Interview with the Author

February 23, 2018 by

Interviewer: So, TL, you’re accused of basing your plays on your life and people you know. What do you say to that?
Me: 100% true! I’m just lucky that I’ve lived long enough to have lots to write about.
I: Isn’t this unethical?
TL: I’d ask Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill.
I: Aren’t you worried about running out of material?
TL: No, I’m worried about running out of time.
I: Wouldn’t you get more writing done if you lived someplace quieter?
TL: For a while, but then I’d lose that buzz for writing I get living in such an electrifying environment. Stewart Pringle, Sophia Conner (my dramaturgue), Ralph Bogard, Erin Wilson… Being in London makes me want to make theater. Talent, venues, collaborators … it’s just heaving with possibilities.
I: Don’t forget the inspiration of seeing so many other plays!
TL: Oh yeah, always nice to have one of those nights where you go, “Yeah, I could do better than that.”
I: That’s not what I meant.
TL: Really? I promise you, when I walk out of a Jez Butterworth or Mike Bartlett, all I’m thinking is, “Might as well throw in the towel, I’ll never be that good.” But then Alan Bennett writes a new play, and I think,”Oh yeah, always room for one more.”

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Review – Snow White and the Seven Poofs – Simon Gross at the Karma Sanctum Hotel

December 20, 2017 by

It’s been some years since I last saw this adult version of the classic Snow White, in an evening that broke my brain so hard I actually went back a second time. In fact, this show is the reason why I am now a connoisseur of adult pantos. Yeah, sure, Above the Stag may have all of the hunky boys in theirs, but Simon Gross has the bitchy drag queens and the jokes that leave me crying, with bonus audience hassling and great music. By the end of the night EVERYBODY was dancing along, and it doesn’t get better than that at a panto.

The new venue left something to be desired – while the Karma Sanctum Hotel is a sweet little joint, £12 cocktails are OW when you’re a reviewer on a budget and the downstairs room where the show was held had a completely flat floor that meant sight lines were not the best. But I sat in the front row, so I didn’t care, and to be honest with a sold out house that was probably soused when they got in the door, I doubt most of the other customers cared that much either.

The costumes are cheap and the cast is quirky (although Vicki Vivacious is not just lively as Snow White but proves quick with insults and banter – two customers who popped to the loos during a scene were rewarded with her appearing from behind the curtains to render judgement on their “qualifications”), and there’s no doubt in my eyes people who are looking for a trad panto will find much to complain about. But what did I get for my £20? Great jokes from “Queen Showbiz” (Simon Gross as a very unattractive stepmother); truly funny dance numbers done by a talented cast (the YMCA one introducing the dwarves, including Sub, Dom, and Muscle Mary was right on the money); piles of improv (sometimes as people forgot their lines but whatevs); and GOOD music we were encouraged to sing and dance to.

YMCA as danced by Snow White’s Dwarves. Poofs.


And you know what? The audience was in to it. They were dancing, they were laughing at the jokes (even when they were being made fun of), they were clapping and roaring with laughter. Compared to the rather stiff show I saw at the Hackney last week, this was miles ahead if fun is what matters to you. It feels rough and sometimes tattered, but to me this has more of the true feeling of the British music hall tradition and the true sense of panto than any show with a million pounds to spend on costumes and top notch professionals combing through their scripts to make sure every little joke is guaranteed to offend nobody. I’m glad I went back and I’ll be looking for Gross’s panto next year; this is the perfect remedy for the Christmas blues. For me, it was the bubbles in my champagne – or, let’s be honest, cava, because we’re not that high class. Be sure to drink heavily before your arrival and DON’T sit in the front row.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, December 19th, 2017. It continues through January 7th. It’s apparently selling out so if you want to go get your tickets now, the venue is SMALL.)

Review – The Shadow over Innsmouth – Hidden Basement Productions at the London Horror Festival

October 27, 2017 by

For me, the highlight of the program for this year’s London Horror Festival was always going to be The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which I had missed on its previous outing in 2015. I know, how could I have, yet with only two day runs for most of these shows, you really have to be on top of your schedule to get to see all of your best picks.

