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Apr 5th

"This beguiling ballet, this terpischorean treat" - The Red Shoes at the Bristol Hippodrome

By G.D. Mills

Based on the 1948 Oscar winning film, which in turn takes its inspiration from the Hans Christian Anderson story, Matthew Bourne brings us a new, visually stunning, dream-like incarnation of The Red Shoes. For those who don’t know, the grisly fairytale is about a girl who refuses to take off her red shoes when she goes to confession. For her sins the shoes develop a life of their own and so she is doomed to dance, through streets, fields and graveyards, by day and by night. Even when her feet are chopped off she is unable to gain redemption - only death can give her that.

In both the film and Matthew Bourne’s version we are presented with a dance company going through the processes of staging the old fairytale. And so what we see is a stage, on a stage, on a stage. Designer Lez Brotherston captures this complex dynamic beautifully with a series of complex and ingeniously conceived mechanical switches, which transport us across multiple locations in a matter of seconds. There is a filmic quality to the production too: we find our point of view being cleverly and unexpectedly manipulated as the onstage curtain reverses and we find ourselves treading the boards alongside the dancers, looking out towards another audience.

The story is told exclusively through movement and dance, as presented by a motley bunch of theatrical eccentrics: the impetuous, impressario director; the melodramatically fey, male lead; the muse-struck musician and, of course, Vicky Page, who simply flies through the air with a beautifully fluid grace. The set is rarely motionless and the stage is ceaselessly alive with movement.

Bernard Herrman, a Hollywood legend known for his musical contributions to Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver, provides a psychologically nuanced score. Always visually engaging the production is nevertheless narratively ambiguous. Despite having read the programme notes beforehand I wasn’t always sure whether I was watching the show within a show within a show, or merely the show within the show. With a complex premise of this nature, you can see where there is room for confusion, and discussion at the interval confirmed that I wasn’t the only slightly confused audience member.

 

The arrival of a steam train, which crashes apocalytically through the stage, marks the end of this dance delight, this beguiling ballet, this terpischorean treat. For those new to the world of ballet, as I am, The Red Shoes provides a marvellous introduction.

Go see the production at Bristol Hippodrome yourselves.

 Visit http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/matthew-bournes-the-red-shoes/bristol-hippodrome/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 5th

Caste at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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George D'Alroy (Duncan Moore) and his beloved Esther (Isabella Marshall)

Kind hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith than Norman blood.

First produced in 1867, Caste was one of a series of plays in the naturalistic style by theatrical revolutionary T. W. Robertson. Robertson was the first playwright who dared to show comtemporary British people in realistic settings and directed his own work. He was a great influence on Arthur Wing Pinero, who based the character of Tom Wrench in Trelawny of the Wells on Robertson, and on W.S. Gilbert, who admired his theatrical innovations, stating that Robertson "pointed the way for a whole new movement". Caste, widely considered to be Robertson's masterpiece. focuses on the distinction of class and rank in Victorian Britain.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of T. W. Robertson's comedy, the Finborough Theatre presents the first UK production of Caste in over 20 years.

London 1867. George D'Alroy (Duncan Moore), a soldier and the son of a French nobleman, asks his friend Captain Hawtree (Ben Starr) for advice. He has fallen in love with Esther Eccles (Isabella Marshall), a beautiful ballet dancer from a poor family. Esther's father (Paul Bradley) is a drunkard and her sister Polly (Rebecca Collingwood), also a performer, is engaged to a plumber with the unflattering name Sam Gerridge (Neil Chinneck). Hawtree warns his friend that he should never marry beneath him, although he himself has aspirations of marrying an aristocrat far above his station. However, George does not listen to his friend's advice. When Esther tells him about a dancing opportunity in Manchester, George proposes to her to keep his beloved in London.

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The Marquise de St. Maur is not amused - Susan Penhaligon and Paul Bradley

Six months later, George is called to arms and his mother, the Marquise de St. Maur (Susan Penhaligon) arrives to say her goodbyes. She is mortified when she learns of his marriage to a common girl but there are more important matters at stake. Family honour forces George to go and fight in India, leaving his wife behind to confront the class prejudices of e Marquise, whilst coping witthh her drunken father at the same time.

