Theatre: Oklahoma! (Chichester Festival) Friday, Aug 14 2009 

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You can throw as much social commentary and historical context into Oklahoma! as you want, but in its purest essence, it’s a love story about whether the farm girl will choose the handsome cowboy or sinister hired hand to take her to the party. There’s no use denying it- it’s the simplicity that makes it so beautiful. I always thought it was difficult to go too far wrong with it as it’s got a terrific blend of comedy and drama, a fairytale and a comic romance, and a happy ending for the survivors (well, maybe not for Ali Hakim…). However, John Doyle is so concerned with making it all edgy and minimalist (no scenery! What a concept) that the romance is completely butchered. There’s no playful teasing and one doesn’t even particularly care when Curly and Laurey finally admit their love for each other (they don’t even look at each other during the wedding- some kind of love match!). That added to the clunky staging and general lack of charisma amongst the cast makes it an all-round disappointing experience, especially as Chichester did so brilliantly with its glorious production of The Music Man last year. It’s as if they’re shying away from the fact that it’s a musical so that critics who usually dislike musicals (particularly that miserable Lyn Gardner) can praise the production’s ‘Chekhovian’ qualities. It is possible to bring out the darkness of the show without sacrificing the joy. Can’t they let the text speak for itself? Oklahoma! has a very special place in my heart as it was my companion piece to Carousel as more positive view of love and relationships when I was seriously getting into musicals in my early teens; I wanted to be Shirley Jones, and Gordon MacRae was my first proper crush. Whenever I watch the movie, I’m always astonished at the way it’s absolutely teeming with sex that went over my head when I was 13 (I’m quite astonished so much managed to get past the 1950s production codes). It’s got a bit of everything, and yet John Doyle seems determined to suppress the very heart of the show.

The staging is terribly awkward- having the whole cast constantly on stage when they weren’t needed, and Aunt Eller in her rocking chair looking on was a dreadful decision. It all looked so cluttered. The actors didn’t particularly play to the audience or to each other. Curly and Laurey were metres away from each other throughout The Surrey with the Fringe on Top and People Will Say We’re In Love involves Laurey rushing around the stage at breakneck speed. There’s no intimacy or warmth at all. The title song was the best sung number, but it had little animation or spirit. It’s also horribly over-mic’d. It’s a big theatre, but these people really ought to be able to fill it without too much help. Oh for the days when singers could actually project…

Leila Benn Harris is not a natural Laurey (she also doesn’t look right for the part- too exotic), and she isn’t helped by the terrible direction. This Laurey doesn’t even respond when Curly finally kisses her, and has a face like stone during the wedding. I’m also not the biggest fan of her Disney princess-ish voice. I prefer a fuller sound for this kind of singing (she can’t compare vocally or acting-wise to last year’s leading lady, Scarlett Strallen, who would have been perfect for Laurey). As for her frocks, I don’t mind Laurey being scruffily dressed whilst she’s doing her farm work (I realise that that’s more gritty and realistic than Shirley Jones looking gorgeous in all her pretty, spotless dresses), but for goodness sake, she needs a nice party dress. Even Josefina Gabrielle in Trevor Nunn’s production got one. At least she gets a wedding dress (and one that’s better than Caroline Sheen’s in The Light in the Piazza), but she should have been wearing lace-up boots, not anachronistic pumps- it wouldn’t have been noticable if her dress had covered her feet.

