Posts Tagged ‘Tamara Harvey’

Enid Blyton’s series of adventures were at the top of my childhood reading list, with The Secret Seven close behind. They whisked me away from the valleys of South Wales on adventures which fed my imagination. Little did I know I’d be seeing their stage adaptation more than fifty years later, and when I entered the auditorium to see Lucy Osborne’s picture-book design my eyes lit up and a wave of nostalgia enveloped me.

Enid Blyton has sold over 500 million copies of her 700 books in 40+ languages, one every minute in 2021, so I’m not alone. There were 21 adventures in this series (and another 15 Secret Seven stories) between 1942 and 1962 and I don’t think they’ve ever been out of print. Adaptor Elinor Cook gives us a mash-up, with a sprinkling of more modern themes like equality and the environment.

Julian, Dick & Anne are spending the summer with eccentric inventor Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny, an archetypal loving mother and domestic goddess. Their headstrong tomboy daughter George and her dog Timmy make it five. The double kidnap adventure is connected to Quentin’s latest work on alternative energy but it has a redemptive ending as Quentin accepts his flaws. The benign station-master moonlights as the kidnapper’s accomplice, anything for money, but he regrets it and is ultimately forgiven.

I’ve much admired the orchestrations, arrangements and musical direction of Theo Jamieson and this is his first full musical. The songs are not always well served by the vocals, with Lara Denning as Aunt Fanny & Isabelle Methven as Anne taking the musical honours. Katherine Rockhill’s band, though visible behind a gauze screen above the action, sometimes seemed disjointed from the vocals, presumably because of the sound design. In the acting department, Louis Suc is terrific as Dick, capturing all of those young teenager mores. Sam Harrison gives a fine comic performance as the station master et al. A puppet takes a starring role as Timmy, with others as sea lions, birds and bunnies, all designed and directed by Rachael Canning. I liked the staging by Tamara Harvey, with choreographer Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Forster bringing both pace and a teenage adventure feel.

It’s an impressive first musical, if not a great show. The young audience clearly enjoyed it. For me, it seemed a bit surreal seeing contemporary youngsters connect with something I’d hitherto considered belonged to my childhood!

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Even though this isn’t a classic Tennessee Williams work, it’s the third major London revival in thirty years – Peter Hall’s with Vanessa Redgrave in 1988, Nicholas Hytner’s with Helen Mirren nineteen years ago, and now Tamara Harvey directing Hattie Morahan and Seth Numrich in a co-production by the Menier Chocolate Factory and Theatre Clwyd. It’s inspired by the Orpheus myth, but it’s an uneven play, with a dull first half and an action-packed second. It’s also not easy for modern audiences to swallow the racism, however authentic it is of the period. The production, though, is first class.

Lady is a southern belle of Sicilian descent. Her father, a street performer back home, came to the US and became a bootlegger in prohibition times. He was murdered when he crossed a line that was unacceptable to the white locals. After a relationship with David Cutere, who left her, Lady ends up marrying store owner Jabe Torrence. As the play begins, he returns from major surgery at the hospital in Memphis, but the prognosis isn’t good.

In comes drifter Valentine Xavier looking for work, and Lady employs him, the sexual chemistry obvious from the outset. The relationship develops whilst Jabe stays upstairs with his nurse and sisters, the locals gossip and David’s sister Carol, a persona non grata in this community, seeks to lure Val for herself. Other characters, including Jabe’s friends Pee Wee and Dog, Sheriff Talbott and his wife Vee and local gossips Beulah and Dolly, come and go and another, Uncle Pleasant, becomes a sort of narrator, who occasionally gives us TW’s stage directions.

The problem with the play is that the 75 minute first half is virtually all scene-setting, and plays out so slowly that it risks losing the audience. The second half is a complete contrast as Lady discovers more about her father’s murder, makes a confession of her own and Val, who just about every woman in the neighbourhood is now smitten by, is driven out of town by their men, as the play is propelled to its tragic conclusion.

With the audience on three sides and just the back of the shopfront as a backdrop and a few tables and chairs for props, the Menier space seems vast, and is used very well in this staging. The ensemble is uniformly outstanding, led by terrific performances from Hattie Morahan as Lady and Seth Numrich as Val, with great chemistry between them. Jemima Rooper is superb as Carol and Carol Royle makes much of the strange character of god-fearing Vee. The supporting roles are all well cast; I was particularly impressed by Catrin Aaron and Laura Jane Matthewson as gossips Beulah & Dolly.

Despite the play’s problems, the fine production and exceptional performances make it worth seeing again.

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This is one of those occasions where writing, design, performances and staging all come together to create something special. Laura Wade’s play may prove to be the year’s best new play. Whilst I find the superlatives thesaurus, you may wish to stop here if you haven’t read any other reviews and you’ve booked to see it; what follows won’t spoil it, but might just take the edge off it.

