Tweetingit: 4* A revealing documentary tracing the anatomy of a musical that broke all the rules and took the genre into new territory.
Among the many delights on BBC I-Player is this excellent documentary presented by Bruno Tonioli and Suzy Klein. Made in 2010, it provides a fascinating insight of a classic that almost never happened. The genesis of Westside Story began in the 1940s when choreographer Jerome Robbins had a spark of inspiration, a contemporary musical based on Romeo & Juliet. He recruited composer Leonard Bernstein and acclaimed playwright Arthur Laurents. However, the dream team failed to agree on the project’s direction and it was mothballed. With the addition of whizz-kid lyricist Stephen Sondheim a legend of musical theatre was eventually born.
We are presented with a highly intelligent study of a musical that re-defined the genre first on Broadway then the West End. Musical theatre was awash with bright, frothy productions like My Fair Lady and Oklahoma! But Westside Story was completely different. Dangerous and edgy, it had a Bernstein score tinged with Latin rhythm. A Shakespearian tragedy was duly transformed. Romeo & Juliet had decamped to New York as Tony and Maria, the Capulets and Montagues morphed into the Jets and Sharks warring over disputed territory. Sondheim added the flourish with dynamic lyrics that enlivened Laurent’s book. It was the perfect combination of song, dance and drama.
Tweetingit: 4* The big daddy of farce taking pot shots at Victorian social convention to great comic effect. A wonderful production showcasing the legendary wit of Oscar Wilde.
When The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in February 1895 it represented the zenith of Oscar Wilde’s career. It was also a personal nadir as his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas was exposed. Lord Alfred’s father, the Marquis of Queensbury tried to attend the first night and present him with a bouquet of rotten vegetables. He was barred from entering but the damage was already done as the play closed after 86 performances.
The subsequent trial scandalised Victorian sensibility as Wilde was convicted of gross indecency. A glittering talent was shattered as he was imprisoned for two years. His death at the painfully young age of 46 only served to heighten the work of a genius. The play itself inspired many of the modern farces written by Ray Cooney and Michael Frayn. However, they lacked the verbal dexterity of Wilde’s razor like script.
Our series of interviews with those in the entertainment industry continues today with Joe Ringer, Musical Director, singer, and owner of the Joe Ringer band (JDB).
Joe always has something going on. The JRB are a premiere party band who are well know across East Anglia and beyond. Joe has created a band for all occasions – a 6, 8 or 14 piece bands are available as well as background jazz or acoustic music.
They have performed on Stages cruise ships (and were due to do so this year again alongside Lea Salonga and John Barrowman). They put on regular concerts including a Christmas spectacular and “Nights at the Musicals” shows. Their performances rarely have tickets to spare and if you want them for a birthday or wedding gig, you’ll to book months in advance. Alongside this, Joe MDs for local musical theatre companies and does all the musical arrangements for his group. So, with the corona virus putting a halt to all of this for a bit, I spoke to him to find out what he is doing now and how he is staying creative at this, to be frank, shitty time.
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.
We are in a weird times. You will hear people say it again and again. But during this time, we get to experience new things, in new ways. And I feel honoured and lucky to have experienced TheShowMustGoOnline performing their first show.
Every week, Rob Myles and a group of talented actors will perform a read through of Shakespeare’s plays in the order in which they were written. Tonight is The Two Gentleman of Verona.
After being introduced to the cast, we had the most beautiful introduction to the play by Ben Crystal, actor, producer and writer and the author of Shakespeare on Toast. His voice is easy to listen to and his message, while tinged with sorrow that we face the times we do, is hopeful and brings some positivity.
I will paraphrase, but here is what Ben said.
For everyone out there who has lost a project, who has lost a job, it may not be a great deal of comfort to know, The Globe went down due to the plague…and look what can be done [in relation to what Shakespeare managed to create]. Hopefully this coming together throughout art, is positive for me, and I hope for everyone else.
I mentioned in my post yesterday that I would be talking to people in the entertainment industry about how they are managing now, why creativity is important and what they are doing to keep arts and culture available to us during this time.
Ben Adams, British singer, songwriter, producer, creator of Eugenius and member of band a1 , is the first to speak to us.
We are extremely grateful to Ben for taking the time when he is in the middle of organising the live streaming of Eugenius, which will be on Facebook tomorrow (Friday 20th March) at 7pm.
PP: What do you think the importance of creativity right now is and how do you think people use it to manage in times of crisis?
BA: It’s probably the best thing we can do to stay sane. The arts are created for people’s enjoyment, their own and others. As the world is a very scary place right now it’s the one medicine that is widely available and obtainable by anyone.
PP: What do you think it means to people to be able to watch contemporary theatre and arts and do you think art is a counter to the anxiety of this time?
BA: Eugenius being streamed is a great example of this. We have already seen hundreds of messages from people who have expressed how thankful they are that they have something to take their minds off the panic and scare of everyday life at the moment. That was the point of the show in the first place and there is never a time I can remember that that kind of escapism has been more needed.
With the theatre industry in an unprecedented position and venues closed across the UK due to the COVID – 19 outbreak, industry leaders are creatively seeking ways to support theatre and bring it directly to you – at home. Following their hugely popular run at the Other Palace in 2018, the out-of-this-world British musical Eugenius! will release the full archive footage of the show online on Friday 20th March at 7pm in order to raisemoney for Acting for Others and provide some much-needed relief to those self-isolating.
The writers Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins say “THEY CAN’T STOP US, WE’RE A TEAM!…. as shows close across the globe and people are forced to stay at home, there’s never been a more important time to bring the joy of live theatre right to your doorstep! Unlike some other shows that have recordings intended for release this was never intended to be seen BUT as the cast are incredible, the music rocks and it still delivers the same heart felt story and feel good factor that audiences took away with them when they saw the show live, we thought you should see it anyway! Team Eugenius thanks you in advance for all your support – Go Hygienius! Go Hygiene!”
When you can’t go to see your favourite sport, what do we do? Watch an old event on the TV.
When you can’t go to a gig, what do you do? Listen to it on Spotify or watch last year’s Glastonbury on BBCiplayer.
When you can’t go to the pub for a pub quiz, what do you do? I mean, I would create my own with friends which we would do virtually, but there is also the option of a boardgame at home or an online quiz over a drink.
But what do you do when your love is theatre? When faced with heightened anxiety about when we can next get out and do the things we enjoy and a feeling of being trapped in our homes, it is important to make the most of what is available to us.
Here at Playhouse Pickings, we are going to do our best to share things with you which might make these bizarre times feel a bit more bearable. We will be speaking to actors, directors and people in the industry about how this is affecting them personally and how it is affecting their work. We will also be reviewing online shows. Finally, we might just tell some of our own stories about what we are up to, why we enjoy the theatre, things we have seen in the past and musings on art and culture in general.