Charlotte Peters directs a charming production of Robertson's comedy drama, which naturally does not appear as revolutionary today as it did 150 years ago, but still has much to offer - some very witty lines and colourful characters. Duncan Moore and Isabella Marshall are lovely as the ill-fated couple, believing that love can conquer all. Susan Penhaligon's arrogant aristocrat evokes Edith Evans in her prime, and Paul Bradley's unscrupulous and workshy scrounger Eccles seems a lost brother to Eliza Dolittle's father in Pygmalion. Rebecca Collingwood impresses as Esther's flirtatious and self-assertive younger sister Polly who loves theatrics but makes the right choice with Neil Chinneck's hard-working plumber Sam. Ben Starr convinces as Captain Hawtree who also learns a thing or two about "caste".   

A rare revival of a delightful play that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 18th April 2017

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes including one interval. 

Photos by Greg Veit.

Apr 4th

POSH The Brand New All-Female Production by Laura Wade at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington, London

By Elaine Pinkus

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Posh first made its appearance on the London stage in 2010, at the time when live debate was presented on national television between the separate main party leaders. With a political bent clearly pointed at the Tory party, this expose of the privileged elite was shown through the degenerative behaviour of the Oxford Students’ Riot Club, based broadly on the exclusive all-male Bullingdon Club, at their evening celebration in a local family Gastropub.  Laura Wade’s production was met with outstanding reviews, with its impressive staging and excellent performances. Now, with the complexities of Brexit and with Theresa May in power, she has revived Posh but has cast the roles entirely as females. Both Wade and Director Cressida Carre have explained that ‘Over the course of the rehearsal process, we developed the belief that the play should remain as written, including ‘he’ pronoun, the male reference and names. At the same time it’s not about women playing men, it’s about fulfilling the same roles that men play – an important distinction’. And I guess that is where it fell short for me.  The fact that the strength and behaviour was still in the male realm somehow made the female casting superfluous. But I digress.

As its original, this is a quirky production and performed by a talented group of actors. It tells of ten Oxford undergraduates whose aim is to celebrate their Riot Club by getting absolutely battered, behaving in a lewd and course way and abusing any who dare to criticise their antics. This is a group who believe that no matter how appallingly they behave, they can repair both the physical and psychological fall out with money. Offer money and those with principles and high morals can be bought, especially the lower class who pretend to despise the elite but who in fact are simply jealous.

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At a time when the country is in turmoil over Brexit and social class distinctions are ever at the fore, Laura Wade's Posh is particularly poignant. Who deserves what? Do the elite deserve their privilege? Do those without deserve more? And who should pay? These messages, evident in Wade’s script, hit home with the audience and resonated profoundly. Moments of laughter, (particularly noted in the characters of Ed Montgomery played by Verity Kirk and Harry Villiers played by Alice Britain), moments of sheer dislike and disdain (Alistair Ryle/Serena Jennings), all could recognise the different personalities presented on stage. The political message was clear, leadership is the privilege of the elite. There is an ever growing gulf between those who have and those who have not. Was the audience those who have not? Certainly as the play began the ten students appeared in a chorus-line tableau, looking disdainfully at the audience who clearly were their social inferiors. Would they be the future ruling class with their trappings of inherited wealth, their craving for the power of aristocracy and their vile scorn of the 'lower' social classes.

With a main message of privilege assumed at the cost of morality and ethics, the strong cast led us through some cringe making moments. Against the hard working landlord and his daughter, these ten ‘boys’ were crass and, apart from their ‘plummy’ accents, lacked any true finesse. But money talks, networks are important and we know that somehow they will not be too damaged but will go on to repeat and abuse in the future.

Laura Wade wanted to see what might transpire by changing the casting to all-female. Would it throw light on the world of power and privilege as she had intended? Certainly the bullish behaviour was exposed through the physical performances of this strong group but I retain the feeling that it did not add to the exposure other than in parody, exaggeration and mocking humour. Nevertheless, this is a production that is worth seeing, not only for its strong message and well written script, but also for the fine performances, effective staging,interesting lighting and well considered sound/music effects.  