Judy and Johnny are obsessed with the 50’s, their friends Fran and Marcus share their interest, but less obsessively. All we know about Johnny is that he’s an estate agent who didn’t go to university. Judy was brought up by her feminist mother in a Sussex commune, went to university and became an accountant. Voluntary redundancy gives her the opportunity to give up work and plunge them fully into a 50’s lifestyle, becoming a housewife, aspiring domestic goddess.

Their reserves are disappearing as Johnny’s commission is declining. One less income, and all that retro furniture and clothes which don’t come cheap. Still, they seem completely wrapped up in their fantasy, until Johnny’s failure to get a promotion triggers a series of events involving his new very driven boss Alex, who’s bemused by their lifestyle, and Judy’s mum Sylvia, who disapproves of the patriarchal accoutrements it brings with it. There’s a clever sub-plot involving problems Marcus is having at work.

What I like about Wade’s play is the many layers she achieves, exploring attitudes and behaviour then and now, as Judy and Johnny change as their fantasy progresses, and how that is seen by those left in the here and now. Things are not always what they appear to be, so it often surprises you. We’ve travelled a long way from the 50’s but in many ways not far enough, as juxtaposing the two periods, even one as a fantasy, proves. It’s like a conversation between then and now. Director Tamara Harvey’s production draws you in; even the activity of the scene changes prove captivating.

Anna Fleischle’s extraordinarily detailed design is stunning, as obsessive as the obsession that drives Judy & Johnny. The period music makes for a superb soundtrack. Katherine Parkinson is terrific as Judy, never leaving the home, so on stage the whole time. Richard Harrington gives a nuanced portrayal as Johnny, revealing insecurities and doubts as well as his devotion to Judy. Kathryn Drysdale and Barnaby Kay are excellent as Fran and Marcus, sometimes contributing nifty period dance routines between scenes. Sian Thomas shines as the mum whose values Judy seems to be rebelling against, as does Sara Gregory as Johnny’s boss, oblivious to his attraction to her.

An unmissable night in the theatre that reminds you why you go.

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I’ve seen a handful of Simon Gray plays before and though I admire his writing, I’ve never really taken to his plays. It’s hard to like his characters, difficult to identify with their predicaments and they’re all a bit cold and cynical for my taste. ‘So why go and see four in one day’ I hear you ask! Well, I like substantial theatrical feasts, I’m fond of experiments with form and structure and I suffer a bit with marathonitis, though nowhere as much as I used to.

Michael (Mikey) and Jason (Japes) are brothers, the former a successful writer (well, at first) and the latter, crippled in a diving accident in childhood, a teacher and wannabe writer (also at first). They share the family home now their parents have gone. They also share a woman and daughter, though they both didn’t always know that. In 7.5 stage hours, we see various permutations of their lives and relationships. All sorts of things change, including the parents mode of death, the children’s sex and names and the course of their careers.

The first play, Japes, follows the brothers over something like 30 years from when Mikey starts his first novel and his relationship with future wife Anita (Neets) through the birth, childhood and maturity of their daughter Wendy (Wenders) to a tragic conclusion. The second play in sequence, Michael, fills in Wendy’s teenage years and bolts on the same ending as Japes. The third, Japes Too, is essentially the same as Japes with subtle changes and a fundamentally different and happier ending. The fourth, Missing Dates, starts as Japes, expands the core scene of Michael and changes the end of Japes Too. We get a fifth character for one scene of this play – Wendy’s (Wednesday) husband Dominic (Thursday). Keep up!

It’s a fascinating experiment in form and structure, taking the same characters and changing their story and dialogue and making both subtle and dramatic changes. It must be extraordinarily difficult for the actors but director Tamara Harvey has a fine cast led by the brilliant Jamie Ballard and the superb Gethin Anthony.

It’s impossible to like any of these people and they do get on your tits more as the day progresses. You will gather from the bracketed nicknames that they, as did many other things, irritated me. I found Japes a satisfying start and Missing Dates (the funniest) an enjoyable finish, but Michael was a bit pointless and Japes Too much too repetitive. For entertainment, if I could do it all over again, I’d just do Japes or Japes Too + Missing Dates, though the theatrical intellectual in me appreciated the whole experience.

Eggs curate. Curate’s egg.

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This new musical is full of superb ingredients. Soutra Gilmore’s design is brilliant. Javier de Frutos choreography is thrilling. Tamara Harvey’s staging is impeccable. The ensemble and the five leads are all excellent. Yet there’s something missing.

