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Showing posts from May, 2018

Duelling sopranos, love gone wrong: Der Schauspieldirektor and Bastien Und Bastienne @Popupoperauk

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The singing is always the key to Popup Opera’s touring operas in small or unusual spaces. Along with the chance to see some overlooked or minor pieces by famous composers. Again the company does not disappoint with its Mozart double bill: Der Schauspieldirektor and Bastien Und Bastienne.The first half of the piece, Der Schauspieldirektor, is essentially half an hour of music stretched out to a mildly amusing farce. Tradition has it that the dialogue around this piece is rewritten. Here the scenario is duelling auditions between two sopranos when a struggling opera company can only afford one. It’s an amusing premise that becomes a bit silly in its execution. But there’s still some serious music making. Particularly when older diva Sarah Helena Foubert and younger diva Hazel McBain spar in a thrilling duet. In the second half we have Bastien Und Bastienne. Both consult a relationship guru (updated from a soothsayer) when one suspects the other is having an affair. After a series of son…

Oughta be in pictures: The Biograph Girl @Finborough

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Musicals are usually about a love story. In The Biograph Girl, the love story is about the love of going to the flickers and the people who made them. The flickers were what people called the short silent movies. Before they started treating the medium as a form of art. And a source of serious money making. The show is having its first professional production in nearly forty years at the Finborough Theatre. While there’s much love for the subject, a musical covering the early years of film is a tad ambitious. Covering the stories of Lilian Gish, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith doesn’t allow much time to explore them in any detail. Or any of the peripheral characters that surround them. People come and go. Only by reading the programme notes do you get a sense of who they were. And while the musical numbers are fun, they also tend to slow down rather than advance their stories.  It’s a minimalist production too with its plain white walls, a few chairs and an electric piano. It’s a pity …

A mother’s touch: H.R. Haitch @TheUnionTheatre

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If there is one thing to admire about H.R. Haitch, it is it’s impeccable timing. Opening at The Union Theatre on the week of the Royal Wedding could confuse people for thinking this musical comedy is a topical satire. Alas, it’s not. The piece premiered in 2015 as a workshopped performance. Three years on, with its convoluted plot, songs that stop the show dead and running gags that fall flat... It could do with a few more workshops. For reasons that are unclear it’s set in a parallel universe in 2011. Mouthy common barmaid Chelsea (Tori Allen-Martin) meets secret prince Bertie (Christian James). They fall in love and plan to open a catering business. Until duty calls, and for reasons that are also unclear, he has to reveal his identity.It’s hard to understand the romance. Chelsea comes across as a motherly figure to Bertie. But I guess it takes all sorts. She also says more about why she hates the royal family than anything else. But Tori Allen-Martin makes the most out of underwritt…

Living pretty: Nightfall @_Bridgetheatre

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Living in the country never looked better than in the sumptuousproduction of Nightfall. This play about life in rural Hampshire is currently playing at the Bridge Theatre. Desginer Rae Smith has created a farm backdrop that is beauty to behold even before any of the actors speak. Which is just as well since the night I saw it the show was delayed as one of the actors was caught in a very urban predicament: delays on the London transport network. Chis Davey’s lighting also evokes the sunsets over Hampshire. But looks are deceiving as nobody wants to be there. Dad’s dead and left a pile of debt. The son, Ryan (Sion Daniel Young) is trying to make the farm work by siphoning off oil from a pipeline that cuts through the property. His best mate Pete (Ukweli Roach) is out of and jail helping him with his criminal enterprise.  The daughter, Lou (Ophelia Lovibond) is drifting in and out of jobs and a relationship. And mum (Claire Skinner) would rather just lounge about, barefoot, drinking a fi…

More towels please: Soap @UnderbellyFest

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Circus acts as part of the Underbelly Festival on the Southbank are always a highlight of the programme. Adding bathtubs, water and a hint of nudity is definitely a winning formula. And it makes for good clean fun (this show is aimed at all ages).Soap which originated in Germany has been touring around the world. But for the first time it’s in the round in the Spiegeltent. The effect pushes you right up close to the action. So close that you can see the muscles tense and flex on the performers. The cast run through a variety of bath-time themed circus feats. There’s Vanessa Alvarez as a foot juggler of bath towels and guitars. Anton Belyakov thrills with handstand on what appears to be a very slippery Villeroy and Boch bathtub. Lena Ries contorts within one. Adem Endris juggles on top of one. Daniel Stern rises above one on straps. And Moritz Haase wows with a thrilling Trapeze finale as water rains down from above. Marie-Andrée Lemaire is on hand for comic relief. And Jennifer Lindshie…

