A Winter’s Tale oct 19th, 2015

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This is a fairy tale, a magical story children listen to on long, dark winter evenings, a tale about love, trust and jealousy, about betrayed friendship and repentance and the moral that love, in the end, is supposed to win and that is what makes life bearable.

In this realisation we are part of a Christmas party, musicians come from the audience, singing chorales, and snow is falling on us. An old home video shows two boys playing together,at school, with families, having fun. It’s document to the deep friendship between the king of Sicily and the king of Bohemia.

Leontes of Sicily (Kenneth Branagh) tries to convince Polixenes of Bohemia to stay a little longer but it takes Leontes’ heavily pregnant wife Hermione to make the king extend his stay. It is then that Leontes’ jealousy kicks in – in every kind gesture, every harmless glance or touch he sees his wife betray him with Polixenes. So he hatches a plan to have Polixenes poisoned. Lucky for the king of Bohemia, the appointed killer, Camillo, shies away from the deed and warns the king. Together they leave immediately. Enraged that his plan had been usurped, Leontes throws his wife into the dungeon where she gives birth to a girl. But not even his new daughter, brought to him by Paulina (Judi Dench), softens him. He leaves for Delphi to hear confirmation of his jealousy by the all knowing oracle.

But: the gods are not with him. They tell him that his wife and Polixenes are innocent and he won’t have an heir until his daughter is found.

Returning home, his first born son is dead, as is his wife and his daughter, who had been sent to exile, has vanished.

16 years pass, Leontes is in mourning, seeing the error of his ways but not being able to right the wrong…

In the meantime his daughter, found by a shepherd and called Perdita, has grown into a beautiful young woman and drawn the attention of a brash young man – the son of Polixenes of Bohemia, who is not happy that his heir is in love with a shepherd’s daughter. In order to escape his wrath and stay together, Florizel and Perdita flee with Camillo’s help (you still remember Camillo from the third paragraph? he just wants to go home again) to Sicily where Florizel tries to convince the friendly Leontes that he’s here on a diplomatic mission. That doesn’t work out – but! Polixenes and Camillo arrive at court with the shepherd who unveils he is not the real father of Perdita and it turns out – Perdita is Leontes’ daughter! Together they go to Paulina’s house to bring her the news. There a statue of Hermione is just being finished – and – you guessed it: it’s Hermione herself, living in reclusion, waiting for her husband to forget his jealousy. They are reunited and even the prophesy of Delphi is correct: Florizel is the heir now that Leontes’ daughter is back.

Kudos to set design and costumes by the way: the stage is never crammed but has this airy, light feel to it that lets you concentrate on the beautiful language, executed by great actors. The costumes are an interesting mix of late 19th century but with artistic licence. It’s a period that has extremely gorgeous dresses and suits that make each man look taller and more regal than he is. ;)

It’s a convoluted story with a strong morale and to make it palatable it needs great actors – and this cast is amazing. There is not one weak link in this play, they’re all outstanding. Also: I’d never thought that Branagh himself is such a teamplayer – his often mocked huge ego was nowhere to be seen on stage. He was just absolutely awesome, the scenes with his young son seemed as if taken from another home video, light and easy and loving and real. I knew of course that he was good (I’d seen his DVDs as Hamlet, Iago) but live he’s truly marvellous. A stark contrast to Cumberbatch, even down to the bows where he urged everyone else on stage to enjoy the well deserved standing ovation after this second show of its run. I wish I could see more.

cast: Pierre Atri, Jaygann Ayeh, Tom Bateman, KENNETH BRANAGH, Jessie Buckley, Vera Chok, Jack Colgrave Hirst , John Dagleish, JUDI DENCH, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, Rudi Goodman, Matthew Hawlsley, Taylor James, Pip Jordan, Ansu Kabia, Stuart Neal, Michael Pennington, Zoe Rainey, Miranda Raison, Michael Rouse, John Shrapnel, Kathryn Wilder and Jimmy Yuill

The play that goes wrong oct. 18th, ’15

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That one killed me. It really killed me. My cheeks are still aching. My make up was a mess. I cried laughing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as funny as that.

