Friday, December 16, 2016

Playing in a rock and roll band: Muted @mutedmusical @BunkerTheatreUK

 

Muted, a new British Musical explores grief and loss through music. It's playing at the new theatrical space in Southwark known as The Bunker. While it still feels as if it is a work in progress, it's prospects look good. Perhaps just like the characters within the piece.

Muted tells the story of teenager Michael. He is a singer in a band on the brink of stardom. But after his mother dies in a hit and run accident he quits the band and stops speaking. Three years on his former band mate Jake is trying again for a shot with the band. And Lauren, Michael's ex who is now with Jake has been enlisted to try and get him to speak. But soon this drama proves as difficult to deal with as it is to describe...

Some old goose: Mother Goose @wiltonmusichall


A terrific cast, a fun story and the fabulous atmosphere of Wiltons Music Hall make Mother Goose a panto not to miss this season. Well, if you like that sort of thing...

Roy Hudd writes and stars as the Pantomime Dame Mother Goose. She is an old woman who befriends a rather large and lonely goose. In return the goose gives her riches beyond her wildest dreams. Naturally being a poor old woman of meagre means it goes to her head. She sells her soul and her goose and ends up looking as it she should be in The Only Way Is Essex.

It is an odd story for a pantomime, but it's clear that Hudd and his wife, director Debbie Flitcroft, know the essence of good panto. There is a battle between good and evil, spectacular costumes, audience participation. Not to mention a mix of songs and some pretty hoary jokes and ad-libs.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Myopic memories: This House


Top ten things about politics you might learn from catching This House at the Garrick:

1. It's a game of cat and mouse

It's a relentless cat and mouse game set in the bowels of the Palace of Westminster as the whips for the conservatives and labour try to keep their members in line. There isn't much drama but an awful lot of comedy in retelling the period of the minority Labour government from 1974-1979.

2. It ends in tears

There is so much comedy that it is easy to forget that country was a mass. Mass strikes, garbage on the streets, high inflation, policies failing to pass. It's all fun and games until someone needs to go begging for an IMF loan...

3. Maybe you just had to be there

Whether you understand or care about the show probably does depend on whether you lived through the period. The piece does hurl large chunks of parliamentary tradition at the audience in the guise of dialogue to new members. But ultimately it feels like a memory piece for the myopic.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Spooky things at night: Benighted @ORLTheatre


Benighted is a taut Christmas thriller that is a welcome relief for anyone who doesn't buy into all that cheer this time of year. Or pantomimes. There is thunder, a spooky house and dark secrets. It's currently playing at The Old Red Lion Theatre.

It is a dark and stormy night. And close to Christmas. A car has broken down and there is a rising flood. Three people seek shelter from the weather in a gloomy mansion. But all is not what it seems and their hosts, the mysterious Femm family, are not particularly hospitable. As others arriving seeking shelter from the rain the group begin to wonder if they will make it through the night.

First published in 1927, this early novel by J.B. Priestley was adapted for the screen by James Whale in the 1932 as The Old Dark House. It was the original horror picture movie that would inspire many others and be the blueprint for future stories. Including the Rocky Horror Picture Show.



It has been adapted for stage by Duncan Gates. Nobody strips down to their underwear here (or breaks into song). But there is enough creepiness with clever lighting and sound effects to keep you on the edge.

As the Waverton's who get stranded by the storm, Harrie Hayes and Tom Machell capture the spirit of a modern married couple. As Roger Penderel, who is travelling with the Wavertons, Matt Maltby is the seemingly happy and carefree single man with demons of his own to confront.

This is a resourceful production. There is a simple door or a jagged corner to evoke the mansion. And the confined space of the theatre is transformed by designer Gregor Donnelly into a place of dark spaces and creaking doors. The lighting by Zia Bergin-Holly and Sound by David Gregor also is enough to make you jolt out of your seat occasionally too.

As the flood subsides and the rain clears, perhaps things start to sag as the tension shifts, but it's an adventure all the same. And it is great to see the source material that inspired so many other stories.

Directed by Stephen Whitson, Benighted is at The Old Red Lion theatre until 7 January.

⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎



Photos by Chris Gardner

Friday, December 09, 2016

Meanwhile in Battersia: Scrooge and the Seven Dwarves @theatre503


There is a scene in the early part of Scrooge and The Seven Dwarves at Theatre 503 where Santa appears and asks the children in the audience what they want for Christmas. "A butler" replies one. You know you're in Battersea with responses like that.

But this isn't just a panto that you get your nanny to take the children to while shopping on Kings Road. The Sleeping Trees have again fused fairy tale and Christmas stories to create an anarchic panto tale about Christmas. With lashings of silliness to boot it may not be a traditional panto, but it is still a lot of fun.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The sweet smell of rising damp: After October @finborough


A life in the theatre may be a threadbare, but there is always hope of tomorrow. Rodney Ackland's After October is getting its first London production since its premiere in 1936 at the Finborough Theatre. It's fascinating to see how it captures a slice of life but also the enduring drama of working on the edge of success.

Some things may have changed since when it was set. Nowadays waiting for the papers has given way to post show tweets and instant web reviews. And nobody would believe there is a shabby basement flat in Hampstead. Set designer Rosanna Vize seems to have seen the same London flats I have in her inspired transformation of the Finborough into a 1930s dive. Beige walls and bland 1930s fixtures dominate the space, along with a sense of rising damp. Perhaps she took inspiration from the Finborough's neighbours. But all told the piece focuses on the characters and their motivations so that it still feels relevant.