Category Archives: Theatre

Theatre review – The Winter’s Tale

Tragedy? Comedy? Tragicomedy? History play?

The Winter’s Tale – one of Shakespeare’s final works, first performed in 1610 – is all of these. And more.

We saw a fine production of this intriguing play last night, from the ever brilliant Guildford Shakespeare Company, brought to colourful life in the darkly atmospheric Holy Trinity Church.

Never having seen The Winter’s Tale before, piecing the intricacies of the plot together was a challenge at times, demanding full concentration. But the effort was fully rewarded.

All seems well at first, at the court of Leontes, King of Sicilia. He is surrounded by love, from his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, from his own Queen Hermione, his son, faithful retainer Camillo and other loyal courtiers.

But in the blink of a jealous eye, the King’s mood changes and tragedy ensues. Leontes is certain that Hermione is carrying his friend’s baby inside her, and orders the death of Polixenes. But Camillo helps the wronged King to escape.

Leontes initially orders the newly born child to be burned, but Antigonus rescues her and takes her to the safe haven of Bohemia, abandoning Perdita – what an apt name for such a desperate start in life – near the coast.

Back in Sicilia, Queen Hermione and her son Mamillius both die as a result of Leontes’ blind jealousy and rash actions.

For the next 16 years, Perdita is raised in Bohemia by a kindly shepherd, until she falls in love with the disguised Prince Florizel, son of Polixenes.

In the Shakespearian way, a happy ending is somehow conjured out of abject misery. Leontes is granted the good fortune to be reunited with his daughter and – bizarrely – Hermione, when a statue of her is brought back to life.

So is The Winter’s Tale also a morality play?

Perhaps.

But whatever the playwright ultimately intended, this production is a joyful journey through the pages of The Winter’s Tale. From the darkness of the initial misdeeds in Sicilia, to the colourful Bhangra-inspired exotic land of Bohemia, and the ultimately happy denouement back in Sicilia, the GSC use the church setting and their natural theatrical exuberance to tell the story in a wholly compelling way.

Leontes doesn’t deserve a happy ending, but who am I to argue with Master Shakespeare?

Thanks to the GSC for another brilliant performance…and here’s to the next 10 years, whether tragic, comic, historic, romantic, moral. Or wholly immoral.

 

Theatre review – King Charles III

What a brilliantly constructed piece of theatre King Charles III is, written by Mike Bartlett, directed by Rupert Goold, and with Robert Powell playing the eponymous King.

Now on a national tour, the Yvonne Arnaud audience in Guildford was royally entertained last night by the ascension to the throne of Charles on the death of his long-reigning mother. Fictional, yes. But the drama is predicated on what we already know about the heir’s temperament, principles and personal interests.

Could he put those traits aside, when King, to ensure the  country enjoys the same stability and unity provided by Elizabeth II for over 60 years?

No, according to the playwright in this thought-provoking projection into what could be the very near future.

The plot hinges on the new King’s refusal to give royal assent to a new piece of legislation, already approved by both Houses of Parliament. He fears the attempt by law-makers to control the press strikes at the very heart of freedom of expression.

But what are the constitutional implications of such an impasse ‘twixt the democratically elected House of Commons and the monarchy?

The language in this production is as thrilling as the plot. Told in blank verse, there are several nods to our greatest dramatist.

The ghost of Diana, haunting both Charles and William, and cheekily predicting both will be the greatest King to rule the country, echoes the ghost of Hamlet’s dead father.

Catherine is portrayed as having the vaulting ambition of Lady Macbeth. Her hands may not end up spotted with blood, but she has a violent passion to drive William’s direction for her own benefit.

Poor Charles – brooding, intellectual, introspective – is Hamlet, too hesitant to act decisively.

And of course, there’s always a comic character to lighten the theatrical weight of any Shakespearian tragedy. Enter Harry, stage left, the aimless, gormless Prince doomed to being the buffoon, the fun uncle, the sideshow. Until he meets Jessica. In a nightclub. And whose past ends up providing the argument for the worst elements of the British press to be controlled, after all….

The writing, acting, music and staging combine to make this a really entertaining piece of what-if drama.

It’s provocative and subversive. It’s tragic and funny. It’s fictional and couldn’t happen.

Or could it…..?

 

Theatre review – Lilies on the Land

Lilies on the Land – review for Essential Surrey website.

Rating: 4.5 of 5

The Electric Theatre

Theatre review – Carmen

Carmen – review for Essential Surrey website

Andrew Morris enjoys a timeless story of Latin passion, love and tragedy, at G Live in Guildford

Well, that was a multinational introduction to opera.

