**** (4 Stars)
The Crucible, Sheffield - Monday 16 December, 2013
The audience spontaneously rising from their seats and the auditorium filling with rapturous applause is a thing of magic and, last Monday, was a sign that the recent home-grown revival production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! at the infamous Crucible Theatre was worth the nearly 20-year wait.
A dark and dingy facade of a workhouse cleverly illuminated with falling lanterns sets the scene in Sheffield. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of McKintosh’s design is its versatility. A favourite moment is the use of the movable ante-stage swung around on the audience as Mr. Bumble (David Phipps-Davis) takes to Sowerberry’s to sell Oliver (Jack Skilbeck-Dunn) enabling us to travel with them through doors and into other realms of this perfectly crafted world. One such realm is that of Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry’s funeral parlour and it is here we begin to see director Daniel Evans’ dark side with the necrophiliac couple simply simmering at the thought of young Oliver trussed up for a funeral procession.
Despite the dark undertones, there is the spectacle and sound of the West End for the traditional Oliver! fans. "Consider Yourself" epitomises all that is musical-theatre; the choreography is complex enough for us to be impressed (especially with those carrying carcasses of meat and still pirouetting in time) but not so intricate that we aren’t completely absorbed by the performance to the point that we believe we could get up there and dance it with them. And this is all part of this company’s charm: you want to be part of the show; even when Bill Sykes (Ben Richards) is on the prowl and you’re praying that Nancy (Hayley Gallivan) comes to her senses. On a separate note, Gallivan’s rendition of "As Long As He Needs Me" is gripping and we are reluctantly happy to have some distance between her and us as we realise we can’t get up there and rescue her; she’s already too far gone. Again building on Evan’s sinister semantics, the raw ache in Gallivan’s vocals and a decidedly effortless range suggest to the audience that death may be the kindest thing to happen to Nancy and will be the only way out of her abusive relationship. Watching the act, however, laid bare and witnessed by innocents is another facet altogether – nothing is alluded to and it is all the more successful for being honest.
And now for a little more honesty: You don’t go to see Oliver! particularly to see Oliver – he isn’t the most interesting character and this show is no exception. The Artful Dodger (Jack Armstrong), whose cheeky grins and funny-though sometimes overly choreographed-blocking made for a delightful introduction to the vibrant city of London, is exciting and playful; Nancy is fierce and Fagin is superlative. Tom Edden completely steals the show as he plays, or rather becomes, Fagin, his portrayal being so complete. His whimsical dancing and Rik Mayall-esque quirks create a character with force, likeability and vulnerability. "Reviewing The Situation" is a real treat as Edden interacts with the stage and props, having a lovely moment with a lady in the audience who dares to catch his eye mid-note. He is simply impeccable.
When the inevitable happy ending comes around for little Oliver, Fagin’s last moment of anguish and almost betrayal on stage serves as rather a more desperate reminder that, in exchange for Oliver’s reunion with his upper-class roots, many of the other characters have sacrificed themselves. This being said, once the blackout is over, the thought is almost abolished in the tides of applause and the sweet little faces of the young performers smiling as the fourth wall of this bleak arena comes crashing down to reveal the real success here – a cohesive company who have put on an astonishing show giving a cast of young people the opportunity to display their talent.
Oliver! is playing at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until 25 January, 2014. Get your tickets here: http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/oliver-13/
***** (5 Stars)
Prince Edward Theatre, London - Tuesday 10 December, 2013
"Oh what a night" indeed! Jersey Boys returns to the West End with a fantastic new cast.
The story of four boys from Jersey who took the world of Rock 'n' Roll by storm, selling over 100 million records, showing how they adapted as a group and as individuals.
The production is fast and slick with a fantastically-fresh flair for songs that are over 50 years old, still with a Jersey bite giving it a gritty growl when it comes to family.
Former-member of pop band S Club 7, Jon Lee plays the highly demanding lead role of Frankie Valli with an astounding falsetto not to be messed with. His stamina throughout the show is incredible, making it seem effortless. Faultless. Why did he never use it in S club 7?!
The brains of the quartet Bob Gaudio, is brilliantly played by Chris Gardner. Hard man and leader, Tommy DeVito (Jon Boydon) and perfectionist Nick Massi (David McGranaghan), both show a ferocious Jersey bark and a strong eye that could intimidate even the back row. The delightfully camp Bob Crewe (Will Barratt) as the quartet’s producer does not over-play his character’s camp qualities, which was a delight to see.
The supporting cast has some lovely characters; Tommy Earl Jenkins’ glares into the audience are very effective as well as the action-packed set transitions are fast paced so there's never a dull moment.
The Jersey Boys find a girl group, The Angels, who perform a version of “My Boyfriend’s Back,” which could have been improved with a bit more energy and facial expression, nevertheless, the choreography is interesting and precise from the outset and throughout.
Set and costume design wonderfully integrated the Boys' uniformity while including their personalities and backgrounds.
Original Jersey boy, Bob Gaudio, composer of the production, which comes as no surprise as he wrote his first hit at 15, teamed with Director, Des McAnuff, to create a show that includes the drama within the band but most importantly the music, which was “what it was all about”.
Seeing the band throughout each number really makes the audience feel as though we are part of the show, lifting everyone’s mood till the end of the show as everyone got up on their feet to dance. I left the theatre singing some of the songs from the show, not worrying at all what I sounded like, brilliant fun! (Perhaps not for other commuters).
