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.

Woyzeck

Thanks to the Old Vic’s £10 previews scheme, I get to see many more shows there than I would otherwise. Woyzeck was one of these. Adapted from Georg Büchner’s unfinished 1879 play by Jack Thorne, it starred John Boyega of Star Wars fame, alongside Sarah Greene as his girlfriend Marie and Nancy Carroll as the wife of a senior officer.

Set in Cold War Germany at the time of the Berlin Wall, the soldier Woyzeck is unable to live in barracks as he is living unmarried with his girlfriend and their baby. He is struggling to find enough money to afford their flat, and the stress of this coupled with a traumatic childhood and hints of PTSD threatens to send him over the edge. The drug trial he’s enrolled on doesn’t help matters, either.

I must admit I wasn’t too impressed with this and wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. Boyega does the best he can with what he is given, but the whole thing is rather confused and, dare I say it, dull. Reviews have been fairly complimentary so I must have missed something. I’d like to see Boyega in something else, but this particular play isn’t a favourite.

Guards at the Taj

When I visited the newly-reopened Bush Theatre for a tour recently, I made a note of the first full-run play that would be on there, as I thought it sounded interesting. That play was Guards at the Taj, written by Rajiv Joseph and directed here by Jamie Lloyd. It’s about the construction of the Taj Mahal, but it’s also about friendship and moral responsibility.

Set in Agra, India, in 1648, the play starts off as something of a comedy, with two very different guards, Humayun (Danny Ashok) and Babur (Darren Kuppan) passing the time in (forbidden) conversation. Humayun is responsible and follows the rules, Babur is more carefree. Both know one thing – they mustn’t turn and look at the beautiful building being raised up behind them. They also repeat the legend that the emperor has ordered that the 20,000 men who built the Taj should have their hands cut off lest they ever create something as beautiful again. In this play, the myth becomes reality.

The pair’s conscientiousness backfires when their good behaviour earns them the ‘privilege’ of carrying out a particularly brutal deed. This proves to be too much for one of the men in particular, and sets forth a train of events that test loyalty and friendship and commitment to the prevailing orthodoxy. It’s a violent, bloody play, short but heartbreakingly sad. Definitely worth seeing.

The Addams Family – The Musical

I never actually watched The Addams Family as a child; I’ve never seen any of the films. But I love a good musical, so headed down to the New Wimbledon Theatre, where the touring production of Andrew Lippa’s The Addams Family – The Musical was being performed.

The plot, such as it is, involves daughter Wednesday falling in love with a ‘normal’ boy and the impending dinner in which her family and his will meet for the first time. Gomez, entrusted by his daughter with a secret, worries about the effect this will have on Morticia, while their son Pugsley fears that his sister’s new relationship will take her away from him. In the meantime, Uncle Fester has loosed all the family ancestors throughout the mansion in the hope that they will somehow help (although they seem only to provide an excuse for an onstage chorus).

Despite the thin plot, I found the musical hugely appealing, largely because of the memorable music. ‘Death Is Just Around the Corner’, sung by Morticia (an excellent Samantha Womack), was a particular favourite, and Carrie Hope Fletcher showed off her amazing voice in Wednesday’s anthems ‘Pulled’ and ‘Crazier Than You’. The cast was also very strong, including a superb Cameron Blakely as Gomez and Les Dennis as Uncle Fester. Valda Aviks as Grandma was also very good.

Diego Pitarch’s set was effective, particularly the dramatic mansion gates, and there were some fun effects in the form of a ‘moving picture’.

I found the musical very funny; I would have liked it to be a bit darker, maybe, but this seems churlish considering I did really enjoy it. I took a friend with me who is an Addams Family fan but who doesn’t particularly like musicals, and she really enjoyed it, which I count as a win. I definitely recommend catching this fun show on tour.

Read Not Dead: Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune

Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune is the first in a miniseries of four plays performed in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as part of Read Not Dead, known as ‘Before Shakespeare’. It is a very rare and interesting play: first performed by the Earl of Derby’s Men at court in 1582, it is one of only two plays that survive from the first fifteen years of commercial theatre.

The play itself sees the goddesses Venus and Fortune in a debate over who has the most agency in human affairs. They get involved in a complex situation but eventually everything is sorted out. Like all Read Not Dead performances, it was hugely enjoyable, performed well by a dedicated cast.