Posts Tagged ‘Chris Mundy’

Well I’m pleased to report that the Union Theatre’s all-male Gilbert & Sullivan initiative still has legs. This is the fifth and it’s very well staged & performed and above all huge fun.

This was an early G&S, 135 years old, now but amongst the most popular of the ten or so still in the repertoire (there were c.15). It’s a navy setting for a satire on class and an illustration of how you could climb to the top of government without an iota of talent (nothing changes). Convention requires the captain’s daughter to marry the obsequious head of the navy rather than sailor Ralph who she loves. In true Shakespearean fashion, nothing is what it seems and it all ends happily (for some).

What struck me most about this production was the combined inventiveness of Sasha Regan’s staging, Lizzi Gee’s choreography and Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design. The action takes place aboard ship and the sailor’s quarters are created with a few metal bunks and the ship’s deck with a rope. The boys become girls with lifejackets transforming into costumes, a net used as a shawl and a shirt collar a headdress. The space is used brilliantly, with characters popping up all over the place (I jumped as one started singing behind me!).

The musical standards, under MD Chris Mundy on the piano, are as ever high, with diction particularly clear (important, given the story is told almost entirely in songs, which themselves contain so much wit) and the switches from low to high registers virtually seamless. This is a new crop of G&S boys and impressive they are too, with a handful of professional and London debuts.

The Union may have peaked with Patience, but this is fresh and clever and fully justifies the continuation of the five year project.

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I’ve waited over 21 years for a revival of this show, which was a critical success but a commercial flop in the West End in 1989, but Michael Strassen’s production at the Union Theatre was worth the wait. This bumper year of small-scale musical revivals and of the Union Theatre’s pre-eminence continues.

Stephen (Godspell) Schwartz’s show is based on the Marcel Pagnol / Jean Giono film La Femme du Boulanger and it’s the best score he wrote. Here it’s beautifully sung, unamplified, with just piano and cello (and occasional acoustic guitar) under MD Chris Mundy. It so suits the story – delightful, funny, charming & wistful.

A French village is incomplete without its baker (I think there is still a law in France that actually prevents this) and this village has been without one for seven weeks, so withdrawal symptoms are rampant and the inhabitants seriously over-excited when the new baker arrives with his beautiful new young wife. It doesn’t take long before a dashing young man whisks her away and the baker is distraught and unable to  bake. Of course, it all ends happily ever after. It is indeed a slight tale, but frankly it doesn’t really matter.

Michael Matus brilliantly captures the lovestruck naivety of the baker (appropriately named Aimable) and Lisa Stokke the struggle between loyalty and temptation. Matthew Goodgame is as dashing as you’d wish for a lover and there is a terrific partnership from Ian Mowat and Ricky Butt as the bickering cafe owner and his wife and a fine Marquis / Mayor (with three ‘nieces’ in tow!) from Mark Turnbull. There isn’t a weak link in the ensemble; a superb supporting cast of twelve.

Though I didn’t really like the painted backdrop, which seemed to me more Munch’s The Scream than the presumably intended Chagall, there is an authentic French village feel created by a handful of props and good costumes but more than anything else by good, somewhat tongue-in-cheek acting. I loved the opening in French, before the cafe owner’s wife as narrator is reminded where she is – it lasted just long enough for panic to set in with some audience members! The staging is excellent – with particularly fluid ensemble movement.

Yet another fine production at the Union. Next stop Texas for The Best Little Whorehouse!

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You might think the all-male Gilbert & Sullivan idea might run out of steam after a wonderful Mikado and terrific Pirate of Penzance, but no they’ve come up with another treat with Iolanthe.

In truth, the starting point – book, lyrics and music – aren’t as good, though the silly scenario – fairies meet peers! – thoroughly suits the concept and the frequent references to Tories and Liberals, though not directly referencing coalition, added a delicious contemporary twist. Stewart Charlesworth’s low-budget design ideas are superb – the fairies are dressed in assorted underwear with home-made wings and individual touches like shuttlecocks in the hair and the peers are in dressing gowns with assorted headgear and individual touches like ties. Each group seems to move as if a pack of cute animals sticking together in Mark Smith’s excellent choreography.

I’m not going to single out individual performances as this really is an ensemble piece. Quite how you find 16 men who can sing both falsetto and tenor / baritone is beyond me, but suffice to say the standard of singing is outstanding, five of them ‘with form’ in one or both of the previous two all-male G&S’s. Chris Mundy heroically plays the entire score on an upright piano, adding to the thrown together feel of the whole production.

I’m not sure I got the  point of the business with torches during the overture, it is a bit slow to get going & the first half is a bit long and I felt the campness was pushed just a little too far, but it’s still an irresistible cocktail and a whole lot of fun. Another triumph for director Sasha Regan and another feather in the Union’s now feather-heavy cap!

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