I have to single out Natalie Casey as Ado Annie for delivering the most embarassing, obnoxious performance I’ve seen so far this year. She has no singing abilities (she makes Jessie Buckley sound like Dame Joan Sutherland) and shrieked and gurned her way through her lines with a bizarre half American, half Cockney accent. Louise Plowright (any relation to Joan?) makes nothing of the role of Aunt Eller (bring back Charlotte Greenwood…), apart from waving her legs in the air so that Ali Hakim can fasten her garters (Aunt Eller would never do that. She wouldn’t have permed blonde hair either). The most successful female performance was probably Amy Ellen Richardson as Gertie, who had the best comic timing in the cast- I remember my friend loved her Cosette, so I think she really should have been cast as Laurey or Ado Annie. The men fare a bit better as Michael Xavier sings with the best voice in the cast (shame about the complete lack of chemistry with Laurey and he lacks the curls that give his character his nickname) and Craig Els is fairly menacing as Jud, but both could have been stronger under more competent direction. I wonder if it was intentional to have a Curly and Jud who looked similar. The choreography is uninspired (one of my favourite bits, the Many a New Day ballet is completely cut- Kansas City is the boys’ chance to show off, Many a New Day is the girls’ moment), and Out of My Dreams is particularly disappointing, without any real shock factor (the wedding veil covered with red rose petals that becomes Curly’s shroud- a metaphor for virginity? Never heard that one before…).

The Telegraph reading, lilac two-piece wearing audience seemed to love this. I did not. There was also a Tourette’s sufferer disturbing the first act- I know it’s very politically incorrect to complain about such things, but if they’re going to distract everyone else… Anyway, now this is how Oklahoma! should be done:

(This review refers to a performance that took place on August 13th 2009)

Theatre: Wuthering Heights (Tamasha/Coventry Belgrade) Friday, Jun 12 2009 

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I’m a die-hard Brontë fan, and I approached this new interpretation by Tamasha as a curiosity (rather than instantly damning it as a travesty as I know some might), and that’s pretty much what it is. An adaptation of the Cathy and Heathcliff part of the story filtered through the conventions of Bollywood filmmaking, that owes more to the Laurence Olivier movie (it has the movie’s ending, in which Cathy dies of a broken heart and then it’s all over) than it does to Emily Brontë. Wuthering Heights is a bit like a car crash- you just can’t look away and Cathy and Heathcliff have to be the most miserable protagonists in literature (it’s Olivier who turned Heathcliff into a romantic hero), so I was a bit bemused as to how the Bollywood conventions of lots of colour, music and dance would work. One of my favourite guilty pleasures is Gurinder Chadha’s Bollywood-fied Pride and Prejudice (not least because my dream man Naveen Andrews plays the Indian Mr Bingley), which is really cleverly done and shows so much warmth and affection for the original. This doesn’t reach the same heights (no pun intended- perhaps it’s also unfair to make comparisons as Austen and the Brontës are so different), but it works well enough for what it is. My friend was appalled by the lack of the second generation (little Cathy, Hareton and Linton), but it didn’t come as a shock to me. By the time we got to the interval, I knew there wouldn’t be time. It means that we don’t get to see Heathcliff at his most despicable, meaning that he remains a misunderstood romantic hero. Somehow, it bothers me a lot less than the way that the supposedly faithful 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre completely glossed over Charlotte’s scathing critique of child abuse at Lowood, assuming that all people are interested in is the Jane/Rochester relationship.

One of the main problems is the lip synching- I know that’s traditional in all Bollywood films, but this is live theatre, not a film, and so the musical numbers all feel a bit stilted and artificial. As for the music, I wasn’t expecting a Sondheim score- all the numbers sound similar and there are cheesy rhymes galore. The themes of class, destiny and spirituality all translate well to the setting of nineteenth-century India, it’s just a shame that Cathy’s “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff” speech was rather rushed through. The framing device is also rather hoky, with an old man telling the story to a young urchin (it would have been better to have had Nelly/Ayah doing that), who at the end reveals himself to be Heathcliff, who’s been carrying Cathy’s ashes around for twenty years and then turns back into the young Heathcliff and is rewarded with a schmaltzy reunion with Cathy. If you say so.

A flawed, but entertaining enough afternoon in what was perhaps the emptiest auditorium I’ve ever been in. Is Emily spinning in her grave, or would she be pleased that her novel, so misunderstood at the time, is still inspiring so many different interpretations? I wouldn’t dare make any assumptions.

