Arrogant theatre director, Fred Graham, is starring in a musical production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, opposite his irritable film star ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. The show is already in danger of coming apart at the seams thanks to the bickering couple, but when young actress Lois Lane discovers that her boyfriend Bill Calhoun has signed an IOU in Fred’s name, and a couple of mobsters have come to collect his $10,000 debt, the backstage proceedings become a lot more complicated.
Kiss Me, Kate, with book by Bella and Samuel Spewack and music by Cole Porter, is a brilliantly conceived piece of musical theatre, in which the story of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is reflected within the offstage antics of the characters. Full of witty comedic moments and toe-tapping musical numbers played by the lavish Opera North Orchestra, there’s certainly a lot to enjoy about this production, despite its somewhat overindulgent runtime.
Mountains of venerable leather-bound books greet the audience: neat, catalogued shelves on the right of the stage; disorderly piles on the left. And so the stage is set for a play of juxtapositions: man and woman; togetherness and solitude; Britain and America. It is only really this last cultural contrast which feels largely anachronistic (and no less amusing for it) at today’s distance from the story’s post-war setting.
Across hundreds of letters and a remarkable 20-year period and, a bond of deep friendship organically develops from a transactional business relationship between an antiquarian London bookseller, Frank Doel (Clive Francis), and his New Yorker client, writer Helene Hanff (Stephanie Powers). Other characters, primarily belonging to Frank’s world, come and go, but this true story is inescapably an epistolary dialogue, and Roose-Evans’ play whole-heartedly embraces that format.
#Tweetingit – 2** promised to make us wet with excitement. Left us damp and disappointed.
The programme promised a lot. A unique combination of world-class acrobatics, comedy and live opera performed in, on and around bathtubs. Quite a bold claim to make, and whilst technically not wrong this just didn’t add up to an entertaining show.
There were bathtubs, though goodness knows why. There were world-class acrobats performing impressive feats of strength, balance and grace – and doing so with wet hands and feet so extra points to them. There was a woman acting like a particularly dim-witted child, I believe this passes for comedy these days. There was a singer with an excellent voice singing cringingly unsophisticated bathtime-based lyrics to well-known classics. There was lots and lots of splashing, and rather too much spitting for my liking. It did exactly what it promised, but it was boring.
The marketing for this show is a striking image of an agonised figure reaching through a yellow wall, I was therefore quite ready for an atmospheric piece and a sense of ominous danger. The production is based upon an original short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, published in 1892.
We are introduced to the sarcastic and self-assured Alice who addresses the audience whilst waiting for her doctor’s appointment at 5 months pregnant. What follows is a rather nifty time-lapse scene, where Alice’s doctor, played by Charles Warner, documents Alice’s slow decline from initial concerns around her mental wellbeing in late pregnancy to a difficult birth and subsequent post-natal depression, resulting in her baby being taken away, for the short term. And this is where the action begins, Alice spends more and more time in the yellow-walled room of her Husband’s newly inherited Summer House with peeling Wallpaper that gradually becomes to fascinate and obsess her, banned from writing, she snatches moments when left alone to write a fairy tale for her baby.
On the 19th June I am off to see Whilst at the Lilian Baylis Studio. This production is described as an experience which merges physical theatre, interactive Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies and an art installation, in an environment that blurs the boundaries between consciousness and unconsciousness, reality and fiction, the physical and the virtual, exploring the story from one of the 76 different perspectives.
I work in technology so when I heard AR and VR mixed with immersive theatre and what appears to be a make your own adventure book – I had to find out more.
I interviewed Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi, the founders of AΦE and the creators of the show.
Tweetingit: 4* Newlywed couple set up home dreaming of domestic bliss. Their happiness is shattered when proverbial hits the fan. Excellent storytelling packed into an hour.
A band was tuning up in the basement when I got to the Hope and Anchor in Islington. It was reminder of the venue’s origins as a bastion of live music. It now has its own version of upstairs downstairs with the Hope Theatre above a bustling bar. The theatre has gone from strength to strength with its commitment to new writers and reactivated classics. Their latest production is Adam and Eve; the tale of a seemingly happy relationship that turns to dust when accusations begin to fly.
The story begins at the end as Adam and Eve are raking over the coals of a failed relationship. Always a risky strategy for a writer, but this tactic works brilliantly as we find out exactly why the relationship failed. Adam (Lee Knight), an English teacher falls madly in love with estate agent Eve (Jeannie Dickinson). Their courtship is captured in bite sized segments and never fails to charm. In Eve’s words ‘I knew him before I knew him…if you know what I mean’. Yes, we know exactly what you mean; but this isn’t a sentimental, sickly sweet love story. It’s a genuine realisation that two people have truly found their other half. Adam and Eve: it was just meant to be, or so it would seem?
David Walliams’ Awful Auntie is the story of unfortunate Lady Stella Saxby (Georgina Leonidas) and the unravelling of her mean Aunt Alberta (Timothy Speyer).
Recently orphaned Stella is left to be ‘cared’ for by her Aunt Alberta when her parents meet their untimely death. Inspired by Roald Dahl, Walliams has written a murder mystery for children and due to a superb set and great acting, it really works on stage. Speyer plays the awful Aunt Alberta almost too well and the children thoroughly enjoy his performance.
Just how much are we willing to invest in the pursuit of the truth and justice and can one ever win against the establishment? The Winslow family are tested in every way in their journey to prove Ronnie’s (Misha Butler) innocence.
Expelled from Naval College, aged 13, for Monetary Theft, Ronnie returns to the family home in trepidation. Scared to tell his Father, Ronnie confides in his Sister Kate (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) about his recent expulsion.
All the while protesting his innocence, Kate has no choice but to inform their Father. A long legal battle ensues, a Fathers fight to clear his son’s name. Many sacrifices are made by the Winslow family, a family used to certain privileges but it’s not just the monetary sacrifices that take their toll.
Tweetingit: 4* an engrossing study of the pupil/teacher relationship and attitudes towards disability. A sometimes heavy going but ultimately rewarding experience.
The ridiculously convenient Park Theatre sprang another surprise on me last night; a small but beautifully formed studio theatre upstairs, mysteriously dubbed Park 90. An excellent performance area is distinguished by a brilliantly simple lighting system. Schism is ostensibly set in an office with a window represented on stage by a Venetian blind. The blades gradually space out as they gently wind across the ceiling; strategically placed lights are trained upwards and onto the blades creating an amazing series of shadows. The effect is amazing and builds the atmosphere in the transition between scenes.
Tweetingit: 3* A solid two-hander focusing on a couple thrown together by circumstance; the realisation dawns on them they both have mental health issues. Excellent character acting compensates for a painfully thin plot.
Mental health is sadly a poor relation in the strife-ridden NHS. So it is refreshing to see a play addressing the issue with the support of leading charity Mind. In the shadow of the mountain may have drawn some inspiration from a Canadian film bearing the same name. The film explored disassociation and how depression can transform our vision of the world.
The play follows a similar theme as two lost souls collide in the midst of a mental health crisis. The story begins supposedly at a train station. Ellie (Felicity Huxley-Miners) literally throws herself on top of Rob (David Shears) convinced he is about to take his own life. Rob, confused and diffident is immediately smitten by the attractive, chatty Ellie. She wastes no time in probing the thoughts of a total stranger. Their relationship develops at a rapid pace as their mental frailties become all too obvious.