Sunday, 31 March 2013

Theatre Trips February-March 2013

It's occurred to me that I've been depriving you of my visits to the theatre this year, and there have been several. Where shall I start?

Merrily We Roll Along @ The Menier Chocolate Factory

Another Sondheim production from the Choccy Factory. It's struck a vein of gold with it's Sondheim productions, with 'Sunday In The Park With George' and 'A Little Night Music' not only transferring to the West End but also to Broadway, so I had high hopes for 'Merrily'. I saw a concert version of it a few years back so was familiar with the outline of the play.

It's a bit of an oddity in that it heads back in time rather than forward. It opens at a Hollywood party for the director's first blockbuster and from there we head back to when he and his partner had a success on broadway, further back to when they were a revue troupe and, further back to when they first met. From the swaggers of life, excess and success we later see them as young, idealists and hopeful.

I prefer the younger characters and felt the older versions of themselves were just plain unlikeable and that influences my view of the production. They were too shouty, too full-on and in your face and, if not unpleasant, at least not very nice. And why were they mic'd up? The Choccy Factory is a small venue that means you don't - or shouldn't - need microphones. I don't know if it was the play or the cast, but I wasn't terribly thrilled by it. Or, perhaps, it was the '70s setting moving back into the '60s - not terribly attractive costumes? I liked Jenna Russell who I've seen in Sondheims before (most recently in 'Into The Woods' and in 'Sunday In The Park') but that was about it. She does good drunk heckler.

It's another success, of course, and is transferring to the West End so you can see it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Privates on Parade @ The Noel Coward Theatre

This production of 'Privates on Parade' has now closed but I thoroughly enjoyed it from it's opening barrage of foul language to the closing scene of boarding a ship from Singapore back to Old Blighty. I've never seen it before but sort of know what it's about and that 'It Ain't Half Hot, Mum' was a sort of comedy telly series version of it.

It's the tale of a private posted to a concert party in Malaya at the end of the Second World War, finding his feet and love in the strange environment of camp entertainers, homosexuality and racism, prostitutes and the black market, mad officers and, of course, the Malaysian rebels/freedom fighters. There are some lovely song & dance set pieces and some rather long (and dull) diatribes by the worthy officer. There's nudity when the soldiers take turns having a shower after rehearsals one day.

Even Simon Russell Beale gets in on the act when he's changing costumes between routines, wearing what looks like a corset and then stands up, turns round and there's his bare bum. Not the best sight but brave of him to do it. Other than that, he was great fun as the camp officer leading the troupe in his short shorts, with his many costume changes, singing and dancing as Vera Lynn, Marlene Dietrich and Carmen Miranda and giving good show.

I thoroughly enjoyed the production. It was nice to see Harry Hepple on stage again but he didn't have any solo songs. It was quite strange seeing actors acting badly in character, making themselves look like amateurs that just happen to have found themselves in the concert party and away from the front line. Simon Russell Beale was great fun with his various set pieces and, of course, becoming the gallant hero at the end when he marries the Anglo-Indian leading lady who's become pregnant by the private and takes her to her land of dreams, Britain.

Dear World @ The Charing Cross Theatre

If you've heard of this play before you're probably one of a small elite of theatricals - I'd never heard of it but I have heard of the film it was made into, 'The Madwoman of Chaillot'. I've only seen 'Madwoman' once, with the lead taken by Katherine Hepburn, but it's stayed with me over the years.

The play is set in Paris after the war as the world changes from olde to modern with old social mores changing to greed and exploitation. Naturally, a group of greedy entrepreneurs discover oil under Paris so need to exploit it. This is where Countess Aurelia (aka the Madwoman) enlists the help of the Sewerman, the Madwoman of the Parks and the Madwoman of the Dogs to save Paris and banish the greedy folks to a strange underworld which is conveniently accessed through a manhole in her cellar.

It's a rather dated piece from the late '60s with a simple environmentalist theme but I liked the wonder, simplicity and deft incisiveness of the Madwoman. She lost her lover many years ago and chooses to live a romantic world of her own creation but she sees through the modern world quite easily. Don't mess with the Madwoman.

It's a rather thin play and the songs are a bit over-long but it's great fun nonetheless. It stars Betty Buckley and Paul Nicholas (yes, that Paul Nicholas). The night we went it also hosted Una Stubbs and Trevor Nunn in the audience.

The Judas Kiss @ The Duke of York Theatre

The Judas Kiss is the tale of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas in which the first act is set the day before Oscar is arrested and the second act sees him released from prison and living, penniless, in Naples. It stars Rupert Everett as Oscar and Freddie Fox as Bosie. We see Oscar at the height of his powers and then laid low by his time in Reading gaol.

Rupert Everett gave us a masterclass in understated acting, for the most part sitting in a chair just off centre-stage speaking calmly and letting the other characters whirl around him in passion and anger and frustration. No matter what the others do, the eye and attention always travels back to Rupert and his performance as Oscar. His deliberate indecisiveness and, later, world weariness, seems to drip from the stage, the ennui of being alive being so troublesome.

I wasn't terribly keen on Freddie Fox who seemed to stamp around the stage declaiming at the top of his voice like a spoilt child - the very role I last saw him in in 'Hay Fever' last year. Of course, some of that will have been the part and the direction, but two similar performances in the space of a year doesn't make me wish for more.

As with 'Privates on Parade' there was unexpected nudity and it seemed like all the men under the age of 30 had to get their kit of at some point. On the other hand, it allowed Rupert to make some choice comments about the equipment of the Italian sailor Bosie picks up one night.

So, which was the most fun? 'Privates on Parade'. Which was the most wondrous? 'Dear World'. Which was the most thoughtful? 'The Judas Kiss'.

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