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Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Rowe’

I have to confess I knew nothing about Tammy Faye before I saw the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye nine months ago. Though I was well aware of American TV evangelists, I’d paid little attention to individual players. As much as I enjoyed the film, this new musical seems to have much more biographical depth and detail. It’s also huge fun.

It’s not the first musical about her; there were two in quick succession in 2006-7, soon after her death, but this one has a dream team – book by James Graham, one of our greatest contemporary playwrights, music by Elton John no less, lyrics by the Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, directed by theatrical magician Rupert Goold – and it’s terrific.

We start when Tammy is diagnosed with cancer, before we flash back to see the meteoric rise of the ‘mission’ of her and her husband Jim Bakker. They start with a touring Christian puppet show before they persuade media mogul Ted Turner to give them not just a programme but an entire satellite channel. After a rocky start, they become a radical and hugely successful force in TV evangelism, even setting up a Christian theme park. Their more conservative colleagues, busy ingratiating themselves with Reagan’s new right, decide to take control and as the first act ends, the fall begins.

After the brash exuberance of the first half, there is a change of tone as Bakker’s infidelities are exposed, fraud uncovered and the old guard conspire to hijack and take control of their empire. Graham handles this change brilliantly, toning down the manic pace and introducing a pathos in line with Tammy’s sympathetic character development, surrounded by all these devious, sexist, hypocritical men, perhaps the only christian (with a small c) amongst them.

Elton John knows how to write a catchy tune and the show is jam packed with them, with an Americana feel through its gospel and C&W references. Shears sharp lyrics compliment Graham’s book and do more to add colour and propel the story than lyrics do in most musicals. The book is a very comprehensive telling of her story, and it’s also extremely funny. I particularly liked the idea of a triumvirate of global Christian leaders – The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Mormon church – discussing and commenting on the rise of the TV evangelicals.

Katie Brayben is simply sensational as Tammy, navigating the emotional roller-coaster of her life, with solid characterisation, superb comic timing and brilliant vocals. Andrew Rannells’ Jim has a hapless quality and faux sincerity, as if things happen to him rather than made to happen by him, a great interpretation. It’s an extraordinarily accomplished cast, most of whom play more than one role, often in delicious combinations. Peter Caulfield as Billy Graham becomes porn baron Larry Flynt, Pontius Pilate and a judge. Nicholas Rowe as Ted Turner, TV evangelist Pat Robertson and The Pope! Steve John Shepherd plays evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Ronald Reagan. Zubin Varla is excellent as Jerry Falwell, the stern, conservative architect of the Bakker’s demise, a dramatic contrast to those around him.

Designer Bunny Christie channels the TV show Celebrity Squares (and Zoom meetings) with a versatile wall of 25 cubes in which people appear and on which things are projected, brilliantly lit by Neil Austin. Katrina Lindsay’s costumes are period perfect and for once a huge shout out to the wigs and make-up teams whose work is spectacular. Rupert Goold’s production is packed with inventiveness, complimented by Lynne Page’s terrific choreography. The show oozes quality in every department; the first act in particular takes your breath away.

New musicals come along rarely, British ones even more rarely, shows this good once in a blue moon. A huge treat.

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The first of two Mike Bartlett plays in seven days, and the seventh in five years – you can’t say he isn’t prolific. What I like most about his work is that each piece is so very different. You identify them by their quality and imagination rather than their style. This one, ‘a future history play’, is like none of the others, except that’s imaginative and very very good.

Charles has at last succeeded to the throne and within days he’s started interfering in government. He provokes a constitutional crisis, divides the country and his family and in no time unleashes a series of events which have profound personal, constitutional and political impact. Somewhat ironically, it’s a privacy bill that triggers his involvement, just before his family is on the receiving end of things the bill was trying to prevent.

It’s quite a cerebral and weighty play, but staged with a lightness of touch that ensures its always entertaining as well as thought-provoking. Charles does have form, which means it’s in no way implausible and though the debate is often funny, it is underneath rather profound. I found myself drawn in quickly and gripped throughout.

It’s not a typical Rupert Goold production; the staging is much simpler, relying on the writing and the characterisations more than inventive staging, but it is very effective. Tom Scutt’s design is dominated by a large dais, surrounded by parquet flooring throughout the auditorium and a huge semi-circular panel of fading faces suggesting history, heritage and tradition. Actors enter from all sides and through the auditorium, which provides for grand entrances in keeping with grand people and grand occasions.

Tim Pigott-Smith is terrific as Charles, capturing the essence of the man rather than giving us an impersonation. Oliver Chris and Richard Goulding are very good as contrasting princes, with just enough caricature to provoke smiles but not so much that they become joke characters. Camilla and Kate are presented as power behind the throne and Margot Leicester & Lydia Wilson provide excellent characterisations. The PM and leader of the opposition are called Mr Evans (Labour) and Mr Stevens (Conservative) respectively and Adam James & Nicholas Rowe seem to emphasise the similarities we see in our politicians these days.

This may prove to be prophetic, but for now it’s fascinating and entertaining speculative ‘future history’ and certainly a candidate for 2014’s best new play. Catch it if you can.

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I gasped as I read in the programme that it was 20 years since this was first produced at the NT. I suppose the need for a cast of 24 and a mighty fine actor to play George III must be the reasons for a lack of revivals, so well done Theatre Royal Bath, who originated this production, for the opportunity.

I have to confess it isn’t the masterpiece I remembered, but it’s still a good play. Alan Bennett tells the story of a period of madness for the king, during which he gets a whole series of excruciating but conflicting treatments from four doctors (who in reality don’t have a clue) and Tory PM William Pitt almost loses office to Whig Charles Fox (with the support of playwright turned MP Sheridan!) whilst the playboy Prince of Wales almost becomes Prince Regent.

It’s a fascinating study of madness, royalty and politics – darker, more disturbing but less funny than I remember. The second act is better than the first, which is slower and a little uneven, but there are some brilliant moments to savour in Christopher Luscombe’s production. With so many scene changes it’s a design challenge, but Janet Bird has captured the period and the regal (though I think the walls with empty picture frames are a mistake).

David Haig is terrific as George III and is in my view the real reason for seeing this revival. His transition from pompous but lovable to manic & disturbed and back again is a tour de force which is always captivating and occasionally thrilling. Perhaps because the character and performance of the King are so dominant, the rest of the ensemble make less impact and few stand out. I did like Christopher Keegan’s Prince of Wales, though it is a touch too much caricature, and Nicholas Rowe’s Pitt.

Haig’s performance will be a highlight of 2012, which is a good enough reason to go, so do!

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