Sunday, 30 September 2007

Carmen - ENO at London Coliseum

Carmen by Georges Bizet,
Libretto by Meilhac and Halévy
Directed by Sally Potter
Conductor: Edward Gardner
London Coliseum, 29th September to 23rd November (15 performances)
Reviewed by Mark Valencia

Whereas the last ENO season closed on the fiasco of Kismet, an old musical with dubious operatic credentials, the current one gets into its stride with a true opera that’s often (glibly) dubbed the ‘first musical’. And it’s true – the hits just keep on coming. Indeed, a recent revival of Carmen Jones leads one to wonder why Oscar Hammerstein ever bothered to tinker with the original at all. His Broadway hybrid has quickly dated in a way Bizet’s masterpiece never will, for all the abuse it suffers at the hands of directors du jour.

This time round it’s the turn of the Orlando director Sally Potter to use this titanic opera as her toybox. Let’s start with the music, though, because here ENO has served up a feast. The best news of all is happening down in the pit, where Edward Gardner is galvanizing the orchestra into an exciting musical force. There are many opportunities during this Carmen to divert one’s gaze from the stage and thrill instead to the energy and synergy going on between conductor and players. As with last season’s Death in Venice, Gardner’s judgements are spot-on and the whole thing sounds a million dollars. And it is ravishingly sung. Alice Coote makes her title role début in sensational style, her voice like molten gold and her hushed moments spellbinding the entire Coliseum. She is matched by Julian Gavin’s deeply considered José (no Don here) and by the plangent soprano of Katie Van Kooten as Micaëla. Only the ENO Chorus continues to disappoint: most west end musicals can field a stronger team than this, and their poor diction alone justified the presence of surtitles for Christopher Cowell’s clever but distracting translation.

Eyes closed, this is a memorable, sun-drenched Carmen. Eyes open, we have Potter to contend with. We start in a CCTV surveillance compound; by Act 3 we are on the crossing bridge of a motorway service area. Es Devlin’s designs are drab and spare, in keeping with Potter’s night-time vision of an amorphous, semi-totalitarian landscape (Britain?), and only in Act 4, where the action moves to a recognisable Spain, do we see daylight.

‘Director’s theatre’ is all very well provided it works. The overiding problem with this take on Carmen is that it creates so many problems for itself, then fails to solve them. For example, the appearance inside the security compound of a white-clad children’s chorus makes no sense whatsoever, and their exhortation to ‘join the ranks of God’s batallion’ suggests that Potter herself had little idea how to shoe-horn this set piece into her concept. If she had adopted a more consistently stylised approach she might have got away with it; instead, her staging is often Kismet-bad. Formless crowds swamp David Kempster’s Escamillo during his big number and his arrival goes for nothing. A hundred smugglers risk death by spanning the motorway, improbable prostitutes totter on stilettos they do not know how to wear and for some reason both Mercédès and Frasquita are presented as Amy Winehouse. Most seriously of all, the director sanctions no visible hint of sexual frisson between Carmen and José (although vocally they compensate in spades), and thereby betrays the very essence of the opera.

Carmen is being performed only 15 times until the 23rd November for dates and more information visit
Photos by Tristram Kenton: Top - Alice Coote & David Kempster, Middle - Carmen Company, Bottom - Alice Coote & Julian Gavin

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Intemperance - Liverpool Everyman

Intemperance by Lizzie Nunnery
Liverpool Everyman: 26th Sept - 13th Oct
Director: Gemma Bodinetz
Composer: Conor Linehan
Reviewer: Gill Cooke

Big things are set to follow for new graduate of the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Young Writers Programme Lizzie Nunnery if this, her first and flawless full length play is anything to go by.

Intemperance is set in 1854, whilst a family live in the squaller of a small Liverpool cellar with no light bar a small shaft of light creeping through a crack in the roof which was stunnigly designed by Ruari Murchison, all around them merchants from around the world come to Liverpool to trade and the money abounds so much that the grand St Georges Hall walls grow bigger by the day.

Gemma Bodinetz's excellent direction helps you get straight into the story, the pace really puts you on the edge of your seat empathising with a family that struggles to understand why things are getting better on the outside but in the cellar things are just the same, Conor Linehams underscoring really adds to the mounting tension and gives the stellar cast a first rate atmospheric platform to really shine...and shine they do.

Brid Brennan and Kristofer Gummerus play husband and wife Milly and Brynjar Slidness with ample effection and love, whilst Brendon Conroy plays Milly's father Fergul giving a subtle but emotionally weighted performance. Matthew Dumphrey provided the show with a biter and angry performance playing Ruairi, that for once in a play doesnt seem out of place or coming from nowhere, and special mention must also be given to Emily Taaffe who makes her professional debut playing the part of Niamh, holding herself strong within the cast in a highly credible and stellar performance.