(This review refers to a performance that took place on June 10th 2009)

Theatre: The Light In The Piazza (Leicester Curve) Sunday, May 24 2009 

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I set off to experience 1950s Florence in Leicester on a chilly, rainy morning in May, the day after my 21st birthday, which means that I’d now be too old to marry Fabrizio. I first became acquainted with Piazza a couple of years ago, and I only really got into it when I read a detailed synopsis and the entire thing came together beautifully. I really think that this show has the most beautiful score in years and it’s a perfect example of taking a rather slight story and turning it into something extraordinary. The Curve Theatre is an ultra-modern, state of the art venue, where the ushers scan your printout with handheld beeping machines (I prefer old fashioned tickets), rather than telling you where to go. It’s as if it wants to be like the National Theatre, but at present feels a bit too big and empty. In spite of all this technology, there was a technical hitch during the overture, in which the audience was nearly blinded by the lights and Michelangelo’s David failed to land, and Paul Kerryson had to come up on stage to apologise. Fortunately, all was resolved before long and I had plenty of time in between the show and getting the train back.

Paul Kerryson delivers a slick, beautifully designed production that perfectly evokes the luxury and glamour of 1950s Florence (with a touch of film noir in the stylised staging of Aiutami) and the production values are very impressive indeed. The sets (George Souglides) look as if they’re made out of white marble with projected views of the cathedral. Amongst the stylish array of costumes, Margaret’s red two-piece is a highlight (shame about Clara’s wedding dress though- I’d psyched myself up for something really gorgeous, but it looked like a bit of net curtain). The rich-voiced Lucy Schaufer is a very highly-strung, twinset-and-pearls, disapproving Southern matron, who certainly isn’t as instantly likable as Victoria Clark’s Margaret. I applaud her for taking such a different approach and it’s clear that this Margaret isn’t a whole lot of fun to be around, and one can see why Clara might prefer the informality of the Naccarellis to her mother’s iron control. Schaufer delivered the bitterest Dividing Day I’ve ever heard, and it was very touching to see her gradually mellow and come to terms with Clara’s development. Her The Beauty Is (reprise) was magnificent, as was her Fable, which made me sob. It’s easy to see why the Naccarellis would be so enchanted by Caroline Sheen’s Clara (“Una ragazza antiqua!”), who sings with a lovely, sweet voice and she perfectly captures the childish role she’s been assigned to and the womanly hormones emerging. I’ve always suspected that Clara is more advanced than her parents realise (“So much blind acceptance…”), and although the way that she’s been so sheltered and mollycoddled has all been well intentioned, it’s held her back even more. There’s also the question of what exactly is ‘normal.’ Matt Rawle was a pleasant surprise as Fabrizio, as my expectations were not high (too old, and I hated Zorro so much…). He was endearing, boyish and a bit awkward (the hairstyle didn’t really do him any favours though), and his Italian accent was no worse than those of the American Fabrizios.

There is fine support from Eliza Lumley as bitchy, romantically disillusioned sister-in-law Franca (I loved her English lesson with Fabrizio), whose philandering husband Giuseppe is perfectly portrayed George Couyas- completely sleazy, but still weirdly attractive. The Italian parents are also well played by Graham Bickley’s Signor Naccarelli, initially delighted by the romance between Fabrizio and Clara before being a bit freaked out at the thought of his little boy growing up so fast, and Jasna Ivir brings warmth as his wife, who also gets the best line in the show (“I don’t speak English, but I have to tell you what’s going on”).

This was more than worth making the trip to Leicester for, and I hope it gets the chance to enjoy a life outside the Midlands. An old fashioned yet modern unashamedly romantic musical with a gorgeous score and beautiful aesthetics- what could be better? It certainly makes me want to visit Italy and learn Italian… and find a Fabrizio of my own.

