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Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Hard Boiled Egg and The Wasp - Lion and Unicorn Theatre - Wednesday 30 May ***

A pub with a theatre above it is my idea of heaven, especially when the show is a musical, so I had a spring in my step and a smile on my face as we hit Kentish Town and headed for the Lion and Unicorn. Firstly what a lovely pub, it’s been tastefully renovated but is still recognisably “local” and was packed with friendly faces enjoying a cold drink on a warm sunny evening. It would have been churlish not to join them so we settled down with the essential vodka and tonics before show time.

The musical with the very strange title (more on that later) is a heavily fictionalised account of the last few years in the life of Victorian music hall star Dan Leno, who, after suffering debilitating headaches and an apparent mental breakdown, is committed to an asylum by his wife. The two acts follow Leno’s treatment at the hands of the head of the asylum, the brutal Miss Cornthwaite, and her assistant, the tender Miss Proudfoot, and through a series flashbacks we get the background story of a troubled man.

With book and lyrics by Jonathan Kydd and music by Andy Street, the show is presented in the style of the music hall, presided over by a master of ceremonies and with faux period songs.

Basically it’s ok, not terrible, not great. There is a standout turn from Sarah Earnshaw as Miss Proudfoot who is actually so good that she outshines everyone else with ease. Chris Vincent as Dan Leno is a little underwhelming and the remainder of the cast sometimes ham up the not terribly witty script, packed with embarrassingly unfunny single entendres, to such an extent that I was squirming in my seat on more than one occasion.

Some of the songs hit the mark, with Sarah Earnshaw and Claire Marlowe, as Leno’s wife, both captivating during their moments in the spotlight. My favourite of the Leno numbers has to be the title one, a nonsense song about a wasp that falls in love with a boiled egg that would have made Spike Milligan proud.

The story is enlightening on the treatment on mental illness a century ago, but the central conceit that Leno’s problems stem from his personal demons as a bisexual female impersonator with an Oedipus complex is trounced when we are informed that he had a brain tumour. This consequently leaves much of what has gone before irrelevant.

The problem is, with Edwin Drood following a similar, but much more successful route across town, this really does suffer by comparison.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed some of it, but it feels like a work in progress that’s got nowhere else to go.  Jonathan Kydd, who also directed and produced, may have bitten off more than he could chew and a larger creative team might have been of benefit.

On the plus side, Sarah Earnshaw is magnificent, the band of piano, cello, violin and drums make a glorious sound and the costumes, by Alison Cartledge, look period perfect to my, admittedly not very well-informed, eyes. Also, the pub downstairs is so good that I will definitely look out for other productions at this venue again.

Booking until 10 June 2012, disappointing - The Hard Boiled Egg & The Wasp

Monday, 28 May 2012

Flahooley - Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells - Sunday 26 May *****

With hangovers from hell the result of spending Eurovision in the company of Cheryl Barker, Mike Nolan, Jay Aston and countless bottles of house white, we luckily only had to stroll next door for this Lost Musicals semi-staged presentation of Flahooley with by book by E.Y. Harburg (Finian’s Rainbow, Wizard of Oz) & Fred Saidy (Finian’s Rainbow), lyrics by Harburg and music by Sammy Fain (Calamity Jane).

As is customary, Ian Marshall Fisher, director and founder of Lost Musicals, gave us some enlightening pre-performance background information. This show was written after E.Y. Harburg had found himself blacklisted by Hollywood as a potential communist during the McCarthy trials and was persuaded to move to the east coast to write a Broadway show. The result is a thinly disguised attack on capitalism and McCarthyism. It also marked the Broadway debuts of both Barbara Cook and multi-octave Peruvian soprano Yma Sumac, whose additional songs were composed by her husband, Moises Vivanco.

The action takes place in a toy factory which manufactures a laughing doll, the titular Flahooley, that, with the help of an eager to please genie, becomes the most popular and cheapest toy during the ultra competitive Christmas season. Unfortunately, over-supply causes it to be sold at a loss, making the factory virtually bankrupt and leaving the inventor of the doll a social pariah. Along the way there is a boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins back girl story-line and plenty of opportunity for comedy.

