Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Elephant - Touring

New Wimbledon Theatre & Touring
Dodgy Clutch in association with the Market Theatre of Johannesburg.
Director: Ozzie Riley
Reviewed by Francesca Elliott

Elephant tells the story of an African chief who having died, is denied entrance to heaven. Confused, he asks his ancestors for help and they advise him to revisit his past to see where he went wrong. Accompanied by a devil he visits scenes from his childhood, his coming of age ceremony and his wedding.

At every stage there is eveidence of his jealousy and anger and we see him break the laws of his tribe by ignoring the sanctity of elephants by killing one with a gun he has been given by 'the pink men'.

Elephant is a vibrant mixture of African and Western dance, song, music and puppetry and captivated the audience's attention from the very first scene.The elephant puppets were amazing, incredibly lifelike and managed to convey such a sense of spirituality and soul that we could easily understand how killing one could deny a person access to heaven.

The costumes were simple and bright, adding to the sense of energy brought by the performers. The moments of comedy and poignancy were nicely balanced, and apart from an eneding which felt a bit unfinished, this was one of the most interesting and enjoyable performances I've seen in ages.

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Mothership - Birmingham Rep (The Door)

The Mothership by Douglas Maxwell
Birmingham Rep (The Door) until 15th March then Tour
Directed by Ben Payne
Reviewed by Helen Chapman

Having arrived slightly sceptical at the thought of a new age journey through outer space, I was impressed by a down to earth story of a modern family simply dealing with what life has dealt them. Douglas Maxwell’s The Mother Ship is told by an 18 year old boy Eliot who recently having lost his parents is now confronted with big decisions, exam results, a disabled brother, a pregnant step mum and no girlfriend.

When it seems to him things couldn’t get much worse, his younger brother Gerry goes missing – at the hands of aliens. The play continues with the family and extras on the search for Gerry and on a mission to understand what’s going on.

Admittedly it is a bizarre storyline, but the beauty of Maxwell’s work is how it is centred around situations so real. It emerges toward the end of the play that the aliens and the Mother Ship and other life are all a coping strategy created by Eliot for his brother to help him deal with simply being different having developed severe learning difficulties following an accident at sea. The key to this play is the portrayal of each relationship. The love between the brothers and their step mum Lorraine not quite surfacing as she’s not their real mother; the awkward tension between Eliot and Gerry’s friend as he steps on eggshells around her disability, and that tension soon leading to chemistry; the hopeless boy-next-door who thinks he is in love with Lorraine who in turn sees him as merely an irritating little boy; and the clumsy but well meaning policeman, brilliantly played by Daniel Settatree, as he makes haphazard attempts to solve the case whilst making greater, but no more successful attempts, to hide his crush on Lorraine. These well developed relationships, presented by a fantastic cast, combine real emotion and depth with lighthearted comedy, constantly keeping the audience entertained.

The clever use of a single set with various inventive props (an amphicar that can drive on water and a makeshift helicopter) reflect the simplicity of the foundations of the play and also the imagination that follows. Not only was the dialogue comic, the timely use of “space age” music added to the atmosphere and played its part in telling the story.

The Mother Ship comes highly recommended, a credit to new theatre.

Photos by Roberts Day: Top - Jonathan Bailey as Eliot and Robyn Hunt as Judy: Bottom - Daniel Settatree as Macmillan and Joanne Moseley as Lorraine

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Hello Dolly - National Tour

By Jerry Herman & Michael Stewart
National Tour (Lowry Theatre Review)
Reviewed By Steve Burbridge

Just ask any aficionado of musical theatre and they’ll tell you that Hello, Dolly! is the biggest show-stopper in the history of the genre. It has all the necessary ingredients required of a classic musical: a wonderful story, memorable songs and one of the most iconic characters ever created – Dolly Gallagher Levi!

This nostalgic comedy musical follows the exploits of the widow and professional matchmaker, Dolly, as she sets her sights on conquering a tight fisted Yonkers merchant and becoming “the second Mrs Vandergelder.” Anita Dobson is a doyenne of hit West End musicals, having starred in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Chicago, The Pajama Game and Budgie to name only a few, and she inhabits the larger-than-life character of Dolly Levi effortlessly and with great success. Rather than emulating the performances of legendary predecessors including Barbra Streisand, Carol Channing and Ethel Merman, Miss Dobson stamps her own indomitable mark upon the role and the result is a triumphant interpretation of Dolly that is multi-faceted and carefully crafted. She relishes the opportunity to shine as a comedienne and performs her musical numbers with gusto, her mezzo-soprano voice suiting them well. In addition to the expected sassiness and flamboyance, Miss Dobson also explores the sensitivity and vulnerability of the character. The monologue scenes in which Dolly talks to her late husband, Ephraim, have a poignancy and tenderness that provide moments of genuine pathos.

Darren Day, David McAlister and Louise English lead the fabulous supporting cast of over forty performers, and they each deliver consummate performances. A few minor glitches that occurred during scene changes might have threatened to detract from the overall success of the production, but some rapid and ingenious improvisation from the undaunted company ensured that the technical difficulties were covered almost seamlessly. Darren Day, as Cornelius Hackl, works hard throughout and his comedy double act with Hamilton Sargent as Barnaby Tucker is particularly enjoyable. Louise English, as Irene Molloy, exudes grace and charm and has a beautiful singing voice. Her rendition of ‘Ribbons Down My Back’ was spine-tingling. David McAlister is wonderful as the tight-fisted Vandergelder providing the perfect foil for Miss Dobson’s effervescent and ebullient Dolly. Hamilton Sargent was an energetic and enthusiastic Barnaby Tucker and Amanda Salmon was deliciously over-the-top as the screaming, snorting shop assistant, Minnie Faye. Credit should also be given to Christopher Marlowe and Carol Ball, each appearing as an array of cameo characters.

The ensemble added the necessary pizzazz to the big numbers and they executed David Kort’s choreography with style and precision. The Waiter’s Gallop was a breath-taking sight to behold and the audience responded with rapturous applause. Likewise, the title number oozed with sophistication. Add to this the panache of the orchestra, under the supervision of David Beer, stunning sets and slick direction from Chris Colby and the result is a high calibre production with a glitzy tone, proving that ‘Hello, Dolly’ is still a magical musical masterpiece that sends every member of the family home with a smile on their face.
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