Monday, 26 June 2017

Review Blondel

Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Tim Williams and Tim Rice
Music by Stephen Oliver
Additional Music By Matthew Pritchard

A Wandering Minstrel

The year 1983 marked the election of new MP Jeremy Corbyn for Islington North, alongside fellow parliamentary newcomers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. As if that wasn't enough, lyricist Tim Rice had his first musical theatre venture without his long-time composing partner Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Blondel (Connor Arnold) is a broad-shouldered medieval hunk with a cartoonish blonde quiff but yes, a bit of a dim Blondel, compared to his activist girlfriend (Jessie May). She's a  scrubber (yes, that's the level of the jokes) in the royal kitchen.

There's a touch of Princess Diana frenzy as the plebs jostle for the best view of their self-absorbed monarch Richard (Neil Moors) as he comes and then goes on yet another expedition.

Jostling for power is Richard's younger brother John (James Thackeray), no match for his brother in the manliness stakes, who hires an assassin (Michael Burgen) to do his bro in.

There's a Jack of The Beanstalk feel as Blondel, an unemployed medieval performinng arts graduate. leaves his Mum (Katie Meller) and sets out to gain the favour of the King.

In 1983 the European Union project was going on apace, so the European references could now go either way. We found it hard to isolate any recent updates, but it did feel dated. We caught the reference to Norman Tebbit's On Your Bike speech  and the introduction of the pound coin

And of course Blondel is firmly British - there's not even a mention of a medieval Eurovision ;) - seeking to be Master Of The King's Music.

Now a singing British monarchist wandering around the continent would maybe excite different kinds of comments. But back in 1983, the show did enough to warrant a West End transfer although only for a shortish run.

The story of Blondel, the troubadour who loyally searched around the castles of Europe for Richard the Lionheart who was abducted on his return from the Crusades, might once have been considered as a vehicle for a Danny Kaye movie. It's that sort of story which would have been fine for the talents of Kaye's wife, songwriter Sylvia Fine.

But by 1983, the era of the rock musical was upon us - helped not inconsiderably by Tim Rice - but Blondel, although at times mildly amusing, never manages to hit the heights with a plethora of nondescript songs, music by the late Stephen Oliver with additions by Matthew Pritchard,  superimposed on the Blondel legend and derivative college humour. 

The cast and crew of Blondel do their best but, to be honest, this feels less like an integrated fully-fledged musical and more of a 1980s' topical undergraduate review on the hollowed out globe of the medieval world designed by Ryan Dawson Laight.

That's not to say the cast isn't game and pushes it as far as they can.

The monks' barbershop quartet of David Fearn, Ryan Hall, Oliver Marshall and Calum Melville still make for precise and charming narrators. Neil Moors is a hearty, unintentionally callous Richard. The band, bass guitar, cello, violin and percussion, under the musical direction of Simon Holt, is exceptional. 

Director Sasha Regan and choreographer Chris Whittaker do their utmost to inject invention and raise the stakes.

It's not the fault of the hard-working cast that this remains a dated piece, wandering all over the place and soon becoming wearisome. Too rooted in the 1980s, it's a lower range amber light for a corny Brit-centric Euro mishmash musical. 

Review Food

A tale of sibling love and rivalry set in a Tasmanian chippy is a sizzling success for reviewer Peter Barker.

by Steve Rodgers

Deep Fried Emotions

Funny, dark and provocative Food by Australian Steve Rodgers fixes on women, sisterhood, growing up and sex with a firmly adult gaze. A gaze which also, of course, includes food. 

A three-hander, originally performed in Sydney in 2012, this is a skilfully-crafted one-act piece, a rite-of-passage play for two sisters in their twenties, a drama that's bleak yet finally filled with hope. 

Former wild child Nancy (Lily Newbury-Freeman)  has returned to the country town of her childhood. She and her stay-at-home sister Elma (Emma Playfair) cannot escape each other.

Still, Nancy spearheads a plan to transform their fish and chip takeaway on a Tasmanian outback highway into a sit-down eatery.

Into this world of food preparation, business expansion and sibling rivalry, yet also sisterly bonds, walks a charismatic Turkish backpacker, Hakan (Scott Karim).

Elma is quick to demonstrate to him  the fate of “bullshitters with wandering hands” utilizing a knife, named after a family matriarch.  However after he becomes hired hand, the sexual temperature within the kitchen soars.    

