Posts Tagged ‘The Lowry’

Review – One Man, Two Guvnors – National Theatre

May 19, 2011

18th century Italian comedy reset in 20th century England … what could go wrong?

From the print ads for “One Man, Two Guvnors,” a rewrite of Goldoni’s original The Servant of Two Masters, plenty of missteps seemed likely. 60s era thugs, maybe not so comic. Brighton setting, maybe a bit overdone. And, seriously, since when do these plays “modernized” for our tastes really ever work? I mean, come on, Man of Mode, did anyone really buy the romance?

Based on the gales of laughter blowing out of the Lyttleton’s doors, it looks like all questions of “does this work modernized” have been firmly answered yes. A plot revolving around a male gangster’s twin sister (Jemima Rooper) masquerading as her brother in an attempt to get some much needed money from a criminal acquaintance (Fred Ridgeway) seems entirely plausible. The “tough” recruited by the sister (James Corden) – who turns out to be an out of work musician – explains his situation to us in a logical enough fashion. In fact, as the comedy get cranked further up, our connection with reality starts to become more and more tenuous, carrying us with it as it drifts away form the stage into the grid and up to the rafters. It’s funny. It’s supposed to be funny. It mostly makes sense. And we want to go along for the ride. Comedy cream-pie gangsters straight out of Some Like It Hot, people running screaming across the stage from different directions a la “Carry On,” and a plot hinging on opposite sex “identical” twins? The obvious response is, “And why not?”

Typical of commedia dell’arte, the characters are really just “types:” the young lovers (Claire Lams and Daniel Rigby), the sexy serving wench, the buffoonish underling ruled by his appetites. But the playwright has chosen types we can relate to … the fatuous young actor (Daniel Rigby as one half of the shockingly stupid lovers), the crime lord attempting to keep it clean, the competent (but flirtatious) bookkeeper (Suzie Toase making her “wench” role even better by being smart as well as phwoar). By using types, we have expected jokes to laugh at – of course the lawyer is going to use big words – but because of the new setting, we get to laugh at new things. The old waiter has a pacemaker that can be dialed to nine; the crime lord’s old prison pal (Trevor Laird) makes references to his love of his life being found in prison; the cross-dressed sister’s lover (Oliver Chris) is into S&M. And the fresh script by Richard Bean delivers joke after joke – some of them passing by unheard or unloved, but most of them right on and in every way making the dialogue worth listening to.

While the buffoonery does pass right into panto-land (the end of act one made me think Clive Rowe was going to do a dame turn), this show makes no apologies for turning the comedy volume to eleven. This kind of cross-gender “ooh er sir” farce is never going to be everyone’s favorite type of theater, but if you enjoy it, I say this show gets it just right. I loved The Servant with Two Masters in its orginal form back in 2001, and I think this version is even better, with characters we can more easily relate to but all of the humor firmly intact – in fact, I think it’s been broadened. My prediction: this is going to be the show you want to go to when you want to have fun, and if you want to see it, you’d better buy your tickets now.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, May 18th, 2011. For a more enthusiastic review, see the West End Whingers; a contrary review should be appearing soon from farce-hating Ought to be Clowns – my date for the night. Opening night is the 24th and it will run at the National through July 26th, then tour starting at the end of September at the Waterside, Theater Royal Plymouth, The Lowry, the New Alexandra Theater, finishing at the Kings Theater Edinburgh October 25-29.)

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Review – West Side Story – Sadler’s Wells (New Victoria Theatre, Milton Keynes Theatre, The Lowry, The New Wimbledon Theatre, etc.)

August 18, 2008

(Note: this show has now moved to New Victoria Theatre in Woking from Tuesday 2 through Saturday 13 September 2008, from whence it will be at Milton Keynes, The Lowry in Salford and then The New Wimbledon Theatre – even Glasgow and Cardiff.)

As a big fan of the American musical, I was determined to add West Side Story to my “seen” list – and not a cheesy high school production or a remount of the movie, but something very much like the version that’s at Sadler’s Wells right now (and through August 31st, after which it’s touring, including a two week visit to the New Wimbledon Theatre starting October 14th). It’s billed as the 50th anniversary version and “very true to the original choreography,” so I figured it was going to really to give me an opportunity to judge this show in its purest form. Does it deserve to rank with the best of the best, or was it just a 50s flash in the pan that people cling on to because of the Romeo and Juliet connection? Old chestnut or classic? There was only one way to find out … and on Friday, Katie and J and I headed out to Get Experienced.

As it turns out, this show is rather painfully popular and nearing the end of its run, so, as a blogger, I don’t consider it worth my while to spend a thousand words talking about it. You’ve either got tickets or you weren’t going to go (though perhaps you’ll go see it in New Wimbledon). I found it … well, fun, really! Jerome Robbins is a great choreographer, and the initial fight choreography was high energy and a blast to watch. The dancers were totally on form, and I had to think actually better than they would have been in the 50s – although (I think) there were way many performers to choose from back then, technique has really moved forward, and I felt like Joey McKneely’s version had a likely better execution than the original might have had. (Not that one can replace Chita Rivera, but …)

So … the music. Wow, the music was really dated, in a way I found occasionally painful. Xylophones, bizarre not-quite-melodic songs … West Side Story‘s score sounded like it was blended from some record of 50s exotica and more experimental opera of the era. Only a few of the songs were hummable, and “Tonight” was not! This left “America” and “I Feel Pretty” as the only songs I could remember after the show. The other songs were interesting and moved the narrative forward, but weren’t … well, let’s say I won’t be buying the soundtrack and singing them to myself (or an audience of amused strangers).

The set: good, very flexible, nice use of projections (shock!), kept the attention focused on the actors but still did a good job of creating the different “scenes” (the balcony scene, with “Romeo” climbing up the fire escape ladder, was especially cute).

The accents: for once, they were GOOD. Maria had an honest, fresh from a Spanish-speaking homeland young woman, and didn’t sound forced, but rather very much real. This was a huge relief to me (and based on her name I think she was probably not pushing herself too much to get it right). The rest of the performers – not once did I have my “Good God, why can’t English actors do American accents?” button pushed. Were they all Americans? I didn’t read the program (too busy watching the show), so who knows, but what they were was competent and believably American or Puerto Rican.

What does this leave? The acting and the story. Who would think that by coming to London I would have suddenly been put into a frame of mind where young toughs getting into a knife fight would become much more poignant rather than quaint (in America, we just expect street toughs to shoot each other). So when we got to the climactic knife fight, which seemed like a bit of a throwaway in Romeo and Juliet, it became so much more – young kids throwing their lives away for a stupid sense of pride in a way that meant more than it did in R&J (rich fools duelling, not very sympathetic) and very much seemed like “look, nothing’s changed.” And Tony’s role is very different – he’s a nice guy trying to break things up, he’s a completely sympathetic character. Maybe it’s a bit unrealistic that he would fall in love with a girl he only just saw at a dance, but once the fight happens, far more so than in a tale of star cross’d lovers, Tony and Maria really and truly to seemed to have no chance in the world of keeping their relationship together in a world where no one, really, wants to see them succeed.

How was the acting, though? I think it all comes down to this: we all knew how it was going to end, right? And yet way up there in the second balcony, the second balcony, mind you (where I could afford seats), I could here scores of people sniffling at the end – reserved old English people having a cry about the tragic end of what could have been a beautiful romance. And me, uh, I had some dust in my eyes and my contacts were dry, okay?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, August 15th, 2008. Performances continue through the 31st of August though it’s mostly sold out, but, hey, if you just want a single, you can always call the day of and get a return ticket. More information on the official “West Side Story 50th Anniversary Production website. This show will be touring for a while so you have many chances to catch it still!)