Posts Tagged ‘Abigail Pickard Price’

Prolific appears to be the word of the month, this time used to describe the output of Graham Greene, whose 79 works include novels & short stories, plays, travel, biography and films. This 1958 novel has been adapted as a film, opera, play and now musical. Set in pre-Castro Cuba, it’s a comic story centred around a vacuum cleaner salesman who turns to spying to supplement his income in support if his young daughter’s expensive lifestyle.

The salesman, Wormold, is approached by Hawthorne from MI6 and agrees to spy. Soon he realises he has nothing to pass on, so he makes things up, information London accepts. He gets ever more ambitious, sending fake drawings and diagrams of military installations, which encourages his superiors to send out a ‘secretary’ Beatrice to help him. Things escalate as invention and reality collide, and there’s an attempt on his life which results in the death of his best friend. Meanwhile he has to deal with the developing relationship between his daughter Milly and military Captain Segura, which is resolved in a game of draughts with each winning move resulting in an alcoholic shot. This latter sub-plot, and his daughter’s spending (one time she comes home having bought a horse!) stretch plausibility.

They do their best to conjure up Havana, but there are only six actor-musicians, though the inventive design by Kat Heath does help. The songs are serviceable, with appropriate Latin rhythms, but don’t really contribute much to the storytelling. The first half lags, but it does improve significantly after the interval. My problem with it is that I don’t think the material lends itself to musical theatre adaptation, and the story seems to have lost much humour in transition. Tightening and speeding up up the first half would help, but I’m not sure it would solve the problem.

It’s well staged by Abigail Pickard Price, and well performed by the six actor-musicians, and provides a pleasant enough afternoon or evening. I respect and indeed admire Richard Hough and Ben Morales Frost for having a go, but it’s not (yet?) a fully formed show.

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Stiles & Drewe are one of Britain’s most underrated musical theatre creators. This was their first (proper) show, staged here at the Watermill some 30 years ago. Both Julia McKenzie and Cameron Mackintosh championed their early work (McKenzie directing and Macintosh producing the premiere of this). McKenzie went on to direct their next show, Honk!, a surprise winner of the Olivier Best Musical Award (beating Mamma Mia & The Lion King!) after it transferred (also from Newbury) to the NT.

Mackintosh has remained their theatrical godfather, commissioning them to successfully refresh and renew Mary Poppins and Half a Sixpence, though other lovely shows like Soho Cinders and Betty Blue Eyes have had less success. I’ve seen it twice before (Tricycle 1990 and Tabard 2010) and now it’s back at the Watermill, this time in the garden, given our ongoing pandemic caution, and I’m delighted to report its a treat all over again.

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, we follow the elephant child, accompanied by the flightless kolokolo bird, in search of the giant crab, who is causing floods by playing with the sea. Along the way, we meet a rhino, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, leopard, jaguar, crocodile, kangaroo and yellow dingo dog, and visit the parsee man on his island. A wise old magician acts as our narrator.

It’s amazing how these (mostly) animal characters are created through costume colour, a scarf here and a hat there, hair made to look like a mane and some stripes on the arms, in Katie Lias’ brilliant homespun design. As is customary at the Watermill, nine talented actor-musicians play all of the instruments as well as all of the characters, human or animal. It works brilliantly in the theatre’s lovely garden, animals able to spill out from the stage and roam around the audience. Abigail Pickard Price’s staging is as delightful as the story and Stiles’ catchy songs and Drewe’s witty lyrics work their magic.

An absolutely lovely afternoon, not to be missed, whatever your age!

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