So as you probably know, I’m a Lovecraft fan of long running, or at least a fan of Lovecraft theater. I’m a big fan of the mythos Lovecraft created and really enjoy seeing how people take the source material and make it come alive. This is even more of a thought to me after adapting a Lovecraft work myself last year, but, honestly, I’m still just approaching this like a fan, but a theater fan first. I want to see a good play on stage. Would Hidden Basement deliver? Or would they be too faithful to the original and succeed in recounting the story without making a good play happen?

I’m pleased to report that this inventive company has taken a broad and emotionally satisfying approach to retelling this classic tale of horror. The key moments were covered: the bus ride; the strangeness of Innsmouth; the incident at the general store; the meeting with Zadok Allen; Zadok’s history of the town; the revelation of the narrator’s unexpected past. The fishiness of the folk was handled nicely through the use of puppets, as was the need of having other characters than could be managed just by Phillip North and Claire Matthews – at one point they put the narrator’s hat on top of a hanger and both had a conversation with it. Genius!

The overall feeling of this extremely funny show was one of a light touch with a heavy coat of humor and a tasteful selection of illustrative props (the crown being a touch of genius – its airy construction encouraging us to see the glories described to us – or perhaps entirely missing depending on how reliable you chose to find Robert Olmstead’s story). The Narrator was very obviously going mad … or, shall I say, feeling like he was going mad as he was attempting to adjust his thinking to a very new version of reality. I belly laughed when he started trying to have a conversation with the fish he’d been served for dinner … but how was I to know what was real and what was imagined? This constant struggle between the everyday reality and the intrusion of an external, malevolent reality surrounding our own was nicely illustrated by the rock solid practicality of the narrator’s bride, whose frustrating interactions with her increasingly less sane fiance were QUITE amusing. In short, Hidden Basement delivered a show that was both a winner as an hour long theater piece (it was tremendously engaging) and as a fresh take on a horror classic. With luck it will be revived again, as of the many Lovecraft adapations I’ve seen, this was one of the best.

(This is a review of a show that took place on October 17. 2017 at the Old Red Lion as a part of the

Review – Lucky Stiff – Union Theatre

October 3, 2017 by

While death and comedy seem to have little in common, there have been more than a few occasions where the presence of a corpse has livened up (see what I did there?) a work of fiction. The classic is William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying – but it’s hardly a comedy. No, you’d have to go to the heights (or depths) of musical theater to find a dead body that adds laughs to a show … and this is exactly what you get in Lucky Stiff, currently playing at the Union Theater. I had seen Ahrens and Flaherty’s Ragtime some years back, but that didn’t prepare me for the OUTRAGEOUS FUN of Lucky Stiff. I mean, it was like the very best Hollywood comedies – you know, the ones where you end up gasping for breath because the jokes never stop? The ones where every single actor is hamming it up so much that you barely know who to watch? Yeah, Lucky Stiff was that kind of funny – a really snappy script, brilliant actors, and then to make it even better THERE WERE A BUNCH OF SONGS. All it needed was a little tap dancing, really.

Right, so let’s recap the plot. Harry Witherspoon, dull (yet handsome, yes that’s you Tom Elliot Reade) shoe salesman, has little to look forward to in life until he comes home to discover that an American relative who he never knew has died and left him millions of dollars. The catch, though, is that he has to take his uncle’s corpse on a final visit to Monaco. With six million dollars riding on it, Witherspoon of course says yes; but what he doesn’t realize is that both a representative of the alternate inheritor (a dog shelter) is heading his way to try to trip him up, along with his uncle’s ex-girlfriend, who’s convinced the corpse has the key to the money she helped Harry’s uncle embezzle from her husband’s casino. So: Monte Carlo, a square, a corpse, a sincere young woman (Natasha Hoeberigs), and a money hungry New Jersey bimbo (Natalie Moore -Williams) whose lies have attracted the attention of the mob … kinda looks like old Harry may have bit off a bit much, huh?

