“You’ll leave the show feeling as though you’ve been to a rather wonderful party full of funny and charming people”
Past, present and future come together in a magnificent show by Maria Friedman and Friends at the Menier Chocolate Factory. It’s true that the music and songs of Legacy are a reminder of what we’ve recently lost, sadly. But in Legacy, Maria Friedman has assembled a company of singers and musicians to celebrate that past — and to give us a tantalizing peek into the future. As the show proceeds, we meet a dazzling line up of both experienced performers, and young singers making their stage debut. Above all, Legacy is a sing your heart out tribute to the songs of Marvin Hamlisch, Michel Legrand and Stephen Sondheim. The enthusiastic audience lapped it all up and begged for more.
Legacy is not just a great night out for fans of good music. In between the singing, and one great number by the band alone, Maria Friedman treats the audience to anecdotes about her life in musical theatre, including her memories of the men whose songs she sings, and whom she knew well. She connects with her audience easily — she’s full of warmth and self-deprecating humour. And she’s generous — not only in her introductions of the other performers on stage, but also the way in which she brings the audience into the show. Don’t be surprised if, on the night you visit, that’s literally what she does. On the night I was there, Friedman enthusiastically welcomed on stage Marvin Hamlisch’s widow Terre Blair. You’ll leave the show feeling as though you’ve been to a rather wonderful party full of funny and charming people.
The programme doesn’t give a completely accurate picture of what audiences will see on any one particular evening. Instead, Legacy puts together a number of well known numbers and reserves the right to add, or omit, to those on the list. The same holds true for the performers. What doesn’t change is the presence of Friedman herself, accompanied by the talents of long time friends Ian McLarnon and Matthew White. They are ably supported by stand out newcomers Desmonda Cathabel and Alfie Friedman. Friedman has not only inherited his mother’s talent — he brings something extra that is all his own. The band is superb, led by Theo Jamieson on piano, with Paul Moylan on double bass, and Joe Evans on drums. Legacy is a lively evening that modulates between boisterous ensemble numbers such as Hamlisch’s “I Hope I Get It”; an unusually upbeat “Windmills of Your Mind” (Legrand), to quieter, more intimate numbers such as “Old Friends” (Sondheim). And on this particular evening, as a tribute to International Women’s Day, Maria Friedman added a beautiful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”
If you’ve never been to the Menier Chocolate Factory, don’t hesitate to make Maria Friedman and Friends’ Legacy a reason for a first visit to this warm and welcoming venue. Bring some friends of your own. They’ll thank you.
“audiences will enjoy the carefully crafted seasonal atmosphere both within and without the auditorium”
The Child in the Snow is an adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Story, and this year’s holiday season show at Wilton’s Music Hall. In keeping with the tradition of presenting other ghost stories for the winter season—such as the perennially successful A Christmas Carol—one can readily see why playwright Piers Torday would choose this kind of material. And yet, adapting The Old Nurse’s Story demonstrates that it is no easy feat to craft a ghost story for the stage. In all other respects, The Child in the Snow is a clever and resourceful production—the set (designed by Tom Piper), lighting (Jess Bernberg), composition and sound effects (Ed Lewis) and the video effects (Hayley Egan)—provide just the right chilly atmosphere for this haunting narrative.
Let’s take a closer look at the source material for The Child in the Snow. Piers Torday has written a very helpful and informative article, Gaskell’s Ghosts, in the programme. And thank you, Wilton’s, for providing a free programme in the form of a printed newspaper. Torday provides some useful background about The Old Nurse’s Story. There’s also a reference to Mamilius, the ill fated young prince of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It’s a lovely connection to The Child in the Snow, because Gaskell’s story is also about an ill fated child, and it is also set in winter. But there the similarity ends, because, as we know, Mamilius never gets to finish his tale.
Gaskell’s story begins in a present where main character’s children are listening to a story about their mother’s lonely, friendless childhood in a forbidding mansion decaying on the Northumbrian Moors. This is a technique that works well in novels—telling a story set in the past—and it can also be successfully adapted for film and television, using flashbacks. But the theatre presents a different problem. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to use flashbacks, and the narrative needs to be set in the present (at least from the protagonist’s point of view). It needs to be linked to a goal that the main character is trying to achieve. Torday’s solution in The Child in the Snow is to update the narrative. Our heroine, Hester Thornton, is a World War One combat nurse who has lost her childhood memories through trauma. Her goal is to try to retrieve them by hiring a medium named Estelle Leonard. Hester brings Estelle back to her childhood home in an attempt to remember. So far, so good. But the set up for this situation requires a lot of storytelling to establish the backstory. And the backstory is the heart of the tale. Just as important, the trick with ghost plays is how to reveal the ghosts, and when. It’s analogous to the problem of putting a gun on the stage.
When we think about A Christmas Carol, or Hamlet, or even Macbeth, we can see that the ghosts in all these stories have an important function in the drama. They tend to appear right at the beginning of the story, and/or at a crucial moment in the plot. By contrast, the plot of The Child in the Snow has a leisurely beginning that feels as though it belongs to an entirely different, though just as powerful, story. I won’t provide spoilers, but by the end of The Child in the Snow, audiences should be able to see for themselves the difference between this show, and other plays with ghosts in them.
The Child in the Snow gives its two performers, Debbie Chazen and Safiyya Ingar, plenty to do. They are ably directed by Justin Audibert. Chazen takes on several roles (sometimes as a medium channeling her spirit guides, or else simply stepping into another role with the help of a costume piece and/or a different accent.) She also provides some delightful comic relief.
Ingar has the tougher task, in some respects, playing Hester Thornton. The role of Thornton is simply overwhelmed with narration. And there are really two parts to Thornton’s story that don’t link together all that well. The story of the lonely child, and that of the combat nurse. Despite the problematic set up, though, The Child in the Snow has plenty of blood chilling moments. But when all is said and done, The Child in the Snow takes one step too many away from the haunted old home of its source material.
It’s always a pleasure to spend an evening at the Wilton’s Music Hall, and audiences will enjoy the carefully crafted seasonal atmosphere both within and without the auditorium. Some may come away feeling, however, that reading Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Story around a crackling fire in a creaky old house, is a better way to get the full phantom. And they’d be right, because The Old Nurse’s Story is a great ghost tale, perfect for the season, and deserves to be better known.