Miss Julie: **** (4 Stars)
Black Comedy: ***** (5 Stars)
Minerva, Chichester Festival Theatre - 15 July, 2014
Rebecca Lenkiewicz's adaptation of Miss Julie (originally written by August Strindberg) proves to be intense, intriguing and volatile. Rosalie Craig brilliantly portrays the eccentric, temperamental and demanding Miss Julie, daughter of the Count of the Manor house, (previously played by Maggie Smith at the Chichester Festival Theatre). Between her terrible tantrums, Craig shows the dangerous uncertainty of her own self worth. This comes to light as Jean (Sean Evans), a valet, takes full advantage as their forbidden love affair leads to the couple unable to continue living in the Count's manor house. Their plan to move to Northern Italy to run a hotel seems their only way of escape. Meanwhile, Kristen (Emma Handy), the cook, observes the madness of the situation, being the voice of reason and aptly shows the struggle the lower class.
Director, Jamie Glover, previously credited as an actor at CFT proves to know exactly how to please the audience as the Farm Workers' drunken dance was equally bawdy as it was a refreshing relief from the complications between Miss Julie and Jean's conflicting intentions.
The entire cast performed wonderfully and as the relationship between Miss Julie and Jean is at the core of the performance, both Craig and Evans should be credited for such a strong performance. Between Miss Julie's tantrums she shows how insecure and unsure she is of her own self worth as her submissive attitude toward Jean allows him to take full advantage of her. The chemistry between the actors was fascinating. A very strong performance by both the cast and creative team.
Following Peter Shaffer's prior success of Black Comedy at Chichester Festival Theatre, Director Jamie Glover, provides a fantastic evening where I left totally exhausted after laughing so hard for the entire performance. Glover's Black Comedy is the best comedy I have seen as I was continually laughing like a hyena throughout and close to tears on many occasions.
The stage is set in Brindsley Miller's (Paul Ready) apartment in mid 1960s South Kensington. When suddenly an electrical fuse blows and the characters are set in complete darkness. Glover had obviously spent a vast amount of time making sure the cast were realistically lost in the dark which each cast member did tremendously.
Ready's performance as Brindsley was fantastically hectic and a flawlessly terrible host at his cocktail party. As Brindsley awaits a millionaire, George Bamberger (Samuel Dutton) to arrive to purchase one of Brindsley's sculptures. Brindsley also has to conceal antique furniture from which he stole from his neighbour; Harold Gorringe (Shaun Evans) who was brilliantly snooty. Brindsley's girlfriend Carol Melkett (Robyn Addison) had an impressive squeaky voice, which added one more element to her fabulous character. Brindsley's elderly neighbour, Miss Furnival (Marcia Warren), stood out with her brilliant random drunken rant which had me rolling in my seat.
I wish I could say each character stood out without rewriting another cliché but truthfully they all did, each cast member had such a strong comedic presence; all I can suggest is that it is a must-see!
Miss Julie / Black Comedy are running at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 9 August - book here: http://www.cft.org.uk/5014/MISS-JULIE-BLACK-COMEDY/623
**** (4 Stars)
Birmingham Repertory Theatre – Tuesday 17 June, 2014
Written by the incredibly talented Alan Ayckbourn, Woman in Mind depicts the gripping story of Susan, a housewife who is unknowingly suffering from a mental illness. The play follows Susan as she embarks on a perturbed journey between her own realities and her imagination.
Woman in Mind is potentially the most genre diverse play I have seen to date, being extremely comical consistently, whilst also covering a truly dark and perplexing issue. As an audience you find yourself laughing and then crying within minutes.
The beautiful garden-like set that we are faced with at the beginning appears to be towered by a large transparent box, and although one could argue that this does not change enough throughout the play, it becomes the central aspect, with many key moments happening inside.
The company deserve tremendous amounts of praise for the quality of naturalistic acting shown throughout the play. Meg Fraser leads the cast excellently, switching between and executing remarkable Received Pronunciation and a clear Scottish accent.
The use of lighting in the play is of extremely high quality, with the colour changing to reflect the mood of the characters brilliantly. Following this, at one truly memorable moment the lighting suddenly transforms the set from a raging storm, to an outburst of glorious sunshine. The lighting designers warrant strong commendation, as their work is a key and memorable aspect of this production.
Woman in Mind, is written excellently by Alan Ayckbourn, the most frequently performed English language playwright in the world after Shakespeare. He carefully highlights issues, such as the divide between upper and lower class, which are shown in both of Susan’s worlds, whilst subliminally telling an extreme tale of mental health.
Woman In Mind is at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 28 June. Tickets: http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/event/woman-in-mind/
**** (4 Stars)
Grand Opera House, York - 26 May, 2014
Arriving at the Grand Opera House in York on Monday night, I felt as though I’d stumbled across a weird sort of time warp. Dozens of middle-aged couples and large groups of friends dressed up to the nines and swathed in large red feather boas (yes, even the men) filled the auditorium. 20th Century Boy is a musical inspired by the life of rock legend Marc Bolan and his band T-Rex, and the majority of the audience had no doubt experienced the story of the outrageously-dressed Glam Rocker the first time around.
