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Review – Hello Again – The Union Theater

September 8, 2019

I’ll say this for Schnitzler’s “La Ronde” – there are a million different ways to slice it on stage. Michael John La Chiusa has turned it into a musical, following the original’s form of “each scene being about a couple, the next scene featuring one person from the previous scene and one new person,” even going so far as to mirror the cast of characters – the sex worker, the soldier etc., ending with the sex worker … although Schnitzler has taken some liberties, such has making the poet a writer and the count a senator … but really, it is a very close parallel to the original work. This is the show, “Hello Again,” that is currently on stage at the Union Theatre.

Stylistically, though, with this framework in place, the music and settings off each piece are hugely varied, almost as if it were intended to be a sourcebook for examples of many different styles (rather in the way Chicago played on the different sort of vaudeville acts). Together it adds up to a fantastic showcase for the cast (although the changes in times from World War I to the Sixties and the Seventies did leave my head spinning). And the sexual encounters, while not involving nudity, did manage to get some real electricity going on stage – especially fun in the scene with the nurse seducing her (hopeful) charge. The heat on stage even seemed to hit the fire monitoring system, as we were forced to leave due to an unruly alarm mistaking smoke for actual danger.

Of the cast, my favorite for pure musical joy was Ellen O’Grady, who opened and closed the piece with a warm, winning voice that spoke to me of years on the stage. It seemed almost a shame to have so many people in the cast – in that it seemed a waste to only have each of them in two numbers! I mean, come on, we got to the seventies, where was the orgy? At least we got to have some same sex scenes, both in a scene set in the early 20th century and one hitting the drugs-and-disco era.

Overall, though, I didn’t find this show blew me away, in part because the episodic nature of the text made it hard to build dramatic tension, narrative, or character. It’s a problem shared by the original to be sure. Still, as a night of showcase moments, it was pleasant enough and adds a good balance to the hardcore musical or theater goer’s diet.

(This review is for opening night, which took place on Friday, August 20th, 2019. It continues through September 21st.)

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Review – Room Service – Two Right Feet at the Bread and Roses Theater

September 5, 2019

It’s been a good summer for plays about robots in my book – first Space Age Love Songs,
and now this charming tale about data gone wild set in a much nearer future. Well, the days when having a robot that perfectly looks like a human being are probably very far off; but the underlying premise of this play, that of the amount of knowledge available about individuals in the cybersphere and what could be done with it, seems like a story that really is only about two years further off than right now.

Science fiction is often used as a way to examine social issues by looking at potential outcomes from a more distant viewpoint. In this case, Max has been sent to a town not far from where he lives to do a week on site, for reasons nobody cares about; what matters is that when he walks into his hotel room, he is greeted by a service robot, Zahra, who is FAR more knowledgeable about his desires than Max is comfortable with. Is he eating properly? Zahra thinks not, based on CCTV recordings of Max going to MacDonalds and having late night kebabs. Can she be sure? Well, yes, by doing a chemical analysis of his poo. And how does Richard find out this has happened? By discovering that his morning fry up has been replaced with meusli by the oh-so-concerned-for-the-guest Zahra. Some of the easy jokes are gotten out of the way quickly (Zahra talking is overheard by Max’s wife), some of the easier jokes are completely avoided (to my ABSOLUTE joy Max did not try to get fresh with Zahra, constantly seeing her as simply a robot – easily, I think, represented by just a voice but far more compelling for us as an audience to have Emma Stannard, with her glorious glow in the dark pink hair, to watch _being_ a robot), but the set up for simple philosophy gets pushed further and winds up developing into quite a story line.

You see, not trying to hump robots aside, Max is very human in being not particularly logical, and in being impulsive, and in being ruled by chemicals and memories and inadequate data in a way that Zahra is not. This leads to him doing things, in one mere week, that look likely to mess his life up but good. And can Zahra help under her terms and conditions, as signed when Max went onto the webiste?