(This review refers to a performance that took place on May 13th 2009)

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Theatre: Madame de Sade (Donmar West End) Tuesday, Apr 21 2009 

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Well, I wasn’t expecting much from this, and in some regards was pleasantly surprised. While most of it certainly is pseudo-intellectual and poetic waffle, it isn’t the trainwreck some of the critics have made out. It’s presented with great style, there’s some excellent acting and it raises a few interesting points about the different types of women that these characters represent (youth, religion, lust, conformity, poverty), even if I can’t remember exactly what they were. That’s the problem with such flowery language- a slightly more naturalistic translation might have helped to bring the ideas across more effectively. The whole thing is so incredibly stylised and it’s difficult to connect with it on a human level. I commend the cast for doing as credible a job as they possibly can with the material. The premise is a really interesting one, and I can’t help wondering what a writer like Angela Carter could have done with it (cf The Bloody Chamber).

The good news is that the unpleasantness in the words is counterbalanced by the visual aesthetics. The costumes are divine and I especially liked the way that the colours all complemented each other (warm golds and bronzes in the first scene, then springlike pale greens and pinks, and finally greys when Madame Guillotine begins to come into action). Whilst probably not in line with Mishima’s original vision, quite a few lines (particularly in the first act) were played for laughs, in order to give the piece some light from the unrelenting gloom and debauchery. It’s also quite beautifully acted: Judi Dench is fine doing her imperious Judi Dench thing (I personally prefer her in softer roles, most recently Miss Matty in Cranford), but is overshadowed by Frances Barber as the salacious countess and Rosamund Pike in the title role. Barber plays her role with delightful wickedness and Pike does her best to make a potentially unbearable character sympathetic. She is quite mesmerising in her final monologue, even though it’s quite a thankless role as her devotion to her husband is one of those things that could never satisfactorily explained in a month of Sundays.

It’s not greatest thing I’ve ever seen, but I’ve certainly had worse evenings in the theatre.  August: Osage County for one- now, that was a play for masochists :P

(This review refers to a performance that took place on April 16th 2009)

Theatre: Breakfast With Emma (Rosemary Branch) Tuesday, Apr 14 2009 

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There’s a line in Fay Weldon’s play in which Emma Bovary’s lover Rodolphe comments, “If only Emma hadn’t taken all so seriously.” That’s her problem- she invests far too deeply in things that other people don’t consider to be nearly as important, and as a result is inevitably disappointed. Emma Bovary is not one of literature’s most sympathetic characters- a selfish spendthrift obsessed with shopping and appearances, who neglects her daughter and endures a painful, self-afflicted death. In this re-imagining of the story that takes place over breakfast on the day that Emma kills herself (not a scene in the book), Fay Weldon shows how all these little things build up in a world where it really is possible to die from frustration and boredom. The wonderfully talented director Helen Tennison directed the best Measure for Measure I’ve ever seen a few years ago, also at the tiny Rosemary Branch theatre (in which Isabella walked away from the Duke at the end- epic win), and she really is a special talent.

Tennison’s ingenious use of space involves characters entering and exiting from the cupboards, the dresser, the fireplace, to evoke the claustrophobia of provincial life where there’s no privacy and everything is everyone else’s business. The Bovarys’ morning room really resembles a real home, with the array of breakfast foods (I really enjoy watching people eat on stage- is that weird?) and household clutter. Fliss Walton is  capricious, bitchy, charming and at times even sympathetic as Emma (especially when Charles throws her dancing shoes on the fire- her one tie to the glamorous life she longs for), and she’s well matched by James Burton in the thankless role of the stolid, self-satisfied Charles, the embodiment of the mediocrity and insipidity that Emma despises.

Fringe theatre doesn’t come much better than this.

