Tuesday, 5 March 2019

'Waitress' at the Adelphi Theatre

'Waitress' has transferred from Broadway to the West End, to the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand and it's a very nice feel-good tale about pies, domestic violence, pies, customer service, pregnancy, baking, illicit affairs, lots of sugar and spices, and, of course, sex. With songs thrown in for good measure. It's also about love and friendship and it made me smile. Oh, and did I mention pies? In these days of Brexit and Trump we can all do with a smile.

It's the tale of Jenna, our heroine, who is not only a waitress in Joe's Pie Diner but she bakes all the pies as well. She's clearly a nice person since she chats to and listens to Joe, the elderly owner of the diner who comes in every day for breakfast. We learn that she's become pregnant and is married to Earl, a universally unpopular man and there are signs of domestic violence to keep Jenna under control. He takes all her tips at the end of the day. She learns about a pie-making competition that could make her enough money to leave her husband and she also falls for her local doctor and they start an on/off affair. Months later and she has the baby, tells her husband to go away and leave her alone, now that she's empowered by the baby, but what about Joe and the diner? You'll just have to see it for yourself to see the ultimate ending.

It's a very American show in some respects but no less enjoyable. Do we have an equivalent to the diner waitress thing? I don't think so, but if you've been to America you'll have experienced it and you've certainly seen it in films. One moment I did find odd was when the doctor says there are ways to approach a pregnancy and Jenna blurts out that no, she's having the baby, without any mention of abortion. That's a dodgy topic in America so the author is playing it extra-safe given that those lines didn't even need to be said.

There are, of course, several sub-plots to keep us occupied, like Becky (waitress friend 1) having a secret affair with Cal (diner manager) and Dawn (waitress friend 2) marrying Ogie and these all have their own special scenes and laughs. In a way, that's what this musical is - it's about friendship and laughter, love and baking. What more do you need? There are a lot of songs in the show, very much current country tinged pop music that work really well and sound of now.

I thought Katherine McFee was excellent as Jenna as were Marisha Wallace and Laura Baldwin as Becky and Dawn respectively, great comic timing as well as great voices. I also like Stephen Leask as the diner manager who ends up having a rather raunchy affair with Becky. All in all, they make a great cast and it's a great show - if you need your spirits lifted you could do worse than go to see 'Waitress'.

PS: More pie for sale in the interval would've been welcomed...

'Nine Night' at the Trafalgar Studios

We were lucky enough to catch one of the last performances of 'Nine Night' at the Trafalgar Studios, the play that transferred from the National Theatre into the West End. Nine Night is the Jamaican tradition of holding a dead person's wake over nine nights with parties, lots of drinking and eating, reminiscing  and setting the spirit of the deceased free. Surprisingly, this is the first play from Natasha Gordon and it's been a tremendous success with some great writing and plotting. While I won't pretend to have understood all the Jamaican references in the play it was pretty obvious from the reaction of the element of the audience with Jamaican heritage what was going on. It's about death and a wake but it's also incredibly funny and heartbreaking.

It's a Windrush generation tale of Gloria who leaves her eldest daughter with her grandparents to come to London to make a new life, marry, have children and send for her daughter who never arrives. In old age Gloria gets cancer and dies and it's left to her British family to follow the Nine Nights tradition of her homeland. The tale is really about Lorraine, the British daughter who gives up her job to nurse her ailing mother and then the burden of Nine Nights falls on her to arrange. supply and manage. We gradually learn about the family, its ups and downs, family tales and traditions, how brother Robert suddenly needs money and wants to sell the house, Lorraine giving up her job, Lorraine's daughter Anita learning about her heritage and lots more. There are enough plot twists in here to keep anyone happy. And then the eldest daughter, Trudy, arrives from Jamaica and everything changes.

I laughed out loud, I sympathised, I cringed inside at the embarrassing bits, all the things you do with a family at its rawest. This was an excellent piece of writing made even more special by Natasha , the author, taking the role of Lorraine (she didn't play it at the National Theatre). The cast were excellent and I particularly liked Natasha, Oliver Alvin-Wilson as brother Robert and Michelle Greening as scary sister Trudy. The run has now closed but when (not if) it's revived I'll be in the queue to get tickets.

Monday, 4 March 2019

'Follies' at the National Theatre

I saw the revival of Steven Sondheim's 'Follies' at the National Theatre in 2017 (see here for that blog) and it was so successful that the production has been brought back with many of the original cast. It's a big show and isn't performed that often so it's nice to have the opportunity to see it again. It's back on the big Olivier stage with the same sets and staging but there are some small changes and it's these I'll focus on here.

The key changes are the addition of Joanna Riding and Alexander Hanson as Sally and Ben (replacing Imelda Staunton and Philip Quast) and the addition of Harry Hepple as the young Buddy. We also had Felicity Lott temporarily replacing Josephine Barstow as Heidi, the operative Weismann Girl. At first, it was odd seeing Joanna in Imelda's place but I gradually warmed to her in that role - it must've been a big decision (as well as a big opportunity) to step into Imelda's shoes but I think she did it quite successfully. It was also good to see Alexander again and he worked well with Janie Dee as his stage wife.

One of the most noticeable changes for me was to see the 'ghosts' of the past shadowing the 'current' selves throughout the performance. Whenever Sally or Phyllis or any of the cast were on stage they were clearly shadowed by their younger selves in full costume.  I really liked this link between the 'now' and the 'then' that they are all nostalgic about in a ruined theatre about to be turned into a car park.It worked really well.

It was nice to see Dawn Hope and Tracie Bennett belt out their show-stoppers (which is exactly what they are). Janie Dee was also on top form. Surprise of the evening went to Joanna Riding singing 'Losing My Mind' (which she is clearly doing) by downing a handful of pills (not really) and pulling off her wig on the final note of the song. That was a big wow moment.

Well done all, a great re-creation of the production that was a joy to see again. If you're in London you could do a lot worse that get tickets (if you can) to see this show.