Tweetingit: 4* The ancient and modern meet head on as social media lends a hand in this inventive production of Shakespeare’s bloodiest tale.
The techno phobe lurking deep within me is now under control thanks in no small part to the ever inventive Show Must Go Online. It’s difficult to imagine how a theatrical production could possibly work on Zoom via YouTube. But these talented thespians turn the trick despite a maddening dip in sound levels.
However the company were undaunted and the gremlins were thankfully defeated. Zoom splits the screen which can feature anything between two and eight actors at any given time. Stage directions are provided with vision mixing according to the requirements of each scene. A green border marked the actor when they spoke as a surprisingly tense live performance began.
Titus Andronicus explores the vagaries of power and ambition as fragile alliances are made and broken at will. The Roman Emperor is dead and his sons Saturninus (Wayne Lee) and Bassianus (Khuyen Le) are fighting over who should succeed him. However Marcus Andronicus (Julia Walker Wyson) appears to calm troubled waters with the announcement that brother Titus (Michael Bertenshaw) is the people’s choice of Emperor. Titus will shortly return from a victorious war against the Goths with numerous scores to settle.
From an actor’s point of view it can’t be easy delivering a performance under these conditions. Actors invariably take their cue from other cast members.
They rely on gestures and mannerisms when delivering a line. Eye contact is vital in timing the correct response especially on stage. All these physical prompts the actors might rely upon are, inevitably largely missing but this did not matter. There was the occasional moment where they spoke over each other’s lines and in these circumstances, this is an occupational hazard but it never troubled the performer nor viewer. The company happily improvised props and links to smooth the transition between scenes.
An actor will never just do a reading, it is always more than that and this group of fantastic actors prove this.
The Show Must Go Online has also produced an online guide for viewers staging a themed party including themed drinks and food. The mind wanders to dark places where Titus Andronicus is concerned but hey, why not?
Tweetingit: 3*** Andrew Lloyd Webber’s magic touch just about sees this sequel to Phantom through any rough patches. But it’s sometimes difficult to see the join with plainly familiar melodies.
The sequel is generally confined to the big screen where we’re accustomed to roman numerals in the title and resigned to the money printing potential of a follow-up tale. However, in the theatre it’s rarely if ever tried with any degree of success.
Who else but Andrew Lloyd Webber would have the nerve and financial muscle to pull it off? Despite ALW’s protestations Love Never Dies is a sequel to Phantom of the Opera. Negative previews in 2010 forced a re-write before it opened for a year-long run in the West End. However, a planned Broadway transfer was shelved after more mixed reviews. The show decamped to Australia in 2011 where it generally found a warmer reception. This film is a recording of the show staged at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne.
Tweetingit: 4* A one-legged man with a parrot on his shoulder looking for treasure never fails to grip the imagination. A classic story refreshed and rebooted for the London stage.
For a novel first published in 1883 Treasure Island remains an enduring classic. No less than nineteen film and TV adaptations have been made including animated features and a memorable Muppet movie. The story’s appeal lies in the spirit of adventure and promise of untold riches, fighting with pirates and stealing away hidden treasure. We played this story out in our minds as children and this excellent production recreates the magic once again.
Old sailor Billy Bones (Aidan Kelly) takes up lodging at the Admiral Benbow Inn on the English coast. Innkeeper’s child Jim Hawkins (Patsy Ferran) learns of a one-legged seafaring man while Bones fights with old shipmate Black Dog (Daniel Coonan). A blind beggar called Pew (David Stern) later tempts Bones with the promise of a map showing buried treasure. However, Bones dies of a stroke shortly afterwards as Pew and cronies lay siege to the Inn. Hawkins and her mother escape with a package taken from Bones’ belongings. The package contains a map of an island where infamous pirate Captain Flint had hidden treasure. With the help of Dr Livesey (Alexandra Maher) and squire Trelawney (Nick Fletcher) they raise an expedition to the island. Their appointed crew includes the mysterious Long John Silver (Arthur Darvill), a man with history and more than a passing interest in the booty.
Tweetingit: 3* A smartly scripted verse play from the cultured pen of Stephen Berkoff is a hit and miss affair but still generates a distinctive aura of time and place.
Stephen Berkoff made his name as a villain in numerous film roles where he grappled with James Bond and Rambo among many others. He even mastered Adolph Hitler in TV blockbuster War and Remembrance. However, Berkoff’s spiritual home is the theatre where his skills as a playwright were honed. East was first performed in 1975 and this is the 25th-anniversary production captured live at the Vaudeville Theatre in London.
The play is an occasionally witty and frequently explicit portrayal of life in London’s East End. The anatomy of a rowdy working class family is explored in a series of vignettes – love, romance, family and friendship are all recurring themes battling for centre stage. Mike (Christopher Middleton) and Les (Matthew Cullum) are two likely lads competing for the affections of flirtatious Sylv (Tanya Franks). Mum and Dad (Edward Bryant and Jonathan Lindsey) survey the unfolding chaos and reminisce about the good old days.
Tweetingit: 5* Victor Hugo’s sprawling epic seamlessly transfers from stage to the stadium rock atmosphere of London’s 02 Arena. A perfect production showcasing rare genius.