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Photography: Darren Bell

Running time, including interval, 2 hours 45 mins

 

Tom Harrop for Can’t Think Theatre Company
presents
the all-female production of
POSH
by Laura Wade

Pleasance Theatre
Carpenters Mews
North Road
LONDON N7 9EF

Box Office 020 7609 1800
www.pleasance.co.uk

Wednesday 29 March –
Saturday 22 April

Monday -Saturday at 7:30pm
Thursday & Saturday at 2:30pm

Tickets from £17.50

Age recommendation 14+

www.poshtheplay.co.uk

@poshtheplay

www.facebook.com/PoshThePlay

Apr 2nd

Gabriel by Moira Buffini at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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There is no justice left, only war.

Although Britain was never occupied by Nazi Germany, the Channel Islands were left without protection as they were considered strategically unimportant and quickly taken over by the Germans. Moira Buffini's first play, premiering in the Soho Theatre in 1997, takes place on Guernsey in 1943 when the tide was turning for the German invaders.

The widowed Jeanne Becquet (Belinda Lang) and her former housekeeper Margaret Lake (Jules Melvin) are running a black market operation to keep their home together and to overcome food shortages. Jeanne had become very friendly with Reichart, the former German commanding officer of the island, to protect her family - her adolescent daughter Estelle (Venice Van Someren) and her Jewish daughter-in-law Lily (Sarah Schoenbeck). Reichart has now been replaced and Jeanne has gone to meet the new German commander.

As the performance begins, Estelle, Jeanne's young daughter, is holding a candle and drawing "a square of power" to conjure up help against the Nazis. Mrs Lake is skeptical as usually a circle is required if this magical nonsense is to work at all when Lily comes storming in, asking for help - a man has washed up on the shore who looks like her missing husband Miles. It is impossible to tell who he is or where he came from as he is not wearing any clothes. Mrs Lake is reluctant to help the stranger, who might be an enemy, but Estelle leaves with Lily to help and they take the unconscious man to the attic.

Meanwhile Jeanne Becquet returns, accompanied by the new German commander Von Pfunz (Paul McGann). While Von Pfunz is residing in Jeanne's Hermitage, she has to live in a run-down shack. Assuming that the German officer has only a rudimentary knowledge of English, Jeanne insults him at will. Of course Von Pfunz understands every word Jeanne says but instead of reproaching her he appreciates her honesty: "To hear the truth is a privilege." The stunning red dress Jeanne is wearing, might help.

Jeanne is none to pleased when she finds out about the stranger in her attic, whom Estelle has named Gabriel, hoping that he is the "angel" who has come to their rescue. When Gabriel (Robin Morrissey) regains consciousness, he suffers from amnesia and appears to be fluent in both German and English. Is he an RAF pilot, an SS man who was sent to the island as an interrogator, a local boy or the angel that Estelle imagines?

Although the title of the play is "Gabriel", Moira Buffini's play focuses on the women in her story and their hardship during the war as they are left to fend for themselves whilst their fathers and husbands are off to fight. Belinda Lang is very good as the aristocratic Jeanne, whose family history goes back to the Norman conquerors, but who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her family. Paul McGann is charming in a rather reptilian way as would-be poet Von Pfunz who condones Estelle's pranks because he is attracted to her mother. But his charm turns to ice when he tells the willful Estelle that she might be in error if she believes she cannot be killed because she is only a child, “My dear, there’s something you have not yet comprehended about war.” The chemistry between Von Pfunz and the aristocratic Jeanne is working very well as Jeanne finds herself attracted to the German officer despite herself. Venice Van Someren convinces as the quixotic Estelle and Sarah Schoenbeck is lovely as the angelic Lily who misses her husband and yearns for a friend, which she hopes to find in the attractively innocent Gabriel, a charming and boyish Robin Morrissey. Jules Melvin is pragmatic and loyal as Margaret Lake, much more a comrade in arms than a housekeeper. 

The atmospheric set by Carla Goodman is composed of a wooden shack with an unfinished look entailing a kitchen and an attic room that could be interpreted as heaven as Gabriel resides there, whilst the unseen German tunnels underneath the house are certainly hell. A permanently overcast sky in the background adds to the melancholy mood.

A compelling melodrama offering some comical relief.

By Carolin Kopplin

Starting off at Richmond Theatre, the next stop of the tour will be the Liverpool Playhouse on 4th April. 

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval 

Adult themes and content. Contains strong language and scenes of a violent nature.

