“The energy that flowed from the musicians was infectious as they recreated the nightlife of the era”
Stepping into the Mercury Theatre to see Ain’t Misbehavin’ was like stepping into the Jazz clubs of Harlem in the 1920s. The smooth tones of the music transported us deep into the life of Fats Waller, the iconic African-American jazz pianist, organist, composer and comedic entertainer. The show, not prescribing to any linear structure or story, explored the musical talents of Waller by embracing a selection of his work including ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ and ‘The Viper’s Drag.’ The songs were performed by Adrian Hansel, Carly Mercedes-Dyer, Landi Oshinowo, Renée Lamb and Wayne Robinson, who each, with their own impressive array of talents, added a unique flair to every tune. The quality was outstanding, as each performer amazed with their booming voices and effortless dance moves choreographed to perfection by the brilliant Oti Mabuse.
Making his directing debut, Tyrone Huntley proved his creative talents extend to offstage as well as on. He has ensured that every element of the show conveys the period and the true essence and freedom of Jazz.
At first, the absence of a storyline was noticeable and I caught myself thinking that the presence of scripted dialogue could have tied the songs together more efficiently. However, by the second act this thought was disregarded as we journeyed into more slow and sombre numbers.
‘The Viper’s Drag’ was a particularly impressive number, hypnotic as it stirred a silent excitement in the audience. Waller’s words filled the theatre, as Wayne Robinson smoked away, singing about getting high and dancing slickly across the floor. The audience watched as his feet slid across the stage, his body resembling ‘The Viper.’ The song ‘Black and Blue’ delved into the topic of race and importantly touched upon typical white American views towards black identities at the time. The power of the lyrics, “I’m white inside, but that don’t help my case, Cause I can’t hide what is on my face,” created a story and perhaps indicated Huntley’s vision of allowing the music to speak for itself.
It would be criminal not to acknowledge the excellent live band that performed alongside the outstanding cast. The energy that flowed from the musicians was infectious as they recreated the nightlife of the era enhanced by the stunning period set and costume design (takis).
Ain’t Misbehavin’ was hugely entertaining. A beautifully crafted piece of theatre from the Made In Colchester stable reflecting the talents of a bygone era.
“McEntire and Huntley as the two leads give incredible performances”
Jordan Seavey’s ‘Homos, or Everyone in America’, receiving its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre, is a whirlwind of a play, full of love, intelligence, mystery and warmth.
Told in scenes that leap around between 2006 and 2011, ‘Homos…’ is the story of ‘The Writer’ (Harry McEntire) and ‘The Academic’ (Tyrone Huntley), two twenty-somethings living in Brooklyn, NY. They meet over Friendster, the social networking site that appears to have been the next big thing before Myspace and Facebook arrived on the block, and from a drunken first date onwards, the play charts their highs and lows, their arguments, make-ups, break-ups and everything in between, until one life-changing event unsettles and rearranges everything they had before. “Handsome, and sort of strapping” Dan (Dan Krikler), a friend of The Academic, becomes a key player in the couple’s downfall, whilst Laila (Cash Holland), an enthusiastic and kind Lush worker, does what she can to help a stranger in a time of need.
A play about well-educated New York gay men talking about being gay can hardly be called ground-breaking, but Seavey’s script, stylistically built up on half-sentences, interruptions and people talking over each other, is moving, truthful, and feels real. The structure means each scene is sort of a guessing game as to when and where we are in the relationship, and the neat movement sequences (simply effective work from Chi-San Howard) work with the script to foreshadow a darker event on the couples’ horizon.
McEntire and Huntley as the two leads give incredible performances, sitting into the characters convincingly, and seeming free and at ease with each other and the space. Both actors display an impressive ability to snap out of emotional fraught scenes and move into lighter ones (and vice versa) at the drop of hat, and in a play so filled with arguments, they make the most of the kinder, funnier moments to give the audience a sense of why they are together.
Josh Seymour’s direction keeps the action varied, even when the script begins to feel a little repetitive (argue – make-up – repeat), and by giving us physical milestones at the beginning to keep an eye out for, gives a strange sense of emotional déjà vu, as if it’s somehow our relationship up on stage. A word of warning though: those with sensitive noses beware, this production contains Lush products, and lots of them.
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand…” Williams Blake once wrote, and on the Finborough’s luscious, sand-covered stage, this relationship works hard to be the one grain representing many. It seemed odd at first to be taken back to Bush and Obama, but that time frame, and the shock and drama of the finale, suggest now more than ever is a time for vigilance and action. Has the world become (to use a word hated by The Writer) less tolerant, less safe? We hope not, but in the meantime, let’s celebrate love, kindness and what individuals can do for each other.