Tag Archives: Sherry Coenen

The Jazz Age

★★★★★

The Playground Theatre

The Jazz Age

The Jazz Age

The Playground Theatre

Reviewed – 15th October 2019

★★★★★

 

“Anthony Biggs’ direction is jaw-droppingly masterful”

 

“The New Yorker called him a 44 year old unemployed screenwriter from a forgotten era. The Jazz Age, they called it.” So says Ernest Hemingway about his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald in Allan Knee’s new play, The Jazz Age. It’s a quote dripping with delicious irony, as neither Fitzgerald, The Jazz Age nor Knee’s tribute of the same name are in any way forgettable.

The play follows the lives of the two writers who arguably encapsulated The Jazz Age more than anyone else – Hemingway (Jack Derges) and Fitzgerald (Robert Boulter), as well as Scott’s wife Zelda Fitzgerald (Hannah Tointon). Set mostly in Paris during the Roaring Twenties, the story closely recounts the tale of the trio’s young lives, particularly focusing on the complex relationship between them. Beginning with Scott’s scouting of Hemingway and Scott and Zelda’s whirlwind romance, the narrative continues with Hemingway’s rise to fame, Scott’s downwards spiral into self-pity and alcoholism and Zelda’s ever loosening grip on her own sanity.

Scott credits Hemingway as “holding a mirror up to the world and writing what you see,” a metaphor which also applies here – the story is written with clarity and panache whilst the attention to detail is absolutely spot on. From the moment the audience enters they are transported into a twenties Parisian Jazz club, Darren Berry’s three piece band enticing them in with sultry, buttery-smooth tones whilst Gregor Donnelly’s grandiose design wows them. Cabaret tables peppering the front row are a particularly pleasing touch – what better way to immerse the viewer into the play’s world than to make them part of the set?

As one might expect, the music is part of what makes The Jazz Age such a joyously stimulating experience – like icing on a cupcake, you’d notice if it wasn’t there. Never superseding, it is woven into the fabric of the play and evolves with the scenes it introduces – sometimes upbeat and fun, sometimes gentle and beautifully wistful. Its utilisation for changes in setting allows the story to seamlessly flow whilst making sure that classy Cabaret atmosphere never slips.

The stars of the show, however, are the characters themselves. Anthony Biggs’ direction is jaw-droppingly masterful – this is as close as you’re going to get to seeing Scott, Zelda or Hemingway actually come back to life. Boulter’s Scott is initially cocksure and arrogantly naïve, particularly apparent in his brazen forwardness towards Zelda during their first encounter, however Boulter’s transformation into the hollow, quivering spectre Scott becomes later on is measured impeccably and heart-breaking to witness. Tointon beautifully embodies the flapper girl Zelda, moving playfully yet gracefully and truly bringing the rhythm of the music to life. It is never one note however – Zelda may at one point be oozing with seductive charm and then suddenly switch into a complete manic breakdown, making her mesmerising to watch.

Derges’ Hemingway is quite simply breathtaking. Seldom have I seen an actor master the dry wit in a play like Derges does here. Every savagely witty putdown is timed effortlessly and laced with a palpable weariness and nonchalance. Hemingway’s overt machoism is never shied away from either and his cool confidence contrasts spectacularly to Scott’s nervous energy. The friendship between the two writers is definitely the most believable part of The Jazz Age and is what makes the final moments so beautifully poignant.

What’s really great is that you don’t need to know anything about the actual lives of these characters to feel a deep affinity with them. You can simply sit back, let the music seduce you and enjoy being whisked away to The Jazz Age for one evening. I urge everyone to go and watch it – it’s sublime.

 

Reviewed by Sebastian Porter

Photography by Robert Workman

 


The Jazz Age

The Playground Theatre until 19th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Fanatical – the Musical | ★★★ | November 2018
Sacha Guitry, Ma Fille Et Moi | ★★★½ | January 2019
My Brother’s Keeper | ★★★★ | February 2019

 

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Operation Mincemeat
★★★★★

New Diorama Theatre

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat

New Diorama Theatre

Reviewed – 17th May 2019

★★★★★

 

“With such a small audience and such a big production, it feels like everyone has the best seats in a much bigger theatre”

 

This is the true story of how a floating corpse kept Hitler off our shores. Set in the Home Office in 1943, the Double Cross Committee is busy brainstorming brilliant plans to win the war – exploding seagulls, spies disguised as flamingos and eavesdropping insects are all among their finest ideas. But the winning gambit involves the corpse of a soon-to-be married young man named Bill, who enjoys cocktails at the Ritz, dinner at the Groucho Club, fine tailoring and, oh yes, he’s not real.

Sitting somewhere between Monty Python and Mission Impossible, SpitLip’s ‘Operation Mincemeat’ is full of catchy numbers, quick wit, and a lot of heart. Each cast member transforms in to a plethora of dimensional characters with a mere hip swagger or a slight pursing of the lips. A lot of fun is had with gender roles and stereotypes, and to great effect.

Felix Hagan’s musical direction also sees a brilliant display of composition, and musical ability from the whole cast: each and every one sings beautifully and, believe it or not, raps like a pro. Special mention goes to Zoe Roberts (playing Bevan among others) whose rhythm is infectious – you feel as though you might accidentally join in. Along with his brilliant physical comedy, Jak Malone also has a heart-breaking falsetto – a surprising yet effective combination.

The set (Helen Coyston) and lighting design (Sherry Coenen) create illusions of a much grander space, illustrated with particular prowess during a hectic split-scene between a big, bawdy cabaret song and dance, and a dark and echoing submarine under threat of attack. With such a small audience and such a big production, it feels like everyone has the best seats in a much bigger theatre.

This production has the feel of something just on the cusp of great success – see it before word gets out and there are no tickets left!

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Alex Harvey-Brown 

 


Operation Mincemeat

New Diorama Theatre until 15th June

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Close Up | ★★★ | February 2018
It Made me Consider | ★★★ | February 2018
Trap Street | ★★★★ | March 2018
Left my Desk | ★★★★ | May 2018
Bitter | ★★★ | June 2018
Taking Flight | ★★★ | June 2018
4.48 Psychosis | ★★★★ | September 2018
Boys | ★★★★★ | November 2018
The War Of The Worlds | ★★★½ | January 2019

 

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