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Mar 19th

THE FROGS: House on the Hill Productions/Jermyn Street Theatre

By Elaine Pinkus

A comedy written in 405 BC by ARISTOPHANES freely adapted for today by BURT SHEVELOVE and even more freely adapted by NATHAN LANE. Music and lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM. Original orchestration by Jonathan Tunick

Michael Matus and George Rae

Michael Matus (Dionysos) and George Rae (Xanthias)

Let me preface this piece by sharing with you that I am an absolute fan of Sondheim. So, it was with genuine excitement that I was given the opportunity to review Grace Wessel’s (House on the Hill) production of The Frogs and what a treat! Played with enthusiasm and energy by this company, The Frogs did not let me down.   

 Way back in 405 BC The Frogs (Artistophanes) played to audiences at the Leonaia Festival in Ancient Greece. Fast forward to 1974 when Burt Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim, the well known partnership behind A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, combined forces and adapted this play. Fast forward once again to 2017 to Nathan Lane’s ‘even more freely adapted’ Broadway version of The Frogs, whose message in these times of political mayhem resonates profoundly in the intimate surround of the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Against the exciting accompaniment of the accomplished quartet, led by Musical Director, Tim Sutton, The Frogs opens with the excellent ‘Invocation and Instructions to the Audience’ – a sure fire hit with the gathering. This is a song that should be played at all productions, reminding us of the etiquette that should be adhered to, with lines like - So please, don't fart --There's very little air and this is art which certainly was true of the small basement space of this lovingly cared for fringe theatre.

So, the story!  The Frogs, playfully explores the great challenges of human existence: confronting our fears, understanding life and death, and challenging the distractions that can prevent us from achieving our goals. We accompany Dionysos, Greek god of wine and drama (Michael Matus), and his slave Xanthias (George Rae) on a journey to Hades to collect renowned critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw so that he may enlighten the easily misled and misguided masses of Earth. Along the way there is mayhem and we are treated to the larger than life characters of Herakles (Chris McGuigan), Charon (Jonathan Wadey), Pluto (Emma Ralston) and, a chorus of giant frogs (Li-Tong Hsu, Martin Dickinson, Nigel Pilkington and Bernadette Bangura). There is the battle of words and wit with Shaw against Shakespeare in the challenge of receiving the honour of becoming reincarnated and bringing  sense to the world. But will it be through prose or poetry?

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Shakespeare (Nigel Pilkington) challenges Shaw (Martin Dickinson)

Supported by an excellent chorus, congratulations must be given to Michael Matus and George Rae who appeared to be having great fun in their roles.  Songs were performed excitingly by all and, although there was restricted movement in the confined space, the production never felt static.

The Cast of House on the Hill Productions

Michael Matus, George Rae and Chorus

This delightful show sold out on line before its press night but on the day I reviewed it, I noted that the Jermyn Street Theatre does offer stand-by tickets and on that occasion the five or six people waiting eagerly for the chance to see this adaptation were delighted to gain seats, so it is well worth a try.

Photography: David Ovenden

THE FROGS: Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST

Box Office: 020 7287 2875   www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk

Tuesday March 14 - Saturday April 8

Performances: Tuesday - Saturday at 7.30pm,Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm,

Additional matinees: Thursday March 23 at 3.00pm Thursday April 6 at 3.00pm

Mar 19th

The Miser at the Garrick Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

L-to-R-Ryan-Gage-and-Griff-Rhys-Jones-in-The-Miser.-Credit-Helen-Maybanks.-1-1000x600.jpgCléante (Ryan Gage) and his father Harpagon (Griff Rhys Jones)

Money gives me everything I want and more.

Writer-director Sean Foley considers most productions of Molière's comedies "far too respectful". Therefore, Foley and Phil Porter have created an irreverent adaptation of The Miser to bring it up to 2017 standards. Does it work? In parts.

A variety of tunes played on a spinet takes the audience back in time before the cast enter in period costumes. The play is set in a stately home, now in a state of dilapidation (costumes and set design by Alice Power) - there are cracks in the walls, broken windows and the plasterwork keeps falling down. Candles line the front of the stage, adding to the period feel.