As you might guess, everything starts going wrong for everybody – I mean, come on, this set up is pretty much the definition of madcap, just as much as the classic “scientist brings home chimpanzee for the weekend.” It could all seem a bit too much, but everyone, including the corpse (Ian McCurrach) throws themselves into their roles with gusto. The songs aren’t Sondheim, but they add extra bubbles to the mix and gives us some headroom to develop affection for our lead character and for him to develop … well, a romantic interest. A song comparing the loyalty of boyfriends compared to dogs? I got a bit teary!

The overall mood of the show was ebullient, and with a tight two hour running time it’s a perfect after work snack. Feel free to load up at the “prosecco on tap” bar in the foyer … a fizzy feeling is the perfect accompaniment to this frothy, giddy show.

(This review is for the opening night perfomance which took place on September 29th, 2017. The show continues through October 21st.)

Review – Follies – National Theater

September 3, 2017 by

Imagine going into an attic, and finding a dusty Faberge egg. You open it, and inside is a music box, two keys broken. You wind it up and it starts playing pretty music while little jeweled characters whirl around in the semi-darkness. This is Follies. The story concerns a reunion of old showgirls in a crumbling Broadway theater; they reminisce about the old times, do some numbers in the guise of reliving memories, and perform a few things together as their current selves while the shadow of their past mirror them in the wings and disintegrating dressing rooms. Eventually the story focuses on two couples, Sally and Buddy Plummer (Imelda Staunton and Peter Forbes) and Phyllis and Benjamin Stone (Janie Dee and Philip Quast), whose lives have not quite matched the hopes they had back when the girls were on stage and the boys were wooing them. This leads to an entire suite of “The Follies” of these four people … which has a total “jumped the shark” feel to it, but hey, it’s a musical, when do these things make sense? If Sondheim was tired of writing songs in the style of old vaudeville numbers and wanted to do more emotional reveals, that suited me fine. And the dance numbers from this section were just completely nuts – probably closer to what an actual review would have been like back in the day but something I’d really never seen on stage – only in the movies.
faberge-egg
Are you reading this to decide whether or not to go? Then open a new tab and just get yourself some tickets now, because if you love musicals of the Sondheim variety, then you probably already knew you had to go and just wanted confirmation. I’m doing that. You’re confirmed. And remember the National releases rush seats every Friday for the next week’s show for 20 quid – so if it’s sold out by the time you read this, it’s not in fact too late – you just need to jump on the ticket buying next Friday. (And please remember it’s 2:10 no interval so save your wine for after the show.)

To me, the genius of this production is doing this show in London, where assembling some ten or so top shelf actresses who are out of the ingenue era is as easy as grabbing a handful of sweeties out of a candy barrel, and we, the audience, come out winners (while the actresses get some damned fine material to work with). Our cornucopia of theatrical riches spills out on stage, greatly enhanced by the National’s shameless expediture on brilliant costumes for the “young” versions of the various actresses – Miss 1930, Miss 1925, et cetera – which we get to sit and enjoy as they glimmer and shimmy behind or alongside their modern (1971) counterparts.

The various conceits – of having musical numbers done from this classic era of stage, of shifting the story between the “girls” and the two couples, of having all of the characters represented by both their modern and their much younger selves – does so much to structure this show that it feels like it teeters of the edge of having just gone too far but ends up feeling masterful. We are just as much in the hands of a person who is on top of their game as I was earlier this year at The Ferryman. And the four leads were … well, actually, I do have a bit of a beef, because although I came to see Imelda Staunton, I felt that as Sally Plummer she was too one note. Sure, the character is a bit unhinged, and yeah Ms Staunton can dance and sing, but … I thought there were more depths to be found, somewhere, especially by such a skilled actress as Staunton. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe Sally was just written that way. But as consolation we have the magnificent “Losing My Mind” … and Janie Dee’s “Could I Leave You” … and, my God, just SO MANY GOOD SONGS.

