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Falling Stars

Falling Stars

★★★★

Online

Falling Stars

Falling Stars

Online stream.theatre

Reviewed – 23rd November 2020

★★★★

 

“Sally Ann Triplett’s gorgeous, velveteen voice covers many of the ballads with a sensual warmth, rich in emotion”

 

In today’s current climate people are either pushing forward towards a somewhat uncertain future or taking a stroll down Memory Lane. The latter is invariably a journey accompanied by nostalgia, and it is through Peter Polycarpou’s rose tinted glasses that we are invited to view a snapshot of the music and the spirit of the 1920’s. Subtitled ‘A Celebration of the Golden Era’, it packs into an hour a treasure trove of melodies; a mix of the familiar with the obscure and in the process, we discover some real gems.

We are told, in the opening credits, that the production was cancelled on day one of rehearsals due to the lockdown, but that Polycarpou was determined to reach his audience, so in the space of three days he recorded the show for streaming online. A timely reminder that the explosion of creativity being celebrated here came out of a world reeling from the aftermath, not just of World War I, but also the third (take note!) wave of the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic. It is a century since such adversity gave way to the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age, and it is shows like Polycarpou’s song-cycle that give us hope that history will come full circle again and there is always cause for celebration.

“Falling Stars” is clearly a labour of love. The premise being that while killing time before a matinee show, he wandered into an antique shop, discovered a battered songbook and bought it for a song. Literally. Polycarpou’s excitement is infectious as he leafs through the pages and recruits Sally Ann Triplett to perform extracts and full-blown numbers from the songbook, translating the dusty, monochrome dots on the page into a multicoloured, multi-layered revue.

It is quite a whirlwind of a tour and comes across as a rather indulgent history lesson at times and, although fascinating, it is sometimes hard work to keep up with the rapid-fire catalogue of composers, lyricists, songwriters, performers and songs. It works best when Triplett and Polycarpou turn away from the camera and interact with each other. But better still when they melt into the songs. Polycarpou oozes personality and joie de vivre while Sally Ann Triplett’s gorgeous, velveteen voice covers many of the ballads with a sensual warmth, rich in emotion.

The title number, “Falling Star”, penned by Meredith Wilson and Charlie Chaplin, is one such fine example. It is quite a revelation to learn what a prolific and talented composer Charlie Chaplin was, particularly on other numbers too, such as the duet, “Now That It’s Ended”, and “Smile”, performed by Polycarpou accompanying himself at the piano. The evening contains a diverse set of numbers that shines a spotlight on many unfamiliar tunes as old favourites, intimately performed by the duo with Musical Director Mark Dickman on piano. Andrew Exeter’s lighting beautifully evokes the setting, merging the shadows of the antique shop with warm washes that tease the sentiment out of the lyrical content. But even in a bare, characterless backroom of a shop, Triplett could evoke the yearning and the passion of these songs, as she shifts from the plaintiff “Why Don’t You Leave Me Alone” to the upbeat duo “Tea For Two” or Buddy De Sylva’s “You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet”.

The show closes with the achingly beautiful Irving Berlin number, “What’ll I Do?”, a bittersweet eulogy to lost love and faded dreams. It is countered, though, with a final echo of Chaplin’s inimitable verse; “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you’ll just smile.” A bit mawkish, perhaps, but exactly what we want right now.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by  Paul Nicholas Dyke

 

Falling Stars

Online until 29th November via stream.theatre

 

Recently reviewed by Jonathan:
St Anne Comes Home | ★★★★ | St Paul’s Church Covent Garden | August 2020
A Hero Of Our Time | ★★★★ | Stone Nest | September 2020
Buyer and Cellar | ★★★★ | Above the Stag | October 2020
The Great Gatsby | ★★★★★ | Immersive LDN | October 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | October 2020
The Off Key | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | October 2020
What a Carve Up! | ★★★★★ | Online | October 2020
Little Wars | ★★★★ | Online | October 2020
Right Left With Heels | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Marry me a Little | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Little Wars

