Monday, 20 November 2017

Review: Klein Zielen, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

“En de ziel begreep dat dat kleine stukje genoeg was”

Completing a trilogy of Louis Couperus adaptations for Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Klein Zielen (Small Souls) is the kind of magisterial theatre on which reputations - such as Ivo van Hove's - are sustained. Couperus is a Dutch writer with a kind of Rattigan-like status as his work is revived here and Klein Zielen is no exception, a study of a family living under the same roof but shattered by the neuroses and traumas of the past that haunt every moment of their existence. 

This is about as lo-fi as van Hove gets, just the one video insert betraying any technological leanings, recalling the stark intensity of A View From The Bridge. And here again, you see the razor precision that he instils in his company and the way they relate to each other, interact with each other. As they each move around the wide open space of the Rabozaal carpeted in a ginormous rug, so much is said about their relationships in the juxtapositions they create.

Review: Uit het leven van marionetten, Rotterdamse Schouwburg

"In de stilte hoor je de waarheid"

In the name of maximising my time in the Netherlands, I've seen a fair few productions in Dutch without any linguistic assistance. Thursday night shows at the Stadschouwberg Amsterdam are regularly surtitled in English but I always want to see more. In the case of plays like Blood Wedding and The Maids, I've been able to get away with since I know them; with others, like A Bride in the Morning, it's been more of a challenge. 

And so it was with Uit het leven van marionetten (From the life of the marionettes), the fifth Ingmar Bergman adaptation from Toneelgroep Amsterdam, helmed by film director Nanouk Leopold in her stage debut. I'd hoped to watch the film in advance but I couldn't track it down in time and so went into the Schouwburg in Rotterdam armed with just a flimsy synopsis and an overwhelming admiration for a company that included the rather fab Eelco Smits.

The 2017 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

The nominations for the 2017 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards have been released and naturally I have thoughts. Initially, they are:


Review: Tiger Bay, Wales Millennium Centre

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Rather fittingly, my first ever visit to the magnificent feat of civil engineering that is Cardiff's Wales Millennium Centre was for new musical Tiger Bay (Y Sioe Gerdd). And not just any musical, one based in and on the very area where it is playing, the docklands of Tiger Bay at the turn of the century, when the industrial revolution sent shudders through every level of society. Socio-political unrest not being known for getting the crowds in though, book-writer Michael Williams has fashioned a multi-stranded narrative with truly epic ambitions.

So there's coal men fighting to improve working conditions, African immigrant labour complicating the picture by undercutting them, racism emerging as an ugly thorn, child labour being abused, suffragettes agitating for the vote, and the richest man in the world (the Third Marquess of Bute) who has turned to crystal balls to try and find his missing son. What emerges is a prototype vision for a multicultural society in all its myriad complexities and inequalities, connected in an all-too-human way by circumstance and some stonking great choruses.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Review: Inside Pussy Riot, Saatchi Gallery

"Failure to do this will result in your fellow inmates being punished"

How far can immersive theatre push you? How far should immersive theatre push you? The disclaimer for Les Enfants Terribles’ Inside Pussy Riot warns us it is "not for the faint hearted, come prepared to demonstrate and stand up for what you believe in!". But given that it is trying to give audiences a taste of what it is like to be on the wrong side of a totalitarian regime, from arrest to trial to incarceration with a bit of forced labour in there for good measure, there's a limit to how far they can actually go.

Marking the 100th annversary of the Russian Revolution, Inside Pussy Riot revisits the experience of Nadya Tolokonnikova and her post punk, feminist art collective colleagues in Pussy Riot, who were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment for performing less than 40 seconds of an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral. From the opening moments when you're invited to pick a balaclava (a range of colours available) to the climactic encouragement to raise your voice in protest, there's quite the journey ahead.

Review: The End of History, Tristan Bates

"Sod the League of Nations"

At the heart of it, Iain Hollingshead (book and lyrics) and Timothy Muller's (music) new musical The End of History has an interesting conceit - exploring the history of the 20th century (at least, from 1919 to 1989) through the experiences of a GCSE history class over the two years of their course. Moody teenagers as zealous nation states, geopolitical relations as schoolyard battles, there's potential here. 

