Thursday, 20 December 2012

'Taboo', Brixton Club House, 11/12/12

'Taboo' is an affectionate reflection on the New Romantic club scene and the people who frequented it. The fictional plotline women around the real life figures, replete with an outstanding score by Boy George and Kevan Frost, was a big success first time around. Now, all the original creatives have re-assembled and reworked the show, rejigging the plot-line, the score and even the design.
Now a sight-specific production, taking place in an actual club, this new update works even better than the original (which I thought would be almost impossible). The New York adaptation has all but been forgotten (and with good reason) aside from a few musical numbers which were created for the NY run and which are seamlessly integrated here. The original 'raw' aspect is restored to the play much to its benefit, unlike the sleek, polished, Broadway production.
The reworked script clarifies the plot even more and changes 'Billy's' journey slightly making his story arc more transparent and believable. Likewise the other characters this change impacts.

The cast are exceptional and, led by original cast member Paul Baker, reprising his role as 'Phillip Salon' sing and act mere inches away from the audience. Such bravery, especially given the attire and roles they perform is acting at its best. Alistair Brammer as 'Billy' is everything required of the role and strikingly handsome to boot. A leading man, indeed, and one to watch! Matthew Rowland as 'Boy George' is something, also, although memories of Euan Morton in the role are quite pervasive.
Sam Buttery as 'Leigh Bowery' lends a beautiful voice and honest soul to the performance. And he makes some brave choices in his portrayal.
The club setting, and the close proximity of the audience to the cast, is part of what makes this production work so well. Here one is all but part of the show.

The three piece band, plus sound design is first rate and perform O'Dowd's score to perfection.
My only gripe is that one or two numbers written for the Broadway staging that aren't included here could have been with little adaptation required. I also miss 'Church of the Poisoned Mind' from the original staging. But these are very minor quibbles in a show that has reworked itself to near perfection.

Catch this show while you can. Prepare to be transported to a world where everything's 'taboo'. Prepare to be moved, also!

'Hansel & Gretel', GAMTA, 20/12/12

Advertised as a 'dark and devilish new musical' this reworking of the fairy story is an enjoyable affair even though it doesn't quite live up to the 'dark' or 'devilish' part. The closest it gets is in the character of the witch who, rather than eat little children, turn them into mindless drones continually accessing knowledge via wi-phones.

There is a surprising array of talent on display in this production, from the youngest cast member to the eldest. Since there is not a complete cast list with character names attached in the programme is it difficult to pick any ensemble individuals out, although there were more than a few. As part of the 'adult' cast I'll state here and now that the 'baker' was rather flavoursome!
Chris Roberts (another handsome chap) led well as the eponymous characters' father 'John Clay', his strong voice and physical presence suited for the role, whilst his gentle nature was brought out subtly. 'Lisa Wilson' as 'Fable' clearly enjoyed her role as potential pure evil, yet we also see something more underneath. She has a pretty, pure voice and I can't say that any one performer was really weak.
Stephen Allen and Millie Innes as 'Hansel' and 'Gretel' worked wonderfully together with Innes especially confident and strong, as befits the role as written. Likewise Alex Fulton (I believe) performed well as their best friend 'Ilsa'.

The simple set and lighting designs by john Holding were more than effective, especially the latter, although at times some of the changes were a bit heavy handed and not as gentle or as subtle as they could have been.
The libretto could have been trimmed down a little, with act one being a trifle too long. It does seems at times as though author and director Shaaron Graham tries to hard to put a point across but her twist on the whole information age with the children permanently attached (literally) to their phones is a neat one. There are some plot holes errors such as when we learn that the village of 'Storyville' has closed itself off from the outside world yet we hear references to things such as Disney, likewise we are told early on that the children are taught about what happened to 'Fable', a child who wished to know too much and was thus seen as different to the rest of the village and therefore banished. We subsequently learn in an act two song about her history that the townsfolk decided never to speak of the event ever again. Did they change their minds?
Ah well, such things can be overlooked, I guess. After all this modern morality play still has something to say despite its somewhat hurried and sentimental ending where all is forgiven, naturally. But it wouldn't be a fairy story without a happy ending, right?

As for the musical numbers written by Stuart Bird (additional lyrics by Graham) there are quite a few catchy numbers sung with verve by the company and several ballads, many of which are quite tender. The lyrics may not be always the most original but they suit the piece and there are only one or two superfluous numbers such as 'The Argument' (its latter half however, 'My children' is not). Personally I always find it a shame when a live band or orchestra is not used but in such a small venue I can understand the use of pre-recorded material, although I'm sure the music could be orchestrated for a small four or five piece band which could be installed in a corner somewhere. I also think that the orchestration, at times, was a bit heavy, although, for the most part, it all worked quite well.

Lisa Mathieson' choreography was sprightly and varied and the direction by Graham, for the most part, was lively, if not always original, and there were only a few moments where we were faced with an empty stage. Indeed when the stage was full it was full.

Were this to be produced in the future I would certainly rework the script somewhat, tightening it and excising the excess, likewise the unnecessary musical numbers. I also would have liked this production to have been darker as it certainly had the potential to be so. As it was the production was enjoyable, catchy and actually had a little social message behind it.

Monday, 17 December 2012

'Sweeney Todd', Adelphi Theatre, London, 29/8/12

This one is very late but I am, at last, getting it down (indeed there are a few other reviews I have yet to put down).
This production was, to put it simply, perfect. From the cast, through to the lighting and sound design, the set and the orchestra, every thing coalesced to create one of the most thrilling, engaging and sublime pieces of theatre I have ever experienced.