Valère (Matthew Horne), the steward of Harpagon’s house, is in love with his employer’s daughter, Élise (Katy Wix). Valère is sure that he is of a good family but he knows that Harpagon loves nothing but money and will never accept a poor stewart as his son-in-law. Instead he demands that Elise marry a rich man who is old enough to be her father. Harpagon’s son, Cléante (Ryan Gage), is in love with Marianne (Ellie White), a poor girl who lives with her widowed mother. Since Marianne has no money, Cléante keeps his love for the girl from his father. What he does not know is that his father has seen Mariane and wants her for himself. Cléante is to marry Marianne's mother. Harpagon has employed matchmaker Frosine (Andi Osho) to prepare Marianne for the desired marriage.

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Maître Jacques (Lee Mack), Harpagon (Griff Rhys Jones) and Valère (Matthew Horne) 

Sean Foley's production is broad farce and dispenses of the fourth wall almost immediately. There is plenty of slapstick and physical comedy, which often entails falling plasterwork or rickety furniture, and the cast has to act a breakneck speed to keep up with Molière's plot. The updated jokes do not work too well. Most of them are not terribly funny and distract from the story. Stand-up comedian Lee Mack, however, is having a ball as his Baldrick-like character Maître Jacques, quipping jokes whilst filling almost every position in the house because the stingy Harpagon keeps on firing his staff. 

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Matchmaker Frosine (Andi Osho) and the beautiful Marianne (Ellie White)

Griff Rhys Jones plays Harpagon somewhat straight as he stumbles around in tattered clothes to appear as poor as possible, convinced that everyone is after his treasure. Ryan Gage is hilarious as his son Cléante, a fashionista as colourful as a tropical bird, who spends his money as fast as gets it - and more. Matthew Horne is very good as the efficient Valère who believes that being as sycophantic as possible will help him obtain Harpagon's consent to marrying Élise, played by the lovely Katy Wix with a funny speech impediment. 

Despite the failed updates, this show is still good entertainment value featuring a lovely cast.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 3rd June 2016 at the Garrick Theatre

Tickets: https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/garrick-theatre/the_miser/

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval

Images by Helen Maybanks.

Mar 15th

Not Dead Enough at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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 You hurt someone by killing what he loves.

Following the success of The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple, another adaptation of a Peter James crime novel is being brought to the stage. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, played by Shane Richie, returns to investigate a mysterious murder case and Laura Whitmore, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, is his love interest Cleo Morey. 

Peter James is one of the most popular crime fiction writers, his novels have sold over 17 million copies worldwide, and he is the 2016 recipient of the Diamond Dagger, the most highly esteemed award for crime writers. The third novel of his Roy Grace series sees the troubled detective hunt a serial killer.

Popular philanthropist Katie Bishop is found strangled, wearing a gas mask. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace suspects the victim's husband - Brian Bishop - although Bishop claims to have been sixty miles away from his home in Brighton when the murder was committed. Bishop appears to be devastated by his wife's death but Roy Grace does not trust Bishop's overwrought emoting. Apart from being overcome with grief he is jumpy and nervous. Grace's suspicions seem to be confirmed when it turns out that Bishop cheated on his wife.

Meanwhile Cleo Morey (Laura Whitmore), Roy Grace's attractive girlfriend in forensics, is expecting a bit more commitment from the hesitant detective, who is still struggling with the disappearance of his wife Sandy ten years ago. Her colleague Sophie Harington (Gemma Atkins) seems more fortunate with her dashing paramour. 

Not-Dead-Enough.-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-_31B9393-1024x683.jpgRoy Grace (Shane Richie) and Glenn Branson (Michael Quartey) are grilling Brian Bishop (Stephen Billington) 

Directed by Ian Talbot, there is some rather dark humour in this suspenseful production which offers one or two surprises that will make you jump. Yet the first half of Shaun McKenna's adaptation is a big sluggish. There is too much small talk slowing down the action whilst the characters pace between the forensics lab upstage and the police office downstage, both held in a drab grey. Yet the action picks up considerably in the second half when Roy Grace finds himself hunting a serial killer who is also responsible for a number of unsolved crimes.

