“Thelma Ruby is a pleasure to watch, and there is scope for this to be a topical and engaging revival”
Golda Meir is fighting to “make a new world” in Palestine for her people, the Jewish people. This is a conflict we know well, that still rages today, so this is certainly a topical play that has a clear place in our modern-day political conversation. Adapted from William Gibson’s play ‘Golda’, ‘Momma Golda’ tells the story of Golda Meir, Israel’s first and only female Prime Minister, popularly referred to by many as “the grandmother of the Jewish people”.We follow her as she must make the decisions that begin and shape a new nation.
It is a slow start, a blow by blow exposition of the political climate documented through phone calls and monologue. However as the human element of the story is found, the show warms towards something that is both humorous and moving. Playing Golda Meir, is the remarkable 93 year old Thelma Ruby, who co-wrote the show with her late husband Peter Frye, and toured it internationally with him between the years 1980 and 1988. She is a power house onstage, warm and witty, playful and poignant in her portrayal.
Sean Baker plays opposite her, morphing between the different people in her life, her husband, generals, politicians and so on. It is certainly a challenge to take on and he struggles in the role. He doesn’t seem to be comfortable enough with the text to lend much naturalness or flow to his lines. However hopefully this is something he will settle into as the run progresses because the moments that are convincing work really well, and he lends a lovely vocal tone to his speeches.
The set is simple, a desk, a table, each illuminated in turn (Clancy Flynn), as we move between spaces and years. This is a weak production in many ways, but Thelma Ruby is a pleasure to watch, and there is scope for this to be a topical and engaging revival.
“Bucchino’s songs embrace the full spectrum of contemporary urban living with sensitivity and wit”
It’s Only Life, John Bucchino and Daisy Prince’s musical revue of twenty-three heart-breaking and hilarious songs, is already a well-known enterprise in the world of American musical theatre. And rightly so: Bucchino’s songs embrace the full spectrum of contemporary urban living with sensitivity and wit. Laid side by side, the songs dip, twist and soar, telling a collective story of stasis, desire, love, heartbreak and redemption.
The ensemble of five performers master these songs beautifully. Recent graduates Sammy Graham and Will Carey keep their cool amongst the more experienced performers Jennifer Harding, Noel Sullivan and Jordan Shaw, and, apart from some lyrics getting lost at the beginning, the vocals are flawless. Harding exudes pathos narrating the crossing paths of two lovers in ‘Sweet Dreams’, and Carey memorably toys with his audience in the hilarious ‘On My Bedside Table’, gritting his teeth trying to prove he is not at all phased by “the fact that you and I are definitely through”. ‘Grateful’ bookends the piece and allows Sullivan a moment to show off his vocal range and power. It’s refreshing that these performers can show restraint when it’s needed. This is a show about the songs and the story, not ego.
Justin Williams’ design stands out from the off. Cleverly using pastel blues, pinks, greens and oranges on a simple white background, Williams has created a space where props are close to hand and levels are used to maximum effect. Our stories can move from downtown bars to lonely bedrooms with little effort and give the songs a crucial context. Tania Azevedo’s direction too, is unflashy and in full service to the symphony of stories. No movement feels unnecessary, and the precision of the cast shows a wide variety of environments that the space itself would never allow.
The message of It’s Only Life is hardly original, but kindly reminds us to embrace the things we fear. These songs act as stepping stones, from risk to risk, and we can only learn as we go how best to get to the other side. Ultimately, it’s a redemptive and moving revue. I saw audience members crying, holding hands, laughing out loud. The ensemble, representing a sexually diverse Britain, behave familiarly with their audience as if to say: “These are our stories, but they’re yours too”. And that is where It’s Only Life really succeeds. Anyone can find a story here, or a moment, to relate to.
It’s Only Life is an unforgettably enjoyable experience that comes highly recommended. Great songs, great vocals, great emotions … what’s not to love?