Tag Archives: Steven Harris

The Wicker Husband

The Wicker Husband

★★★★★

Watermill Theatre

The Wicker Husband

The Wicker Husband

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 16th March 2020

★★★★★

 

“a performance of enormous range and sparkling energy”

 

There’s something remarkable happening at the picturesque Watermill Theatre in Newbury. On the night that London theatres closed and coronavirus gloom descended upon the nation, I was privileged to be part of an evening of pure enchantment, as a musical over eight years in the making made its debut on this most creative of stages.

First, forget whatever other associations the title The Wicker Husband may conjure. This has nothing to do with the film The Wicker Man. Second, prepare to be transported into a bright and delightful mythic world that is based on a short story by Ursula Wills-Jones and wonderfully adapted for the stage by Rhys Jennings (book) and Darren Clark (music and lyrics).

This sweet and affecting story is profoundly moral in an entirely natural way. It is a very English tale of the trees and water that somehow seems to draw both on Yorkshire mystery plays and American musical theatre. It asks the questions that social media so often gets wrong. Where does beauty really reside? And what’s it like to be an outsider, shunned by all the pretty people?

A multi-talented company of 12 are joined on the Watermill’s tiny stage by a number of wicker puppets made and operated in the exposed Japanese ‘bunraku’ style (think Warhorse). These extraordinary and beautiful creations by Finn Caldwell and team are brought to life by Eilon Morris, Yazdan Qafouri and Scarlet Wilderink. Qafouri (a winner of BBC One’s Let It Shine) has one of the many fine voices in this show. He is more than matched by Laura Johnson as the Ugly Girl, for whom the wicker husband is created. Here is a performance of enormous range and sparkling energy.

Julian Forsyth has a pivotal role as the Old Basketmaker whose weaving gives new life to the willow withies, sea grass and blackthorn. He has an impressive stage presence and a fine singing voice. Other members of this cracking and committed cast are Jack Beale, Angela Caesar (who as well as being an actor is also an opera singer and one of three fine violinists in the show), Claire-Marie Hall, Stephen Leask and Zoë Rainey.

The show interweaves puppetry with some two dozen catchy ballads, several dance routines (Steven Harris) and any number of opportunities for the cast’s instrumental skills to shine, with some highly effective lighting by Hartley TA Kemp, clean and effective design by Anna Kelsey and inspired direction by Charlotte Westenra.

As the programme describes, this production is the result of several dedicated years of workshops, competitions and mentoring. It is a fine testimony to the enormous creativity of the British stage and a highly recommended antidote to much else that besets us now.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Johan Persson

 

The Wicker Husband

Watermill Theatre until 4th April

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | February 2019
Macbeth | ★★★ | March 2019
Amélie | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★★ | May 2019
Assassins | ★★★★★ | September 2019

 

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I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

★★★★

Chiswick Playhouse

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

Chiswick Playhouse

Reviewed – 5th November 2019

★★★★

 

“All the actors deliver stellar performance and vocal work, and there is a real sense of ensemble chemistry between them which is a joy to behold”

 

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is a musical about relationships which, yes, sounds as generic and cliché as they come. However, those initial preconceptions are swiftly blasted away as the sheer quality of the skill and craft involved with the writing and production elevates this to a level of entertainment that leaves you consistently surprised and delighted.

Originally debuting in 1996 and becoming the second longest-running off-Broadway musical, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change saw extensive rewrites in 2017 from its writer Joe DiPietro and composer Jimmy Roberts. Despite certain songs and cultural references being updated, the concept of the show has remained unchanged: that of a series of musical vignettes that all centre around the themes of love and relationships. Although the characters and stories in each vignette are unconnected, together they form a trajectory through a relationship, from its beginning to its end. The ways in which the first two thirds of the show build up the exploration of its core ideas is fantastic, although the somewhat rushed and less interrogative final third makes for an underwhelming end.

That said, the contexts that DiPietro’s script has devised for each of these episodes are excellent, depicting relatable situations and feelings surrounding first date anxieties, pre-wedding meltdowns, and child-raising exhaustions. The dialogue preambling the songs is snappy and characterful, and the lyrics are clever, quippy, and punchy. Roberts’ score also keeps the texture of each scene feeling different to the last by dipping into a variety of styles, from rap to bee-bop, although this felt at odds with the piano-only accompaniment from musical director Stuart Pedlar.

Highlights of the show include ‘Better Things to Do’, where two men (George Rae and Dominic Hodson) on a first date decide to pretend they’re much further along in the relationship to avoid awkwardness; ‘Tear Jerk’, where Hodson desperately tries to gauge the right way to react to the chick flick his date (Laura Johnson) has opted to see with him; and ‘Marriage Tango’, in which Rae and his wife (Naomi Slights) precariously juggle looking after their children with their sex life. All the actors deliver stellar performance and vocal work, and there is a real sense of ensemble chemistry between them which is a joy to behold, although Hodson must be singled out for bringing an expert level of comedy to every character he portrays, from vindictive vicar to flirtatious funeral-goer.

Charlotte Westenra’s direction, along with Steven Harris’ choreography and Verity Johnson’s design all work in harmony to keep the focus squarely on the stories being told without ever resorting to gimmicks or flashiness – a smart choice indeed, as many of the stories are well-worth hearing. They’re a comfort to our insecurities, an opportunity to poke fun at the intimate anxieties of others, and at times a poignant reflection on the ways we handle relationships. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change isn’t quite perfect, but exceptionally easy to love.

 

Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by Savannah Photographic

 


I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

Chiswick Playhouse until 30th November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Sophie, Ben, and Other Problems | ★★★★ | April 2018
Sirens of the Silver Screen | ★★★ | June 2018
Sexy Laundry | ★★★ | November 2018
Carl’s Story | ★★★★ | March 2019
Harper Regan | ★★★★ | May 2019
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★★ | June 2019
Type On Paper | ★★★★ | July 2019

 

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