Posts Tagged ‘Ambassadors Theatre’

Rob Madge had appeared in leading West End roles in Mary Poppins, Oliver, Les Miserables and Matilda whilst still a child, but his love of performing goes way back further, with performances in the home as well as Stagecoach lessons. His most iconic home-made show was a Disney parade of characters for his grandma, with his parents as supporting cast and stage management, but it was a bit of a shambles.

Aged 24 he decided to restage it inside a biographical show. It started out at the Turbine Theatre in 2021, went to the Edinburgh fringe in 2022 and is just starting its second West End outing. Much of his childhood was filmed by his devoted father, so the story is interspersed with actual footage. Young Rob is extraordinarily precocious, hilarious, but also a control freak, and you can’t help falling in love with his wonderfully supportive family.

The lovely home life is contrasted with more of a struggle outside the home, with other children’s intolerance and bullying, but the combination of talent, defiance, determination and support is powerful and one of the great delights of the show is how heart-warming and life-affirming it is. There were very moving moments, but they combine with the humour to create something that is an absolute joy.

Pippa Cleary has written some lovely original songs, Ryan Dawson Laight’s design, with a video screen as it’s backdrop, is a homespun delight and Luke Sheppard’s staging has a lightness of touch in keeping with the story. It’s only just over an hour, but it’s a glorious hour. Don’t miss it.

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I managed to overcome my aversion to solo shows again, pleased I did, now wondering if I’ve banished it for good. Liz Kingsman’s One Woman Show is clever, funny and hugely entertaining.

We’re about to see the show Wildfowl when we’re informed it is being filmed so that an important producer who can’t make it, any performance of it, can see it, so outwith the One Woman Show we meet others like a technician and stage manager, with other voices off.

The protagonist is a twenty-something living in London, working for a wildlife charity, doing what you’d expect a twenty-something to do around town. Bars, internet dating, dining, wearing your flatmates clothes and living their life as well as your own. The tropes, stereotypes, emotional traumas, dependancy on social media, social gafs, it’s all there.

It’s a parody of the one woman show as a genre (think Fleabag) which is the third level. The filming is an attempt to pick up a big shot producer to take it big-time. So we have the promotion of the show which is a parody of the genre. Simply brilliant, beautifully written and expertly performed, by a twenty-something like the protagonist of Wildfowl.

The audience were clearly captivated, the smile never left my face, I laughed out loud much of the time and I left the theatre in sheer admiration of the skill of Liz Kingsman. I doubt she would offend anyone who has preceded her with a one woman show as it’s more affectionate homage and gentle satire than vicious put-down.

A delightful 75 minutes.

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I’m not sure why I initially decided not to see this. Much of the hype revolved around Stranger Things actor David Harbour, and I’ve never seen that show. Bill Pullman had impressed me in All My Sons at the Old Vic, but that didn’t clinch it, neither did the positive reviews. Then I had a change of heart in its penultimate week with free evenings to fill, and I’m lucky I did. Late to the party, but I got there before it ended.

It’s a very dark comedy about madness and death. 70-year-old Daniel has emphysema. His son Michael has been looking after him since his own discharge from an ‘asylum’ after his mother had died of cancer. Struggling to cope, hospice nurse Lillian is appointed. She has to put up with cantankerous Daniel and needy Michael, but does so with skill and empathy. Then successful brother Nedward arrives to try and sort out Daniel’s financial affairs, closely followed by obnoxious sister Pam, determined to get more than her fair share, even if it means shafting Michael. Neither sibling have been near until now, so Michael is very much the put upon brother.

Lots of family history is revealed, and plenty of skeletons come out of cupboards. Michael’s ongoing mental health is questioned. He learns some of what happened whilst he was in hospital. Litigious Pam turns against Lillian as well as Michael. Nedward tries to keep the peace. Daniel stirs things up, for his own entertainment it seems. When Daniel dies, Michael leaves, at last, liberated, leaving what’s left of his dysfunctional family behind.

Theresa Rebeck’s piece is well written and well structured, new facts continuously emerging to illuminate the family history, with excellent characterisation. Bill Pullman is sensationally good as Daniel, with a wicked glint in his eye virtually the whole time. Michael is a real emotional roller-coaster of a role and David Harbour is passionate bringing this larger-than-life character alive. Lillian is the only truly likeable character and Akiya Henry conveys her caring nature, investing her with bucketloads of empathy. Pam is a monster who you hate from the moment she arrives, a tribute to Sinead Matthews. It’s a while since I saw Stephen Wight on stage and it’s good to be reminded of his talent for understated charm. Here, he develops warmth as his sympathy with his brother grows.

The Ambassadors Theatre is a small enough venue to give the play the intimacy it requires. Frankie Bradshaw’s uber-realistic set surprises us by moving outside as the story unfolds. Director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel’s staging brings this all together to deliver the drama and humour in equal measure.

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I really enjoyed this play by South African actor and playwright John Kani, who also plays one of the two roles. He has lived in South Africa throughout the apartheid period and the twenty-five years since. His fellow actor Antony Sher was born in South Africa and lived there for twenty years during apartheid, and is now a great Shakespearean actor of similar age as his character. There can be no better pairing to tell this story.

Lunga Kunene is a nurse. He has switched from working in hospitals to providing live-in twenty-four hour care in the Johannesburg homes of seriously ill patients. His latest is Shakespearean actor Jack Morris, with stage four liver cancer. Despite his condition, Jack is rehearsing his lines to play King Lear in Cape Town later in the year. He has a long-standing drink problem and despite his condition continues to drink, with bottles stashed everywhere.

The one thing they have in common is a love of Shakespeare, Lunga since he learnt Julius Caesar in his native language in school, Jack having made a career playing his roles. Jack’s behaviour towards Lunga is disgraceful, indicative of the worst white attitudes during apartheid. Lunga fights back and tries to get Jack to understand apartheid from his perspective. They discuss their disappointment at the post-apartheid period.

Their very personal stories perfectly illustrate what apartheid did to a nation and how long it will take to heal. Though it covers serious issues, there is a lot of humour, but its also sometimes shocking, with the audience gasping, and at other times deeply moving. It’s a play of great humanity and I was captivated by it. Kani and Sher are both brilliant in their respective roles, the former assertive and dignified, the latter angry and troubled.

Great to see this co-production between Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre and the RSC in the West End, and to see these fine actors together again.

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