Shane Richie convinces as the investigator who is tormented by the disappearance of his wife and Stephen Billington manages the right balance of charm and menace as the suspect. Michael Quartey delivers some of the best jokes as Grace's colleague and friend Glenn Branson. However, the female characters are rather clichéd and mainly serve as romantic props, except for Bella Moy, played by Gemma Stroyan with cool efficiency. Laura Whitmore and Gemma Atkins are doing their best with characters so overcome by emotion that they are unable to think straight and therefore put themselves - and others - in harm's way. 

Still there is much to enjoy in this solid thriller which offers more than one twist. 

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 18th March 2017 at the Richmond Theatre, then continuing its UK tour.

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx

Photograph by Mark Douet.

Mar 14th

Swan Lake - Vienna Festival Ballet

By Kate Braxton

Tchaikovsky’s extraordinary score is so symphonic and dramatically charged, I find it impossible to tire of a Swan Lake experience. And the opening night of Vienna Festival Ballet’s production at Theatre Royal Windsor this week has managed to capture my imagination anew.

If anything, it was a slightly tentative and uncommitted beginning to this opening performance, which I believe was due to limitations of the theatre space, and perhaps not enough leg room for rehearsal. However, it is also a refreshing reminder of how grand an oeuvre this is, and how broad a global stage it has earned.

The corps from the Austrian ballet company, founded and artistically directed by Peter Mallek, last performed here in November with a beautifully right-sized production of Snow White. So it was enjoyable to watch the principle dancers return in quite contrasting roles.

The story centres around Prince Siegfried (Dean Rushton) who falls in love with Odette (Rachel Victoria Hernon), yet she has been transformed into a swan by the evil magician, Baron Rothbart (David Gutiérrez Robles). In order to regain her womanly status, a man must proclaim his undying love for her. Hernon’s delicate characterisation and exquisite sense of self is consistently eye-catching throughout the show. Rushton has the long-backed elegance to captivate the audience, yet disappointingly fails to visually express any identifiable emotion when they are in his hold. Robles, on the other hand, appears to grin from start to finish, with all the wonderment of a child whose stabilisers have just been removed.

Calculated mistaken identity threatens to thwart the happy ending, when Rothbart tricks Siegfried by presenting his daughter - a mirror-image of Odette- before him at the Prince’s betrothal party, where he must choose a wife. The wrong woman is courted, Odette appears, their love endures the curse and Rothbart dies.

The most enjoyable performance comes from Ashley Selfe’s natty little Jester, who springs about stage with popping personality, while the moonlit lake scene at the end of Act 1 is lit and choreographed into a deserving 'hero sequence' of the show.

Act 2 has a raised energy, and the Mallek mastery blends the production elements into a more characteristically cohesive Vienna Festival Ballet work.

 

Swan Lake is running at Theatre Royal Windsor from Monday 13th – Saturday 18th March 2017.

For tickets and information, see www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

Mar 9th

You're Human Like the Rest of Them

By Carolin Kopplin

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Wife (Sarah Berger) in Not Counting the Savages

Sometimes I feel like a spectator of my own life - outside. 

In a production commissioned by the Finborough Theatre, You’re Human Like the Rest of Them, an evening of three short plays by the experimental novelist, poet, playwright and film producer B. S. Johnson, are staged together for the first time. 

Spanning ten years of Johnson’s short yet prolific career, the production features revivals of Johnson’s short plays You’re Human Like the Rest of Them and Down Red Lane, and the world stage premiere of Not Counting the Savages, all dating back to the early 1970s. This is a rare opportunity to see the work of this undeservedly forgotten author and one of the most irreverent and subversive writers in post-war Britain.  

Not Counting the Savages was originally produced as a teleplay directed by Mike Newell and starring Brenda Bruce as part of the BBC’s Thirty Minute Theatre season in 1972. A middle-aged lady (Sarah Berger) returns traumatised from visiting her son's grave after an encounter with a flasher. She expects her family to support her but her husband (Brian Deacon) couldn't be more indifferent: "You've seen one before". Instead he begins to talk about his experiences in the Soviet Union - where he has never been. Daughter Rosa (Emma Paetz) shows a little sympathy but accuses her mother of overreacting and instead uses the opportunity to criticize her father's despicable behaviour. Son Jerry (Bertie Taylor-Smith) wants to hear all the sordid details of the story as he might need them for his soft porn films. This is all very amusing until the victim of this outrage screams: "I want him hanged!"which silences her offspring but leaves her husband untroubled as he continues eating his dinner.     

