Posts Tagged ‘Lyric Hammersmith’

Review – Bugsy Malone – Lyric Hammersmith

August 21, 2015

I was seduced into seeing Bugsy Malone by an enthusiastic preview I saw about the process of turning the film into a stage musical. A bunch of kids and whipped cream on stage? Gangster fun, 70s style? It all sounded like a very good time, and as the positive reviews came in I became convinced I needed to see it, more so as I attempted to book tickets only to find night after night sold out. Well! A genuine, home grown hit, at a not-West End theater! How exciting!

Today I can only shake my head in shock. What went wrong here? How could so many reviewers lead me wrong? Looking at it, I think there must be some serious differences between the different kids that are in the cast. The night I went, Fat Sam spoke in a manner that made it impossible to understand what he was saying. Really, it was so bad that I was completely lost about the action on stage. What was the conflict in the first act? I’m not sure, as I was having to guess based on body language. His arch nemesis, redhead Dandy Dan, didn’t help either. I couldn’t help but wonder just what had happened with their dialogue coach. Did they have them speaking with marbles in their mouths and then leave the marbles in? To add insult to injury, Fizzy sang his solo number (“Tomorrow”) off key. Now, he looked like a really little kid, and I appreciated the effort, but it just grated.

On the other hand, there were some really great performances, most especially from our Tallulah (Samantha Allison) and the ethereal Thea Lamb (Blousey Brown). Both of these young women could really sing, but they also put forth a tremendous amount of personality in their performances, and I relaxed and enjoyed myself during their spotlight numbers. Similarly, the Bugsy we had on our night (Daniel Purves?) was a total pro – he worked the crowd like he’d been doing it for years.

The production values were uniformly high – excellent costumes, fully-developed choreography (the stand out number still being the one in the boxing ring) and a great depiction of life in 1930s Chicago – but it wasn’t enough to change the fact that I barely knew what was going on and felt like the numbers had been added to fill out a very slimly plotted show. While I have to congratulate the Lyric on the effort to put a production like this on, I can’t help but wonder why it got such good reviews. Ultimately, I’d only give this show one star. It was a long and generally unpleasant night and the few good bits were not enough to save this incoherent (literally and figuratively) show.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, August 17th, 2015. It continues through September 5th.)

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Mini-review – Desire Under the Elms – Lyric Hammersmith

October 10, 2012

It’s been nearly a week since I shuffled out of the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Desire Under the Elms and I’ve been having a hard time getting motivated to write a review. The play is impossible to believe at any point: cartoon characters (the two half brothers are right out of Loony Toons, Yosemite Sam and Sandy), laughable dialogue (“Nature … makes ye grow bigger–like a tree,” said while “new ma” Abbie writhes on the ground with her legs open, OH GOD WHAT COULD SHE BE IMPLYING), a plot that seems better suited to a soap opera .. the whole thing was just so overwrought I couldn’t take it seriously, like a bad high school production of a Greek tragedy. I watched the characters with nearly physical pain, wondering just what in the hell Eugene O’Neill thought he was doing – creating characters he couldn’t understand enough to write words for and putting them in a situation he thought would mirror some drama by Sophocles “but in an American setting.” It was all just so horrible after the genius of Long Day’s Journey into Night.

I made it to the interval, checked my clock, and saw that I could make it through to the end with only 45 more minutes, so dragged myself back like a dog waiting for a whuppin’. Fortunately almost 10 minutes was taken up with a comic dance routine, and the end rolled around quite quickly, but not once did I ever feel a bit of sympathy for any of the characters. They were all impossible to believe in and thus impossible to care about.

And then it was over. Hurray. And now I’ve written my review and I can get on to talking about some excellent theater that is much more worth seeing than this farce. Lungs, a part of the Paines’ Plough/National Theater season at Shoreditch Town Hall, blew me out of the room. Do not miss it. It may be a day or two more before I’ve got my review up, but YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED – buy your ticket now.

(This review is for a preview performance seen on October 4th, 2012. It runs through November 10th. Lungs has its last performance on Saturday October 27th and is superior in every way.)

Review – Dick Whittington and his Cat – Lyric Hammersmith

December 31, 2010

I was a bit stuck for panto options in the Boxing Day – New Year’s break this year. Originally I was supposed to be in Inverness, and was going to see the Eden Theater’s production, but the travel chaos threw my plans topsy-turvy and suddenly I was in London with nary a ticket bought! The problem wasn’t so much not being able to get tickets as not being able to decide where. I’d already been to see my perennial favorite, the Hackney Empire (with Jack and the Beanstalk), but no other show had really caught any buzz other than, “Look away!” However, inspiration came from an article in the Guardian, which suggested that the OTHER good panto to see in London was at the Lyric Hammersmith. Well, okay, I thought (noting that next year I need to make a trip to York), let’s see what they’ve got going on; as usual they had good prices (unlike Wimbledon or the non-panto Hansel and Gretel the Southbank Center did), and thus for 15 pounds a head I found myself in the second balcony for some post-Christmas panto fun.

The Lyric’s promotional material for Dick Whittington seemed to emphasize its “street” aspects; the poster was for a cat in a baseball cap wearing a gold necklace. I was actually expecting the whole production to have a lot more elements from this culture (very vibrant in London and source of a lot of the most exciting dance productions), but they really weren’t there. It was a shame, too; the music and dancing were some of the weakest elements of this production.

However, the casting was very good. The Cat, Paul J Medford, was full of personality and a big ham; he was definitely the star of the show despite having to do it all in a giant furry suit. Steven Webb was shockingly good in a role that should have had me sick with its sugariness; how could he be so positive about everything and not just come off like … he was playing down to us? In fact, he was a treat; a good singing voice, a nearly irony-free delivery, and somehow he managed to “live the role” in a way that sold to a hardened old nut like myself. Good on you, Steve. Alice (Rosalind James), however, put both of the men to shame with her stupendous pipes; she was fine as the spunky pie-maker’s daughter, but she blew the roof off when she sang.

Unfortunately, Shaun Prendergast (as Sarah the Cook) just wasn’t the over the top scene stealer I was hoping for. He seemed a very friendly panto dame, but I really want someone who’s a demon wit as well as having a powerful stage presence. He also didn’t get as many fun dresses as I was hoping for. Still, I’ve been spoiled by Clive Rowe; Prendergast did show that he’d worked to adapt the material as he went along, but he just couldn’t match Rowe’s verbal fireworks.

While this show was definitely competent, I felt it was lacking some snap and pizazz … maybe just a bit more fun between the characters onstage would have helped. That said, it certainly got in plenty of bad puns (especially with the bells, unusual characters to say the least), and I do think it was pitched pretty well at its audience. Still, better miking so the lyrics of the songs could be heard would have helped – I couldn’t tell what they were going on about once the music started – and, well, I don’t know, I guess it is pretty late in the run and a two show day but I would have enjoyed a little more life in the actors. So it was certainly a serviceable panto, but not one I’m likely to remember longer than the end of this Christmas season.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010. It continues through January 8th, 2011.)

Great deal to see “The Comedians” at Lyric Hammersmith

November 2, 2009

Today’s Metro featured a great deal for the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of “The Comedians” (my review here): best seats for £10. To claim this offer, call 0871 221 1723 and quote “Metro Offer.” This offer good from November 2nd through the 9th.

Review – The Comedians – Lyric Hammersmith

October 15, 2009

It was with some trepidation that I headed to the Lyric Hammersmith to see The Comedians. A three hour running time has become a considerable burden to me on a school night and when I’d initially booked the tickets I hadn’t realized seeing the show was likely to wreck me for work the next day. In fact, I didn’t know anything about it at all, and really didn’t right up until I sat in my seat and looked at the program; I was there because the West End Whingers were going, and they tend to have a magical ability to sniff out good shows. In fact, if it hadn’t been for them, I’d never have managed to get in to see Enron. They’re also great company, though I’d brought my own posse along with me (admittedly in part so my American visitor Irene could meet Andrew and Phil). But, well, the Lyric has this thing where the first week of a show (usually) they do tickets at £10, so I figured, hey, if it’s bad, I’ll leave at the interval, and, gosh, I even have two different intervals to pick from! I also knew in my heart of hearts that if the show was good I wouldn’t regret the lost sleep.

First interval came around and I was still a bit on the fence. The show is about six men who have been going to night school to learn how to be comedians. I saw in the set up a bit of “The Pitman Painters,” with a lovable teacher (Matthew Kelly) who just wants to pass on a bit of his learning to a roomful of “characters,” with likely life lessons to follow at the end to send us all home with a smile. I figured the story would be mostly playing off of the comedy of the various “types” in the class, with a bunch of laughs in the middle during the “now we show our stuff at the comedy club” act before the heartwarming finale. (No, I didn’t read the program.) But I was wholly confused by what the types were supposed to be, as the accents were completely meaningless to me. I wasn’t able to tell the Northern Irish guy from the Republic of Ireland guy or actually from … well, any of the other guys except for the one who was supposed to be Jewish (and what was funny about that also passed me by). Being American was really working against me, and I wasn’t getting their casual jokes at all. I felt at a complete cultural loss. I was also kind of irritated by the overacting of Gethin Price, who as “teacher’s pet” David Dawson kept forgetting to interact with the other characters and instead kept acting toward the fourth wall. (“Hello​! You’re very sexy in an Alan Cumming kind of way, but would you please stop acting like you know we’re all out here and get on with being in the play? It ruins my developing fascination with you.”)

The one thing I did understand, and that got me back in the door after the end of first interval, in the face of the exhaustion I’d have to face the following day, was the drama that developed when the judge for the performances (Bert Challoner) appeared just after it was revealed that he and the teacher were arch rivals who had completely different ideas of how to be funny. Suddenly the students, who all wanted professional careers, were faced with failing their real test: getting a job. After getting a speech from him about what a comedian’s approach ought to be, suddenly it became clear that every one of them was going to try to fix his routine to better please the judge.

This conflict made me quite enthused to see Act Two, in which the students one by one (well, and once by two) went up on stage and did their best to wow the judge. This is when it finally became clear to me that I was watching an extremely good group of actors, because they were actors, not standup comedians, and yet for each of their acts I totally bought into what they were doing and the tension they were feeling. The best of the acts for me was the two-man routine Reece Shearsmith (as Phil Murray) and Mark Benton (as Ged Murray) did, when suddenly Phil, who’d been “the one who wasn’t funny” earlier, turned on his brother Ged and insisted he tell a racist joke that went completely against the philosophy of their professor – but that he felt sure would amuse the judge. The power of the moment when his jovial, gentle brother turned to him and said, “No, YOU tell the joke” and then physically moved him to a place where he would have to … words fail me. It was pure theater. I completely bought the characters and the situation. Admittedly, at the very beginning of the act, all I thought about was how pretty Michael Dylan’s blue eyes were, which wasn’t really about getting into his character so much as getting into him, but grab your pleasures where you will, I say. Anyway, by this act I was sold on the play, and the whole question of how to get a decent night’s sleep was moot; I was making the Ultimate Sacrifice and was going to call a cab after the show.

During the second intermission, I had a long conversation with an old guy who’s seen the show in its original incarnation in the 70s. According to him, the jokes the guys tell during the second act actually just aren’t funny, and people back them knew it. He said he was really surprised that people were laughing during the performance. I was, too, but I was confused because to me they almost all of the jokes seemed really offensive – I don’t see where being Irish or Catholic or Jewish is a comedy item and there’s no laughs for me in a joke about beating your wife up in a bar. But per Old Guy, this kind of humor was actually standard standup material in those days, especially up north (where this play was set), so the format itself was unsurprising – only the jokes were really flat. Of course there’s the question of the act the teacher’s pet performed, about which I’ll say little other than I thought about it during the De Frutos catastrophe the next night, but that had to be its own special moment.

Act three was, well, really not the heartwarming huggy-feely takeaway I was expecting and a lot more of the “this is going to get dark” my husband anticipated. There is a bit of a message about artistic integrity, but the whole thing is couched in a rather nauseating story that ends in a Nazi death camp, so any chance of a “feel good” is blown out of the water. Still, as we all walked out, a bit dazed and blasted, my thought was: what an amazing ensemble cast I just saw perform. Nearly three straight hours and I didn’t begrudge them a minute; once act two started I was bought in all the way. While I was too culturally confused to be able to see it in the big stars and lights the West End Whingers did, I’d definitely say this is a show worth catching.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Monday, October 11th, 2009. It continues through November 14th. I ate at Akash Tandoor beforehand and can highly recommend their 20 quid two person combo plate.)

Review – Cinderella – Lyric Hammersmith

November 30, 2008

Warning: The Lyric Hammersmith’s Cinderella is NOT a panto, despite the title and the timing. Along those lines, it’s not entirely a family friendly show, certainly not for those under 8 and not at all if you don’t like your kids hearing words like “bitch” (the children around me gasped) and seeing people murdered on stage. This caused a great deal of embarrassment to me, as the five year old I brought with me ended the show crying inconsolably due to the particularly gory ending. But if you’re aware of all that …

Cinderella is actually the most imaginative retelling of this story I’ve ever seen and far exceeded my expectations for what this story could possibly be (although I was hoping for broad comedy, drag queens, bad puns, and a singalong with a lot more positive energy after spending eight hours looking at flats in South London). The format was of several fairy stories being told by Cinderella (Elizabeth Chan) and the various actors playing different characters (except for Cinderella herself). The staging was the usual “telling not showing stuff” (which can be unusual though it works better with small budget shows); the characters held little paper birds to represent the “snow pigeons,” a frame was held up in front of an actor to represent a picture, a variety of mannequins represented the numerous guests at the ball.

The acting generally felt highly stylized and wasn’t really about character development in any way; the actors were representing archetypes and conducted themselves appropriately. Fortunately, instead of the cartoony evil sisters, we had two girls (played by Katherine Manners, whose singing in Coram Boy struck me so, and Kelly Williams) who actually behaved like normal girls – afraid of their mom, wanting to make friends but not above pointing fingers to save themselves. While I was happy with them, I found Ms. Chan actually just a little too dreamy and high-archetype for the show – I wasn’t really able to be pulled in by her performance because she herself seemed so distant and two dimensional. Oddly, it seemed to be the Prince (Daniel Weyman) who did the most “acting” per se – though he was being a prince who had to act in order to deceive his mother, so perhaps this isn’t really a fair example.

The fun part of this production was, for me, seeing how the actors conveyed fairly dense theatrical visions with lightweight tools. This really came to fruition in the final scenes, which (if you haven’t read the Grimm original or don’t want a spoiler otherwise, best you stop reading now ….) required the sisters to cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the shoes, and then later the entire “evil Stepfamily” had their eyes removed. A bit of red yarn and what looked like potatoes seemed to carry the deeds well enough (plus having them dropped into a bucket of water for effect), but my ability to enjoy this bit of theater (and it was really fun!) was terribly marred by the way it upset the little girl I’d invited to join us. She’d actually really enjoyed the entire show – I suspect all of the different stories were really catching her imagination – but this was just too much and I felt bad for having so crucially misjudged what was going to happen onstage that night. I enjoyed so much of it, including the non-standard musical accompaniment (Terje Isungset played bicycle wheels and icicles – pretty neat!), but I probably won’t be able to pull myself out of the funk caused by terrorizing a little girl for a while. On the other hand, the mistake did lead my husband to utter the immortal lines, “Look behind you! Oh, you can’t,” so it’s possible the rest of the group I was with had a good time in spite of this.

(This show is for the evening performance on Saturday, November 29th, 2009.)

Review – Spyski, or, The Importance of Being Honest – Peepolykus at the Lyric Hammersmith

October 31, 2008

As this show is closing its run November 1st, I’m going to write just a brief review.