With a cast of 19 dressed in black tie and evening wear, scripts in hand and accompanied by music director Mark Warman on piano, this is a treat. The madcap storyline which also involves an Arabian diplomat accompanied by a princess, the Yma Sumac role, bringing a broken magic lamp to be repaired and unwittingly releasing a genie, has laughs galore and some great songs, in particular a couple of gorgeous ballads beautifully sung by James Irvine and Emily O’Keeffe, the young leads playing the inventor and his girlfriend. Matt Zimmerman as the factory owner, James Vaughan as the Arabian diplomat and Stewart Permutt as the genie relish every comic nuance of the script and have the audience eating out the palms of their hands. Margaret Preece has the unenviable job of interpreting the Yma Sumac songs. I say songs, but there are hardly any lyrics and virtually no discernible tunes, simply displays of vocal acrobatics. Ms Preece however sings them with such agility and warmth, together with knowing looks towards the audience, that it is impossible not to be won over by her performance and the chutzpah of the original writers who shoe-horned such strange compositions into an already odd show.

By the end of the second act, after a weird but captivating journey peppered with lively songs from a first-rate cast and references to both Finian’s Rainbow and the Wizard of Oz, we learn that greed is most definitely not good, that we should embrace our differences and that we should support each other.

The Lost Musicals may not be to everyone’s taste as they require a little imagination and work from the audience to fill in the gaps left by the lack of scenery, props, costumes, etc, but the performers are such a joy to listen to and watch and it really does feel like a labour of love for all concerned. We two musical theatre nerds really couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, we even avoided the bar queues by popping home for interval vodka and tonics.

Their next production, opening in August, is Cole Porter’s Aladdin. Meanwhile, the final two performances of Flahooley are next Sunday

Booking on June 3 2012 only - be quick - Flahooley

Monday, 21 May 2012

Jekyll and Hyde - Union Theatre - Sunday 20 May ****


For reasons even I can’t comprehend, the Union had been off our radar until last month’s Babes In Arms. We immediately fell in love with the show and with this quirky little venue beneath railway arches in south London. Southwark seems to have become a hothouse for fringe musicals, with the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Playhouse and Unicorn Theatre also mounting top notch productions this year (Pippin, Floyd Collins, Parade) and with plenty more to look forward to (Mack & Mabel, Merrily We Roll Along, The Fix). We love a Sunday matinee, you feel like you get two evenings for the price of one, especially as it’s an excuse to break the embargo on cocktail hour not starting before 5pm. We holed up in the scruffy bar-cum-box office with vodka and tonics and watched as the queue of those anxious to grab the best of the unreserved seats grew ever longer. We were virtually last into the auditorium, but after a very kind gentleman offered to swap, we still got a fine pair of fifth row seats.

With music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, this 1999 musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Victorian novel tells the story of a well meaning doctor, Jekyll, who uses himself as a guinea pig for research into split personalities, in the process unleashing his own inner demon in the form of the murderous Mr Hyde.

In a stroke of creative genius, director Luke Fredericks has transposed the action to contemporary London all played out on a well-meant but slightly too ambitious multi-purpose set with great projections and videos, especially effective when showing cctv footage capturing Hyde’s grisly crimes.  

Tim Rogers is a dream (and a dreamboat) in the title role(s) switching effortlessly between the earnest bespectacled yet blinkered Jekyll to the ultimate bad boy, evil sensual Hyde. Hyde embarks on a killing spree of the hospital trustees who refused to grant Jekyll permission to experiment on a live patient and Hyde’s persona eventually becomes dominant and self-destructive.

There are two standout performances from the women in Jekyll’s life. Joanna Strand as his fiancĂ©e is totally believable as the woman standing by her man in the face of his ever-increasing irrational behaviour. Madalena Alberto as a prostitute befriended by Jekyll on his stag night and later abused by Hyde strikes the right balance as she reveals the inner vulnerability beneath a tough exterior. Both of these women sing the hell out of the score and Alberto’s whorehouse anthem “Bring on the Men” is an early highlight.

If the first act is all Jekyll, the second belongs to Hyde and Tim Rogers flexes his acting and singing muscles to fine effect in both. Rogers is a magnetic leading man and even manages to bring some unselfish tenderness to Hyde in the closing moments, by which time he has all-but consumed Jekyll. Rogers really is another for my "one to watch" list.

