Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Shrek the Musical




Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
26th January, 2013

Screen to stage musicals sometimes make theatregoers hesitant to go to see them, perhaps thinking that they are simply a producer’s way to make easy money. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Shrek the Musical at Drury Lane as it proved to be a fun, funny and extremely clever piece of theatre.

Firstly, before I saw the show I heard that the musical references other musicals akin to how the film references other films, leaving me looking out for them during the show. A chorus line of tap-dancing rats alludes to A Chorus Line, waving a flag with a face similar to the Les Mis Cosette logo undoubtedly is a reference to Les Miserables, there are Shakespeare references, a parody of the end of Defying Gravity from Wicked and a pastiche from The Lion King. These were just some of the musical references which make Shrek post-modern. These references are fitting for Shrek as it’s a story littered with allusions to well-known fairy tales so by acknowledging the world of theatre outside the walls of the Theatre Royal mirrors the way Shrek mentions, and turns on their head, moments of popular children’s stories.

Other things which make the show post-modern could be the references to Will and Kate’s castle and Donkey’s take on Usain Bolt’s the lightning bolt. However, there is also a self-consciousness about this piece of theatre which makes it particularly interesting. For instance, the story is framed with Shrek telling the audience his story, the opening being made up of a line of story books, one of which Shrek comes out to tell us his back story of being sent away to live in a swamp, shortly followed by Princess Fiona, whose own back story runs parallel with the ogre’s. Lines such as ‘cue the villagers’ and ‘this is the part where you’re meant to run away’ are fairly theatrical and make clear that Shrek not only is self-aware as a piece of theatre but also places itself in the world and language of story-telling.

It’s in the second act where the story’s morale lesson is explored deeper when we learn how Princess Fiona and Shrek aren’t so different after all (‘I Got You Beat’) and how being different can be a good thing (‘Freak Flag,’ featuring an impressive performance from Alice Fearn as Gingy). Carley Stenson is very funny as Princess Fiona and Dean Chisnall’s understudy Bradley Jaden is also great as Shrek. However, it is Neill McDermott’s camp Lord Farquaad who is most impressive spending nearly all of the show on his knees to much comic effect as he yearns to be in a stage show himself.

The balcony on Saturday evening was fairly noisy but then again maybe that is to be expected with a family show which has so many lines from the film franchise and ‘gimmick’-like references to other children’s stories. Another problem is that Richard Blackwood’s Donkey doesn’t quite reach the comic heights of Eddie Murphy’s performance and I can’t help but wonder that if you haven’t seen the films (who hasn’t) then you might have problems keeping up with the pace of the show and might not be able to relate to the main characters. Speaking of the main characters, even though Shrek is billed as the star of the show, there seems to be just as much focus is on Fiona, Donkey and the show-stealing Lord Farquaad.

Michael Billington noted that the music didn’t quite fill him with a feeling of euphoria like a musical should but I think that Jeanine Tesori’s score is nearly capable of doing that but it wasn’t quite uplifting enough to go through you and give you goose bumps. Tim Hatley’s design seems small compared to some other shows that have been on at this theatre in recent years (although Drury Lane has a nice link with the films) but there are plenty of different set pieces including a very impressive rope bridge (‘we crossed a bridge – that’s a nice metaphor’ cries Donkey) and a huge puppet dragon which flies over the audience at the end.

Perhaps it seems pretentious talking about the many layers of performance with a show like Shrek but as well it being post-modern like the films it is also a brilliant family show that fits in with many other screen-to-stage and children’s literature musicals and plays at the moment. I highly recommend you go and see it before it closes.

On a side note, thanks to the FOH and box office staff at Drury Lane for helping us with reallocating seats after letting us in a week early than we should have been there! They were very helpful.

Now in its final weeks, Shrek the Musical plays at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane until 24th February, 2013.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Comedy in 2013


Quartermaine’s Terms opens tonight in Brighton prior to a 12 week run in the West End. It’s a quintessentially British comedy by Simon Gray and perhaps might be described as a polite comedy compared to some of the fast-paced, bawdy farces that Theatreland has seen over the past couple of years.

One Man, Two Guvnors, Noises Off, What The Butler Saw, Privates  on Parade have all done great business but 2013 sees some lighter comedies grace the stage.  Even if they do have moments where they escalate to fast, ridiculous apexes with doors opening and closing and people’s trousers falling down, on the whole the work of Ayckbourn, Bennett, Coward and Gray has gentler comedic moments.

Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval has just closed at the Harold Pinter Theatre but Relatively Speaking plays at the Wyndham’s over the summer. Ayckbourn’s work certainly has farce sequences within them but they tend to be more realistic with moments of satirical observation. Likewise, Noel Coward’s The Vortex plays next month at the Rose Theatre and there are rumours that Chichester’s production of Private Lives could transfer to London later this year and his plays are often seen as more sophisticated and less full-on than a French-style farce. Indeed, Alan Bennett’s new play People has moments that could be described as ‘low art’ but on the whole his plays are perhaps considered a little more intelligent than something like One Man, Two Guvnors which is meant to be played for laughs as it is a full-on take on that very British Carry On style of humour.

