutely gorgeous and play with great honesty, truth and wit. Lewis Chandler is the blonde beauty originally engaged to play Rosalind and Thomas Bird is his usurper. Greg Baxter plays Ed, the sweet young man who is playing Orlando and is distressed to lose his lovely Rosalind.
Probably the most comical character is that of Tom Vanson who is the highly vain and over-dressed, over-made up and over- jewelled Scottish King – and his over-butch Protector is played by Jack Harding.
All good, crazy – if sometimes confusing fun. The edge taken off from me – and probably only me – by the horrendous noise, like being at the heart of a thunderstorm.

CARMEN 1808

15 Feb

CARMEN 1808 ****

Music by George Bizet arranged by Teddy Clements
Book and Lyrics by Phil Willmott
Adapted from the Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy
Based on the novella by Prosper Merimee

At the Union Theatre.

Phil Willmott has based his musical on a painting by Goya which depicts a massacre – a mess of bloody bodies and a young man with his hands up, terrified as soldiers use their guns on the innocent people. This showed an incident of extreme violence in 1808 when Napoleon was dominating Spain and the Spanish aristocracy had made a treaty with the occupying forces. The Spanish army were in the position to quell any sign of rebellion.

Carmen was working for the revolutionary Catalans. It was a job for her to seduce the soldiers into giving information. The tragedy begins when she meets the officer who falls passionately in love with her and deserts from the Army to work for the Resistance.. For the first time in her life she falls for him, but persuades him to get in touch with his ex fiancee Josephina who is in league with the French and she can leak information to him.

Willmott is experimenting with the popular opera – to make a musical in order to tell a different story involving a piece of actual history.

The story is interesting but of course, nobody can possibly deny that the real star of this production is the wonderful swirling music by Bizet. He is using tunes that everybody know and it creates a feeling of great excitement. Excitement that obviously inspires the 17 strong cast and the choreographer Adam Haigh who makes great use of the youth, and vitality of the cast to produce wonderfully passionate and energetic dance routines.

Alexander Barria sings and plays Goya who narrates the story for us as he makes sketches alongside the happenings on stage.
As Carmen, Rachel Lea-Gray stands out in her scarlet skirt when all the other girls in the cigarette factory wear white. All the ensemble work enormously hard –joining in the songs, singing the accompaniment. It was amusing to hear them do the ba dum, ba dum. during the Habanera.
Maximilian Marston plays Velarde, the Spanish officer who is seduced by Carmen into deserting and joining the resistance and her other lover, the over sexed rogue of a corporal is Thomas Mitchells.There is also an impressive performance from Scottish Actor/ Singer Blair Gibson as the leader of the resistance.

It is always satisfying to see a brand new musical. It is excellently devised and performed. But the plot and performances will always be a little overshadowed by Bizet’s music and Haigh’s magnificent choreography..

14 Feb

NAPOLEON DISROBED as told by an Idiot
At the Arcola
There are many words one could use to describe Napoleon Disrobed as told by an Idiot. Hilarious, tragic, imaginative, ridiculous, insightful, silly, etc. The one that is most appropriate in my estimation is Indescribable.
Katherine Hunter has directed this piece and it is like no other piece of theatre I have seen, Common sense disappears and reality flies out of the window.
The setting by Michael Vale is extraordinary. A stage made out of planks of wood. A stage that is movable, By removing a few blocks from underneath it can start rocking like a boat. And there are struts which can be introduced to set it up to any slope required. To see the actors cope with wheeled suitcases etc on a sloping stage all adds to the feeling of unreality.
On a small barrel in the centre are the vestments appropriate to the robing of Bonaparte. A tricorn hat, a waistcoat and a military dress coat.
Paul Hunter arrives on the stage and talks to the audience as if he is doing a stand up. And he is doing it very well. Waves of laughter coming from the audience. He pretends he is doing University Challenge and itemises certain people in the audience to act as students. From then on, they are referred to throughout the play as – for instance – Brown – Cambridge .
Not sure what this opening has to do with the rest of the story – but that doesn’t matter. The story is an imaginative one. Napoleon wants to escape from St Helena and he teaches a sailor to be him. The sailor dresses up in the Napoleon clothes, Napolean escapes on the boat and the false Napoleon dies.
That is the bare plot – his adventures getting to Paris. Lovely bits like when he gleefully burns the Union Jack. And the wonderful Ayesha Antoine plays all the other parts including Ostrich a girl who sells melons. They get together to build a business which they sells millions of melons without ever opening the shop.
Sounds crazy? Well of course. Hilarious definitely, Tragic certainly, Imaginative , ridiculous and blissfully unusual. Absurd and yet a general fable about the human condition and the personality.

