Posts Tagged ‘Samal Blak’

I’ve always been puzzled by the critical indifference to Howard Goodall’s musicals. For me, in the (short) list of great British composers of musicals he comes top and his first show, the Hired Man, sits with Les Miserables and West Side Story as one of my favourite musical scores.

Even though he has a very distinctive sound, which is distinctively British, it changes subtly to suit the subject matter. Only three of his nine musicals have been produced in the West End. 25 years ago, The Hired Man lost the Olivier Award to the highly unoriginal 42nd Street (leading lady ill, chorus girl’s big break, yawn…yawn…), soon after Girlfriends closed very quickly (though in fairness, the production didn’t live up to the Bolton premiere) and then we had to wait 24 years for Love Story, one of the best chamber musicals ever, which also got an undeserved early bath.

The Hired Man gets revived on a small scale fairly frequently, Days Of Hope (a lovely show set in the Spanish Civil War) occasionally but the 2nd World War Girlfriends, as far as I know, has never been revived. Two Cities (based on Dickens) was only seen outside London and the other four, like this one, were written for youth groups. Only The Hired Man and Days of Hope have ever been recorded, so you can’t even listen to the music to find out what you’re missing!

I fondly remember seeing the NYMT production of this 12 years ago (with recent Olivier Award winning Sheridan Smith in the cast) at the Lyric Hammersmith and its astonishing that it has taken so long to be revived and to get its professional debut. We’re awash with fringe productions of musicals, but none of them are British. I yearn to see Lionel Bart’s Blitz! or Maggie May or Goodall’s Girlfriends. OK, end of rant and on with the review!

There can’t be many musicals based on restoration comedies like this one based on Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. Moving it to the Edwardian period works; otherwise its faithful to the play and thanks to Charles Hart’s witty book and lyrics, even funnier. Goodall’s score is rich in lovely tunes and even more varied in style than most of his scores. It takes a little while to take off, but it proves to be a delight. It would have been even better to see it in a bigger space with better sight lines than the cramped and stuffy Jermyn Street Theatre.

Director Lotte Wakeham, who first impressed me with Austentatious at the Landor, has done a superb job on a simple set by Samal Blak (who worked wonders transforming the Cock Tavern for Pins & Needles) with elegant period costumes by Karen Frances. It’s partially in actor-musician mode, but Harriet Oughton at the piano has the primary musical responsibility and manages a bit of acting as well as playing the whole score!

Beverley Klein gives us another delicious musical comedy masterclass as Mrs Hardcastle. Ian Virgo (also in the original production, but as Lumpkin), Gina Beck, Dylan Turner and Gemma Sutton as the two couples at the heart of the story all act well and do full justice to Goodall’s music. It took me a while to warm to Jack Shalloo as Lumpkin (probably because I couldn’t get his terrific turn in Departure Lounge out of my head!) but he won me over.

A standing ovation for producers Peter Huntley and Charlotte Staynings for giving us this long-awaited opportunity to re-visit the show and for doing such a cracking job with it. Girlfriends? Blitz? Please!

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You only have one week left to see this UK premiere of a fascinating 1939 Broadway musical revue which started as a piece of left-wing satire by amateur trade union players. The timing could not be better and it’s been given a small but clever bit of updating that makes parts of it relevant enough to be performed by occupying students and Topshop invaders!

It was originally intended to be staged at the Arcola, but it’s much more at home in the smaller Cock Tavern which has been cleverly turned into a mini proscenium arch theatre with a curtain incorporated into Samal Blak’s design that could easily have been made from scraps of spare cloth by the ladies of the ILGWU (the union that originally staged it).

The show comprises 19 sketches and songs on a multitude of subjects  running for an uninterrupted 90 minutes. There are swipes at Mussolini and Hitler years before Mel Brooks gave us The Producers, comments of American nationalism and British colonialism, a satire on arts funding and artistic freedom and a song about advertising which amazes you with name-checks of brands of the time that are still with us today. Harold Rome’s songs are catchy and witty and somehow it has a lovely period feel but at the same time feels fresh and relevant.

I don’t know who does the casting at the Cock Tavern, but like the Bond plays they’ve assembled a hugely talented cast of nine, none of whom a theatre obsessive like me has seen before. They all deserve a name check, so they’re getting one! David Barnes, Mark Gillon, Laura-Kate Gordon, Josephine Kiernan, Elain Lloyd, Elizabeth Pruett, Rachel Rose Read, Matthew Rutherford and Adam Walker. David Preston plays all of the songs on the piano, occasionally joined by Rutherford on double bass. Director Rachel Grunwald is to be congratulated for the staging and for giving us the opportunity to see this fascinating show.

Seeing Fela! at the subsidised NT and this at the unsubsidised Cock Tavern in the same weekend certainly focused my mind on how our arts subsidies are shared around!

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