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INTO THE WOODS

28 May

INTO THE WOODS
BY STEPHEN SONDHEIM
AT THE COCKPIT THEATRE
Stephen Sondheim has contributed an enormous amount of delight among lovers of musical theatre, and many of those involved in this production are members of the Stephen Sondheim Society.
The play begins like a regular fairy story with well known characters wishing for things to happen in their lives. Cinderella is sweetly played and sung by Abigail Carter Simpson; Mary Lincoln, Macy Cherrett and Francesca Pim play her villainous step family; Red Riding Hood, a greedy little girl on her way to Grandmother is pursued by a Wolf who desires her for dinner, but first he has to gobble up Granny. Florence Odumoso has a terrific voice. We are relieved when she escapes the wolf’s belly. Jack (Jamie O’Donnell) sells his cow for beans, climbs the beanstalk and kills the giant making him and his mother seriously rich.. Rapunzel lets down her hair to the wrong person and finishes up with twins.
The main plot of Act one revolves round the Baker and his wife who are unable to have children. They meet Rapunzel’s mum – a witch – who tells them to find four objects in order to get their wish. A Gold Slipper, a lock of hair, a red cloak and a cow as white as milk. All possessions of the previously named fairy book characters.
.There are many comedy items in the story =- Jack’s mother is played by Madelaine MacMahon with a strong Scottish accent not completely understandable, but she has a funny attitude.
But mainly it is the music that resonates and Aaron Clingham has done a wonderful job orchestrating the score with just five musicians.. The opening is particularly satisfying emotionally as all the characters sing about what they are wanting from life in a stunning anthem of beautifully blended sound.
One of the essential elements in the story is the narration by Jordan Michael Todd which he performs with charm and enormously good humour..
Tim McArthur who already directed the show in a previous incarnation has done a great job and added to his worries by appearing as The Baker along with Jo Wickham as his wife. They are both strong characaters and work well together.
Joana Dias has designed a set made mostly out of ladders and crates of varying sizes with Vittorio Verta giving us a fairy take feeling with the lighting. I was not sure about the costumes. I really wanted fairy tale characters to have more fairy tale costumes. I was never quite sure what Stewart Charlesworth had in mind with the strange mixture of styles.
For those who’ve never seen it before It is a long night out, chock full of surprises.

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SHIRLEY MANDER

27 May

Shirley Mander
By Gregory Evans
At the Playground Theatre
Shirley Porter was head of the Westminster Council, known by her colleagues as The Leader.
She first came to public notice when she sold off the three graveyards in her constituency. Though peoples’ much loved relatives and friends were buried there, she only saw the as useless pieces of land. They were bought for very little and never used except as a tipping ground for trash. She only said ‘it has nothing to do with me. I don’t own them any more’
This unpopular decision appealed to many labour voters who did very well at eight vital boroughs. She had to get them back to keep Westminster a safe Tory seat. It was simple, just deport all the council dwellers and sell off their homes to more suitable (Tory voting) people.
The poor were sent to high rise tower blocks in other parts of London. At this point in the play I started to cry – and I think so many others did in the audience. The tower blocks were supposedly tested for safety, and approved. The doctor who was responsible for the tests shot himself from his guilt afterward.
The sadness is, after her trial for gerrymandering she still went on winning. She was fined around forty million, the amount she was owing the tax payers. Unfortunately she had been clever enough to have all her money placed in foreign bank accounts – all the damning paperwork had been shredded. In the search, they found only twelve million so that was the total amount of her fine. She then retired to Palm Springs where she is now living in luxurious exile. Leaving in her wake the few people who had remained with her on the Westminster council . She had had enough power to use simple blackmail to keep them in place. ‘I have done nothing wrong’ she still says.
All the actors use their heads and hearts well. Omar Broud, James Horne, George Potts play many roles, councillors and Auditors, as does Amanda Waggott who appears a Tory ‘wet’ who gives in her notice at an early stage and returns in masculine guise as the guilty Doctor.. The Leader’s Deputy = as evil and cruel as she was, with a real and violent hatred of the poor.is played by Jack Klaff
Jessica Martin as Shirley is an impeccable actress who never for one moment allows the audience to love her. She is a total psychopathic villain and she even looks like Shirley with fancy shoes, wig, earrings, expensive and flashy clothes. I especially appreciate the horrid pink frilly negligee hiding all that viciousness.
The play is immaculately directed by the lovely caring Anthony Biggs on a curious set by Gregory Donnelly of many colours and on many different levels and wonderfully lit by Sherry Coenen.
I do not apologise for telling so much of the story. It needs to be told over and over again in the hope that it will stop happening around the world.. Thank goodness this story is out in the open.