It is potential that isn't quite realised though, due to the huge scale of the ambition here. There's the individual stories of 7 students each with their own individual struggles competing for room alongside the historical parallels being drawn at key moments, plus their teacher keeps stepping into the spotlight to pull focus with her own trials and general dissatisfaction at being a teacher to disinterested kids.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Album Review: Leading Ladies - Songs From The Stage

"Lock the door and stop complaining
Gather 'round and listen well"


Between them, Amber Riley, Beverley Knight and Cassidy Janson have racked up Olivier Awards and accolades aplenty and their mutual respect has led to them joining forces to create musical supergroup Leading Ladies. And working with producers Brian Rawling and Paul Meehan through East West Records (Warner), their debut album Songs From The Stage is about to be released.

Across the 14 tracks of the collection, there's a variety of approaches as they tackle songs from a wide range of musicals. Each singer gets a couple of solo numbers, and they all chip in with backing vocals on some of those, but the highlights come when the trio sing together. And none more so than on an utterly transcendent version of Carole King's 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' whose close harmonies are goosebump-inducingly extraordinary, the marriage of their voices a perfect alchemy.

Album Review: Helen Power - Enraptured

"There is joy in the air
So be gone with dull care"

What to do to make your album stand out in a crowded marketplace of musical theatre-related albums? Get Auburn Jam's Joe Davison in to do your arrangements, that's what. A glimpse at the tracklisting of Helen Power's new album Enraptured may not initially suggest a great adventurousness but on first listen, its playful and subtly daring nature soon become apparent.

A relaxed take on Porgy & Bess' Summertime is a strong opener, full of bold musicality and Power's confident soprano, but it's the next of couple of tracks that set out the vision here. A Latin-inflected 'The Sound Of Music' has no right to be effective but as Davison introduces silky bossanova rhythms and elastic double-bass lines, it's impossible to resist its easygoing charm. And if less radical, his Bond-esque re-arrangement of the title track from The Phantom Of The Opera is no less exciting, its duelling brass section and violins building to a breathless climax that thrills just as much as Power's soaring top E.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review: Drip, Bush

"Dive, dive, dive right in
Dive, dive, dive, dive, dive right in..."

On the one hand, I think I'd like to see Tom Wells really surprise us with something completely different. But on the other, he does what he does so bloody well that I kinda never want him to stop. Drip sees him playing with form, as it is a one-man musical but thematically, we're once again in the world he has explored so affectingly in plays such as Me As A Penguin, The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts

Our protagonist is Liam, a 15 year old from South Shields who has moved to Hull cos his mum is seeing a guy named Barry who lives there. Making fast friends with Caz, the 'other queer student' at school, he throws himself into helping her with the annual project prize presentation that she is so desperate to win. Only thing is, she's planning Hull's first synchronised swimming team and Liam can't swim... 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Review: Network, National Theatre

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore"

With Network, Lee Hall's adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale - a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston - has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he's going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling 'prophet'. 

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers - as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers' box...the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story. 

The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast

As Mrs Merton might have asked, what first attracted you to musical theatre supergroup The Barricade Boys...?

Clearly, it was their cumulative musical talent - between them, Scott Garnham, Simon Schofield, Craig Mather and Kieran Brown have racked up credits in pretty much every major musical from The Phantom of The Opera, Wicked and Billy Elliot to Jersey Boys, The Sound Of Music and Les Misérables. And now they're bringing their cabaret show to The Other Palace's Studio for a Christmas season which is enough to bring festive cheer to even the most Scrooge-like of hearts.

But not content with filling our stockings thus, they've gone through their contact lists to find a frankly astonishing array of guest stars to accompany them across the entire run, making it nigh-on impossible to choose just one night to go along.

Guest list for The Barricade Boys Christmas Cabaret continued