Little Wars

★★★★

Online

Little Wars

Little Wars

Online via www.littlewars.co.uk

Reviewed – 2nd November 2020

★★★★

 

“The formidable characters displayed are certainly matched by the starry cast”

 

The dinner party has always offered food for thought for playwrights and, over the years, many fine examples have been dished up in our theatres. Neil Simon’s ‘The Dinner Party’ (obviously), Moira Buffini’s ‘Dinner’, David Eldridge’s ‘Festen’, Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigail’s Party’ and, of course, Alan Ayckbourn whose ‘Absurd Person Singular’ and ‘The Norman Conquests’ stand out. There is no place like the dinner table for drama, grudges, arguments, feuds and even a little crazy affection to surface.

Steven Carl McCasland has taken this formula and garnished it with a generous blend of fact and fiction. And plenty of friction. “Little Wars” brings together some of the most extraordinary and noted women in modern literature. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are the hosts entertaining none other than Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Agatha Christie. They are in France, tensions are high, the booze is flowing, and war is coming. Together they drink, and face a demon or two. Everyone has a confession and a secret and as the evening wears on their hard exteriors wear down.

The play is split into two halves. Initially the bickering and sharp-witted banter dominates and the personalities clash with subtle, though bitchy, humour. The presence of the only non-writer guest shifts the conversation into an impassioned discussion of the plight of Jews in the looming shadow of World War II. There is a real depth to the dialogue which also draws in the German, Jewish housemaid whose backstory certainly throws gas on the fire.

The formidable characters displayed are certainly matched by the starry cast. Linda Bassett dominates as Gertrude Stein with a swaggering petulance that eventually cracks to reveal a softer centre. Catherine Russell gives a richness to her lover, Alice Toklas; teasing her out from under the shadow of the presiding Stein. Juliet Stevenson bursts in with prickly invective which you both delight in and are repulsed by. Stevenson’s masterful performance renders the unattractive appealing and her eventual moral sea change quite moving. Debbie Chazen’s gin-soaked Dorothy Parker is forever teetering on the edge while, in contrast, Sophie Thompson’s Agatha Christie rounds everyone together with her outside eye, like one of Christie’s own detectives, probing and trying to understand. But the unsung heroines of the piece are the two characters who exist on the edges of this literary ‘salon’. Natasha Karp’s Bernadette, the housemaid, has the most harrowing story to tell. And it is fundamentally her story we are being told. Hers, and the plight of countless other Jews during the Nazi invasion of France. Crucial to the story too is Sarah Solemani’s Muriel Gardiner who is not afraid to challenge the women’s self-belief and prejudices, and who is just as fearless in the face of the Occupation.

The themes addressed in “Little Wars” are compelling. It possibly helps to have some background knowledge of the real-life personalities portrayed, but McCasland’s skill, meticulous research and flamboyant imagination leave you enthralled throughout. Almost. By necessity this production is a rehearsed reading and the limitations of Zoom, despite Hannah Chissick’s dynamic direction, are sometimes all too noticeable. The lack of reaction and interaction inherent in the format emphasises the need and the longing for theatre to return to its true home.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by John Brannoch

 

Little Wars

Online via www.littlewars.co.uk until 8th November

 

Recently reviewed by Jonathan:
The Understudy | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020
Godspell Online in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | August 2020
Henry V | ★★★★ | The Maltings | August 2020
St Anne Comes Home | ★★★★ | St Paul’s Church Covent Garden | August 2020
A Hero Of Our Time | ★★★★ | Stone Nest | September 2020
Buyer and Cellar | ★★★★ | Above the Stag | October 2020
The Great Gatsby | ★★★★★ | Immersive LDN | October 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | October 2020
The Off Key | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | October 2020
What a Carve Up! | ★★★★★ | Online | October 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews