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Aug 29th

Original Strikers Visit Made In Dagenham Rehearsals

By Cameron Lowe
Original strikers visit Made in Dagenham rehearsals. 

Made in Dagenham Cast

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Rehearsals for the forthcoming West End musical Made In Dagenham are now underway, ahead of the show beginning previews on Thursday 9 October, with press night on Wednesday 5 November.  The company, led by Gemma Arterton, Adrian Der Gregorian and Isla Blair were recently visited by three of the original Ford Dagenham strikers, whose heart-warming and inspiring story provides the backdrop for the new musical, with book by Richard Bean, music by David Arnold and lyrics by Richard Thomas.

 Original strikers visit Made in Dagenham rehearsals
Photo: Manuel Harlan

Eileen Pullen, Vera Sime and Gwen Davis visited the central London rehearsal rooms to share with the cast their memories of working in the sewing rooms at the enormous factory and the momentous strike of 1968, which ultimately resulted in the passing of the Equal Pay Act. Rehearsal shots by the show’s official photographer Manuel Harlan, and featuring the cast and the Dagenham strikers, are attached.
The producers have also announced the release of 15,000 tickets priced at just £15 across all performances, including 150 for every preview of the show at London’s Adelphi Theatre.
Aug 29th

Edinburgh Fringe Political Plays: War

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe in August, the largest theater festival in the world, presents hundreds of plays as well as musicals, dance, comedy, cabaret and spoken word performances.

I chose political plays, and nine out of ten I saw were excellent. I divided them into three groups, repression, war and politics. Here’s the second group, about war. “The Bunker Trilogy” and “Private Peaceful” about World War I and “The Collector” about more organized cruelty in Abu Graib.

“The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana”

Written by Jamie Wilkes, directed and designed by Jethro Compton, this is one of three plays that look at war – World War I in this 100th anniversary — through iconic western stories. This uses the Arthurian legend, the others Agamemnon and Macbeth. It is eerily superb.

You enter into a small dark space, benches on three sides, but you can hardly see them. Then your eyes get accustomed to the dim. There are dark wood planks that hold up canvas walls, a tin roof, a dirt floor. You glimpse sandbags piled up at an opening.

Sam Donnelly as Lancelot and Hayden Wood as Arthur.

Sam Donnelly as Lancelot and Hayden Wood as Arthur.

Inside are three British soldiers in a bunker in No Man’s Land between British and German lines. The play is about the ordinary and the horrible.

The characters from the story of King Arthur are Arthur (Hayden Wood), Lancelot (Sam Donnelly), Gwain (James Marlow) and Morgana le Fey (Bebe Sanders). They remind one that the glorification of war described in that story, and other legends, is a fraud. All the actors are fine in this ensemble performance, but I found Wood especially good

With horror outside the bunker, a bit of ordinary life goes on. The older soldiers tease the younger Gwain, who lacks experience with women. They talk about a German girl; could she have been the fat girl they saw on No Man’s Land?

It’s Christmas. Lance says, ‘When we liberate German women, it would be disappointing if they were porky.” So they are typical sexist males of the era. They do male jokes, male fantasies.

As they talk about venturing into the danger zones, Gwain argues, “This isn’t about bravery, it’s about principles.”

But he is contradicted, “We think of ourselves as knights.” Lancelot declares, “For King and country.” Killing for humanity.

Morgana provokes the youth’s memory of Cornwell. And the song sounds, “Keep the home fires burning.” All fantasies for the World War I killing fields.

The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana.” Written by Jamie Wilkes. Directed and designed by Jethro Compton.

“Private Peaceful”

Taking the British soldiers as individuals, “Private Peaceful” was adapted and directed by Simon Reade from the narrative by Michael Morpurgo, who wrote the story on which “War Horse” was based. It tells the story of Private Tommo Peaceful (vividly portrayed by Andy Daniel), a naïve First World War volunteer who grew up in rural Devon, fell in love with a young woman who married his brother, and then enlisted at 16, below the legal age. Daniel bounds across the stage to create scenes and years.

Too much of the story is about his early life, showing he’s a regular guy, but when it gets to wartime it is riveting.

There’s propaganda fed to the young corn-fed guys: “If we don’t beat them in France, the Germans will come through burning your village.”

And, “Your king needs you, your country needs you. It’s every man’s duty.” Tommo is goaded by an old lady who calls him a coward. Then we see the brutality visited on sweet innocent boys afflicted by foolish “patriotism.”

Andy Daniel as 'Private Peaceful,' photo Jonathan Keenan.

Andy Daniel as ‘Private Peaceful,’ photo Jonathan Keenan.

Tommo and his brother join and army and go to France. He is gassed, and a German lets him go. His brother is wounded, and Tommo refuses to leave him to follow an order for a suicidal attack that would doubtless kill everyone on the mission. It is 1916. He will be brought up on death-penalty charges for cowardice. Never mind the stupidity of the commanding officers.

Morpurgo’s inspiration for the play came from a visit to Ypres where he discovered how many young soldiers were court-martialed and shot for cowardice during the First World War. No problem for those giving suicidal orders. An important play on this 100th anniversary of the national conflicts that politics turns to war.

Private Peaceful.” Adapted and directed by Simon Reade from the story by Michael Morpurgo.

“The Collector”

The horrors of the First World War appear mild compared to the suffering described in “The Collector,” which occurs less than a century later. It’s inspired, of course, by the American prison at Abu Graib. But it’s not just about American brutality against Muslim prisoners. It’s about America’s flouting of its moral commitment to people who believed its stated values and risked their lives to help the American project.

The play – unnerving and memorable — is written and directed by Henry Naylor, a British TV and radio writer. The characters are three U.S. officers – a southern reservist, a female interrogator and a nasty officer, and two Iraqis, a woman and her boyfriend, a great fan of America and its culture. It’s 2003. We see only Captain Kasprowicz, the reservist (William Reay), Sergeant Foster the chief interrogator (Lesley Harcourt) and Zoya, the narrator (Ritu Arya), fiancée of an Iraqi interpreter. The play is three interwoven monologues. The actors are excellent, with Arya especially moving.

William Reay as Captain Kasprowicz, Ritu Arya as Zoya, photo Rosalind Furlong.

William Reay as Captain Kasprowicz, Ritu Arya as Zoya, photo Rosalind Furlong.

In an unsettling literary contradiction, Zoya’s opening sets the horror as poetry:

“Here is the land of magic and genies and flying carpets.
Of tyrants and despots and murderous Ba’athists.
A land of sweetmeats and Turkish delights,
Of Sinbad and Saddam and Arabian Nights.
It’s a magical nation of fable and mystery
A place with a long and ancient history
Boasting a rich and combustible soil,
Fertilized with blood and soaked in oil.
Writing began here and even drawing,
And beating with hoses and waterboarding.
Ours is the story of all mankind
Of the triumphs and failings of the human mind.
So if you’re with us, or against us, pull up your chairs
And share with us these Arabian nightmares.”

Colonel ‘Kasper’ Kasprowicz is a tough, charismatic American reservist in his mid-40s. He runs Mazrat prison, a former Saddam jail turned into an American lockup. Reay makes him realistic and sympathetic.

Young Nassir, who we never see, works in a warehouse and plays western pop music, particularly Eminem. He does gigs, he collects and sells CDs. He’s collecting American pop culture. He learns English from his hip-hop collection. From there, the ironic title. He loves America and signs on as an interpreter in the U.S. detention center.

The story tells how American brutality turns Nassir from a friend to a victim to a deadly enemy. It’s a powerful metaphor for the U.S. in Iraq. How America destroyed Iraq and its own values. It shows that man’s greatest enemy is his own brutality.

Sgt. Foster is the good cop, but she can’t compete against the loudmouth Vallay, the prototypical American abuser. He puts prisoners in a dress, asserting, “If you humiliate them they’re more ready to talk.” Harcourt is good as the kind of interrogator you wish the Americans had. We don’t see Vallay.

After an explosion, the U.S. picks up everyone in the area, 300 to 400 people, many innocents. Faisal, a leading Saddamist, escapes. Fearful, Nassir asks for protection, for asylum for him and Zoya. He doesn’t get it. He’s told “There are procedures.” He starts wearing a balaclava to hide his face.

The story is a thriller, about what happens to Nassir and how he reacts. Arya gives unsettling poetic voice to Zoya:

“… our richest crop is political crisis
And our latest harvest is that of Isis.
But they aren’t our real foe – nor Al-Qaeda, nor Saddam,
The real foe is deep in the heart of man,
For the history of Iraq shows a chilling reality
That man’s greatest enemy is our own brutality.”