And I’ll fail at reviewing it. Just… go and watch it. You’ll love it.

It’s a play within a play. A group of terribly amateurish actors and stage hands tries to get a murder mystery on their stage: murder at haversham manor. But where’s Winston, the dog? Is he in the audience? He has a skin condition. It’s not contagious. Hopefully. Trevor, the stage manager, also has lost his Duran Duran CD set. Have you found it?

The damn door on stage doesn’t close properly, probably because they utilised a loo door from the gents room. The mantelpiece comes loose.

There’s a dead body on the sofa. His fiancé has an affair with his brother, the understudy. Who is understandably nervous but loves the attention of the audience and keeps winking at us, with a sly little smile. The elevator to the second floor gets wonkier with every trip until it breaks, the second floor isn’t on its best behaviour either. The props vanish. There’s no whisky, so the butler serves white spirit, which is highly flammable (yes, we have flames on stage).

The phone chord isn’t long enough. The second floor gives way. The fiancé is knocked out, a stage girl steps in. Don’t ask what happens when the fiancé wakes up again. The butler is stuck in a loop and keeps serving white spirit, pronouncing words he’s written in his hand hilariously wrong. The dead brother wasn’t dead at all, but now his brother is killed after a sword fight better than the one in Hamlet. The blades snap under the enthusiasm of the fighters, so with “swish, clank” they fight on.

In the end everyone is worse for the wear and the audience is breathless and gives a more than well deserved standing ovation. I’m sure I missed some of the gags just by laughing so hard. It’s a rare combination of intelligent witty dialogue and slapstick performances that rule!

Brilliant: Adam Byron as the understudy, Matthew Cavendish as Trevor, Bryony CorriganAs the duck faced fiancé, Leonard Cook as her brother and Harry Kershaw as inspector and director.

Stage door: yes, they’re all so nice. And cute. And oh lord, so very very young. And brilliant!

Kinky Boots oct.17th, ’15

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Music by Cyndi Lauper. Book by Harvey Fierstein. Six amazing drag queens who gorgeously light up the stage. And Lola, the queen of the queens, strutting her stuff in kinky boots. Nothing can go wrong!

The musical tells the story of Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly) who doesn’t really have a plan in life. He should follow his father’s footsteps and produce high quality shoes but doesn’t really want to. He has a career oriented girlfriend and therefore rather follows her to London. But then his father dies and when he goes back, the factory is basically broke. On a drunken night out he tries to “save” a lady in distress and gets hit – not realising that the gorgeous woman in question is Lola,(Matt Henry) who wouldn’t have needed his help at all, but in saving him breaks the high heel of his boots. Boots that are expensive but cheaply made. Well, even if Charlie doesn’t know it yet, we do: he’s destined to make “kinky boots” , a niche market that will save his factory and subsequently his life as he finds help and understanding in Lauren, while his fiancé leaves him for a life in London. Until then there are a few obstacles, though. Not everyone accepts Lola as a designer, Don hates her and finally even challenges her to a fist fight, not knowing that she was trained as a pro boxing champion by her father. But Lola let’s him win and thus saves another soul – Don realises that his help will save the production of boots in time for Milan.

The huge shoe event in Milan almost doesn’t happen for Charlie, who had miscalculated so there’s no money for models. Desperate, he himself tries to walk his boots until – to the rescue come Lola and her angels.

Any Lennox is a fabulous Lauren who emulates Cyndi Lauper without being a cheap copy. Her voice is strong and made for blues and rock. Killian Donnelly is a charmingly lost Charlie who plays his innocence in a very cute way. Matt Henry is brilliant – he won the voice UK and rightfully so. Plus to sing and dance in those boots – kudos! He does have the depth to deliver the more serious parts of the role too which is a blessing.

