I'm back after a bit of a holiday, a post about my holiday time is forthcoming but for now reviews of the theatre I saw last week in London-I'm going to start reviewing most of the theatre I see here too because well it's kind of what I do. So here are the reviews for Love Never Dies, London Road, Much Ado About Nothing and Dr Faustus.
Love Never Dies ***
I had debated whether to see this, eventually curiosity won me over and I decided to go. Now I’m a child of the 1980s and I was raised on musicals so Phantom has been around my whole life-and that’s the main problem with LND (though there are others...) the original is so engrained in the consciousness that anything else seems like a poor imitation or facsimile.
So the good; the cast-Ramin wasn’t on which is a shame because I am a fan of his, however Tim Mutu is a brilliant Phantom, his voice is simply glorious and reverberates across the whole theatre, whenever he was on stage I was riveted by his physicality in the role. Celia Graham was a fantastic Christine-her voice is really beautiful and such delicacy and control, her ‘Love Never Dies’ was absolutely the highlight of the show, David Thaxton as Raoul also was a strong performance, gorgeous voice to match the rest of him (well he’s a Neath boy what can you say?). The ensemble cast also gave a consistent performance even in the more ridiculous roles.
The spectacle of the piece is at times brilliant,. Now I’m fussy about spectacle for spectacle’s sake-I hate it in fact but I didn’t hate LND for that, some pieces were a bit silly, a bit over the top but some were fantastically effective and were a wise use of the millions spent on this piece. That said the most effective part however is the most simple-Love Never Dies with its bare simple use of the revolve and the actors is the most stunning part of the lavish production.
The music, as I’ve said I was raised on Lloyd Webber-for better or worse-the well known pieces; ’Till I hear you Sing and ‘Love never dies’ were stand outs, the only really memorable songs that are perhaps on a par with his other work. There were other good moments- Once upon another time and The Beauty Underneath is also good solid pieces. However when competing with the original the music doesn’t quite hold up.
And the book, dear lord the book. The debate has been had a thousand times over so I won’t flog a dead horse; but non-sensical storyline, constantly changing characterisation and utterly unbelievable character motivation and story? I blame Ben Elton because I felt the same about ‘We Will Rock You’ but I think it’s best to say it’s a mess and leave it at that.
The Adelphi was really empty on Thursday, at the curtain call the applause was echoing off the walls, but not in a good way.
London Road ****
What a contrast to the night before: the furthest from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical you could hope to get! I loved this piece, an interesting approach to the topic in more ways than one. The use of the source material, its presentation are what has been talked about most but I think actually the angle on the story is the most interesting. Taking the story of the Ipswich murders from the residents of the road rather than the prostitutes, the killer or police and media is an intriguing and affecting approach. Considering the impact on a community and the ongoing effect on that community is fascinating. That London Road doesn’t shy away from the uglier elements of what the residents thought is what makes it really interesting and effective.
The approach (transcripts of interviews set to music) is novel and intriguing; would we want to listen to all of these stories without the music? Possibly not. The use of music and the repetition and emphasis it gives different parts is in part what drives the drama of the story-it is debatable whether this is in keeping to the ‘truth’ of the story, what may have been a throwaway comment becoming the centre of a scene but this is real life presented as drama not a factual account of events. Which brings me back to the original point, what London Road offers is both another point of view in terms of the angle taken and another approach to telling this story in terms of its form and it should be applauded for that.
Mention should be made to the attention that is given to the murdered women; the use of silence on stage to draw attention to the prostitute’s story within the wider picture is incredibly effective, eerie and emotionally effective amongst what is a quite chaotic production.
London Road is a difficult piece to review, more one that has to be seen to be understood. It may not go down in theatre history but it’s a worthy experiment on an interesting subject.
Much Ado About Nothing *****
It might be said that I’d give David Tennant and Catherine Tate reading the phone book five stars, not true, 4 maybe not 5. Joking aside this was a really great production, with other actors probably 4* with these two 5* (and then some for me personally) I won the lottery for tickets as no way would I pay the asking price for tickets and I literally jumped for joy!
The centre of Much Ado has to rest on the pairing of Beatrice and Benedick and chemistry Catherine Tate and David Tennant have in spades. Their real life brother and sister with sexual tension chemistry (as I like to call it) fits these roles perfectly. Both also have a gift for physical comedy combined with a witty delivery that says much about their respective strong understanding of the source material and gifts as actors. Much has been made of the ‘celebrity’ or ‘gimicky’ pairing of this production, and while the producers certainly saw the pound signs when signing these two up to say that the production simply rests on this is to sell these actors and the rest of the company short.
Tennant displays the same considered understanding of Shakespeare seen in his Hamlet and Love’s Labour’s Lost a few years ago, his Benedick shows a development from a crass playboy to one willing to both show his love and do anything for it (or her) while still maintain a wry humour to the end. Tate’s Beatrice is a fierce woman with a sharp tongue but a stronger heart, and while at times she is loud and resembles a few of Tate’s sketch characters momentarily (unavoidably perhaps) in the second half the real heart that Tate also brings to her character is seen.
The whole production is an energetic fun and funny work the 1980s setting allows for many visual gags (though clearly I’m too young to get all of them...I jest but many of the Tennant fans in the audience certainly were) and some frankly alarming costume choices (Princess Diana wedding dress being a high-or low-light). The Gibraltar setting isn’t obvious unless you’ve read the programme and not entirely necessary but works as well as anywhere as Much Ado isn’t particularly reliant on setting. The music and the use of music across the play is a real highlight-raucous 80s tunes and some at once brilliant and hilarious choreography seem to merge perfectly with the text and bring this production to life.
I don’t have enough space to heap praise on the rest of the cast enough but Tom Bateman is an excellent Claudio (and was a charming man when I spoke to him afterwards) while Adam James is a great foil for Tennant throughout and almost manages to steal a few scenes from him in the process. From the ladies Sarah Macrae’s Hero is a promising debut-she makes her charming and likeable, while Natalie Thomas is a sassy and strong Margret. Overall, whether you see it for the two stars or not Much Ado is an enjoyable, extremely funny and well executed Shakespeare production.
Dr Faustus (Globe) ****
My first time at the Globe for an actual performance! A strong production that ticked all my boxes-it’s traditional through and through which works as a nice contrast as in my experience Faustus is one of those plays that suffers a bit over modernisation, and sometimes I like to see the traditional setting of a play.
The double act of Paul Hilton’s Faustus and Arthur Darvill’s Mephistopheles were brilliant, their physical similarities are strong enough to add an eerie duplicity to the performance. Hilton was suitably manic and arrogant at times that brought weigh to the final scenes but also remained charmingly and perversely likeable throughout. Darvill was brilliant with a quiet calm menace that was also melancholy. His physical presence on stage throughout often drew attention even when seeming to do nothing, and his use of physical action conveyed much of his character.
The play isn’t without humour either, brought both intentionally and otherwise-a cheeky audience member batted a ball and balloon back to the cast during different scenes where-in Globe tradition the audience has things thrown at them-taken on good naturedly by the cast and incorporated in. Faustus works well at the Globe, open to the elements as the play draws to it’s ghostly, frightening close. The use of puppets and masks throughout add an eerie otherworldly dimension to the performance-particularly if like me you’re terrified of puppets! A word of note though, it spares little of the gory detail of the play and taking young children to see ‘that bloke from Dr Who’ might not be a sensible idea as the lady and small child in front of me found out.