Forget Me Not by Tom Holloway at The Bush Theatre

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It’s been a while since we’ve been to our local theatre. And every time we come back we are reminded what a lovely theatre it is. With its bar and ice cream fridge, the coziest of library chill-outs, with play texts of all styles lining the shelves, and of course, the exceptional space that always puts on good theatre.

This time it was Australian playwright Tom Holloway’s ‘Forget Me Not’, a collaboration between the Bush Theatre and HighTide Festival Theatre that brought us down the road to the Bush. Based on the shocking practice of the British government sending ‘orphaned’ children to Australia  whilst their mothers were told they were going to a better life with a Catholic family. The reality was that these children were being sent, amongst other things, to work on farms in the Australian outback as child labourers.

Russell Floyd starred as a man struggling to overcome the hardship he has faced in his life, having been one of the children sent to Australia. Through the work of his daughter and an organisation working to reunite lost family members who were victims to this horrible practice, he ‘meets’ his mother, played by an exceptional Eleanor Bron.

The show was presented in the traverse with simple staging. There were huge concrete columns down the side of the stage and a ceiling that went up or down depending on the scene. There were also light bulbs around the side that lit up depending on the action. Technically, the use of sound and light was effective in cutting up the different scenes, although at points the volume of the music, Corelli’s La Folia, did become a bit intense.

Steven Atkinson has directed a very intense play that presents us with a shocking part of our history. Well acted throughout and presented in such a way that it made a lasting impression. It is, however, Russell Floyd’s central character that informs the atmosphere of this play. It is his hyper-active energy, anger, and childlike anticipation, that bring real humanity to this piece as we watch a man find a kind of resolution to his life.

Good performances from Sarah Ridgeway and Sargon Yelda in the supporting roles and overall a very enjoyable, if intense, night of theatre.

Dramatic Highlight of the piece – Any of Russell’s intense boozing moments, or more momentously the moment when he finds out the truth about his mother.

WIGS 3/5

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Hangmen by Martin McDonagh at the Wyndham’s Theatre

The play begins in a jail cell where a young man has a few moments before he is hanged. Officials carry out their tasks but the hangman has to use a kosh to quell the desperate behaviour of the condemned man. In so doing he orders others not to reveal what he has done: a curious illustration of relative morality in that the hanging is sanctioned by law but the koshing is not, and an example of how the finality of death enables brutalities in its name, as we see later in the play. The hangmen in the play are based on real characters.

The play continues in a pub in Oldham where it revolves around the landlord, Harry, and his regulars, a motley assortment of middle-aged and older men routinely cowed by the bullying and overbearing landlord whose other job was hangman in the first scene. It is the day in 1965 when the death penalty is abolished. This is not a didactic play about the morality of hanging but it is about its consequences. Into a bantering, sexist and prejudiced atmosphere arrives a young man, Mooney, immediately prompting a closing of ranks amongst the locals. Mooney subtly gets the better of the locals through the various transactions of buying drinks from the landlord and his family.  His stated purpose for being there is to hire a room from the landlord’s wife. He assumes a stance of mock horror, which is not entirely convincing, when she tells him that no-one answers the telephone numbers for his references. His is an enigmatic personality, not dissimilar to a Pinter character, and his disconcerting presence for some is altogether transformed for the purposes of inviting the landlord’s naïve daughter on a date. We become aware that there is a motive for his presence and his previous visit to the assistant hangman. Talk of a hanging occurring exactly a year earlier takes the play into an altogether darker place involving Mooney, especially when the daughter goes missing. An extraordinary denouement with comedic, farcical and morbid dimensions sees most of the characters disappear from a scene leaving a body on the floor. Is the deceased indeed the killer in a previous crime for which someone has already hanged? If he is not then what was his crime?

The strange notoriety that surrounds the hangman and his more famous rival, Albert Pierrepoint, who appears in the final scene, and their larger than life overbearing personalities, attend their roles as murderers sanctioned by the state. There may be uncertainty about the guilt of some of their previous victims but they are not going to spend too much time dwelling on it.

This is an excellent piece of theatre with outstanding performances from David Morrissey as Harry the landlord/hangman and Johnny Flynn as Mooney.   The play finds comedy in the darkest corners.

4/5 WIGS

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm at Trafalgar Studios

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Who knew what we were in store for from the unassuming piece of text accompanying The Wasp: “Heather and Carla haven’t seen each other since school. Their lives have taken very different paths.” It goes on to say that Heather presents Carla with money and a proposition. This could have gone anywhere, but we can rely on The Hampstead’s programming to expect nothing less than the darkest possible scenario.

This play kept us on the edge of our seat throughout, as we watched Heather, apparently completely bonkers, slowly manipulate and exploit her old ‘friend’, Carla, for her own purposes. The proposition is a plot to kill her husband. This is totally unexpected given Heather’s innocent and sweet demeanour, played by an exceptional Laura Donnelly.  She has a seemingly pleasant exterior, some sort of Notting Hill yummy mummy, who does nothing but drink overpriced cappuccinos and shop in Westbourne Grove. Yet, in fact, what she is actually up to is planning an epic revenge for the pain and suffering caused to her by Carla when they were both young. MyAnna Buring plays the downtrodden mother of four, soon to be five with a gritty realism and predictability for her character.

Heather’s revenge with the help of Carla, would include the killing of her husband, the eradication of a phantom pain that seems to be preventing her from having children, a result of Carla’s bullying, and the adoption of Carla’s unborn baby. However there is far more to it than that.

This play twists and turns, and, until it has reached its dramatic conclusion, Laura Donnelly’s character Heather seems far-fetched. However, once the play ended she seemed completely realistic. A stunning conclusion had us thinking at one point that we might be about to witness an unplanned Caesarian section. Instead, there was a far more nuanced ending, something we won’t reveal, but something Heather had meticulously planned for some time.

This was a story we couldn’t anticipate, scheduled in the GingerWig calendar as ‘light Christmas viewing’. The play blew us into the back of our seats, with unnerving humour surrounding the madness of Heather, and the ordeal through which she puts Carla. There was an element of ‘Mean Girls’ on crack about this piece. Frightening, funny and unpredictable. A great piece of writing from Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. Keep up the dark programming at the Hampstead and the Trafalgar Studios!

Dramatic highlight of the show: The finale – everything finally fell into place, hearing Heather’s husband’s voice was the real shocker!

WIGS 4/5

Guys and Dolls by Frank Loesser at the Savoy Theatre

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We had heard great things about this production form our other GingerWig members who had seen it in Chichester, so we were very keen to see it for ourself. With an A-list cast of acting and musical theatre talent, including Sophie Thompson, David Haig, Jamie Parker and Siubhan Harrison, this was one show we were not going to miss.

The tale of gamblers and love, based on the short stories of Damon Runyan, came to life exquisitely in the beautiful Savoy Theatre. Never before have we seen a better example of actors singing through text, when their acting never faltered. Every song was completely on point and delivered with a quality of acting and musicality that is rare to find in West End musicals.

The actors and creatives obviously had a lot of fun making the numbers their own. Nicely’s take on ‘Rockin’ the Boat’ had a very fresh feel to it, whilst Adelaide and Nathan singing ‘Sue Me’ – was an example of comic brilliance as they extended “alright already’ and ‘bail you out” by screaming into each others’ faces.

Our sign of the quality of this show was evident in the overture. Larry Blank the orchestrator, had made little tweaks here and there to make this classic musical fresh throughout. ‘If I were a Bell’ in a car horn version in the overture anticipated the setting of the show. And unlike the film, this show had all the songs in it.

The performances from the entire cast were truly remarkable, with the four leads delivering performances that any student of musical theatre would find instructive. A special mention must be made for Gavin Spokes for his fantastic singing and performance as Nicely Nicely Johnson.

We must of course mention Peter McKintosh’s design which glowed with broadway razzmatazz. And the reveal at the opening of the show was truly electrifying. Get down to the Savoy before this show closes as it is certainly not one to miss.

Guys and Dolls is showing at the Savoy Theatre until the 12th March before going on a National Tour.

Highlight of the Show – Nicely Nicely Johnson’s rendition of ‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat’.

WIGS 5/5

Sleeping Beauty by Matthew Bourne at Sadler’s Wells

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Matthew Bourne’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is a masterpiece. It’s a stunning reworking of the fairy tale with new story elements. Its beautiful sets and costumes compliment ballet and dance of the highest quality. The Gothic tone and humour round this up as the perfect spectacle for all.

Set in 1890, we are introduced to the young princess as a baby as she is visited by the ‘vampire’ fairies who all give her a baptism gift. She is visited by Carabosse as well who comes to put a curse on her. In this version, Carabosse is replaced by her son after the initial opening. When the princess is older she pricks her finger on a rose and falls asleep under the curse made by Carabosse. The young man of her affections is bitten by a vampire fairy in order to have the chance to rescue her from her slumber 100 years later.

This reworking of the story adds so many new layers to the story. Carabosse’s son waits for the princess to wake up so he can have her for himself. The shift in time also allows for a change in dance styles which become more contemporary in the second act.

This was a triumph – a fantastic example of what ballet should be. Full of rich storytelling, sets and costumes, that can appeal to anyone. Matthew Bourne is very well known for his tremendous work with his New/Adventures company bringing ballet with strong narratives and contemporary interpretations to a wider audience. Here he has achieved this again spectacularly.

Highlight of the show – Our first meeting with the fairies with each of them having their own unique dance. Set-wise, Carabosse’s son’s lair, beautifully lit with the hanging neon lights and red glow – some kind of mix between church and sex club, the perfect vampire hangout. And a of course a mention for the extremely well manipulated puppet baby.

WIGS 5/5

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, The Old Vic

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Dr Seuss’ favourite work is finally brought to the stage thanks to the Old Vic. Brilliantly developed, this re-imagining of the classic children’s story develops the characters and story further, drawing on contemporary culture, as well as adding dance and songs.

David Greig’s adaptation is based on Dr Seuss’ rhyming fable for children. The story is a polemic against the wholesale destruction of our natural environment to make pointless consumer goods. Greig has developed the background of the old Once-ler, the first person to come across the land of the Brown Bar-ba-loots, the Swomee Swans, the Humming Fish and, of course, the Truffula Trees, without losing any of Seuss’s original charm or poetry. This new version makes much of the Once-ler’s avaricious manufacturing family and their hunger for their next project. In the second half, the story takes the whole production of the thneed onto a new level with an insane catwalk scene presenting the new Thneed 2.0 to some wild rock and roll music. A wider criticism of capitalism becomes evident here.

Charlie Fink, former frontman of Noah and the Whale, has done a good job in composing the songs to this show, with a number of notable numbers. If only the soundtrack was out already – we would love to have another listen.

The set starts grey and grim just as the far end of the town is pictured in the book, but brilliantly transforms into the lush and colourful land where Truffula trees grow. The world is made richer by Seuss’s language and Greig’s too, with the entire show performed in rhyme. A notable addition was the extended scene of the first customer to buy a thneed, a modern businessmen, speaking on his mobile in rhyme, taking selfies and tweeting about his purchase without breaking any of the rhythm.

The colour and energy in this tremendous production from the Old Vic brings Seuss’s story to life in a extraordinary way that will win the hearts and minds of young and old. The Old Vic, however, has missed a trick by not having the book available, as the message of The Lorax can never be spread enough. But it did make up for this by handing out free seeds after the show, so there will soon be some ‘wild flowers’ growing in the GingerWig’s garden… This is an interesting family show from the point of view of communicating a very important message about the environment within what is largely a piece of entertainment. Well done to Matthew Warchus for putting this together and the entire creative team and cast for a charming show that lost none of Dr Seuss’ message.

Highlight of the show – The Lorax himself: a puppet manipulated extraordinarily by three performers, one of whom is his voice, head and left arm, another his feet and the third his left arm and torso. The puppet steals the show with all his heartfelt entreaties to protect his land.

WIGS 4/5

3 Guys Naked from the Waist Down by Jerry Colker, Finborough Theatre

This was the first production of the Off Broadway production in the UK for 25 years and it was well worth having it back. Although some of the jokes have dated a bit, the madness of three young comics struggling to make a living was tale enough for an extremely jolly evening for the GingerWig.

Ted, Phil and Kenny, three very different comics, come together to form a comedy group in order to chase the American dream, although they all handle the highs and lows of it very differently. Ted has his cocksure attitude, Phil will bash anyone with his baseball bat if they rile him up the wrong way – he’s just an angry guy – and Kenny has his religion whilst also being on the verge of madness – a real highlight to the play.

Music was provided by a five piece band, that accompanies a number of good songs. Most were short or interrupted by comic speech, a pattern that worked well, whilst there was a recurring drum beat that underscored some of the script to add meaning and emphasis to their mission to become superstars.

There was some seriously great comic acting from all three actors but particularly from Guy Woolf with the maddest of the three characters – Kenny. He showed a range of comedy and an ability to split between many different characters and accents at once that really stole the show for us.

An interesting revival with a lot of good humour and music to entertain. Well done to the Finborough for continuing to unearth forgotten works.

Highlights of the Show – Kenny having a conversation with four different hands under a sheet, when a dispute over a game of ping pong led to various baby limbs being chucked out into the audience, one landing directly in the GingerWig’s lap. The moment Kenny Started praying to God, with a mask on the top of his head, tilting his head to the ground and then as God speaking as  from the mask to himself.

WIGS 3/5

Christmas picks from the Ginger Wig

With December now in full swing, the Ginger Wig and Strolling man pick out their top picks of things to see over the Christmas period!

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‘The Wasp’ – this thriller by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm has transferred to Trafalgar Studios after a sold out run at the Hampstead. December 8th – January 16th at Trafalgar Studios – £15 – £30

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‘Sleeping Beauty – Matthew Bourne’s gothic imagining of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet is back on at Sadler’s Wells. December 1st –  January 24th Tickets  £12 – £65

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‘The Lorax’ – Dr. Seuss’ personal favourite, an effective and entertaining environmental tale is reimagined at the Old Vic, with music from Noah and the Whale – there are still £10 preview tickets available! December 4th – January 16th Tickets  £10 – £60

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‘The Dazzle’ – this play by American playwright, Richard Greenberg, gets its London premiere starring Andrew Scott at a new space in Central St. Martins School of Art. December 10th – January 30th Tickets  £10 – £35

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‘I Want My Hat Back’ is another children’s book-inspired christmas show. Based on Jon Klassen’s story this is another sure bet for the kids. December 16th – January 2nd at the National Theatre.  Tickets £10 – £15

The Flick by Annie Baker, Barrow Street Theatre, NYC

An impoverishment of language, social skills and empathy, characterises the relationships of three young colleagues who work at a cinema still showing reel-to-reel films.

This is an unusual drama. It is not that dialogue is truncated by long pauses but that long gaps of silence begin and end the attempts at dialogue – or conversation, in an abrupt, impersonal and expostulatory style. An interest in film, particularly reel-to-reel and not digital, seems to be shared although even a discussion about it, is pared down to a game where one character simply throws out the names of a couple of well-known actors for another to list the films that link them. There is an extreme dimension to the language as well. Sam describes Rose as a lesbian to his other male colleague, Avery, but only for the reason that he is incapable of any other language which might more carefully calibrate his reaction and dealings with her. But it also reflects his sheer ignorance of who she is and rather than trying to find that out, he places her in a category which makes her unwanted and unavailable. By the same token, to Sam and Rose, Avery’s detailed knowledge of film does not represent simply an interest but an obsession. There is possibly some pathology here too. Avery rings someone who could be a counsellor. We do not know why he is taking a semester off from university. In an outburst he complains that he has been told to ‘be himself’ to which he supplies his own answer – that he doesn’t know who he is.

This is social interaction stripped of all the subtle nuances and social conventions that language and custom offer, if only the user knew how to use them, in that challenge of getting to know another. It is a bleak emotional landscape, far from being ‘hilarious’ as promoted in its publicity. The metaphor of the importance of reel-to-reel as against digital films is, of course, illuminating. The characters are all products of a digital age and whilst theirs may be a quiet attempt to keep the reel-to reels going they still routinely have their fingers in the till. It is a paradox that whilst all knowledge is available at the touch of a few keys it is the ubiquitous availability that takes away the magic of exploration and discovery. These characters do not want to explore and they do not want to discover as they do not know how to pursue either. And whilst Avery has an extensive knowledge of film it seems possible that film allows him to block out memories if not trauma.

This play received the Pulitzer Prize and it is does indeed provide an important commentary on younger people who have become marginalised by their inability to connect with others.  Think American Beauty or Detroit for variations on this theme.

WIGS 3/5

Ivanov by Anton Chekhov Chichester Festival Theatre

An outstanding performance of Ivanov with Samuel West as the self-loathing, pitiless protagonist propelled beyond youth’s dominance, passion and zeal into a furious apathy incapable of action in a middle-age (actually, mid-30s), made the worse by debt.

Chekhov’s play sends no political messages.  Its characters are a small-minded group passing from scenes of high-spirits whipped up for contrast to their mundane and petty-minded lives of resentment and envy whose agency is expressed often only in taking others down.  A focus for their enmity and hypocrisy is Anna, Ivanov’s Jewish wife dying of TB.  Even whilst the doctor who is treating her exhorts and harries Ivanov to have compassion for the wife he no longer loves, the doctor himself is engaging in a double-life of gossip- mongering and anonymous letters.

For Ivanov, even the declaration of long-standing love from Sasha, brings only momentary respite.  After Anna’s death at the end of the play, when Ivanov is engaged to Sasha, the reality of their relationship is the reality of Ivanov’s febrile inner psyche undermining Sasha’s love and bringing her acute anxiety and doubt.  It is only at this point that Ivanov has the realisation that theirs is a doomed relationship.  The realization of the destructive impulse in him ultimately seals his fate.

This production superbly combines the comedy and bathos that surrounds the characters in their provincial lives.  Only Lebedev (Jonathan Coy) demonstrates a generosity of spirit and pocket by offering to help Ivanov with his financial difficulties.  But even this has to be offered in secret so as not to antagonise his parsimonious wife. Peter Egan, (Shabyelski), Jonathan Coy, above, and Samuel West are outstanding in portraying the earth-bound qualities of the human condition.

WIGS 4/5