The play is vivid, mesmerizing and, inevitably, chilling.

“The Collector.” Written and directed by Henry Naylor.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

- Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic. Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Aug 28th

Edinburgh Fringe Political Plays: Repression

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe in August is the largest theater festival in the world, with hundreds of plays as well as musicals, dance, comedy, cabaret and spoken word performances.

I chose political plays, and nine out of ten I saw were excellent. I divided them into three groups, repression, war and politics. Here’s the first group, about repression.

These riveting plays dealt with periods centuries apart. They are “The Players Advice to Shakespeare” set in the 1600s, and two mirror plays of the 20th century, “Animal Farm” in Stalinist Russia and “Chaplin” in McCarthyite 1950s America. In each case, the playwrights and actors bring out the psychology of repression and rebellion.

“The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare”

David Warburton is The Player in 'The Player's Advice to Shakespeare,' photo Andrew Alexander.

David Warburton is The Player in ‘The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare,’ photo Andrew Alexander.

After seeing “The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare,” I will never look at Shakespeare’s plays in the same way again. In this stunning work by Brian K. Stewart, directed by John Koensgen, The Player (a powerful David Warburton), an actor in Shakespeare’s company, challenges the morality of the playwright’s choice of subjects for his plays.

It’s 1607, the period of the enclosures of tenants’ farmlands by nobles who want the communal property for sheep pastures. Sir Richard has forced his tenants off the land they worked. Now they are “vagabonds,” not a mild determination. Vagabonds are illegals. They can be brutalized, even mutilated by agents of the law.

The actor is in his 40s with straight gray hair to neck, breeches and a doublet and shirt with billowing sleeves. He begins hearing about a rising in the Midlands. Untidy characters are talking to crowds. People are breaking the hedges planted to enclose the land. He meets a challenger. “Why aren’t you there with them?”

He wonders if he can get Will Shakespeare involved in the issue. “Think of justice, Will. Think of where we came from.”

He doesn’t, and instead takes the road north out of London. There he meets two men who’d lost everything. One had an ear and hand cut off by a judge. He says, “As an actor, I ridiculed people like you on stage.” It makes you think about Shakespeare’s characters, how he dealt with the working class. Working class figures were clowns, never heroes!

In the Midlands, the actor sees entire sections of fence collapsing. Men pull plows through the enclosed pastures. Crowds roar. Then come soldiers with pikes and swords. Lines of soldiers mass on a hill. As the protestors appear unsure what to do, the actor uses his stentorian Shakespearean voice to direct them to save themselves: “To the trees!”

The return to London is dark. He thinks back, “I had to talk to Will about this. We had worked on the plays together. Will talks about acting holding a mirror to nature, not the nature I saw. I had to tell him to write a play that speaks about something real.”

Alas, the actor declaims that though the theater is the greatest sword of justice the world has known, Will, despite his origins has cast his lot with these “bastards.”

So, here’s quite another way to look at Shakespeare. Lots of kings and queens in the Bard’s plays, but where are the worker or peasant heroes? This enthralling production makes you think about that.

The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare.” Written by by Brian K. Stewart, directed by John Koensgen. Produced by the New Theatre of Ottowa.

“Animal Farm”

A moving poetic theatrical version of George Orwell’s dystopian novel is performed by actors from Tiblisi, Georgia, the former Soviet state and the birthplace of Stalin. The language is Georgian, with supertitles, but it hardly matters, because the physical production directed by adapter-director George Masterson is so brilliant.

Workers and peasants on a farm seek to get rid of Farmer Jones, the man who oppresses them. The pig leaders say, “We are brothers; all animals are equals.” Jones should be overthrown and the fruits of the land be shared by the animals “Animalism,” says the pig leader, “is the way, comrades, to rebel against man.” They wear the same work clothes.

Some object, “Mr. Jones feeds us. If he didn’t, wouldn’t we starve?”

“Lies, comrades,” they are told.

Dogs threaten the farm animals in

Dogs threaten the farm animals in “Animal Farm.”

It is physical theater, dance theater. The characters — horse, goat, chicken, pig, cow, dog – walk and sound like animals with their grunts, snorts, screeches, scraping of hooves.

The pigs announce the enemies, “Four legs or wings, friend; two legs, enemy. No animal can wear clothes.” One pig is comrade Napoleon. Another is the Squealer.