This play comes at a really piognant time in Liverpools history with being Capital of Culture in 2008, with so much money coming into the area, we only have to look at some of Liverpools inner city areas and ask ourselves have things really changed in the last hundred years or are things going to be hidden to the public eye, by politics and big events once again?

Intemperance runs at Liverpool Everyman until the 13th October for more information visit

Photos by Robert Day - Top:- the cast, Middle:-Brid Brennan (Millie) Kristofer Gummerus (Brynjar), Bottom:-Brid Brennan(Millie).

Friday, 28 September 2007

I Love You Because - Landor Theatre

I Love You Because
Landor Theatre: 19th Sept - 20th Oct
Book & Lyrics: Ryan Cunningham
Music: Joshua Salzman
Director: Robert McWhir

Musical direction: Ian Vince Gatt
Choreographer: Robbie O'Riley
Reviewed by: John Garfield-Roberts

Robert McWhir has taken the brave step of bringing a relatively unknown musical to the British shores for it’s UK Premier, and not only that but to show the piece in his small bijou theatre in the heart of Clapham, and I can report that this gamble is a sure fire hit.

I Love You Because, set in New York
follows the life of greeting card writer Austin Bennet, but life is turned upside down when on another Saturday night, he walks in to find his long term girlfriend Catherine sleeping with somebody else. Whilst on the other side of the city Diana is trying to cheer up Marcy after a break up with her long term boyfriend of 2 years, what follows is another boy-meets-girl romantic comedy, you could describe this show as Friends mixed up with Sex and the City, shaken and stirred with the best of musical theatre, even the set (excellently designed by Andy Edwards) take us to the places all to familiar in those TV shows, a coffee shop, a bar and of course the bedroom.

This show has the legs to go far, it is a rarity that I sit in the theatre and find it near impossible to find fault with a production, the only fault I did find was within the first few minutes of the opening number where Daniel Boys (Austin) was a little hard to hear – which is a pity because the opening number is fantastic, but as the show moves on Daniel’s confidence grows and provides the audience with a character we really care about. Richard Frame also provides an excellent older brother for Austin in his larger than life brother Jeff. Jodie Jacobs was in fine tune as Marcy, as was Debbie Kemp who perfects another hot heeled New York woman with her portrayal of Diana. Supporting roles were played with real panache and
wit by West-End veterans Lucy Williamson and Mark Goldthorp. I Love You Because is a real ensemble piece with each cast member really putting their mark firmly into this premier and that only strengthens the show even more.

It’s rare to find a new musical that has both an excellent book and libretto, but Salzman and Cunningham’s show provides us with some memorable tunes and a huge aching grin at the end of the night. Robert McWhir has directed a piece that is fluid and never lacks pace, he has added so many little details that it is hard to take in with one viewing, this is probably one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in a very long time and I may if I can get myself a ticket, go and see this gem once again...but my guess is I will have to pay in blood or murder someone outside the theatre to get a seat.

I Love You Because is on at The Landor Theatre until 20th October for more information visit

Photos by and show, Top; Jodie Jacobs (Marcey) & Daniel Boys (Austin). Middle; Mark Goldthorp (NY Man) & Lucy Wiliamson (NY Woman). Bottom; Debbie Kurup (Diana) & Richard Frame (Jeff)

Monday, 17 September 2007

Bad Girls the Musical : Garrick Theatre London

Bad Girls – The Musical
The Garrick Theatre – London
Book by: Maureen Chadwick & Ann McManus
Music & Lyrics: Kath Gotts
Directed by Maggie Norris
Reviewed by Helen Patrick

Its refreshing to see a show in London’s West end that doesn’t take itself to seriously, If you go to see Bad Girls the Musical don’t go expecting a score of Lloyd-Webber orchestrations, or the acting of a Eugene O’Neil Play, which is why I feel some “high-end” reviewers have just slapped Bad Girls the Musical into the trash before its even had chance to establish itself, which I feel isn’t a very fair judgement.

Bad Girls takes us to the first three series of the hit ITV drama, in which lecherous Jim Fenner and sidekick Sylvia plan to rise further up the screw ladder by whatever means possible. Chadwick & McManus with their book have managed to condense nearly 36 hours worth of material into a well paced story line which has some very funny moments. I was a Bad Girls fan before going to see the show and was pleasantly surprised that the transfer from Screen to stage worked as well as it did, but in terms of creative excellence full marks must be given to Kath Gotts, her music and lyrics may take on many different musical genres but the skill is in her word play is worth the ticket price alone, stand out songs include the very funny “all banged up” about being a woman in prison and not getting any sex, and the very touching “freedom road” sang hauntingly by Camilla Beeput as Crystal Gordon at the top of act two.