With a gripping story, strong cast, a great 5 piece band led by musical director Dean Austin and exceptionally creative direction and musical staging from Luke Fredericks and Adam Murray, this kept me enthralled throughout.

The only negative for me is the actual score. Individually I am sure the slow to mid-paced melodramatic songs work well, but to my ears, “Bring on the Men” excepted, they all seem to stay at one level both  musically and emotionally, eventually all blurring into each other. None of this detracts from the terrific production that this undoubtedly is, I could just do with a little more aural light and shade from Mr Wildhorn.

Booking until 16 June 2012, a terrific production of a slightly disappointing show - Jekyll and Hyde

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Thing About Men - Landor Theatre - Friday 18 May ****

Finally, a musical. On a Friday night and “press night” too, this is more like it. As we entered the Landor there was a tangible sense of relief as we ordered the first of many vodka and tonics of the evening. The Landor has never let us down and we were aching to climb the stairs to the first floor performance space to be whisked away to some alternate reality where melody, rhythm and rhyme are more important that the EU, hitting a top C is more significant than the return of the Drachma and being able to dance whilst singing and pretending to be someone else is the ultimate achievement that Angela Merkel will never know.

For once we decided to have dinner in the friendly buzzy bar on the ground floor and I am so glad we did as it was delicious. We never watch what we eat at weekends, as our ever expanding waistlines attest, so it was mouth-watering fish and chips for me and I even ate the salad. I’m still waiting for the weather to break so I can start my post-Christmas diet. Anyway I digress, back to matters theatrical.

I have already written a more formal review of this show for What’s On The Fringe, so I will post a link when it’s published (here it is - Whats On The Fringe review). In the meantime I’ll just ramble on here in my usual uniformed manner.

This 2003 “musical comedy affair” has book and lyrics by Joe Pietro and music by Jimmy Roberts, the team responsible for the off-Broadway hit “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”.

The opening song reveals the dilemma our protagonist faces. Peter Gerald’s cuckolded advertising executive Tom is a man who is too self-absorbed to realise the ridiculousness in his outrage at his wife Lucy’s five week fling with artist Sebastian, when he admits to at least three affairs himself, including an ongoing one with a colleague. Taking umbrage he moves out of their large suburban home and follows John Addison’s cash-strapped Sebastian to a bar and, using the assumed name Milo, makes him a financial offer that he can’t refuse to move into the spare room of his messy urban loft. There follows a series of almost farcical situations where Tom ensures that neither Sebastian nor Lucy discover Milo’s true identity.

Peter Gerald is tremendous, centre stage for much of the show, it his journey that engages the most and as his life of unfulfilled dreams is revealed, our initial disdain for this needy attention seeking man with dubious morals is transformed and we see echoes of John Addison’s sexy exciting but hopelessly idealistic boy-man, Sebastian. Kate Graham is outstanding as Lucy, we can totally empathise with her and understand why Tom’s behaviour and lack of interest has made her fall for attentive, hunky Sebastian.

The USP of this great little musical, sparkling with snappy dialogue, witty one-liners and tuneful, if ultimately a little unmemorable, songs is the supporting cast of 22 characters and a Greek chorus. All of these roles are tackled with sensational comic effect by Steven Webb and Lucyelle Cliffe. If ever there were two major musical comedy stars about to burst into all our consciousnesses it is Messrs Webb and Cliffe. From sushi delivery men to snotty maitre-D’s and Hispanic cab drivers to country and western singers, they grab every opportunity and manage to steal every single scene in which they appear.

As the story progresses, Sebastian and Tom, initially unlikely flatmates, never mind soulmates, eventually find that they have more in common than either of them could have believed and Tom and Lucy rediscover the source of their love for each other.

Director Andrew Keates has inspired this terrific cast to give us world-class performances.  With musical staging by Cressida Carre and musical direction from Joanna Cichonska, these three Mountview Academy alumni have created something truly special. The three piece band of piano, reeds and cello manage to sound remarkably lush. The set, designed by Martin Thomas, of gorgeous gilded doorframes surrounding matt grey doors and boxes of varying sizes that illuminate, gives us a true sense of place and time. I also have to mention Philippa Batt’s fabulous costumes, especially those of bored, trophy wife Lucy. Kate Graham gets to change for virtually every scene including slipping on a pair of glittering stilettos with gravity defying heels that have to be seen to be believed.