Loved every moment! Both Gabe and I were dancing and clappyin the end, so a great time was had!

Farinelli and the king oct.17th, ’15

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A little history before the review: Philip V of Spain apparently was a sex addict. He was also very catholic, so he was torn between the lust for his wife and the guilt of experiencing such lust. His first wife died after four pregnancies, having been just14 when married to him. He had to be pried off her dying body. His second wife, Elizabeth Farnese, ruled him and Spain through his sexual needs. But even she was at a loss when manic depression kicked in – he abdicated in favor of his son until the young man died of small pox. Philip took the crown again, but his depression was severe. Elizabeth tried to interest him in music and for a while a semi normal life was resumed. The king worked at night, slept by day during a manic phase of his illness. This lasted a few months. Depression took over again until he one night said he felt like vomiting. His tongue was swollen and turned dark and he died, officially from a stroke.

Philip’s interest in music, the means that had him lead an almost normal life, is where the play starts. We are introduced to his court and to his mood  when the king tries to fish a goldfish from a glass bowl. He seems to have intimate conversations with the fish as well.

What intrigued me most this early into the play was the marvellous proscenium stage that was lit by dozens of real candles and had audience members sitting in the boxes on the side, in front of the musicians on the first floor and in the first three rows up front. I got the feeling I was actually in a baroque theatre and it was glorious. The smell of candle wax was new and added to the experience.

Philip (the brilliant Mark Rylance) is only roused from his depression when his wife manages to bring the world’s most famous singer of the time, Farinelli, to court. His voice, the clear light yet powerful notes of a castrato, does what doctors of the time couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do: bring him out of his melancholy and have him rule again.

It is Rylance’s self deprecating dry wit that makes his part so outstanding. He is the frustrated, guilt ridden, sex and peace wanting man who needs music to reconnect with life, to stop the voices in his mind, to keep him from howling in desperation.

Farinelli is played by two men –  a brilliant solution: first there is Carlo Broschi, the man who has a deep compassion for the ailing king, who keeps him company when no one else does and who simply talks to him, even about his castration at 10 through his brother. Sam Crane plays him and he is good looking and charming as he falls in love with the queen. And then there’s Farinelli, his other self, the divine singer who mesmerises even uneducated peasants with his three octave range – played by Rupert Enticknap. The counter tenor has indeed the voice of an angel (even though musicologists don’t believe that a counter tenor sounds all that much like a castrato. Good for him I say!) and makes it believable that this first form of musical therapy actually had the desired effect.

When the king finally dies, Farinelli’s influence is gone. Decades hidden away in the king’s castle in Spain have hurt his career, so even when his brother asks him to come back on his stage (influenced by the widowed queen) he refuses, only lifting his incognito life to a servant who had seen him sing for the king some 25years ago. But Farinelli’s life in the light is over….

The play is a brilliant historic glimpse in contemporary English, domineered by the skills of Rylance and the magical voice ofEnticknap. Together with the authentic stage it created a glittering bubble full of sarcasm and truth and wit and three lives – the king, the queen and the singer – entangled in each other’s emotions, helplessly captured with no way out. A brilliant play, a must see and a joy at the stage door, where it turned out that incredibly talented Enticknap not only speaks German but will star in Berlin next year. Good to know!

Hamlet, Barbican Oct. 16th, ’15

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This Hamlet is a mixed blessing –  I thought it was a good show that suffered from some very poor directing choices, the hype over cumberbatch and one overly huge ego (BC’s if you need the explanation).
Cumberbatch. . .so much hype. .. I think no one could live up to that.

