Tag Archives: Harvey Fierstein

Newsies

Newsies

★★★★

Troubador Wembley Park

NEWSIES at the Troubador Wembley Park

★★★★

Newsies

“What really gets the blood flowing is the showmanship and the staging.”

 

One cannot fail to see the serendipitous irony of Newsies: The Musical’s UK premiere. The official website, in sepia tones of old newsprint, has the format of a daily rag. “Newsies Go On Strike! Read More” is the headline splashed across the homepage. Similar headlines dominate the front pages of the evening tabloids that litter the street corners as we make our way to the theatre, negotiating the travel chaos caused by the current strike action. If nothing else, the timing of “Newsies” is spot on.

The struggles of the protagonists; the issues of homelessness, exploitation, security, solidarity and capitalism are going to resonate strongly, even though the plot, based on historical fact, is over a century old. As the dawn of the twentieth century approaches, the ubiquitous bands of teenage newspaper sellers dream of a better life away from the hardship of the streets of New York City. These young men, and women, come together to fight the exploitation of the wealthy publishing tycoons who are callously hiking up the prices they pay for the papers they sell.

The realism is spot on. Morgan Large’s impressive scaffold set immerses us right into the heart of Manhattan. The grim fire escapes and sidewalks soon burst into the cacophonous chorus as the ‘Newsies’ come scampering from all corners of the auditorium to explode onto the stage in a glorious, rush hour frenzy. It seems they are celebrating their misfortunes. Indeed, lead player Jack Kelly (Michael Ahomka-Lindsay) is portrayed as having chosen his fate. Consequently Ahomka-Lindsay lacks the fire of the real life ‘Kid Blink’ on which the character is based. Kid Blink was not yet a teenager when he addressed over two thousand strikers to lead them in the battle against the publishers. Jack Kelly’s character replaces fire with charm and courage with charisma, throwing in a roving eye for the daughter of the enemy.

If the plot is sweetened somewhat (this is based on a Disney film after all), the execution is a sharp, exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming spectacle. Director Matt Cole’s choreography is both bombastic and balletic. Not always in tune with the subject matter, it nevertheless thrills us and coaxes us into repeated standing ovations – even before interval. The space is as wide as it is high and at one point the dancers even occupy the airspace during the stunning number “King of New York” at the opening of Act Two. The more plaintive ballads do not fare so well, with the lyrics occasionally getting lost in the cavernous auditorium. Likewise, the subtleties and subplots lose their way amidst the sheer, larger-than-life displays.

Bronté Barbé, as Katherine Plumber, a young reporter eager for a story, shadows Kelly in his fight for justice, spreading the word, assuaging his doubts and eventually becoming his ally. A touch two-dimensional to totally believe in the passion that spurs her on, Barbé has the requisite defiance to win us over. Newspaper tycoon, Joseph Pulitzer, is unavoidably a caricature but Cameron Blakely makes the best of the Scrooge-like bad guy turned good(ish). But it is clear that we are not required to dig deep into character or plot. That vein is thin. What really gets the blood flowing is the showmanship and the staging.

“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground” is a piece of advice given to the strikers, “and you will win”. It’s no spoiler to reveal that they did indeed win. But these stunning triple-threat performers won our standing ovation too – even though they rarely kept their feet on the ground. They are the stars that we, the audience, keep our eyes on.

 

 

Reviewed on 13th December 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson

 

 

 

 

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Click here to read all our latest reviews

 

Safe Sex

Safe Sex

★★★★★

VAULT Festival 2020

Safe Sex

Safe Sex

Network Theatre

Reviewed – 10th March 2020

★★★★★

 

“the production captures the sense of hysteria which defined the lives and loves of a generation of gay men”

 

The trauma of living through the AIDS crisis has been covered well in the theatre from the hard-hitting musicality of “Rent” and “Falsettos” to the powerful no-nonsense “The Normal Heart” and “Angels in America.”

Harvey Fierstein’s restless comedy-drama “Torch Song Trilogy” played its own important part in the charge in 1981, while his lesser-known “Safe Sex” trilogy (three separate plays rather than one play in three acts like its predecessor) appeared on Broadway in 1987, only receiving a partial UK premiere in 2014.

As part of the VAULT Festival, Network Theatre concentrates on one-third of that trilogy in its staging of “Safe Sex,” a 40-minute piece that stands alone rather well mixing dramatic intensity with Fierstein’s lighter touches.

It features two young men who were once in a relationship, went their separate ways, then got together again but this isn’t a tragedy about one catching AIDS and both living with the consequences. Rather this is about how a fear of the disease affects those living in its shadow and how sexual relationships are altered by the spectre of the deadly virus constantly hovering in the background.

The night of romance turns into a reminiscence about the carefree days of sexual encounters prior to the disease becoming widespread and how AIDS affected so radically the lives of those touched by it without having it. In those days, as the characters point out, “the worst you could get from loving somebody was a broken heart.”

For one, Ghee (a vulnerable Sam Neal, laying down the rules to prevent the transmission of AIDS, but revealing his own sense of inadequacy and needy nervousness), the desire for playing things safe and taking necessary precautions becomes more of an excuse to avoid intimacy, as years of repressed anger and hidden memories are unleashed. Neal manages to tackle Fierstein’s big speeches without ever once making them sound like the preaching of a lecture or a rant.

The other person in the relationship is Mead (George White blending tough love with a simmering sensuality), who has to spend most of the play being criticised about his perceived lack of cleanliness (“I’ve seen dogs fall in love with grass where you’ve walked barefoot” jests his partner).

In the trading of insults there is much to laugh at as well as a great deal to think about and the production captures the sense of hysteria which defined the lives and loves of a generation of gay men.

The original production used a giant see-saw as a set and in an odd decision director Jacob Trenerry, who otherwise succeeds in making the drama feel absolutely contemporary and relevant to today, sets the action on what is supposed to be a see-saw but is in fact a large white plank resting on two black boxes, with a flimsy piece of card (which fell off) representing the fulcrum. It’s disappointing as it means the emotional ups and downs aren’t reflected by the non-operating teeter-totter at all and things remain too static.

That said, the venue and encompassing festival are a perfect setting for a revival of this important play and the production allows the anger and fear about an epidemic to resonate in an era where anything goes.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

 

VAULT Festival 2020

 

 

Click here to see all our reviews from VAULT Festival 2020