Tag Archives: David Guest

Love All

Love All

★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

LOVE ALL at Jermyn Street Theatre

★★★★

 

Love All

“It’s a bold and brassy play that challenges convention, an idea eagerly and rather lovingly picked up by this slick and charming production”

 

Hear that a play is a Comedy of Manners and you will probably think of the waspish satires of the Reformation, or Oscar Wilde or Noël Coward classics, ripe with artificial plots and witty social commentary.

It is less likely that your mind will race to a work with a distinctly contemporary twist by one of the greatest crime writers of the Golden Age which features a character who may well be based on the writer herself.

The intriguing “Love All” by Dorothy L. Sayers was not a commercial success when it first opened in 1940 with its theme of choosing career or family and the sacrifices women are expected to make and has barely been seen on stage in 80 years.

It’s not hard to see why Jermyn Street Theatre thought it worth reviving the piece with its strong female characters and its tendency to be dismissive of romance in its current Temptation Season. What begins as a familiar and droll drawing room comedy, blossoms into a fun and feisty (one might even say feminist had Sayers herself not so disliked the term) period comedy that never once seems stale or dated.

It’s a bold and brassy play that challenges convention, an idea eagerly and rather lovingly picked up by this slick and charming production. In it a young actress besotted with a romance novelist runs off to Venice with him as he tries to pen his next bestseller about a repentant husband; but his wife, now a successful London playwright, refuses to divorce him. When the young actress hears of an exciting new playwright storming the stage back home, she knows she just has to be in her next hit – even though unaware of her true identity.

Unlike Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey whodunit “Gaudy Night,” in which women are merely tolerated by their male university peers, “Love All” confidently thrusts every one of its female characters into a position of commanding strength and it’s the male characters who come off the worst. The mistress notes that, “Every great man has had a woman behind him,” but the wife responds, “Every great woman has had some man or other in front of her, tripping her up.”

Emily Barber quickly lifts mistress Lydia to a level well beyond the dreamy inamorata unable to cope with her lover’s indecision. If the script itself ever allowed the character to be dreary Barber rapidly brushes it aside in a performance which relishes the fiery role of a good actress unwilling to accept the status quo.

Leah Whitaker, no stranger to the venue, is stupendous in turn as Janet (the nom de plume of Edith), the bored wife unwilling to be stifled by custom or etiquette, least of all by a patronising and colourless man. It’s a character very like Sayers’ fictional detective Harriet Vane, who in turn bore similarities to the author herself, and Whitaker ensures she is likeable and assertive without becoming bossily domineering.

The pair play off each other brilliantly as they grow to understand each other and realise their own happiness is far more important than life with languid chauvinist Godfrey (an assured performance from Alan Cox as the narrow-minded, callous dinosaur who fails to recognise the abilities and humanity of those around him) as they prowl around like lionesses stalking their unfortunate prey.

Karen Ascoe is wonderful in two roles: Judith, the friend in Venice, with the most dazzling array of facial expressions and pauses which speak volumes, and then Stella, the no-nonsense secretary in London.

Bethan Cullinane’s Mary is a careful study of loyalty and devotion, steering through layers of awkwardness and it’s a relief the play avoids what appears to be a predictable ending for a character who has her own strength.

Daniel Burke as actor Michael and Jim Findley as Henry fall into the category here of men who fare badly at the hands of a writer wanting to explore the liberation of women in professional and domestic life, but they do well to ensure their parts are three-dimensional and enjoyable.

The set is an extraordinary work of art by Louie Whitemore, transforming almost miraculously between Acts One and Two in such a small space from a Venetian apartment complete with giant Canaletto on the wall to a London drawing room used by Janet as her office – as a voiceover tells us during the interval, switching from the Grand Canal of Venice to the Grand Junction Canal in London.

For Sayers’ fans there’s even a play poster on the wall for Janet’s hit “Mare’s Nest” with the actors’ names all being characters from her novels or real life relationships. Not that there are many quiet moments to play that Who’s Who? Game but it’s a clever design nod.

“Love All” represents a sad but triumphant farewell to director Tom Littler who, as Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre, has turned this hidden gem in Piccadilly into something sparkling, a powerhouse venue to be taken seriously. For his final (18th) production here he has created something to remember and savour before heading off to the Orange Tree in Richmond in October.

Defying all expectations of clichéd creakiness, Jermyn Street Theatre delivers a sparky revival of this surprisingly overlooked play in a manner as uncompromising as its writer, adding a welcome touch of Piccadilly panache.