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Diner (Reginald Edwards) and Belly (Alex Griffin-Griffiths)

Down Red Lane was Johnson’s final work written before his untimely death at the age of 40. Possibly an inspiration for an episode of Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life", this gastrodrama features an enormously obese man - the Diner (Reginal Edwards) - who barely makes it to his table in a posh restaurant to indulge in another luxurious meal. The Waiter (Bertie Taylor-Smith) knows what his patron desires and showers him with expensive wines, oysters and venison with juniper berries whilst the Diner's long suffering Belly (Alex Griffin-Griffiths) flinches with every bite his master takes. Finally Belly stirs up the other fed up organs and starts a revolt. A very funny and absurd play about a man who is "digging his grave with his teeth".

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Emma Paetz and Reginald Edwards

You’re Human Like the Rest of Them was Johnson's first play, originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1964 and later turned into an experimental short film by Johnson himself.

A young supply teacher named Haakon (Bertie Taylor-Smith) is sent to hospital with a back complaint and finds himself being lectured in back care by the therapist (Sarah Berger) alongside a group of octogenerians. Haakon wants to know why the spine was not designed for bending down but the therapist has no answer. Upset, Haakon returns to his own classroom and asks his pupils to explain the meaning of life as his own beliefs have been irreversibly shattered.

Carla Kingham's direction is fast-paced and exact. There are only short interruptions between the plays to move the few props. The stage design by Rüta Irbite consists of a few geometrical shapes scattered across the stage with the set pieces of the main production in the background. 

The cast find the correct balance to make their characters believable in this highly absurd and stylised play. Sarah Berger is touching as the lonely wife, Alex Griffin-Griffiths and Reginald Edwards are hilarious as the Belly and its gluttonous owner. Bertie Taylor-Smith convinces as the smug son and the perfect waiter who seems to move on rails as he swiftly caters to the Diner's every whim.

A rare opportunity to see some of B. S. Johnson's sadly neglected plays.

Until 21st March 2017

Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Telephone 020 7244 7439

Running time: 70 minutes without an interval

The run will be accompanied by the FINBOROUGHFORUM, a series of informal post-show discussions and debates, on Monday evenings: 13 and 20 March. All events are free to ticketholders for that evening's performance of the play. FINBOROUGHFORUM events will all be Twitter friendly with live tweets from @FinboroughForum. Using the hashtag #finfor, the speakers will also answer questions posed on Twitter so everyone can be included, no matter where they are in the world. Speakers will be announced shortly. 

Images by Matthew Foster.

Mar 4th

I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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David (Adrian Lukis) and his daughter Ella (Jill Winternitz)

 If I don't make it, will you still love me?

Being the child of a star is hard, especially if you decide to follow in your parent's footsteps. Ella's father David is a Pulitzer prize winning playwright. Ella is an aspiring actor and tonight could be the start of a promising career.

The play begins as father and daughter are waiting for the notices of Ella's Off-Broadway production of The Seagull. Ella did not get the highly coveted role of Nina but had to be satisfied with Masha, which David finds rather irksome, blaming the obvious incompetence of the director for his idiotic casting decision. The fact that the director rejected David's latest play might add somewhat to his judgement. Drinking wine and smoking pot in his cosy West Side apartment, David shares his vast theatre experience with his daughter, indulging in a bit of critic bashing and warning her against playing it safe as an actor just to please the critics: "Be transgressive, be bewildering, be anything but safe!"

The childlike Ella, who verges on the edge of hysteria, idolises her father, hanging on his every word and encouraging him to repeat anecdotes from his life that she has probably heard many times before. David expects his daughter's love and adoration. Despite David's bravura, one wrong word or the slightest criticism can set him off to show his innate cruelty. When Ella mentions that David did not actuallly win an Oscar, only an Oscar nomination, his revenge is absolute, leaving Ella in tears.

David is proud of going his own way after being thrown out by his father for neglecting his school work. On his road to fame, David had no time for losers or any kind of weakness. People who disappointed or slighted him in any way were eradicated from his life, including his father whose letters remained unanswered until the day he died. Ella is afraid that she might lose her father's love if she does not live up to his expectations. 

