Posts Tagged ‘Gielgud Theatre’

Who’d have thought a stage adaptation of a 1960 novel could seem so relevant 60 years on. There was an earlier stage version in 1990, by Christopher Sergel, which is still performed in and outside the courthouse of Monroesville Alabama each May, with a jury selected at the interval from white male audience members, just as it would have been in 1930, when the play us set. That was hugely successful at the Open Air Theatre in 2013 and 2014 (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/to-kill-a-mockingbird), but this is a new adaptation from Aaron Sorkin, better known for film and TV.

At it’s core is a courtroom drama, the case of a black man alleged to have raped a white girl. A similar real life case in the same year formed the basis of Kander & Ebb’s musical The Scottsboro Boys, co-incidentally a big success here at the same time as the OAT’s Mockingbird. The court scenes alternate with others set in the town, where we see the social background to the case, the ingrained racism and what we would now call white supremacy. This is contrasted with the goodness of a small number of liberal, kind souls including Atticus Finch, small town lawyer, widower and father of two and Judge Taylor, who persuades Atticus to defend the accused, Tom Robinson.

Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation seems to tap in to everything we’ve heard from the far right in recent years. I’m told he’s mined Breitbart, which would account for its resonance today. He’s also added balance by having Atticus’ black housekeeper Calpurnia (a passionate performance from Pamela Nomvete) challenge his blind liberal ‘there’s good in everyone’ sensibility. This takes away some of the saccharine that we Brits sometimes find hard to swallow, leaving a harder edged morality.

Atticus’ two children, Jem & Scout, and their neighbour’s visiting nephew Dill act as narrators and all three – Harry Redding, Gwyneth Keyworth & David Moorst – are terrific. Patrick O’Kane’s characterisation of Bob Ewell, who invents the crime against his daughter whilst himself guilty of abuse, is brilliantly terrifying. We don’t see Rafe Spall on stage anywhere near enough, so it’s great to see him as Atticus, tolerance personified until his shattering outbursts of indignation and rage.

Bartlett Sher’s staging and Miriam Buether’s design are in complete harmony, gently propelling the story organically through many scenes and multiple locations. A deeply satisfying evening in the theatre.

Read Full Post »

Best New Play – The Lehman Trilogy*, The Inheritance* & Sweat*

I find it impossible to choose between these three extraordinary evenings (well, afternoon and evening in the case of the The Inheritance) but they were in very good company with a dozen other new plays in contention. Also at the NT, Home, I’m Darling* and Nine Night* were great, and also at the Young Vic The Convert* became a late addition in December. At the Bush, both Misty and An Adventure impressed (though I saw the former when it transferred to Trafalgar Studios).The remaining London contenders were The Humans at Hampstead Theatre, Pressure at the Park Theatre, Things I Know To Be True at the Lyric Hammersmith and The Wipers Times at the Arts, though these last two weren’t new to London, just me. The Edinburgh Fringe added two, Class* and Ulster American*, both Irish, both at the Traverse and both heading to London, so look out for them. The eight starred are either still running or coming back in 2019, so be sure to catch them if you haven’t seen them already.

Best New Musical – Hamilton*

It opened right at the end of 2017, but I didn’t see it until January 2018 (and again in December 2018). It certainly lives up to the hype and is unquestionably ground-breaking in the same way West Side Story was sixty years before. It was a good year for new musicals, though 40% of my shortlist were out-of-town, headed by Flowers For Mrs Harris at Chichester, with Pieces of String in Colchester, Miss Littlewood in Stratford and Sting’s The Last Ship mooring briefly in Northampton. Back in London, the Young Vic continued to shine with Fun Home and Twelfth Night and the NT imported Hadestown*. Tina* proved to be in the premiere league of juke-box musicals and SIX* was a breath of fresh air at the Arts. Only four are still running, or coming back.

