Reviewed – 10th August 2019
“It’s a delight to see such a young cast take on Herman’s music”
Tough week? Life getting you down? Then hurry along to the Union Theatre in Southwark for some musical therapy. Showtune, a two act tribute to the music and lyrics of the perennially upbeat Jerry Herman, will give you The Best of Times, and (I) Promise You A Happy Ending in this lively revival of Paul Gilger’s Jerry Herman fest. Produced by Sasha Regan, Showtune takes place in a charming auditorium underneath some railway arches. It is an intimate space that produces a surprisingly big Broadway sound, and you will be impressed by the skilful direction and choreography of Luke Byrne that permits a cast of ten to sing and dance without falling into the laps of the front row.
There is lots to like in this ninety minute medley of songs from Herman’s hit musicals. The music includes several from Mame, Hello Dolly!, Mack and Mabel, Dear World, and La Cage Aux Folles. The cast manage all these in a performing space that is crammed full of the flotsam and jetsam of a rehearsal room, complete with a suggestion of a dressing room, and of course, a grand piano. Somehow the cast work around these obstacles to keep the audience’s attention firmly focused on the singing, and yes, even a tap dancing number (Tap Your Troubles Away). In these endeavours they are ably supported by the talented Henry Brennan, pianist and musical director. It’s a delight to see such a young cast take on Herman’s music, and while the singing is at times a little uneven, special mention must be given to Aidan Cutler for his poignant sound; and to Alex Burns and Ella-Maria Danson for their spirited singing duel in Bosom Buddies. But the whole cast brought off the complicated ensemble numbers with verve and nerve — and was rewarded by an appreciative audience.
Showtune reminds us that Jerry Herman’s heartfelt songs are the perfect antidote for our stressed out modern lives —and if some of the lyrics hark back to a more old-fashioned age (It Takes A Woman from Hello, Dolly! for example) — it is also Herman’s inspiration to give us an opportunity to see two men sing a tender duet to each other (Song On The Sand from Cage Aux Folles). There is enough flexibility in Herman’s work to ensure that a compilation musical like Showtune has many years of successful revivals ahead of it. Enjoy this one.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Jamie Scott-Smith
Union Theatre until 24th August
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 20th March 2019
“excellent acting, purposeful direction and evocative visuals”
Spurred by the centenary of the Amritsar massacre, Phil Willmott sets this tragic tale of love, jealousy and vengeance in India during the British Raj, casting Othello as an Officer – one of the few Indian soldiers who made it through training at Sandhurst and back to a position of command in the British army. Within the rich tapestry of plot, characters and language Shakespeare epitomises the malevolent aspect of human nature, sparked by its undermining negative feelings of resentment, envy and insecurity. He also brings to light the subject of racism and in this production, we are reminded of the abhorrent attitude towards Indians in their own country. Inferior in rank and whose lower-class British background prevents any hope of promotion, Iago seethes with rancour and orchestrates those around him in an evil revenge; Othello, weakened by self-doubt, falls into the trap.
The scene is set with a tastefully oriental design and some strongly patriotic piano playing. But once the plot begins to unfurl, the background fades. Despite the resetting, it is the words which define the narrative and the dimensions and balance of the characters which bring context. Matthew Wade creates the impression of a young, earnest General, helplessly in love; he lacks the majestic quality of the original experienced warrior which makes his downfall by a malicious, conniving underdog so tragic. Rikki Lawton’s powerful rendering of a more identifiably modern Iago dominates the action and his psychopathic nature eclipses a personal hatred, making Othello simply another of his victims. With his significance diminished, this becomes Iago’s story.
Despite the imbalance we can enjoy the colonial flavour through the atmospheric set (Justin Williams and Jonny Rust), Zoe Burnham’s sublime, cinematographic lighting, detailed costumes, (Penn O’Gara) and solid, nuanced interpretations all round. In particular, Jerome Dowling’s Cassio wins our empathy as he is caught unawares in Iago’s net. As Desdemona, Carlotta De Gregori portrays the incomprehension and suffering of her husband’s turn of face with great sensitivity, but her initial coquettish behaviour towards him only hinders our perception of his standing. And a spirited Emilia (Claire Lloyd) adds plausibility to the era through her accent and demeanour, though fails to grow into the play’s increasing tension.
This modern take on ‘Othello’ has all the ingredients of success – some excellent acting, purposeful direction and evocative visuals – but as a consequence of the weight of importance between Iago and Othello on stage, it is in retrospect rather than a reaction to the drama that we feel the relevance of Willmott’s fresh approach.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Scott Rylander
Union Theatre until 6th April
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: