Posts Tagged ‘Kneehigh Theater’

Review – Umbrellas of Cherbourg – Kneehigh Theatre at the Gielgud

April 3, 2011

Given that Kneehigh produced my favorite show of 2008, Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter, I was thrilled to hear that they were coming back to the West End with another movie adaptation, this time of the wonderful Umbrellas of Cherbourg. This movie, a marshmallow sky vision of life in France made in 1963 and starring the radiant Catherine Deneuve, is a cult classic that I adore for its color saturated settings as much as its sweet, all-sung dialogue and heartbreaking story of broken dreams. What would Kneehigh bring to this story? How would they change it? Was the movie strong enough to handle being remade? I was so excited I considered going up to Leicester to see it, but travel costs made it impossible; I would just wait until it opened in London.

However, prices as announced were, again, too high for me, Ms. Cheap Seats. I wanted to have a good experience, but £19.50 would only get me a side seat in the second balcony! £39.50 my absolute tops for a show, would get me the middle third of that same balcony, with front of second balcony going for £49.50! It was just, too, too expensive. LastMinute.com had only one deal (that I missed out on) and it wasn’t coming up on the TKTS half priced ticket booth – what was I going to do? I didn’t want to shell out £30 to sit in the last row of the entire theater way in the back. I didn’t know if it was the expenses of being on the West End, but my Umbrellas trip was being rained on. It was scheduled to run for about six months, though, so I figured after the newness wore off, something would happen.

Weeks passed. The show started previews. I couldn’t find any cheap seats. Finally, a first review appeared, a highly enthusiastic five wine glasses from the West End Whingers. Andrew even liked it so much he went again two nights later. I pencilled in a Friday two months later when I thought I just might be able to go. Then the old media reviews started coming in, and while they weren’t really negative, they lacked enthusiasm. I bided my time. Then … bad news … Twitter started telling a tale of half, even two-thirds empty houses. Suddenly, I realized, I had better go before it was too late. No one can keep running at a loss for month after month. I convinced my friend Jonathan to go for the £29.50 front row day seats and we finally made it on a Wednesday, the last week of March.

It was true – the Gielgud was deserted. We wandered in a theater that barely seemed to have a show happening at all. The lights dimmed a bit and we had a female cabaret star, with teased black hair, fishnets, and a skirts slit in the back and on the thigh, flirting with several sailors and explaining what kind of place Cherbourg was and teaching us some practical French. I don’t really know why Meow Meow was in the show or what it was Kneehigh thought she was required for, but there she was, full of personality and fun but, well, distracting. Finally the curtain went up and there was our tiny Cherbourg, cute little models on stage. Then a boy and a girl puppet came out and had a cute romantic moment … then it all flew away and the musical really got down to it.

It’s a show … about a boy. And about a girl. And about being young, and falling in love. And about parents who don’t support you when you’re in love, and about passion, and excitement, and how boring work can be, and about enthusiasm and joy and optimism – promising to spend your life with someone and meaning it, not having enough “history” to be jaded. Carly Bawden was as lovely and self-possesed and youthful as I could have hoped for in a Genevieve – utterly believable as a girl with stars in her eyes who is clear about what she wants in life. Andrew Durand had just the right feel for Guy, utterly in love with his girl, not worried about the future because it’s all so clear when you’re in love. And there is singing, and there are girls in beautiful gem-colored dresses (my favorite being Cynthia Erivo with her fantastic voice), and there are bikes being ridden around on stage and slides to go down and simple sets and a live band and so much life, life, life on stage. Life is exciting, and it’s meant to be sung, and Umbrellas embraces this.

And … do you know what happens? I can’t bear to tell you. Umbrellas isn’t tragic in a Romeo and Juliet kind of way; like Genevieve’s mom says (I think), people only die of love in the movies. This show is heartbreaking because, well, it’s about two people learning how love just really isn’t enough, when it comes right down to it. But far be it from me to explain to you how, or why, but I do promise that at the end you will feel your heart breaking with all of the disappointments ever felt by the teenager inside you.