a night at the Oscars

13 Feb

A NIGHT AT THE OSCARS
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Chris Burgess presents one of his famous juke box shows – with a difference. More differences than expected.
He gives us a taste of Hollywood History – the story of the Oscars.
It is a fascinating subject and an excuse to have a cast of young , excellent singers to come on and sing a whole evening of great – and not so great -songs.

The obvious beginning to this show is the wonderful movie Anthem ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ and the show biz element of this number is perfect for the young voices.

Most of of the first Oscar winning songs were magnificent and haunting and many introduced to us by Fred and Ginger.
During the first half of act one there were the magic words and music of George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hart.

These masterpieces of song by the wonderful musicians and lyricists of the thirties are followed up by songs from the war and the years afterwards and finish with the world’s biggest belter – Judy Garland – with The Man That Got Away.

Act two the whole style of singing changed -less sophisticated lyric based and more ‘in your face’. Personally I think the small cast were happier belting out the second act songs. The elegance of the thirties are not familiar to modern singers and some of the songs lost their effectiveness by the loudness of the voices.– why do these powerful voices need microphones anyway? One of the things young singers are not taught to do is to speak sing. This is most obvious in the rendering of the revue number ‘Either Too Young or Too Old’.

The show is written for four singers – now here comes the big difference I promised. Sadly, Kieran Brown, one of the performers had laryngitis on the evening I was there. But did they cancel? Don;t be silly, The Show Must Always Go On.
Steven Danziel took on all Kieran’s songs as well as his own along with the help of musical director Ben Ferguson and the two girls Natalie Green and Laura Sillett filled in the gaps of Chris Cunning’s choreography.
In addition, The company had the lucky presence of John Plews, artistic director of the Gatehouse and he stepped in to do the narration. So the show was carried on thanks to the expertise of Mr Plews and the enthusiasm of the rest of the cast,
The show was directed by Bronagh Lagan who had every reason to be proud of her gallant band of Thespians who played to an ecstatic audience.
There was not a hiccup in the production. A perfect example of an actor’s ability to cope with anything.
Proof without doubt that there is No Business Like Show Business.

the ungrateful biped

11 Feb

The Ungrateful Biped

at the White Bear Theatre

‘Notes from the Underground’ is a disturbing piece written by Feodor Dostoyevski in 1864. It concerns a misanthrope – someone who hates mankind, who cannot understand the meaning of life – rather like Hamlet – or You and Me.

It has been adapted by Philip Goodhew who stars in the unnamed role of the man living in a sordid basement. Jealous and angry with people who are better off than him.

Goodhew has used a modern day version of the man in the original story. He is making a blog video about himself, to himself and for himself. He has a computer and a tv screen so he can watch himself and at the same time the audience can see him.

He is not well, he has fits of coughing, when he doesn’t cough, he sings under his breath. He cannot understand how a man as clever as he is – more intelligent than anyone else, is in his humble state in life and he is racked with hatred. He hates himself because he seems unable to make an impression and he invited himself to a party just so he can make fun of his friend, who is about to become famous as a film star. He insults him cruelly and rather than make an impression, he is just ignored by the assembled company.

We begin wanting to feel sympathy for him, but just as in his life, his horrible behaviour turns the audience against him and we begin to hate him as much as he hates himself..

He knows he is a sick man, he thinks he may have cirrhosis of the liver but rejects all treatment

He has lost interest in anything but himself. Am I ridiculous? He asks And yet he wants to be noticed to make an impression in life, but he cannot seem to help himself.

His final act is one of cruel rejection to the only person who is kind to him, who cares.

Rupert Graves has directed this extraordinary piece of work. The setting is just a whole lots of white sheeting and the lighting is one of the most impressive things in this production. It changes constantly from orange to blue – to no colour, reflecting his mood and doing much of the work for the actor.

An interesting evening, but not one would want to see too often.