Peepolykus are very silly and their shows make me laugh, and I was very excited about going to the Lyric Hammersmith to see their latest, “Spyski, or: the Importance of Being Honest.” Even though every bit of this show was a big pile of gags, they still managed to create interesting characters and win me over emotionally as well as making me laugh. This, plus the silly visuals (the bunk bed that turns into a disco?) that take “low budget” and turn it into an asset made for a fun evening. I couldn’t help thinking as a “whup whup whup” noise sounded overhead and a handbag was lowered from the sky of the overblown nature of “Miss Saigon” – why have a real helicopter when you can have people see a much better helicopter in their minds? In addition to all this, the story did a nice job of blending in elements of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which was fresh in my mind after seeing it at the Vaudeville earlier this year, and they get extra points for including David Bowie’s “Kooks” at the end – one of my very favorite songs. In short: a fun show, well worth the very affordable ticket price, and I’m here, as sent by the cast, to warn you via my blog: we must be horses and not sheep! Only the true power of the theater can save people from the mindless obedience encouraged by the government!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, October 30th, 2008.)

Peepolykus return with “Spyski” – great £5 deal!

October 2, 2008

This morning’s Metro was touting a £10 offer for tickets to see Spyski, by Peepolykus, whose Hound of the Baskervilles left me in stitches two Mays ago (apparently I didn’t bother to review it at all – wait, I did, just not here and not much). The show’s at the Lyric Hammersmith and I’m all hot to see it, only now I see Last Minute has tickets for £5, which is even better! Now all I need to do is get a pair for tomorrow, somehow, though it looks to be sold out!

Coming up later today: review of Merce Cunningham at the Barbican. Summary: modern dance master, and the evening is worth seeing just for “Biped,” which is genius and features a live Gavin Bryars score.

Review – Pinter’s The Birthday Party – Lyric Hammersmith

May 20, 2008

Normally I don’t bother seeing a play twice unless it’s a razzle dazzle musical (i.e. Drowsy Chaperone). But in this case, I went to see a play I thought was really bad … in the hopes that in more competent hands, it would be really good. As you should know, I am a big Pinter fan. The previous time we saw The Birthday Party was at the Capitol Hill Arts Center in Seattle, Washington. Now, I tend to find fringe theater (of the sort we saw so much of in Seattle) very enjoyable in general – when it’s not actually part of a fringe festival, but rather by an established, small company presenting a regular season. Seattle companies really have very high quality actors, inventive directors, and all sorts of other things going for them that makes their shows generally quite good. But The Birthday Party was a failure. We couldn’t make sense of it, and we felt to a great extent it was because it didn’t make sense to the actors. They seemed to be just saying the lines to each other, as if they were reading a series of shuffled together flash-cards with dialogue written on them, yet not really understanding a word of what was coming out of their mouths. So they successfully showed they’d memorized the play, but, otherwise, they just stumbled through it practically with a look of fear and desperation in their faces that wasn’t really called for by the story line.

Three years later, I’m living in London, and I have really come to believe that American actors just can’t handle Pinter. It’s not, as Ben Brantley says in his review of Homecoming, that they can’t get the class implications in the accents. I fact, it’s so much more than that; it’s a complete miss on the culture underlying the plays, into which I fortunately have a little more insight these days. I was pretty aware of how far I had come watching The Birthday Party tonight at they Lyric Hammersmith. For example, I heard someone talk about getting “fried bread” for breakfast in the first act, and I thought, in America, that would just sound surreal and would probably throw an actor off. In America, you don’t fry bread any more than you fry lettuce or milk. And later, a man talks about coming home with the lights off “and I put a shilling in the slot and, boom! Lights on, nobody home!” This also is completely nonsensical because in America you don’t have coin activated meters to dole out electricity. You have parking meters and you have pay laundromats, but coins in a slot do not turn lights on.

I think these kinds of things would really fluster actors – the play would have to be annotated just as thoroughly as Shakespeare for them to follow along with what was going on. The towns where Goldberg went on vacation all have certain associations and implications, the concept of what it means to be a “deck chair attendant” at a beach resort means something, it all just builds on a life that can’t mean anything to a person who hasn’t seriously researched the culture and, perhaps, lived in it (as much as you can live in 1958). So it’s no surprise that the previous production I had seen was a failure, but I can’t really hold it against the actors too much.

