Posts Tagged ‘Christine Jones’

I’m sure no-one is interested in my view, fifteen months after the show opened, but I shall record it nonetheless. What could have been cashing in on, or spinning out, a franchise is nothing like it. Though it is clearly a license to print money, its also some of the best storytelling and stagecraft I’ve ever seen. From page to screen to stage, Harry Potter proves to be the most enduring phenomenon.

Let’s start with the writing. J K Rowling, director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne’s story begins nineteen years later, when school friends Harry, Hermione and Ron are married and parents themselves. This is an inspired idea, though it is the same as the epilogues of both the final book and final film, so Rowling may already have had the idea, if not the form. It enables us to return to Hogwarts with the next generation and to see the development of the generation we’ve grown up with, with flashbacks to their time in school, and even further. It’s densely plotted but completely lucid. Brilliant storytelling, just like the books.

Tiffany’s staging is fast-paced, with beautiful movement by regular collaborator Steven Hoggett, and it flows like a dream. Jamie Harrison’s special effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen on stage; to say more about them would be a spoiler. Christine Jones’ design manages to make us believe we’re in Kings Cross Station or Hogwarts’ Great Hall, but also smaller spaces like offices and libraries, even under the stairs at the Dursley’s. It’s brilliantly lit by Neil Austin, crucial to many of the illusions, and Imogen Heap provides a suitably atmospheric soundtrack.

This is the second cast, but they all seemed top notch to me, with Jamie Glover even looking like Jamie Parker! The trio of friends have grown up as you would expect – serious Harry (Glover), earnest Hermione (Rakie Ayola) and joker Ron (Thomas Aldridge) – all excellent, but I particularly liked Aldridge’s characterisation of Ron. In the next generation, Samuel Blenkin is terrific as young Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco and a Hogwarts contemporary of Harry’s son Albus (Theo Ancient – very good). In what must be the biggest ever company for a West End play (38!), David Annen and Elizabeth Hill make excellent contributions in their multiple roles, Annabel Baldwin shines in her transformation and April Hughes gives a lovely cameo as Moaning Myrtle.

Late I may be, but terrific to report that it’s such a welcome and high quality addition to the London stage, about to become an export success too.

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I think the first Burt Bacharach song I heard was Anyone Who Had A Heart, in the version by Cilla Black (My first crush and I wasn’t even a teenager. Just). More than 30 years later I was still listening to his songs, this time in a superb collaboration with new musical hero Elvis Costello. More than 15 years on again this glorious homage opens with that first song, just days after we lost Cilla, so it was a bittersweet but beautiful opening to a faultless show, with the penultimate song Alfie, from which the show’s title is taken, also forever linked with Cilla. I absolutely adored it.

Over the course of ninety minutes we get around 30 songs – complete ones, medleys, mash-ups, individual song lines and melodies weaving in and out, and there isn’t a dud amongst them. They’ve been arranged in a variety of different styles including rock, regaee & blues, as solos, ensemble pieces and various combinations of the seven performers. It’s captivating. A veritable musical feast.

The Menier stage seems huge. It’s covered in a patchwork of carpet, littered with standard lamps and table lamps. There’s sofa and easy chair seating at several levels at the sides and sofas elevated at the back, with musical instruments hanging between. There are even two revolves! I smiled when I first saw Christine Jones & Brett J Banakis design and it brought a great intimacy and cosiness to the evening.

Steven Hoggett’s staging and movement is inspired. It makes the evening flow as one. Every movement is carefully choreographed, yet it seems completely natural, as if the lyrics propel the movement. There is a moment where the change of a guitar becomes an embrace which continues as a dance as the song is sung. It’s hard to describe such an intuitive and organic show except to say it’s as beautiful to watch as it is to hear.

Four of the US cast have been joined by three British / Irish newbies and they’re all brilliant. Not only has he conceived the show and arranged the music, Kyle Riabko is MD, multi-instrumentalist and lead singer. He must have performed this more than a hundred times but it felt like he was doing it for the first time. A towering performance of his own inspired arrangements.

This was one of the most perfect evenings I have ever spent in the theatre and when we got outside we were greeted by the cast busking a ukulele version of Raindrops Keep Falling On Your Head; a lovely way to send us home. Don’t even think about missing this.

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Teenage vampire love stories aren’t exactly one of my genres. I haven’t read the book and I didn’t see the film, but I was hugely impressed by this stage adaptation by Jack Thorne for the ever enterprising National Theatre of Scotland, now at the Royal Court en route to bigger audiences I understand.

The stage is a snow-covered forest where ghastly murders are committed; an excellent design by Christine Jones. Other scenes are played out with a few props in front of it, most involving teenager Oskar, who’s mum & dad are separated and he’s being bullied. He befriends mysterious neighbour Eli who never goes to school and friendship becomes romance (of a fashion). Oskar starts to fight back, which brings the wrath of one of his bullies elder brother which in turn brings the wrath of Eli on the bullies.

It’s a superbly atmospheric production with a terrific soundtrack by Olafur Arnalds and stylised movement by Steven Hoggett and great special effects by Jeremy Chernick. John Tiffany’s staging really is masterly and it grips throughout. I jumped out of my seat once and had to turn away a few times. Martin Quinn, in his professional stage debut, is superb, as is Rebecca Benson as Eli. In the rest of a very good cast, Ewan Stewart is a menacing Hakan, Eli’s dad, and Graeme Dalling utterly convincing as bully Jonny.

This is a brilliant show to introduce teenagers to theatre and this ageing teenager thoroughly enjoyed it too.

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