As a full length yet short show, I found this show both emotionally compelling and an example of damned fine story telling, with the tousle-haired Andrew Mullan believable as a young businessman settling down somewhat awkwardly into fatherhood, and the expressionless (yet fully controlled in a perfectly “I’m a robot way”) Stannard just deliciously smooth and, who would think it, sympathetic as the collection of bits and data that really just wants to make sure that her client is well taken care of. It was a rare and perfect bit of science fiction theater that asked some very timely questions about how we are living today and wrapped it all up in a tight little narrative package that absolutely took us somewhere with feelings – even if robots aren’t meant to have them, we most certainly are, and I did. It’s only on for a few more days, but make the trek down to the Bread and Roses, it’s well worth the effort.

(This review is for the opening night performance, which took place on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. It continues through Saturday September 7.)

Review – Death and Botany – Fifty-Five Kings at Camden Fringe Festival

August 18, 2019

I have a budding interest in necromancy thanks to all of the research I did on HP Lovecraft’s classic short story “The Thing on the Doorstep,” as translated into the genderswitched Asenath’s Tale. It’s fun to do necromancy on stage; you get to have actors playing multiple people inside the same body – something that doesn’t usually happen in the world of entertainment outside of the multiple retellings of The Parent Trap (and Big). But when I saw that Atticus Orsborn was doing a play on a wanna-be necromancer at the Camden Fringe festival, I was convinced to crawl out of my own show making hell and actually spend a night in the theater again. Death and Botany, hit me with your best shot!

The show started out with a heavy dose of spooky (not that a bit of “Bela Lugosi is Dead” is ever a bad choice), almost immediately going into a Satanic ritual that looked like it had been created with a bit of though aforehand. Fair enough, a little hair raising pleases most of the punters, but were we going to actually descend to that “anything related to the devil is inherently scary” low level of fright that frankly makes for flabby theater? Fear not! For nearly immediately it was made clear that our hero – or, well, perhaps “protagonist” – was really just not quite the master of the dark arts that he wished. And, true to the description, we were able to move a little sideways into reality (where, you know, necromancy is impossible, not that people might not try) and do a bit of dark comedy. Hurray!).

So … Eli (Osborn) is a young man with an obsession. He is obsessed with becoming a necromancer. To that end, he spends ages reading occult books in the local coffee shop (to the bemusement of barista Emma – Fran Hess) and going home and practicing ritual magic – and wearing a cape everywhere he goes. According to his mom, Nancy (Sonja Doubleday), he’s even managed to move out of the house, but due to his penchant for drying dead rats, he’s found himself thrown back into the arms of the family. This isn’t so great for Nancy, because some years after her husband Dean’s death, she’s finally started a romance with a handsome silver-haired gardener, Terry (Adam Templar). She’s afraid Eli might not like Terry – or, more likely, that Terry won’t want to date a woman who lives with a son who appears to be be crazy – or maybe even a psychopath. But it turns out, Terry wants to win Eli over … putting himself into a dangerous position.

The stakes for the play are raised fairly quickly when we are shown that Eli is not just a puffed up lunatic – he’s a puffed up lunatic who’s succeeded in raising the dead. Can he make friends with a single human being no … but wait, this must be qualified as “can he make friends with a single LIVING human being” because Eli has DEFINiTLY made inroad with, shall we say, the more corporeally challenged amongst us. And while it’s hysterically funny that he’s succeeded in incarnating a soul into a bonsai tree, with Eli’s problematic grounding in morals and ethics (not uncommon amongst necromancers, to be sure), the question of how he will use his powers becomes a presence that hovers over the stage. Eli has been written (and is played) most convincingly as a nerdy, not-connected guy with an inflated sense of self importance – and we, the audience, know that actually both Terry and Nancy might have something to genuinely fear. Sure, it’s charming that Eli misses his dad as much as he does … but there’s no doubts that having the powers he does with no counterbalancing morals is a dangerous situation.

