Lend Me A Tenor

I’ve seen the play version of Lend Me A Tenor before and enjoyed it, but never the musical version, so I decided to go to WLOS’s production at the London Oratory School in Fulham. Based on the play by Ken Ludwig, it has a book and lyrics by Peter Sham and music by Brad Carroll. The farcical plot concerns a production of Otello that goes wrong when the lead tenor, Tito Merelli, disappears. Panic ensues as the long-suffering manager tries to track him down, while his unassuming assistant Max takes things into his own hands.

The performances were superb, with the leads convincing as opera singers. I really enjoyed this show and I’d definitely go and see another WLOS production.

Rent: The Musical

Sometimes it takes a second viewing of a particular show for me to really love it. I saw the Tabard Theatre’s production of Rent in 2013, so I wasn’t going to bother with the 20th anniversary UK tour, directed by Bruce Guthrie. However, I’d heard so many good things about it that I relented and headed to the last night of the tour at the Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells, of all places. I am so glad I did, because it was everything I could have ever wanted from a production of Rent, and cemented it as one of my favourite musicals.

The staging and set is heavily influenced by the 90s, evoking the time and place in which the musical is set. The songs sound wonderful and are done full justice by the band and performers. Philippa Stefani is a superb Mimi, evoking her character’s passion and personality, and with a gorgeous voice that makes numbers like ‘Out Tonight’ really stand out. Her lover, Roger,and his flatmate, narrator Mark, are portrayed well by Ross Hunter and Billy Cullum, and I particularly liked Ryan O’Gorman as Tom and Layton Williams as Angel. Not to mention recent Eurovision hopeful Lucie Jones as Maureen and Shanay Holmes as Joanne.

It’s a bit rough round the edges – probably owing to the tragic death of the composer Jonathan Larson, who died suddenly on the eve of the first preview, meaning that the normal process whereby a new show is tweaked and adapted in previews was bypassed. This only adds to the shows charm though, and I got the impression that director Bruce Guthrie really understood it and what it was trying to say.

I absolutely loved this production, and it was well worth the trek to a different town. I only hope it comes back to London in some capacity.

The Crocodile

The Crocodile is a recent adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s short story, written by Tom Basden and premiered as part of the 2015 Manchester International Festival. Here it’s performed by amateur performers at the South London Theatre.

It’s the absurd story of a struggling actor who gets swallowed by a crocodile at the Zoo, and is so pleased with his resulting fame that he decides to stay there. It’s a very funny satire on fame, and very well performed by all of the cast, including George Nettleton as Ivan and Jade Fane as his girlfriend Anya.

 

Death of the King

I’ve written before how much I love Immercity’s work. A small company specialising, as the name suggests, in immersive theatre, they’ve been responsible for amazing shows such as Crashed and The Three Rings of Cirque Tsuki. This new show, Death of the King, takes over a disused factory in south London, with a complex and original plot surrounding the death of the titular character.

The idea behind the show is that you, the audience, are journalists invited to the factory where, several years ago in 1983, a group of young people lived and one, Rusty, died. His cousin, Jack, has invited a medium to bring back the ghosts of the past and help you to try and solve the mystery of what happened all those years ago.

I’ll say straight up, if I’d known how much group work and interaction there would be, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Having said that, I was put with a family of five who were all lovely and made me feel at ease. Together we descended to the basement to observe the ghostly replay of that night in 1983, followed by the chance to question the ghosts about their part in events.

So much attention to detail has gone into this show. The acting, costumes, and storyline are all well thought through and completely absorbing for the viewer. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but there are enough clues presented by the characters – if you ask the right questions – to work it out, and I’m rather chuffed to say I did.

This is a truly immersive, interactive piece of theatre that will challenge you. I’m glad I didn’t know in advance about the extremely interactive nature of it, as I would have missed out on something special. It’s definitely worth stepping out of your comfort zone and checking it out.

On The Town

This summer at the Open Air Theatre, Leonard Bernstein’s classic On the Town is getting an airing. I haven’t seen the film and I didn’t really know much about this musical, so this pleased me. Originally written in 1944, it was written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and follows a day in the life of three sailors with twenty-four hours in New York to see the sights, hit the town, and maybe fall in love.

Drama befell the production not long after it started previews. Lead Fred Haig, playing Chip, broke his ankle and was replaced by Jacob Maynard. In fact, the night I saw the production was Maynard’s first performance in the role after a day and a half of rehearsals.

None of this stopped the production being a strong, slick hymn to old-fashioned musicals, with superb choreography from Drew McOnie, who also directs. One moment I particularly liked was a moving scene between two sailors during the ‘Lonely Town’ ballet. Peter McKintosh’s set, made up of crates and boxes to reflect the shipyard, is clever, with parts that roll out and an impressive dinosaur skeleton, and his costumes are glorious, the coloured dresses of the female cast members standing out against the white of the sailors’ outfits. Howard Hudson’s lighting is simply gorgeous, particularly towards the end, as the sun sets in Regent’s Park and the musical moves towards its bittersweet conclusion.

All the principals do justice to the piece, with Danny Mac an appealing Gabey, Samuel Edwards excellent as Ozzie and Jacob Maynard a superb Chip: it certainly wasn’t obvious that this was his first performance. The leading men are matched by their female partners: Siena Kelly, Lizzy Connolly and Miriam-Teak Lee. It’s nice to see some diversity on the London stage, especially in an older musical such as this one. The ensemble as a whole do a great job, and the score is stunning, with memorable tunes including ‘New York’ and an assortment of comedic numbers as well as more serious tunes.

I loved this musical. I’m sometimes reluctant to visit the Open Air Theatre, mainly owing to the unpredictable nature of the British weather, but I was lucky enough to catch this show on a beautiful night. If you can manage to do the same, I thoroughly recommend it.

Terrors of the Night

I went to see a Read Not Dead performance at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse with a difference – a prose reading of Thomas Nashe’s The Terrors of the Night (1594). Marking the author’s 450th anniversary, the Thomas Nashe Project is a five-year research programme funded by the AHRC, and this performance was related to that project. The text was edited by Dr Kate De Rycker, directed by Jason Morell, and performed by Peter Hamilton Dyer and Caroline Faber. It was accompanied by music performed by Ansuman Biswas.

The Terrors of the Night is a meditation on the meaning of dreams. Are dreams the work of supernatural forces, or are they influenced by the individual’s fears? It’s a fascinating exploration of the conflict between superstition and scepticism, and it was powerfully performed by the two actors in an atmospheric setting.

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

After not really loving Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, I wasn’t sure whether to bother with Edward Albee’s other current West End play, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?. However, along with a friend I queued up for a bargainous £5 day ticket (it’s so cheap because the stage is so high, but I’m quite tall so this wasn’t so much of a problem for me).

The play was fairly shocking when it was first performed (as recently as 2002), and it’s pretty shocking now, dealing with the taboo subject of bestiality. Successful, happily married architect Martin has fallen in love with a goat. As first his friend, then his wife Stevie and son Billy discover his secret, events move onto a tragic conclusion. The play is reminiscent of Greek tragedy, and has a similar kind of impact.

To handle a play like this you need some pretty good actors, and I thought Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo were both excellent in their roles. In particular Lewis brought sympathy to his extremely challenging role, inviting the audience’s sympathy. I was also impressed with newcomer Archie Madekwe as the pair’s son.

I was very impressed by The Goat and I’m glad I made the effort to see it.