There are well-defined, detailed performances from Australian actors Newbury-Freeman as Nancy and Playfair as Elma. They manage to draw the audience viscerally into every tussle, even when raised voices and accents are at their loudest and broadest.

We warm equally to Karim's deliberately irritating but engaging performance - the testosterone-driven outsider both to the simmering sibling rivalry and to the Australian island.   

Structured over 90 minutes in the present and as a series of teenage childhood flashbacks, director Cressida Brown's traverse staging allows for intimacy and even for the performers to interact effortlessly with the audience.

While director Brown’s production is tight and quick moving, it still could have cut 10 minutes and lost nothing. Nevertheless, it remains constantly compelling.

Richard Williamson's highly effective lighting, Jon McLeod's sound and movement director Ita O'Brien's additions all evoke the sense of location and emotional intensity.

Hannah Wolfe cleverly keeps the design simple and fluid on an adaptable, multi-layered set with ladder and the heavy duty kitchen and catering props on wheels.

Food, both darkly raw and bright, has all the ingredients of a satisfying and thought-provoking drama.

It's a green light for a piece using food and sex to convey complex family ties alongside social and emotional challenges.

Review Rotterdam

by Jon Brittain

Crossing The Boundaries

Alice loves Fiona - known as Fi, pronounced "fee" - but she hesitates about telling her parents. Fi loves Alice but she would also love to be another person.

The dislocated expat crowd around them in Holland's major port includes Alice's ex-boyfriend, Josh, who is something in IT.

And of course, Holland being Holland, this is a translingual play, as well as transgender drama, with the Dutch speaking fluent Dutch offstage (naturally) and fluent English onstage (according to the British characters, unnaturally naturally).

This includes blonde lesbian Lelani, the ultra-cool Dutch shipping firm colleague who draws close as Alice on the rebound bounces around like a helium-filled party balloon.

We may never learn the Dutch for "shipping contract". However this comedy drama has a stellar, pitch perfect characterization from Alice McCarthy as Alice, a demure and businesslike perfectionist even when she turns wild.

Anna Martine Freedman matches her as the firmly proactive and initially certain Fiona, although, we learn, she badly misjudges her options and the reactions of those around her.

Ed Eales-White as techie Josh, straining at the leash to leave, and Ellie Morris as Alice's zany shipping firm Dutch co-worker, Lelani are equally strong in the supporting roles.    

With writer Jon Brittain's spry, well-focussed first act plot, there's both acid drop wit and laugh-out-loud moments. There's also a cheekily pert and colourful design by Ellan Parry and precise, inventive direction by Donnacadh O'Briain showing visual and oral dexterity.

The second act feels less organic and more stretched out to reach the desired ending. A character announcing, "It's a metaphor" tipped what had been a quivering in-between story, in more ways than one, over a clunkily explicit edge.

However this prescient play. first produced in 2015 at Theatre503, has a knowing simplicity and also caught a zeitgeist. It cleverly stirs in a now recognisable bitter Brexit-like uncertainty into a psychedelic syrup of sexual and economic issues and it's a green light.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Review Bat Out Of Hell

Bat Out Of Hell
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Steinman
Headbanging Hell Of A Show

Once upon a time there was a boy from New York who dreamed of writing a rock opera. 

He found a spiritual soulmate in a well-nourished singer with a seasoned-ground-beef-dish moniker. Yet these bright-eyed youths had their concept album continually rejected by the wicked executives from monolith record companies.  

But it was yah-boo-sucks to them when the album of those lost contractless boys became one of the bestselling albums in commercial music history. 

OK, Bat Out Of Hell was in reality released by a major label Cleveland International in 1977 which, almost 30 years later, went on to sue Sony Records for manufacturing copies without its logo. But why let the unromantic facts get in the way of a romantic story?

And hey, we now have Bat Out Of Hell  - a full-blown production at one of English opera's leading venues, the London Coliseum with those songs blasting out - and we mean, blasting out - echoing around its hallowed cupola! 

While Meat Loaf is deservedly celebrated as the vocal name on the Bat Out Of Hell album and its follow ups, the composer and lyricist was New Yorker Jim Steinman, who like Meatloaf, had his start in musical theatre before turning to rock. 

The evil (and of course middle-aged) Falco (Rob Fowler) and his vampish spouse Sloane (Sharon Sexton) rule over the Manhattan of the future aka the land of Obsidia. 