Making this all more fun is the comic friendship that DOES develop between Eli and Elly and, let’s be honest, Templar’s fine turn as Terry (and a few other characters). Despite the story being so outlandish, the grounding that the four performers give it – including dismissive-to-disgusted Nancy – make the story even more compelling. In fact, the comedy got ratcheted up so high that I felt we were heading toward “Shaun of the Dead” territory – absolutely funny enough to keep me put, but scary enough for me to have no idea what would happen next. (Shockingly, the three people who snuck out of the auditorium about 2/3 of the way through ALL CAME BACK – a sight I had never seen!)

Overall, this is one of the best and most original horror plays I’ve ever seen, and I ended the evening feeling lucky I’d taken up the offer to review this show. With its flair for both comedy and believable horror, “Death and Botany” is a show I very much hope will be taking the stage again soon.

(This review is for a single night’s performance that took place on Friday, August 16, 2019.)

Edinburgh Preview Review – Passengers – Omnibus Theater (then to Summerhall)

August 3, 2019

Two years in to having a transwoman be my top partner in crime, I found myself highly intrigued by Kit Redstone’s new work, which was billed as a “darkly funny and sexy” take on Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). I was really intrigued how an artist could take this and put it onto the stage. I mean, mental illness has certainly been handled before, even with panache (I think of 4:48 Psychosis when I say this), but this is a bit more complex in some ways. Or in lots of ways. As an artist, I was also interested in seeing how something personal was transformed into a shared experience. Hey, I’m putting my dissociative episodes on stage in Space Age Love Songs, maybe Redstone would have some coping strategies or even a new way of dealing with my own brain?

“Passengers” is performed by three people (Neil Chinneck, Jess Clark and Kit Redstone), who initially appear to be three people thrown in prison together. But we’re given some context, and it’s clear that it’s actually three elements of one person warring inside of that person’s head. The aggressive one that appears to be sometimes truthful – at least when discussing having temper tantrums – is the focal point for the other two, who try to control him and make sense of how he’s responding – and also call him on the lies he tells us (and perhaps believes) about himself.

As the onion starts to unpeel, it becomes clear that the narrator doesn’t particularly understand himself, or even want to believe that he’s done what he’s done, much less why … but the other two voices push and pull and tease the truth out about several things … none of which are very pretty. It could be seen as just about how psychotherapy works or as the actual rise and fall of the dominant elements of a dissociative personality … the second being how I think it was intended, but I liked that it was working on various levels.

While I would never think my head works the same as somebody else’s, I enjoyed having the opportunity to take a ride in someone else’s head. It is a bit claustrophobic and No Exit like – this head is not a nice place to be in (and my goodness the theater was an oven) – but I think in the end it probably made my own head a slightly less scary place to be.

(This review is of a preview performance that took place at the Omnibus Theater, Clapham, on 27 Saturday 2019. It shows 14.30 daily at Summerhall in Edinburgh 31 July – 25 August.)

Review – Queerstory – Mercury Presents at Mirth, Marvel and Maud

July 24, 2019

You remember that little show that was on as a preview for one night only except you were doing your own show and teleportation hasn’t been invented and it sold out anyway? Well, there’s been some good work on time travel in the meantime, and thanks to the power of The Future, Alexander Luttley / Pi the Mime / Mercury and Professor Maxim brought their show Queerstory back for a one-off show at Mirth, Marvel and Maud in Walthamstow (the venue itself, a converted cinema, is well worth checking out any time: not only does it have a pleasant beer garden, but there are TWO pinball games inside at 50p a game – Bride of Pinbot and Galaxy for fellow connoisseurs).

To be honest I didn’t know too much ABOUT Queerstory other than that Mercury was doing it and it was something about queer history, but it just sounded SO good and the more I’ve seen him do, the more I want to see more (his work is more-ish, especially that fabulous Break A Lash thing two weeks back). But this time I made it and I can give you ALL of the juicy gossip about this … well let’s be honest, my expectations were pretty high, but I can now say honestly … fanTAStic evening, of music, history, and ALL of the queerness you could ever hope for! And Piers Morgan in a pig nose playing the accordion!