I really think that hype took away a notch from the performance. For me the “madness ” was too much. He was very good but … on the whole. .. I don’t know, I felt it lacked a bit. Plus his plea for money at the end took away the “afterglow”

He’s a very … agitated hamlet. Even when softness would be required. He was sweating buckets thus blinking his eyes constantly. I know it’s petty but it was quite annoying. They still meddled with the placement of the monologues which was okay but forced his “madness” a bit fast – it’s a director’s decision that can work but doesn’t necessarily have to. The rest of the cast was a mixed blessing. Horatio (leo bill); was amazing as was Claudius (ciaran hinds) – his prayer scene was a huge highlight. Damn ,he was good. Ophelia suffered from  weakest part of the play syndrome. The poor girl was forced to run around cocking her head like a clucking chicken before her suicide. Yeah, that’s madness… not. the fighting scene between laertes (kobna holdbrook-smith) and Hamlet was very masculine and well choreographed, both showing off their skills with a rapier. But hamlet’s  death scene … was … Sorry just meh. Screeching “the rest is silence” and then perishing on the floor doesn’t a good death scene make. All in all it was a good production, not a great one, mostly down to some weird directing choices (Hamlet in a nutcracker’s costume parading in a children’s fort and on the table of the war room, Ophelia clucking away.) What I liked was the use of freeze frame for hamlet’s monologues. Everyone around him froze to slow slow motion while he opened up about his inner most feelings.

It also didn’t help that poor Fortinbras was barely understandable and rather left alone in the midst of all those dead bodies and that he had most of his lines cut. Again, it’s a decision a director makes and it can work.

I wasn’t too overwhelmed by the use of the set design, which was actually gorgeous and depicted a lavish great hall in a castle which at the end of part one was flooded dramatically by a storm of black snow, heralding the demise of a great bloodline of kings. But in part two it also served as a field and as the graveyard. Mhh.
And then after the bows Hamlet cumberbatch droned on about the refugee crisis and that they’d already collected 200.000 £ . good for them. Oh well. It was a good show, but it didn’t live up to the hype around it, which is kind of a shame. But as long as there are throngs of cumberbitches at the stage door, no one will probably notice.

My Hamlet is still Jonathan Goad.

The Last Wife Sept. 20th, ’15

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This play was interesting in more than one way. It reunited parts of the cast of Anne Frank – namely Anne and her father, Sara Farb and Joseph Ziegler – in totally contrary roles which is credit to their talent. And it is an interesting contemporary retelling of Henry VIII and his last wife, the one that survived him – Katherine Parr. The play is by Kate Henning and premiered at the Festival’s Studio Theatre. The rather intimate venue gives itself to a powerful story of duelling wits, of politics and feminism without rewriting or even changing known history.

Katherine Parr (Maeve Beaty) is a woman with a dying husband and a handsome adoring friend Thom (Gareth Potter) she keeps at bay – not just because she is still married, but also because she had been raped (over a dispute of land). And yet – as soon as her husband died (and it’s the third husband she loses to the grim reaper) another man advances her. And he is a man who does not take no for an answer. Henry VIII wants her. He sees in her a glimps of Jane Seymour – the one that died in childbed and before she could bore him to her death – but he also gets an intelligent woman who does not want this relationship, but who has no choice but to accept. In the end she gives in, not for the presents he showers her with, but because he promises to never take her without her permission. Thom Seymour is sent to Holland though.

Parr is the first woman who seems not to be afraid of him, who deals with his rotting leg and who even manages to get both Mary (Sara Farb) and Elizabeth back to court to be educated together with the one child that matters: Prince Edward. In a war of two intelligent minds, one hindered by the fact that it belonged to a woman, Parr is able to get the King to sign a paper that secures succession through the female line, should Edward die. She even dodges her own execution by humiliating herself and bending to the king’s will as she gets too influential for the courtiers. The marriage itself it seems is a series of negotiations, and maybe that’s what keeps Henry interested while his health declines.

After his death Katherine seems to find happiness with Thom – but for a last time has to be the mother of two stubborn princesses when Elizabeth is in the middle of a smear campaign alleging that she and Thom were lovers. Parr fights these rumours, but it takes all her fight out of her – she gives birth to a girl and dies weeks later from sepsis.