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Ella (Jill Winternitz) and David (Adrian Lukis)

Halley Feiffer's disturbing two-hander about the destructive relationship between a famous playwright and his daughter, is hard to watch. Jill Winternitz as Ella desperately tries to please her father in any possible way, clinging to him as if he was a life buoy saving her from drowning. She listens to his monologues with exaggerated attention, eager to delve into his cornupia of wisdom. Yet after their inevitable altercation, Ella follows her father's advice and - maybe inevitably - becomes just like him. Adrian Lukis portrays David as a harsh and unforgiving man who launches bilious and homophobic attacks on those he despises, expecting his daughter to approve of everything he says and to always, always agree with him. Any little hint of criticism leads to a vicious counterattack. He wants Ella to follow his example - and in the end she does, in every way.

Adrian Lukis and Jill Winternitz are outstanding in Jake Smith's hard-hitting production.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 25th March 2017

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 90 minutes with no interval

Images by Scott Rylander.

Feb 28th

La Strada at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Gelsomina (Audrey Brisson) and Zampanò (Stuart Goodwin)

Zampanò - he's here!

Before I had even seen the film, my mother kept talking about it as one of the true masterpieces of European cinema. She was fortunate enough to see Federico Fellini's La Strada in the cinema when it was released in 1954, with Anthony Quinn as the great Zampanò and Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina as his gentle assistant Gelsomina.

Bringing La Strada to the stage is no mean feat but director Sally Cookson and her ensemble succeeded, supported by Mike Akers as Writer in the Room. Instead of using a finished adaptation of the screenplay, they used improvisation as well as the film and the original script to create something new whilst keeping the essence and the spirit of Fellini's work.

La Strada (The Road) tells the story of the naïve and slightly awkward Gelsomina (Audrey Brisson) who is sold to the travelling street performer Zampanò (Stuart Goodwin) to replace her late sister Rosa. Gelsomina is reluctant to go. She prefers spending her time alone at the sea, listening to the sound of the waves, but her mother has many mouths to feed and Gelsomina is expected to help support her family. Zampanò, a strongman whose act consists of breaking a chain around his chest, is not too pleased with an assistant who cannot even cook or sew but Gelsomina is smart enough to announce his act and then pass a hat around. The crude Zampanò beats Gelsomina and often leaves her alone at night, visiting bars and picking up women. Still Gelsomina remains loyal. When joining a small-time circus, they meet Il Matto (The Fool), played by Bart Soroczynski, a clown who also performs daredevil stunts on a tight-rope. Obviously Zampanò and Il Matto have a past and they are not the best of friends. Despite Zampanò's violent tendencies, Il Matto cannot stop taunting his rival - with tragic consequences.   

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 Il Matto (Bart Soroczynski) and ensemble

The stage design by Katie Sykes consists of a grey backdrop with chains and ropes hanging from the ceiling. Two telegraph poles rise up from the stage, indicating the continuous travel of the protagonists on the country roads and allowing Gelsomina and other cast members to climb them, thereby adding another level to the performance.

The international ensemble, composed of actor-musicians, is permanently onstage, often acting like a Greek chorus, introducing the performance as narrators and watching the story unfold, creating props such as Zampanò's motorcycle with a few wheels and movements, performing as a band in a bar, or representing a wedding party. The chorus often speaks Italian which provides a closeness to the Italian source text. Benji Bower's beautiful original score adds to the Italian setting and the narrative. Sally Cookson's production achieves a surreal quality matching the original film.

Audrey Brisson is an outstanding Gelsomina. A dreamer, at first awkward and socially shy, she gains enough confidence to demand her fair share of Zampanò's earnings. She is touching in her innocence and admirable in her loyalty and brings a Chaplinesque touch to her performance whilst using her soft voice to sing Benji Bower's melancholy melodies. Stuart Goodwin convinces as the brutish Zampanò, spending his money as soon as he earns it, giving little thought to what tomorrow will bring. He is a rough character but there Goodwin shows that there is more to him than expected. Bart Soroczynski's Il Matto is a world-weary clown who is kind to Gelsomina but cannot stop antagonising Zampanò. Maybe taunting the strongman provides the same kind of thrill as walking on a tight-rope. Soroczynski is a skilled acrobat who shows some astonishing feats during his performance.

