Posts Tagged ‘Gregor Donnelly’

Given the pedigree of its creators (music by Annie’s Charles Strouse, lyrics by Godspell’s Stephen Schwartz and book by Fiddler on the Roof’s Joseph Stein) this musical had a troubled life, surviving only three nights after its Broadway opening. Though there have been excellent drama school productions (I saw it at both GSMD & RAM in recent years), Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre gave it its UK professional premiere, in a revised version with a book by David Thompson, last year, and have now brought it to London, substantially recast.

It’s the story of the American immigrant experience, in this case Jewish refugees fleeing the East European pogroms at the beginning of the 20th Century. Rebecca and Bella meet and bond on a  ship bound for New York. Rebecca and her ten-year-old son David are seeking a new life, Bella is joining her widowed father, who emigrated two years earlier to join his brother. Rebecca is unable to pay her entrance fee on arrival, so Bella persuades her father to vouch for her, then her uncle to house and employ her. From there, their lives are intertwined as they navigate sweat shop exploitation and anti-semitism and get caught up in labour disputes. Rebecca chooses the wrong man whilst Bella chooses a good one.

Bronagh Lagan’s production flows beautifully on a set by Gregor Donnelly defined by suitcases, like the 2016 RAM production, and lines of washing, with excellent costumes underlining the heritage and period. In an ensemble packed with fine performances, Carolyn Maitland shines as Rebecca, with beautiful vocals, passionately delivered. Dave Willetts is on fine form as Avram, Bella’s father, Alex Gibson-Giorgio is excellent as Italian union man Sal, and there’s a terrific performance from a boy actor as David. Two ‘Americans’, played as vaudevillians, pop up regularly to illustrate the ‘welcome’ these immigrants receive and. a four-piece Klezmer band do likewise to emphasise the Jewish roots.

This is the second Hope Mill / Aria Entertainment production I’ve seen in four days. Their march for domination of regional and touring musical theatre continues with five more productions between them in the first half of 2020. Long may it continue.

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The Old Red Lion Theatre had a huge success the same time last year with the world premiere of Arthur Miller’s first play No Villain, which transferred to the West End. Within minutes of it starting, you knew it was Miller. This J B Priestly piece was his second novel in 1928, then filmed by James Whale in 1932, but this is its world premiere on stage, and its an adaptation. Unlike the Miller, you wouldn’t really know it was Priestly if you hadn’t been told. If only it was a fraction as good as the Miller, though in all fairness the genre isn’t my favourite, even though Priestly is a favourite playwright.

The Waverton’s and their friend Roger get lost driving through the borders of Wales at night in a dreadful storm and take shelter in a scary mansion occupied by the equally scary Femm family. William and Gladys then arrive, but they aren’t a couple, which we soon discover when Gladys takes a shine to Roger. In addition to the Femm family, the mansion houses the even more scary butler Morgan. It’s more about the comic gothic horror than it is the story. There’s a lot of short scenes with people forever going in and out of doors and I’m afraid I found it irritating and inconsequential. It didn’t really go anywhere, but as I said, it isn’t my genre.

They make great use of the small space with an excellent design by Gregor Donnelly and staging by Stephen Whitson. There’s great sound and lighting. The acting is all very tongue-in-cheek. I appreciate that the novel / film was to some extent the first of its type and an influence for later things like The Rocky Horror Show, but I just couldn’t understand why Duncan Gates bothered to adapt it for the stage, though it has brought in the Priestly fans (including me!), it’s selling out, and the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy it a lot more. So lets just say ‘not for me’ and don’t let me put you off.

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Into the Woods is a challenge for any theatre company, even more so for a fringe company with limited resources and often less experienced performers. So well done Rose & Crown for having the balls – just before the film will hit our screens too.

Sondheim weaves a number of fairytales into one narrative – well known ones like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack & the Beanstalk and less well known ones like Rapunzel and The Baker’s Wife. In order to break the spell that has left his wife barren, the baker has to find a red cloak, yellow hair, white cow and gold slipper, which of course are all available from the other characters, at a price. They get on the wrong side of the giantess after Jack climbs the beanstalk and steals stuff, which means they have to work to rescue the situation – those that remain, anyway. What starts with a light touch gets ever so dark and it ends as a morality tail. It’s a masterpiece of musical theatre.

With what is clearly a shoestring budget, designer Gregor Donnelly has created a surprisingly large playing space in this room above a pub that looks like a children’s adventure playground. It’s amazing what you can do with some pallets, a few ladders, camouflage netting, hessian sacks and a whole load of wood chips. The narrator seems to be a workman and Jack and his mum have become very chavvy. I liked the way Tim McArthur’s staging used this space, even though a far side view wasn’t ideal, with particularly quick and surprising entrances.  Aaron Clingham’s five-piece piano – strings – woodwind ensemble played the score beautifully. The choruses sounded great, but the solo vocals were variable and some of the intricate ensemble pieces were a touch ragged. I missed some of the lyrics because the balance wasn’t ideal from my position near the band – but ideal to hear the quality of the playing.

The show overran significantly – just under three hours – which in a hot space with not particularly comfortable seating didn’t help, but it’s an ambitious undertaking and they just about pulled it off. Whatever I think, the full house roared their approval and they clearly have a well-earned hit on their hands.

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