From the tasty food and friendly bar staff to the wonderful beer garden and the trad-jazz band playing as we left, The Landor already has to be a contender for the best pub in the world. Add to this an upstairs room in which is created some of the most exciting musical theatre in London and the result is Nirvana.

Booking until 9 June 2012, The Landor does it yet again, don’t miss - The Thing About Men

Friday, 18 May 2012

Abigail's Party - Wyndham's Theatre - Thursday 17 May ****

Hotfooting it from the tea-time Orton at the Criterion, we were now on our fourth non-musical in a row, with brass sections and tap shoes a distant memory. We’d given Neil Simon and Joe Orton a chance with varying degrees of success and now it was Mike Leigh’s turn to try to convince us that theatre doesn’t necessarily have to have an accompanying score and a chorus line for it to be a fulfilling experience.

Such is our fondness for the 1977 Play for Today recording of Leigh’s satire on the social climbing middle classes and Alison Steadman’s towering performance as Beverly, we had given this revival a miss when it originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory earlier in the year. However, an offer we couldn’t refuse put paid to any reservations we had about how this production could possibly compete and you may not be surprised to hear that we found ourselves in the Wyndham’s dress circle bar with vodka and tonics awaiting the bells for the 7.45pm start.

With a set comprising a leather three piece suite, coffee table, orange wallpaper and wooden room divider echoing the BBC recording, Jill Halfpenny’s Beverly is preparing for the arrival of her guests to the sounds of Donna Summer, who had sadly passed away earlier as the people behind me excitedly commented. I don’t suppose there’s much need for me to expand on the arc of the story, suffice to say that Beverly has invited three neighbours, Angela, Tony & Sue, around for drinks and nibbles while Sue’s 15-year old daughter, Abigail, throws a party. As the evening progresses we witness the impending collapse of two loveless, childless marriages, whilst Sue is already divorced and her husband has remarried while she remains single with their two children.

It must be incredibly difficult for an actor and director when approaching such a well-loved play with arguably definitive performances recorded and readily available, but Lindsay Posner and his cast give it their best shot. Suffice to say, I will be heavily referencing the elephant in the room throughout.

Jill Halfpenny’s Beverly, whilst quite not banishing the ghost of Alison Steadman is more overtly sexual and bitter towards her husband Laurence. She is bored and trapped by Laurence and their house in Essex and would be up for an affair at the drop of a hat. It seems it is only Laurence’s endless supply of spending money that is keeping her there. Andy Nyman’s Laurence perhaps strays a little too close to Tim Stern’s original characterisation. More of a social climber than Beverly, sucking up to long-established middle class Sue and expressing disdain for his new neighbours, Angela and Tony, Laurence is filling his time with work so that he doesn’t have to spend it with his wife. Joe Absolom’s ex-footballer Tony is gruff and monosyllabic, with pent-up aggression and unselfconscious sexuality simmering away. Natalie Casey’s Angela is perhaps the furthest removed from the original play, I presume Lindsay Posner and the cast have worked it out for themselves, but I do wonder why Tony married dull, mousy Angela in the first place. In fact I’ve always thought that, but this Angela isn’t even very likeable, simply dumb and uninteresting. Susannah Harker’s Susan on the other hand is understated perfection, as Beverly plies her with endless gin and tonics, she maintains her cool until she has to be sick and never once stoops to the level of pettiness of her hosts.

Despite my reservations, I really enjoyed this production which frequently had me in stitches. With an almost grand guignol denouement that is heavily signposted throughout, this is still a gem of a play with plenty to say on relationships and the aspirations of the lower middle classes. Many of the laughs now derive from the anticipation of well-loved lines (“it’s creeping up Sue”, “yes, silver, silver plate”, “not Palma Nova”) and exchanges (Demis Roussos, house prices, a rotisserie). In fact, I pity the poor understudies, as I am sure half the audience, me included, could go on at a minute’s notice should any of the main cast be indisposed.

I can’t believe that anyone has yet to see this play in one form or another, but if you haven’t you are in for a treat. Even if you have, it’s like meeting up with a beloved old friend you haven’t seen for ages who may have had a little “work” done, but you don’t like to mention it.

