Tag Archives: Aaron Dootson

Forever Plaid

Forever Plaid

★★★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Forever Plaid

Forever Plaid

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 3rd June 2021

★★★★

 

“their sheer professionalism shines through each and every musical number”

 

Once upon a time, back in 1964, a semi-professional harmony group was on its way to its first big gig. While driving in a cherry-red convertible, the group was rehearsing their finale; ‘Love Is a Many Splendored Thing’. They were just getting to their favourite E flat diminished seventh chord when their car collided with a bus full of eager teenagers on their way to watch the Beatles make their U.S. television debut on the Ed Sullivan show. The kids in the bus miraculously escaped uninjured. The harmony, group, however, was killed instantly.

Fast forward to the present. The young guys are still in limbo – as unresolved as their final chord – but they find themselves back on earth for a chance to recreate the concert they never got to perform. It’s a simple set up: the four singers emerge, dressed in white tuxedos, slightly bewildered. Stuart Ross’s tongue in cheek book is updated for the Covid generation by John Plews; with a reference to the audience wearing masks. “Are we in a theatre or an operating theatre?”. But the soul of the piece remains intact. With its light humour, combined with stunning vocal virtuosity, this is a gorgeous antidote to today’s cynicism and cheap send ups. It is a heartfelt homage to an often forgotten but vital period in the history of American popular music.

“Forever Plaid” was the first musical that opened Upstairs at the Gatehouse in 1999, so it is fitting that it should be the first to herald its reopening after the pandemic. Cameron Burt, George Crawford, Christopher Short and Alexander Zane are, respectively, Frankie, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky, who lead us through a celebration of bands such as The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen and The Crew Cuts. Not instantly recognisable names, but the songs are instantly familiar. The musical performance is reminiscent of old variety shows that brought the whole family together around the television set. It is not character driven, but the cast have real personality as they reminisce about the past and try to make sense of the present. They are each portraying amateurs in their craft, but their sheer professionalism shines through each and every musical number.

The songs include ‘Catch a Falling Star’, ‘Cry’, ‘Three Coins in a Fountain’. ‘Heart and Soul’ and many others. The revue is a subtle spectacle, celebrating the flip side of the fifties which has become overshadowed by Rock n’ Roll, Elvis and the Beatles. The comedy is not restricted to the repartee between the songs. There is a wonderful moment when they take on the Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’, tightening the harmonies and singing ‘She Loves You Yes Siree”. There is a Calypso sequence, and a fabulous version of ‘Lady of Spain’ while they mime and juggle and impersonate bygone celebrities.

You don’t need to be an aficionado of the genre to appreciate ‘Forever Plaid’. It obviously helps, but what can’t be helped is the spell that is cast. Each note, sung and spoken is spot on. With musical director Ian Oakley on keys and Jess Martin on double bass, we have a real sense of the warmth and emotional tug of nostalgia. They sing ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’ to close the show – the number the fictitious quartet were rehearsing before they died. They marvel at this dreamlike chance to have a second chance. “Can we pick off where we left off?” they ask. They answer their own question; “Why not? We came back once, we can do it again… A perfect chord. One perfect moment. That’s all anyone has the right to ask for”.

This isn’t the first time that “Forever Plaid” has run at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. And let’s hope it’s not the last.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell

 

Forever Plaid

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 27th June

 

Other shows reviewed by Jonathan this year
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021

 

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Feed
★★★★

VAULT Festival

Feed

Feed

The Vaults

Reviewed – 7th March 2019

★★★★

 

“an innovative, disturbing, sharply relevant piece that implicates viewers in the content they watch”

 

If you’ve ever wondered what being online would look like as a staged performance, then Theatre Témoin are one step ahead – they’ve replicated the internet in this pitch-black comedy devised by the cast (Jonathan Peck, Louise Lee, Esmee Marsh, Yasmine Yagchi) and directed by Ailin Conant. The storylines are constantly disrupted by bite-size, gif-like moments: Peck skips by in a neon green bodysuit. Lee and Marsh wear giant duck-head masks while playing golf. Windows light up at the edges of the stage for sidebar ads. The performers often freeze, rewind, and repeat, as though someone is editing a YouTube video.

While Feed may have brilliantly captured the chaos of the internet, the play is not the total anarchy its aesthetic suggests. This show is highly intentional, skilfully crafted, and very clever about communicating its message, which condemns fake internet activism: the people who vie for followers and fame by generating shallow sympathy (crying emoji) for tragic causes.

The story centres around a news article about a murdered four-year-old Palestinian boy named Nabil. The article goes viral, and its author, Kate, receives an avalanche of new followers. Eager to use her new celebrity for good (or perhaps just high on the attention), Kate becomes an extreme internet activist. Kate’s technology-averse girlfriend Clem watches helplessly as Kate becomes so obsessed with ‘likes’ and ‘views’ that she loses touch with reality.

Meanwhile, beauty vlogger Mia, moved by Kate’s article, posts a heartfelt message about Nabil and the situation in the Middle East. Mia quickly becomes the voice of justice for Nabil, #FeelForNabil. To continue to raise awareness for the plight of Palestinians (or perhaps to keep her spot in the limelight), Mia resorts to increasingly ‘shocking’ stunts for her vlog posts, including cutting her arm and painting her face with blood. Mia and Kate’s stories switch back and forth, sometimes so fast it feels like toggling between tabs.

On set, long blue drain hoses are used to represent ethernet cables. They wrap around the space, and eventually around the characters themselves. At the beginning, there’s a scene involving an argument about foie gras vs. the vegan faux gras. And at the end, when Kate has one of the hoses in her mouth, it’s a shrewd visual metaphor that perhaps we are all overfed content that advertisers (or more ominous sources) use to extract money and data from us.

As both Kate and Mia spiral out of control, the play escalates to a frenetic pace, becoming more and more outrageous and gory in its bid to keep our attention. The ads increase too, triggered by the characters’ words: ‘Pain’ sets off a commercial for Nurofen. ‘Talk’ gives us an ad for ‘TalkTalk’ – an ingenious mimicry of the algorithm for targeted ads.

Feed is an innovative, disturbing, sharply relevant piece that implicates viewers in the content they watch. Theatre Témoin is warning us all to wake up and smell the foie gras.

 

Reviewed by Addison Waite

Photography courtesy  Theatre Témoin

 

Vault Festival 2019

Feed

Part of VAULT Festival 2019

 

 

 

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