Mercury and Professor Maxim at Queerstory


Queerstory is, essentially, a mostly musical history of the LGBTQ+ (I think they had it as LGBTTQQIAAP and one extra for kink) community. We went through some basics (including, “If you’re riled up, there’s a safe word. It’s called the exit”), including the very crucial concept that history is written by the winners, and this community has frequently found itself erased (not helped at all by Section 28) from history books. We went through the meaning of the acronym, then did a little alphabet of queerness with various people for each letter (both Vita and Virginia making it in for V!). We had paper and pencil so we could take notes and research later. School was in session!

Not surprisingly, this show had a strong root in musical theater, using “The Cellblock Tango” to provide a fantastic cruise through the homophobes’ book of excuses and “Let’s Fall In Love” to talk about famous lesbians. There was a stop in Spoliansky Weimar for “Lavender Nights,” but also a completely original Polari pattersong! (Given that I’d just seen Ida Barr – Christopher Green – do a Polari rap, it was feeling VERY much like the summer trend of 2019.) And, to my delight, we came back from the interval to the haunting voice of Klaus Nomi. All hail our queer ancestors.

More modern history – post Stonewall – had a lot to cover, from the hanky code to the impact of HIV, but more importantly (to me) the evolution of queerness to where it is now – not just the cisgender LGB of yore, but a worldview that allows for nonbinary, that accepts asexuality, and that celebrates rather than excludes allies. Because … looking at where we’re at right now … this is no time for resting on our laurels. We need to stand up for each other, call out people within and without the community for being assholes, and not throw any one of our queer communities under the bus because they don’t fit it to mainstream society. We need to stand up against misogyny and celebrate queer bodies smashing the binary.

It’s true, at the end this felt a whole lot less like a lecture, and more like a rally, because all of us were standing up and cheering and feeling like, yes, we were seeing ourselves represented and celebrated on stage. Probably the only person who would really hate this is people who like their musical theater but just wish queer people could be a little less “out” and just try to fit in. But that night, I felt a whole room full of people saying I didn’t need to fit in to have a family of people who accepted. I was fine the way I am. And I loved it. Top night out and I only wish I could find more of the info (and lyrics) online so I could research just who in the world was the letter X!

(This review was for a performance that took place Monday, August 22, 2019. This show will be reprised in a likely modified and possibly expanded version at Theater Royal Stratford East in October. Details will be added as they become available.)

Review – Summer Rolls – VanThanh Productions at Park Theater

June 28, 2019

In the last few years, the conversation about race and representation in the theater has moved beyond who is performing shows to who is writing them. This means that we’re seeing new shows and new voices, an exciting thing to be sure. And from this we see VanThanh productions emerge, with the stated purpose of enabling minority groups to tell their own stories – and we have the play Summer Rolls at the Park Theater, the first British-Vietnamese play to be staged in the UK. I’ve worked and lived alongside second generation Vietnamese Americans for most of my life, but I’m unfamiliar with what tack the British setting would give this story, and I was eager to hear from a community so little represented in the UK that they don’t even have a relevant checkbox in national origin questionnaires (because apparently “Chinese” is enough to cover East and Southeast Asia). What were their experiences? What where their concerns?

Linh-Dan Pham and Anna Nguyen in Summer Rolls at Park Theatre picture by Dante Kim

Linh-Dan Pham and Anna Nguyen in Summer Rolls at Park Theatre picture by Dante Kim

Mai (Anna Nguyen) is the daughter of two Vietnamese refugees (played by Linh-Dan Pham and Kwong Loke, and pretty consistently referred to as Mother and Father) who came to the UK with their young son Anh (Michael Phong Le) during the 70s (or so it appears from the cues given by newscasts read to start scenes). Anh succeeds at uni but then fails to get work; both the mother and daughter sew piece work for a Mr Dinh to keep the household solvent. It is a depressing picture of hard work unrewarded as, over the course of the show, the feeble earnings the women make are taken away (as the work is sent to China) and Anh goes to work at Mr Dinh’s restaurant.