I know. I’m just a blogger. I’ve let you down. There are better words I could use to describe this show. But mind this: I have already bought a ticket to go back. And when I sat there watching it, goosebumps raced over my skin, and I thought, “My God, this is it, an honest to God five star show, perfection incarnate, and I am here seeing it at the National and people will be talking about this show for years.” I know I will.

(This review is of a preview performance that too place on August 30th, 2017. Follies is running through January 3rd, 2018.)

Review – The Mentor – Vaudeville Theater

July 26, 2017 by

Walking down The Strand on my way to a show, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of new plays on that I’d overlooked. Look, right next door to Kinky Boots, a show called The Mentor, about which, seriously, not a peep. Now I know I’ve been keeping a low profile due to “cheap” meaning “no seats at all,” but it seemed odd that there was a show on the West End that had managed to completely fly beneath my radar. Half of what’s on right now is just last spring’s leftovers, and there’s a huge changeover happening as shows like The Girls and Beautiful end their runs. I did a bit of research – it was an 85 minute comedy about two playwrights having a clash of egos. Well, hell, I’m writing plays, why not come? If it had been in real life I would have paid solid money for it – much like I would have to have seen Stoppard and Pinter playing cricket.

The idea behind this play is that two men, an established playwright, Benjamin Rubin (F Murray Abraham) – who has done little of note since his first, tremendous play – and a up-and-coming playwright, Martin Wegner (Daniel Weyman), are being brought together courtesy of an arts organization that wants to raise its profile by getting a “mentorship” program established. Neither men seems to relish the actual “mentoring;” the older one is only there for the money and the younger one is just hoping to get a boost to his reputation. Meanwhile, apparently because there wasn’t enough dialogue to flesh the play out otherwise, we have two additional characters, the foundation’s representative (Jonathan Cullen) and the playwright’s wife, Gina (Naomi Frederick), who are given very little to say. Gina bigs up the elder playwright and gives her husband a foil, although she does manage to come into her own; poor Cullen has nearly nothing to do besides look hopeful and make beverages. Still, the addition of Gina to the plot makes the struggle between Rubin and Wegner far more visceral that it would have been if they were just discussing realism versus, er, non-linearism; Rubin wants to win this game on a more than literary platform.

While Rubin as a character is so well written and well played that the entire exercise seems to swirl around him – he is, after all, “the mentor” – the egotism, fragility, and, well, whiny man-baby aspects of his mentee are also a delight to see spattered on the stage. There’s little discussion of what actually makes a good play (I would have enjoy this) but much about how one survives in the creative world – whether by living off of one’s wife, using one’s artistic nature as a club to control others, finding the best way to make people laugh at parties, or by constant self-pimping – that provide unflattering insights into the actual life of artists as well as giving the audience plenty of comedy fodder. In the end, The Mentor seemed a slight play, but well done in its smallish form – a sort of perfect after work snack. Not every night is meant for Virginia Woolf or Hamlet; The Mentor is short and sweet and suited me nicely.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 21, 2017.)

Klanghaus – 800 Breaths – Royal Festival Hall

July 14, 2017 by

At about 7:30 Wednesday evening, I was standing on the rooftop of the Royal Festival Hall, noticing how I could see Saint Paul’s, Big Ben, and the Shard (as well as the front view of Waterloo Station!) when a gray haired woman turned to me and said, “Can you explain to me what that was about?” And “that” was Klanghaus 2017, a promenade gig/visuals/let’s explore the non-public spaces of the Royal Festival Hall event we had both just done. (Technically it’s “800 Breaths” but since there was one last year and one this year I think 2017 is the name that will stick.)

