Women In Power – Nuffield Southampton – review

Bawdy fun as women turn the tables on men

Click here to see the review of Women In Power on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

(3 / 5)
Production shot from Women In Power at Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Women In Power at Nuffield Southampton Theatres. Photo: The Other Richard

Women In Power at the Nuffield Southampton Theatres’ city venue is a new version of AristophanesAssemblywomen. It sticks pretty closely to the original story in which women take over the government from the weak and incompetent men.

Aristotle was having a go at the male politicians rather than seriously suggesting that women could run things so, while they turn the tables on the men by, for example, making it law that the oldest and least attractive women have first choice of male lover, they also introduce pure communism with disastrous results.

What’s great about this production is that women are in power on stage and off and they’ve produced a very entertaining show that makes some good points about male and female behaviour. It’s written by seven prominent women- Wendy Cope, Jenny Eclair, Suhayla El-Bushra, Natalie Haynes, Shappi Korshandi, Jess Phillips MP & Brona C Titley. The dramaturg is Clare Slater and it has a cast of six women, directed by Blanche McIntyre.

In effect it’s a series of sketches, and perhaps because it’s the work of so many different hands, some work and some are stilted and clichéd but the ones that work are very funny. I should also say, in the tradition of Aristophanes, it’s also very rude, filthy even. I can’t remember ever seeing someone defecate on stage before and, while the scene goes on a bit too long, it’s cringingly convincing.

photo of Lisa Kerr in Women In Power at Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Lisa Kerr in Women In Power. Photo: The Other Richard

There is much fun made of men and their genitalia but also mockery of the women. In one hilarious scene the women vie for a young male’s attention by competing in droopiness and looseness, if you get my drift. In another, Lisa Kerr (whose all round performance skills are very impressive) plays a man who is following the law that he must give up all his possessions. He is persuaded to follow this to its logical conclusion by giving away his clothes, revealing a very funny nude body suit.

The songs which intersperse the production are excellent pastiches of well known musical songs and have uniformly witty lyrics. Whisper it, but they are written by a man Tim Sutton.

Despite the show’s unevenness, Women In Power is well worth seeing.

Women In Power is performing at the Nuffield Southampton until 29 September 2018, then at Oxford Playhouse from 3-6 October.

Here’s the YouTube review of Women In Power on the One Minute Theatre Reviews channel-

Flowers For Mrs Harris – Chichester – Review

A few blooms but no bouquet for a dull production

(3 / 5)

Click here to see the review of Flowers For Mrs Harris on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo of Clare Burt in Flower For Mrs Harris at Chichester
Clare Burt in Flower For Mrs Harris at Chichester. Photo: Johan Persson

Flowers for Mrs Harris, a musical based on a Paul Gallico story and directed by Daniel Evans, is set in East London just after the end of the second world war. In a world of rationing and drabness, Mrs Harris has a dream of owning a Christian Dior dress. She goes about achieving this, mainly by being nice to people and bringing out the niceness in them.

There are set backs along the way but they are easily resolved within minutes. I think this is the essence of why I didn’t enjoy this musical. There is no grit, no tension, no sense that this won’t have (spoiler alert!) a happy ending.

Flowers for Mrs Harris at Chichester. Photo: Johan Persson

Richard Taylor’s opera-style sung-through music is unmemorable.  To complete a dull presentation, the sets are grey. Even when we relocate to Paris for the second act, they offer hardly anything in the way of scenery or dynamic changes to delight the eye. Only the Dior dresses and of course flowers provide colour, which I guess is designer Lez Brotherston’s point but you have to wait quite a while for those.

And just because it’s a musical, don’t expect any dancing.

On the plus side, there are some good characters well acted by a strong cast that includes Claire Machin, Joanna Riding and Gary Wilmot and especially Clare Burt who is brilliant as the self effacing, resilient Mrs Harris.

I admit I did feel like a miserable git when I saw people around me crying at the end.

Flowers For Mrs Harris can be seen at Chichester Festival Theatre until 29 September 2018

Here’s the One Minute Theatre Reviews video on YouTube-

Fun Home – Young Vic – review

Fun Home is a perfect musical

(5 / 5)

Click here to see the YouTube review of Fun Home on One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo of Kaisa Hammarlund and cast in Fun Home at Young Vic
Kaisa Hammarlund and cast in Fun Home at Young Vic. Photo: Marc Brenner

Fun Home is a perfect musical- a joyous story driven by mystery and tragedy; songs with clever lyrics and catchy tunes that give an extra depth to the tale; characters you believe in and care about.

The musical is based on an autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. We meet Alison as she’s in the process of creating her book. It’s an attempt to look back and understand how she tackled coming out and how her closet gay father came to commit suicide. As a song from early on says, ‘I want to know what’s true, dig deep into who and what and why and when, until now gives way to then.’

Although there is a central tragic event, this does not stop it being an uplifting evening.

Two younger versions of Alison take us through episodes of her life as today’s Alison narrates and comments. All the cast are tremendous singers and actors- Kaisa Hammarlund as the nervous narrator Alison, Eleanor Kane as the gauche teenage Alison and on the occasion  I saw it, Harriet Turnbull as the troubled small Alison, displaying a skill rare in an child actor.

Jenna Russell plays the suffering mother and Zubin Varla is tremendous as the complex father. There’s also great support from Ashley Samuels and Cherrelle Skeete.

Production photo of Fun Home at Young Vic London
Fun Home at Young Vic. Photo: Marc Brenner

The songs, composed by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Lisa Kron, are by turns  humorous, heartbreaking and, most importantly, totally integrated into the story. Perhaps it helps that Lisa Kron also wrote the book.

A quick word of praise for David Zinn’s clever set which is like an extension to the father’s character. It’s detailed when it needs to be, spins round as scenes change, and is bleak and blank at appropriate times. And there is a wow moment late on.

There’s a lightness and movement in director Sam Gold’s tender, funny production that give the still moments huge impact.

Fun Home is a touching look at the relationship between parent and child and a wonderful celebration of being true to yourself. It’s the kind of evening I always hope for when I go to the theatre.

Fun Home is performing at Young Vic until 1 September. Click here for the Young Vic website

Watch the One Minute Theatre Reviews YouTube review here-

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein

Classic dance and vintage jokes in Young Frankenstein musical

Click here for my review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

(4 / 5)
Photo of Hadley Fraser, Ross noble and Summer Strallen in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein
Hadley Fraser, Ross Noble and Summer Strallen in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein

I guess you’ll either love or hate the crude humour of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, currently at The Garrick Theatre London. Think Carry On or Benny Hill. Think corny jokes about women bewitched by men who are large down below and men hypnotised by women who are large up top.

Personally I loved it. It takes a comic genius like Brooks to turn what could seem base and old fashioned into good-hearted fun. And, despite being primarily a movie maker, he knows how to write a stage musical. The Producers was a huge hit and Young Frankenstein, again based on one of his movies, deserves to be.

Mel Brooks has a way of creating hilarious characters and putting very funny words in their mouths. Those words come thick and fast so, if some jokes miss the target, there’s a hit close behind. Brooks’ view of male-female relationships may seem like a relic from the past but the conflict between ego and id is eternal. So the theme of men and women having their ideals undermined by their animal desires is the stuff of great comedy.

Take the number Please Don’t Touch Me, led by Dianne Pilkington, as an example. It contrasts hilariously Frankenstein’s fiancee’s prim behaviour with her filthy mind.

Lots of laughs from Ross Noble and Lesley Joseph

All the song-and-dance numbers are superbly choreographed in classic style by the director Susan Stroman including a wonderful version of Puttin’ On The Ritz.

The cast may change but there is enough meat for any good performer to get their teeth into. Having said that, I’ve nothing but praise for the current team. Hadley Fraser has the biggest part (you see how Brooks’ humour is catching). He is spot on as the high-minded Frederick Frankenstein. Summer Strallenwho was outstanding in Top Hat, shows why she is one the best musicals performers around. They’re a lovely pair- Fraser and Strallen, I mean (damn you, Mel Brooks!).  Lesley Joseph and Ross Noble get lots of laughs as the servants. (Sorry, I’ve run out of sexual innuendos.)

The stereotypes of men and women are dated but if you can accept that, Young Frankenstein is a lot of fun.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is currently at The Garrick Theatre

Here’s the review of Young Frankenstein on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews-

Strictly Ballroom The Musical – Review

(4 / 5)

See my review of Strictly Ballroom The Musical on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Promotional photo of the cast of Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
Strictly Ballroom The Musical. Photo: Alistair Muir

I love a good musical and, while Strictly Ballroom at the West Yorkshire Playhouse might not reach the heights of a Sondheim or a Rodgers & Hammerstein for character and depth of feeling, there is an enjoyable love story and some excellent dancing. The good news is, it can be seen in London in 2018.

Anyone who liked Dirty Dancing or Footloose should love this. If you don’t know Baz Luhrmann‘s film, it’s the story of a pair of ballroom dancers determined to express themselves their way, even if that means breaking the rules. Freedom versus the establishment is always a good story. Along the way they inevitably fall in love and equally inevitably face bumps in the road to finally getting together.

Promotional photo of Sam Lips and Gemma Sutton in Strictly Ballroom at West Yorkshire Playhouse
Sam Lips and Gemma Sutton in Strictly Ballroom at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Photo: Alastair Muir. Photo: Alistair Muir

If that sounds like a formulaic show, I don’t mean it to. It’s lively, inventive, often funny and sometimes moving.  In any case, we don’t need the most original story for a musical to work. What’s most important is the terrific choreography by Drew McOnie (his work includes last year’s brilliant On The Town at the Open Air Theatre).  The dancing and the singing are impressive throughout.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical is playing at the Piccadilly Theatre from 29 March 2018. Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen will perform the lead roles with Will Young playing the newly created role of band leader Wally Strand. Drew McOnie again directs and choreographs. 

Here’s my YouTube review of the original West Yorkshire Playhouse production-

Nativity! The Musical on tour

(5 / 5)

Nativity! The Musical- the birth of a Christmas tradition 

See my YouTube review on One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo from Nativity The Musical showing Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys and children
Nativity! The Musical with Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys and children
Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Nativity! is already one of the nation’s favourite Christmas films, now Nativity! The Musical is destined to become a fixture on theatres’ advent calendars for many years to come.

For this, we have to thank writer and director Debbie Isitt. She did the same jobs on the Nativity films but, before she went into moviemaking, she was a renowned theatre writer and director. And it shows. Ms Isitt knows what works on stage.

So she has taken all the elements that made her film such a hit: the story of the disadvantaged schoolchildren attempting to put on a five star nativity show against all the odds, the memorable characters, the upbeat songs like Sparkle And Shine and Nazareth. Then she’s added many more songs (co-written with Nicky Ager) and some scenes that are pure theatre, such as a satirical number about Hollywood and the nativity show itself,  and turned it all into perfect theatrical entertainment.

You smile all the way through and come out beaming like a red nosed reindeer.

Debbie Isitt knows how to create a hit

This touring production, which I saw at Leeds Grand Theatre, is also blessed with an excellent cast. Simon Lipkin is very funny as the wildly enthusiastic man-child Mr Poppy. Daniel Boys as Mr Maddens finds the same combination of inner sadness, quiet determination and basic niceness that Martin Freeman found before him.

And the children, on whom the show stands or falls, are disciplined, well rehearsed and a total delight- the icing on the Christmas cake.

A bit of sentimental light entertainment is just what you need in the deep midwinter but there’s more to Nativity! The Musical than that. It has something to say about the importance of inspirational teachers, it captures the spirit of Christmas and it’s faultless theatre. Only a Scrooge wouldn’t love it.

In 2018, Nativity! The Musical tours to Coventry Belgrade (23-28 October), Liverpool Empire (31 October – 4 November), Glasgow King’s (7-11 November), Milton Keynes Theatre (14-18 November), Nottingham Theatre Royal (21-25 November), Edinburgh Festival Theatre (28 November-2 December), Oxford New Theatre (11-15 December) and London Apollo Hammersmith (19-31 December).

Here’s my YouTube review-