Through this rather depressing story, a lot of traditional Vietnamese culture comes through: how women are treated; how class relations are seen; and (in a horrifying moment at the end when it’s discovered Mai has a black boyfriend – Keon Martial-Phillip) the rather pungent racism (that to be honest exists throughout East Asia). But the family also has to deal with leftovers from the war – Father’s flashbacks, Mother’s desperate survival instincts – and the special treats that come with being a minority and immigrants in a country where you are tolerated at best. It’s an interesting and well-seasoned story that provides a lot to chew on and is made more flavorful by Mai’s Vietnamese dialogue. We also get to see how assimilation affects Anh and Mai – their experiences trying to become a part of British society is eye opening (and would be just as interesting for so many other nationalities that have settled in the UK).

That said, the ending is abrupt and rather unsatisfying. This is, I think, the problem with having the play focus on Mai – she probably gets her life together and goes off to do her own thing, but we don’t really see her evolving as a character over the course of the play – we just stop after she has a confrontation with them and don’t have any resolution. For that matter, none of the rest of the characters appear to change or have any kind of epiphany, although most of them seem to have more backstory and places to go with their story arc. They’re all interesting and seem fairly rich (in everything but money!). Overall a good debut from playwright Tuyen Do.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 25th, 2019. It continues through July 13th.)

Review – Pictures of Dorian Gray – Jermyn Street Theater

June 13, 2019

While Oscar Wilde’s plays mocking Victorian society are regularly revived, his novel of art and evil – The Portrait of Dorian Gray – doesn’t have a standard theatrical version, despite being popular as a film and even having some luck as a ballet and even as a promenade theatrical event. It’s a great novel, deliciously fin de siecle, a perfect companion for Jeckyll and Hyde, the poetry of Baudelaire, and the art of Von Stuck. And it deserved better than I had seen it get on stage before, and my hopes were high that Lucy Shaw’s fresh adaptation at the Jermyn Street Theater – and the decision to use four different configurations of the cast, including two versions with a female lead – would bring fresh insights and real vibrancy to this play.

As a female Dorian, Helen Reuben is deliciously chosen – endlessly fresh faced, a delight for the eyes, absolutely believable as the person whose portrait could capture the essence of beauty – or someone’s soul. As her tempter, Basil Hallward, Stanton Wright nicely forms heartless words to entice Dorian away from anything other than the worship of the self; and with the two of them decked in black velvet and gilding, they create a feeling of late night menace and brutality that makes the sensibility of the novel feel very alive. The portrait itself is left unseen, as is best for horror: it is merely a reflective pond beneath a muddled shining wall that might have been a mirror. The agelessness is left to the true Dorian; the ugliness of the portrait is created entirely with words.

These words, however, prove a distraction in too much of the story. With two more actors (most memorably painter Henry Wotten – Richard Keightley – and Sibyl Vane – Augustina Seymour) left with not quite enough to do, they are sent to speak Wilde’s words describing Gray’s words much like a Greek chorus – as a near constant chant beneath the dialogue on stage. The words do a lot to help pump up the atmosphere of poisoned flowers and redolent evil – but they prove too much of a distraction and ended in reducing the sense of impending doom. It’s all extremely successful when Dorian is immersing herself in corrupting literature – hard to convey what she is taking in otherwises – but when she’s going to opium dens and corrupting the wives and sons of the elite, the audience is given little sense of just what she is doing and why she is so out of control. Admittedly Wilde himself doesn’t go into much detail about Gray’s activities, but her time spent in the depths and ultimate ruination could have been built up to much better effect. Still, the ending is handled nicely, with beautiful theatricality, and the night ended with a grand feeling of satisfaction.

