Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hairography: Vanities: The Musical

 
The secret of lasting friendships is really about having the correct fitting wig. Well, I think that's what it is after catching Vanities: The Musical. It's a musical valentine to soap opera dramatics and retro hair styles currently playing at Trafalgar Studios.

The show is given a heavy injection of talent with the performances by its three leading ladies. While this makes it very watchable, you are left wishing there was just something more in the material.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sweat shops: The Great Divide @Finborough

 
The Great Divide uses the worst industrial accident in history as the backdrop to explain the lives and times of some of the workers who lived and perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. 

It is playing on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the Finborough Theatre until 20 September. 

What is exciting about Alix Sobler's piece is how fragments of stories comes together to tell a much bigger one about immigration, dreams and unionisation against the backdrop of the deadliest workplace disaster in American history. 

 
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was on the lower east side of Manhattan located on the top floors of an 11 storey building. Most of its workers were migrants working for low pay and long hours. The custom and practice in factories was to lock doors and limit exits to prevent theft. Smoking was banned but people did anyway. 

So when fire broke out on 25 March 1911, the combination of flammable materials and no means of escape let to a fire of such intensity that many of the workers chose to jump out the window their deaths. This was a scene that would not be repeated until the 9-11 90 years later in a harrowing repetition of New York history. All told 146 workers died. Most of them were women. 

But the fire is not the only part of the story. Through necessity  women who left Russia and persecution find themselves in roles to provide for families. The harsh conditions and petty penalties led to an 11-week general strike for better working conditions in  1909. It also led to the growth of the union movement in the garment industry. 

The vast storytelling gives the actors a number of roles as storytellers moving from the old land to the new. But at the centre of the piece is Rosa (played by Hannah Genesius . She is the dreamer turned pragmatist in the piece as she comes to New York and needs to find work to survive. Genesius keeps the piece focussed and the pace moving like a conductor. 

Josh Collins as her potential partner is terrific and gives the piece some welcome humour. Emma King as her friend at the factory gives the piece warmth. 

While the tragedy led to improved practices, it is hard not to question whether much has changed or whether some of the practices have just moved offshore. Primark Shirts made in substandard factories that collapsed in Bangladesh. H&M factories without proper fire exits. iPhones made at Foxconn where there is a high suicide rate.  Even closer to home there is Sports Direct running a modern day workhouse in its own distribution centre. 

Going to work is still a matter of life and death for many. At least some of us can demand better from the places we shop at and where we invest our money.

Directed by Rory McGregor, The Great Divide is at the Finborough Theatre on Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees until 20 September.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Photos: production photos by Graeme Braidwood

Updated to correct errors in the dates

 

Monday, September 05, 2016

Eat your young: Unfaithful @found111


The central message from Unfaithful by Owen McCafferty is that it is still an older persons world. The older generation is screwing the younger generation over and over. They get the early retirements, they clinched Brexit, and they get free TV licences. All at the expense of the younger generations who will pay for it. And here those youngsters are also fair game for sex.

For fifty-something couple Tom and Joan, it’s too late to do anything else. They are stuck with each other. But the play opens with Tom confessing that he had a sexual relationship with a younger woman. So Joan seeks revenge sex by hiring a male escort.

Meanwhile Tara is bored working at the checkout at Tescos and her frustrated her partner Peter - a male escort - doesn’t have a day job.

And thus begins this four hander about relationships. It is full of dirty talk about eating this and fucking that. But mostly it is middle-aged sex fantasy and I suspect an excellent show to catch if you’re over fifty. For the rest of us it is a harrowing experience.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Mad about the boy: Britten in Brooklyn @wiltonmusichall


Britten in Brooklyn currently playing at Wilton’s Music Hall is a good looking production. But the trouble with a piece about artists at their least artistic period of their lives is that not a lot happens. In the end you feel as if you have been watching Celebrity Big Brother, without the cheap thrills of seeing anyone being a cat... Or getting confused about which David died.

At the height of the Second World War, Benjamin Britten takes off to America, avoiding conscription and the conflict in Europe. He stays in Brooklyn in an artistic commune with his friend poet WH Auden. Writer Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee are also staying there.