A beautiful and highly theatrical production with an outstanding ensemble. 

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 4th March 2017 at the Richmond Theatre

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including one interval

Tour dates: http://www.lastradalive.com/

Photographs by Robert Day.

Feb 25th

Orbits at the Drayton Arms Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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  Do you have inner bravery or inner cowardice?

During the Nazi regime, many German artists and writers fled to America, among them Bertolt Brecht. He collaborated with Charles Laughton on his play Life of Galileo to get his big break on Broadway and Laughton felt that working with Brecht would add some extra spice to his stagnant career. Wally Sewell's play focuses on this collaboration and the clash of two big egos. 

The performance begins with Charles Laughton (Edmund Dehn) rehearsing a scene as Galileo who is being questioned by the Inquisitor, played by Bertolt Brecht (Peter Saracen). Galileo attempts to navigate his way out of an accusation of heresy whilst the Inquisitor quietly listens and observes. When Galileo is finished, the Inquisitor is not satisfied. Neither is Bertolt Brecht.

The power structure of the play within a play somewhat reflects the relationship between the two men, both of whom have something to hide - Brecht his communist ideas, Laughton his homosexuality. Whereas Laughton is in awe of Bertolt Brecht, calling him a writer as great as Shakespeare, Brecht dismisses Laughton's work, especially his appearances on the radio, sponsored by Lux Soap. He expects Laughton to be pure as an artist, not selling out and giving in to commercialism. Laughton takes Brecht's slights with good humour. As their collaboration continues, the power balance shifts - Brecht is summoned by HUAC because of his communist leanings, which suddenly puts him out of favour and turns him into a persona non grata. 

Although Sewell bases his play on real events, the portrayal of the characters and the dialogue is fictitious. The Brecht character does not resemble Brecht any more than Peter Shaffer's Mozart resembles the real Mozart. Sewell draws Brecht as an arrogant and rude artiste who feels superior to Laughton and despises the superficial life in California and the commercialism of the U. S. Because of his unbearable arrogance and complete lack of any positive qualities, the sympathies of the audience are entirely with Charles Laughton, who also had a gigantic ego but is portrayed as a reasonable man expecting at least some appreciation for his work from the man whom he admires so much.

I first saw this production in April 2015 at the White Bear Theatre with the same cast and director. It remains an intriguing play because it discusses important issues but it would be more exciting and convincing if the characters were equally weighted. Edmund Dehn is very good as Charles Laughton, playing his character with quiet authority and a gentle sense of humour. Peter Saracen does his best with the rather unappealing Bertolt Brecht character.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 11th March 2017

Drayton Arms Theatre

Please read my original review here: http://www.uktheatre.net/magazine/read/orbits-at-the-white-bear-theatre_2730.html

Feb 19th

Summer Nights in Space at the Vault Festival

By Carolin Kopplin

Everything is better in space.

The VAULT Festival is now in its fifth year. Until 5 March, hundreds of new shows are presented in the Waterloo Vaults. Summer Nights in Space is a musical comedy about the search for love across the universe by Hannah Elsey Productions, the same company that created the hilarious The Quentin Dentin Show.

Ever since Captain John Spartan (Matthew Jacobs) was a little boy, growing up in a bio dome and living on soylent green, he dreamt of going boldly where no man has gone before. After finishing space school, he was given command of the Excelsior. After his third year in space, a dull computer as his only company, John is getting increasingly scared of catching space madness. 

But then he detects a distress call in his spam folder and, despite the warnings of his computer, calculates a trajectory to the perishing astronaut. On his way to the damsel in distress, John finds a dangerous alien (Candice Palladino) on board. To make matters worse his arch nemesis and space rival "Lethal Space Bizzle" (Benjamin Victor) appears, rapping across the bridge.

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Candice Palladino, Matthew Jacobs Morgan and Benjamin Victor

Henry Carpenter's musical is a spoof on popular science fiction, with references to Star Trek, Alien, Soylent Green, Dark Star, Moon and many other famous films. Accompanied by the Spacebugs - Henry Carpenter (musical director), Mickey Howard (guitar), and Archie Wolfman (drums) -, clad in white coveralls, with insect antennae and futuristic glasses, the three actors are singing their hearts out, sometimes in vain as the band can be overpowering. The songs are not very memorable but "Lady in Space" entails all the longing Captain Spartan feels for the unknown astronaut with the sexy Russian accent.