Booking until 1 September 2012, the welcome return of an old pal - Abigail's Party

The Ruffian on The Stair - Criterion Theatre - Thursday 17 May *****

After the disappointment of What The Butler Saw, our second Joe Orton offering in 10 days was a one-off performance of a one act radio play. Originally titled The Boy Hairdresser, Orton adapted it from an unpublished novel co-written with his partner and eventual murderer Kenneth Halliwell. As part of the Criterion’s recent initiative to use the gorgeous theatre in the down time from the long-running The 39 Steps, the 5pm start time didn’t give us much opportunity for alcoholic refreshments, so this one was succeeding or failing on its dramatic merits alone.

The play is presented as it would be on the radio, so the cast have scripts, speak into an on-stage microphone and they, along with a technician on stage, do all the sound effects. Sounds odd, it was in fact a brilliant piece of totally engaging theatre.

Lesley Sharpe, yes THE Lesley Sharpe, and Finbar Lynch are Joyce and Mike, a couple whose seemingly cosy existence in a bedsit is turned upside down by the arrival of Wilson, a young man claiming to be looking for lodgings, played by Johnny Flynn.

As with the best Orton, things are never what they initially seem and over the course of 50 minutes layers are peeled away, so our initial impression of Joyce and Mike as an ordinary working class couple down on their luck and Wilson as a violent yob hell-bent on revenge is turned on its’ head. Joyce we discover was, and maybe still is, a prostitute and Mike is a small-time crook and hit-man. The fact that Mike has a mysterious assignation in the public lavatories at Kings Cross station within the first few minutes should have set alarm bells ringing. Wilson, we later discover, is in fact trying to find his brother's murderer and is keeping his cards close to his chest.

Echoing both Entertaining Mr Sloane and maybe even Orton’s own domestic situation with Haliwell, this is gripping, funny, subversive stuff. Even though they were reading from scripts and I assume had not much rehearsal, the three actors show how Orton can still be relevant. The escalating tension, pent-up aggression and frisson of sex are never far from the surface and reach a terrifying climax in which one character is killed, but in a final Ortonesque flourish, the remaining two are more concerned about the collateral deaths of their pet goldfish.

Lesley Sharpe as the whining, self-pitying Joyce is a wonder to behold and so unlike anything I've ever seen her play that it is quite unnerving. Finbar Lynch, with a voice like a velvety pint of Guinness, moves from concern to menace in the blink of an eye and Johnny Flynn transforms himself from untrustworthy bully boy to innocent victim seeking answers to his brother’s untimely death. All three make Orton's often shocking but always lyrical  prose a joy to hear. I was transfixed throughout and can honestly say I had no idea of where the action was leading.

There was obviously no programme, so I can’t name names, but a huge round of applause to the director Sam Hodges and the sound effects team, including the on-stage member. For several minutes at a time I simply closed my eyes and I was transported to the claustrophobic bed-sit surrounded by the characters.

All credit to the Criterion management for opening up their theatre to this new style of programming (various events, talks, readings, etc are hosted at lunchtimes and late night too) and what a joy it was to be present at this unique (often overused but not in this instance) performance. My faith in the power of Joe Orton is restored.

If you missed it, you missed out. Further information on the Criterion’s programme here - Criterion Theatre

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

What The Butler Saw - Vaudeville Theatre - Monday 7 May **

Our second non-musical theatre trip of the coldest May bank holiday weekend since the Ice Age found us back on the Strand for an evening of the world according to Joe Orton. I have had a soft spot for Orton ever since discovering John Lahr’s no holds barred biography of his short eventful life, Prick Up Your Ears, in our local John Menzies in the 1970’s. What an eye opener that was for a “sensitive” teenager in rural Shropshire. I have, however, never seen a production of What The Butler Saw, so arrived suitably excited, if a little damp.

Orton’s 1960’s farce stars Omid Djalili as Dr Rance, a government inspector making an unannounced visit to check the psychiatric practice of Tim McInnerny’s world class lecher Dr Prentice. In a double case of mistaken identity, Dr Prentice’s new secretary gets confused firstly with a patient and then with a bell boy who has seduced and subsequently blackmailed Prentice’s wife. The bell boy is then persuaded to drag up and pose as the secretary. So far, so good and so Orton. Mayhem ensues, characters enter and leave via the numerous doors on numerous occasions until a shocking but happy resolution at the end of act two.

