Above the Stag
Reviewed – 14th March 2019
“this musical packed as much energy as any West End show I’ve attended”
In the heart of Vauxhall, Above the Stag Theatre has established itself as the only professional LGBT+ theatre in the UK with Artistic Director Peter Bull introducing some exciting productions. Romance Romance is a revival of the 1980’s Broadway original, with book and lyrics by Barry Harman and music by Keith Herrmann. Marketed as a reimagining told through the exploration of gay attraction and relationships, this two-act musical offers two very different stories both connected by the theme of love. Act One, The Little Comedy, is set in 19th Century Vienna and provides a light-hearted, farcical story of two people who upon adopting new personas fall in love. Act Two jumps forward to a contemporary setting in The Hamptons for Summer Share, which explores the complexities of love through the possibility of an affair.
First and foremost for a small production this musical packed as much energy as any West End show I’ve attended. The driving force behind this was the cast of just four performers (Ryan Anderson, Jordan Lee Davies, Alex Lodge, and Blair Robertson) who each threw themselves into this production heart and soul. Powerful performances from all but notably Ryan Anderson who brought the house down with his solo number ‘How did I end up Here?’ Some fantastic casting as the dynamic between the four was electric, and by the end of Act Two, the idea of this being a reimagining as a means to explore gay attraction is so far out of the picture, it was as if it was meant to have been written this way. Act Two really stood out because of its exploration of love, emotion and the complexities of relationships offering something we can all connect to regardless of your sexual orientation.
The direction (Steven Dexter with Summer Strallen as associate director) ensured the absolute most was made of all available space which doubled the size of the production as it burst out from every part of the stage. David Shields’ smart design allowed for the set to be transformed in front of our eyes, transporting us from Vienna to The Hamptons in a blink of an eye. Live music filled the room from upstage where the band sat playing for all to see, emphasising just how much can be achieved in a studio space. The lighting design (Jack Weir) added another layer which allowed for us to be transformed from the character’s private thoughts to new locations. The production made the most of all it had and then some.
Overall this musical was very sharp and full of life. My only wish is that it could be realised on a bigger scale as it has so much to offer. Act One offers you fun, songs, silliness and dance with Act Two bringing the heart and soul; a musical of two very different halves but with something for everything!
Reviewed by Lucy Bennett
Photography by PBG Studios
Above the Stag until 6th April
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 20th August 2018
“Kennedy has created something quite spectacular. His directorial decisions are often as surreal as the source material.”
Grimeborn is the annual East London opera festival which coincides with the world-famous Glyndebourne Festival. Founded by Mehmet Ergen in 2007, the festival held at the Arcola Theatre is considered a dynamic alternative to the traditional ‘summer season’. And, try as you might, I’m pretty sure you can’t get more ‘alternative’ than “Elephant Steps”. Written fifty years ago by Grammy winning and Tony nominated composer Stanley Silverman and American avant garde pioneer Richard Foreman, this show still feels outlandishly experimental.
Aptly subtitled ‘A Fearful Radio Show’, it is like randomly turning the dial of an old transistor radio. An eclectic (aka ‘chaotic’) cruise through a mix of renaissance, ragtime and rock; picking up on its way scraps of madrigal, tribal and incidental; a pinch of electronica and a nod to the Beatles and Bernstein. Oh, and Stockhausen, Kirchner, John Cage and Frank Zappa and… you get the idea.
The plot is as strange as the music. I’m often sceptical about programme notes that try to shape an audience’s interpretation of the show, but in this case, director Patrick Kennedy’s advice is spot on: “don’t try to understand”. At just over an hour long, it is as futile to waste time working out what is going on as it is to attempt to interpret dreams. The trick is to enjoy the limitless possibilities. And with his top-notch cast of eight blending the beauty of opera with the grit of rock, supported by a ten-piece band playing twice that number of instruments; Kennedy has created something quite spectacular. His directorial decisions are often as surreal as the source material. But like the source material, there is no real theme throughout – musically and textually. Without a solid frame, it is all too easy to lose focus, and interest. The score shifts from harmony to discord in a beat; from the relative accessibility of the pop and rock numbers to the atonal dissonance of the more unusual songs. And in between is the whole gamut of modern music.
Perhaps there is too much variety. It is very much a lucky dip, but if you keep turning the radio dial you will undoubtedly come across a station that appeals to your taste. This is a show that is in equal parts genius yet maddening too. It requires a stretch of the imagination but stretches your patience. It is exhilarating and powerful, but underlying it is a whiff of ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ and we occasionally wonder if we are being taken for a ride. Perhaps the cacophony of thoughts it leaves you with is intentional. Whatever the answer, and I suspect there is none, it is a quite unmissable production. Especially as each performance in this all too short run at the Arcola is followed by the chance to meet the composer Stanley Silverman in person.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Alessia Chinazzo
Arcola Theatre until 22nd August
Other Grimeborn shows reviewed