Only now it’s you asking, so imagine I’m facing you, in the sunshine and holding a limed glass of fizzy water, and saying,

“Well, it’s kind of like a chance to explore these unseen parts of this really great building, right? I mean, if you’re into brutalist architecture, which I am, or industrial spaces, which I also am. And by putting music into them, and having us walk from place to place, we’re getting to see places nobody ever goes to and experience them, right? And by putting music and visuals into these forgotten places they are ‘activating’ them, bringing them to life, so we got to see them in a way we never really could have even if you ignore the fact that we would never get to come to these places in the first place.

“But it was also kind of a gig, right? A chance to hear the music that this band plays. And I don’t think they wrote a whole bunch of new songs or music to go with what we were doing, so really in was form adapting to content and not the other way around. “Skywriting” for sure, only “Breathe in/breathe out,” just before we got out of the hot stuffy bit to the outside, that was a really nice one. So it was a bit about experiencing the space, a bit about enjoying the music. If you don’t like the architecture or the music then maybe it wouldn’t be such a great thing for you. But I liked it.”

So if I were talking to you, an undecided potential audience member, I’d want you to know that if you’re a fan of The Neutrinos (who perform music while we watch) or funky industrial architecture, you’re going to want to hustle to get tickets. And since you’ll be going up stairs, down a ladder, and just plain old standing; seriously, wear comfy shoes, no dresses, and refuse the offer of earplugs at your peril (the first room was so loud you could feel the air moving against your face).

But there’s more; the visuals provided by Sal Pittman. I sat entranced by a whirling propeller … or was it a drumstick? And later surrounded by a cocoon of music I stared down a hallway watching a flower open and close … open and close …. its organic perfection in complete contrast to the green, aging machinery framing it … like sailing in The Phantom of the Opera’s boat, but through the byways of Metropolis instead of the catacombs of Paris. 

And there was one tiny moment of ecstasy, when we fellow travelers all huddled under a low ceiling, and our musicians sang unamplified and in harmony, with a bass plucked along nearly sub-audibly, like a lonely elephant calling to its herd, and over my head a diver swam up, up, up to the air, in search of … the cool fresh air we were all about to walk into. It was so intimate and so lovely and so untethered from time and any reality. It was wholly now and us together and so … effervescent. And I didn’t really know how to pop out of the reality of explaining “what it all meant” and find words to convey that moment, but it was there and I was there and it was just perfect. 

( This review is for the 6:30 performance that took place on Wednesday, July 12, 2017. Last year’s performance sold out so buy now.)

Review – Queen Anne – Royal Shakespeare Company at Theater Royal Haymarket

July 12, 2017 by

As a blogger, I don’t usually get invitations to West End shows, so it was hard to not say yes to an opportunity to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Queen Anne here in Londoninium. I was also intrigued by the subject matter, a modern treatment of a lesser monarch (by Helen Edmundson), and given that I’ve recently been to Blenheim Palace (for the Max Richter concert of music from Woolf Works) there was some additional interest for me. And the RSC is a rare treat for me, as I don’t usually travel to see shows and their tickets when they’re in London are not inexpensive. I expected high quality acting, costuming, and sets … the question would be how is the play?

The set for this show was gorgeously simple, an arched double level wall that from the top occasionally served as windows or balconies and from the bottom, the doors to various rooms. But most of the action took place in bedrooms – usually that of the princess and later queen, Anne (Emma Cunniffe), although also that of her closest friend and confidante, the Duchess of Marlborough (Romola Garai). It is in the interaction of these two women that most of the play’s plot is twined, although there is also some forward motion brought to play by the distant cousin (Abigail – Beth Park) that the Duchess (Sarah) has placed in the queen’s household. It’s interesting to see how close both women are to the queen – while the Duchess advises (and cajoles) on politics in contrast to Abigail’s job of changing the bandages on Anne’s suppurating legs, they both sleep in her bed regularly and provide as much emotional support as they do practical. There’s also a hint of a more sexual tone to Sarah’s relationship with the Queen, although it seems to be of far less import than the fact that the poor monarch endured 17 pregnancies with no surviving children to show for her efforts.

