Posts Tagged ‘Propeller’

It’s beginning to look like the Union Theatre’s all-male Gilbert & Sullivan’s are going to become as permanent a feature as Propeller’s all-male Shakespeare’s. This one is the fourth and the best!

The material itself is even more suited to the concept than it’s predecessors The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance and Iolanthe. A satire on 19th century aestheticism featuring the rivalry between Grosvenor and Bunthorne for the heart of milkmaid Patience, whilst  a bunch of infatuated Lady’s and maiden’s swoon, pout and sigh, ignoring the attentions of a bunch of dragoons seeking to court and marry them!

Stiofan O’Doherty and Dominic Brewer are perfect as the vain effete aesthetes wrapped up in a world of poetry and beauty. Edward Charles Bernstone is a delight as (s)he moves back and forth between her two suitors. The dragoons are cartoon soldiers, clumsy & naive but lovable, in their tweed jackets, bowler hats, black boots and big belts. The Lady’s Jane, Angela, Saphir and Ella are all brilliantly played by Sean Quigley, James Lacey, Mark Gillon and Matthew Marwick, each a different personality, and the maidens (some doubling up as dragoons) glide along the stage in flower print frocks and cardies, brilliantly choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The musical standards are extraordinary (how do you find that many men who can sing that high?!) and the performances beyond charming. Kingsley Hall’s design is inspired. Even MD Richard Bates, who plays the whole score heroically on a solo piano, dons a frock! I smiled from beginning to end of this faultless production by Sasha Regan – and I’m not even a G&S fan! 

If you like musical theatre and you don’t like this, you’ll need therapy. GO!

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I haven’t seen an entire street on the Olivier stage sine John Gunter built part of the city of Bath for The Rivals in 1984. Bunny Christie’s street has an extra third storey on the houses and is a bit (intentionally) shabbier, but is spectacular nonetheless. It transforms to create an apartment block, shops, nightclub and a clinic.

There is much else to enjoy in Dominic Cooke’s NT debut, but it doesn’t really sparkle like other productions I’ve seen, most recently Propeller at Hampstead in 2010 and I’m not entirely sure why. The pacing is a bit uneven; one minute it’s zipping along, then appears to have ground to a halt. I don’t know whether it has been cut, but it came in at just 2 hours 10 mins with a 20 minute interval, so I suspect it has – though not noticeably.

I liked the idea of acting out Egeon’s opening speech describing how he lost his wife and twin sons (and their twin servants). The more frenetic scenes are given a ‘keystone cops’ style that somehow made them seem fresh though still appropriate for the material. The Abbey has become the Abbey Clinic and one half of both twins end up ‘sectioned’ there after a particularly slick chase scene involving an ambulance driving onto the stage! I also like the idea that the twins have different accents, having been brought up in different places, though Shakespeare didn’t write any lines like ‘why are you speaking funny?’ to support this, so there’s even more disbelief to be suspended than usual! Despite the comedy that preceded it, the closing scene was much more moving than I’ve ever seen it before. I wasn’t sure about the band playing familiar songs in a foreign language at first, but I warmed to it.

After what seemed like a hesitant start, the acting was first-rate. The twins are well matched, particularly Lucien Msamati and Daniel Poyser as the Dromio’s. Lenny Henry has as much presence and as good a  speaking voice as he did in Othello, but is much more relaxed in a comic role where he is able to use his full range of facial expressions. Claudie Blakely’s Adriana and Michelle Terry’s Luciana are deliciously chavvy creations.

So a good rather than great Comedy of Errors, but one I’m glad I saw.

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I’m not sure what it is about all-male productions of Shakespeare that makes them special, but they are, and not just because that’s how they were first staged. As well as Propeller, The Globe has given us a trio of gems – Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet & Anthony & Cleopatra – and previous Propeller productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Winter’s Tale, Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew have all been great fun.

They’ve taken more liberties with this and even though there’s still much to enjoy, I think it’s a few liberties too many. There’s heavy editing (it comes in at two hours playing time), entry and exit music & sound effects, added modern dialogue (including references to Walkers crisps!), lots of slapstick business and a fair share of audience engagement. Somehow, in this one, they seem to be trying too hard. I know it’s farce (was it the first farce?) but it’s still a bit too broad for its own good.

It’s set in Mexico or Spain and the ensemble / chorus are dressed in football shirts and sombreros and play a selection of musical instruments. The Duke is dressed in a bright red satin suit studded with rhinestones and the most extraordinary pair of gold, brown & white shoes. The goldsmith Angelo has more bling than you’d see at a rappers convention and each pair of twins are in identical clothes (and for the Dromio’s, identical wigs). Adriana is a picture in leopardskin everything; Luciana is more restrained but for the pink spectacles. The courtesan has walked straight off the street, as it were, and the Lady Abess’ robe is a mini!

There’s much physical acting, which after almost six months on the road has been honed to absolute precision. The performances are all excellent with Dugald Bruce-Lockheart & Sam Swainsbury well matched as the Antipholus twins, Richard Frame & Jon Trenchard both superb as the Dromio twins and both Robert Hands and David Newman delicious as Adriana and Luciana respectively. The Officer starts offstage as a security guard warning against the use of mobiles and flirting with the ladies and Pinch runs through the audience stark naked, hands over his privates and an additional prop I won’t mention as it would be a spoiler.

You can tell these actors have been together for a while, and together on previous productions; this company really gels and is having a ball. It’s all very infectious, but somehow I think a touch of restraint would have worked in its favour on this occasion. That said, its great fun and if you want to introduce someone to Shakespeare, its perfect. I’d love to see their Richard III but I’m afraid Mr Spacey got in first and I’m not sure I can cope with a pair of Richards.

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