Friday, 29 July 2016

Review Exposure The Musical

Exposure The Musical
Book, Music and Lyrics by Mike Dyer 

Out Of Focus

For a musical about a photographer, Exposure  is curiously uninterested in photography. There's a hint of something here and there but it's never - please pardon the old-style film pun - fully developed.

The strapline is "Life Through The Lens" and we're first presented to embryo photographer Jimmy when  he's -well - an an ultrasound image. A projected photo of  the baby in the womb, a photographic process not entirely without risk and pain itself, towers over the stage.

Nevertheless the backers of this new musical have taken the risk and may still feel the pain because this kind of insight and coherence is never followed through in Exposure.

The set design by Timothy Bird clicks open like a camera shutter onto an African landscape. It's a clever enough concept but gets entirely lost in the random scenes and grab bag of styles, stories and clichés which follow.

Jimmy's photojournalist Dad (Kurt Kansley) is in a drought-stricken African country where an aid worker (Jahrel Thomas) pleads with him to take photos to tell the world of a starving people's plight with hoardes crowded into refugee camps.

But the photographer crosses the line when he takes a photo of a rainmaking ritual conducted by a local shaman who along with his tribe believes a photo steals the subject's soul. Cue for a song maybe? A bit of simple research on the internet reveals real experiences of photographers  and ruminations of others on soul stealing  

But the songs have only the frailest connection to photography and any development of the story. We're always willing to give new writing latitude. But a musical progressing from Africa to a projection of a foetus in a womb with the buff topless Jimmy (David Albury)  emerging singing from the shadows after his father's death, part beautified Frankenstein, part Chippendale (wait a moment - we haven't reached it yet!) with the memorable lyric "A womb with a view"?  (EM Forster and Noel Coward must be groaning at the well-worn pun, as well as turning in their graves.)

And so it goes on. It's an obviously fine cast, directed by Phil Willmott, who give their all and in grappling with the unwieldy material rise as far as they can above it all.

To try and sum up the story - Jimmy is determined from his schooldays to become a photographer while his mate blonde Janet (I'd Do Anything's Niamh Perry) has designs to become a vocal superstar, but ominously chooses the name "Pandora's Box" for her combo. Cue a lively schoolyard routine (choreography Lindon Barr) which might fit well into a youth musical.

Roll on the years, and Jimmy and Pandora are now all growed up pursuing their respective careers but bound to "fixer to the stars" Miles Mason (Michael Greco) who locks Jimmy and Pandora into draconian contracts and  turns out to be the devil in disguise. One of the contractual stipulations seems to be that Jimmy should ride off into the twilight zone and photograph the Seven Deadly Sins.

Cue a totally off-the-wall underground Faustian parade of the Seven Deadly Sins. That's underground as in the London Tube with station puns ranging from Anger Lane to Lusting Bec. Plus a range of influences from Cats to Roald Dahl. And there's Jimmy's traffic accident, on the motorbike gifted to him by Miles after receipt of his soul, with a hospital scene like a cross between All That Jazz  and Angels in America. 

Oh and pregnant Pandora takes an overdose while her elderly sugar daddy is on the phone arranging for her to have an abortion while Jimmy has a love interest in a homeless Irish lass, Tara (Emmerdale regular Natalie Anderson), who sells angels made out of Coke tins on Jermyn Street..

Apparently the legacy of the never-mentioned archive left by Jimmy's late Dad isn't enough to sustain his son and pay the bills. Jimmy's life and exploitation by Miles Mason is played out with classic images from the Getty archive flashed before our eyes, but there's no valid exploration of the photographer's trade.

The superficial clunky clichés only serve to highlight the curiously dated view of photography where the paparazzi are still viewed as all-powerful with  no competition from amateurs with mobile phones. 

Sure it is artistically fine to have the father dressed like an old style war photographer of the Frank Capa/Don McCullin mode. 

However when the costuming (designer Carla Goodman) and make up have a far more interesting narrative than the book, it's a musical with the wrong zoom lens. So it's a TLT rare red/amber light, red for the musical and amber for the cast and musicians who do their best with a piece which should have stayed in the darkroom

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Review The Plough And The Stars

The Plough And The Stars
by Seán O'Casey

A Terrible Beauty 

What a strange and devastating play, Seán O'Casey's The Plough And The Stars turned out to be. Turned out, because TLT and her own little theatre patriot did not know the piece and for three quarters of this drama, played out against the background of the run up to and during the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin against British rule, they did wonder where it was going. 

And then came an event that put everything into a terrible perspective and made us go over and re-evaluate what had gone before and why. The production at the Lyttleton Theatre, co-directed by Howard Davies and Jeremy Herrin, is not perfect but it does the business effectively.  

The Plough and The Stars is the flag first used by the Irish Citizen Army 12 years before the Easter uprising, O'Casey was born John Casey of Protestant working class stock  and was once a member before disillusionment at the abandonment of a more global socialist cause. 

The play was first produced in 1926 amid controversy and riots at the Abbey Theatre, where it was staunchly defended by Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats,who had self-censored his own poem on the Rising, only privately circulating it, "All changed, changed utterly/A terrible beauty is born."

For feelings and politics were still raw and O'Casey's play touches on events many setting up the new Irish state  would rather have had forgotten. The drama is set squarely amongst the working class, many of whom were on the breadline and barely surviving in the Dublin tenements, once the homes of rich Georgian merchants under British imperial rule, now run-down multi-occupancy buildings. Many of these tenants, if not content, had enough to deal with without disturbing the status quo of  prospective Home Rule.

Living there are the charwoman Mrs Gogan (Josie Walker) with her dying consumptive daughter Mollser (Róisín O’Neill)Mrs Gogan whom we first encounter as she chances upon the delivery to young bride Nora Clitheroe (Judith Roddy) of a fashionable hat which the char takes as a sign of the younger woman's snobbery and spendthrift ways. 

It is in fact a gift from Nora's husband, bricklayer Jack (Fionn Walton), far more deserving of Mrs Gogan's condemnation as he sulks for being passed over, he believes, for promotion within the Citizen Army and fails to understand the savagery and danger of the call to arms

Nora's elderly labourer uncle Peter (Lloyd Hutchinson) preens himself in a ceremonial uniform and  Covey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a young cousin, buttonholes anyone he can with worthy socialist sentiments without possessing the charm or wit to convert those around him who are either scraping a living or swept up by divisive nationalist sentiment.  

Protestant neighbour Bessie Burgess (Justine Mitchell), whose son is away fighting for the British in the First World War, brawls with Mrs Gogan in the local pub while from the window we see the shadowy outline of the speechifying political leader exalting the blood letting in the global conflict  in a crescendo of words, a means of rousing Dublin men to fight British rule. 

There's a certain inpenetrability to some of the accents in the first part of the play but the characters still hold. In many ways, they are stock types. Look there, and there's Orphelia and isn't there even a touch of the Leopold Bloom in Fluther Good (Stephen Kennedy), the carpenter who fixes doors and helps arrange funerals.  

At the same time, there's something profound about how the characters merge into  literary types as if we can see the sordid realities of history turned into the myths of the forthcoming Irish nation before our eyes, yet then we go backwards behind the myths as  the play ends with shattered buildings and bodies.

For it's not just that Mrs Gogan and Bessie Burgess come together, using a baby's pram to loot the shops in the chaos of the Uprising. Or the unfurling of the starry plough flag in the ignoble surroundings of the pub while prostitute Rosie (Gráinne Keenan) and carpenter Fluther carouse as the bloodthirsty speeches continue outside. 

When Bessie yells "We've all been Shanghai'ed", O'Casey is looking back from 1926 when a year before police fired on Chinese workers in a labour movement protes against imperialism in the international compound of the Chinese city. 

Evocative revolving sets from designer Vicki Mortimer give physical embodiment to  the claustrophobia of eavesdropping neighbours and events both in 1916 and in the 1920s. So it's a green light for an angry play which cannot offer any solutions yet resonates with the tiny acts of solidarity amidst  treachery and bloodshed.      

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Review The 2 Sides of Eddie Ramone

The 2 Sides of Eddie Ramone
by Chris Sullivan

A Comedian's Wake

Poor old Eddie - you have to feel for him. Like some latter day Charon, he's left standing on a boat, in his words, going "into auto pilot". A stand-up comedian on a North Sea cruise ship ploughing its way through choppy seas from and to Hull - just one vowel away from the other place.  

In this way Eddie (Emmerdale and Bergerac veteran Chris Sullivan) starts his act in The 2 Sides of Eddie Ramone. Dressed in the colours of a prelate, red jacket and black silk shirt, he takes the usual place under the spotlight in front of the microphone with a routine minted before television voraciously devoured years of jokes honed on the musical hall and club cricuit and spat them out all in one night.

Both written and directed by Dublin-born Sullivan, Eddie,  an Irishman with (his stage surname Ramone presumably taken from  the famously divided punk pioneers) used to be something big on the telly, a quiz show host. Part of a perfect family with a wife and talented daughter, convent educated Katie (Shian Denovan) who, with help from her Dad, went straight into a sitcom after drama school.

***Diversion alert!

In her earlier incarnation as a local newspaper journalist, your venerable motorised reviewer used to speed through  the listings for forthcoming events and write a par (that's journalese for paragraph, doncha know?! ;)) on each show. Until it came to  stand up comedy, when she would have to do a phone interview with a comedian.

Because comedy, we can assure you, is no laughing business. The comedians were invariably deadly serious, often talking about their craft and their influences ... etc etc. And TLT knows all about going into auto pilot.

Nevertheless, the best one was the comedian who'd been filmed often as an audience member clapping and whooping enthusiastically. TLT ended up subbing her own copy after swapping to the subs' (that's journalese for sub editor, doncha know?!) desk and coming up with the immortal headline "Britain's Best Known Unknown".

