My Brother’s Keeper?
The Playground Theatre
Reviewed – 28th February 2019
“Splashes of dark humour feature throughout adding to the emotional roller-coaster of this insightful and complex piece”
My Brother’s Keeper? first debuted in 1985 at the Greenwich Theatre. Over three decades later, it is now inviting audiences in at The Playground Theatre. Underneath the low hanging fluorescent lights, we observe a family at its most vulnerable. They have been brought together in a hospital ward (realistically represented by Victoria Spewing’s design) and are at their Father’s bedside, dealing with the impact of his recent stroke. Brothers Sam and Tony are forced to confront their past, accept the present and find hope for the future. Can they navigate their way to reconciliation before it’s too late?
The play is a triumph from Nigel Williams whose writing stands the test of time proving to be just as relevant now, with references to feminism, politics and the continuous constraints faced by the NHS. The exploration of the characters encapsulated the turbulence of family dynamics providing the audience with a truly ‘fly on the wall’ experience. Splashes of dark humour feature throughout adding to the emotional roller-coaster of this insightful and complex piece of writing exploring love, conflict, and acceptance.
To capture such a ‘classic’ middle-class family dynamic, the casting had to be just right and it was. David Partridge and Josh Taylor were a wonderful pairing to demonstrate the strained relationship between two brothers who have very different outlooks on life; a chalk and cheese combination throughout that provided a continuous momentum. Kathryn Pogson made a very endearing Mrs Stone who despite her gentle approach showed much vigour in her battle to bring her family together. So ‘real’ were the characters on stage, that I couldn’t help but empathise with their circumstances, finding myself catching glimpses of my own life. One must, therefore, applaud Craig Gilbert’s direction as the whole piece felt seamless in its journey, subtle in its approach while still packing a punch. The combination of writing and acting is a wonderful partnership reminding us just how precious life is.
Reviewed by Lucy Bennett
Photography by Bertie Beor Roberts
My Brother’s Keeper?
The Playground Theatre until 23rd March
Previously reviewed at this venue:
A Beautiful Noise
Reviewed – 11th February 2019
“A consummate showman, he has the relaxed stage presence that wins us over from the start”
‘Legendary’ is one of those words that has lost its meaning in modern life, and I flinch inwardly whenever I hear a living person described as a legend. Besides, by definition, a legend is unverifiable; handed down over the years and eventually accepted as truth. There! That’s my only gripe out of the way. But whilst describing Neil Diamond as a legend is open to question, what is definitely and objectively accepted as truth is his talent as a writer and performer, and his importance as an artist in today’s popular culture. And Fisher Stevens is the entertainer to bring home that fact in this outstanding celebration of Diamond’s career.
It is almost exactly a year since Neil Diamond announced his retirement having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease: a sad and poignant reality that infuses the evening with extra emotional punch. Diamond himself continues to write and record, but in his stage absence his devoted fans can find solace in “A Beautiful Noise” at the Lyric Theatre.
It begins at the beginning, charting Diamond’s time cooped up in New York’s ‘Brill Building’, home to the likes of Leiber and Stoller, Carole King, Burt Bacharach and other now household names in song writing. His success as a songwriter preceded his success as a singer, notching up hits for Elvis Presley, the Monkees, Cliff Richard, Lulu and even the hard-rockers; Deep Purple.
“If I close my eyes…” sings Stevens in the opening number; ‘Brooklyn Roads’. The pertinence is not lost on the audience; if we close our eyes it is conceivable that we are witnessing Diamond’s miraculous return to the stage, such is the near perfect replication of the vocal timbre and nuances. Stevens’ rich, gravelly baritone even comes with a built-in pitch-bend that create Diamond’s distinctive downwards glissandos. He certainly hits all the right notes, but Stevens also manages to pitch his whole performance perfectly, eschewing sentimentality or idolatry for plain, down-to-earth entertainment. A consummate showman, he has the relaxed stage presence that wins us over from the start.
The classics are all there: ‘Beautiful Noise’, ‘Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon’, ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’, ‘I Am I Said’, ‘Kentucky Woman’, ‘Song Sung Blue’, ‘Hello Again’, ‘Coming To America’, ‘Desiree’, ‘Sweet Caroline’… and so on and so on. But we are also reminded of the many hits he penned for other singers. Backed by the strong, tight-knit band led by MD Mark Burton at the keys, a rich wall of sound is created, upon which hangs the tapestry of Diamond’s craft. A special mention must be made of the two backing singers, Samantha Palin and Rebecca Cole. Stevens generously brings them to the front line throughout and I’m sure it won’t be long before these two singers are headlining their own shows. Cole gives us a sassy solo performance of Lulu’s hit ‘The Boat That I Row’, but undoubtedly the highlight of the evening is Palin’s soaring rendition of Barbara Streisand’s ‘Woman In Love’, after which she dips sublimely into the duet ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’: a moment of pure musical theatre that dissolves any remaining residue of schmaltz that is often associated with the original.
Often derided by the critics, Neil Diamond has always risen above the flak. It never really bothered him, and it certainly doesn’t bother this audience of loyal fans who treat Fisher Stevens as the Diamond himself. As the show morphs into a fully-fledged rock gig during the second act, we are again reminded of the genre hopping dynamism of his live performances.
“Songs are life in eighty words or less” Neil Diamond once said. This show is his life in eighty minutes or more. A true celebration.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
A Beautiful Noise
Lyric Theatre – shows in June and July
Last ten shows covered by the reviewer: