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

Published by: Elaine Pinkus on 19th Mar 2017 | View all blogs 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?

Shakespeare v Shaw

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

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


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 1 year ago
    Thanks, Elaine. This sounds like a highly accomplished revival.
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