Tag Archives: Rosa Lennox

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life
★★★★

Finborough Theatre

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 20th June 2019

★★★★

 

“once you get your ear into a penny dreadful frame of mind, it becomes engrossing and plain fun”

 

If you’d told me that a Thursday evening in Brexit Britain following the latest instalment of a soulless slog towards finding the new Tory Prime Minister would have seen me grinning along to a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia, complete with Union Jacks, I’d have laughed in your face. But perhaps the play is right; all the best things do happen After Dark.

Written by Dion Boucicault (who based it on Les Oiseaux de Proie by Eugène Grangé and Adolphe d’Ennery), the work, subtitled A Drama of London Life, was an 1868 box office hit. London life is right; we find ourselves at the nexus of some key moments in our city’s past. Robert Peel’s bobbies patrol the streets, the new Metropolitan line (cleverly rendered) plays a starring role and (gulp) empire is held above all. Despite adjustments for modern audiences (director Phil Willmott rightly removed anti-Semitic characterisation), this remains every inch the melodrama, with ham in spades. The music hall is still alive at the Finborough, with the saucy ditties to prove it, and some depictions border on panto. Toby Wynn-Davies as sly lawyer Chandos Bellingham, for example, is only ever a signature song away from Fagin – but once you get your ear into a penny dreadful frame of mind, it becomes engrossing and just good plain fun. Wynn-Davies in particular brings real menace, especially in a beautifully-choreographed scene making the most of the clever sliding set and a terrific thunderclap sound effect.

In fact sound (Julian Starr) and lighting (Zak Macro) are, uniformly, first class. Rousing Victorian brass sets the scene and the live music too is of exceptionally high quality; Gabi King, Rosa Lennox (who is also musical director) and Helen Potter deliver a genuinely affecting rendition of Abide With Me, amongst other more ribald pieces. Hannah Postlethwaite’s adroit staging, establishing all of London from treacherous Rotherhithe to a smart hat shop, combined with liberal quantities of dry ice, make the small space feel genuinely atmospheric. It doesn’t take long to believe we’re in the murky streets of old; fans of Sherlock Holmes will find plenty here to enjoy.

Those of us who have had a sticky tube journey here might be heard snorting at the underground described as a ‘glorious pathway of shining light’, and certainly there are other moments that date the piece even uncomfortably (the uneasily stereotypical Russian dance troupe springs to mind). But approach the night with tongue firmly in cheek, anticipating an ending of Shakespearean levels of silliness, and you can’t go too far wrong.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Sheila Burnett

 


 After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

Finborough Theatre until 6th July

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Square Rounds | ★★★ | September 2018
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018
Bury the Dead | ★★★★ | November 2018
Exodus | ★★★★ | November 2018
Jeannie | ★★★★ | November 2018
Beast on the Moon | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019
A Lesson From Aloes | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Maggie May     | ★★★★ | March 2019
Blueprint Medea | ★★★ | May 2019

 

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

 

CAN-CAN!

Can-Can!
★★★★

Union Theatre

CAN-CAN!

Can-Can!

Union Theatre

Reviewed – 13th February 2019

★★★★

 

“we can almost smell the absinthe wafting through the high kicks, cartwheels and splits”

 

This year, in the fourth of the Union Theatre’s ‘Essential Classics’ seasons, director Phil Willmott has turned to the theme of ‘Enemies of the People’, highlighting the process by which a ruling elite can attempt to silence not just opposition but also more benign threats that come in the shape of a ‘free spirit’. History has often taught us that the privileged class does not always know what is best for the common good; an argument that comes to the fore in the new musical, “Can-Can!”.

Not to be confused with Cole Porter’s fifties musical of the same name, also set in 1890s Paris, “Can-Can!” takes us into the heart of La Belle Époque, when Paris, formally scandalised by its artistic community, began to celebrate these former outcasts. Willmott’s production, directed by Phil Setren, is brazen and brave, capturing the very exuberance of the period. A real kaleidoscope of a show, it wears its influences openly. Taking as its starting point Jacques Offenbach’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’, which introduced the Can-Can dance to the world, it fuses operetta with music hall and transplants it into a plot loosely based on Arthurs Wing Pinero’s ‘Trelawny of the Wells’. Onto this already rich backdrop are added the real-life cabaret characters from the Moulin Rouge (in particular Jane Avril and ‘La Goulue’) made famous by Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings (the artist himself is also painted into the scenario).

The concept is fascinating, and inspired decisions are made. But like the assortment of source material, the show itself is a bit of a mixed bag. It takes until the second act to find its true tempo. For a musical comedy the timing sometimes slips and misses the pulse, while the rhythm of the dialogue suffers from palpitations. But the choreography does not miss a beat. Adam Haigh’s routines are simply stunning, thrillingly performed by the all-dancing cast whose energy threatens to burn a hole in Justin Williams’ and Jonny Rust’s evocative rotating set. Further aided by Penn O’Gara’s authentically flamboyant costumes, we can almost smell the absinthe wafting through the high kicks, cartwheels and splits.

The script, however, occasionally threatens to douse the fuse that is leading to the explosive finale. But luckily the spark manages to stay alight thanks to a story that bears all the hall marks of a well-structured, crowd-pleasing yarn. Jane Avril (the subtly operatic Kathy Peacock) gives up the stage when she decides to marry her well-healed sweetheart, Christian Bontoux (Damjan Mrackovich) only to find life unbearably dull, trapped in her fiancé’s austere household that detests her unrestrained personality. Escaping back to the theatre, she breaks her own heart as well as that of her beloved, who has also defied his tyrannical father in order to pursue the troubadour life.

If the action occasionally lags it is soon buoyed along by some stand out moments: the dream-like ballet sequence between Peacock and Mrackovich; or the final scenes of reconciliation during which Phil Willmott’s authoritarian character finally secures the audience’s sympathy. Secrets are revealed in some heartfelt revelations to the famous Cabaret Queen ‘La Goulue’ (a marvellously camped up performance from PK Taylor) that give us a surprising back story.

Despite a few splutterings on the way, “Can-Can!” ends with a bang and reminds us of the true intention of the piece. Which ultimately is to entertain. That it succeeds is confirmed by the exuberant hand-clapping from the audience along to the closing number.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


Can-Can!

Union Theatre until 9th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Carmen 1808 | ★★★★★ | February 2018
The Cherry Orchard | ★★★★ | March 2018
Twang!! | ★★★★ | April 2018
H.R.Haitch | ★★★★ | May 2018
It’s Only Life | ★★★★ | June 2018
Around the World in Eighty Days | ★★★ | August 2018
Midnight | ★★★★★ | September 2018
Brass | ★★★★ | November 2018
Striking 12 | ★★★★ | December 2018
An Enemy of the People | ★★ | January 2019

 

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