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.
“despite being as tall as a building, it was endearing, and convincingly brought to life by a team of skilled puppeteers”
Something magical happened in a London park yesterday. A hundred local performers joined with a theatre company, some amazing puppeteers and a giant baby the size of a bus to enchant and enthral their audience. Some of the performers had learning disabilities or physical disabilities, and some did not. They were all equal parts of a team that had the audience whooping and dancing for joy at the end of this extraordinary show.
Zara is a co-production of Mind the Gap and Walk the Plank. Mind the Gap is one of Europe’s leading Learning Disabilities Theatre Companies and Walk the Plank specialises in spectacular , innovative outdoor productions. Putting these two companies together was a match made in heaven. The story of Zara is one that challenges perceptions of parenthood and disability. Can a person with learning disabilities be a good parent? Should they be allowed to try? Zara, played by JoAnne Haines, is a young woman who has learning disabilities. She has given birth to an enormous baby, a baby so big that it could be a danger to society. Social services want her to give the baby up, and they are so desperate that she should that they call in the army. But Zara is not alone, she has the support of a large group of people, determined to stand up for her and her huge child.
JoAnne Haines is the centre of the action, standing high above the audience she pours her love into her baby, and shares her worries and anxieties too. It’s a lovely performance, which includes some extraordinary flying work. To have a young learning disabled woman at the heart of such a huge, spectacular show is unusual. It is also a great success, Haines captured our hearts with her sincerity and vulnerability. Everyone was rooting for Zara.
The community cast took on different roles, some were soldiers, some Zara supporting protesters, and a hilarious group in Bio Hazard suits arrived to clean up after the baby’s first explosive, and psychedelic, poo! They sang, danced and acted their hearts out. There were cherry pickers and a tank. There was an atmospheric and soaring score, composed by Sarah Llewellyn and a soundscape that added wonderfully to the atmosphere and worked beautifully alongside the stunning 3D light projections. It truly was an unforgettable evening, a show with a giant baby and giant heart that demonstrated the power of a mother’s love and the power of community versus the faceless state.
The baby was designed by Francis Morgan and, despite being as tall as a building, it was endearing, and convincingly brought to life by a team of skilled puppeteers, dressed as midwives.
Director Joyce Nga Yu Lee has somehow managed to weave all the different strands of this huge show, both human and technical, into a truly successful piece of theatre that will stay with its performers and audiences for a long time. Not only for the actual show, but because of the issues it raises. Never preachy, always engaging, moving and very funny. Zara is a triumph and a joy.