I was left pondering just what it was that had kept this musical from attracting the audience it deserved. I think some people just don’t like this style of musical, even though the music itself was wholly superior to Love Story and Ordinary Days (though the lyrics were rather simple, keeping with the original as I recall). My guess is this show might have been better if the Meow Meow bit were cut entirely and it was just a straight ninety minutes without an interval – given that it already starts at 8PM, this would be a natural move and help the show be more focused. Nothing could really be done about the electricity missing from the performers; they acted as if they were expecting bad news any minute, and it came on Friday, as the shows early closing (in May) hit them at the end of the night.

But I think there is more to this, and maybe it’s just not about the cost of the tickets, but more about misjudging the appetite for this story. As Tim Watson said to me after we finished up the April third edition of the As Yet Unnamed London Theater Podcast, the previous shows Kneehigh did on the West End were well loved movies with a strong British tradition; Umbrellas really is a cult favorite and very French. It’s a pity it didn’t succeed here, but it’s still a good show. Catch it while you can.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. Umbrellas continues through May 21st.)

Great deal on Noel Coward’s “Brief Encounter” at the Haymarket

July 8, 2008

I noticed in yesterday’s Metro that the daily reader offer was £20 tickets (buy one at £39.50, get one free) for Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter at the Cinema Haymarket, one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. The deal is “two top price tickets for £39.50,” and, hey, if you get lucky you’ll even get some snacks at intermission. It says “Call 0871 230 1562 and quote ‘Metro offer,’ valid for all performances except Saturday evenings until 31 August.” So, hurray for this – I’ll be going back to see it again!

Review – Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter – Kneehigh Theatre at The Cinema Haymarket

June 18, 2008

(This, my favorite show of 2008, is now in New York City at Studio 54. Both The New York Times and blogger Steve On Broadway love this show – don’t miss it!)

Several months ago I heard about a unique hybrid production of the movie of Brief Encounter and the play that inspired it (Still Life), presented in the cinema where the movie premiered back in the day (restored to its glory for the show). I was intrigued but held off going so that I could attend with a gaggle of my friends. Time passed, the event hadn’t been organized, and my uncle was in town looking for a show to fill the slot on Sunday (which in London means slim pickins, no doubt about it). Torn between seeing an opera none of us had much of an interest in and a show that I personally was quite interested in, based on a movie my uncle loved, it wasn’t too hard to make the argument for skipping Covent Garden in favor of the Cinema Haymarket.

And what a good choice it was! Brief Encounter is pure theatrical magic. I can hardly sing its praises highly enough. In part, I think, I just didn’t know what to expect – I thought it was going to be people performing the dialogue in front of a movie screen. This did happen – for about the first five minutes of the show … but as it was performed, two of the actors were in the audience, and one of the “actors” was on the screen, addressing one of the people in the audience – so it was completely unlike the audience participation version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was kind of what I thought the show was going to be like.

Instead, what we got was a full-fledged multi-media show with just that clip of film as its basis, with live music and multi-tasking character actors (a cast of eight, I think?) that occasionally sang and danced and even bounced up and down in unison to indicate the passage of a train. Our star-crossed lovers, Laura (Naomi Frederick) and Alec (Tristan Sturrock) plunged into it all whole-heartedly, taking us on a boating trip, dancing in the air with joy, being kind and thoughtful to each other, and falling in love in most heart-rending fashion.

Meanwhile the rest of the brilliant cast was hamming it up in a variety of roles my uncle claimed saw little screen time in the original, but which added a lot of texture (in the form of two other love affairs) and provided the opportunity for all sorts of hijinks. It all ended in a fairly melancholy way, but we were so energized from the rest of the show, who could care? And as to the (American) woman in the bathroom who said that she didn’t remember Brief Encounter being a comedy – I say, you make a show that works in the medium you’re using, and this was a brilliant piece of theater.

My uncle, who’s retired, said Brief Encounter was worth paying full price to see – and considering he paid for three tickets, I consider that quite a compliment. (The matinee wasn’t available at the TKTS booth, although it often is for evening shows.) Also, after seeing four plays in four days (six for him), we all agreed that this was the best of the bunch – the icing on the cake for his trip to London. For me, it’s the best play I’ve seen in at least three months, possibly the year to date, and the only one that I’d go see again.