Carmen is a classic opera, with something of a complicated bloodline. The score and text were written by the Frenchman Georges Bizet in the 1870s, adapted from a novel by Prosper Merimee and a poem by Aleksandr Pushkin. This performance was produced and directed by Ellen Kent, a prolific English purveyor of opera and ballet, while the cast hailed mainly from Eastern Europe, and the Orchestra was from Moldova.

The story takes place in Spain, a timeless story of passion, love and tragedy that unfolds in Seville and its wild surrounding mountains.

The honest and naive corporal Don José is besotted when fiery, beautiful Gypsy Carmen shakes her flouncy Flamenco dress in his direction. He has soon deserted both the army and his childhood sweetheart Micaela, in the belief that his and Carmen’s passionate attraction will endure. Unfortunately for poor Don José, a life of crime hidden in the mountains doesn’t sit as well with him as does the wayward Carmen, and he soon finds himself torn between blind devotion and his duties.

Carmen, on the other hand, is soon distracted by the glamorous toreador Escamillo, and they fall in love, with Carmen taunting the hapless Don José. Well, everyone knows Carmen’s affairs only last 6 months.

With that, the tragic die is cast, and the inevitable, fatal dénouement takes place outside the bullfighting arena back in Seville.

Bizet’s musical score is rightly acclaimed for its melody, atmosphere and orchestration. This production captured its ability to represent the differing emotions of the protagonists. We’re introduced to the exotic, free-flying Carmen in one of opera’s most famous arias, Habanera (officially titled l’amour est un oiseau rebelle – love is a rebellious bird), and when Escamillo shows up with his flashy entourage in Act 2 you can’t help but hum along with the rousing Toreador aria.

The actors suit their roles as well as the music. Liza Kadelnik was born to be independent-spirited, buxom flame-haired Carmen, while Maria Tonina perfectly captured the sweet nature of Micaela, and Iurie Gisca as Escamillo strutted around in his cape as though he had already slain 1,000 bulls. Ruslan Zinevych was a timid Don José, and it was no surprise when Carmen moved on to the dashing bullfighter.

As thrilling as the story and music remained, however, this production felt strangely disjointed.

The English translation, scrolling through on a panel high above the stage, was a boon for Carmen virgins. Unfortunately, it conveyed dialogue and speeches that were more stilted than flowing and passionate, and perhaps also a little condensed from the original French words.

The evening was spread over 3 ¼ hours, with one intermission after Act 1 and another just before the final Act 4. Some of the transitions between scenes were a little clunky, and I’m afraid the time taken to change the set between the middle two Acts dragged on so long that the audience could be heard asking if the cast had gone home.

Despite these weaknesses, it was still an enjoyable evening. Merci, Monsieur Bizet. Grazias, Carmen. Thanks, Ms Kent.

 

Theatre review – It’s A Wonderful Life

What’s your favourite Christmas film?

The 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, is at the top of many people’s list.

I’ve never seen the film, but I have just enjoyed a very entertaining stage version of the story, convincingly re-imagined as a live radio studio recording. And now I understand why it’s considered the ultimate festive feel-good movie. Even when seen in the middle of June.

George Bailey, the central character, is an altruistic idealist in small town America. He helps other people but when he wants to fulfil his own dreams of seeing the world and going to college, circumstances conspire against him.

He ends up reluctantly running his father’s local mortgage business, helping the community to buy their own homes, instead of letting it fall into the hands of the greedy Mr Potter.

Through no fault of his own, George ends up in dire straits and contemplating committing suicide on Christmas Eve, convinced he’s worth more to his family dead than alive.

Enter Clarence, a comic angel looking to earn his wings by saving George.

You can probably guess the way the story goes, even if you haven’t seen the iconic film. This stage production, adapted by Tony Palermo and directed by Guy Retallack, cleverly propels the audience back to the 1940s to share in George’s dilemmas, through the magical medium of the radio recording studio.

The 6 actors convincing play multiple parts, and the 7th provides perfectly timed sound effects in total sync with the plot development and actor’s actions. The ON AIR sign and period product endorsements at the end of each Act add humour and period immersion.

A very enjoyable production of a Wonderful Story. Thanks to my Wonderful Wife Gillian for an imaginative, entertaining birthday present.