They over-protect sole offspring, daughter Raven  - shades of another concept album in that name - (Christina Bennington) locking her up in a luxurious skyscraper which, unfortunately for them, any old (or rather eternally young) Romeo can scale. 

Down below in the netherland (no, that isn't a spelling mistake!) is Strat (Andrew Polec) and his gang of illegals including Zahara (Danielle Steers), Strat's undercover spy in Falco Towers. 

Due to some enchantment or other, they are all frozen for ever at age 18 and duck and dive, evading Obsidian's security guards and traffic cops - TLT's automotive sidekick certainly perked up at their fate.

Directed by Jay Scheid, the fantastically talented cast on the fantastically conceived set, complete with stunning videos by Finn Ross, sweep the audience along with a raft of Steinman songs, some well-known, some lesser-known and a couple of new creations under the direction of Musical Supervisor Michael Reed.

With design by Jon Bausor reminiscent of many an album cover from when we spotty teens played those round vinyl discs found therein, it certainly lives up to the adjective spectacular and it's loud - headbanging loud and then some. 

Teamed up with this is the retro-parody or just plain clunky choreography, depending on your point of view, by Emma Portner plus Patrick Woodroffe's rather more fluent lighting and Gareth Owen's sound design.   
So whaddya we think of it? Bat Out Of Hell feels like An Experience - one which would work exceptionally well touring as a stadium show in the United States.

The old favourites are all there including the eponymous Bat Out Of Hell, loosely integrated into a bonkers' plot. So there's every opportunity to print out the lyrics and sing along - unless you're of operatic volume, you won't be heard in any case. If loud isn't your bag and you're still curious, you might want to sit up in The Gods.    

Projecting ourselves int a utopian musical theatre future, a cut-down version at a fringe venue might be interesting (but we doubt that would happen before - the movie ...??)!  

We enjoyed it as one-off but we wouldn't want to go again and again. However that's a matter of taste rather than the musical production values. It's an amber/green light from TLT and her (heavy metal) petrolhead sidekick.  

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Review Terror

by Ferdinand Von Schirach

A Question of Intent

In Peter Weiss's searing stage docu-drama The Investigation using extracts from the real-life Frankfurt Trials after World War II, there is a small but telling moment when we hear that there was a form of justice within Nazi concentration camps.

Military guards were disciplined for stealing from the piles of belongings gathered from those incarcerated and murdered in the camp. This was seen as a major infraction, whereas what was happening in the camp was seen as routine and legal.

And it doesn't seem as if any of the guards in their defence protested "You're killing and robbing  thousands, millions and you're accusing me of stealing?"

This could be seen as satire - if it hadn't really happened. 

We didn't know the background of Ferdinand von Schirach, the writer of Terror,  the "You decide" courtroom drama directed by Sean Holmes and translated by David Tushingham, before we read about him after the event.

Terror strikes us as a couched - rather too couched - satiric analysis of legal misdirection and diversion where the supposed moral conundrum can easily be dismantled in one sentence and the binary vote at the end is a palpable nonsense.

A rapid response military fighter pilot Lars Koch (Ashley Zanghaza) deployed when a civilian airplane is highjacked by a terrorist makes the decision to shoot the plane down against orders and against German constitutional law.

The motivation?  The plane carrying just over 160 passengers was heading for the Allianz stadium in Munich where there were 70,000 people. Is he guilty of murder?

All the audience aka voters are promoted flatteringly by judge (Tanya Moodie) to the status of "lay judges" and the very narrow remit laid before them.

If you decide to go to Terror, by the end you might be ruminating on a seemingly knotty moral conundrum.

Alternatively you might agree even a seemingly democratic electronic voting process can become the gateway to a coup if the judge, pilot, lawyers and even the court usher, who also stands by, is so inclined.

You might, on the other hand, accept the authority of the court and view the statements made by the judge, the lawyers and the questioning of two witnesses as transparent.

Or you might question why there are only two witnesses, the military air traffic controller  Lieutenant Colonel Christian Lauterbach (John Lightbody) and a passenger's wife named as "joint plaintiff" Franziska Meiser (Shanaya Rafaat) with everything else second hand through the judges and lawyers.

We'll make no bones about it. Having heard the evidence from two witnesses, the questioning and speeches of the prosecution (Forbes Masson) and defence (Emma Fielding) lawyers and something from the pilot, TLT refused to vote.