The set by Colin Richmond is very simple with some of the best use of video projection I have seen on stage, which helped create the feeling of real isolation and the claustrophobic conditions of being in prison.

There are some excellent performances especially from west-end veteran Sally Dexter as Yvonne Atkins, as soon as she steps onto the stage, the atmosphere charges and she demands centre stage. Helen Fraser reprising her role of Sylvia
“Bodybag” Hollamby gives a new comic edge to her role on stage, along with David Burt as Jim Fenner; they both shine as bright as their costumes when singing together in their duets.

A mention must go out to Maria Charles who perhaps must be the oldest performer in the west-end at the moment, playing old timer Noreen Biggs, every line executed with comic perfection. Other notable performances include Nicole Faraday as Shell Dockley, Amanda Posner as Denny Blood, an almost unrecognisable Rebecca Wheatley as Big Julie and Julie Jupp who plays Little Julie, Jupp really comes to her own, in the touching song “sorry” which made even the hardest of emotional people like myself shed a tear.

All in all this production gives you what you want a fantastic night out, it has a great mix between pathos and humour, great songs, excellent performances and all mixed in with a little bit of camp, as one of the songs in the second act says this show is “The Baddest & The Best.”

Bad Girls the Musical is now on at The Garrick Theatre for more information visit

Photos: Top – Helen Fraser as Sylvia “Bodybag” Hollomby. Bottom – Nicole Faraday as Shell Dockley and Amanda Posner as Denny Blood with other cast members.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

The Merchant of Venice - Arcola Theatre

Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The Arcola Theatre: 11th September - 13th October
Directed by Julia Pascal.

Reviewed by : zahid fayyaz

They are many ways of staging Shakespeare: from having it set in a artic wasteland, to having it played by an all female cast, to even, in one particularly misguided production at Edinburgh, having it performed in a hop hop style. Pascal theatre company’s adaptation of the Merchant of Venice is certainly different therefore, but not uniquely so. Set in the first Jewish Ghetto in Venice, it’s a ‘play within a play’ structurally. Whilst on tour at the Ghetto, Holocaust survivor Sarah witnesses a dress rehearsal for a production of the Merchant of Venice, and it bring back memories of both her own flight and experience in the Warsaw ghetto, and generally ‘flashes back’ to examples of Anti-Semitism throughout the ages.

So, that’s the concept but does it work? Well, it certainly has spirit and they give it their best shot. There is music, dancing and period costumes. The set is also very evocative of an old, crumbling city space. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the acting either with the whole cast giving it their all. In particular, Ruth Posner as Sarah gave a stand out performance, particularly in the scene were she is remembering her father or describing her past running away from the Nazis. Paul Hezberg as Shylock also deserves plaudits, for a portrayal which is both moving in its depiction of him as a man often scorned by society, and also quite vicious because of that, as shown by the rejection of his daughter.

However, the main problem with the play is that it is smacking the audience around the head with its themes. The idea of the play is that the Merchant of Venice may have been Anti-Semitic, either deliberately or inadvertently. To that end, we get cut aways of Jewish characters being harassed and abused, but because it’s so openly out there, it quickly becomes rather staid. A little subtlety would have made the show drag a lot less, and there are points were subtlety does work well. For example, when Portia says when a black suitor fails that she hopes people ‘of that complexion’ fails, it shows the latent racism a lot better than any amount of scenes which bangs your ahead against it. Also, in terms of flaws, Sarah interacting with Jessica does not work at all, and is embarrassing at times. So overall, it is a brave idea, competently executed, with some very bright spots, but also with some major flaws preventing it being great.

Photos: Top - Paul Herzberg as Shylock & Jodi Talbot as Jessica. Bottom - Timothy Dewberry as Tubal & Paul Herzberg as Shylock.
The Merchant of Venice runs at The Arcola Theatre until the 13th October for more information visit

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Casanova - West Yorkshire Playhouse & Tour

Casanova by Carol Ann Duffy and Told By An Idiot
West Yorkshire Playhouse 7th - 29th September
Directed by Paul Hunter
Designed by Naomi Wilkinson
Music composed by Iain Johnstone
Reviewed by Murray Moss

Casanova: a man who confidently slept his way around Europe, boasting of his sexual exploits and living the charmed life of a libertine, right? Wrong. As Carol Ann Duffy and Told By An Idiot relate she is a sexually confident but compassionate woman, an epicurean who refuses to be bound by conventional gender roles, as she races across Europe, meeting great historical figures such as Voltaire, Mozart and Catherine the Great, while always fleeing from her pursuing would-be gaoler, a death-like figure who casts a shadow across her otherwise charmed, risky life. In transforming him to her and allowing Casanova to be the inspiration for Voltaire's aphorisms and Mozart's operas, the piece gently questions the patriarchal versions of history and culture that we have been fed through the centuries. But, dear reader and pursuer of theatrical entertainment, this Casanova is so much more than mere historical revisionism.

