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JANE EYRE at Birmingham Rep

The Bristol Old Vic/National Theatre production of JANE EYRE at the Birmingham Rep was storytelling at its absolute best. I had seen the film years ago but could not quite remember the story, therefore I got to enjoy it again as if for the very first time. What makes this production so remarkable is how the component parts have been connected through a devised process creating a perfect seemless flow where the story takes centre stage. The combination of set, props, cast, costume, music, musicians, lighting creates a performance greater than the parts. There is powerful alchemy at work in this production as the essence of the story holds everything together creating moment after moment of magical theatre.

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THE TWILIGHT ZONE at the Almeida Theatre

The set of THE TWILIGHT ZONE at the Almeida Theatre by Paul Steinberg is remarkable in its own right. Design completely sets the scene bringing this more than half a century old American TV show to the London stage. Quite possibly the best design I have seen since probably “The Nether.” The scene is set and director Richard Jones and the company take it from there into another dimension. An excellent adaptaion by Anne Washburn from eight original TV episodes. Literally it feels like a very stange experience. Almost not quite real. Difficult to know quite what to believe. A little bit disturbing. Certainly unique.

 

PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT at Arts Educational Drama School

I saw PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT at least three times at the Palace Theatre in London including the incredible New Years Eve last night. I have seen it another three times on tour in the UK. So was it seven times lucky at Arts Educational?

Quite frankly I was blown away by the energy and the authenticity that the Arts Ed graduates have brought to this production.

Arts Ed have added an extra dimension to this show using their polished ensemble. The musical numbers are bigger because of the expanded choreography of the ensemble. Yet they have lost none of the intimacy of the original show. Adam George-Smith gave a performance as Bernadette that would have stolen the show. If it was not for Ben Tyler who had me in tears from the incredible sensitivity of his first scene as Tick/Mitzi. Or for the exuberance and daring of Toby Miles not to be afraid to be as queer as they come with his Adam/Felicia. Three exceptional leading men/ladies.

How can I stop praising the future of British musical theatre. Megan Sharp suspends disbelief as the busty Shirley. Jessica Lee as the most outrageous performance of Cynthia. Charlotte Jaconelli as the Opera Diva ;how can you sing like that? Every single one of you young men and women that sang and danced and created characters deserve praise, because you gave this show that extra dimension I have never seen before.

This production was not afraid to tackle the difficult issues of discrimination and for the first time seeing this show I felt the vulnerability in the story. Well done to Arts Ed for giving us a dazzling celebration of queer culture yet presenting the hard truth of the world we live in at the same time. The emotional highs and lows of this production are not for the faint hearted. Somehow you have managed to outshine all of the production values of the West End spectacular with your honetsy and enthusiasm.

Simpy wonderful.

MARY STUART at Duke of Yorks Theatre

At the opening of MARY STUART a coin is spun and and the winner plays Elizabeth I and the loser plays Mary Queen of Scots. Juliet Stevenson lost the toss and so played Mary and Lia Williams won and played Elizabeth the night I was at the Duke of York Theatre in the West End.

Both actresses are amazing and they embody the power play between these incredible historical icons. It took me a little while to get into the story although I do not know why. Once I was hooked I enjoyed every minute of it and there are a lot of minutes.My burning memory is of these two women on stage although they only briefly meet in one scene.

The play is populated with the men that surround the two of them. These male characters serve themselves rather than their Queens. There must be a lesson in there for us all. Good performances all round.

I am not sure about the design. I would have preferred more help in telling the story and defining the scenes. I am not sure I have seen the best production of this play although I can believe I have seen the best performances of the two female leads. Worth it for the two of them.

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY at the Noel Coward Theatre

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY at the Noel Coward Theatre is hauntingly beautiful. Really interesting and not quite like anything I have seen before on stage. Written and directed by Conor McPherson with the lyrics and music of Bob Dylan masterfully orchestrated and arranged by Simon Hale this musical is epic in its impact. Conor McPherson is a master at theatre and he has used the incredible music of Bob Dylan to masterful effect.

The best of theatre takes us on a journey to a new place of understanding. This is a simple story which illuminates the depths of the tragedy of the American depression in the 1930’s. Through the heartfelt and authentic portrayals I felt I was apart of this group. Every single performance is utterly brilliant. I was left breathless after so many of the individual musical numbers.

Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson, Sheila Atim, Arinze Kene, Jack Shalloo and Debbie Kurup are all exceptional award winning performances. Everyone on stage in this production represents the very best currently on stage in the West End. Best original musical I have seen for years. Amazing.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the RSC

David Edgar’s new adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the RSC was extremely dull. As if this was not bad enough the director, Rachel Kavenaugh seems to have decided, to take out all of the magic from the original story with pedestrian design. The three ghosts are barely distinct from the Victorian ensemble trudging around in the fake snow on the grey Victorian sets. This feels more like some intellectual exercise in trying to create the essence of an authentic somewhat stilted and awkward Victorian drawing room atmosphere. Certainly not worth the cost of the tickets and moreover an evening missed of good telly.

 

NETWORK at the National Theatre

Lee Hall’s adaptation of the movie NETWORK starring Bryan Cranston at the National Theatre is quite an experience. It is an assualt on the senses from the very beginning. Once orientated it is easy to follow though, because the director makes sure we know where to look on this vast stage, and if there is any doubt the audience have a huge screen relaying the critical performances. The audience sitting on the stage in the restaurant being served a three course meal during the¬†production have their own screen stage right. Not sure what they added to the production for the rest of us in the auditorium.

Bryan Cranston plays the iconic Howard Beale made famous in the film by Peter Finch. His stage acting matches the gravitas we experience in his screen performances and he commands this huge stage easily. The rest of the cast give adequate possibly great performances but are lost within the spectacle of this production. There is simply too much to see and hear.

The National are experts at filming live theatre and broadcasting the images to screens around the world. However the broadcasting of live theatre into the same auditorium where it is being filmed is not my cup of tea. There was a slight delay in the sound and the image on the screen which is like watching an out of sync movie. Very annoying. All of the technology, although critical to telling this story in this production, sometimes acted as a barrier between us in the audience, and the characters on stage. The intimacy that makes theatre so real in the suspension of disbelief was hindered which for me diminished the impact of the story.