We start and end on a ship leaving Hawaii after Pearl Harbour. We spend the 2.5 hours in between with the American military back on the island in the days leading up to the Japanese attack in 1941. Two love stories intertwine – First Sargent Warden’s affair with Captain Holmes’ wife Karen and Private Prewitt’s love for prostitute Lorene. Prewitt has just arrived with high hopes he’ll boost both the boxing and musical credentials of G Company.

In the first half, the focus is on the development of these relationships and Prewitt’s reluctance to box or play and the show fails to engage or come alive. The second half is much grittier as the pressure mounts on Prewitt and choices have to be made by all of the lovers. There’s a realism to the situation (the late James Jones, on whose novel it is based, was there at this time) but Bill Oakes’ adaptation doesn’t entirely work. Stuart Brayson’s score is a bit uneven, but there are some good songs (the choruses are particularly good) and I very much liked David White’s orchestrations. If I hadn’t known Tim Rice was the lyricist, I don’t think I’d have noticed; it seems to lack his trademark sharpness and wit.

You can’t question the craftsmanship, though. The location and period are perfectly evoked in an impressionistic set based on a post-Pearl Harbour theatre and barracks with excellent projections by Jon Driscoll and lighting by Bruno Poet. De Frutos does the same as he did in Rufus Norris’ Cabaret – original and fresh choreography with a contemporary dance feel, which works particularly well in a barrack room scene, a boxing match and the air attack. Tamara Harvey’s staging has so much more intelligent detail than most musicals and the finale is hugely impressive.

Darius Campbell has great presence as Warden and real chemistry with Rebecca Thornhill’s Karen. Robert Lonsdale plays Prewitt with an appropriate edginess and great passion and is well matched with Siobhan Harrison as Lorene. Ryan Sampson first impressed me in DNA at the NT, then Canary at Hampstead, followed by The Kitchen Sink at the Bush (also directed by Tamara Harvey). He showed us his musicals potential in Floyd Collins at Southwark Playhouse and here he almost steals the show with a superb performance in the pivotal role of Angelo. The ensemble – all shapes and sizes, like the real world, for a change! – is uniformly excellent.

It’s a shame it doesn’t quite come together, but this is quality British musical theatre which is to be welcomed nonetheless. Only the lyricist and orchestrator have a strong West End Musicals track record and maybe that’s the crux of it – it brings a freshness of approach but doesn’t have the combined experience to quite pull it off. A bit like The Light Princess, really, and like that, you should still go.

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The phrase ‘kitchen sink drama’ was coined in the late 50’s / early 60’s to describe plays about working class folk full of angst. Well, there’s not just a sink but an entire kitchen here – but not a lot of angst. This play is a heart-warming tale of the plight of working class people trying to make a living today that is funny and charming, but at its heart deeply perceptive. Like buses, this is my second ‘blue collar’ play on consecutive nights, albeit from two continents, after a long famine!

We’re with a family just outside Hull. Dad Martin’s milk round (and milk float) is struggling to survive now that most people do all their shopping at Tescos. Daughter Sophie and her (boy)friend Pete have lost their jobs at Woolies – Sophie is now training in Jujitsu and Pete as a plumber. Son Billy’s heading for art school after his paintings of heroine Dolly Parton are deemed postmodern kitsch. The family is held together my mum Kath, housewife and part-time lollipop lady. You even get to know offstage characters like Pete’s seemingly wild Nan and friend & advisor Danny and Sophie’s Jujitsu teacher and blue belt examiner.

Staged in the round, we’re peering into the kitchen, the centre of family life, where food is prepared, cooked and eaten, experiences shared and events and feelings communicated. In a lovely touch, scenes often end with the dishes being washed. Time and the change of seasons is cleverly marked and the kitchen sink itself performs regularly. The whole thing is enthralling and captivating; I couldn’t wait to return after the interval and really didn’t want it to end.

The performances are beautifully nuanced, particularly Andy Rush as Pete and Ryan Sampson as Billy. The scene where Pete is trying to make a move on Sophie is an absolute gem and whenever Billy is on stage, you’re watching him. Leah Brotherhead has, in many ways, the toughest role given Sophie’s emotional journey, but she pulls it off brilliantly. It doesn’t take you long to bury Gavin & Stacy’s Dave Coaches as Steffan Rhodri inhabits dad Martin, running away from the reality of change, and at the centre of all of this is a superb performance from Lisa Palfrey as mum Kath. Another night of perfect casting.

Tamara Harvey’s attention to detail results in a staging that draws you in and involves you completely in these people’s lives. The in-the-round setting doesn’t always work (there are occasions when you’d like to see the faces of all parties to a conversation) but it does give the play its intimacy. For the first time, a name check for the stage management team – Mary Hely, Amy Jewell and Sarah Barnes – as this must be a difficult play to run, yet it’s was very slickly done.

This is a triumphant first (proper) play in the new Bush and another candidate for the best new play of 2011.  If you miss it, it will be your own fault!

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