Thursday, 18 February 2016

Three Plays In Four Days

Had a bit of theatrical overkill last week with 'Husbands & Sons' at the National Theatre, 'Mrs Henderson Presents' at the Noel Coward Theatre and 'Kinky Boots' at the Adelphi, two musicals and one play as far from being a musical as is possible. Or so it felt at the time.

'Husbands & Sons' is three plays by DH Lawrence knitted together into one performance, handily all set in a mining village in Nottinghamshire at the turn of the century. Each play takes place in one family so we have the outlines of three small houses on the stage for the action to take place in and around and, to be blunt, this set up got weary very quickly. The miming of opening doors, taking off and hanging up coats became tiresome very quickly (they weren't even very good mimes and were too elaborate).  

I quickly got quite tired of the plays - the same thing multiple times can be quite wearying. Tales of poor marriages, of falling apart marriages, of matriarchy, of misplaced fidelity... o dear, o so depressing. I should have known really. I really liked Lawrence when I was younger, his grit and unflinching light-shining on social ills is all terribly right on but o so dreary to watch a century later. And the accents? O no, one bloke's accent was so thick I couldn't make out what he said sometimes. I managed to understand the 'Pitmen Painters' so how come I failed with this? Play to your audience not to your preconceptions.

It's now closed at the National but I think is opening for a season in Manchester. 

Second up was 'Mrs Henderson Presents' based on the film of a few years back with Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins in the lead roles, so yes, another film transfers to the stage. I had hopes for this and booked tickets for what I later realised was its first ever night in front of a paying London audience. So we had Don Black, the lyricist, in front of us to one side, Christopher Hampton and his straggly hair right in front of us and Baz Bamigboye over to the side in front (can he ever just go to the theatre without being waited on?). Don needs some new rhymes, Christopher needs a haircut and Baz needs a more colourful scarf. That's all I'm saying.

What I quite like about this tale is the bravery of the Windmill theatre 'never closing' during the war, all that British pluck and stiff upper-lipness. By the time I first saw the Windmill in the early 80s it was another sleazy strip joint in Soho along with so many others that have now vanished in favour of Starbucks and Cafe Nero coffee bars. I actually don't know if the Windmill is still there - I shall have to look the next time I'm up that way.

The story is the same as the film, so you know what you're getting, and you do actually get naked women on stage - so much braver than the men. The scene where the women are asked to strip off for the first time is retained, and they ask the men to do the same and that is where one of my doubts crept in. Back in the 70s when some of the men on stage were working and the fathers of the  younger men could have been working then they'd all have it all out on show but here they were strangely coy. In a sort of weird sexist way, where the men feign stripping but the women really do. What's that about? Clearly the men are meant to be nervous but they don't know that we - the audience - are present so why be so coy? That jarred rather.

And so did the lead actress playing Mrs Henderson forcing her Judi Dench accent on us. She's meant to be a posh member of the upper class and Judi isn't really that so what's with the accent? Stop it, it's distracting, do a standard upper class old woman accent please.  But what really annoyed me was some of Don Black's trite rhymes in the songs. After a few songs I played the 'guess the next rhyme' game and was surprised at how often I won. That's enough thank you.

Y'know what? I did like it and wish it well as it struggles to find its place and audience in the West End, less than a mile from the site of the Windmill Theatre. It needs work, it needs tightening up, and it needs the actors to calm down a bit and place hats on tables in a manner that suggests they'll stay there but I quite enjoyed it. I particularly liked Emma Williams who can not only belt out a song in measured and controlled tones but can strip off and walk to the front of the stage to offer the tradition V sign to the Blitz. Well done Emma!

The third play was the best, 'Kinky Boots' at the Adelphi on the Strand that I saw when it was still in preview and enjoyed it so much I wanted to see it again. Of course, I chose the performance that Killian Donnelly decided to do the first few scenes and then stop the show so his understudy could come on - I've not seen an explanation for that yet but I'm not too bothered really, I liked the understudy's voice better.

This show has class written all over it, more so than the other shows this week. The songs are by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein so what's not to like? And Cyndi delivers a score that's worthy of her own back catalogue, changing moods and tempos, taking the story forward rather than just interrupting it. The cast have all grown into their roles since I first saw it last year - I thought Matt Henry as Lola and Amy Lennox as Lauren (would-be girl-friend) were excellent and delivered terrific performances. I also liked Jamie Baughan as Don, the last man you'd ever expect to wear some kinky boots but he does and with great style. 

It's a lovely feel-good show and there's nothing wrong with that at all. If you've had a tough week then round it off with a trip to see this show and you'll come out smiling and maybe even humming along to one or more of the songs. I know I did!

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