I was half-expecting an evening of debauchery and creativity. But it was mostly introspection. Still upset over the death of his mother and reception of his works in England, Britten is seeking solace from all that. He also is coming to grips with his homosexuality, budding relationship with Peter Peers and his pacifism.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Eat, sleep, report, repeat: Groundhog Day @oldvictheatre


Could Groundhog Day at the Old Vic be the most fascinating piece of theatre on in the West End this summer? Based on a much-loved movie it isn't particularly groundbreaking as musical. Nor will you leave the theatre humming too many of the tunes. But a series of performances (including by the two charismatic leads Andy Karl and Carlyss Peer) take this show to another level.

Based on the Bill Murray movie, the show follows the same plot. Phil is a sarcastic weatherman forced to relive the same day over and over. He is stuck in a time loop reporting on whether a large rodent (the groundhog) can predict an early spring. So he starts making the most of the situation. He sleeps with every woman in town, he steals, he cheats death. But after craziness and depression set in he focuses his efforts on improving himself and getting the day right.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Last chance: Curtain Call @RoundhouseLDN


Arad’s Curtain Call at the Roundhouse has completed its summer season of live performances. But you have until the end of the bank holiday weekend to see the installation before the silicon rods are packed away.

Created by Arad in 2011, it's made up of 5,600 silicon rods suspended from an 18 metre diameter ring. The curtains first appeared in 2011 and returned this year as part of the Roundhouse’s Bloomberg Summer. The live performances with invited guests were part of a series of late night events.

Closing the live performances on Thursday were the London Contemporary Orchestra. With a combination of cool music and vocals, it was a reflective and sophisticated musical experience.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Cunning vixens and dopes: Allegro @swkplay


There is no time to lose in Allegro at the Southwark Playhouse. It is a whirlwind tour of a man's life from birth to mid life. But along the way there is much to admire in this early Rodgers and Hammerstein piece.

Allegro was first performed in 1947 is having its professional European premiere finally in 2016. For whatever reasons it did not capture the imagination of the public at the time.

Maybe it is it is because it is a character study and a none too subtle dig at city life. But perhaps with the passing of time the story has more resonance and its innovations can be appreciated.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Things ain't wot they used to be: CTRL+ALT+DELETE @CamdenPT

 
Everything is fiction. Whether it is our post-truth politics, which led the country out of the European Union on the premise of an imaginary amount of money going to the NHS and immigration being cut. Then there is our partisan newspapers shouting political hysterics mixed with celebrity stalking to an ever-dwindling audience. And then there is what we tell ourselves. So is the premise of Emma Packer's fascinating CTRL+ALT+DELETE. It is having a short run at the Camden People's Theatre. 

Written and performed by Packer, she first introduces us to Amy. A child of the 80s she reminisces about her love of sport and knowledge of the Spice Girls. She also had a loving relationship with her grandfather and the time they spent together. 

But things quickly shift when we are introduced to Amy's mother. Drinking and smoking prior to Amy's birth, afterwards abuse becomes a pattern. The unsettling part of the piece is how this becomes acceptable behaviour and consequences for Amy as an adult. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Passing glances: The Collector @thevaultsuk


Dark sinister and opressive… That’s just the venue it is playing in. But The Collector at The Vaults in Waterloo turns things up yet another notch with it’s creepy tale of a man who collects butterflies. And the occasional arts student.

Mark Healey has adapted John Fowles’s novel, which tells the story of Frederick Clegg and Miranda Grey. Frederick loves Miranda so much so that he follows her every move. When he wins the lottery, he quits his job, buys a remote farmhouse and prepares the basement for a special house guest.

Starring Daniel Portman (seen in Game of Thrones) as Frederick and Lily Loveless as Miranda. It is a cat and mouse tale of obsession and secrets set in a basement. Together the two spar as one plots how to make her love him, while the other plots her escape.

The thrills come from seeing how everyday activities become a pattern of behaviour that can be your downfall. And how even good people can do bad things.

A stylish production with a smart cast directed by Joe Hufton. It’s playing at The Vaults. Not one for the faint hearted. Or for anyone wearing anything but the barest of clothing given the lack of suitable air conditioning at the venue (perhaps a subtle ploy to put you in the shoes of Miranda)... It runs through to 28 August.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Earthly delights and other short stories: The Secret Garden


The Secret Garden Spring Version is a fun and emotional foray for young people into the world of musical theatre. Or those who are hesitant at experiencing overblown musicals from the 1990s. It is currently playing currently sharing the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End.

Creators Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman have reduced the running time of the piece to 75 minutes for younger performers. They have stripped out much of the adult brooding from their original work and focus on the younger characters. By doing so it gives the piece pace and energy and with a young enthusiastic cast the show really feels alive.