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray

Picture C Cast, Pictures of Dorian Gray: Helen Reuben, Augustina Seymour, Stanton Wright, Richard Keightley (L-R)

One thing really had me struggling, though: to a great extent, Gray’s fall is the fall of a man, and a gay man at that. While Reuben and Wright have a delicious electricity between them, it felt to me like it was only because Gray was a man and an affair between the two could not have been portrayed on stage (or in a book!) at the time this novel was written that they did not consummate their relationship. And women cannot ruin men the way Gray ruined both men and women. It was a pleasure to see this play done with a woman in the lead role, but I think some changes to the script for the “Picture C/Picture D” cast could have amped the impacted tremendously. That said, given Stanton Wright’s charisma, I think it would be worthwhile to see it again in the “Picture A/Picture B” configuration … this fine story has been brought to life with London smoke and back alleys intact, and I’d enjoy taking another trip down the road to glorious self destruction.

(This review is for a performance that took place on June 11th, 2019. It runs through July 6th.)

Review – Miss Julie – Jermyn Street Theatre

May 3, 2019

Miss Julie seems to be the most consistently popular of August Strindberg’s works – so much so that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “straight” version of it. But this one, a new version by Howard Brenton, was set firmly in the era after trains and before cars, so there is no reason to wonder, for example, why Julie’s father doesn’t just ring ahead. Julie (Charlotte Hamblin) lives in a world where you can have a reputation to be ruined, where sleeping with a servant (Jean – James Sheldon) is a great way to do it, and if you’re so unfortunate as to be engaged to said philandering servant, you just have to put up (Kristin – Dorothea Myer-Bennett).

But that would all make it so easy and boring, wouldn’t it? The gorgeousness of this play comes in its wonderful moments of human interaction, all done completely naturally in the kitchen of the servant’s quarters. Jean has had a crush on Miss Julie since they were both children – or has he? – and Julie relishes being adored – or does she? – while Kristin toils all day with no thought for herself – or does she? As they interact, each of their selfish desires slowly unspools, and you, the audience, get a deeper and deeper look into the complex clockwork that whirls behind each character’s eyes. None of these people are altruists, but similarly – and sadly – none of them seems to have a very clear cut idea about how to pursue actual happiness beyond a short moment in time.

It’s fascinating to watch Julie, Jean, and Kristin go through their little dance together. Hamblin nicely captures both Julie’s huge enthusiasm for living, her cruelty, and her crumbling mind as she realizes she’s gone to far to be able to easily patch her life back together. Sheldon is dead handsome – easy enough to see a lady of the house flirting with him – and makes a great argument both for his essential equality with any other man and his inability to snap himself out of thinking like a servant. He was completely convincing all the way through, even though he was essentially disagreeing with what he had just said completely. And Myer-Bennett is a treat to watch as a woman who knows herself quite well and has far less illusions than either her mistress or her fiancee. The three of them have great chemistry and easily take us out of the workaday world into the explosive passions and ideals (and compromises) of their world.

With a tight running time of 90 minutes, Tom Littler’s production should have a breathless pace, but in fact there is more than enough time given to make the evening feel like it’s been all of a midsummer’s night – only not one with a pleasant dream. And every philosophical conversation in the play still feels fresh and sharp. There may be a million ways to update this play, but Littler shows that, stripped and raw and laid before us as if it were new, Miss Julie is still a tsunami of emotion until the lights go down.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Tuesday, April 30th, 2019. It continues in rep with The Creditors at the

Review – The Creditors – Jermyn Street Theater

May 1, 2019

It’s a pleasure to go to the theater knowing you’re going to see a fresh take on a classic you love. Strindberg has become a favorite of mine as I’ve settled into middle age and learned to enjoy his realistic portrayals of people who have been made bitter by life – well, by other people, in particular their husbands and wives. So I was enthusiastic for seeing how Creditors managed ten years further along in my life, in a new version by Howard Brenton that the Jermyn Street Theater is performing in rep with Miss Julie.

The Creditors is a deliciously tight three person show that has the marvellous good fortune off having Dorothea Myer-Bennett in the central role of Tekla. As a Victorian era woman who has a career of her own (as a writer) and has been divorced and remarried, she is a splash of bracing water given how most women were depicted at the time. I mean, look at A Doll’s House, one decade older; how could women have moved along to a position of having so much agency in such a short time? In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t: this makes Tekla even more interesting and pushed the play into the realm of … well, all of these people who don’t believe in God, marry and divorce as they please, and (both) work, didn’t it all feel very modern?