She might not be the only one because the number of abstainers was not counted - in fact we don't even know whether the final result was truly the way the audience voted.

TLT will also nip in here and say that a fact laid out by the prosecution and confirmed by the military witness demolished all subsequent arguments, although it was not included in the topsy turvy process when the judge summed up after the verdict.

We don't want to give too much more away but we'd put it like this. If TLT were a journalist covering this trial - which many will find rather dry and abstract - there is a startling news angle and headline  buried in a witness's testimony and then never referred to again. A spoiler hint about the course of action which could have been taken is on this link, if you want to click on it.

Now we'll reveal what we didn't realise until after the show. Ferdinand Von Schirach, the playwright, is the grandson of the head of the National Socialist Youth movement, Baldur von Schirach,  who also took part in the transportation Jewish citizens to concentration camps.

So the playwright, who is also a lawyer, has had plenty of years to consider how a murderous regime and a head of state can be voted in democratically under a seemingly "legal" veneer.

He seems also to have considered how people aren't that precise about analysing the facts against superficially logical arguments, even when it involves sacrifing hundreds of fellow citizens  - if these citizens are not their nearest and dearest or vital to their well-being.

Giving this away may seem like a partial spoiler, only ... there was nothing to flag this play up as a satire and not a courtroom drama and, if they could still be bothered, many left still trying to weigh up ponderously-put moral arguments.

In other words, this was for us about words and so-called moral arguments beguiling an audience away from an indisputable fact, judging (no pun intended) by the cross section around us.

We're willing to be corrected if it's not satire and it's just that nobody's noticed previously there is a prolonged section which contradicts the whole premise.

But, although we're vain, we're really not that vain, and a postscript to the published text, with the playwright expressing his admiration for Jewish German satirist Kurt Tucholsky, does seem to give a clue.

It's perfectly good acting and direction with a suitably awe-inspiring court designed by Anna Fleischle, even if the script becomes somewhat ponderous. In other circumstances, we might give it an amber light.

However  with the play marked not as a satire but as an interactive drama, "a worldwide phenomenon that's stirred debate across the globe", it feels fundamentally dishonest. For that alone we feel it should be a red light review.

It's a highly unusual situation for a TLT review - but we've laid out our prosecution and the defence. You decide. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Review These Trees Are Made Of Blood

These Trees Are Made Of Blood
Book by Paul Jenkins
Music and Lyrics by Darren Clark

That Was The Kidnapping And Murder That Was

The legacy of the Cold War years in South America is still very much with us with issues unresolved.

In 2015, director Amy Draper with writer Paul Jenkins and songwriter Darren Clark set about putting on stage "a political musical cabaret" about the Mothers Of The Plaza de Mayo who still stalwartly protest against the terrible abuses of the Argentinian regime at that time.

We didn't see The Trees Are Made Of Blood two years ago, but now the team behind the show, led by the same director, has revived it on a two-tier cabaret stage, designed by Georgina Lowe and Alex Berry, at Dalston's Arcola Theatre.

The headscarved women in the Plaza are the mothers of "The Disappeared",  many of them student activists, abducted by the military, raped, tortured and murdered in numbers estimated, according to Wikipedia, at anything from 7,000 to 30,000 between the 1970s and 1980s during Argentina's "Dirty War".

TLT has to be honest that she found the portrayal of these terrifying times channelling a nipple-tassel drag act, magic, stand up and turns seemingly trying to emulate the Cold War era British show That Was The Week That Was less than compelling.

Yet like many a musical, it's the book rather then  the music, lyrics, musicanship and singing, arranged by the composer for the band of Rosalind Ford, Neil Kelso, Eilon Morris, Anne-Marie Piazza and Josh Sneesby, which is the weak link.

The British creators  of These Trees Are Made Of Blood (a good title but rather at odds with the cabaret concept) are undoubtedly passionate about the subject. Even so, the cabaret veers  towards the generic. It feels  as if it is borrowing its cabaret structure rather than finding its own shape and voice.

In giving little or no hints about previous Argentinian history and culture, this piece, despite all the subsequent disturbing delving into the torture chambers, feels  uncontextualised and even sometimes skewed. So, for example, a British aspect to the story late on probably unintentionally gives Britain an almost heroic status. 

The combination of satirical cabaret and the more straightforwardly affecting tale of mother (Ellen O'Grady) and daughter (Charlotte Worthing) also sits rather awkwardly together.