We've often wondered since then whether Donald Rumsfeld's scriptwriter, while looking through British local newspapers for ideas, as they all obviously do ;),  coopted it for his boss's most famous (and in the opinion of some, most shifty) line. Not that scriptwriters are ever known for doing such things ;). Whaddya mean, get back to the point?! ;)


Anyway  back to Eddie. The play sprang into life as a one-man show in Santa Monica and then had a moderately successful run at the Edinburgh Festival.

Now developed as a two-hander, it does indeed capture something of the seriousness, not just in the plotting, but the single-mindedness coupled with vulnerability needed for the successful comedian. 

The tragic tale of Eddie and his daughter can be taken at face value as a family melodrama. But it also explores the  intersection between celebrity, family, sex, the paparazzi and reality TV. Plus the new digital television environment (the sub editor in me did wonder whether this was why the title had "2" in figures instead of the word "Two"), drugs, booze, prostitution and, with an extremely light touch, politics and agents.

The performances are skilful and the drama draws together throughtfully the threads of our modern age. Sullivan shows his chops as a seasoned actor, although occasionally at the beginning, there was a tendency to drop his voice a little too confidentially and inaudibly in filmic style. Denovan is impressive as his daughter Katie, in the garb of a medieval nun, in whom past, present and future meet. 

At the same time, the balance between stereotypical dramatic tropes and the all-too common causes of true-life celebrity downfall  is a delicate one to maintain. The pacing sometimes sags and we did wonder what the eye of a separate director would bring out in the subtle interlacing of themes where literature becomes intertwined with life. 

Still it's a detailed performance from Sullivan with Denovan successfully portraying the younger generation and the uncredited lighting following a trajectory of its own with a hint at one point of early filmmaking. 

The play runs until Saturday, July 30 and with a rousing yet elegaic Joycean ending going back to Eddie's music hall roots coming over crystal clear, this was a thought-proving 70 minutes with a pleasing delivery. So it's an amber light from your very own TLT reviewing double-act.  

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Review Some Girl(s)

Some Girl(s)
by Neil LaBute

 The Glittering Prize

Guy,  or maybe it would be more accurate to say (Some) Guy is a writer. He's reached a kind of pinnacle, a short story in The New Yorker. Wow, let all college educated would-be writers envy him! Now he's going on a pilgrimage through America. Many would say a peverse pilgrimage.

Instead of a Stag Night before his marriage, he's going on a stag journey to search out his former girlfriends, all of whom he has dumped in one way or another, after his beginnings working in a grocery store in Seattle through to the quest finale in Los Angeles or, more accurately, Hollywood.

Our latter day (almost) chaste pilgrim (Charlie Dorfman) seems bent on extracting every exquisite ounce of experience from his budget hotel room odyssey, locking horns and messing with minds of his ex-squeezes.  Women he has known previously both mentally and in the biblical sense, before he gets, in his words, "hitched".

Mom of two redhead Sam (Elly Condron), his High School sweetheart, still flushes with anger as she recalls he dumped her just before Prom Night for another Yearbook princess whom he claims was like a "sister" rather than love interest.

Good time gal Tyler (Roxanne Pallett) has an inventive way of introducing him to French cigarettes, but he left her after finishing his Masters in  Illinois, while being neither quixotic enough nor villainous enough to make it as the literary character he imagines.

Then his own Mrs Robinson at Harvard, lecturer in gender studies steely Mrs Bergstrom (Carolyn Backhouse), whose husband, his college mentor, is characterised in Shakespearean terms as "a cuckold".

All this, before the ultimate link in the chain,  both hotel-room-wise and career wise, Hollywood Bobbi (Carley Stenson) whom we may expect to be actress, but instead turns out to be a medic who apparently exposes his injurious way of rewriting history to suit his own clumsy literary predilections.

Guy moves through hotel rooms and past flames with an almost polygamous relish, a collector, where his words have a scriptural resonance in their cross referencing as much as  being part of his self-appointed script.

At the end of the first act, TLT and her ongoing automotive companion was willing to class this slick production and the play as merely enjoyable and well-acted with a schematic feel.

It's the deepening of the play in the second act which changed their minds as the commercial, the political, the craft and Guy's ability to conform to the set byways and highways leading to the Hollywood pitch merge. It's ss if he were some latter day Mowgli methodically educated into the Law Of The Jungle in a society and craft based on the tutor-tutee relationship. As he himself says, "Hey, I'm a quick study

For with every episode, divided by airline video projections and rock music, we look forward and backward understanding how his career has progessed. And while each woman has every reason to hate his guts and his ascension to the New Yorker where his story has cannibalised their lives  they also participate in his progress towards Hollywood and seem to know they are shaping his success as they act out the stereotypes for him. .

Directed by Gary Condes, this is a production which has some very self-conscious scene changes. Yet this actually is in keeping with the feel of the writer as apprentice moving through the chain and a series of studio-like scenarios where women resign themselves to teaching him about scriptwriting stereotypes.

Guy's  not especially talented, he thinks he is autonomous and is allowed to be downright sadistic and ruthless. Yet at the same time he makes all the right moves. For a play and production with skilful hurt and heft, we give a green light.