Loot by Joe Orton – Review

(5 / 5)

Joe Orton's Loot reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
Sinead Matthews, Ian Redford, Sam Frenchum and Anah Ruddin’s leg in Joe Orton’s Loot

Loot- Still Outrageously Funny After 50 Years

Watch my YouTube review here
It’s 50 years since The Watermill Theatre in Newbury, Berkshire, opened its doors. So happy birthday to them and a big thank you for the birthday present they have given us in the form of Joe Orton’s Loot.

Orton died 50 years ago this year, so it’s appropriate that The Watermill have co-produced a brilliant production that presents us with the original uncensored version of the play for the first time ever.

The play is about two young bank robbers who try to hide their stolen money in a coffin. It may not be as shocking as it must have been to audiences in 1965 but it remains outrageous in its lack of morality and its depictions of the authorities as corrupt and hypocritical.

It’s always been a funny play but it’s all the more hilarious when you experience it as Orton intended without the censorship that was still in force at the time. This means that we can enjoy all of Orton’s intended references to homosexuality, blasphemy and S&M.

Possibly the greatest benefit of seeing Loot minus the blue pencil is that the coffin takes centre stage and the body is played by a real person rather than a dummy. Anah Ruddin‘s limpness as she is taken out of the coffin, placed upside down in a cupboard, stripped naked and wrapped up in a sheet is so funny, she deserves a special category of acting award for playing a corpse.

Among an all round excellent cast, Sinead Matthews is outstanding as the dead woman’s nurse in both her timing and delivery (“had euthanasia not been against my religion I would have practised it – instead I decided to murder her”).

The production does justice to this modern classic  

The excellent Christopher Fulford plays a corrupt and increasingly manic plod with no interest in justice. He delivers his comic lines with no shame nor even irony which of course makes them all the more amusing. When it is suggested to him that the police used to be ‘men of integrity’, he replies in  all seriousness, “That is a mistake which has been rectified.”

The production does justice to this modern classic. Michael Fentiman directs with a comic touch and keeps up the fast pace that a play with so many farcical elements needs. It’s a shame that its ‘tour’ has only taken in the two small producing venues Park Theatre and The Watermill. It deserves to be seen by everyone who enjoys good, irreverent comedy.

Loot continues at The Watermill in Newbury until 21 October.

 

Sondheim’s Follies at the National Theatre

Superb Cast Make Follies A Night To Treasure

(4 / 5)

Follies at the National Theatre reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
Follies at the National Theatre. Photo Johan Persson

Stephen Sondheim’s Follies is a difficult musical. To carry it off, you need an extraordinarily good cast. Fortunately the National Theatre production has one.

Imelda Staunton is now the preeminent West End musical star, certainly for the more mature roles. Her performance as Sally consolidates her reputation by offering a perfect, beautifully acted and sung portrayal of sadness and illusion. That would be joy enough but just as perfect is Janie Dee. In the role of the cynical but brittle Phyllis, her voice, her acting and her dancing reminded me that she belongs in the highest ranks of musical performers.

Dee gets the most laughs with her songs Could I Leave You? and The Story Of Lucy And Jessie. When she finally crumbles, her performance is every bit as poignant as Staunton’s, who expresses her damaged character through the songs Don’t Look At Me, Too Many Mornings and Losing My Mind.

The musical is set in 1971 in a condemned theatre where former showgirls from Weismann’s Follies, a series of Ziegfeld-style musical reviews from the inter-War years, are gathering for a reunion. Attention centres on two of the women and their husbands. We discover that both couples have relationship problems which date back to their Follies days. This is cleverly told by showing us the ‘ghosts’ of their younger selves.

Other women reveal their illusions about their lives and relive their glory moments, again accompanied by their younger selves. More top class performances include those of Josephine Barstow, Dawn Hope and Tracie Bennett.

Imelda Staunton & Janie Dee in Follies reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
Imelda Staunton & Janie Dee in Follies. Photo Johan Persson

Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton are magnificent

Why do I say Follies is a ‘difficult’ musical?  There is very little in the way of plot. The exploration of the main characters’ unhappy present relationships and past regrets is told for a substantial part of it as a series of book or character songs.

Sondheim’s music is complex and deep with emotion but, knowing that I was watching a production that runs for two hours and ten minutes without an interval, there was a moment when I wondered whether it was ever going to move along.

Just when it seemed Follies was getting nowhere, we were treated to impressive song-and-dance numbers like Who’s That Woman and a series of pastiches of pre-war Broadway musical songs, excellently choreographed by Bill Deamer. They provided some much needed fun and spectacle.

Follies comes to a climax with Loveland, a collection of Broadway parodies in which each of the main characters sings about their ‘folly’, whether of youth or maturity.

The production, directed by Dominic Cooke, does the musical proud with its 37 strong cast and 21 piece orchestra. The large Olivier stage is used well by designer Vicki Mortimer to create the crumbling theatre complete with a flickering neon sign and, when it provides the setting for the more glitzy Broadway numbers, it gives an apt visual representation of the contrast between past and present. The space is great for the song-and-dance numbers but too big for the book songs but that is the paradox of this brilliant, broken musical.

Click on this link to watch my YouTube review at One Minute Theatre Reviews or watch it below

Stephen Sondheim’s Follies runs until 3 January 2018 at the National Theatre.

A Kendall commented on my YouTube review: “The criticisms of James Goldman’s book as having little ‘plot’ are shown to be irrelevant when you have this good a production, because what it becomes is, in effect, a meditation on ageing, the death of dreams, the sense of regret, guilt and much more. That is why it draws people in so very deeply to it. And in that sense, it is to musical theatre what some of Wagner’s mature works are to opera.”

It’s a good point. Maybe we can too hung up on stories in musicals and should sometimes just enjoy the mood of the work.

People Places And Things starring Denise Gough

Good Play With A Great Performance From Denise Gough

(4 / 5)

People Places And Things by Duncan Macmillan reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
People Places And Things at the National Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

Sometimes a good play can be made great by a great actor. Sometimes a great play makes a good actor seem great.

Take the Headlong / National Theatre production of People Places And Things which is about to embark on a national tour. Duncan Macmillan‘s play is about Emma, an addict in rehab. She tells us plausible stories about her life and the people around her until a pattern emerges in which we discover she is deceiving everyone including herself. Is her name even Emma?

Although the play talks about an addict’s relationship with the world, it didn’t seem to me to give her that universal quality that makes a great play. On the other hand, it cleverly shows us what it’s like to be an addict and thus creates a great character. Other roles and group scenes don’t have the same depth, the latter even drag a little.

Powerful Agonising Performance

Denise Gough grasped this complex character with both hands and turned in one of the all-time great performances. It was all the more powerful and agonising because she underplayed what could easily have been an over-the-top portrayal.

Add Jeremy Herrin‘s direction, Bunny Christie‘s appropriately clinical set and an unnerving use of lighting and sound, and I felt I was inside Emma’s head.

The production is the same as the London one so it will be interesting to see what Lisa Dwyer Hogg, who takes over as Emma for the tour, makes of the part. I can imagine many great actors in the future choosing this play to showcase their talent.

Other roles and the group scenes in People Places And Things don’t have the same depth, the latter even drag a little.

There are many moments of humour alongside the desperation and self deception. When she’s off her head, Emma is comic as well as tragic. Her resistance to the group sessions and twelve steps to recovery are as funny as they are sad.

Between 22 September and 25 November 2017 the tour of People Places And Things will visit Manchester, Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton, Liverpool and Cambridge. More information and booking details on the National Theatre website.

See my video review on my YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews https://youtu.be/pTVFJHYVrQk
Or view here

War Horse – Theatre Review

Pure Theatre That’s Heartbreaking and Uplifting

(5 / 5)

National Theatre production of War Horse reviewed by Paul Seeven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
National Theatre production of War Horse

If, like me, your first experience of professional theatre was a puppet show, you may be surprised that a story for children featuring puppets should be a huge theatrical hit.

Don’t let anything you’ve seen before put you off. The quality of the puppets in the National Theatre production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse is extraordinary, a world away from Sooty with Harry Corbett. In the hands of their expert operators, the wooden frames are capable of the most subtle and realistic movements. Using the power of the imagination, it is pure theatre. I would recommend getting a seat close to the stage in order to catch all the detail.

Near the front, you’ll also feel right in the middle of the frightening battle scenes which, partly thanks to Rae Smith‘s imaginative design and Paule Constable‘s dramatic lighting, create the horror and chaos of war before your eyes.

The direction by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris and the script by Nick Stafford deserve credit for turning Morpurgo’s brilliant story, which was written from a horse’s point of view with children in mind, into a tale of love, courage and hope that resonates with all ages.

While telling the story of a farm animal enlisted by the army to take part in the First World War and his owner’s attempts to find him, it is also the tale of the common humanity of the people who were forced to fight each other.

Before we are transported to France, we experience wonderful heartwarming scenes conjuring up the pre-war age of a countryside where working animals were at the heart of farming.

War Horse is uplifting at times and, at others, heartbreaking. Make sure you take a hankie.

War Horse is touring the UK until early 2019. More details at www.warhorseonstage.com

An American in Paris at Dominion London

Gershwin’s Musical Is A Balletic Treat

(4 / 5)

An American in Paris by George Gershwin at Dominion Theatre London reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of one Minute Theatre Reviews
An American in Paris at Dominion Theatre London

Bob Crowley’s set design and Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography are a treat for the eye in An American in Paris but the story fails to engage the heart.

The sets are the real star of this ballet, now playing at The Dominion in London. Animations projected on to a backdrop recreate the process of drawing Parisian scenes in pen and ink which then become glorious colour. They are a paean to the city of light that inspired so many artists.

One of those artists is Jerry, the lovestruck GI familiar from the original Hollywood film. In many ways, this stage show improves on the movie. There are extra Gershwin songs and a more interesting story which emphasises the euphoria of Parisians liberated after the war and adds some love rivalry.

Yes, ’SWonderful to see pure ballet in a West End musical, but beautiful pliés and pirouettes don’t excite like the thrusting I-Got-Rhythm energy of more modern dance forms. By comparison, this year’s tap-based On The Town at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre was a constant excitement.

The leads Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope have perfectly adequate voices but their singing fails to attain the emotional heights of their superb dancing. Wheeldon is more impressive as a choreographer than as a director: the ballet soars but the storytelling is pedestrian.

What the show lacks is a Gene Kelly. I know it’s unfair to expect anyone to possess Kelly’s charming persona or muscular dancing skills but regrettably no other aspect of this excellent ballet is quite enough to make you forget that, for all his classical aspirations, George Gershwin was a product of the jazz age.

An American in Paris is performing at the Dominion Theatre London until early 2018.

See my video review below or at One Minute Theatre Reviews on YouTube

Yerma starring Billie Piper at Young Vic – Review

Billie Piper’s Performance Of A Lifetime

(5 / 5)
Yerma starring Billie Piper at the Young Vic reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
Yerma starring Billie Piper at the Young Vic. Photo: Johan Persson

I was worried that looking through the action at members of the audience in the opposite seats would be distracting. Fortunately there was no chance of that in the Young Vic production of Yerma, thanks to a riveting script by Simon Stone and a visceral performance by Billie Piper.

The traverse stage not only puts the audiences on two sides of the stage but designer Lizzie Clachan encases the acting area in glass. This means you are much more aware that you are part of an audience watching performers, as if in a goldfish bowl or on a catwalk fashion show. You feel you are examining what is being presented before you.

Simon Stone’s brilliant production

Before the play began, for a few moments it was difficult to tell whether you were seeing a reflection of yourself or different but very similar people in very similar seats. I fully expected the glass to fly out but it stayed in place. As a result, I felt I was looking at fish or lizards or some other animal trapped in a tank. This was enhanced by there being no exits for most of the performance (actors entered and exited between scenes under cover of darkness). Not to mention moments when Billie Piper fell against the glass and more.

Director and writer Simon Stone has updated the classic Lorca story cleverly. The central character is still a woman who wants a child but the emphasis has changed from her being pressured by Catholic society to her inability to fulfil her desire driving her to destruction. Billie Piper’s portrayal of a gradual descent from an intelligent, fun woman to someone driven mad by her inability to conceive left me shaking.

This is theatre at its best: a brilliant production serving the acting performance of a lifetime.

A version of this review has appeared on my website seven experience.co.uk

See my video review below or at One Minute Theatre Reviews on YouTube