Posts Tagged ‘Russell Labey’

This new play, like the 1998 film of the same name, is based on Christopher Bram’s book Father of Frankenstein, a novel whose central character was real life film director James Whale, responsible for a whole bunch of iconic horror films as well as the film of the musical Showboat. The fact it’s a fiction that purports to speculate and recreate the final days of someone who actually lived doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me, though I much admired the production and the performances.

Whale’s story is a fascinating one. The son of a Dudley labourer who studied art before serving in the army in WWI, ending up in a prisoner of war camp where his interest in drama began. On his return, multi-tasking in the theatre, he ended up directing Journey’s End, which took him to the US – first Broadway, then Hollywood, where his film career started with the film of the same play. He lived with his male partner for over 20 years, but the play begins after he’s left and Whale is alone with his maid Maria, in poor physical and mental health, close to death, returning to art once more. From here, it speculates that he becomes a bit predatory, first with a student interviewer and then with the gardener. His early life painting and his war experiences are shown in flashback.

It’s exceptionally well staged, with well integrated projections and highly effective flashbacks. The acting is outstanding, led by Ian Gelder’s excellent performance as Whale. Will Austin and Joey Phillips make hugely impressive professional stage debuts as the gardner Clayton and student Kay respectively, with the latter also the young Whale in flashback. Lachele Carl beautifully captures both Maria’s love and affection for her boss and disapproval of his lifestyle and Will Rastall completes the cast as Whale’s doctor and the wartime Whale. Jason Denvir’s simple design allows the play to breathe whilst Russell Labey directs his own play with great delicacy.

I would have preferred pure fiction or pure biography (though impossible, I suspect), but there’s no denying this is première league theatre; quality in every department.


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This isn’t the 1996 Andrew Lloyd-Webber show, but an earlier 1989 musical by Russell Labey and Richard Taylor written for performance by young people, getting its London professional première. I never saw The Lord’s piece as I’d given up on his pompous mushiness by then, but this is a lovely, sweet chamber musical based on the same 1959 novel, filmed in 1961, given a fine production by Sasha Regan.

The three Bostock children stumble upon a man they believe to be Jesus when they’re looking for somewhere to hide the three kittens they have rescued from drowning by farm labourer Eddie. They can’t tell their widowed dad about either the kittens or The Man, but they do eventually introduce other children to him when they visit with food and other supplies. He is of course the well publicised convict on the run, but their belief makes them blind to that. It beautifully represents that blind faith that children have. Some may call it naivety or gullibility, but it’s really faith. The score has a very English feel, redolent of folk and choral traditions, with particularly fine choruses – think Goodall meets Britten, a touch operatic, with a nod to Sondheim!

The production faithfully represents both the period and Lancashire village life thanks to Nik Corralll’s simple but evocative design. I loved the instrumentation – piano, violin and horn – of David Griffiths’a small ensemble. The young adults playing the children completely capture the world of a child in the 50’s (and I should know!). Grace Osborn, Imelda Warren-Green and Alex James Ellison (who I admired in Apartment 40c last month) are all completely believable as the Bostock children and  Chris Coleman and Callum McArdle are excellent as Dad and The Man respectively. They are supported with a fine ensemble, as we’ve become accustomed to at the Union.

Three more weeks. You know what to do!

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I really enjoy my outings to shows at London’s drama schools and music colleges. I’m a regular at RADA, Guildhall, LAMDA and the Royal Academy, but this was my first trip to ArtsEd. There’s something very energizing about watching young talent and with an audience containing a high proportion of friends, family and fellow students being positive and supportive, you’re virtually guaranteed a great atmosphere.

The Producers is a very ambitious show for a drama school. It’s a BIG show, with lots of big numbers and a few characters that seasoned actors cast at the right age find challenging, let alone younger actors. It might be unique in musical history that two star names cast as Max Bialystock never got as far as their opening nights (though in one case that may be more differences with the director rather than talent!).

Mel Brooks, with help from Thomas Meehan,  adapted his own non-musical film, even providing both the music and lyrics himself. It returned to the screen when the musical itself became a film, but it’s not so easy to re-create the excitement of musical theatre in a cinema as it is drama. In case you didn’t know, it’s the story of a Broadway producer who, inspired by a minor accountant, realises its possible to make a fortune from a flop. He recruits the accountant and sets about finding the worst play, a bad creative team and a talentless cast. The show is of course Springtime For Hitler.

They’ve done a terrific job here. The professional creative team (chosen because they are good, not bad!) of director Russell Labey, choreographer Drew McOnie and designer Colin Mayes have given the show a production which relishes the satire (of musicals themselves as well as Broadway and Nazis!), brings out every ounce of comedy and fizzes with energy throughout. The ensemble of 16 play multiple roles seamlessly (including the boys as the little old ladies as in the original production) and all six leads are excellent. Even MD Caroline Humphris makes her four-piece band sound big.

Matthew Corner and Piers Bate are a great double-act as Max & Leo (more chemistry between them than any other pairing I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a fair few!). Matthew isn’t aged by make-up, which is a good decision; his physical comedy, timing and singing are all outstanding. Piers mousey Leo is the perfect foil. I loved Simon Bamforth’s manic Franz – he got laughs where I don’t remember there being laughs! Lewis Kirk & Robbie Boyle are deliciously camp as director Roger DeBris and his PA Carmen Ghia. Melissa James (no relation!) is great as Ulla, with a lovely Marilyn Monroe moment in a white dress stage front aided by a understage blower!

I do love this show, and I enjoyed this as much as my earlier outings on Broadway and in the West End – and all for a fraction of the price in a small space in a college in Turnham Green. Well done, ArtsEd!

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