But a few animals raise questions. A goat inquires, “What will happen to the milk?” The pigs take it. Their dominance is supported by thuggish snorting black dogs.

When Snowball proposes building a windmill that will benefit all, he is banished, though later the idea is adopted as if it came from the insiders.

When the pigs announce an increase in production quotas for the hens, which will not benefit the hens, one chicken wants to promote rebellion. She is killed.

Meetings are banned, except to sing an anthem and provide workers with assignments. “Surely we don’t want Jones back,” say the pigs. As their privileges grow, they have their “Comrade Squealer” keep watch on the others.

In a stylized dance, the animals struggle in toil, working harder than they ever did, dragging heavy bags of stones for construction.

The pigs hurl accusations. In a replay of the Stalin trials, one animal confesses he collaborated with Snowball to destroy the windmill. He is attacked and torn to pieces by the dogs. The pigs seem rather like the oppressive men with their rifles and whips they organized to oppose.

Their ideology, written on a huge canvas, changes as time passes. By the end, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

This is a mesmerizing production of great artistry.

“Animal Farm,’ adapted and directed by Guy Masterson, Theatre Tours International, (follow the link to fine analysis of the play.) Featuring the Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre, Georgia.


It might seem odd to put a play about Charlie Chaplin in this group, but the seeds of repression are clear in the treatment of the film comedian whose renown could not protect him from sleazy FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his minions on the House Un-American (what a dystopian name!) Activities Committee.

A fine flashback play by Christoffer Mellgren and John Storgard, starring Christopher Page as the young Chaplin and James Bryce as the old man, takes us through the actor’s beginnings in London slums, where his mother was institutionalized – you get the feeling her mental breakdown was related to their poverty. The famous film bit with the arms of “The Kid” outstretched calls up his recurring dream, with the cry, “Mother!” (The mother is finely portrayed by Sarah McCardie.)

James Bryce as the Old Charlie and Christopher Page as Young Charlie in

James Bryce as the Old Charlie and Christopher Page as Young Charlie in “Chaplin.”

In the story directed by Sven Sid, we see his development into a world famous comic actor. He gets into acting via his brother Sidney, given an excellent turn by John Scougall, and finds great success in Hollywood. But the part that’s most interesting is when at 40 he makes “The Great Dictator,” a comedy about Hitler. He plays a barber who dresses as Hitler and gives an anti-fascist speech. I’d have liked more detail, more video, of that speech.

Chaplin speaks at a rally of the Association of Russian Friendship urging America to enter the war. He’s advised to stop such speeches, because people would say he was a communist. He argues, “You urged me to make a talking picture. Now you want me to be quiet. Hoover attacks him, with the public following as an obedient mob. The press turns against him, with right-wing Hedda Hopper (McCardie) leading the pack as she parrots FBI feeds. He is called before HUAC.

Forced out of the country, Chaplin spends the next decades in Switzerland with his wife Oona (Michelle Edwards), the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. They don’t return for a visit till 1972, when a change of political atmosphere leads the Hollywood bigwigs who had blacklisted him to welcome him back to a glitzy “we now love you” party. They even return his name to a famous sidewalk where it had been plastered over in 1958.

So the repression was short-lived. Or was it? Are you following the news? Stay tuned.

My chief criticism of “Chaplin” is the too-spare set (by Hanne Horte), just two tables and two chairs at opposite ends of the stage. It’s probably due to the limited budget of most fringe productions. But lighting or scenic projections (by Mia Erlin) could have compensated. And the Chaplin videos could have been spread through the story to show how he used real life to inspire his films, rather than have most of them shown at once.

Still, it’s an absorbing well-acted tale that needs to be told. To remind people that current U.S. thought police politics have a history.

Chaplin.” Written by Christoffer Mellgren and Johan Storgård, translated from Finnish by Julian Garner. Directed by Sven Sid.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Takes place every August.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic. Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Aug 20th

Testing Times Returns to the People's Theatre

By Cameron Lowe
Back by public demand, Testing Times returns after a triumphant try-out run last year. Described as being “as witty and uplifting as Calendar Girls; as profound and engaging as The Vagina Monologues; and as moving and emotive as Blood Brothers”, the play received critical acclaim and inspired cathartic outpourings of emotion from audience members.

Testing Times

Based on playwright Steve Burbridge’s interviews conducted with HIV+ young men from around the region, this compelling new play explores the life-changing impact of being diagnosed HIV+ from the perspective of a young gay man, his partner and his mother. Frank and funny, poignant and provocative, Testing Times chronicles the journey from anger, fear and despair to acceptance, strength and hope.

