Mercury Theatre Colchester
Reviewed – 20th March 2019
“The energy that flowed from the musicians was infectious as they recreated the nightlife of the era”
Stepping into the Mercury Theatre to see Ain’t Misbehavin’ was like stepping into the Jazz clubs of Harlem in the 1920s. The smooth tones of the music transported us deep into the life of Fats Waller, the iconic African-American jazz pianist, organist, composer and comedic entertainer. The show, not prescribing to any linear structure or story, explored the musical talents of Waller by embracing a selection of his work including ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ and ‘The Viper’s Drag.’ The songs were performed by Adrian Hansel, Carly Mercedes-Dyer, Landi Oshinowo, Renée Lamb and Wayne Robinson, who each, with their own impressive array of talents, added a unique flair to every tune. The quality was outstanding, as each performer amazed with their booming voices and effortless dance moves choreographed to perfection by the brilliant Oti Mabuse.
Making his directing debut, Tyrone Huntley proved his creative talents extend to offstage as well as on. He has ensured that every element of the show conveys the period and the true essence and freedom of Jazz.
At first, the absence of a storyline was noticeable and I caught myself thinking that the presence of scripted dialogue could have tied the songs together more efficiently. However, by the second act this thought was disregarded as we journeyed into more slow and sombre numbers.
‘The Viper’s Drag’ was a particularly impressive number, hypnotic as it stirred a silent excitement in the audience. Waller’s words filled the theatre, as Wayne Robinson smoked away, singing about getting high and dancing slickly across the floor. The audience watched as his feet slid across the stage, his body resembling ‘The Viper.’ The song ‘Black and Blue’ delved into the topic of race and importantly touched upon typical white American views towards black identities at the time. The power of the lyrics, “I’m white inside, but that don’t help my case, Cause I can’t hide what is on my face,” created a story and perhaps indicated Huntley’s vision of allowing the music to speak for itself.
It would be criminal not to acknowledge the excellent live band that performed alongside the outstanding cast. The energy that flowed from the musicians was infectious as they recreated the nightlife of the era enhanced by the stunning period set and costume design (takis).
Ain’t Misbehavin’ was hugely entertaining. A beautifully crafted piece of theatre from the Made In Colchester stable reflecting the talents of a bygone era.
Reviewed by Maddie Stephenson
Photography by Pamela Raith
Mercury Theatre Colchester until 30th March
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 15th January 2018
“an exuberant and joyful musical treat”
Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived. The story of Henry VIII’s wives is probably one of the most familiar parts of British history, having inspired countless movies, novels and TV adaptations. But I challenge anyone to find one as uplifting and empowering as Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow’s Six. A stunning ensemble piece, pitch perfect with its tongue firmly in a cheek. The cast are vocally impeccable, each performing with an individual charm and flair that blends flawlessly. The score is bright, fun and rockets along. It is very hard to stay in your seat as the urge to dance along stays with you after the curtain comes down. This is a bright, brash girls night with a pumping sound track. But there is a message in the madness and it lands full force thanks to the spirit and energy of the performers.
The story may be well known – Henry VIII a man who abandoned his faithful wife for a younger model, then bullied, bored and executed his way through 5 more, reshaping England along the way – but this show is not just about history. It’s about challenging women’s narratives and redefining the roles. These women have been cast as victims – even Parr who ‘survived’ Henry is rarely considered more than a footnote in his story. This show tackles that head on. The premise is simple – each wife gives their case to the audience to prove themselves the true Queen by proving that they suffered the most. But what we see is not a collection of sob stories, whinging and wallowing. These ladies kick arse, (literally in some cases), and the result is one of the most jubilant and energetic takes on the six I have ever seen.
Far from indulging in weakness, the show highlights the strength, humour and depth in these characters creating six well rounded and charismatic women for the modern day. And some of their problems don’t seem that far removed from 2018 – we even see the Tudor version of Tinder. The first three, perhaps the most familiar due to the controversy surrounding Anne, kick against the stereotypes. Far from the dutiful wife, Catherine of Aragon (Renée Lamb) has sass and attitude, blowing in a with a ballsy number that demands answers. Neither the scheming seductress or manipulated pawn, Anne Boleyn (Christina Modestou) is just a girl who wants to have fun with perhaps the most catchy number of the night, (I’ll confess to humming that one on the way home). And though earnest, Jane Seymour’s (Natalie Paris) ballad resonates with strength and power. There are no shy or shrinking violets on this stage.
Perhaps because they are so often overlooked elsewhere, it’s the second half that really holds some surprises. Had the crown really been up for grabs, my vote would have gone to Anne of Cleves (Genesis Lynea). With her hip hop anthem Queen of The Castle, the 4th queen is celebrated as the one who played the game and ultimately came out a winner, even if history has been unkind. But its not all innocent glee. Catherine Howard (Aimie Atkinson), performing an Arianna Grande style pop song with added bravado, has a heart wrenching moment of poignancy as she literally gets stuck in her own rhythm. Finally Catherine Parr (Izuka Hoyle) – the survivor. This is where the show really flips. Catherine’s song breaks the narrative and dares to offer a view on the character not coloured by Henry. She calls out the history books for relegating these women to the roles of wives, props in Henry VIII story. The final note of the show is not the six bickering over their role in a man’s story – it’s six women coming together to be seen as individuals and it had the whole audience cheering and clapping along.
Six is an exuberant and joyful musical treat – the perfect antidote to Black Monday and a great show to see in the new year.
Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com
Photography by Josh Bird
Arts Theatre until 22nd January