(This review refers to a performance that took place on April 9th 2009)

Opera: Jenufa (ENO) Sunday, Mar 22 2009 

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Opera reviews aren’t exactly my comfort zone, though it is an art form I keep meaning to learn more about, so please bear with me while I make my first attempt. Janacek’s Jenufa (1904) is roughly contemporary with the period in which Puccini was composing his masterpieces, and yet it feels like a world away. While Puccini portrayed Bohemian poverty with lots of lovely music and high romance, I’d be hesitant to describe the music in this as attractive to the ear and there’s very little in the way of romance. Most of Act I is very conversational, which makes the soliloquizing in Act II all the more powerful in the absolute despair. It’s a really interesting mix of melodrama with a strong social conscience, depicting a world that’s completely unsympathetic to unmarried mothers. For such a mundane story of jealousy, seduction and abandonment, it’s incredibly gripping.

When reading the synopsis beforehand, I wasn’t expecting the characters to have such depth, Kostelnicka (Michaela Martens) probably being the most complicated of the lot. Certainly, baby-killing is never something to be condoned, but under such circumstances, in which Jenufa would be disgraced and the child never acknowledged, she actually seemed to have a point in suggesting that the death of little Stevushka would be a blessing in comparison. Martens has such powerful stage presence, even all the way up in the balcony, and as the downtrodden heroine with a core of steel (doesn’t that sound familiar?), Amanda Roofcroft sang and acted her heart out. The entire cast was excellent, and if Tom Randle’s voice was sometimes weak, he embodied the role of ne’er-do-well Steva perfectly. It’s so easy to forget that it does have an unexpectedly redemptive ending in which forgiveness triumphs- Jenufa certainly is a very forgiving woman.

A thoroughly interesting experience. I was never bored (it’s just the right length, Janacek had the good sense not to drag the angst out for too long), which is high praise indeed.

(This review refers to a performance that took place on March 21st 2009)

Theatre: The Tempest (RSC) Sunday, Mar 1 2009 

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I’m currently in the middle of essay writing, so this review of the RSC/Baxter Theatre Company Tempest is going to be a bullet pointy affair:

• This is certainly one of the most colourful and mesmerising Shakespearean productions I’ve ever seen. Janice Honeyman has assembled an outstanding ensemble of actors and created a visually stunning production of one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and although I’m normally allergic to the terms ‘colonial’ and ‘post-colonial,’ everything worked and fell into place beautifully. It’s very accessible to newcomers and fascinating to those of us who know the play by heart (as you practically have to do at A-level).

• It’s also fast, running through the talky Act 1 scene 2 at quite a speed, but it’s impeccably spoken. After Othello in which I kept wishing that Othello would just get on with it and suffocate Desdemona and kill himself, it was refreshing.

•  The island is represented by a barren stage with a large tree (Illka Louw), indicating a harsh, inhositable environment. The masks, costumes and puppets (Janni Younge) are remarkable, bringing to life a whole new mythology. The giant Sycorax is particularly impressive and the masque was a stunning fusion of music, movement and colour.

• Antony Sher is a powerful, violent Prospero, in whom the powers of magic and colonialism are firmly connected. This isn’t a dreamy, wise old sage. He also manages to show just the right amount of fatherly tenderness towards Miranda (he’s quite scary when telling Ferdinand not to sleep with her before the wedding). It’s as if he gives up his violence with his magic, exiting the stage with his luggage and umbrella, leaving the staff behind.

• John Kani is an extraordinarily poignant Caliban (my favourite character in the play), full of repressed dignity.

• Atandtwa Kani is a tall, powerfully built Ariel, which might not have been my mental image of Prospero’s delicate little sprite, but he was terrific. It showed that Ariel’s fragility came from being suppressed by his colonizers, rather than his physicality.

•  I enjoyed Tinarie Van Wyk Loots’s lively Miranda, dressed in what looked like ragged animal skins. Charlie Keegan did his best with the limited role of Ferdinand (insipid even for a Shakespearean male ingenue). The log-cutting scene (the staging of which reminded me somewhat of the kind of thing Andrew Davies would do to liven up a dull character) lent Ferdinand a touch of passion.

