Tag Archives: Richard Mawbey

The Boy Friend

The Boy Friend

★★★★

Menier Chocolate Factory

The Boy Friend

The Boy Friend

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 4th December 2019

★★★★

 

“The pleasure of this joyous revival stems in no small part from its truly gorgeous visual impact”

 

Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, The Boy Friend was an instant hit on the London stage when it premiered in 1953. It is an affectionate, sun-drenched, period pastiche, and terribly terribly English. The book follows a tried and tested romantic comedy formula: runaway rich boy meets rich girl pretending not to be, they fall in love, overcome a tiny obstacle, and end up in one another’s arms. There is an older comedy couple – man with a roving eye and battleaxe wife – who overcome their differences and fall in love a second time; an older romantic couple, whose love, too, is rekindled, and three satellite young girls, all of whom wind up with their beaux at the show’s close. So far so hackneyed. But you don’t come to The Boy Friend for the plot.

The pleasure of this joyous revival stems in no small part from its truly gorgeous visual impact. Paul Farnsworth’s set is a delicate filigree, bringing to mind bandstands and the balmy air of long summer evenings. Paul Anderson’s stunning lighting design complements each setting and mood perfectly, with a beautiful, bold palette that makes the heart soar. The costumes too are divine, in particular those of the marvellously chic Madame Dubonnet, although the male outfits in the final carnival scene do let the side down a little. The sequins seem somewhat tawdry when set next to the pierrots and Maisie’s whimsical butterfly.

It is very easy to imagine this production on a West End stage, and it seems highly likely that it will transfer, but it was a delight to see it up close in the Menier Chocolate Factory, and to hear it up close too. The orchestra, directed by Simon Beck, was a triumph, and performed Sandy Wilson’s score with the brio and tenderness it deserves. And the dancing… The dancing was out of this world. Sharp, snappy, sexy, infectious, fabulous. Terrific choreography from Bill Deamer and a knockout dance performance from Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson, as Maisie, in particular. This production is well cast, and all the principals shine. Amara Okereke is a perfect Polly – all innocence and charm – and has a radiant soprano which is blissful to listen to; Dylan Mason’s Tony is earnest and gauche, and there is delightful on-stage chemistry between them. Janie Dee brings some star quality to the delicious, flirtatious Madame Dubonnet; Tiffany Graves is full of fun and mischief as Hortense and Adrian Edmonson gives a peerless comic turn as Lord Brockhurst.

There are a few wrinkles in the fabric – Act III loses pace, mainly owing to the superfluous tango routine, and the shrillness of Polly’s three friends is overdone – but, in essence, The Boy Friend falls around you with the caress of a fine silk kimono and you can head off into the cold December night with the warmth of the Riviera in your step.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Manuel Harlan

 


The Boy Friend

Menier Chocolate Factory until 7th March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gronholm Method | ★★★★ | May 2018
Fiddler on the Roof | ★★★★★ | December 2018
The Bay At Nice | ★★½ | March 2019
Orpheus Descending  | ★★★★ | May 2019
The Watsons | ★★★★ | October 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Fiddler on the Roof (Cast Change)
★★★★★

Playhouse Theatre

Fiddler on the Roof (Cast Change)

Fiddler on the Roof (Cast Change)

Playhouse Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd June 2019

★★★★★

 

Friedman’s formidable presence is the perfect complement to Tevye; one that no Matchmaker could cap.”

 

Almost before Trevor Nunn’s “Fiddler on the Roof” opened last December at the Menier Chocolate Factory, it had ‘West End Transfer’ stamped all over it. Three months on from its relocation to the Playhouse Theatre it is still a richly deserved hot ticket. Settling into the larger space, the show has thankfully lost none of the intimacy and passion: there is always the fear of over-projection, but the subtlety and attention to detail of this production is beautifully intact, gently immersing the audience into the small Russian village of Anatevka in 1905.

Designer Robert Jones’ set – a ramshackle Jewish shtetl – spills out into the auditorium; the smokey darkness of the crooked wooden buildings backed by a foreboding bank of bare woodland, yet overlain with folk-tale lanterns and Tim Lutkin’s time-shifting lighting that conjures both the chilly light of an uncertain dawn with heart-warming twilight. A true reflection of the town folk’s stoicism in the face of their impending resettlement. Trevor Nunn has conjured up the perfect mix of mockery and menace in this atmospheric revival.

Based on the stories of one of the most famous and beloved of all Jewish writers; Sholem Aleichem, the story centres on Tevye, a poor Jewish dairyman, forever questioning ‘Tradition’, and the mysterious ways in which God moves. A patriarchal figure, his refusal to bend to the changing times is slowly eroded by the strong-willed actions of his daughters, who rebel against the custom of arranged marriage and choose to marry for love. Although he never quite lets go, Tevye’s grip on his heritage is increasingly fragile. Andy Nyman gives a stunningly natural and captivating performance of this central role. Whilst making light of his plight with precision-timed quips and asides, we are also continuously aware of his fear of the threat of exile and, more poignantly, his love for his wife and daughters.

In its first major cast change since the transfer Maria Friedman takes over as his wife Golde. Friedman’s formidable presence is the perfect complement to Tevye; one that no Matchmaker could cap. Their onstage chemistry evokes the hard-won intimacy built from the ups and downs of a twenty-five-year marriage; culminating in the tender self-realisation of their duet “Do You Love Me?” Friedman again pours the liquid gold of her voice over the achingly angelic “Sunrise, Sunset”, one of the choral highlights. In fact, the entire company do wonderful justice to Jerry Bock’s sumptuous score, with a sensitive, but never sentimental, interpretation of Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics. Molly Osbourne and Nicola Brown as the daughters Tzeitel and Chava are joined by Ellie Mullane impressively stepping in as Hodel. The three sisters give heartfelt performances, accentuating the satire often missed in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”. The village matchmaker is indeed central to the story, and her role is made more vital by Anita Dobson who takes on the mantle with a thrilling energy, showing us her dab hand at comic timing.

But beneath this musical portrait of family and community is the solemn undercurrent of violence, anti-Semitism and persecution; sadly still all too pertinent. Matt Cole’s choreography, paying homage to Jerome Robbins’ original, shows how rapidly high spirits can descend into oppressed chaos, particularly when a vodka-soaked wedding dance is broken by the arrival of a vicious tsarist pogrom at the close of the first act. A threat that is taken to its tragic conclusion in the final scenes.

The human touch easily sits alongside the disturbing historical commentary. Yet, despite the epic themes, the staging of this production lends real intimacy to a thousand seat venue, and by avoiding the temptation to overplay to the rafters the emotional impact touches the heart with much more force. Its message is clear; but what is equally clear is that this quite simply is still a triumph of a show. Musical theatre at its best. Matchless.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson

 

Playhouse Theatre

Fiddler on the Roof

Playhouse Theatre until 2nd November

 

Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens | ★★★ | Union Theatre | May 2019
Mycorrhiza | ★★★ | The Space | May 2019
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2019
The Talented Mr Ripley | ★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | May 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | Trafalgar Studios | May 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | June 2019
The Flies | ★★★ | The Bunker | June 2019
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★★ | Tabard Theatre | June 2019
The Decorative Potential Of Blazing Factories (Film) | ★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | June 2019
Bitter Wheat | ★★★★ | Garrick Theatre | June 2019

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com