It visits The People’s Theatre,  Newcastle for a strictly limited run of only four performances. 

17 to 20 November 2014

Aug 14th

Meera Syal Becomes a Patron of HOME in Manchester

By Cameron Lowe

Comedian, actress and writer Meera Syal MBE is today, 13 August 2014, announced as a Patron of HOME, the new centre for contemporary visualart, theatre and film which opens in Manchester in spring 2015.

Meera Syal Meera Syal, who studied English and Drama at Manchester University, joins fellow patrons, Danny Boyle, Phil Collins, Nicholas Hytner, Asif Kapadia, Jackie Kay, Rosa Barba and Suranne Jones, in supporting Manchester’s dynamic new cultural hub.

Syal has worked extensively across theatre, film, TV and radio throughout her career and is an award-winning author, playwright and screenwriter. She both wrote the screenplay and acted in the BBC Film adaptation of her first novel Anita and Me, which now features on both GCSE and university syllabuses. Her stage credits include the RSC’s Much Ado About Nothingset in modern-day India and the Bollywood-themed musical Bombay Dreams. In 2011, she was appointed the Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at the University of Oxford.

Syal is perhaps best known for her roles in BBC comedy series Goodness Gracious Me (which she also co-created) and the International Emmy Award-winning The Kumars at Number 42. The two shows have been instrumental in establishing British-Asian comedy’s place on our TV screens. Further acting credits include The Real McCoy, Band of Gold and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

Syal was awarded an MBE in 1997 and won Media Personality of the Year at the Commission for Racial Equality’s Race in the Media Awards (2000), as well as the EMMA (BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award) for Media Personality of the Year in 2001. Her contribution to the arts has been recognised within academia by an honorary doctorate from SOAS, and honorary degrees from the University of Manchester, University of London and University of Roehampton.

Meera Syal says:

‘I loved my time at Manchester as an undergraduate and am over the moon to be becoming a Patron for HOME, which will add to the city’s reputation for exciting contemporary artistic expression. It’s great to be part of a dynamic new organisation committed to discovering and fostering diverse talent and new voices across art forms.’

Jim Forrester, Chair of Trustees at HOME, comments,

‘We are thrilled to have Meera join our team of patrons for HOME. She will bring with her a wealth of experience in theatre and film and a passion for Manchester and its creativity, and a love of the arts in us all.’ 

Aug 6th

Rock of Ages at Glasgow's Kings Theatre

By Cameron Lowe
Rock of Ages rolled into Glasgow this week and blew the roof off of the King's Theatre.
Rock of Ages

The jukebox musical has been a staple of live entertainment for decades. Elvis made movies in this format back in the 50s and live audiences have enjoyed fresh presentations of their favourite hits since Buddy and Return to the Forbidden Planet mastered the genre 25 years ago. But never in the history of the jukebox musical have a cast, writer and audience had so much FUN! 
The story is broadly predictable while the presentation and dialogue will have you rolling in the aisles! Sherrie (Cordelia Farnworth) is a small town girl who travels to LA for fame and fortune. Drew (Noel Sullivan) is a city boy trying to turn his bar job at the Bourbon Club on the Strip into a rock career. There is instant chemistry but Drew gets caught in the "friend zone". Meanwhile, corporate big wigs (other wigs feature heavily in this 80s themed storyline) with German accents have dastardly plans to turn LA's famous Strip into a shopping mall. The club recruits rock god, Stacee Jaxx (Ben Richards), to perform and save the Strip. But Stacee is a famous womaniser and (you guessed it) Sherrie catches his ever roaming eye ...
The setting provides the perfect excuse to cram in more 80s rock classics than you could shake a Stratocaster at! Classic hits from Foreigner, Starship, Bon Jovi, Journey, Europe, Whitesnake and more are rocked out and mashed up at a rate of knots! The 80s provides a rich vein of musical gold to be mined and this production digs up every last nugget.  But it is the comedic approach to the entire show which really lifts this musical way above the plethora of competion. The dialogue from Chris D'Arienzo has the tongue so firmly in the cheek that what might have been cheezy becomes hilarious. Direction from Kristin Hanggi gives the cast plenty of freedom to have as much risqué fun as they dare! The choreography is outstanding. Physicality from the talented cast is delightfully OTT. If there was an Olivier for Comedy Choreography it would certainly be awarded to Kelly Devine.
The plaudits continue when it comes to performances from this outstanding cast. Noel Sullivan proved that his rock voice still tops theatrical charts following his successful tour of We Will Rock You. Amazing! Cordelia Farnworth was a talented lead with a voice which ranged from powerful rock chick to soulful ballad mistress. But these two great performances had to compete with some OUTLANDISH characters for the affections of the audience; and this show has those by the bucket-load! Ben Richards was perfect as Stacee Jaxx - self centred, narcisistic and wonderfully loathable. Supporting characters from Daniel Fletcher, Stephen Rahman-Hughes, Jack Lord, Rachel McFarlane, Jessie May and Cameron Sharp were given ample opportunity to shine  ... and they took it!
This is a fantastic show. Funny, nostalgic, naughty and melt your face rockin' in equal measure! Miss it at your peril.
Mon 4 – Sat 9 August
Mon - Sat eves 7.30pm
Wed & Sat mats 2.30pm
Tickets: £12.90 - £50.90
Box Office: 0870 060 6648 (bkg fee)   (bkg fee)
Aug 1st

