Tag Archives: Emma Ralston

Queen of the Mist
★★★½

Jack Studio Theatre

Queen of the Mist

Queen of the Mist

Jack Studio Theatre

Reviewed – 11th April 2019

★★★½

 

“its rushed retelling of Taylor’s ambitious stunt does not make the splash that it perhaps intends”

 

On 24th October 1901, Annie Edson Taylor, a 63-year-old woman from Auburn, New York, became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. Down on her luck, Edson had hoped that achieving such a feat would make her rich and famous, but soon discovers the fickle nature of showbusiness.

Dominic O’Hanlon’s adaption of Michael John LaChiusa’s musical Queen of the Mist follows Taylor’s (Trudi Camilleri) incredible story from rags to riches to, well, rags as she employs the smooth-talking drunkard Frank Russell (Will Arundell) to be her manager and shuns the concerns of her conservative sister Jane (Emily Juler). The cast is completed by four supporting actors who do well to play several different roles from shopkeepers to presidential assassin Leon Czolgosz.

Camilleri does well to lead the show and spends little time offstage. The boisterous and selfish character of Taylor makes her hard to sympathise with, but Camilleri is successful in getting the audience on her side in more tender moments. The chemistry between her and Arundell is also apparent, and their last scene together is incredibly touching.

The cast make excellent use of the small stage, effortlessly transitioning between scenes set at the Falls to those in domestic spaces. The use of chairs, boxes and raised platforms (Tara Usher) effectively transforms the stage, and a brief bout of shadow puppetry in the first half is an amusing way of adding variety to the musical’s visuals. The small band of keys, strings, bass and woodwind instruments led by musical director Jordan Li-Smith sit prominently on tiered platforms to the right of the actors, but they do not detract from the action. Coloured lighting is used well to reflect and communicate the mood on stage and is impressively well-timed with the music.

The musical accompaniment deserves special commendation and is particularly atmospheric when Taylor plunges over the Falls. The music is strong in less dramatic moments too, with light flute and heavy brass cleverly accompanying different people as they walk and talk on stage.

The entire cast has strong vocals and Camilleri impressively navigates several successive solos. The strongest songs are The Fall (Act Two finale) and There Is Greatness In Me, the latter of which is threaded throughout the show which makes for nice continuity. Many of the songs are however lacklustre and the desire to cram in as many as possible often prevents both plot and character development.

The plot at times seems rushed and key relationships like that between Taylor and Russell are not given proper attention and make it unclear to the audience what to expect from their next interaction. The first half has a wonderfully dramatic climax but speeding through Taylor’s story to make this the case means that the second half unfortunately lacks much plot at all.

Queen of the Mist shines an important spotlight on a forgotten tale of greatness, but its rushed retelling of Taylor’s ambitious stunt does not make the splash that it perhaps intends.

 

Reviewed by Flora Doble

Photography by Stephen James Russell

 

Jack Studio Theatre

Queen of the Mist

Jack Studio Theatre until 27th April

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Dracula | ★★★½ | October 2018
Radiant Vermin | ★★★★ | November 2018
Sweet Like Chocolate Boy | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Cinderella | ★★★ | December 2018
Gentleman Jack | ★★★★ | January 2019
Taro | ★★★½ | January 2019
As A Man Grows Younger | ★★★ | February 2019
Footfalls And Play | ★★★★★ | February 2019
King Lear | ★★★ | March 2019
The Silence Of Snow | ★★★ | March 2019

 

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Bananaman – 3 Stars

Bananaman

BANANAMAN

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 4th January 2018

★★★

“the first half lacked the sense of fun and direction that the second half successfully delivered”

 

Having gone through the majority of my life knowing nothing of Bananaman, I was intrigued to learn more about this parody of a superhero and more importantly how a musical could be written about him.

For the uninitiated he was introduced in February 1980 on the back cover of Nutty, a new DC Thompson produced comic. He was portrayed as a hero with the ‘muscles of twenty men though with the brains of twenty mussels’. Following the success of his comic book appearances a TV cartoon was commissioned featuring the high profile voices of The Goodies. The series finished in 1986 but today visitors to Beano.com can indulge themselves in trivia and the original videos. Bananaman continues to be a popular figure in Beano.

Leon Parris has taken the original storyline and written the book, music and lyrics to this entertaining, yet bonkers production. Mark Perry directs what seems to be a cross between pantomime and a Footlights comedy show. Designer Mike Leopold has made the most of the Playhouse Large’s open space with a two level set surrounded by blown up Beano images. The atmosphere is cemented by TV theme tunes playing as the audience enters.

The story explores Bananaman’s origins when weedy Eric Wimp gains super powers which in turn leads to a series of often comical misadventures along the way with (a talking) Crow, love interest Fiona and the bumbling Chief O’Reilly whilst all the time having to endure the awful food prepared by his loving mother. It’s a classic good over evil storyline with our hero attempting to defeat the villains Dr Gloom, General Blight and the Mad Magician.

A fine cast has been assembled to get hold of the content and on my visit they brought laughter and cheer to a very responsive audience who rewarded the hard working team with a standing ovation.

Mark Newnham (from All or Nothing and Sunny Afternoon) has a great voice and plays the part of Eric Wimp well and Emma Ralston is a terrific Fiona Mullins. Jodie Jacobs takes on the role of Crow bringing her strong singing voice to the fore whilst carrying out the difficult job of being the ventriloquist making Crow come to life. TJ Lloyd is a very funny Chief O’Reilly and Matthew McKenna is everything you’d want the square jawed and muscled Bananaman to be.

Standout performances come from Marc Pickering as Dr Gloom and Carl Mullaney as the camp General Blight. Pickering is quite amazing and worth the price of the ticket alone.

Disappointingly I found the sound to be rather muddled and often overpowered the singers to such an extent that at times it was difficult to hear the words that were being sung. The lighting was basic yet reasonably effective.

Whilst I enjoyed the show I felt that the first half lacked the sense of fun and direction that the second half successfully delivered. I’m sure many Bananaman fans will fall in love with this production, though others may find it just a little too puerile to be really enjoyable and worthy of another star.

 

Reviewed by Steve Sparrow

Photography by Pamela Raith

 

BANANAMAN

Southwark Playhouse until 20th January 2018

 

 

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