Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Directors, Developers and Swingers: A Chorus of Disapproval


 The revival of A Chorus of Disapproval, Alan Ayckbourn's comedy farce about an amateur light operatic society's production of The Beggar's Opera manages to be an agreeable evening out, although it tends to be more smile out loud than laugh out loud. The cast are terrific but the play lacks the pace and the insanity that are hallmarks of a well written farce. On the other hand, for something silly with wife swapping and unlikely male conquests, you probably can't do that much better on the West End right now...

It opens with a successful opening night of the piece with Guy, the lead who plays Macheath, being shunned by the rest of the cast. The piece then returns to the start of rehearsals and traces the path that leads to the opening night.

As a play within a play, the music and story of The Beggars Opera reflects (or perhaps riffs) on the story of Guy, played by Nigel Harman, who arrives in a small town and just wants to please everyone and get over the death of his wife. It is a bit unfortunate that he is in a town that is famous for land deals, wife swapping and operatic drama. It helps that he is a bit handsome, and in his knitted sweaters and loose jackets he has everyone in the town swooning. Well, I guess it was that sort of town...

Taking top billing in the show is Rob Brydon, who is making his theatrical West End debut as the mad Welsh director of the piece. It is a great role as he gets to sing, insult the other cast members and be completely oblivious to the sexual play going on between Guy and his wife. It is amusing to watch him as an intense fool, and also managing to create a character that distills all that is excruciating about amateur groups... The effort spent behind making a work while dealing with egos, infighting and dull performers.

The rest of the cast do well at balancing their roles as amateur performers and shrewd locals after their pound of flesh. The production also looks smart... But ultimately the tale becomes a bit grim  in the second half as things go a little pear shaped for our Guy... But what could have been a lively comedy ends up being more of a damp squib. Still it is lovely to watch and there is the music from The Beggars Opera. Personally it is not a favourite but most people like that sort of thing... It is on a limited run until January and keep an eye out for good deals at the usual outlets...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Rough treatments: Dangerous Lady


Dangerous Lady, Theatre Royal Stratford East's East's new stage adaption of Martina Cole's bestseller is a trashy, violent and funny production that will have you enjoying almost every minute of it.  There are wry observations about criminals, the police and class in this piece. Things are not black and white and what is right or wrong is not always easy to tell. It is a bloody tough life and it is the women who are the survivors and keep things together.

The play opens with an unexpectedly frank depiction of childbirth. Later in the first half there is an intense scene depicting an abortion that had members of the audience so engaged they were screaming out in horror as if they were watching the backyard procedure really take place. There is nothing gruesome on stage, but the production manages to suggest just enough to have most audience-members squirming... or about to pass out...

It is all part of the gritty depiction of the life and times of a London Irish gangland family. And at its heart is the story of Maura who joins the family business after a love affair goes wrong and helps her wild and gay brother carve up London.

Clare-Louise Cordwell plays Maura and manages to make transition the character from optimistic and innocent to a cool and calculating criminal believable and gives such an enjoyable performance as she moves from naive young girl into the mastermind behind a criminal empire. But she also keeps things real and has a tremendous likability about her so even when the story becomes a little far fetched, it is hard to mind too much. Veronica Quilligan (also pictured) as the mother also manages to create a truly memorable character that is not just a one dimensional evil woman. Although at times during this epic piece her wigs and makeup make her look more like the Home Secretary than an ageing matriarch.

Things move briskly in this piece and it is helped by some clever staging and a production that is one of the more slicker shows I have seen at Stratford East. The piece spans thirty years as the family move from small time gambling to big time property deals in the Docklands so things need to move, and a double revolve keeps characters spinning in and out of the story at a brisk pace. It is a slick production and hints of drama, great use of sound effects and lighting give it added panache.

Even if you have not read Martina Cole's book it is based upon, this play stands on its own as a great story, interesting production and strong cast. It runs until 17 November but with sex, violence, laughs, strong Irish women with filthy mouths, it should have a future beyond this short run... Don't miss it...

Photo credit: Robert Day


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Everything: Taboo

A smart, slick new production of Boy George's musical Taboo has been playing in Brixton for the past month. What makes this production worth a look is the insanely talented people on stage. Some are even making their professional debut here and in the small yet perfectly formed space of the Brixton Club House (on the corner of Brixton Road and Coldharbour Lane... above the KFC), it makes for one hell of a show.