Best Play Revival – The York Realist and Summer and Smoke*

Another category where I can’t split the top two. The former a gem at the Donmar and the latter shining just as brightly at the Almeida. I didn’t see the Old Vic’s glorious A Christmas Carol* until January, so that was a contender too, along with The Daughter-in-Law* at the Arcola and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in the West End. Then there were four cracking Shakespeare’s – The Bridge Theatre’s promenade Julius Caesar, the RSC’s Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu visiting Hackney Empire, Ian McKellen’s King Lear transfer from Chichester, and the NT’s Anthony & Cleopatra* with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okenedo. Another four still running / coming back.

Best Musical Revival – Company*

The leanest category this year, with Marianne Elliott’s revival of Sondheim’s Company exceeding expectations; I shall be back at the last night. Chichester brought yet more joy with Me & My Girl and right at the end of the year, the Mill at Sonning came up trumps for the third year running with a great favourite of mine, Guys & Dolls* Finally, The Rink at Southwark Playhouse, the only contender this year from the usually more prolific fringe. Two to catch if you haven’t already.

Theatre of the Year – The Young Vic

Though five of my thirty-seven contenders were at the NT, The Young Vic shone even more brightly with four, all new works. Only four originated in the West End, which further emphasises how crucial the subsidised sector and the regions are. You can still see half of them, but some close soon, so get booking!

Read Full Post »

The producers, co-producers and associate producers of this show – and there’s 12 of them – deserve to lose every penny they are about to lose because they didn’t do their job. What upsets me so much about this is that it is a shocking waste of talent and seems to me to be both predictable and preventable and it will tarnish the reputation of Kneehigh and their director, Emma Rice. One week after opening to mediocre reviews, the theatre was less than a quarter full and, in the first half at least, the show fell flat on its face.

To the producers, I’d say this:

1. The Gielgud Theatre is too big for this show. Not only is it a lot of seats to sell, but if you don’t sell them there is no atmosphere. The cast will have to work very hard, they probably won’t succeed and the word-of-mouth that has given Kneehigh their success so far won’t be there – or will work in reverse.

2. Kneehigh and Emma Rice are hugely talented, but they are musical novices. They know how to fill a 250-seat studio theatre for six weeks with delightful small-scale shows at £25 a seat from a strong fan base; that’s less than 1.5 weeks at this 900-seat theatre where you’re charging twice as much. Their biggest West End show was not a musical, it was in a much smaller theatre and it benefitted from being the first of this type. Where’s the experience with musicals coming from?

3. The director is clearly smitten with the film (as you and the composer are clearly smitten with her). This is a show not a film and even though she’s got a track record in adapting films, it’s still a very different challenge to anything she’s done before. To allow her to double up as adapter and choreographer is criminal; there will be no healthy creative tension, no questioning, no challenge. If nothing else, you should have hired a musicals choreographer (or promoted your very experienced assistant choreographer).

If I’d been the producer, this is what I’d have said to Emma Rice during the Leicester try-out / London previews:

1. However inventive you are, you will never succeed with a big musical where the book, lyrics and score don’t work. This isn’t a musical theatre score.; it’s two songs, sung dialogue and some incidental music – it’s monotonous and repetitive and it won’t carry a full evening sung-through show. In opera, they’d say ‘all recitative, no arias’. Turn it into a play with music (you know how to do that) by replacing some of the singing with dialogue.

2. Nothing happens in the first half. By the interval, the audience (those that are still there ) will be so disappointed you will have to work very hard to get them back. Cut the first part by half and dump the interval and you just might get away with it.

The show’s already dead, which is sad as I really do think it could have worked. There are some great ideas (as always with Kneehigh). The ‘Maitresse’ is a great idea; her opening turns are fun if a little long and her French song is the best musical moment of the show. The sailor chorus, with their scene changing signs and bells, are a great idea. Lez Brotherston’s design is fine (oops, I’m not supposed to mention him in a blog….). The performances are fine.

This is the third Kneehigh show in as many months to disappoint. If I were Emma Rice, I’d take a sabbatical to rejuvenate my creative juices and let the phone ring out; she may damage her career forever if she doesn’t. This may all sound very arrogant –  but I suspect I’ve seen a lot more musicals than Emma Rice and invested in nine of them, so I consider it helpful and constructive – and free!

Read Full Post »