Award Winning Musical ALTAR BOYZ gets a UK Premier

By Cameron Lowe


Hallelujah! After five hilarious years and over 2000 performances Off-Broadway, ALTAR BOYZ will make its UK Premiere in a strictly limited run of 14 performances at Greenwich Theatre from Friday 3 October 2014. On sale now.

With their heavenly harmonies, divine dance moves, and faith that’s stronger than their hair gelthe ALTAR BOYZ are ready to spread the good news through the glory of sweet pop music

Get set for a foot-stomping, rafter-raising musical comedy about a fictitious boy-band on the last night of their Raise the Praise tour. TheBoyz are five all-singing, all-dancing heartthrobs – Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham – trying to save the world one screaming fan at a time. Their pious pop act – including lyrics like Girl You Make Me Wanna Wait and Jesus Called Me On My Cell Phone – worked wonders on the bingo hall circuit, but when fate brings them to New York, will the boyz take a bite out of the forbidden apple?

Full of sharp parody, sinfully spectacular dancing and irreverent humour, ALTAR BOYZ has been adored by audiences all over theworld. With an extraordinary mix of side-splitting songs, uncontrollable laughs and light-hearted fun, this award-winning and totally original musical is 90 minutes of heavenly delight that is destined to rock the masses of all denominations!

ALTAR BOYZ will be directed by Steven Dexterwhose credits include Loserville in the West End and the World Premiere of Stiles and Drewe’s Honk! at the Watermill Theatre.

Casting is to be announced. 

Twitter @AltarBoyzUK |

Aug 1st


By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York


Sutton Foster as Violet and the cast, waiting at a bus station, photo Joan Marcus.

“Violet” is like an expressionist painting with brush-stroked characters. We see the visual depth of the central figure (Sutton Foster), and the others that interact with her add bits of color.

It is a picture with sound. The production by Brian Crawley (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) is a chamber operetta, with Foster’s strong, rich voice underpinned by deep sweetness. The score moves through a terrific panoply of southern music, from country in Nashville, to blues in Memphis and gospel in Tulsa.

Sutton Foster is superb as Violet, a young woman from the mountains of North Carolina who is on a religious odyssey seeking healing – not just spiritual. When she was 13, her father was swinging an axe when the blade flew off and hit her on the cheek. You don’t see the scar. Foster wears no make-up, but you see the wound through her anguish. Director Leigh Silverman makes the injury a metaphor rather than a horrific event.

Now, it is September 1964 and the grown woman has started out from Spruce Pine by bus to travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to see a TV evangelist who can perform the miracle of giving her a new face. She has a fantasy of being a movie star — she names them all: Bardot, Cyd Charisse, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman. 


Joshua Henry as Flick, Colin Donnell as Monty, Sutton Foster as Violet, photo Joan Marcus.

Along the way at a bus station rest-stop she meets two servicemen, one white and one black, who are traveling together. Violetis cynical, not trusting, but they win her over. Joshua Henry is excellent as Flick, the intense black soldier, whose unforgettable stentorian voice powers a bluesy, R&B sound.