My most telling line came from Jack Klaff. When told that the asbestos homes would be safe so long as nobody drilled holes in the walls to put pictures up or bookshelves. He laughed and said ‘Those kind of people would hardly do DIY’ so the safety was passed.

JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY

23 May

JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY
UPSTAIRS AT THE ARTS THEATRE
SONGS BY STEPHEN SONDHEIM
The room upstairs at the Arts has undergone a transformation. From a gloomy dark room, it has suddenly become a spacious cabaret venue. There are huge windows on one side and with the curtains open we are bathed in natural light. One wall is covered by a blown up theatrical print. Small tables and chairs are spread out around the room and on the tiny stage there are Musical Director Simon Holt at the piano, Pete Hunt on double Bass and Nathan Harding on reeds.
The new design of the room is based on 54 Below in New York and it has the same welcoming and glamorous appearance -a perfect setting for a glorious feast of songs by the Master. It enables the director to plant his actors all around the room with enough space for them to move about between members of the audience.
Each of the eight singers has one or several chances to shine alone. Belinda Wollaston who has worked with Ray Rackham as one of the title characters in his highly successful “Judy!” performs “Can that boy Foxtrot”(a comedy number cut from Follies) using male members of the company.
One of the highlights is presented by Oscar Conlon-Morrey. He sings “Losing my Mind” which I have never seen done by a man before. It is extremely moving, honest and, one feels, deeply felt. He also makes an unusually intelligent version of “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story. This is a huge talent.
Tom Elliot Reade, Rebecca Gilliland and Anita Louise Combe all have solo numbers but in this ensemble show they are hardly ever allowed to keep it to themselves. Most events are backed by the rest of the cast.
Lowrie Ann Davies, who took over from Jamie Birkett at the last minute, completes ‘Not getting married’ at break neck speed and ‘The Boy from…’ with a little help from the others. The same with Christopher Dickens ‘The Little Things you do together’ and Michael Vinsen’s dance number “All I need is the girl” which becomes a trio.
“Being Alive” a company anthem with brilliant harmonies ends the show.
The choice of songs is eclectic. From Forum, West Side Story, Follies, Gypsy, Assassins, Sweeney, Company – too many to list them all. Sondheim has practically devised, written and composed the whole of the last and present century’s musical theatre sometimes with Bernstein, Mary Rodgers or Jule Styne but usually single handed –
It is amazing how many facets of the Love story Sondheim can introduce and Ray knows them all so well. He is a romantic at heart and has chosen his favourites even though some of the numbers were cut from well-known productions and are not as familiar.
This is a joyous show about a subject that affects every human being on this planet. How can it fail?.
It is only on for one week at this particular venue. I think this is where it should be seen.