Yet in the latter tale, when the General with great coat and epaulets who hosts the Coup Coup Cabaret and perpetrates countless crimes, is reduced to an aged civilian in a cardigan and slacks, the narrative has the potential to become piercingly insightful.

However reduced to the thinnest outline, with too neat an ending, this part of the play was almost  drowned out by the preceding sometimes over-egged cabaret set pieces.

There are still  more thoughtful, ambiguous lines within the cabaret. For example a mother-in-law joke indicating the deep structures of anti communism and a lawyers' network geared towards cover ups - but it feels too much like a throwaway line rather than hooking into the story,

OK, not all the audience have lived through the age of the  books, newspaper articles and documentaries which emerged some years ago covering the subject. These Trees Are Made Of Blood is certainly a solid introduction to this shameful history.

Nevertheless it could be a lot shorter and more pointed with the songs part of a tighter structure.

The problems, which have also now emerged concerning the children of kidnapping and rape, the grandchildren of the Mothers, are not even touched upon. It therefore feels merely expedient to take what should be a heartfelt slogan "Never Again" to end suddenly a meandering book and we give it an amber light.    

Monday, 19 June 2017

Review The Misanthrope

The/Le Misanthrope
by Molière

Back To You In The Studio, Alceste

The bilingual theatre company Exchange promises much in an interesting, if deeply flawed, version of  Molière's classic 17th century tragicomedy The Misanthrope. 

The milieu is updated from the French court to a contemporary TV and radio current affairs channel. Alceste is the misanthropic news anchor whose increasingly, in the eyes of others, bizarre behaviour  makes him bite the very hand that feeds him.

In a age when citizens globally are increasingly turning from mainstream news to a mishmash of opinion, soundbites, memes but also some genuinely investigative alternative sources, it's a pretty good concept for Molière's satire.

However, once the initial idea is in place, this under-rehearsed production doesn't fully think through the situation or push towards all the logical conclusions. It's not helped by an over-fussy set which tries to emulate a cinematic look but ends up impeding the action.

After a hesitant start and rather muffled diction also afflicting some other roles, the Alceste of David Furlong (who also directs) does develop as a very strong lead and gains in clarity and eventually pathos.

His dark-eyed, expressive looks both fit the 21st century role and give a glimpse of the 17th century courtier. This is in keeping with a successful verse translation, plus some additions for the new media age, which wisely doesn't attempt to change the fundamental 17th century text.  

Alceste is a TV anchor who turns against the hypocrisy of the life around him, railing at a world of artificiality, sycophancy and fraud. 

His uncompromising position when he refuses to give a flattering response to a wealthy would-be rapper and love rival  (Palmyre Ligué) leads to a law suit.  Meanwhile another of his targets, fellow TV celebrity Célimène (Anoushka Ravanshad) to whom he is also attracted, threatens his very sense of self.

It would be all too easy to call this version a mixture of the movie Network with the TV comedy series  Drop The Dead Donkey, but Molière's satire has a double edged potency and complexity which makes this a very crude summary. 

Yet, with some uneven performances aside, this production seems diverted by Donald Trump and fake news - video news clips and musical interludes roll on too long - and it misses a simpler and more focussed premise - a hard news reporter frustrated by his promotion to the role of celebrity presenter. 

There are consistently strong performances from Simeon Oakes as more measured colleague Philinte and Fanny Dulin as female co-presenter Eliante. 

However other roles lack timing with self-conscious Amadeus-like brays of laughter and awkward poses and pauses.

There are also performances in French on alternate nights, but the English version was decidedly under powered on press night, even if there were some powerful moments.  

Frustratingly, as with the concept, all the cast gave signs of being capable of better. However, this is a play which relies on a dynamic and intricate domino effect leaving the audience with no easy answers. 

The lasting impression was of an under-developed idea which left the actors adrift from each other, without a precise compass for their particular role, rather than sparking a chain reaction which Alceste finally ruptures. It's a lower range amber light.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Review Hamlet

Peter Barker finds wit and passion in a production where the gulf between the generations looms large.

by William Shakespeare 

Catching The Conscience Of A Nation

The transfer of the Almeida Theatre’s Hamlet into the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre is an unadulterated success, with Andrew Scott leading an accomplished cast in a memorable production.

Scott achieved global fame for his Moriarty to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, but where Moriarty is an evil genius, Scott’s Hamlet is an angry and very human young man.

