Posts Tagged ‘Peter Darling’

When I heard they were going to adapt the film as a musical, I was baffled. How? As it turns out, it’s rather brilliant; bettering the film in so many ways. One of those rare occasions where book, music, lyrics, staging, choreography, design and performance come together to create something very special indeed.

In case you don’t know, it’s the story of sarcastic, arrogant TV weatherman Phil Connors, who visits Punxsutawney PA with novice producer Rita and cameraman Larry to film a live report on Groundhog Day, an annual event when his namesake Phil the groundhog emerges from his winter home. If he can see his shadow they’re in for six more weeks bad weather, if he can’t, its an early spring. What I hadn’t known is that Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney actually exist! They get stuck after a blizzard closes all roads, so Connors is forced to spend a second night in his B&B. When he wakes up next morning, it’s Groundhog Day again, and again, ad infinitum. At first he’s confused, then scared. A hedonistic period is followed by a period of depression and finally he realises he can actually use it to do good.

Daniel Rubin has adapted his own screenplay which, with Tim Minchin’s lyrics, becomes one of the funniest musical comedies I’ve ever seen. Minchin’s songs fit like a glove, whether rousing choruses or gentle ballads. Matthew Warchus’ staging is terrific, flowing along, as light as air, with a lot of help from Peter Darling’s choreography, which is more organic movement than dance numbers. Rob Howell’s design flows too, with technology taking second place to settings created by the performers. Everything just works so well together, with a palpable sense of real teamwork. 

Though it’s his UK stage debut, Andy Karl has bags of musical theatre experience, which shows in his command of both the stage and the material in a brilliant performance in absolutely every respect. Carlyss Peer is excellent as Rita in what appears to be her musical theatre debut! The second act bravely starts with a ballad, which Georgina Hagen as Nancy sings beautifully. You probably wouldn’t recognise many of the names or faces in the rest of this superb ensemble of twenty-one, but as the programme notes testify, it’s one of the most experienced and it shows.

It’s a ridiculously short two-month run (half of which was previews) and rumour has it it’s heading for Broadway before the West End, so it may be a while before you can see it (and for me to see it again).

A huge treat.

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Well, there’s no sitting on the fence here. This latest DV8 piece has a lot to say. London Road set verbatim theatre to music; this one applies it to physical theatre, and gives it an even more documentary feel by the use of video and sound footage. It presents us with our attitudinal evolution, over 25 years, from tolerance through multiculturalism to submission to minority views imported to the west. Now here we are in 2012, in the UK, with 85 Sharia Councils operating a parallel legal system that discriminates against women.

Like London Road, you do wonder why we need music or movement to present such material, yet if you abandon rational reasoning, it does somehow add something. In this case, the cast of ten bounce, gyrate, nod and move in all sorts of ways in every combination as they speak the words of the interviewees (hardly ever seeming out of breath, though occasionally inaudible). It speaks chronologically from sacked Bradford head teacher Ray Honeyford in 1985 to the present day, though Rushdie, Danish cartoons and Dutch films taking in arranged marriage and honour killings en route. It’s presented compellingly and brought all sort of negative emotions to the surface – anger, rage, disgust, contempt….

There is little balance in the show, but as there has been little balance in the public debate, it seems to me perfectly legitimate to ‘talk about this’ as the title suggests. The truth is they are saying what the vast majority of people are thinking but reluctant to say for fear of seeming racist or afraid to say for fear of much worse. I’ve visited 17 muslim countries and have respected every custom and every law on every occasion, yet the opposite happens regularly when I’m at home. Talking about it is, in my book, necessary, welcome and long overdue.

It’s been fascinating to watch DV8 evolve, also over 25 years, from contemporary dance to category-defying groundbreaking work like this. Along the way, people like Nigel Charnock, Russell Maliphant, Wendy Houstoun and choreographer Peter Darling have graced their stages. Lloyd Newson has been there all along and now provides us with a very important work on a national and international stage. You might not enjoy it, you might not like it, but you have to go.

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Walking through the foyers to your seats at the Cambridge Theatre is great fun as they’ve covered the walls with mini blackboards, each with a different chalked comment. When we got to our seats, in pole position in the front row of the Dress Circle, our mouthes fell open – Rob Howell’s extraordinary design spilled out from the stage onto the auditorium walls and ceiling.

Sadly, when the show started the sound was so bad we were missing a good quarter of the dialogue and lyrics (the developing cacophony of crisp & sweet rusting and malteser rolling increased that to 33%). What followed was brilliantly performed and executed (well, apart from the 15 minute pause to solve a technical problem – and I’m not entirely convinced it re-started at the exact point it stopped), but I didn’t think the book, music or lyrics were really that good. Has everyone been seduced by the spectacle and the hugely talented kids? 

I don’t know which Matilda we had, but she was brilliant. Bertie Carvel’s Miss Trunchbull is a wonderful creation, and Paul Kaye and Josie Walker as the parents are excellent. Matthew Warchus’ staging and Peter Darling’s choreography are also superb….but at the end of the day, I really do think this is all papering over mediocre material. It’s not a ‘great British musical’ – it’s an up-market kids show and somehow I feel Roald Dahl’s story would be served better by a minimalist imaginative staging at the Young Vic or BAC where the kids could use their imagination rather than have it shoved in their faces like a video game.

Of course, it’s not for me. Maybe it’s great if you’ve got a few hundred quid and a couple of kids with ADHD to amuse for a few hours……

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