This is a beautifully and wittily written text, both lyrical and simple (as in immediately accessible but not uncomplicated, like much of Carol Ann Duffy's poetry) while remaining determinedly theatrical in its language. And Told By An Idiot's performance of the piece could be described in similar terms; it is physical theatre that is deceptively simple and unostentatious: the skilful ensemble of seven actors, from Albania, Spain, Switzerland and Britain, let the story unfold with a disciplined and restrained exuberance, drawing us into their performance rather than hurling it out into the auditorium.

And this is an ensemble piece; while Hayley Carmichael is strong and vulnerable in equal measure as Casanova and provides the energetic centre to the piece, the other performers are equally impressive in playing both individual roles and as single and choric narrators of the story. Indeed it is a measure of the strength of the performers and the play that it shifts seamlessly, sometimes mid-sentence, from dramatic scene to epic narrative. My one quibble with Paul Hunter's otherwise strong and precise direction is that the occasional off-stage, microphoned narration could have been delivered on-stage by a live cast member. The dull electronic delivery of these sections of text sapped energy from the performance and seemed out of keeping with the live-ness of the main body of the piece.

But this criticism is more than made up for by the wonderfully imaginative and comic invention to be found elsewhere in the performance: a mop, bucket, cushion and two scimitars are transformed into the head, body and swollen genitalia of an ebullient and enraged bull (the ultimate metaphorical alpha-male), which is finally and very funnily tamed, charmed and seduced by the irresistible Casanova. The design too is witty, simple and complements the performance style. Idiosyncratic wigs are flown in to sit on the heads of the elegant bourgeoisie at a formal dinner; the multi-levelled black cut-out set, with a wonderful shiny black floorcloth, frames the action and is used inventively by the cast, allowing visual height and depth to be fully utilised, while the costumes act as a playful but highly actor-friendly suggestion of the 18th century when Casanova was at large. The music and soundscapes hit the note juste, providing supporting energy and emotional shadow.

And this play is so much more than a highly skilled romp. While the first half has a picaresque exuberance, the second is darker, charting Casanova's decline, as it travels towards its melancholically uplifting conclusion, beautifully and simply captured in the final moving image of Casanova swinging in an ornate, black picture frame. Top theatre.

Photos by :Keith Pattison - top; Hayley Carmichael (Casanova) bottom; Johannes Flaschberger (Company), Hayley Carmichael (Casanova) Martin Hyder

Casanova is at the WYP until 29th September and then on tour until 24th November for more information on the tour please vist Told by An Idiots website at

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Noises Off - Oldham Coliseum

Noises Off - By Michael Frayn
Oldham Coliseum – 6th – 29th September

Directed by Gwenda Hughes
Designed by Sue Condie
Reviewed by Kat Copsey – Tri-Athlete

‘Noises Off’ by Michael Frayn; first performed at the Lyric theatre, Hammersmith in 1982 tells the story of actors on tour performing a traditional sex farce, ‘Nothing On’ whilst embroiled in a farce all of their own. Act one begins with the final rehearsal before opening night at the Grand Theatre, Weston Supermare. We rejoin the cast in act two at the Theatre Royal, Ashton-Under-Lyne where the audience views the backstage happenings during the performance. The play then culminates in the final performance at the Municipal Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees during act three, where the on stage farce and the one going on backstage in the ‘real’ lives of the characters combine with disastrous consequences. The play begins as entertainingly witty and builds to a laugh-out-loud hilarious climax in the final act.

The cast is a nine strong team of faces familiar from theatre and various soap and TV appearances. All gave excellent and convincing performances; particularly memorable were the nervous mannerisms of Poppy, played by Alison Darling; and comic portrayal of a somewhat less than intelligent Brooke Ashton by Catherine Kinsella. Farce is never an easy feat to pull off and director Gwenda Hughes should be congratulated for her fine directing of this hilarious piece, where the pace steams through and never lets the audience pause for thought or breath.
The set, designed by Sue Condi depicting the living room of the Brents in ‘Nothing On’ was impressive and well constructed; the design allowing for it to be turned around during the second act for the audience to see the farse developing backstage then returned to its original position. It comprised the living room, stairs and upper hallway and included many doors which are vital to the plot. The technical side of the performance added a great atmosphere to the show, which sometimes overshadows the performances of the Actors in most modern shows, but not in this excellent production.

I would highly recommend this play for a night out of side-splittingly funny entertainment, although there is also plenty of metaphorical significance traditional to the genre for the deeper thinkers out there to get their teeth into.

Photos: David Phelan who plays Gary and Catherine Kinsella who plays Brooke & Sean O’Callaghan who plays Frederick

Noises off runs at the Oldham Coliseum until the 29th September for more information visit
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