It's a cliché, but it's still worth repeating, Hamlet is so multi-faceted it’s always possible to draw insights from it into the human condition and also for it to be a thermometer reading of contemporary times.

And so it is with this production. Scott’s temperature is hot -- he is at fever pitch, but the prince’s antic disposition reflects the passionate anger of a young person betrayed, confused, numbed and then outraged by the actions of his parents’ generation.

He knows the marriage of his mother Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) to her brother-in-law Claudius (Angus Wright) is wrong. The transfer of this production comes after a series of terrible, wrong real-life events.

The  numb shock, the realisation, the profound anger suddenly takes on new resonance as the famous lines and the play-within-a-play within Hamlet speak afresh.

The ghost of Hamlet's father brings clarity to and hones Hamlet's intentions and, many would say, reflects a generation gap between older and younger citizens where global warming, career insecurity, lifelong debt and the breaking of social contracts is descending on us in wave after wave.

Scott’s  Irish accented Hamlet chops at his words which jump out at the audience with the driest of humour and, above all, a burning, angry, raw intelligence. His rhythms and intonations are pure 21st century.

Obviously with the worldwide fan base and celebrity, many of the audience around me were under 35 and possibly not there solely to see a Shakespeare play. Yet this is visceral production that may have taken many of them unawares and given them arguments to follow and grasp in a gripping plot during febrile times.  

Director Robert Icke’s production, with set and costume by Hildegard Bechtler, is also pure 21st century.

There are video screens, dodgy Internet connections (Claudius cannot even get his computer to start, he has to be helped by IT), and live video streaming.

Even the supernatural is inextricably associated with CCTV broadcast and a bank of video screens manned by castle security guards with events reported as if they were breaking news.

Stevenson’s Gertrude also goes through her own revelation and re-evaluation of what is going on, the turning point coming when she is watching the play-within-a-play as she is needled into, "The lady doth protest too much" and her own realization.

Peter Wight’s Polonius, the well-upholstered old-guard courtier has the manner of a local freemasonry lodge stalwart, eminently believable in his verbal pomposity as an out-of-touch palace politician.

Icke’s production overall has wit: when Hamlet appears he has a worn leather suitcase, his baggage is dragged around  as if he is always prepared to be a traveller to "the undiscovered country",

And, aside from the monologues, ths intimate production breaks the fourth wall, with Claudius and Hamlet invoking the audience and the royal family literally taking front row seats. .

It’s nearly 35 years since I saw my first Hamlet followed by several since then. Scott’s Hamlet is the wittiest, most intelligent, and most humane of them all and it is a performance that will long stay with me. A green light for a production which achieves greatness.  .

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Review Remnants

by Erratica
Created And Directed by Patrick Eakin Young
Based On The Memoir The Stone Fields By Courtney Angela Brkic
Composed by Christian Mason and Shelley Parker

Beneath The Surface

When terrible events occur, it can feel to those involved that the world is divided up into those who have gone through such trauma and those who have not, with no bridge to cross over from one to another.

Remnants combines real-life verbal testimony, dance, original electronic music and Balkan folk song to give a very particular history of a family in Croatia and Bosnia Herzogovina.

It is based on the family history and experiences of a first generation American, Courtney Angela Brkic, whose father and relatives endured the Second World War in Sarajevo and then saw both within the country and from the vantage point of the USA, the collapse into civil war in the 1990s and its aftermath.

The remnants of the title are both the clothes of the massacred and the individual and communal memories of lives - and deaths - stretching back to the Second World War and all are excavated during the course of the performance.

Created and directed by Canadian Patrick Eakin Young, a cast of five evoke the double layered tale of the 1940s and the 1990s.

Fabiola Santana is Brkic's representative on stage with close cropped hair and angular choreographed movements (choreography by Jamila Johnson-Small) which also convey the dislocation of the land of her childhood visits.

The recorded words of Brkic bear witness to her own literal part in the excavation as a forensic archeologist after the late 20th century civil war which ripped the country apart set against her grandmother's and father's lives in the Balkans and America.

Starting from Brkic's relationship with her father, the piece moves fluently between the young woman's work as part of the forensic team trying to identify the human remains and clothing of the Srebrenica massacre victims.

Brkic's words and projections of family photographs also lead us back to the village in Herzogovina of her father, uncle and grandmother. The four sisters, played by Emma Bonnici, Victoria Couper, Eugenia Georgieva and Olesya Zorovetska are introduced using music, percussion and haunting voices in song.

