Posts Tagged ‘Joe Alessi’

Well I’ve never had a goodie bag on my theatre seat before…..or wore a party hat…..or played bingo and participated in a raffle…..or played along with a tin mug and wooden spoon…..or been brought a nice cup of tea to my seat….. or laughed as much as I did on Friday……

James Graham’s brilliant idea for his biographical play about Screaming Lord Sutch is to play each scene as a comic routine (Pete & Dud, Morecombe & Wise, Tommy Cooper….) or a sit-com (Steptoe & Son, ‘Allo! ‘Allo!, Hi-de-Hi!….) or a sketch show (TW3, The Frost Report, Monty Python…..) or a comedy film franchise (Confessions of…..Carry On…..) from British culture, and the idea, and the staging by Simon Stokes, is inspired. It so suits the subject matter, one of Britain’s greatest eccentrics, but it also manages to get under the skin of its subject, his loneliness and his tragic demise.

We’re at a party in a social club in his home town of Harrow and we follow his story from teenage years through to his premature death, 41 general elections / bi-elections later, from his first party-less one in Stratford after the Profumo affair in 1963 through contests with Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher to his final stand in 1997, now leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party. In addition to his political life, it covers both his performing career and personal life.

He captured the heart of the nation because he sent up politicians and the political system as it so often deserves. Oh I so wish he was still with us to inject some of this into the current horrendous, scary referendum. A character like Sutch could only exist in the Britain of the last forty years of the 20th century, not before, not after, not anywhere else, and we’re a poorer country without him.

The superbly talented cast of six – Samuel James (Sutch), Joe Alessi, Joanna Brookes, Jack Brown, Vivienne Achaempong and musician Tom Attwood – play him, politicians and returning officers and people in his personal life, as well as a multitude of characters from just about every classic British comic creation over a forty year period. I’m not sure how they keep it all together, with some uncanny impersonations and an anarchic quality that sweeps you up in warmth and nostalgia. I was having the time of my life.

I cannot recommend this lovely show enough in its final week at Soho Theatre. Completely unmissable.




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A thrilling production of a world première of a stage adaptation of a 1951 unproduced Arthur Miller screenplay at the lovely Royal Theatre in Northampton. Wow!

Miller took the screenplay to Hollywood with his girlfriend Marilyn Monroe and friend / collaborator director Elia Kazan, who shortly after named him to McCarthy and lost his friendship for good (he also went on to make his own film about longshoremen – On the Waterfront). Miller was faced with demands for radical changes which would make the dockers less sympathetic and whitewash the employers and the union hierarchy, something he would not do. Even the FBI became involved because they thought it might lead to social unrest, and in one of those deeply ironic ‘life imitates art’ moments, the unions said that if it was made they would stop every projectionist in America from showing it!

We’re back in A View from the Bridge territory, with the longshoremen of Red Hook, New York (Miller’s birthplace) but a very different story, inspired by real life events. The dockers are mostly US born rather than illegal immigrants, but they’re still exploited. The corrupt union president is in cahoots with their employers and the Mafia, taking enough of a cut for unheard of 50’s luxuries like holidays in Florida. After the accidental death of colleague Barney under pressure to work faster, Marty Ferrera leads a revolt, only to be faced with an assassination attempt, rigged ballots and even the fears of reprisals felt by his colleagues and supporters. It’s a series of short, fast-moving scenes which makes it feel like a screenplay and it soon grabs you and has you on the edge of your seat. Playwright Ron Hutchison, now virtually lost to film & TV in the US, has created a gripping drama.

James Dacre’s production is stunning, with a brilliant set by Patrick Connellan, terrific video by Nina Dunn, atmospheric lighting from Charles Balfour and a superb soundtrack by Isobel Waller-Bridge that combine to create an evocative picture of both the location and period. Jamie Sives conveys the determination, commitment and passion of Marty wonderfully. Joseph Alessi is excellent as defiant union president Louis, determined not to lose his grip on power and to stay on his gravy train. Susie Trayling plays Marty’s wife, supportive but fearful, with great sensitivity and feeling. The other eight members of this great ensemble are supplemented by fifteen from the community who make the big scenes like dockside gatherings and union meetings tense and gripping.

This was such a treat for a Miller fan like me and it was great to see so many of the matinee audience give it a standing ovation (unheard of in my experience of regional theatre). If only Miller had lived to see his work come alive like this over sixty years on, in his centenary year, resonating still in a world of zero hour contracts and corporate corruption.

One more week, then Liverpool. Not to be missed.


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A theatre space under the railway arches proved to be a cool place to spend a couple of hours on a sweltering Saturday afternoon and with a cracking Sondheim production thrilling as well as cool.

I’d forgotten this was coming up at the lovely Union Theatre when I booked to see the same show at the Royal Academy of Music less than two weeks ago, so I decided to give it a miss. Then those West End Whingers positively raved so I just had to go! VERY GOOD DECISION.

Sondheim links nine assassinations / attempted assassinations and explores their motivation in a tragi-comic show which had its UK premiere at the Donmar Warehouse in 1992 and I think I’ve seen every London production since. It’s difficult to get the right tone but his one is absolutely spot on. You often feel you’re peering into these people’s souls and feeling their pain. The close proximity of such a small venue (and in my case the front row) helps, but it’s the brilliant acting and singing which really makes this stand out.

Director Michael Strassen has done a remarkable job putting together a cast this good. Glyn Kerslake has huge presence as John Wilkes Booth. Nick Holder’s two monologues as Samuel Byck are riveting. John Barr’s Guiteau has an extraordinary manic quality. Joe Alessi is a passionate Zangara, Adam Jarrell a vulnerable Czolgosz and Paul Callen a nerdy Hinckley who really spooks you when he demonstrates his knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald. I’ve never seen Sarah Jane Moore played as well as Leigh McDonald does here and the crucial chemistry between her and Alison Lardner’s Fromme was  perfect. Nolan Frederick’s lovely bass-barritone voice and stage presence elevates The Balladeer from a narrator to centre stage.

It’s a terrific idea to have the chorus as a modern-day presidential guard – men(and women)-in-black with shades and earpieces – that start their duties as you’re waiting to enter. The small band play the score beautifully with a restraint which allows the actors to  make the most of the songs and in particular the insightful lyrics.

Michael Strassen’s ‘Company’ at the same venue achieved the same as this does – allowing the characters, story and music to shine through, but on this occasion digging into the psychology of these people in a way I’ve never seen before.

An absolute triumph which may well turn out to be the highlight of Mr Sondheim’s 80th.

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