This was no mere rehashing or retreading of past productions but a fresh take that approached the work with a more realistic edge than the original melodramatic approach: Even before the first note of the Overture the cast milled about onstage going about the daily drudgery of their lives in the dirty east end of London, efficiently setting up the environment before the show had started proper - these were hard times and people were suffering.

It is difficult to single out any one cast member but it is quite appropriate to say that Imelda Staunton as 'Mrs. Lovett' and Michael Ball as the title character were revelations. Staunton, especially, clearly played the role in a way not seen before - here was a person truly as vile and warped as Todd himself.
Lucy May Barker's voice was glorious as 'Lucy' and hers was no dumb blonde of a role. Likewise James McConville's 'Toby' was no mere idiot, rather he was played as a naive boy with learning difficulties. I found his 'Not While I'm Around' truly heartbreaking.

The set was ingenious, industrious and, at times played subtle homage to the original Hal Prince staging. The lighting perfectly complimented this with atmospheric use of light and shade.
The sound design was divine with voices layered in a way I've never heard before - with some voices more 'present' than others at times, the sense was one of aural depth, the likes of which complimented Sondheim's perfect score tremendously.

I only wish the run had been extended and that the production had been filmed. It truly was perfect in every way and I lament the fact that the cast recording was only a highlights album (and one full of strange choices - 'Pirelli's' numbers are excluded as is 'Green Finch and Linnet Bird').
I shall treasure the memory, however.

Friday, 14 December 2012

'The Phantom Of The Opera', Her Majesty's Theatre, London, 13/12/2012

I last saw the 'Brilliant Original' in 2006 where, whilst it still worked as an enjoyable piece of theatre, it was beginning to suffer from fatigue. Many cast members at the time had been with the show for several years and, to my eye, were simply 'going through the motions' which is a big no no!
This could not be further from the truth of this current company headed by Marcus Lovett who imbue the show with so much fresh energy and verve that it truly felt as though the show had only recently opened.

For the first time in all of the times I've seen the show in London I sat in the stalls which allowed me to see every line on each person's face. (I was also surprised at how small the stall section was). From the stalls the whole Chandelier sequence was much more exciting and involving.

The show still runs like a well oiled machine, hell even more so since last I saw it. The lighting and sound are still second to none whilst the visual effects still have the wow factor.

The entire cast was top notch with the ensemble in fine form and voice.
Lara Martins as 'Carlotta' was perfectly vile and diva-ish and in fine(is that word appropriate here?) voice as the schemings soprano hell-bent on keeping her status. Jeremy Secomb is perhaps the most realistic 'Piangi' I've seen. His pairing with Martins works, he has a lovely voice, but is also built like a strapping operatic tenor rather than the clownish versions of 'Piangi' I've seen before.
Barry James and Gareth Snook as the 'Managers' (who they also played in the 25th anniversary concert) were humorous and fresh - not simply sticking to how they played the roles previously.

Alternate 'christine' Anna O'Byrne, who features as 'Christine' in the DVD of the Melbourne production of 'Love Never Dies' was revelatory. Her vocals at times echoed those of Sierra Boggess but were distinctly her own. Her portrayal of the fear, confusion and inner turmoil at the struggle she endures whilst trying to fight for her freedom from both the shadow of her father and 'The Phantom' was tremendous, and she played the arc story arc perfectly; going from naive girl to confident woman via the ordeal in the graveyard where she truly begins to regain control of herself. During 'The Point Of No Return' that control is assured so that when, in the final lair scene, she is faced with the choice of 'The Phantom' or her true love 'Raoul' it is believable why she chooses the former. It is also worth noting that Hers is one of the few portrayals that makes me believe that she utterly wants to be with Raoul whilst feeling pity (and really little else) for 'The Phantom'. This is partly due to Simon Thomas who plays Raoul. He is no overly confident cad but rather someone who cares much for his former childhood playmate. Thomas is dashing in the role and brings the helps balance out the love triangle perfectly.

As 'The Phantom' Marcus Lovett is a wonder. His voice of hard thunder, lightning and soft silk and candlelight is not typical Phantom fare yet echoes the voice described in the original novel. In fact, much of his portrayal echoes the novel. He doesn't merely echo anyone else who has filled the shoes of 'Erik' but plays Leroux's 'Phantom'. Here is a 'Phantom' who, at times, one thought was capable of utterly destroying that which he loved most - namely the Opera House and 'Christine'. Yet he also showed the tender side that only 'Christine' was able to produce', showing us the adolescence that never was; where a normal man would learn social skills, 'Erik' clearly has not and has thus remained much a spoiled, temperamental child. The final lair scene is one of the most thrilling I've seen, filled with danger, passion and clarity. Lovett's demoniacally passionate 'Phantom' dragging his obsession around left 'Erik' quite possibly dying of the heart attack that claims him in the novel. Lovett's presence, power and inherent awesomeness as 'Erik' is sublime and I may have a new favourite 'Phantom'. He slowly stalks at one point and then rushes about maniacally the next. His 'Phantom' is truly full of the unexpected.
I dearly hope I can see him in the role again before the end of his run.

I urge you to go NOW to Her Majesty's to catch this amazing performance in this amazing show. Believe me when I say words can't really describe how wondrous Lovett is.