With musical direction by Jamie Mann, a soundscape by Alex Groves and electronic music  by Christian Mason and Shelley Parker, the cohesions and factures of the family are then traced after the narrator's widowed grandmother moves to Sarajevo with her two young sons. In the city she strikes up a relationship with the son of a Jewish shopkeeper before the catastrophe of the second World World War and a fate which reflects back on the civil war of the 1990s. 

The story is outlined with sensitivity with an abstract black and white set lit by Burke Brown and  designed by Ana-Ines Jabares-Pita, with minimal props but enough to conjure up the ways in which women were left without any certainty about the fate of their husbands, sons and other male relatives.

While the production is smooth and abstract, it's a raw, horrific story and sometimes one longs for a little more context even if the tale of an individual family draws us in.

There are a series of events and an exhibition accompanying this piece and the affecting performance does feel like a threshhold stimulating a curiosity to find out more and it is careful not to try and bridge the divide with sentimentality.

It's a compact and clear meditation taking us beneath what might otherwise seem like cliché and we give it an amber/green light.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Review Bring On The Bollywood

Catherine Kelly's career has included freelance journalism, as well as art director and magazine editor roles. She currently runs training workshops and has worked extensively in India.

Bring On The Bollywood
by Samir Bhamra
Music by Devesh Sodha and Niraj Chag

From India With Love

A feel-good extravaganza, Bring On The Bollywood, currently on tour,  has plenty of talent on board within its romantic East versus West star-crossed lovers musical comedy format.

There's a love story with many of the elements and twists and turns expected of a Bollywood movie plus a neat twist examing contemporary British Indian attitudes towards India.

Inspired by Oliver Goldsmith's eighteenth century play She Stoops To Conquer, the stock figures of Goldsmith's comedy and the Bollywood genre meld together well. It proves a strong framework setting up the modern against  the traditional, reality versus idealism, all within a romantic comedy that pays heart-warming homage to Bollywood.

Nisha Aaliya's Dr Katrina Pawar is our London-based heroine who returns to her parents' home in India for the wedding of her younger brother, Lucky played by Anthony Sahota. There's a series of tangles resulting in Katrina's parents' home being mistaken for a hotel but true love wins the day when the "samosa" love triangle is resolved.

Dance, unsurprisingly in a show modelled on Bollywood, takes centre stage choreographed by Subhash Viman,  Dr Leena Patel and Sonia Sabri  in a dazzling and dizzying array of ensemble set pieces. Many of the songs are also recognisable from Bollywood movies.  

Nevertheless it's long at nearly three hours and would benefit from hefty cutting and pacier direction by the show's creator and director Samir Bhamra.

This might also have increased the chemistry  between the two good-looking leads,  Aaliya as Katrina and  Robby Khela, who displays fine vocals, as her British born Indian love interest Ronny.

In a supporting role, Yanick Ghanty as Bollywood actor Amit has plenty of earthy comic swagger and is nicely matched with Rekha, an innocent Indian ward of the Pawar family, gracefully played by Sophie Kandola. Errant playboy son Lucky is a star turn by Sahota whose easy mastery of physical comedy quickly won the affection of the audience.

At the same time, it's often the more experienced veteran actors who carry the show.

Avita Jay's lovelorn Kanga gives maximum value both in the acting and singing stakes. Sakuntala Ramanee as the powerhouse matriarch matchmaker Lalita determined to marry off her children and Rohit Gokani as her bumptious husband Colonel Sunder Pawar also push the production up a much needed gear - ‘We don’t like each other but we love each other’.

There's spirited work from the dance ensemble of Emiko Jane Ishii, Jo Bispham, Mithun Gill, Raheem Mir, Kesha Raithatha.

However, having recorded backing tracks rather than live music did sap some of the energy out of the show and made me wonder whether it needed more volume to get audience toes tapping.

Apart from one clever transition when the Indian villa became a mountain top, the set, designed by Richard Evans, seemed rather inflexible in signalling mood and location changes, although Pete Bragg's lighting design made up a lot of the deficit.

Bring On The Bollywood has a great concept, story premise and  a witty script with depth and insight even if more experience in the 24-strong cast would give it the zing it deserves. However, the audience around me thoroughly enjoyed it and it's a sparkling upper range amber light.