Recommended age 11+

Tour dates and tickets: http://www.gabrieltheplay.co.uk/tickets

Apr 1st

Incident at Vichy at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Daniel Dowling and Edward Killingback

The important thing is not to look like a victim.

Arthur Miller is one of our greatest playwrights but although The Crucible, A View from a Bridge, and Death of a Salesman, as well as some of his lesser known plays are regularly performed, Incident at Vichy has been largely forgotten. The play opened on Broadway in December 1964, directed by Harold Clurman, and received excellent notices. Howard Taubman of the New York Times called it: "One of the most important plays of our time." However, it has not been seen in a professional production in London since 1966. More than 50 years later, Incident at Vichy is presented by the Finborough Theatre, under the direction of Phil Willmott.

The play is set in a detention room of a Vichy police station in 1942, before the full horror of the Holocaust was known. Eight men have been picked up, supposedly to verify their identification papers, but in reality to reveal Jews and other unwanted elements and send them to concentration camps. 

The performance begins with a violinist on stage, faced by the entire cast. Sounds of an orchestra tuning their instruments can be heard before the lights go out. As the lights come up again, eight men from different social and economic backgrounds are seated on a long white bench, facing the audience. Lebeau (Lawrence Boothman), a starving painter, can't stop talking. Why have they been picked up? Is it a routine identity check? Marchand (Will Bryant), a businessman, is not worried: "I don't see anything to fear if your papers are all right." The electrician Bayard (Brendan O'Rourke) is not optimistic as Germany is now ruled by concerns and the ruling class is less than sympathetic towards the working man. Marchand and the Waiter (Michael Skellern) suspect that the Gypsy (Andro Crespo) is certainly in trouble as his sort are thieves and beggars. The French Police Captain (James Boyd) ignores any questions and requests but when the Waiter detects the German Major (Henry Wyrley-Birch), who is a regular patron in his cafe, he feels safer. The Major, a line officer with an injured leg, is not comfortable with his assignment, a task usually performed by the SS. 

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Lawrence Boothman, Michael Skellern, and Brendan O'Rourke

Bayard, who is working at the railyard, knows about transports of Jews to concentration camps and warns the others. Yet the idea of sending people to their deaths seems so outrageous that the other detainees won't believe him. The actor Monceau (PK Taylor) will try to outreason anybody. After all he was still playing Cyrano in Paris until a short time ago, despite having the word "Jew" stamped in his passport. Von Berg (Edward Killingback), an Austrian prince, is more pessimistic as he was forced to see his favourite violinists arrested and taken away because they were Jewish. As the businessman is let go, the other detainees become more hopeful although Professor Hoffman (Timothy Harker) of the race institute is involved in the questioning. Monceau believes that self-confidence will be enough to convince the interrogators of his innocence. Leduc (Gethin Alderman), a Jewish doctor, believes that the only way to survive is to escape from the detention room but only the Boy (Daniel Dowling) is willing to help.

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Gethin Alderman, Edward Killingback, Jeremy Gagan, James Boyd

Phil Willmott's production is set in a sterile white room (design by Georgia de Grey) with the detainees being seated on a long white bench, as advised in Arthur Miller's stage directions. As more men are brought in, the room begins to feel more and more claustophobic.  

Although the characters appear somewhat like mouthpieces for different world views at times, the cast succeed in bringing them to life. Edward Killingback is very touching as the Prince, a sensitive aesthete, who detests the Nazis for their vulgarity and brutality. Von Berg does not believe in Bayard's glorification of the working man as Hitler's supporters appear to be overwhelmingly working class, which is not quite true. PK Taylor remains the eternal optimist as Monceau, certain that he will survive, despite Leduc's valid arguments. Henry Wyrley-Birch convinces as the German Major, who seems less than enthusiastic about his role in the investigation but reveals his despicable anti-semitism in his confrontation with Leduc, one of the most intense moments in the performance. As Leduc, Gethin Alderman eloquently deals with his abundance of philosophical and sociological speeches. Although Jeremy Gagan's role as the Old Jew is almost wordless, his presence on the stage is unsettling. Remaining alone in a crowded room, he shows dignity despite his humiliation.

An impressive and timely revival of a classic play.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 22nd April 2017

Finborough Theatre 

Running time: 90 minutes without an interval. 

Photographs by Scott Rylander.