LORNA DALLAS SPRING COLLECTION

21 May

LORNA DALLAS SPRING COLLECTION*****
AT THE CRAZY COQS
 
There is no doubt about it, Lorna Dallas has the most technically perfect voice ever to grace the stage of the CC, or in fact almost anywhere in London.. There aren’t a lot of them about .
Not only has she a great operatic soprano. She is able to touch the heart and show a sexy romanticism when the song demands it and she gives every single lyric the attention it deserves..
Her show is skilfully organised, she begins with a Spring medley
“Spring Will Come Again” (Bernstein, Comden and Green)and “Spring is a New Beginning,” showing off her impressively versatile vocal style and she finishes off the Spring trio with a cheeky rendering of “Spring Spring Spring” from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The Johnny Mercer lyrics and the light jaunty tune give plenty of scope for her mischievous sense of humour.
Lorna has no problem wringing one’s heart one minute and making one chuckle the next as she trips easily from moving songs to idiotic ones. She plays the little girl in “Nuts in May” – music by Ivor Novello lyric by Wodehouse and added to by her director Barry Kleinbort.
There are 24 songs and happily she has no problem name dropping so has many anecdotes about the great and funny composers and musicians.
‘April in Paris’ is beautifully rendered – a song all about tables under the trees and chestnuts in blossom, written by a man who had never been in Paris, but took his inspiration from a travel poster. She follows this up with a very funny parody ‘April in Fairbanks’ about Freezing to death among the ice and snow in Alaska
Much applause is due to her huge 5ft 3inches musical director Christopher Denny and her director  Barry Kleinbort who together are responsible for the musical arrangements.
It is an immensely enjoyable show but the thing that is most startling is the fact that she had twenty years out of the business and this is a comeback with a voice stronger and with more passion and heart than ever – even more than her last performance at the Crazy Coqs which I reckoned was the most intelligent rendering of popular music ever.
This is a performance that I feel privileged to witness. I believe the delighted audiences feel the same.
 
 
lorna

THE AFFAIRS OF ANATOL

21 May

THE AFFAIRS OF ANATOL ****
BY ARTHUR SCHNITZLER
AT THE PENTAMETERS THEATRE
English version by Harley Granville Barker
Arthur Schnitzler was a well established member of “Jung Wien” the group of Viennese avant garde playwrights in the early twentieth century.
He was closely associated with the work of Sogmund Freud although apparently they never met. This is a quartet of feminist plays. Very interesting and controversial for the times. Apparently when Harley Granville-Barker produced his translation, they met with a mixed reception.
The setting is 1900’s Vienna, Anatole is looking for love. Unfortunately he cannot accept the fact that his women need a little more freedom than he is prepared to give. He believes in playing the field, but is extremely jealous of his lady friends, believing they are behaving the same – but they are Female and therefore are not allowed to do this.
Of course, he cannot win and cannot understand why not.
This series of four short plays probes the curious mind of the anti hero, played well moustached by Scott Westoby, his relationship with four different young ladies and the amused reactions of his friend Max, played with many a twinkle by Canadian Jesse Cooper.
The first one involves his fascination with hypnotism and his rabid jealousy of Hilda (Josefine Reich)who he suspects of having an affair. He is trying to hypnotise her into telling him who her lover is, but he cannot find the right words to use.
The second one involves Gabrielle, Rianna Ash. He is in the middle of an affair with Dolly a lower class lady, but he will still flirt with Gabrielle who has married somebody else.
The third story has Rianna Ash again as Emily. A girl who has had many lovers. When their affair began, he destroyed her past, burning gifts from lovers, dairies and love letter, but she has kept one present secret.
Finally Anatol is meeting Mimi (Josefine Reich) for supper intending to tell her he has finished with her and is in love with somebody else. Mimi has a surprise for him. Max is asked to be there as chaperone.
The actors all work well and it makes for an amusing evening.
Direction is by Michael Friend and there is a splendid setting painted by John Dalton