• The Epilogue broke my heart a little, with Prospero (*Spoiler*) addressing the last two lines to Caliban (‘As you from crimes would pardoned be,/Let your indulgence set me free’), asking him for forgiveness. Simple, but incredibly powerful.

(This review refers to a performance that took place on  February 26th 2009)

Theatre: Carousel (Savoy Theatre) Friday, Feb 13 2009 

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I think I’ve already established a few benchmarks related to Carousel in this post- it’s my favourite musical ever, I know every line and note of music and I’m very particular about the way that it’s done, but I’m always open to new interpretations providing they make sense. One of the things I find most fascinating about the show is the way that kitchen sink drama can be made extraordinary. I actually feel a bit sorry for the critics who can’t unhinge themselves from the sainted National Theatre production- I know it’s down as the definitive production, but I somehow doubt it would have been for me as it featured a Billy who couldn’t sing- however strong his acting may have been, a top-class Billy needs to be pure vocal sex as well. Anyway, Lindsay Posner has done a splendid job in this beautifully imagined revival of the most glorious of all the great musicals that fixes the piece firmly within its own context rather than trying to ‘modernize’ it- and that does not mean that violence against women was acceptable in a musical set in the 1870s written in the 1940s. The entire point is that it was never acceptable and Julie knows it, but she manages to forgive him for his behaviour.

William Dudley’s design, dominated by large, simple set pieces, are fine, as I don’t think Carousel is a show that needs elaborate scenery to make its point. The projections were a pleasant surprise, after the way they made me feel rather travel sick in The Woman In White; the projected carousel actually heightened the sense of illusion and the dreamworld that Julie finds herself being drawn into before tumbling back to earth. I loved the way that Billy lifted right up at the centre of everything. I also liked the disused waltzer (I have a phobia of those things in real life) that took Billy to heaven, it’s as if he can’t escape his fairground roots wherever he goes. The opening scene, in which the girls sign off from their day at the mill is full of colour and exhuberence, with a seedy underbelly. Adam Cooper’s choreography may not be groundbreaking, but it’s vivavious and beautifully performed. There was a good contrast between the fun and excitement of June and the more sexually aggressive overtones of Blow High, Blow Low. I loved the gorgeous June girls in their brightly coloured frocks. The Bench Scene is beautifully done with the stars that gradually light up and the gentle waves from the beach and I loved the way that Billy scooped up the blossoms and poured them into Julie’s hand. My one gripe was the way that the kiss (the one that we anticipate so greatly) was orchestrated- he kind of grabbed her by the arm in an aggressive way. I like that moment to have a bit more tenderness, to show just how different this kiss is from the ones that Billy usually gets from his women and that this relationship is based on more than just sex.

I’ve got to admit it- Jeremiah James isn’t a Billy who makes me want to fling my petticoat way up high, even though he has a really good stab (no awful pun intended) at the role. It’s bit of a case of so near and yet so far because he almost has it, but he lacks the edge and dramatic bite to be a truly convincing Billy. His singing voice is strong, however, and he hit those money notes in the Soliloquy superbly and I’m thrilled to have The Highest Judge of All reinstated. I know how spoiled I’ve been from experiencing Jeff Nicholson’s mind blowing performance (talk about not being able to unhinge myself!) as he flawlessly portrayed every single side of Billy’s character (the anger, the confusion, the tenderness) in a performance like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since and I would have loved to have seen him play it opposite Alexandra Silber’s Julie.