Anne’s personal tragedies – the loss of so many children, her own bad health, and the death of her husband midway through her reign – are certainly remarkable, but the historic times in which she lived, with ongoing Catholic versus Protestant conflict, substantial wars abroad, and the battle for Scotland via “The Great Pretender” are of such import that the story of her impact as a monarch is just as weighty a story and one well worth being told on stage. We get a fair amount of detail about the War of Spanish Succession (including financing thereof) and the maneuvering to get peace with Scotland; all of which are most welcome to see covered on stage. Even better is the Whig versus Tory split which makes itself known in attempts to influence Anne to pick one versus another to advice her cabinet. And yet, for some reason, the author of this play chose to focus on … Sarah’s temper tantrums when she thinks Abigail is now more popular with the queen than she is?

Really?

All of this history and suddenly we’re watching Mean Girls?

What makes it even worse is that neither the political wisdom Sarah Churchill must have had through close contact with her husband (or which she shared with him!) nor the relationship that Anne would have had with her own husband (who must have taken some interest in the country he lived in!) receive much attention at all. The broadsheets that mocked the queen get some attention, but a play just about how they worked behind the scenes to rake mud seems like a more intriguing yarn. Instead, we watch these two women play out one-note lives – Anne as Eeyore and Sarah as Regina George – while Abigail is entirely ignored as a plot opportunity. Cunniffe probably could have eked a bit more out of Anne but ultimately this is a case where the blame falls firmly at the writer’s feet. People interested in filling an evening with a learning a bit of history may find this show passable; but it is far from a classic. Let us hope the misadventures of the pamphleteers get their chance at some point in the future.

(This review is for the performance that took place on Tuesday, July 11,  2017.)

Review – The Ferryman – Royal Court (transferring to the Gielgud Theater)

May 20, 2017 by

There is nothing like having the curtains rise and feeling this wave of emotion rolling off of the stage before even one word of a play has been said. The emotion I’m talking about here is confidence and pride: it’s an entire room full of actors, those on the stage and those hiding behind it waiting for their cues, all thinking as one: I am in the best thing happening right now and every one of you is damned lucky to be here, and you know it. And we did know it. And, well, they were right, not just that I was lucky to be there, standing (standing!) so far on the side of the stage that I never saw one character for most of a scene, but that I was watching the best thing on stage right now and likely for all of this year. The Ferryman is a miracle, really, and although it’s transferring and I could have held out to see it at The Gielgud, no, I wanted to see it in the teeny, intimate Royal Court, and I wanted to be there while the energy was crackling and every person sat down was expecting nothing short of a miracle. They, and I, were not disappointed.

What do you need to know about this show? It’s about a family living on a farm in Ireland in the early 80s, and the discovery of the body of the head of the household’s brother in a bog – where it’s been since he was shot and “disappeared” – raises, pretty literally, ghosts for everyone, but most especially for Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) and his sister in law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly). They’ve had to try to move forward with their lives while being held back just as if a chain held their collars to a stick in the ground – that stick being the unknown fate of their brother and husband Seamus.

I worried that this play was going to be a horrible weepy overpolitical drag, because I hate political plays – I like plays to be about the relationships between people. And oh, how The Ferryman took that vein and went deep. This is so much a play about people – about love and hate and the ties that bind us together and the words that untie and undo us – about how you decide who to hate and who to love and who is family and who is not – about how you decide what sort of compromises you can live with to be able to get on with that thing called life. We get some background about what the political elements are in play – the Easter Uprising very nicely brought up in a character-illuminating story moment – but everything all comes together not to lecture us on right and wrong but to show us people, complex and conflicted and oh so very real in their flaws and hopes and bitternesses. These characters were every bit as believable to me as the smell of baking dinner that wafted through the auditorium at the start of Act Two.