This leaves a couple of notes that fell flat, or, rather, seemed out of place perhaps because they were so very 19th century. Adolf (James Sheldon), the carer for Tekla’s husband Gustav (David Sturzaker), is obsessed with men dominating and controlling women; he spends his time with Gustav trying to work him into a frenzy of jealousy about his wife. And, per Gustav, Tekla and he gave up the child they had together – to be honest, I found this just flat out unbelievable. Tekla and Gustav calling each other brother and sister, sure, but that … it just felt like Strindberg was trying to hard. Adolf being a misogynistic control freak, sure, but the abandoned child plus … well, Gustav’s soft-headedness … do people really give up on their art that easily, with just a few days of someone trying to philosophize them out of it?

Dorothea Myer-Bennett and James Sheldon, photo by Robert Day


So, fine, maybe Strindberg isn’t trying for pure realism here, but watching the characters on stage, it was hard not to get sucked into the interaction. Tekla’s affection for her husband seemed fully believable, her connection with Adolf was entirely natural … but the attempt to twist history and, not to spoil the plot (I mean this is not exactly a new play), people’s minds, was like the delightful Machiavellian twist at the heart of many of Shakespeare’s best tragedies. Who needs knives and armies when we can destroy people with words? I suspect the ending wouldn’t have been quite so perfectly tied up outside of a stage, but watching this vibrant cast of three feint and parry with the greatest of all weapons – the human mind – was just rather delicious all the way through. And at ninety minutes, there wasn’t a bit of fat.

(This review was for the preview performance that took place Monday, April 29, 2019. It continues through June first.)

Review – HMS Pinafore – Charles Court Opera at King’s Head Theater

April 18, 2019

Although I am generally prone to follow the work of particular playwrights or choreographers, I have made it a habit over the years to see everything Charles Court Opera puts on. In addition to their consistently hilarious pantos, their updated take on the works of Gilbert and Sullivan has done much, in my eyes, to show the solid gold that too frequently has been left hiding under the dust. Artistic Director John Savournin really has an eye to keeping things fresh, as well as an ability to recruit strong talent – so I came to their H.M.S. Pinafore with much enthusiasm.

This Pinafore is, rather than a sailing boat, a submarine, done in a cheerful mostly yellow color scheme that suited the 1960s setting – if making it a bit hard to figure out how a “bum boat woman” (Jennie Jacobs as Buttercup) could actually make it to the ship. That said, the Jackie Kennedy hairdo and styling of Josephine (Alys Roberts) was perfect – she looked just like the sort of charming ingenue capable both of being chased by an admiral (Joseph Shovelton) and loved madly by a lowly seaman (Phillip Lee). The man playing her father, Captain Corcoran (Matthew Palmer) was so fresh faced and pink cheeked that it seemed hard to imagine him as her father – he looked all of thirty! – but given how the play ends it was probably for the best that he looked so young. Meanwhile, the Admiral – who shows up in a diving suit – was a huge ham and big scene stealer, although his aunt – of “his sisters, and his cousins and his aunts” – managed to upstage him consistently, and without uttering a word. Trust me on this.

Staging and costumes is all fine, but what about the singing? While Ralph had a lovely voice and the Admiral a suitably booming one, I found myself entirely won over by Roberts’ turn as the captain’s daughter. “Sorry her lot” is a sappy piece of work, but I could hear convincing young love within her voice. And her scene telling off Ralph – with many asides – nicely switched from aggravation to desperation without either seeming forced! I kept wanting to push back at the sugariness of the original, but instead I found myself cheering on the two of them … wholly succumbing to the charm of the work. And my, didn’t the jokes about the British class system still hold up in their entirety.

While this production didn’t “push the boat out” much, so to speak, the delight of hearing this cream of the crop show in such an intimate environment is not to be underestimated. Charles Court have done well and I am sure they will have full houses eager to spend their evenings laughing at a well executed romp.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. It continues through May 11th.)