Two future queens she helped form are mourning her as the one mother they had known, as the woman who had proven that women can in fact be strong and intelligent and head of states. Thom is no longer in the picture – killed for treason – and Edward is a sickly child. Both girls will have their moments in the light, one creating the golden age of Great Britain.

What fascinated me most was the way these historic figures came to life as thoroughly contemporary people, as humans rather than Kings and Queens. Josef Ziegler gives a fantastic grumpy, frustrated by his own weaknesses, yet regal Henry whose self deprecating irony is the salt of the play. Maeve Beaty is the down to earth, intelligent woman with the brains of a man who conquers Henry – but her love for Thom (a deeply female fate not only at the time) is in the end her downfall.

Set design was minimalist as often, with a large table doubling as a bed and little more. But from the ceiling hung a huge model of the Palace of Whitehall, where Henry lived and died, but upside down. As upside down as the relationship between Henry and Parr had been…

The Alchemist Sept.19th, ’15

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Honestly I don’t know how he does it. There’s Jonathan Goad finishing Hamlet, and a couple of hours later, he’s one of the main actors of the alchemist, a satirical farce about the greed of people that is not only highly demanding from a sheer physical standpoint but also from the frightening amount of text.

Goad is the charming Face who while his master is out invites Subtle and Dol Common into the empty mansion to part people from their money. (And don’t you just love it how aptly Ben Jonson names his characters?) Face poses as Captain and if necessary also as hunchbacked servant to Subtle’s Alchemist and together with the distractingly sexy Dol they con unsuspecting and superstitious commoners out of their money. There’s the tobacconist who wants to know where his shop’s door should be. And the gambling lawyer who needs a lucky charm in order to win. There’s the greedy religious congregation, the loud lout, who wants to learn how to quarrel, and his gorgeous widowed sister, who wants another husband,  and finally there’s Epicure Mammon, (Scott Wentworth, hilarious in  a golden fat suit, wobbling about on stage) who wants his whole life guilded.

Face, Subtle and Dol juggle their victims quite expertly until Surly, Mammon’s friend turns up. He’s too clever for their shenanigans and wants to give them over to the authorities. In order to do this though, he poses as a Spanish Don’t with wig and clothes and hat and seems to be the perfect new husband for the widow. (After he’s paid for the pleasure of course). So Mammon is waiting on his stone of wisdom that will turn everything into gold, meanwhile courting Dol, the Alchemist is trying out fortune telling and pressing more money out of the strange church people and slowly but surely the whole thing flies out of hand.

And then the master of the house turns up and within the hour Face is a servant again, Subtle and Dol are gone and Surly is the only one followed by the police as he lied to the widow and then confided in her. The master marries the widow, the duped folk have no idea what just happened and peace is restored in the village.

Again it was the little things. Stephen Ouimette prancing around with a chamber pot. Dol (Brigit Wilson) donning a dress that could be turned into a very revealing Mistress dress with a whip. Scott Wentworth casting stinky eyes at the audience for laughing out loud, all the while bopping around on stage like a mad golden billiard ball. Rylan Wilkie as the overzealous righteous religious nutter, screaming ‘this is indecent’ while throwing a temper tantrum worth of a 3year old. And finally Jonathan Goad, dashing in his red Captain’s jacked. Weird as Frankenstein’s helper in a hunchback jacket and with a limp. And harmlessly smiling and soft voiced, when his master is back, with rimmed glasses and a prayer book.

They also corpsed once. I almost peed myself. – while Surly is introduced and Face and Subtle talk, the ‘Don’ takes off his Spanish hat with a flourish…. and has his hair in his hand. He keeps talking Spanish, but frantically tries to put the damn wig back on. Of course Goad sees that and starts grinning which tips off Ouimette and finally all three of them just give up and laugh, snort and giggle with the audience, applause, hilarity, until they’re allowed to continue.

As you can see – I loved it. Wentworth and Ouimette are always a delight, Goad is just exceptional this season and the play itself just hilarious. Still grinning, me.