Once upon a time I acquired the hardback version of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Needless to say 1,232 pages stayed in pristine condition as I contrived excuses not to read it. Hugo’s masterpiece had so many alternative uses – mine was primarily a doorstop before its convenient loss during a house move. Any literary guilt was assuaged by the brilliant stage version that first graced the London stage in 1985. My own twisted logic dictated that I no longer needed to read the book. It is after all a brilliantly distilled version of the novel that marries narrative with beautifully constructed songs.
This film made in 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of the show’s first production at the Barbican. The transfer from theatre to the stadium like 02 Arena might at first present a challenge. However, Les Mis easily fills the 20,000 capacity venue as the songs grow bigger and better. Two giant screens flank a full orchestra and huge choir stretching across the stage. Sets are stripped away as cast members take the stage in authentic 19th Century costume. The unique atmosphere was obvious even on the small screen and one could sense the film captured a very special night.
Tweetingit: 3* A well-drilled, highly talented cast go through the numbers and deliver a slick production. But this feels like an overly sterile approach to an infrequently staged play.
Well three hours four minutes and thirty five seconds is a bit of a stretch even for a battle hardened theatre goer like me. But I was undaunted by the marathon that is Antony and Cleopatra. Watching online is a less onerous prospect as it can be split into bite sized viewing portions.
Even so, a highly efficient production by the RSC at Stratford-Upon-Avon is still heavy going. There is a slavish commitment to detail that adds little to the narrative and sails dangerously close to self-indulgence. Tony and Cleo is essentially a love job hovering between tragedy and history – a tale supercharged by the greatest power brokers of the ancient world.
Tweetingit: 4* A hugely entertaining production of a Broadway classic based on the life of performer Fanny Brice.
Funny Girl is synonymous with Barbra Streisand and her portrayal of Fanny Brice both on stage and film; the latter won her an Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role. It turned Streisand into a global superstar and set the bar for all performers who contemplated filling her shoes. It seems barely credible the musical disappeared from the West End stage for nearly 50 years. It wasn’t until 2016 that it returned to London at the Savoy Theatre before embarking on a highly successful national tour.
The story begins with Fanny (Sheridan Smith) wistfully looking back on her life. The ever trusty flashback clicks into action, and we are back in Vaudeville with a teenage Fanny trying to prove herself. Her mother (Rachel Izen) and friend Mrs Strakosh (Myra Sands) wonder if Fanny is too plain to make it as a stage performer. However, Fanny is undaunted and succeeds with the help of dancer Eddie Ryan (Joshua Lay). She makes a name for herself as a performer and meets handsome entrepreneur Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell). They inevitably fall in love as the trials and tribulations of their relationship are carefully plotted.
Tweetingit: 4* Noel Coward’s comedy of manners still seems fresh as a sparkling production mixes a sharp script with some wonderfully manic slapstick sequences.
When Private Lives premiered in 1930 Noel Coward was approaching the peak of his powers as a playwright.
It landed in the middle of a prolific spell that saw 26 of his plays performed in a twenty year period following the Great War. Book-ended by The Vortex and Blithe Spirit it stands out as an enduring example of his finest work. Billed as a comedy of manners it relies on a series of coincidences that stretch credibility to breaking point. But Coward’s rhythmic prose makes the plot work with the assistance of a poised and skilful cast.
Tweetingit: 3* Two generations collide and ultimately bond through a shared love of football. A neat two hander draws out a moving story of the beautiful game and its effect on our lives.
Two people on opposite sides of life can learn much from each other if they only take the time to listen. Billy the Kid is a neatly executed two-hander that shows how football can sustain people through the highs and lows of life. Billy (Dudley Dutton) is an 80 year old with attitude and a fund of stories to tell. Sam (Sam Donovan) is a bright young thing about to join the Chelsea Football Academy. He confidently looks forward to cash on the hip, flash cars and WAG girlfriends.
Meanwhile, Sam discovers that Billy has done it for real. He played for Chelsea before the war and quickly became a darling of the Shed. But then the Second World War broke out. His brother Joe happily enlists but Billy is not so sure. Their father fought in the Great War, and he endured a premature and painful death; it turned Billy into a pacifist. Nevertheless he joins the army as an ambulance driver to care for the wounded. But what happened to Joe; did Billy resume his playing career and did Sam make it into the Chelsea Academy?
Tweetingit: 5***** A peerless performance from a superlative cast delving into the mind and machinations of a most charismatic King.
Accessing Digital Theatre for the first time, I felt like a kid cut loose in a sweet shop. The theatrical equivalent to Netflix is easy to navigate and provides a mouth-watering selection of shows recorded live.
A crystal clear high definition picture greets the viewer via a simple click. I plumped for this brilliant RSC production of the final part in a tetralogy of history plays. Henry V is a seminal work in the Bard’s canon with its thrusting dialogue and moments of dry humour. Although the final part of a ‘boxed set’ the play works superbly as a stand-alone piece. We now see a monarch that is mature and ambitious; a natural leader poised to reclaim his birth right.
The Chorus (Oliver Ford Davies) acts as narrator appearing at pivotal moments in the story. Henry (Alex Hassell) is convinced of his right to the throne of France by ancestry. He resolves to invade but is initially dismissed by the Dauphin (Robert Gilbert) who scornfully presents him with tennis balls. Henry is undaunted as he foils a plot against him and prepares to cross the Channel. Henry rallies the troops as the tension builds between two warring nations. The battle ebbs and flows as the conquest reaches its climax at Agincourt.