I’m pleased to say that the production we saw tonight at the Lyric Hammersmith was a complete success in nearly every way and has pretty well completely overwritten my previous memory of the play. The doddering old landlady (Sheila Hancock) is not a drooling, brainless maniac – she’s a sweet, friendly, older woman who wouldn’t think it unreasonable to be flirted with (a bit of a Blanche Dubois in some ways), but not nearly the sex fiend she somehow came across before. Petey, the husband (Alan Williams), is a fairly decent man who lives a life that’s very much in many ways built on habit – but he’s still engaged with the world.

Goldberg (Nicholas Woodeson) and McCann (Lloyd Hutchinson) – what is up with Pinter and his fascination with mob types? Hitmen in The Dumbwaiter, a pimp in Homecoming – is this his fantasy of the dark side of London or something? When last I saw them, they were as evil and creepy as Gaiman’s Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, and I found the scene where they were trying to force Stanley (this time played by Justin Salinger) to sit in a chair unbearably tense. I imagined them trying to break his legs once they got him down. They also seemed to be in a struggle with each other, for Goldberg to prove he still retained his youthful power by exerting himself over McCann. This didn’t really seem to be the dynamic tonight. Instead, McCann was the somewhat stupid muscle (with the loveliest singing voice!) who was very obedient to Goldberg’s wishes – including the scene where he blew in his mouth (and WTF was that about – I was cracking up). He had a lovely Irish accent (which Chris Macdonald flubbed) … which put Goldberg’s bizarre English/Jewish accent into high relief to me, as an American New York/Jewish accent leavened with occasional Britishness. It sounded like he’d tried to cram the two things together unsuccessfully, as if to imply the whole schtick Goldberg was doing was a put-on. I imagined the actor had perhaps just failed to get a proper voice coach, but the friends I went with to the play (Trish and Simon) assured me he sounded completely fine to them.

So, really what do I know, I am still a foreigner here. I will say, though, that this play was a really good time for us and much more clearly comic than it was the last time I saw it. I no longer think it’s meant to be read literally, and the absurdist elements were very clear to me (“We’ll make a man out of you!” “And a woman!”). What, really, is the plot? We weren’t able to make it out. Stanley (Justin Salinger, looking too young for the role) didn’t really telegraph it to me, and Pinter, as usual, didn’t bother telling me up front by having something obvious like an extended, painful mermaid metaphor at the beginning of the play. Bless his black little heart! I was so pleased I went and bought a book “about his thoughts on his work” in the lobby at the end of the night, and I’m going to try to puzzle through it myself. In fact, now that I see that his complete archives are at the British Library, I’m wondering if perhaps I ought to do even more research on him … of the sort that might eventually lead to a book of my own. I bet I’ve got it in me, but it’s going to be hard to do when I don’t want to read any scripts for shows I haven’t seen lest I ruin the surprise. How will I ever have the same amount of fun discussing what happened after a show (as if I and the person sitting next to me had seen two completely different plays) if I already know what the received wisdom is on the play I’m watching? One play at a time, though, I bet I can eventually make it through the oevre, even in enough time to get that book written. It’s a goal!

Contains Violence – Lyric Hammersmith

April 14, 2008

Short review, as I’m still too cold to do much but hover near the radiator.

We just spent an hour and a half sitting in the cold with headphones and raincoats on, watching four actors perform in two well lit offices across the street and hoping to God it didn’t start raining as it would have quickly soaked through our trousers and we were already more than cold enough.

Summary: good concept, weak script, bad acting. I think the actors had just lost their connection with the audience – not too surprising given that we were almost a city block away. Watching them through the binoculars was entirely ungratifying – they didn’t seem to be doing anything more than going through the motions. So even though the technical execution was quite good, it was really not worth sitting outside that long in 9°/48° weather to watch. Minkette’s “Train of Thought” was a million times more fun and engaging, and the acting was better, too.

(This review is for a performance that took place Monday, April 14th, 2008. It did not do anything more than think about sprinkling during the show, but that was plenty in my book.)