Wednesday, 23 July 2008

One Upon a Time at the Adelphi - Liverpool Playhouse

Once upon a time at the Adelphi
Liverpool Playhouse – until 2nd August

Written & Directed by Phil Wilmott

Reviewed by Stephanie Rowe

Being nearly 200 years since the first Adelphi Hotel opened its doors, it was really only a matter of time until someone was inspired enough to write a play/musical which centred around this world renowned Hotel. Steeped in history and with many urban legends connected to the place, there was plenty for Phil Wilmott to work with to help him produce a fabulous and truly inspiring musical, which is what we come to expect of Phil after such wonderful works as Around the world in 80 days and Dick Barton special agent.

The parallel love story in the 1930’s with the modern day was a brilliant concept for the musical, telling the story of Thomspon and
Alice in the heydays and Jo in the modern played be the amazing talent of Julie Atherton as the modern Jo and young Alice and the dazzling performance from Natasha Seale as the older Alice and Ma Thompson you were taken to a world of Glitz and Glamour of the hotel though the 30’s and 40’s Thompson (Alice’s love interest) played by the extremely talented Simon Bailey from many west end leads and theatre band Teatro, had you feeling every emotion possible as he led you through this tale of chaos and decadence.

This musical had you gripped from beginning to end with a tragic love story and some laugh out loud comic moments with which the talents of Helen Carter came shining through in yet another fantastic performance after her success in last Christmas’s hit the Flint St Nativity. This is true ensemble musical theatre and each actor gave an outstanding performance bringing each character to life with such panache and musical theatre cliché and pastiche that it was hard not to leave this show with a smile on your face.

The set designed by Christopher Woods, took us from the back street of Liverpool, the roof, kitchen quarters, foyer and reception of the hotel through a very lavish but simple set which was positioned on a turntable (seems to be a musical theatre must have this year!) and worked faultlessly in helping keep the slick action moving with pace and direction.

We mustn’t forget that this is the first musical ever to be staged by the Playhouse and Phil Wimott has created a small diamond of a piece, with show stopping tunes throughout you can only hope and keep fingers crossed that this show releases a cast recording. The musical direction of Elliot Davis and Mark Collins make sure the shows musical numbers are punchy and well orchestrated even
though there were only three people in the pit add the choreography of Andrew Wright the cast was well rehearsed and timing was perfect all the way through each dance with some very fancy footwork to boot. The ensemble made up from recent graduates of LIPA added a local touch to the cast, which worked well with the acting skills from the West End.

Costumes designed by Jacquie Davies must also be given a worthy note, excellently bringing to life the Adelphi workers and Hollywood darlings to life.

This musical is a perfect showcase of what regional theatre should be about, and it’s so refreshing to see two artistic directors taking risks and really making ‘Liverpool Shine’ I only hope as previously said that this show doesn’t get lost in the archives but a cast recording made or at least a tour gets under way in the not so distant future. I’m now off to book tickets to see this show again before it’s too late!

Photos by Robert Day

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Sunset Boulevard - Watermill Theatre

Sunset Boulevard

The Watermill Theatre - Wed 9th Jul - Sat 30th Aug

Music by Andrew Lloyd-Webber

Lyrics by Don Black

Directed by Craig Revel Horwood
Musical supervisor and arrangements by Sarah Travis

Reviewed by David Saunders

I had high hopes upon entering the theatre and was looking forward to a performance, inventively staged in what has come to be one of Britain’s premier small scale venues. I can say on my accounts my hopes were well founded. The piece focuses on washed writer Joe Gillis who after many years working in Hollywood has traded in his idealist goals for cynicism. Following a chase through the streets of Hollywood he arrives at the mansion of faded silent movie star Norma Desmond. The show then tells the story of these two people both struggling to find their way.

The setting designed Diego Pitarch used a central grandiose spiral staircase as its focal point with all of the action taking place on a short thrust stage. The set had all the old Hollywood glamour required for this show and added the much needed elevation to the cramped stage floor. The piece itself is largely to do with scale and the art of the grand performer. The set certainly helped to facilitate those grand moments. The costume for the piece was very much as expected with the lion’s share of the wardrobe naturally going to Kathryn Evans as Norma Desmond. The remainder of the cast seemed to unfortunately have been sent to Marks and Spencer to find their own costume. While the focus must be on Norma it is still vital that the other characters have a clear relationship in their costume to the era the piece is set. It is not enough to have one set of fabulous dazzling costume for one actor if the rest of your cast is not even dressed to fit the same era.

The lighting and sound served the show in what was form a technical point of view a crisp slick performance. The space itself is cramped and requires a lighting designer to be economical and also inventive in establishing the correct level of glamour. The design by Richard G. Jones was more than capable of doing so.

The performances themselves now fall under the spotlight and we begin with the most established of actors first. Kathryn Evans brought to the role a fragility I had not seen before the manipulation of Joe Gillis could almost be forgiven. This is a woman who is desperately clinging to her life gone by and the depth of the performance allowed us to see Norma not just as a fallen idol but as a real character with emotional sincerity. The issue with the piece as a whole is that while Norma Desmond is larger than life the other characters are our link to the ‘real’ world. With this in mind it is vital that they are played for the emotional reality of their situation but also remembering this is not the royal court and the need for histrionics among your performers is not required. With this in mind I come to the performance of Ben Goddard. This is clearly an actor of emotional depth and I think given the right role a performer capable of engaging with an audience emotionally. However I do feel that in this part he has been done a disservice by the director. This is not a piece where huge gesture and flailing arms are required. The performance seemed at odds with the rest of the cast and seemed out of context within the piece. The role seemed too thin for Mr. Goddard and although the voice of this actor is the perfect fit the performance was too big for the stage at the Watermill.

The remainder of the cast worked wonders on the compact stage moving seamlessly between multiple roles and using every inch of space to wring every last drop out of each note and step. This is one of hardest working companies I have seen on a stage and add in to that the musicianship and you have a hugely rewarding set of performances for an audience.

I must make mention of the wonderfully streamlined musical adaptation by Sarah Travis which allowed all the sweeping atmosphere of Lloyd Webber’s music to survive but brought a new darker edge to the show in our compact environment.

The choreography had naturally, given Mr. Revel Horwood’s experience all the required glitz. I do feel that at times the direction lacked the requisite inventiveness for the space. At times the show seemed too big for the stage and it should fall on the director to find clever ways of getting around any issues that the performance space may offer. This to my mind was not always the case especially in the scenes between Joe and Betty Schaeffer where the performances seemed stilted and restrictive.

All in all the piece was entertaining though with all the expected glamour in looks and all the expected bright sparks in musicality but for my mind a greater degree of thought in the use of the space would have served the fine performances better.

Photo credit: Robert Day. Ben Goddard as Joe Gillis, Kathryn Evans as Norma Desmond

frontpage hit counter