 

 

Reviewed on 13th September 2022

by David Guest

Photography by Steve Gregson

 

 

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

This Beautiful Future | ★★★ | August 2021
Footfalls and Rockaby | ★★★★★ | November 2021
The Tempest | ★★★ | November 2021
Orlando | ★★★★ | May 2022
Cancelling Socrates | ★★★★ | June 2022

 

Click here to read all our latest reviews

 

Ride

Ride

★★★★★

Charing Cross Theatre

RIDE at the Charing Cross Theatre

★★★★★

 

Ride

“a journey into truth, emotions, reinvention, celebrity and human spirit”

 

A new musical that stormed the VAULT Festival back in March 2020 about a sporting pioneer who may have embellished the truth has blossomed into a fully-fledged show that more than proves its worth at Charing Cross Theatre.

Writers Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams explore the life of shameless self-publicist Annie Londonderry, who allegedly became the first woman to cycle solo around the world in 1895, in the captivating and lively “RIDE.”

If the original small-scale production was a beautifully crafted cross-stitch which made the most of one of the Vaults caverns, this revamped and expanded version is a well-embroidered tapestry in which every thread is perfectly placed in a brilliantly used larger space.

Born of Latvian Jewish background Annie Cohen Kopchovsky emigrated with her family to America in 1874/5 but refused to be determined by her past. History (or should that really be her story?) suggests that she wanted to write for a New York newspaper but was approached by two businessmen with a wager of $20,000 that no woman could travel around the world by bicycle in 15 months.

Despite the hype and sensationalism, it’s clear that Annie was a great saleswoman and raconteur, changing her surname to get sponsorship from a spring water company and telling increasingly tall stories during her journey which enthralled the crowds.

“RIDE” is a well-crafted musical about a fighter and storyteller with a timeless message of liberation and achievement, never afraid to present Annie’s less than admirable qualities, yet itself unashamedly being creative with a story about someone who had such a casual relationship with the truth.

At its heart is a story of a New Woman eager for change in society. Scrutinising her claims amidst so much showmanship and self-promotion is part of the fun of this indefatigable show, which tells the tale as honestly as it is able given that it is largely selling the reality of a fake American dream.

There are more songs and a longer running time, yet even now the show seems to be pedalling furiously to be something bigger. Still, with Amy Jane Cook’s design the stage is opened up to allow a journey into imagination and the performances are suitably larger than life.

The setting is a newspaper office where an enthusiastic Annie persuades reluctant and sceptical secretary Martha to help recount her deeds. It is a two-hander where both performers triumph, balancing and playing off each other with care and skill.

As Annie, Liv Andrusier has an egocentric Barnum-like presence, though showing off herself and her accomplishments rather than a collection of circus acts, walking a tightrope between truth and fiction as she agitates and elaborates. She roars her way through the lively numbers – the title song remains a fierce showstopper, one of the best new songs in a contemporary musical; she is bold and brazen as she recounts her truth (“Everybody Loves a Lie” is a paean to the art of humbug) yet grasps the vulnerable as she recalls her family and background in the face of loneliness, anti-Semitism, insults and struggles as a feisty woman in a man’s world.

Yuki Sutton’s Martha is a gem, the timid and dubious assistant becoming a mistress of fabrication, not only taking over the story but also elaborating upon it, becoming a commanding presence in her own right.

While the characters begin as opposites, each suspicious of the other, they gradually learn from and believe in each other, with their contrasts keeping each other on track. And Andrusier and Sutton perform soaring duets that set the stage on fire with vivacious harmony and intensity.

Director Sarah Meadows captures the sense of façade without losing sight of the personal stories, however hard the facts may be to grasp. There is colour, light and shadow in a production that never once glows dull.

The small band excites the moment they play their first note. Led by energetic conductor Sam Young on keys, with Frankie South on guitar and Alex Maxted on percussion, the musicians show understanding of and enthusiasm for every cracking musical number, all of which are memorable and of the highest quality.

Originally produced by Bottle Cap Theatre it is no surprise that the show was snapped up by Deus Ex Machina Productions, who surely recognised the show’s beating heart of liberation from trauma and expectations, courage in adversity and the embrace of change and progression.

Smith and Williams write with depth and quality and it’s hard to believe that the near-perfect smaller show has been developed into something even better. They must be contenders for one of the best writing partnerships out there and with “RIDE” they have created a work of fresh energy, and unbelievable fun.

Magically profound and stunningly creative this might just be one of the best musicals this year, a journey into truth, emotions, reinvention, celebrity and human spirit.

 

Reviewed on 31st August 2022

by David Guest

Photography by Danny Kaan

 

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

Pippin | ★★★★ | July 2021
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike | ★★★ | November 2021

 

Click here to read all our latest reviews