 

 

Theatre review – Persuasion

Persuasion

Review by Andrew Morris (for Essential Surrey)

The Yvonne Arnaud Mill Studio, Guildford until Saturday April 25

Jane Austen was an astute observer of early 19th century social customs. And she was arguably at her most perceptive in Persuasion, her last completed novel, published shortly after her death in 1817 at the tender age of 41.

In a whimsical but well observed adaptation by Hotbuckle Productions, 27 year-old Anne Elliot is intelligent, literary and sensitive.

And on the shelf.

Eight years earlier she had fallen in love with Frederick Wentworth, a dashing young naval officer. But she had been persuaded that Frederick was not a good enough match and, against her better judgement and natural instinct, severed the relationship.

But now the class tables have been deliciously turned.

Captain Wentworth returns imbued with honour and wealth, while Anne’s own profligate father has ensured the Elliot fortune is much diminished. The family estate Kellynch Hall is rented to Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia, Wentworth’s sister, while the vain and snobbish Elliot patriarch Sir Walter decamps to lodgings in fashionable Bath with his empty-headed eldest daughter, Elizabeth.

Frederick now ignores poor Anne, either through revenge or indifference.

A helter-skelter journey across the country follows before we find any answers. And on the way we encounter more match-seeking, fortune-hunting and a pivotal accident.

The brilliantly inventive company of just four actors somehow manages to portray the complete panoply of characters, effortlessly switching with ne’er a slip twixt costume and lip.

Hotbuckle founder and Persuasion adapter Adrian Preater plays Sir Walter perfectly, as a vain, preening, oleaginous buffoon, who may have squandered his family’s fortune but who remains a baronet. And class is all that matters, isn’t it? Moments later, Adrian becomes the mild, tweed-clad Charles, more interested in hunting than soothing his soppy wife’s brow. And then downcast, widowed poet Captain Benwick.

With a seamless change of accent, shawl or gait Clare Harlow is ditzy Mary, social climber Elizabeth or class-conscious Lady Russell, who turned Anne against Frederick all those years ago.

And Peter Randall is equally convincing whether playing rebuffed but still proud Captain Wentworth, devious cousin William Elliot or fawning family solicitor Mr Shepard.

The single constant is Emily Lockwood as Anne. With a mellifluous tone and deft gestures, she vividly conveys amusement at her superficial family, indifference to social niceties, and heart-rending regret that she was persuaded to reject the man she loved.

Ms Austen’s satirical rapier may best pierce the customs of her age, but her overriding message is permanent: be constant and be true to your own feelings.

The Mill Studio lends itself perfectly to this intimate production in which the chameleon-like actors are also the orchestra, set-movers and prop-creators. See it if you can.

Theatre review – Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers is an enduring piece of musical theatre.

It stands alone as a cracking piece of entertainment, with an emotional storyline and haunting music. But it can also be viewed as an allegory of the English class system, posing the nature v nurture question about a child’s development.

I saw BB again last weekend at the intimate White Rock theatre in Hastings, thanks to Kev & Debbie Lance.

I rarely see movies, plays or musicals twice. This was the third time I’d seen BB, but enjoyed every minute of it, all over again. Like pulling on a favourite old jumper found in the corner of wardrobe after a few years, scrunched up between that sweatshirt you got on holiday in 1992 and those M&S budgie-smugglers with the perished elastic.

Mind you, the first two viewings were a lifetime ago, in the 1980s. With Kiki Dee and then with Barbara Dickson in the central female role of Mrs Johnstone, mother of the fated brothers. This time Maureen Nolan performed the role admirably. And Marti Pellow – of Wet Wet Wet fame – played the narrator, the pivotal male role.

Written and composed by Willy Russell, BB tells the sorry tale of twin brothers Mickey & Eddie, born in Liverpool in the early 1960s. But Mrs Johnstone already has 7 other kids, her feckless husband has gone and she’s struggling to make ends meet in poverty-stricken Scouseland. So she gives one of the twins away to Mrs Lyons, a posh lady for whom Mrs J cleans, and who is desperate for a child of her own.

The music weaves its magical way around the evolving storyline as the boys’ lives move in socially disparate directions. They also fall in love with the same girl, their lives ending in inevitable tragedy. Inevitable because the opening scene tells of their simultaneous deaths, just as they were born together.

Written originally as a school play, BB went on to be performed more than 10,000 times in London, the 3rd longest-running musical production in West End history.

It finally ended its run at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2012, but lives on, thanks to a national tour throughout 2015.

If you haven’t seen it, go. And if you’ve seen it already, go again. Either way, I’ll bet you’ll come out humming Marilyn Monroe or Tell Me It’s Not True..