THE GIFT OF THE GAB

18 May

GIFT OF THE GAB
BY SIMON DAVID EDEN
AT THE WHITE BEAR THEATRE, KENNINGTON
The play starts off with the three salesman, looking like the three wise monkeys, selling their wares to the audience showing off their Gift of the Gab.
In 1979, Three salesmen Gabe, Arthur and Stan, regularly meet at the little Italian Café run by Ric, a crazy hot headed Italian played by Ivanhoe Norona. Ric is unduly protective of his pretty daughter Concetta (Madalina Bellariu} who works in the café and is lusted after by all the clientele.
The three salesman meet day after day discussing their business; their work methods;Gabe’s extra special shoes; Cliff Richard and other major events of the day. Gabe gives advice to his young nephew Winkle (Lewis Bruniges) in order to train him to enter the profession. However Winkle and his friend Toe Rag (Harold Addo) have other jobs in mind. They do not want to spend their days knocking on house doors and trying to talk people into letting them into their houses in order to sell Insurance.
Gabe, played by Ross Boatman is really in love with Concetta and brings her presents in secret. Michael Roberts plays the older Arthur who knows much more than the others but has the sense to keep his mouth shut unless the conversation ranges around the subject of Cliff Richard. There are some really funny moments during the conversation between the three men. Stanley, played by Charlie Allen is a regular dandy and is always meticulously dressed. His main enjoyment is sending up Gabe’s pompous teaching of his young nephew and finds great joy later on in making fun of Arthur’s passion for Cliff Richard. Stan teases him by telling him Cliff is Gay and Indian. Arthur finds these remarks insulting. (Two politically incorrect remarks in one ) However Arthur’s interpretation of “Living Doll” is very funny and he believes it proves that Cliff is both British and Heterosexual.
However the main thrust of this story is a lost valuable manuscript, of Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence “who?” “You remember – Peter O’Toole? Lawrence of Arabia?” They are all keen to lay hands on this book and make their fortune.
The problem is that, like a lot of new writers, the author is writing for television instead of theatre. The very short scenes would be simply done on TV but theatre involves constant changes of scenery and lighting, so it is difficult to remain involved in the plot.
The idea is funny but needs a bit of rearranging. The scenes are just too short and the plot takes a long time to get going. in fact we do have to wait until Act two before anything actually happens.
However the salesmanship of the three guys rings horribly true and it seems as if Mr Eden has had experience in that field – either that or been so plagued by the venders that he has learnt their spiel by heart.
The play is definitely amusing and has expert dialogue and characterisation. It should go further if Mr Eden could rearrange it a little – or send it straight to a TV company.
Believable period set design by Sim E Sigh, costumes by Devon Opp and lighting is by Chuma Emembolu.
The play is directed by the author.

RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET

16 May

RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET
BY BOB CARLTON
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Imagine a reworking of an old Science Fiction Musical of the 1950s; The Tempest and other plays by William Shakespeare and mix it up with wonderful fifties Rock and Roll music. Imagine this fusion performed by some totally brilliant musicians who are all trained actors and dancers in addition to playing at least two different instruments.
If you can imagine this, fine – if you can’t, all you have to do is go down to the Gatehouse Theatre in Highgate and see all these things happen in front of your eyes, directed by John Plews with Marcus Adams as musical supervisor, an amazingly inventive set design by Amy Yardley magnificently lit by Sam Waddington and with eccentric choreography by Grant Murphy.
Briefly we are on space ship Albatross with all in attractive blue uniforms, the girls in wondrous silver leggings and Louise Brookes type wigs all of different colours.
After a brief introduction on screen, by the Intergalactic News reader, the full company play the Overture including a famous fifties orchestral piece “Telstar” We meet the officers of the Albatross and there are altercations between Captain Tempest (Alex Fobbester) and the Science Officer (Ellie Ann Lowe) “It’s a Man’s World”
Suddenly they encounter “Great Balls of Fire” and they land on the Forbidden Planet where they meet up with the Doctor Prospero (Chris Killick) , his lovely teenage daughter Miranda (Stephanie Hockley) and Ariel, the silver Robot he has constructed . Ariel is an amazing creature played by Simon Oskarsson on roller skates and who never loses his robot like movement throughout even when he is singing with his magnificent operatic voice “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Shake Rattle and Roll” He also plays the trumpet to accompany himself and others.
Prospero is a Doctor Who style genius who is working on Telegenesis in order to open up nine tenths of the brain known as the X Factor.
There is an immediate attraction between the Captain and Miranda but he thinks she is too young so she is simply “a teenager in love” She is admired even more so by Cookie (Edward Hole) the acrobatic, singing cook of the Albatross who falls deeply in love with her.
It is only fair to mention the rest of the brilliant cast Emma Fraser as Navigation Officer and saxophonist; Guy Freeman as Bosun; David Persiva; Lewys Taylor and most essentially Rhiannon Hopkins, the musical director who also plays sax and the role of Penny Cyllan.
To add to the magic, the script is in Iambic Pentameters and includes many brief quotes and misquotes from Shakespeare slipped into the dialogue without warning. Just as snippets of songs are included – a short reference to “The Young Ones” performed by Cookie, Bosun and Bud as Hank Marvin and the Shadows gets a round of applause.
As an extra bonus The Intergalactic Newsreader making the announcements is Gatehouse regular Angela Rippon.
This is probably the most hilarious and appealing musical of the many many successful shows at the Gatehouse directed by the great John Plews.