She’s such an enigma, that Julie Jordan. It’s such a hard role to play because she can’t say what she really feels until it’s too late, and she has to express herself in the murmurs, in the pauses, in the gestures, in the sighs (as Countess Charlotte would say). Alexandra Silber is magical in the role. One of the reasons why I’ve always been drawn to the character is because it makes such a change to see a quiet girl with a core of steel as a heroine. Alexandra’s deeply sensitive, intelligent portrayal is a joy as she’s exactly the kind of Julie I like- sweet, yet strong willed and determined, knows her own mind and would rather be alone than with the wrong person (rather like your authoress). Her mannerisms are exquisite and her rich, powerful voice adds so much depth and passion to her renditions of If I Loved You and What’s The Use of Wond’rin . You believe every word she sings. What’s The Use of Wond’rin’ is done in a particularly chilling way, in which the girls sing it back to her (in every other production I’ve seen, they’ve sung it to Carrie), almost as if they’re mocking her and saying “told you so” for taking this idealistic approach towards love and marriage. She also imbues Julie with a wry sense of humour that sets her apart from her peers and I think also acts as a survival method. I cannot overpraise her performance as my favourite heroine and I hope she gets the rewards she deserves for it.

Lesley Garrett’s music hall Nettie could hardly be more different stylistically. I’m not opposed to a ‘sexier,’ less matronly approach on principle (Jacqui Dubois played a lovely, youthful Nettie at Chichester, and the original Nettie, Christine Johnson, was only 29 when she played the role), but the cold and brutal fact is that Garrett is no actress and I find her really rather grating to watch. Her rendition of June is Bustin’ Out All Over is relentlessly hammy and fortunately she sings You’ll Never Walk Alone just to Julie, rather than as a big showstopper. Lauren Hood, making her professional debut as Carrie, is definitely one to watch, with a lovely voice and very funny dippy facial expressions. I loved the way she was genuinely quite shocked at the prospect of a baby a year- not quite what she had in mind in her idyll of married bliss with Mr Snow. In this plum comic role, Alan Vicary is wonderfully nerdy. Graham MacDuff’s Jigger is reminiscent of a New England Bill Sikes (it’s the top hat) and Lindsey Wise is spot-on as Louise. The entire chorus sings and dances beautifully, perhaps the hardest working ensemble in London at present.

I’m not too keen about the way that this production has been marketed around Lesley Garrett’s celebrity status (The opening sentence of her programme biography claims that she’s Britain’s favourite soprano- I’d quite like a citation for that) and she shouldn’t be on the front of the leaflets when she isn’t even the lead. Surely the show itself ought to be the star, especially one as well loved as Carousel. The ticket prices are also astronomical, the cheapest being £31 for the back of the (very high) upper circle, which is frankly ridiculous. It’s tricky for those of us who consider £20 to be extravagant, let alone £32.50 at TKTS. Luckily, my visit in December was thanks to a competition win by my father and for this we got £10 tickets on lastminute.com and were moved to the front of the upper circle which was pretty good value for money, but when ‘concessions’ are £36, it doesn’t feel a discount.

This is a deeply affecting and worthy revival and I’m so glad we have it in the West End. There’s also good news in that the horrible Zorro is closing to make way for A Little Night Music, another exquisite and bittersweet musical. Both Carousel and A Little Night Music are musicals for people who, like me, prefer their chocolate dark.

(This review refers to a performance that took place on February 12th 2009)

Rebecca Caine: The Face I See (Marguerite) Friday, Feb 6 2009 

My friend and role model Rebecca Caine performing the beautiful and haunting ballad The Face I See from Michel Legrand’s musical Marguerite on Friday Night Is Music Night. Check out the rest of the Becky videos that my friend Jen has posted. She has one of the most beautiful, seamless soprano voices I’ve ever heard, she’s equally comfortable with Puccini or Noel Coward and has the most amazing sense of humour.