The white soldier, Monty (Colin Donnell) makes a comment, “Last year, he coulda been thrown in jail for sittin’ here.” The civil rights act had just passed, though real desegregation didn’t happen so quickly after the law, so it was odd to see black man traveling with a white man on the bus and Violet socializing publicly with both.

When they stop in Memphis, the music is country. Monty sings about looking for a woman. Annie Golden is very good playing a hotel hooker in the number, “Anyone Would Do.” Anastacia McCleskey is excellent as an R&B music hall singer doing “Lonely Stranger.”

There are interactions that seem more modern than past. The white soldier starts out seeing Violet as a girl to put her legs up, but then curls up on her lap. He has joined the Green Berets and will go to Vietnam. The black soldier is more protective.


Emerson Steele as young Violet, Ben Davis as the preacher, photo Joan Marcus.

The dénouement is the arrival at Tulsa and the religious healing. Fortunately, the backdrop to the faith healer is a troop of evangelicals in red robes riveting audience attention with gospel vocals and frantic dances. Rema Webb is smashing as the jazzy gospel performer Lula Buffington who joins the preacher (Ben Davis) and the choir in “Raise Me Up.”

Among others in the cast, Emerson Steele is excellent as the young Violet, a little girl with a powerful country singing voice. Father (Alexander Gemignani) is a sweet and sensitive guy who schools his young daughter in poker to teach her arithmetic.

Finally, Violet is “healed,” because the people she meets care for her in spite of the scar. Both soldiers, in fact, want her, and not just for a one-night-stand. So it’s a metaphor, but not a hokey one. And the southern music is a standout.

Violet.” Book and lyrics by Brian Crawley based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts; music by Jeanine Tesori; directed by Leigh Silverman. Roundabout Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212.719.1300. Opened April 22, 2014; closes Aug 10, 2014. 7/31/14.

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and theatre critic. Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.

Aug 1st

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

By Cameron Lowe


Bill Russell  and  Janet Hood 's musical 'Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens' will soon be performed in Manchester as an official event for Manchester Pride this August. The show is being produced by Side by Side Productions, a fringe theatre company set up to in 2009 to create opportunities in developing the upcoming musical theatre fringe scene for actors and audiences in the North West.

Inspired by the NAMES Project Memorial Quilt, 'Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens' is an immensely powerful musical written to involve the community in a theatrical response to the AIDS crisis from the early 1980's to the present day. Told through a spectrum of individuals who are living with or have suffered from HIV or AIDS, the characters address loss of life and celebrate spirit, love and support through humour, song, rage and hope. Elegies applauds and reflects on some important lives, generating a feeling of love, humanity and common cause that will send you out glowing.The production will be supporting the work of HIV charity George House Trust, through association with Manchester Pride this year. The show runs nightly at 7:15pm on the 20th-24th August at Joshua Brooks on the corner of Charles Street & Princess Street in Manchester and you can get a ticket to see this rarely performed gem of a show for just £8 (in advance).

Tickets available from: 

Follow on Twitter  @sbsproductions 

Jul 22nd

Memory Points will Ring a Bell at the Southbank Centre

By Cameron Lowe

A promenade performance across Southbank Centre’s site, Thursday 7 – Monday 18 August 2014

Memory Points

Chosen as one of the Top Ten theatre pieces for 2013 by The Guardian’s theatre critic Lyn Gardner, Platform 4’sMemory Points is an uplifting show about memory loss. This intimate and interactive experience filled with love is inspired by Platform 4’s work with the Alzheimer’s Society.

Wearing headphones, audiences of up to five people will be guided through the unseen spaces of 
Southbank Centre’ssite by a unique sound track with music by Pete Flood (Bellowhead: Southbank Centre Artists in Residence), whilst encountering an imaginary world of installations, miniature sculptures, films, and photographs. Audiences are encouraged to dress up and delve into their own memories and relationships. 

Platform 4 present magical performances which captivate, involve and put human relationships at the heart of the event.

Catherine Church, Platform 4’s Artistic Director said:
We are thrilled that this special project which has brought the company such acclaim will now have a final flourish in one of the best places in the world to see art of excellence. It is incredibly important that regional work of artistic excellence finds a place on a national and international stage.

Memory Points
Part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love
Thursday 7 – Monday 18 August 2014
Hour-long tours from 10.30am-9.30pm see website for exact dates and timings
Promenade piece across Southbank Centre’s site
Tickets £15
50% concessions (Limited availability)
Tickets: 0844 847 9910