Underbelly Festival Southbank
Reviewed – 13th May 2019
“personal, enchanting and all rather marvellous”
It’s not often that you get to see some of the leading lights of theatre and musical theatre in an intimate cabaret setting. On Reflection is a rare opportunity to do so, and it is a great experience. Janie Dee, who played Phylis in the National Theatre’s triumphant production of Follies, has brought together some of the stars of the show to share personal experiences and songs in the intimate setting of Underbelly’s Spiegeltent.
Having seen Follies a few days previously, just before it closed, it was fascinating to see the closeness and friendship between the cast. Dee’s idea to stage this cabaret style show was inspired by the theme of reflection and the connection between past and future that runs through Follies. She asked some of her fellow actors if they would be willing to share a personal story and a song, reflecting on something from their own past. Taking part in this show is a way for them to fill the void left by the end of Follies, keeping some of the company together for a while.
Each actor had brought a photo; themselves as a baby, a loved one who had passed away, something that meant something deep or funny. They told their stories, and sang their songs, weaving an evening full of feeling; sadness, nostalgia, love and hilarity. Aimee Hodnett regaled the audience with her total failure when auditioning for Cats, and attempting to stand out from the crowd in not the wisest manner! She then had everyone in stitches with her rendition of ‘The Girl in 14G.’ Adrian Grove moved people to tears with his story of his father’s dementia, and how sometimes he would know him, and sometimes not. He sang a beautiful duet with Ian McLarnon.
Alyn Hawke took us back to the golden age of musical movies with a medley of his childhood idols, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and Vanessa Fisher belted out an inspiring version of Des’ree’s ‘You Gotta Be’. There were so many outstanding stories and songs. Janie Dee talked about how she was warned off taking a musical theatre job by her agent, because ‘nobody would take her seriously as an actress’. They were wrong. She was spotted in the show by Sir Peter Hall and asked to work with him at the National Theatre. She danced, charmed us all and ended the evening by introducing Stefan Bednacyk, the pianist, and inviting all the performers on stage. Josh Seymour directed the show, allowing everything to seem spontaneous, and to be truly heartfelt. The evening was personal, enchanting and all rather marvellous.
Reviewed by Katre
Underbelly Festival Southbank until 16th May
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Devil With the Blue Dress
Reviewed – 4th April 2018
“The fuse of a potentially explosive evening remained unlit”
There was a buzz around The Bunker Theatre last night for the world premiere of Kevin Armento’s new play Devil with the Blue Dress. In 2018, with Trump in the White House, on the back of one of the most divisive US elections the world has ever seen – one in which deep currents of misogyny were exposed within the American electorate – the time seems ripe for a political play re-examining the events of the Monica Lewinsky scandal twenty years ago. Similarly, at a time when women across the globe are again challenging patriarchal power, it seems right to have this story told by an all-female cast. Unfortunately, the promise of the piece is undermined by the lack of theatrical imagination in this pedestrian production, which even the beautifully played live saxophone underscore (credit here to the saxophonist Tashomi Balfour) failed to invigorate.
The play opens with Hillary (Flora Montgomery) drawing our attention to the nature of theatre, and to the nature of the narrative we are about to witness. She says ‘theater [sic] is the art of the impossible’ which sets the expectation for a creative theatrical language which this production notably lacks. The play is dialogue heavy and physically static, and despite the energy of some of the performers, most notably Kristy Phillips as Chelsea and Daniella Isaacs as Monica, this most turbulent tale never feels truly alive, and would have benefitted from the skills of a good movement director. Flora Montgomery was well cast as the whip smart and emotionally controlled Hillary, though her moment of breakdown felt curiously detached.
All in all, the considerable talents of the cast felt underused, and the characters felt constrained rather than released by the writing. Dawn Hope as Betty, and Emma Handy as Linda, clearly had more to give performatively than this script and its realisation allowed them, and it seemed somewhat ironic that, when given their voice, four of the five female characters spent much of their time speaking the words of the President. Similarly, the chaotic cacophony towards the end of the second act – ‘the four of you, clawing, and conniving, and deceiving each other’ as Chelsea describes it in the script – belittles the complexity of these women’s collective experience in a way that runs counter to the exposition of their story.
Towards the beginning of the second half of the play – Article Two: Obstruction of Justice – Linda says ‘if you look past all the scenery and the subterfuge here … this is just another story of mammalian urges’. And that is indeed what we were left with – another unedifying tale of a powerful adulterer. The larger dramatic canvas was left unexplored, and the fuse of a potentially explosive evening remained unlit.
Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com
Photography by Helen Murray
Devil With the Blue Dress
The Bunker until 28th April