I was very disappointed to find that that Marguerite was snubbed out of an Olivier nomination when it was head and shoulders the best of the new musicals this year. My feelings towards Zorro have been well documented and I’ve said before that if it wins, I’ll vomit into an envelope and send it to the committee, but its competition is Jersey Boys, which hasn’t even got an original score (and neither has Zorro and that also has a truly awful book). Jill Paice was also snubbed- while GWTW itself wasn’t a highlight, she was a terrific Scarlett. I hope the fact that Penelope Wilton and Margaret Tyzack have both received nominations doesn’t mean that the vote will be split and an inferior performance such as Deanna Dunagan gets it instead. I’d be happy for either to win, but I think Margaret Tyzack might have the edge- I just watched the film of The Chalk Garden and prefer her interpretation to even Dame Edith Evans herself. If one of the A:OC women had to get a nomination, Amy Morton was better. I want Oliver Ford Davies to be rewarded for stealing the show as Polonius. I’m still in awe at the way that he managed to achieve the near impossible in making him both funny and lovable. Oh, and where’s Kenneth Branagh? Is he being ‘punished’ for pulling out of the Donmar’s Hamlet? I’d be quite happy for Black Watch to win everything it’s nominated for as it really is a once in a lifetime piece of theatre. And since the Donmar is leading the way, where’s Michael Grandage’s best director nod? Oh, and for ‘Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre,’ Clive Rowe FTW!

Theatre: Othello (RSC) Thursday, Feb 5 2009 

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Everything seemed so perfect on paper- an RSC production of Shakespeare’s great tragedy Othello - what could possibly go wrong? There are just a few problems with this production. For one thing, it’s dragged out to 3 1/2 hours (and it feels like it), there’s some very patchy acting and a general lack of chemistry amongst the cast a whole. I don’t think this is going to go down as a seminal interpretation and it has too many flaws to be a solid production.

In the title role, I found Patrice Naimbana’s performance rather bizarre to say the least (and that’s being polite). He had a very strange, mannered way of delivering his lines that entirely failed to convince me. Having heard excellent reports of his performances in the Histories, this may well be an unfortunate case of miscasting, or maybe I just didn’t get what he was doing. Likewise, Michael Gould failed to convince as Iago, the only real menace from his performance coming from being made to resemble Hitler in his khaki uniform and hairstyle (it’s the side parting) than his acting. His frantic, making it up as he went along approach otherwise could otherwise have been quite interesting. Natalia Tena as Desdemona (who I remember seeing as the raucous, vulgar ‘winged goddess’ Fevvers in Kneehigh’s Nights at the Circus- quite a different role) was effective in showing Desdemona’s femininity and rebelliousness (the best of Shakespeare’s ‘ingenue’ roles?) and I liked Tamzin Griffith’s performance as Emilia, the woman who won’t stop talking.

The set is minimalist, the most striking aspect being the bridge that brings Othello and Desdemona together. The courtship was well played in the background while Iago and Roderigo’s conversations were going on. The 1940s/50s setting shows a society where casual racism was still permitted, with Roderigo (played uncannily like Manuel from Fawlty Towers) singing You Made Me Love You in crude blackface like an unhinged Al Joslon and holding a grotesquely sexualised life size doll of Desdemona giving birth to a golliwog (how very topical…). The arrival scene at Cyprus was effectively done, with Desdemona dressed in a very Jackie Kennedy-esque pink suit, being photographed and treated like a princess in this male dominated world- an idealisation that soon turns sour. The death scenes lacked emotional impact and the most unsettling thing was Iago’s manic laughter at the end. The music is a strange mixture of tribal chants that kept being repeated- I personally found it rather grating and it didn’t really help build up the atmosphere.

I know this was ‘only’ a preview and the cast may settle into their roles better as the tour progresses. However, for an RSC production of Othello, I had hoped for something a bit more impressive and couldn’t shake off that feeling of disappointment.

(ETA: the critics seem to disagree with me, particularly regarding Naimbana. Perhaps I should stick to my comfort zones of musical theatre and social comedy. But I don’t think those with dissenting views should be made to keep quiet- otherwise I never would have been able to say how I thought August: Osage County was such rubbish.)

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