Best laid plans: Gracie @Finborough

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It’s a whirlwind life for Gracie. The title character in this piece who is its storyteller and survivor. She was born into a polygamous religious cult, taken across the US border at the age of eight after her mother became the wife of an elder there. The eighteenth wife. As she reaches fifteen she hopes for a husband who is sweet and kind. And not too old. But those controlling her life have other ideas. The European premiere of Joan MacLeod’s work has been playing at the Finborough Theatre on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. While it is a work of fiction, it’s packed full of evocative detail that it feels like it could be true. Especially with Carla Langley’s engaging performance in the title role. Over the course of an 90 minute monologue she moves from childlike optimism to fear and entrapment then hope following an escape.  It’s part adventure, part mundane life and part horror story. Particularly as it becomes clear of the life set out before her as part of “God’s plan”. Or rather, …

On my own: Chess @LondonColiseum

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The Cold War, phoney Americans, thoughtful Russians and the game of chess. All all backdrops in Chess the musical. It’s a curious rock opera about everyone out to make it on their own. And to hell with anyone who gets in their way.  It’s playing a limited run at the home of the English National Opera’s London Coliseum. Written by Tim Rice with music by ABBA’s Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus, maybe it is a show about solitude. Itis a must see for ABBA fans. It allows you to wonder what the band might have sounded like if they carried on into the eighties with its rock ballads and intricate melodies.  It’s the first West End production of Chess in 32 years. And while the show has had many changes over the years, it works best when it flashes its early eighties origins. It looks gorgeous with its neon-inspired outlines and large projections. Adding the forces of the English National Opera Orchestra and chorus it sounds sublime. But even paring the story back with minimal dialogue comes w…

The Will Young show: Strictly Ballroom @TeamPiccadilly

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Love is in the air in Strictly Ballroom, currently playing at The Piccadilly Theatre. It’s the musical based on Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 movie about a boy daring to dance his own steps in the cut-throat world of amateur ballroom dancing. The movie was full of irony and light-heartedness with its corny follow your heart and ugly duckling storylines. Here the musicalisation hits this message over your head as if you’re watching the fall of communism.
Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen in the lead roles as the unlikely dance couple give the show style and pizazz. He’s a rebel, she’s an ugly duckling. There is also a thrilling paso doble dance sequence to close the first act. They even get to sing two lines and sound terriffic. But the show is superfluously narrated by Will Young. He’s also the band leader singing all the songs. While this isn’t necessarily a bad idea, here it gives the impression you’re watching the Will Young musical. And often his light vocals are lost in the theatre. The decisi…

Fear and loathing in London: Grotty @BunkerTheatreUK

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Daring to go where no other Lesbian comedy drama does, Grotty takes you to the underworld of the London lesbian scene. No subculture is left unturned and no mind game is left unplayed. It’s weird, creepy and funny. And currently playing at The Bunker.Written and performed by Izzy Tennyson, she introduces you to the world of London lesbian scene. It’s a scene that takes place in “a couple of little sad old basements that drip with sweat and piss.” At this point it’s tempting to scour your surrounding just to reassure yourself this basement theatre is not one of them. It’s lovely and worth a visit for it’s provocative stories. Including this one. Tennyson plays Rigby, a young girl with two girlfriends. One named Toad (Rebekah Hinds) who likes lesbian bingo and curry. The other’s named Witch (Grace Chilton) who is a tattooist and likes putting Rigby in a dog collar. Both have very nice flats and strange proclivities that Rigby indulges for reasons that aren’t always clear.Rigby is a clown…

When I kissed the teacher: Moormaid @ArcolaTheatre

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Life is too much to bear even when you’re an art teacher with sexy students who undress you with their long gazes. And then let you paint their muscular bodies with acrylic. Well that’s only part of Marion Bott’s play Moormaid which is having its premiere at the Arcola Theatre. Layered with meaning, there’s much passion and drama in the piece. But it’s the performances by the two leads that make it unmissable. Even if at times you’re admiring the piece for for its aesthetics over a coherent story. It’s late night in Berlin. Melissa (Sarah Alles) is an art teacher on the edge. Her husband is away and she’s due to exhibit her works but has painted nothing in two years. Full of despair she is about to do something drastic when there’s a knock on the door. It’s a former student Medhi (Moe Bar-El). He’s had a dream and had to see her. But he’s not exactly her saviour. He dropped out of her life two years ago and has his own demons to face. And a past adventure gone wrong comes to visit him …

Me too thirty years ago: Masterpieces @Finborough

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Long before the #metoo movement called out sexual harassment (and worse), there was Masterpieces by Sarah Daniels. But instead of wearing pink hats or marching, one of the characters pushes a man under the tube. It’s having its first professional London production in 35 years at the Finborough Theatre. It’s an opportunity to see if the arguments of thirty years ago hold insight into the ones of today. In many ways they do. In others they don’t.The play presents three women living as second class citizens in a first world country. There’s earnest social worker Rowena (Olivia Darnley), her mother (Sophie Doherty) and her friend Yvonne (Tessie Orange Turner).  Set in the era when sex cinemas were part of the West End fabric, on one level it feels quaint with its approach to pornographic magazines. Studies on the effects of pornography have been inconclusive. But here they’re seen as the source of violence and men’s power over women. The men in the piece are either lecherous or ignorant.Bu…