Tag Archives: Arnim Friess

Billy Bishop Goes to War

Billy Bishop Goes to War
★★★

Southwark Playhouse

Billy Bishop Goes to War

Billy Bishop Goes to War

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 15th March 2019

★★★

 

“Aitken and Beamish do their very best to bring the story to life

 

In 2019, over a century after the Great War ended, is there anything left to say about it, you might ask. And I would reply, a fair bit actually – the Irish involvement is still pretty under-told, as is the Indian, African, and Australian. How about the Armenian genocide snuck right in the middle of it all? Don’t hear much about that. And, you know what, now that I think about it, I don’t know much about the Canadian troops either. And unfortunately, after two hours of John Gray’s ‘Billy Bishop Goes to War’ I still don’t. In fact, the title could easily double as synopsis: Canadian Billy Bishop, a fairly average young man, goes to fight for his King, his motherland, his “home away from home”. And there he learns that war is bad, that taking part in a war can sometimes feel good, and that you never forget how good and bad it all was.

But we know that’s how it’s going to go from the very start, as old-man Billy Bishop (Oliver Beamish) enters with a lurching gait in to his bunker-style man-cave, half-bottles of whiskey, mounted antlers and various WWI paraphernalia all scattered about. He is soon followed by his younger, uniformed self (Charles Aitken) to tell the tale. The whole play sits in that first tableau, and if you’re waiting for a twist in the plot, it’s not coming.

Predictability aside, Beamish and Aitken both make a good go of it. Beamish’s Canadian accent is a little shaky at times, but he more than makes up for it with his other Blackadder-esque British military characters. Aitken’s accent is more consistent but sometimes takes precedent over his delivery. Similarly, he shines in the more comical role of elderly socialite Lady St Helier. Neither man is afraid to take up space, or to throw their physicality behind a variety of parts, each playing at least five or six different characters.

The whole play takes place in Bishop’s hidey-hole, giving a sense of playing even as he sits in a cockpit, shooting at German planes and recounting pilots plummeting to their deaths. In this way, the set (Daisy Blower) supports the music (John Gray) in swiftly backing away from any emotional weightiness – any time Bishop experiences loss or trauma, there’s a song to make it nice and catchy. Wake to find two sleeping corpses in your trench? Let’s sing about it! Incidentally, both actors sing pleasantly enough, and Beamish accompanies nicely on piano.

Director Jimmy Walters has done well with the tools he was given. It’s not ground-breaking, but I don’t see how you could make it so. There are a couple of laughs, a couple of nice songs, and Aitken and Beamish do their very best to bring the story to life. Unfortunately, a century after Billy Bishop went to war, we require more than an old boys’ club patting each other on the back, saying, with only a smidgeon of solemnity, ‘It really was a great war.’

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by  Nick Rutter

 


Billy Bishop Goes to War

Southwark Playhouse until 6th April

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Rink | ★★★★ | May 2018
Why is the Sky Blue? | ★★★★★ | May 2018
Wasted | ★★★ | September 2018
The Sweet Science of Bruising | ★★★★ | October 2018
The Trench | ★★★ | October 2018
Seussical The Musical | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Funeral Director | ★★★★★ | November 2018
The Night Before Christmas | ★★★ | November 2018
Aspects of Love | ★★★★ | January 2019
All In A Row | ★★ | February 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

We’ve Got Each Other
★★★½

VAULT Festival

Weve Got Each Other

We’ve Got Each Other

The Vaults

Reviewed – 6 February 2019

★★★½

 

“Because O’Donnell proves he’s a ‘triple threat’, it’s hard not to want more than what we’re given”

 

We’ve Got Each Other is an anticipated twelve-times Olivier Award nominated musical spectacular. A cast of thirty-five, a full band rocking Bon Jovi tunes, Bruno Tonioli choreography, gorgeous costumes, and confetti cannons make for an unforgettable night of theatre. Or at least it would have, if Paul O’Donnell had had the budget for it. Due to a few logistical snags, the final result is… a bit different from the initial pitch. But ‘the show must go on’, and on it goes, as a one-man musical. O’Donnell reassures us, we’ve got the script, some good music, and most importantly, we’ve got each other. And that’s a lot.

Paul O’Donnell is hilarious, wonderfully awkward and apologetic, as he talks the audience through the show that ‘might have been’. He sits on the side of a bare stage under an Ikea lamp with the script. He invites us to use our imagination to make up for the lack of… everything really. Lighting cues (Arnim Friess) follow actors who aren’t there. O’Donnell narrates the story and the dancing play-by-play, vividly immersing the audience into a non-existent jukebox musical. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny spoof. He relentlessly, lovingly, mocks every aspect of musical theatre from the overwrought melodrama down to the set changes. Various recorded versions of “Livin’ on a Prayer” (acapella, instrumental) serve as the soundtrack.

O’Donnell embraces the very camp he’s poking fun at: his enthusiasm for this terrible Bon Jovi musical is infectious. It’s a bit of a shame, then, that it takes him until the second half to get up out of the chair. He spends most of the time sitting, half-mimicking the would-be dancing. The restraint of his position seems at odds with his eagerness and excitement. It’s gratifying when he finally gets up and fully dances, sings, and acts out the scenes. If he were to do this from the start, it would ramp up the energy of the show, which feels underdone while he’s confined to the chair. Because O’Donnell proves he’s a ‘triple threat’, it’s hard not to want more than what we’re given. Additionally, for a Bon Jovi musical, it would have been nice to hear more than one Bon Jovi song. Not sure whether it’s intentional for humour or copyright reasons, but comedy-wise it seems like loading a six-barrel gun with just one bullet.

One man reading through a musical script on a blank stage sounds like a long sixty minutes. The catch is that somehow O’Donnell is funny, creative, and talented enough to pull it off. Fans of musicals will truly enjoy this hilarious, incisive love letter to the genre. But even my companions who are not regular theatre-goers were repeatedly in stitches. This no-budget musical may be livin’ on a prayer, but it’s living its best life. Give it a shot.

 

Reviewed by Addison Waite

Photography by Alex Brenner

 

Vault Festival 2019

We’ve Got Each Other

Part of VAULT Festival 2019

 

 

 

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