Firstly a caveat, this performance was only the third preview and, as timing is all when it comes to farce, I shall give them a little leeway. The problem is that with two shining examples of the genre currently gracing the West End (Noises Off and One Man two Guvnors) this production really does suffer by comparison.

Joe Orton’s use of language is, by and large, a treat, with rhythms and innuendo than can still delight, but which must be difficult for an actor to master convincingly. Tim McInnerny already has a handle on Dr Prentice, who is led by his libido rather than his head and is caught out each time he tries to cover his tracks. Similarly, Samantha Bond’s long suffering, but not too innocent, Mrs Prentice lifts each scene in which she appears. However, Omid Djalili seems to be giving us “Omid Djalili” in a suit, shouting every fourth word with an upward inflection and corpsing a couple of times which brings titters from the audience, but takes us out of the moment.

The other problem is some of the sensibilities of the script which, whilst obviously intended to shock in the 1960’s, simply feel uncomfortable today, in particular the extended, supposedly comic, use of “rape” which is met with a stunned silence every time it is mentioned rather than the guffaws one assumes Orton intended.

I appreciate that, without protracted negotiations with the Orton estate, there is little the director or actors can do about the contents of the script, but I left the theatre wondering why the producers have even bothered to mount this play at all. It is being promoted as some sort of saucy British “Carry On” tie-in with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and the Olympics, complete with Union Jack poster and red, white and blue bunting outside the theatre. Unfortunately, in its current incarnation, it feels too laboured and dated for British audiences and I cannot begin to imagine what overseas tourists will make of it.

An uncomfortable evening for all the wrong reasons.

Booking until 25 August 2012, one for Orton completists only - What The Butler Saw

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Sunshine Boys - Savoy Theatre - Saturday 5 May ****

After the shame of being admonished by a Sainsbury’s perishables supervisor for tap dancing in the aisles, we decided that we had to temporarily wean ourselves off musicals. To assuage the inevitable cold turkey that would follow if the cast didn’t spontaneously burst into song at each opportunity, we decided that Neil Simon and Joe Orton would be the ideal antidote to an overdose of chorus boys, so the Strand was to be our second home over a gloomy bank holiday weekend.

First up was Richard Griffiths and Danny DeVito, making his West End debut, in Neil Simon’s classic 1972 play about a warring vaudeville act reunited for a TV special. I have always been a sucker for a Hollywood star on a British stage (Elizabeth Taylor’s old fashioned glamour in The Little Foxes, Martin Sheen sensational in tight whities in The Normal Heart, Madonna inaudibly overacting in Up For Grabs, Kim Catrall and Joan Collins twenty years apart in Private Lives) and Mr DeVito does not disappoint in what is essentially a masterclass in comic acting.

We opted to day seat for this and at £10 for front row stalls with a lowish stage these must be the best bargain in West End at the moment. To observe two master craftsmen at work in such close proximity is a total privilege.

Set in the 1970’s and opening  in a rundown extended stay New York hotel, a dishevelled, pyjama clad former “Sunshine Boy”  Willie Clark, Danny DeVito, gets his weekly visit from his nephew and agent Ben, Adam Levy, a study in exasperation. Ben has been contacted by CBS who would like to resurrect his uncle's act for a one night only history of comedy. The only hiccup is the fact that Willie has not spoken to his former partner Al Lewis, Richard Griffiths, for over a decade and bears the mother of all grudges and blames Al for his enforced early retirement.

DeVito is extraordinary and is able to turn the most innocuous of phrases into a comic gem. Griffiths, normally expected to be the recipient of all the plaudits, is his usual wonderful self, but is virtually a foil for a magnificent DeVito who totally inhabits his role, defensive, bitter and still waiting for another bite of the cherry. Having said that, a virtually silent routine with both curmudgeons arranging furniture really has to be seen to be believed and is on par with the best of Laurel and Hardy, perfectly encapsulating a symbiotic professional relationship that has turned sour.

The second act sees a run through of the Sunshine Boys most famous routine and an eventual rapprochement that finds them eternally inseparable, reminiscing and arguing until their appointment with their maker.

A special mention to a scene stealing Johnnie Fiori as a sassy, seen-it-all-before nurse who seems to be the only person who can play DeVito’s Willie at his own game, with a steady stream of gentle and not so gentle put-downs.

