Tag Archives: Manuel Harlan

Grease

Grease

★★★★

Dominion Theatre

Grease

Dominion Theatre

Reviewed – 17th May 2022

★★★★

 

“if the onstage passion isn’t quite ‘electrifying’, the overall presentation is.”

 

Picture the scene in a cold, forbidding producers’ office. You’re pitching a musical. “What’s the plot?” they ask. Well; it’s boy meets girl, boy and girl indulge in a bit of ‘summer loving’ on holiday, boy spurns girl in the face of peer pressure back at school. Girl sees him for the shallow guy he is, so loses interest anyway. For some inexplicable reason she then decides that she wants him after all (teenagers, eh?). So, she changes her image, trashes what’s left of her endearing and intelligent personality, and dresses provocatively to entice this somewhat dumb and superficial guy. And – Hey Presto! They go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.

If you haven’t already been shown the door, you might just get to throw in that you think a two-thousand-seater West End theatre is the perfect venue. Preposterous. So maybe you should start the pitch with the title. When “Grease” was released for the cinema in 1978 it became the highest grossing musical film ever at the time. “Grease” was, and still is, the word, as the title song informs us. The New York Times called it “terrific fun”. Four and a half decades later that description still applies.

The current revival at London’s Dominion Theatre harks back more to the original musical which preceded the John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John blockbuster, and which ran on Broadway for eight years until 1980. It’s London debut starred Richard Gere. But the familiarity is still there, and everything we simultaneously love and lambast is bursting at the seams in Nikolai Foster’s sumptuous production. There is a glorious mix of silliness and surreality, bubble-gum and bravado. No matter that the storyline is imperceptible to the point that the opening bars heralding each song are a welcome respite from the banality of the dialogue.

It is within the musical numbers that the heart of the show beats fiercely. There are a couple of additions to the set list, and a couple restored from the original, though these feel inconsequential when up against the wealth of crowd pleasers. Foster bravely doesn’t always play to the crowd, however, but instead injects a freshness that puts a new slant on some of Jim Jacobs’ and Warren Casey’s compositions. Highlights include Jocasta Almgill’s biting rendition of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” or Olivia Moore’s poignant ”Hopelessly Devoted to You” during which she decides she no longer belongs on the side-lines.

Moore’s Sandy does flirt with feistiness, but the character cannot escape the constraints of the script. Even in the seventies one must have wondered why she submits to such gender stereotypical peer pressure; and the question certainly looms larger today. In fact, there are so many wrong messages bouncing off the walls of the auditorium. For the most part they are drowned out by the infectious rhythms of the music and the gusto of the performances, driven by the sheer power of Arlene Phillips’ choreography.

There is little to be gained from looking for nuance or, indeed, emotional punch. We don’t feel the ‘multiplying chills’ about which Dan Partridge, as Danny Zuko, faultlessly sings. But if the onstage passion isn’t quite ‘electrifying’, the overall presentation is. As the closing number suggests: “that’s the way it should be”. Or rather “shoo-bop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom”.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan


Grease

Dominion Theatre until 29th October

 

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THE HOMECOMING

The Homecoming

★★★★★

Cambridge Arts Theatre

THE HOMECOMING

The Homecoming

Cambridge Arts Theatre

Reviewed – 11th April 2022

★★★★★

 

“this work remains a classic of the twentieth century and this superb revival is much welcomed”

 

Many people claim this to be Pinter’s finest play and this excellent production, superbly directed by Jamie Glover, certainly provides evidence for that argument. The strong ensemble doesn’t put a foot or sideways glance wrong, each character drawing our attention in turn.

An astonishing set (Liz Ashcroft) of huge height provides a surreal touch to the proceedings, comprising an impressive backdrop of dark green flocked wallpaper and the most unlikely of tallest staircases that makes each entrance and exit take an age. We wait in anticipation as Max, painfully, stick in hand, clambers down each step. Ruth, however, milks every moment of her regal descent towards the downstairs room of eager men.
Subdued lighting (Joanna Town) from a high ceiling lamp and corner standard lamps creates a brooding atmosphere: light falling onto the wallpaper from the offstage landing windows and from the opening front door, and alarming shadows created through the side window. Dramatic silhouetted freeze-frames between scenes enhance the sinister nature of the goings-on and heighten the tension.

Max (Keith Allen), permanently wearing a flat cap, is the cantankerous and misogynistic head of the household played with a touch of Alf Garnett but with the humour far darker than in any sitcom. He is vulnerable too as the weakness of his impending old age begins to be exploited by the middle son Lenny (Matthew Horne). With brilliantined hair and dapper blue suit, Lenny casually boasts of his needless violence. Joey (Geoffrey Lumb) is the youngest son, a wannabe boxer with little hope of success. The homecoming of the title is that of eldest son Teddy (Sam Alexander), a well-spoken university teacher who has been away for six years and arrives home unannounced with his wife Ruth (Shanaya Rafaat). Max’s brother Sam (Ian Bartholomew) makes up the household, an unassuming chauffeur bullied by his brother, weak and possibly impotent, but who knows the hidden stories of the family.

The central chair is the position of power. Mostly occupied by Max – even Teddy knows that it is his father’s favourite seat – both Lenny and Ruth get their turns to sit in it. The production’s tour image puts Ruth in this armchair held up by four men – she is literally put on a pedestal – and this implied, but uncertain, outcome to the story is one of the enigmas of the play.

All six members of the cast are outstanding, and it is the combined strength of the ensemble – an angry stare, a disapproving pout, a suggestive smirk across the stage – that marks this production as exceptional. But first among equals is the alluring performance by Shanaya Rafaat. No wonder Max cannot take his eyes off her as she draws the men closer with a gentle movement of a leg, her passive demeanour and softly spoken syllables contrasting with the brutality and estuary vowels of the household.

Whether any contemporary playwright would countenance using such casual misogynistic attitudes as a source of humour in a new play must be doubtful, this work remains a classic of the twentieth century and this superb revival is much welcomed.

 

Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Manuel Harlan

 


The Homecoming

Cambridge Arts Theatre until 16th April then UK tour continues

 

Recently reviewed at this venue:
Dial M For Murder | ★★★ | October 2021
Tell me on a Sunday | ★★★ | September 2021
The Good Life | ★★ | November 2021
Animal Farm | ★★★★ | February 2022

 

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