The story focuses on the club scene in the early 1980s and the rise of the New Romantic movement. It is a journey (of sorts) into fashion, big hair, bitchy  banter and decadent antics. At the centre of this was Boy George and living artist performer Leigh Bowery... The latter role is played by newcomer Sam Buttery who manages to make a larger than life figure rather human and delicate, even when singing a song about Bowery's voracious sexual appetite. Buttery was in the recent BBC chair-swining series The Voice and you get the impression from his performance that he will be going on to bigger and better things... The rest of the cast are great too but Katie Kerr as Big Sue (or Benefits Supervisor as she was immortalised in the portrait by Lucian Freud) manages to get through the piece belting out a series of ballads with such emotion that it almost looks easy...

Taboo as a piece probably is a bit too conventional a musical to become a cult hit. There are too many cliches written around the ballads and pop tunes and the first half is way too long. The story is essentially this... Boy (not George) leaves rough home to make it in London. Boy hooks up with an old school friend at a squat and meets Boy George. Boy (and Boy George) get confused. Cue shouting and awkward love triangle. Meanwhile on the other side of the town in a toilet cubicle there is Leigh... And meanwhile at another club night there Marilyn who also wants to be famous. And meanwhile back at rough home mother keeps calling on a phone. And so on and so on...

While the music is great, characters also tend to be famous rather than sympathetic. Boy George becomes a star as quickly a costume change and there isn't much insight to what drove these mad creative-types and clubbers in the 1980s, their music and their downfall. In between the ballads and pop tunes there are the drugs but by then the story all becomes a bit of a blur. It is a shame that a period of change and the rise of the new romantic pop culture gets reduced to a few lines and quips. It is also a period chronicling the rise to fame in a time before wall-to-wall television shows made anyone of dubious talent a star. Then again it also was the period when Marilyn released Calling Your Name so it was an omen for what was the horror to come...

Still maybe it does not matter. It is a hell of a ride anyway with some energetic dancing, audience participation and rather amusing floor show banter. Go for the music and the performances.

Taboo runs until December at the Brixton Club House. Look out for good discounts and meal deals. There are also matinee performances which is a chance to head to the markets for lunch beforehand... Or you could just get some finger licking chicken in bucket...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Opera: Finding Butterfly

The trend of theatre companies to take classic operas and find new perspectives on them continues with The Wedding Collective's latest production of Finding Butterfly. Produced in association with Soho Theatre, Finding Butterfly is a deconstruction and re-imagining of Puccini's Madame Butterfly set in a hospital. Rather than beautiful Japanese screens and gardens, we have Butterfly institutionalised and believing her American soldier will return while doctors and other patients know otherwise. The story of the opera is then told in flashbacks and fragments. It is quite an ingenious concept that is only let down from time to time from some over-staged dramatics and a booming clavinova accompaniment. Both tend to distract you from the sensuality and fine singing that is taking place almost in your lap...

In this pared down work, the piece is at its most exciting when the performers playing Suzuki, Butterfly and Pinkerton are on stage, and this production emphasises their roles. All three performers sang with strength and clarity that gives emotional intensity to this interpretation. Suzuki is a nurse at the hospital rather than a servant and played by Japanese mezzo soprano Megumi Shiozaki. Cio Cio San was played by feisty Li Li and Joe Morgan plays the role of Pinkerton. The wedding night duet is re imagined in bed with Pinkerton in loose boxers and Cio Cio San in a flimsy slip. There is no full frontal nudity (after all it isn't the Royal Opera), but leaving things to the imagination makes for as just an equally satisfying piece, particularly when the duet is sung so close to the audience and with such tenderness.

These days it seems as if staging a production in a theatre is rather passé, and anything from a septic tank to an abandoned office block is is a preferred performance space. But Limehouse Town Hall, with its grimy peeling paint, flooded bathrooms and general decay creates a perfect atmosphere for a clinical, alienating hospital. Here's hoping that if the venue isn't demolished at some point a future refurbishment includes the purchase of a piano. All told it is hard not to like a production that takes a fresh look on reinterpreting a classic and mixes it with some excellent performances.

Finding Butterfly runs until 20 October and there are good discounts available from the usual outlets. It deserves a future outing as well so keep an eye out for future productions.

Post show Audioboo on busy Commercial Road follows...

listen to ‘Butterfly boo: Finding Butterfly’ on Audioboo