This must have looked like a producers dream on paper and it works like a dream on stage. I really don’t know how much direction Thea Sharrock would have to give to such arch practioners as Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths and maybe it was simply a case of handing them the ball and letting them run with it, but whatever she and they have done, it looks like a gold plated hit to me. A study in regret, loss and eventual redemption which, despite its age, does not feel remotely dated. I haven’t laughed so much since One Man two Guvnors at the National last year and I cannot think of higher praise.

Booking until 28 July 2012, a masterclass in comic acting - The Sunshine Boys

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen - May I have your attention please?

Considering we had virtually nothing booked in advance for April, we still managed to get out and about quite a bit without breaking the bank. We’re hoping for more of the same in May, when the only date in our diary so far is the wonderfully titled Flahooley, part of the Lost Musicals season at the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells.

The Lost Musicals are London’s equivalent to New York’s Encores! series, both with a remit to mount rarely seen musicals in semi-staged settings. In New York this translates to Broadway stars, sets, costumes, cast recordings and a full band in the 2750 seat New York City Center theatre. In London we get a row of chairs, piano accompaniment and a professional cast dressed in black giving us their all, usually with scripts in hands, in a tiny studio space. It is actually rather wonderful and a total indulgence for an audience that largely comprises smartly turned out gentlemen with greying Marcel waves who spend the interval nursing gin and its and reminiscing about the time they saw Judy at the Talk of the Town in 1969. In fact some of them may well have been in the chorus. We two baby boomers may not have seen Judy, but we loved Tracey Bennett in End of the Rainbow and always grab tickets when Liza’s in town so, despite our interval tipples being vodka and tonic, we fit right in.

If you have a passion for musical theatre and have free time on Sunday afternoons over the summer, you could do worse than giving the Lost Musicals a punt. There are two productions this year, the aforementioned Flahooley by Sammy Fain (Calamity Jane) & E.Y. Harburg (Wizard of Oz) and Cole Porter’s final work, Aladdin, which was written for a one-off live TV broadcast in 1958. Just don’t go expecting Wicked or We Will Rock You. Further information and tickets can be found here - Lost Musicals

The results of April’s poll to find your favourite Andrew Lloyd Webber show really threw a curve ball, as the winner was Sunset Boulevard with 29% of the vote. I naively assumed that runner-up The Phantom of the Opera, with 18%, would romp home, but I can’t pretend to be disappointed as Sunset got my vote and is Lloyd Webber’s most played cast recording in our home. In third place, even more incredibly considering the vicious and largely unwarranted internet campaign against the original production, was Love Never Dies with 10%. Jesus Chris Superstar only managed joint seventh place with 8%, which does not bode well for ITV’s search for the next Jesus which launches very soon with a panel chaired by Lord Lloyd Webber and rumoured to include ex-Vicar of Dibley, Dawn French; one time Joseph, Jason Donovan; former Mrs Johnstone, Mel C and mid-90’s Jesus himself, Steve Balsamo.

In honour of Sunset Boulevard’s unexpected triumph, this month’s poll is to find your favourite Norma Desmond. I have included all the major stars that played Norma in London, Broadway and elsewhere, together with the original 1950 Norma, Gloria Swanson, so get voting. In the meantime, here’s the glorious Betty Buckley giving her all in the revised London production.


Finally, after last month’s rant about the Menier Chocolate Factory’s new supporter’s scheme, I am delighted to report that there were tickets aplenty when booking opened to the great unwashed for Torch Song Trilogy. We were able to take advantage of their exceptionally good value “meal deal” for one of the later previews in June, which, at £32.50 for the show and dinner, is a bit of a bargain. The cast is looking pretty impressive too, with the lead role of Arnold being taken by David Bedella, who was superb in both Sondheim’s Road Show at the Chocolate Factory last summer and the one-off concert performance of Stiles and Drewe’s Soho Cinders in October. As Arnold’s overbearing, opinionated, archetypal Jewish mother is the equally fabulous Sara Kestelman, who we last saw in the title role of Coco, one of 2011’s Lost Musicals. Both leads are Olivier award winners and I have a feeling in my water that Torch Song Trilogy may well do an Abigail’s Party, so if you fancy booking before the tickets disappear, here’s the link - Torch Song Trilogy