Have we run out of ‘madcap’ farces to produce after the most notorious and successful ones have been done already or is there a hunger for gentler comedies in London’s commercial and non-commercial sector this year? Either way, with a top cast which includes Rowan Atkinson, I predict that Quatermaine’s Terms will be one of the biggest hits of the year.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

2013 in theatre



What’s to look forward to in theatre in 2013?

It’s only early January but the calendar for many West End theatres already seems to be full, not only with actual productions that are certain to go ahead but also with plenty of rumours.

Seeing as the Wyndham’s Theatre seemed to be quiet at the end of last year, I shall start by plugging their full year. The Christmas filler Dreamboats and Petticoats closes on 19th January, before previews commence for the revival production of Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms on  23rd January for a limited 12-week run. It is directed by Richard Eyre and produced by Michael Codron along with the Theatre Royals in Bath and Brighton and will mark Rowan Atkinson’s return to the West End since playing Fagin in 2009. Following that, there will be a limited run of Doktor Glas which will star Swedish actor Krister Henriksson and have English surtitles, prior to welcoming Lindsay Posner’s production of Alan Aykbourn’s Relatively Speaking with Felicity Kendal, Jonathan Coy and Kara Tointon for the summer. Seeing out the year will be what has been billed as a new and diabolically funny comedy by Clive Exton, Barking in Essex, which will star Lee Evans and Sheila Hancock.

2013 will also see Helen Mirren return to her role of Elizabeth II in The Audience at the Gielgud next month as well as seeing Kristen Scott Thomas return to the Harold Pinter Theatre in another Harold Pinter play, Old Times. Similar to Betrayal, Old Times is another memory play and three-hander. Interestingly, Scott Thomas and Lia Williams will alternate roles and at some performances, the toss of a coin will decide who plays which role with Rufus Sewell only finding out who is in which role only when they are on stage.

The Duke of York’s will shortly be home to the Hampstead Theatre’s production of The Judas Kiss with Rupert Everett reprising his role as Oscar Wilde and then house the West End revival of Passion Play, starring Zoe Wanamaker. Furthermore, Michael Grandage continues his season with John Logan’s new play Peter and Alice starring Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw.

The National Theatre continue their success with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time transferring to the Apollo in March as well as a possible West End transfer of the Alan Bennett shorts Hymn and Cocktail Sticks. If this does happen, I imagine it will go into the Duchess Theatre. The NT also celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer and there are rumours that a revival of Gypsy starring Imelda Staunton could be on the cards.

There are rumours of the Royal Court’s production of Jez Butterworth’s The River transferring to the West End as well as Chichester’s production of Private Lives. Outside of the West End, the Rose Theatre, Kingston-Upon-Thames is putting on Coward’s The Vortex starring James Dreyfus and there’s an exciting season at the Old Vic in which to look forward. Along with the highly publicised Mark Rylance production of Much Ado About Nothing with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones towards the end of the year, there is also Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth with Kim Cattrall and Terrence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy (will this star Kevin Spacey?) as well as a touring production of the highly acclaimed Noises Off.

Other highlights include the Donmar Warehouse’s revival of Conor McPherson’s intimate play The Weir and Lindsay Posner is back with the stage adaption of The Turn of the Screw at the Almeida. No doubt I have missed things out, but these are just a few.

Moving on to musicals, Shrek the Musical will soon make way for Sam Mendes’ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Douglas Hodge at Drury Lane and Broadway biggies, The Book of Mormon and Once will also start their West End runs – both of which have no doubt done well in advanced sales.
2013 will also be the year where we find out how successful Viva Forever will be – despite the bad reviews I can imagine it seeing out its run until July but am weary as to whether it will extend or not. It will also be interesting to see if other musicals which didn’t receive brilliant reviews such as Let It Be (soon to be transferring to the Savoy) and The Bodyguard (at the Adelphi) will end or extend their runs this year. What with Rock of Ages transferring to the smaller Garrick Theatre later this month and rumours of Billy Elliott the Musical being on its way out at the Vitoria Palace, there could be many new shows coming into Theatreland.

Could it be that the Crucible’s My Fair Lady will transfer and if it does, will Dominic West still be able to do The River? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along gets a commercial life and the same goes with Gypsy if that does go ahead. There are also reports of Damian Lewis being interested in Me and My Girl and it looks as if Chichester could well be reviving Barnum. Fittingly, this could be produced in their temporary ‘tent-like’ auditorium whilst their theatre gets refurbished. Seeing as I forgot to mention this in my last post, I will also say how their production of Goodnight Mister Tom will leave the Phoenix on 26th January.

Regionally, Curve is producing the first production of Piaf since the playwright Pam Gems’ death as well as housing the 25th anniversary production of Hot Stuff and they will most likely announce their Christmas show soon as well. Con O’Neill returns to a Willy Russell piece of work with One for the Road at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton next month and I’m sure there will also be exciting seasons from The Crucible and Chichester.

There will be touring productions of Blood Brothers (with Maureen Nolan and Marti Pellow), Ghost, The Lion King, Wicked, War Horse, Hairspray (with Mark Bennett), The Woman in Black, The Mousetrap, The Pitmen Painters, Evita and many more.

What are you looking forward to in 2013? You can now follow us on Twitter @nobillington