Posts Tagged ‘Josh Cohen’

It’s like a ball of energy has landed on the Old Vic stage. This is a powerhouse of a show which exceeded my expectations and brought me and the rest of the audience to our feet cheering. Who’d have thought 100-year-old history could have so much impact.

Sylvia is of course Sylvia Pankhurst, sister of suffragette leader Emmeline. After initially working together as suffragettes, together with sisters Christabel & Adela, Sylvia forms a breakaway socialist group in East London and their paths diverge. Sylvia is a friend of Keir Hardie, leader of the fledgling Labour Party, and takes a more radical stance on the same issues as her sisters.

The show covers the whole campaign period, showing the different reasons for opposition to suffrage as well as the divisions within the movement. It’s as much about class as sex, with some of the opposition voices afraid that giving the vote to women will mean doing the same for working class men. The story zips along, in private and public, in parliament and on the streets, covering much ground. With more than a nod to Hamilton, the score by Josh Cohen & DJ Walde is contemporary, hip hop and soul, and it works brilliantly.

Most of it is in black & white, but when Keir Hardie appears we get a flash of socialist red, a lot more of it when we’re with Sylvia’s breakaway group. The costumes reflect the period. Ben Stone has created a terrific look. Sometimes I worry that creative tension will suffer if someone takes multiple roles. Here, Kate Prince excels as director and choreographer but she’s also responsible for the book and lyrics and I do wonder if the show would have benefitted from some additional musical theatre experience with these.

As far as performances go, Beverley Knight is the big draw here, and she is indeed excellent, but Sharon Rose in the titular role gives a real star performance. In a superb supporting cast, it’s great to see Alex Gaumond back on stage as Keir Hardy and Jade Hackett’s terrific cameo as Lady Jennie Churchill.

A very welcome new British musical.

Read Full Post »

Was this the first show title to be followed by an exclamation mark? Did it start it all? If only it was worthy of an exclamation mark.

Jack Rosenthal wrote some terrific TV plays, including The Knowledge and The Evacuees. One of them, Spend Spend Spend, was turned into a successful musical. Another, Bar Mitzvah Boy, a less successful musical, the experience of which provides the inspiration and source material for this play, which seems to be about as successful as the musical.

I’m not quite sure why it’s so flat. It’s occasionally very funny, the design by Paul Farnsworth is good and the performances are OK. Maybe 30 years on, it just isn’t particularly original. Somehow the story of endless re-writes and backstage disagreements now seems ever so conventional and the characters now stereotypes. There’s the naive first time book writer, novice lyricist, the veteran Broadway composer, the know-all American director and the Jewish (?) producer who tries to please everyone to keep it all together. It’s two hours of endless re-writes as the show progresses from office to rehearsal room to Manchester try-out and finally to the West End. With Rosenthal’s wife Maureen Lipman originating the idea of reviving it and his daughter Amy in charge of ‘additional material’ maybe it’s just too respectful to the original?

I’ve never been fond of Tom Conti – the John Wayne of theatre, who has raised glibness to an art form – and despite the heavy accent, he again plays Tom Conti – this time in big suit and moustache…… with an accent. The West Wing’s Richard Schiff is well cast as the veteran composer, though he seemed to be going through the motions last night. Josh Cohen’s lyricist is the most likeable character and he plays him, well, likeable. Carrie Quinlan made such an impression in a tiny cameo as a waitress that she got a round of applause as she left the stage – in my experience, an honour normally reserved for ‘stars’.

A bit of a ‘so what?’ show, I’m afraid. It’s now over a year since I had a great night at the Menier Chocolate Factory – something to be concerned about given it’s at the heart of Off-West End.

Read Full Post »