The story unfolds through the narration from both the characters of Bolan and his son, Rolan, who was only two years old when his father died in a car accident in 1977. We learn that the boy who aspired to be “bigger than Elvis” achieved a string of great classic hits, suffered a breakdown of his marriage, alienated many of those close to him, fathered a son from his relationship with his former backing singer, Gloria Jones, and eventually died after a drink-fuelled celebration of his forthcoming 30th birthday. His now grown-up son travels from Los Angeles to London to discover the story behind the father he never knew, and meets many of the characters who played a key part in Bolan’s life.
The cast is strong, particularly Warren Sollars in the title role who certainly looks and sounds the part. Strong voices and performances also come from Katia Sarenti playing Helen Shapiro and Lucy Sinclair playing Bolan’s wife, June Child. Credit must go to both Donna Hines who played the part of Gloria in the first act, and to a seamless transition into the role by understudy Lakesha Cammock in the second act.
The overall energy of the show is good, but does seem to flag when the songs stop, and the dialogue takes over, particularly in the second act. The first act has almost the atmosphere of a rock concert rather than a selection of songs in a musical, and, if I wasn’t around to appreciate them in the seventies, I certainly recognised hit after hit as coming from the Billy Elliot film soundtrack ("Ride a White Swan", "Born to Boogie", "Children of the Revolution" amongst others).
This lively musical certainly delighted an audience who gave it a standing (or bopping) ovation on Monday night, and will no doubt have many of those recently introduced to the music for the first time reaching for their I pads to see what they missed – feather boas and glitter optional.
20th Century Boy is currently on a national tour! Buy your tickets here: http://www.20thcenturyboythemusical.co.uk/
**** (4 Stars)
Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York - 28 May, 2014
Having never seen an amateur production of the stage version of High School Musical, I was unsure of what to expect. However, I was blown away by how good this production was!
The show started off with a “Wildcat Cheer” and although there were difficulties with the sound limiting the amount of great vocals and speech it did not alter the cast’s performance and they carried on showing a real dedication to their show. The first act came to an end after Connor Mellor (as Zeke Baylor) had his tremendous song “Stick to the Status Quo” and then pushing his lovely cake into Sharpay. In the second act the technical difficulties had been sorted out and everyone could now be heard, this took the show to a whole new level increasing everyone’s performance it also meant that by the end of the show we had a few members of the young audience giving a standing ovation singing and dancing along to their favourites songs “Breaking Free” and “Megamix”.
Christian Mortimer who played (Troy Bolton) and Megan Forgan who played (Gabriella Montez) really managed to capture the relationships for each other and combine their acting skills together pushing them forwards showing a true and believable performance. Kelly Stocker as Sharpay Evans alongside Jake Husband as Ryan Evans brought out the comedy of these characters and had the audience in laughter throughout.
The age of the audience really suited for this musical and represented a real boost within the cast on stage because of the great reactions given within the whole theatre. This show was really brought to life and beat all my expectations.
**** (4.5 Stars)
Minerva Theatre, Chichester - Friday 1 May, 2014
'Bitterly charming' is how I would describe Stevie By Hugh Whitemore. Yet it is equally a delight to witness such fantastic performances from the cast trio of Chris Larkin, Lynda Baron and the eponymous protagonist, Stevie, played by the enormously talented Zoë Wanamaker (who is also YMT's Patron!). Stevie’s pessimistic view of life and gritty humour is enormous fun; I couldn’t think of anyone better for the job than Wanamaker.
The play takes place in Stevie’s home at 1 Avondale Road, Palmers Green, London where she resides with Aunt (Lynda Baron). Stevie Smith, spends a lot of her time after work as a secretary, eating Battenberg cake and Ginger Nuts with her Aunt and writing poetry part-time. Her existence seems bleak and uninteresting to the naked eye yet her moving poetry shows pain and vulnerability as she reflects upon the comfort of her inevitable death.
The set is realistically cosy and welcoming with charred edges showing how Stevie’s personality would have seemed slightly 'rough around the edges'. Commendations have to be awarded to designer Simon Higlett for such a beautiful set.
Director, Christopher Morahan, aptly gives the script such wonderful justice and creates a brilliant night of dry and dark humour yet shows so much heart through the characters. The bitter-sweet ending left me with chills for the rest of the journey home, what a masterpiece of theatre!
The wonder of poetry is that it can spark discussions that can continue for hours on end, yet if poetry does not float your boat, the performances alone are worth seeing!
Stevie is playing at the Minerva, Chichester until May 24 - book your tickets here: http://www.cft.org.uk/5014/STEVIE/621
Photo: Alastair Muir