And the construction of this play – oh, the construction and destruction that takes place over just one day in time – it is a thing of rare beauty. We have very little of back story and lots of tale telling between people, between bragging teenaged boys, between curious young girls and their Aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan), between long-winded, dreaming Tom Kettle (John Hodgkinson) and his neighbors, between liars and the people they wish to deceive. And we have some singing and dancing, all completely natural and joyous; and eating; and quiet moments; and people who are angry from selfishness and angry from being done wrong; and people who have buried their hurts for a long, long time and see them rising at last to the surface like, well, a body will after it has filled with enough gas from decomposing. But not in a peat bog; never in that deadest water will a body rise again. And just for a moment of amazement we have not just a life rabbit but a goose on stage, and miracle of miracles and actual living baby, because life does actually make that full circle even if we don’t see it on stage.

But in this play, we do; we see beginning to end; we see the outcome of what men’s hands wrought and women can choose to untangle or spin into a noose. It was all a tremendous emotional journey (I cried a bit) and at its end, with nearly three and one half hours on my feet, stuffed in a corner, as barely there as Aunt Maggie in her chair, I felt not a moment’s exhaustion, but just that exultation that I have but rarely felt at the end of a truly tremendous show given its all by a team of spectacular talent, and I felt grateful that I could have been there and shared that long moment with them all.

(This review is for the performance that took place on Monday, May 15th, 2017. Tonight is its last night at the Royal Court before it transfers to The Gielgud. Do not hesitate to make your ticket purchase now.)

Review -Magic Flute – Charles Court Opera at Kings Head Theater

May 15, 2017 by

Walking into the King’s Head Theater, I was amazed to see the space fully transformed. The exit doors were still in place, but look! We stood inside a jungle! Creepers twined up the walls, ferns sprouted from the railings, and an inpenetrable canopy of leaves blocked the ceiling from view. Combined with the normal damp and warmth of this enclosed space, it was very much like being in the Amazon … or perhaps somewhere on a mountainside in New Guinea. It was wholly exotic, and a marvellous concept for a Magic Flute. I had no idea what else Charles Court Opera had in store for us, but I was very excited to be finding out!

Our Tamino (Oliver Brignall) was an intrepid English explorer who has been caught by three ladies (Jennifer Begley, Sarah Champion, Polly Leach) who’ve mistaken him for a wild animal. Amusingly, each finds him attractive and hopes to discourage the others so as to get him for herself … but they all scatter, leaving Papageno (Matthew Kellet) to arrive, birdcage in tow, to get the credit for rescuing Tamino.

And then, well, you know, we have the rest of the show, which generally follows closely to the original but has a lot of clever rhymes (occasionally slangy) thrown in that make it a pleasure to listen to – important as we’re not given any supertitles to crib us through it. Being forced to pay attention to what they singers are saying as well as whether or not they hit the notes – well, that was a change! There were occasional problems with following the words – the Queen of the Night (Nicola Said) had particularly bad diction in her spoken dialogue, and occasionally when a character had their back turned to my side of the audience, I couldn’t catch what they were saying – but overall, forcing us to listen, well! I felt like, for once, the audience was really engaged, and not just watching a concert.

A most terrifying Queen of the Night

The Magic Flute, Hannah Sawle as The Queen of the Night, photo Bill Night


Costuming and special effects isn’t really what Magic Flute is supposed to be about, but there was so much charm and surprise in Charles Court’s interpretation that it’s impossible to remain silent on the subject. The use of a trio of bird puppets to discourage Papageno (and Pamina, Emily Jane Thomas) from self-harming … the hysterical creepy giant Papagena puppet … the REAL FLAMES that were brought out when it was time for Tamino to face his trials … the tattoos down the Queen of the Night’s chin … the overall effect, of jungly savage scariness really amplified the dichotomy the story was trying to pull out, of a contrast between light and darkness, between civilization and superstition. And it made it possible for the magic, for once, to seem real. In fact, it was real: it was stage magic of the highest order, done on a cheese paring budget but with all of the “gouda” things left intact. And if you think that pun was uncalled for, well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. This is without doubt the most imaginative interpretation of the Magic Flute I’ve ever seen and the wordplay only made it better. Go!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 12th, 2017. It continues through June 4th and is already mostly sold out so GET ON IT.)