The Rose Playhouse
Reviewed – 24th April 2019
“Energetic music and some incredibly talented actor-musicians stop this production sinking”
“And we’ll strive to please you every day,” sings Feste in the closing scene of Shakespeare’s gender-swapping comedy of errors, and it’s certainly a maxim adhered to by OVO and director Adam Nichols in this entertaining production of ‘Twelfth Night’. A 1920s nautical setting relocates the play to the ‘SS Illyria’, where washed up music hall stars and famous actresses bump uglies and drink cocktails. Energetic music and some incredibly talented actor-musicians stop this production sinking, but it never quite sails along as smoothly as you would hope.
Viola (Lucy Crick) arrives on board having lost her twin brother Sebastian (Joshua Newman), so she of course dresses up as a man to enter the service of lovelorn Orsino (Will Forester), captain of the ship. Rather than wooing Olivia (Emma Watson – no, not that one) on Orsino’s behalf, Viola, now Cesario, becomes the object of Olivia’s affection, just as Viola realises she’s in love with Orsino. Cue mayhem. Alongside the main plot, the antics of Sir Toby Belch (Anna Franklin) play out in admirably foolish fashion.
Personally, I could watch ‘Twelfth Night’ all day long. It’s a cracking comedy that becomes richer for every watch. Director Nichols has vamped up the fun factor, replacing the original tunes for 1920s-style remixes of pop classics. Music is obviously key here, with each actor dexterously picking up different instruments throughout the night, and there are a couple of amazing singers in this cast, most notably Hannah Francis-Baker. However, the comedy value of hearing characters like Viola singing the likes of ‘Oops I Did It Again’ grows old quickly, and the singers need to own their songs more to convince us they are worth hearing.
The ship-based setting is also confused and underused. Forcing all these characters into a small, confined space could lead to some amusing quick-paced comedy capering, but in the end it just distracts from the storytelling. Decent cuts and some nice wiggling around of scenes keeps things short and snappy, but I did miss Antonio and Sebastian’s presence, and a cruel twist on the ending leaves Malvolia (Faith Turner) singing ‘Creep’ looking very forlorn in her yellow stockings.
Taken altogether, this is a fun and frothy take on Shakespeare’s comedy that certainly entertained this audience. Some unsteady songs and shaky acting almost take this production of course, but it picks up a pace and energy halfway through that means it makes it to dock safe and sound.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Lou Morris
The Rose Playhouse until 5th May
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 6th November 2018
“this moving piece about love and solidarity, humanises history and brings the forgotten to the foreground”
As Remembrance Sunday is coming up this weekend, with particular poignancy, as it will mark a hundred years since the armistice, Brass seems the most appropriate piece of theatre to watch this week in the capital. Originally commissioned by National Youth Music Theatre in 2014, Benjamin Till’s World War One musical now makes its professional premiere at the Union Theatre. Dramatising real life stories and people from the time, this moving piece about love and solidarity, humanises history and brings the forgotten to the foreground.
The war has been raging on France’s frontlines for a year. Alf, conductor of one of Leeds amateur brass bands, has decided it’s time for him to enlist. With not much encouragement, the rest of the band also agree to sign up, no man wanting to be left behind. After some very basic training, they are packed off across the English Channel, with spirits high, ready to fight the Krauts and become heroes. It doesn’t take long before the true horrors of war reveal themselves. The cheery days in the band seeming like a distant memory.
Back on home soil, the wives, girlfriends, and sisters of the men are left in Leeds to pick up the pieces, everyday, fearful of receiving the dreaded telegram reporting their loved one’s death. But these women aren’t sitting in wait; they bravely do their bit for the war effort, working at the Barnbow munitions factory. Through the correspondence sent between the men and women, the audience are transported back and forth between home and the ravaged front, proving the power of words in sharing love, encouragement, and reassurance.
The most refreshing part of this production is having a story that evenly tells of both men and women’s trials and tribulations during The Great War. As incomprehensibly horrific as being in the trenches must have been, seeing your friends killed right before your eyes, it is just as hard-hitting hearing about those treacherous times through the female perspective. With sensitive sophistication, Brass is a multi-faceted exploration of the devastation war brings to every member of the family.
Benjamin Till’s music ranges from haunting lamentations to raucous morale-boosting ditties, which help to bring light and shade into the show. Most songs are rather unmemorable, yet still excel at moving the story onward, offering the emotional clout needed. The power of the cast’s voices is exemplary, creating gorgeous harmonies that can be spine tingling. With just the Musical Director, Henry Brennan, on the piano, this basic set up gives space for the singing to take centre stage.
Highly moving and heartfelt, Brass compels you to reflect, and make sure that the lives lost to the war are not forgotten.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Mark Senior
Union Theatre until 24th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: