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Matilda The Musical – A Review of the RSC Production

10 Jan

The actually quite precocious Matilda was my childhood dream book that I read over and over again. The wonderful advertising and positive reviews convinced us to book the tickets.

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Seeing the musical has fairly much convinced me of two things.

1. I am definitely no longer a child, although being silly remains a favourite pass time.

2. Musicals just don’t do it for me anymore.

I am sad about both. There was a time when the trip up to London on the train was the epitome of adventure and novelty, with those huge wallet sized train tickets that came in the post and a shiny programme full of pictures of the Real Life Actors. Now London is the Big City I traverse on my own and musicals are just a bit too escapist; sing-song; false entertainment. In light of this, however, I will review Matilda as though I were still a child who adored musicals.

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The Cambridge Theatre certainly has the sweetest situation, on a teeny tiny roundabout with three or four taxis swinging around it and a medley of tourists seeking their musical-mekkah. With the Christmas lights still up it was quaint and picture perfect. My friends and I amused ourselves with the chalk and blackboards adorning the foyer walls. This took me back to a time before plastic whiteboards and now electric pens that write ‘virtually’; gone are the days of shuddering at the squeaking on the blackboard and dusty dusty fingers…

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The set is just ingenious – a kind Scandivian-esque pale wood floor, from which pop desks, a bathroom…. oh just about anything they need. And book shelves that magically change configuration like the stair cases in Harry Potter. An array of colouring-pencil colours hits the stage with lights and lit up letters. A flurry of dancing kids, the littlest ones just so cute – but oh so precocious Lavender stole the show for me. Sure, Matilda had a great voice and sweet ballads. Miss Honey is ever so kindly, the perfect primary school teacher we all wish we had had: pretty, blonde, bespectacled and innocently dressed. The librarian has brilliant comic-timing, as Matilda keeps on postponing her story told with two rag doll puppets.But Lavender who arrests Matilda as her bestest friend ever and just HAS to tell us her newt plan, the whole of it, is sparky and witty and wins best actress for me.

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To be honest, catchy songs are few and far between. In my flat we had a spontaneous Wicked singalong for a good hour. That’s not going to happen with Matilda. The opening dragged a little with the song, ‘My mummy says I’m a miracle child…’ because it was not quite stereotypical enough to be hilariously cute, nor appealing enough a song to just sit back and listen. The dance routine seemed too staged; too rehearsed and false. It’s a shame because I’d dearly love to dish out all of the praises on this play.

It’s not a show to see on a one night visit to London, a first date or with sulky, rebellious teens. Nevertheless, take the children, take grannie with you and enjoy their laughter. Or for a bit of harmlessly fun nostalgia, go.

Macbeth at the RSC: Review

26 Apr

Macbeth played by Jonathon Slinger, who was well reviewed as Richard III in the last histories season at the RSC.

A brand new theatre with which to play and certainly the RSC have used every aspect possible in their production. But Macbeth spoke true when he described ‘merely players’; the production failed to impress. The ideas worked, as ideas, but the execution was poor – perhaps in time the polishing of nightly performances will prevail and create an inspiring show. But not yet, and not for a while. (For me to review accurately the following must contain many spoilers.)

The audience’s expectation of three witches attending in a puff of smoke was brilliantly revoked by three children hanging like rag dolls from ropes with innocent reverberated voices. The woe of child actors will always be, however, that even if they perfect their lines (which they didn’t) and remember all their direction, their characterisation does not feel intuitive or consistent; they rarely maintain a character throughout. (We had a cheekily grinning ghost and a spectacularly unhorrific slaughter of Child Macduff.) Type casting, which the casting of children must usually be, can work in Hollywood, but not in Shakespeare. The scene when they first meet Macbeth and Banquo works only if the witches appear intangible, instead the children seemed vulnerable, present and too real. It was as though Macbeth were in control of the scene, prompting, and the children replying. There was no dizzying confusion as the witches vanished and reappeared. It was too stilted and slow-paced. The children used dolls to suggest some sort of voodoo magic, they were a bit freaky, more a hindrance to the scenes. The children walked around holding them, but made little dramatic use of them except to suggest the characters they spoke of. Not creepy.

Madness. For me, Macbeth’s tyrannous progression is from ‘vaulting ambition’ to all-engrossing insanity, in partnership with a manipulative, beguiling wife. Lady Macbeth was most certainly ancillary in this production, confirming for Macbeth what he already wished to do; in some productions the Macbeths are presented as equals, or even Lady Macbeth as the more powerful. Lady Macbeth here was fine. Her sleep walking speech was fine, she captured some of the insanity, it was a little bit scary, it was quite mad, though it was without climax (the same can be said of the play). She was quite manipulative. She was very aristocratic with a hint of Scottish in her voice, sometimes. I liked her sort of crazy evil laughter at the dinner party. I liked the repetition of that scene with and without Banquo.

Macbeth seemed to have been directed to progress from a not-convincingly brave soldier, naively taken in by three children, whom he neither seemed frightened by, nor particularly aghast at their presence (in fact, it felt as though he were expecting the kids to mess up – he spoke patronisingly to them), to a babyish King and finally to a middle-aged man who is a bit fed up with life. His ‘strut the stage’ speech was projected from the top of a 7m ladder – I think to suggest him standing up on cattle battlements looking down to Birnham wood (four tree like leafy branches brought on by Mrs Macduff and her three children – their ghosts were Malcolm’s army). Whilst his elevated position removed him from the stage and thus he transcended metaphorically the players he spoke of,  he spoke as one who just cannot be bothered, cannot continue living. There was no sudden moment of eloquence in the madness, which instigates the result of catharsis, as the hero comes to the realisation that he cannot go on living. The magic of the speech can silence the audience into poised stillness; if well executed no one dares cough. People spluttered during this. The speech did not feel resultant, like it had come from frantic thoughts, or even from any remembrance of his murderous intents. Preceding the speech, every movement Macbeth made on the ladder meant his sword clanged against it. Irritating.

The cellos were fantastic. Awesome dissonance created, super technical playing.

The tour around the new theatre was more magical than the performance. I preferred the Court Yard theatre to see shows at. Row C in the Circle has a very uncomfortable seat, although the view was good, and I am glad I only paid for a £5 16-25 ticket. After The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet (twice), As You Like It and King Lear… well, it was a disappointment.

Let me know how you found the performance in the comments below. Have you seen the new theatre?

Macbeth RSC Website

Avenue Q Theatre Review

9 Mar

Avenue Q Rating: ♥♥♥

I went to see Avenue Q a couple of weeks ago and it was certainly worth the ticket price for the laughs. The comedy arrives principally from the fact that cute, 90s TV show style puppets (Muppets, Sesame Street), with cheesy American accents, are up to all sorts of adult activities. (This is not a show to take little kids to, or Grannie, or anyone awkward.) It is set in a down and out street in New York and the set from which the puppets emerge is ingenious. Kate Monster, the lead female, has a beautiful voice and multi-roles superbly. It is typically American, which would’ve been very annoying if it weren’t so darn funny. The puppeteering is polished, though you have to get used to the fact that the actors make no point of becoming their puppets; they are very much separate entities. There is nothing like the connection one feels with the puppets in, lets say, War Horse.

Entertaining tunes such as ‘Everyone’s a little bit racist’ and ‘The Internet is for Porn’, exploit modern-day political correctness and taboo to produce some good comedy. The humour is principally confined to the first half, however. The second half becomes plot obsessed and the love story becomes a tad cheesy.

Don’t expect a compelling storyline and do expect overacting, belted choruses and cliché upon cliché. But I recommend the show for a night out with friends to have a good laugh.

Avenue Q is touring the country until July. www.avenueqthemusical.co.uk

Frankenstein at The National Theatre: Play Review

8 Mar National Theatre Production

Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein ♥♥♥♥♥ Rating

A man emerges from a womb-like National Theatre Productioncocoon, helpless and naked. The monster is born. He grows up teaching himself to walk, run and make noises. There was an amazing moment as the sun rose, when the monster began laughing and clapping. I saw the monster played by Jonny Lee Miller and Dr Frankenstein by Benedict Cumberbatch. It was refreshing to have the story told from the monster’s point of view; Frankenstein is present for only a moment in the first half. The monster’s transformation from innocence to experience was presented like a bildungsroman. You will find the play troubles you; it is almost impossible to to decide who to sympathize with, though the monster’s original innocence is wonderfully portrayed.

No wonder the Times heralded the play with five stars: the literary allusions were plentiful. One of Blake’s pictures from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell appeared on a house; we had Milton, Marvell – all absolutely appropriate to the scientific questioning arising at the time of The Industrial Revolution and a brilliant way of emphasizing the monster’s ability to discuss and reason; conscious thought and awareness of our own death are historically thought of as distinguishing humans from animals. A National Theatre ‘classic’ moment was the arrival of a magnificent steam train on stage, with the ensemble creating the sound scape and bright lighting creating dark shadows – the grit and grime of industrialization.

The set was beautifully simple with rocky mountains about the sides and hundreds of light bulbs as an extruded chandelier flowing down above the audience to the stage, which were able to blind and create astonishing rippling light. Details such as flocks of birds flying up into the fly tower and Lake Geneva created using clever perspective all contriubute to this epic production.

Some of the dialogue in the more naturalistic scenes was shoddy, mostly due to poor scripting but not helped by slow paced, unimpressive acting by Elizabeth (Frankenstein’s fiancee) and William (his younger brother). These family saga moments seemed out of place after extravagant special effects, dramatic ensemble work and a moving score.

Nevertheless, queue up for day tickets. Today. Whenever you can go. This will be compared in stature to War Horse and the ending was certainly as moving. And listen out for the bell.

Frankenstein is at the National Theatre until the beginning of May 2011.

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/62808/productions/frankenstein.html