Sinead O'Callaghan's production is entertaining and includes some good twists. It benefits from a talented cast: Matthew Jacobs Morgan gives a highly energetic performance as Captain John Spartan, Candice Palladino is delightful as the space alien, moving in a predatory crouch, smiling threateningly, accompanied by the occasional hiss. Benjamin Victor has the most thankless role as the aggravating Lethal Space Bizzle. His appearance is too short to make much of an impact, yet he is very good as the voice of the computer.

The stage design by Lars Davidson entails a spacey floor with grid pattern, two walls in glittery white and a few gadgets, including a silvery truck that delivers Spartan's food among many other items. A monitor dating back to the 1980s with green fonts represents the computer - basic but sufficient.

An entertaining show.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 19th February 2017

Vault Festival

Running time: 80 minutes

Photographs provided by Chris Hislop.

Feb 18th

Richard III by Schaubühne Berlin at the Barbican Centre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Lars Eidinger as Richard III

I myself find in myself no pity to myself.

After a successful and critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Festival last summer, Thomas Ostermeier brings his intriguing Schaubühne production to London, with Lars Eidinger in the title role.

Using a translation by Marius von Mayenburg, one of the most important contemporary dramatists in Germany, Shakespeare's verse is replaced by prose and the play has been cut down to a running time of two and a half compelling hours without an interval, which seems taxing but is doable as there is not one dull moment in the show.

Thomas Ostermeier's production begins with thunderous drumming by Thomas Witte and a cacophony of noises before we find ourselves at a swell party. The Yorks are celebrating their victory in frat party style, covering the stage with glitter and giving in to any possible vice imaginable. Only Richard finds himself excluded from the festivities. An outsider because of his disfigurement, he has been pushed to the sidelines for far too long. Richard decides to get what he deserves by using deceit and murder. The glitter remains on the stage, stomped into a mix of clay and blood as Richard murders his way to the throne.

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Lars Eidinger (Richard III) and Jenny König (Lady Anne)

Commanding centre stage from the beginning, Lars Eidinger provides Shakespeare's antihero with sexual magnetism and a boyish charm, displaying a set of braces whenever he smiles. He is rapper and stand-up comedian, using a microphone to share his most intimate thoughts with his audience. Using his fake humility to deceive his opponents, Richard makes his lies appear like the truth. When wooing Lady Anne, Richard strips down, offering himself for the kill. Yet instead of piercing his heart, Lady Anne gives Richard a passionate kiss. Richard's seduction has worked and he despises Anne for being such an easy prey. Lars Eidinger's Richard is a monstrous but highly seductive performer. He fondles the microphone like a rock star, aware of his power over his audience.

One could say that one flaw of this production is that it centres too much on Lars Eidinger, thereby sidelining the other characters, which leaves him short of serious opponents. Margaret, played by Robert Beyer in drag, is comical. Her curse has been cut and she does not appear as a threat in any way. Jenny König, who gave a splendid performance in Ophelia's Zimmer at the Royal Court, is very good as Lady Anne but her character and Elizabeth (Eva Meckbach) are mere victims, doomed to passivity. Buckingham (Moritz Gottwald) is smeared with a brown paste by Richard, who then exclaims that Buckingham "looks like shit", getting many laughs from the audience. Yet in the end Richard destroys himself by taking his course of action, haunted by his victims and ending up alone in a rather surprising twist.

Thomas Ostermeier's production benefits greatly from Jan Pappelheim's stage design, depicting a bare stage, covered with clay, that seems to be in decay, rotting away with the mayhem caused by the protagonist, and Erich Schneider's atmospheric lighting design. Sébastien Dupouey provides video projections reflecting the unsettling events on the stage. 

An impressive and challenging production.

By Carolin Kopplin  

Until 18th February 2017

Barbican Centre

Running time: 2 hours 30 mins/no interval

Age guidance 14+ (contains nudity and violence)

Performed in German with English surtitles

Weekend Lab

All photographs provided by the Barbican Centre.