Jersey Boys is playing at the Prince Edward Theatre until 14 March - it then transfers to the Piccadilly Theatre. Buy your tickets here: http://www.jerseyboyslondon.com
***** (5 Stars)
Watford Palace Theatre - Saturday 7 December, 2013
Robin Hood is a pantomime that can be enjoyed by everyone: there are familiar songs, characters and audience participation. The hero, Robin Hood is joined by Little Joan and Friar Tuck, robbing the rich to pay the poor. The Sherriff of Nottingham as the villain, Maid Marian and her childhood nanny, Nurse Nelly are complemented by Shirley the soothsayer, from Sheffield. The good defeat the sheriff in the end, but along the way there are laughs, twists and true love.
Philip Cox (the Sheriff) is a suitably good villain and has good comic timing. Sheena Patel (the soothsayer) is an excellent comic actor and is ably supported by Terrence Frisch as Nurse Nellie. Little Joan (played by Erica Guyatt) is a nice comic touch and plays her part with zest. Donovan Blackwood as Friar Tuck is memorable and works well with Nurse Nellie. Robert Rees (Robin Hood) and Jill McAusland (Maid Marian) are perfectly matched and give heart to the pantomime.
The cast of seven works well together and their interactions are suitably humorous, appealing to both children and adults. The cast can both act and sing and draw the audience into the story. The plot is well thought out and has strands that keep the audience both interested and entertained. The cast though few in number, appear to fill the stage throughout both acts.
The set design is clever and incorporates jokes relating to the good folks of Watford. The scenery is both festive and appropriate to the plot and makes very good use of the stage. The ranges of costumes used are eye-catching and reflect the different scenes well.
The audience seemed to enjoy it and joined in enthusiastically when requested.
**** (4 Stars)
Minerva Theatre, Chichester - Monday 9 December, 2013
A youth group performing in the round is always a very bold move, however, under the direction of Dale Rooks, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre overcome any problems posed by the staging with ease and avidity.
This wonderful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic tale tells the story of Boy and his encounter with witches; not the sort that wear pointy hats and fly around on broomsticks, but a more contemporary kind of witch, perfectly captured in the costumes designed by Janejaney.
The set is skilfully used to create a magical ambience throughout the show and gives room for the cast to display a wide range of non-naturalistic techniques, including puppetry and physical theatre. Oliver Jackson’s score accompanies the humorous script delightfully, highlighting certain points in the play and consequently creating tension and, at times, humour.
Finn Elliot takes on the role of Boy with professionalism and ardour, alongside his Norwegian, cigar-smoking Grandmother, played by Beth Church. One of Dahl’s most evil creations, the Grand High Witch, is played by Emma Read, who gives a consistent and enjoyable performance: clearly a natural talent with a superb voice that is unfortunately lost at some points in the play. Although The Witches is a female-dominated cast, the cameo in the form of the chefs gives space for the male actors Guy Conroy-Smith and Jack Nash to give a comical duo that the audience receives well.
The Witches is a short, light-hearted production that is aimed at younger viewers, but there are moments of humour for an older age group. Although it comes to a very abrupt ending, it is a pleasure to watch and demonstrates the exceptional skill that some of these young performers have.
The Witches is playing at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester until 4 Jan. Book your tickets here: http://www.cft.org.uk/the-witches
** (2 Stars)
Noël Coward Theatre - Wednesday 4 December, 2013
Over the last fifteen months, the newly-formed Michael Grandage Company has produced a wealth of critically successful shows at the Noël Coward Theatre. These include: Privates on Parade (with Simon Russell Beale); Peter and Alice (with Ben Wishaw and Judi Dench); The Cripple of Inishmaan (with Daniel Radcliffe) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (with Sheridan Smith and David Walliams). To round off this season Jude Law takes on one of Shakespeare’s most famous roles in Henry V.
Directed by Michael Grandage, Henry V tells the story of the English victory over France at the Battle of Agincourt despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered… I think.
The current Artistic Director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, recently admitted that when watching Shakespeare: “For the first 15 minutes… I haven’t the faintest idea what they’re talking about”. For me, it was the entire show.
This may be sacrilegious to say, but I don’t particularly enjoy Shakespeare, predominantly because I can’t understand what’s going on. I have seen many Shakespeare productions and have studied countless texts at school – the usual Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream etc. but it’s only after in-depth analysis and discussion that I can finally get my head around what Shakespeare’s trying to say. This is obviously not possible when watching a production, so I rely on the acting. Even then, I don’t really understand the reasoning behind the actions of the characters and can often not tell whether a character is supposed to be acted in a certain way.
A giant curved stockade frames the action – representing the ‘O’ of the Globe Theatre. The cast is dressed in medieval clothing except for the Chorus (Ashley Zhangazha) who is in modern-day dress, a large Union Jack on his t-shirt. The purpose of this perhaps to show how Shakespeare is timeless?
Law is a believable war leader, convincingly rallying the troops with the stirring “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”. The best moment, for me, however, was his attempts to woo Princess Katherine (Jessie Buckley). Here, he is charming and wonderfully humorous. Sadly, this was the last scene and by this time I’d lost all interest in the play.
It was also difficult to establish what the point of the play is. Is it anti-war? Pro-war? The ambiguities were increasingly frustrating.
Henry V has been incredibly well-received by critics and audiences, however, I do not agree with putting Shakespeare on a pedestal and dismissing any one who thinks otherwise. His influence on theatre is unquestionable, but I refuse to believe that not understanding Shakespeare does not mean you don’t understand theatre. I’m not ashamed to say that Shakespeare does nothing for me. It’s a matter of personal taste and it’s completely wasted on me.
Henry V is playing at the Noël Coward Theatre until 15 February, 2014. Book your tickets here: https://tickets.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/index.asp?ShoID=1105