Posts Tagged ‘Robert Hands’

Terry Johnson’s idea to turn this into a musical is as good as the late Bob Hoskins idea to put it on screen. It’s one of the best screen-to-stage transitions and a must-see in its final two months.

The Windmill was an iconic institution. It brought revue to London. It brought nudity to the stage. It was the only theatre still open in the blitz. It was the heart of Soho. It’s a great story for the stage and for a musical and Terry Johnson’s adaptation, book and staging are outstanding. It tells the story from the meeting of unlikely business partners Laura Henderson and Vivian Van Damm through their unsuccessful first shows, their negotiations with the government’s censor, the Lord Chamberlain, the successful nude tableaux shows to performing for soldiers during the second world war. The personal story of Maureen, from tea lady to star, her love (or not) for Eddie and her unwanted pregnancy is woven through it.

George Fenton & Simon Chamberlain are more used to producing film and TV music and their score is somewhat old-fashioned, but it suits the period being presented and it’s got some great tunes. Don Black’s excellent lyrics benefit from his significant musical theatre experience. I very much liked Tim Shorthall’s design, moving us successfully from backstage to onstage (and on the roof) with a couple of quick visits to the Lord Chamberlain’s office, and Paul Wills’ costumes are delightful. I loved Andrew Wright’s choreography, particularly in comic numbers like the Lord Chamberlain’s song – and his fan dance is masterly!

It’s exceptionally well cast, led by Tracie Bennett, yet again inhabiting a musical theatre role, and in this case banishing the memory of Judi Dench. I don’t think of Ian Bartholomew as a musical theatre man but when I read his biog in the programme I realised I’d seen him in a handful of musical theatre roles and he’s excellent here (and in fine voice) as Van Damm. Emma Williams delivers yet again and is sensational in her big Act II number If Mountains Were Easy to Climb (one day she’ll be in a commercial hit again!). In a very strong supporting case, I was particularly impressed by Samuel Holmes as Bertie and Robert Hands as the Lord Chamberlain.

This lovely show doesn’t deserve its early bath and I strongly recommend you catch it in its final two months.

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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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Fringe powerhouse The Finborough Theatre and one-man musicals machine Thom Sutherland have teamed up again to give us another European premiere of a Rogers & Hammerstein show that proves to be even more of a delight than State Fair.

It’s got nothing to do with Shakespeare’s R&J; it’s a simple onstage-backstage love story, but you get a real baddie and a second love story for your money. Clearly it’s not in the Oklahoma / South Pacific league, but it’s a decent show and therefore astonishing that it’s taken 27 years to be seen here. It didn’t take long to sweep me away.

Designer Alex Marker has cleverly reversed the usual theatre configuration and integrated both audience and cast entrance doors and the spaces above them into the set. There’s some terrific staging, including scenes of the show-within-the-show lighting men from both above the stage and looking down from the stage which are inspired, and there’s a brilliant surprise entrance. The chorus numbers are delicious Busby Berkley miniatures staged with tongue slightly in cheek looking back 50 years very affectionately.

The singing and acting are first class. Laura Main and Robert Hands are great romantic leads. John Addison was so menacing he brought a believability to the bad-guy character which could easily have been a caricature.  Jodie Jacobs was so spot in every way she could have time-travelled from the 50’s for the evening. Dafydd Gwyn Howells (wonder where he’s from?!) and Anthony Wise also impressed as Company Manager and Lighting Man respectively. The musical standards are outstanding with MD Joseph Atkins alone playing the whole score on his upright piano.

Charming and irresistible, I hope that, like State Fair, it gets a second outing . We’re so lucky to have theatres like the Finborough, Landor and Union putting on musical productions of this quality and people like Thom Sutherland to present us with opportunities to see rare gems like this. I’d say GO GO GO, but it’s probably sold out by now!

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