Reviewed – 3rd October
“a gloriously silly evening”
When all around is strife and uncertainty, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned plate of… farce. Thirty-seven years after its debut performance at the Lyric Hammersmith, Michael Frayn’s play of backstage antics bleeding into on stage catastrophe is as thigh-slappingly funny as ever.
For West End audiences used to the meta-theatricality of Mischief Theatre’s ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ will find themselves on familiar territory here – Mischief’s hugely successful show it essentially a full-length take on Frayn’s final act. What this production allows however is a look behind the scenes, seeing the love triangles, squabbles and gossip that take places in corners the audience normally cannot see. Act One introduces the array of wonderfully exuberant characters in rehearsal, Act Two takes us literally behind the scenes to show how love breaks this particularly touring company apart, and Act Three takes us further along the tour when the actor’s exasperation causes absolute chaos onstage.
The joy is seeing all the jokes set up in Act One come to fruition in Act Three. Jeremy Herrin’s production keeps the energy high and the pace quick. His ensemble leap to the challenge. Sarah Hadland is gossipy dame using balletic posture and glued on grins to see the show through. Richard Henders plays an excellent Frederick Fellowes, epitomising the actor seeking meaning for every move he makes. Simon Rouse plays a drunken octogenarian with aplomb and Lloyd Owen is a suitably sarcastic and exasperated director. Meera Syal, as Dotty Otley, lives up to her name, unable to remember when to bring sardines on and when to bring them off.
Max Jones’ set is nicely modern, and the costumes fit into the present day well. This is pastiche of a genre that will always please. The audience tonight was guffawing in the stalls. My only reservation is in the casting – it could have been a little more inventive. That aside, this is a gloriously silly evening of comedy that will leave anyone with sore cheeks and good spirits. Fans of Mischief Theatre would be advised to check this out, along with anyone else interested in the theatricality of theatre and what madcap relationships go on behind the scenes. It might leave you wondering why anyone would get involved in the game of theatre. But it’s the precariousness of live theatre itself that will always be the most entertaining thing on stage.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Helen Maybanks
Garrick Theatre until 4th January
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 17th October 2018
“the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters”
A lot has been made of the gender swapping element of Marianne Elliott’s ground breaking production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”. By his own admission, Sondheim was initially unsure that he wanted it to happen. His reservations were understandable: all too often you see theatre where the protagonist has been made female and it doesn’t always work. It is to Elliott’s credit that he was persuaded to allow it (such was Sondheim’s faith in her) and the result is a brilliantly up to date reimagining of the work.
It seems that few alterations have been made to George Furth’s book. There are the obvious pronoun substitutions and lyrical changes, yet it is a seamless transformation – it is easy to forget that this version isn’t how it was originally written. Although it is radical, it doesn’t feel it. It feels natural and poignantly relevant, which is the ultimate compliment. Leave any preconceptions and debate at the door and just revel in the astonishing gorgeousness of this production.
In the absence of any real plot it relies on the sharp dialogue and characterisation and, of course, Sondheim’s inimitable score. Each song is a vignette – a stand-alone moment, but wedded to the narrative and given a sparkle of confetti by Bunny Christie’s ingenious ‘Alice in Wonderland’ design.
Rosalie Craig plays Bobbie, the single, independent woman, as a bewildered onlooker; surveying the inexplicable bargaining, bickering, compromises, trade-offs, understandings and misunderstandings of her friends’ marriages. She perfectly treads the path from amused derision through to a longing to be part of this weird world of wedded ‘bliss’. The dichotomy is heightened coming from the perspective of a woman aware of her biological clock ticking away on her thirty-fifth birthday. There is a spellbinding routine where Liam Steel’s choreography has four identically dressed versions of Bobbie appear to her in a dream as spirits of her future self; stuck in a clockwork loop of morose matrimony and motherhood. Craig gives a performance that will surely make her a West End fixture for quite some time.
But she is in good company. It is a show full of star turns. Jonathan Bailey showers the audience with the impossibly quick-fire lyrics of “Getting Married Today” with the lung capacity of a free-diver. George Blagden, Richard Fleeshman and Matthew Seadon-Young, as Bobbie’s three potential boyfriends offer a gloriously fresh take on “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”. Patti Lupone’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” is an unforgettable cry of self-deprecatory discontent. But the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters. Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes as the abstemious argumentative couple in denial, Daisy Maywood and Ashley Campbell as the happily divorced couple, Jennifer Saayeng and Richard Henders as the doped-up, straight-laced couple are all hilarious yet touching (my word count is cautioning me to be self-editing here). The entire piece comes with an immense sense of fun, without losing any of the emotive power. Craig’s solos; “Someone Is Waiting”, “Marry Me a Little” and, of course “Being Alive”, are achingly pure and heartfelt.
The friends that surround Bobbie repeatedly urge her to find somebody who will take care of her. “But who will I take of?” she responds. I think it’s safe to say that the success of this show is well and truly taken care of. I hope nothing is booked into the Gielgud Theatre for the foreseeable future.
Craig’s Bobbie bookends many of the scenes with the simple, singular word ‘Wow’. I left the theatre with the same word resounding in my head. Sondheim’s musical and Elliott’s production is a perfect match.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Gielgud Theatre until 30th March