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Merrily We Roll Along

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Merrily We Roll Along

by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth, based on a play by George Kaufman and Moss Hart

BROS Theatre Company at the Hampton Hill Theatre until 11th June

Review by Mark Aspen

“How did you get to be here?”   We could all probably ask ourselves that, as we look back on our lives.  Maybe we are not where we thought we could be.

This is exactly the presupposition of Sondheim’s 1981 musical, Merrily We Roll Along, which looks back on the lives of three friends over two decades, from the mid-seventies back to the mid-fifties, and examines what went wrong over that time.  The reverse chronology emphases the poignancy of how ambition spoilt the life of one of their number, Franklin Shepard, a successful composer song-writer who is seduced away from his true talent, and along the way from his true friends, to become a Hollywood film producer.  “How did you get to be here?” asks the opening chorus number, and hints at the answer, by “practising dreams”. 

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Money-Go-Round

Toadonomics

Money-Go-Round

by Roger McGough, after Kenneth Grahame, music by Steve Halliwell

OSO at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 5th June

Review by Heather Moulson

I was curious about this Children’s piece, a new musical written by Roger McGough, based on The Wind in the Willows.   I really liked the warm greeting of a bold and colourful set and that the plot was exactly what the title said, concerning a gold piece coin that was handed around a wealth of characters, a morality tale of economics with the mischievous Toad being the catalyst of this full circle plot.

If the story doesn’t appeal, then the simple yet vibrant set design will.  Designer Emma Turner brings the rustic charm of her native Cumbria to create incredible bold sets and props, crafted solely from recycled materials.  Scene changing was geared to, and efficiently handled by, the cast.  Simplicity was the key, with actors only having small indications of their animal traits; and that was more than enough.  Their strong performances conveyed clearly which iconic animal they were.

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Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

‘Ealth and Safety

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

by Guy Unsworth, based on the TV series by Raymond Allen

Limelight Productions at Richmond Theatre until 4th June, then tour continues until 13th August

Review by Gill Martin

It could have been called Some Grannies Do ‘Ave ‘Em !

This revival of the hugely successful TV show Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em mines ancient comedy history.  It was all of forty years ago that audiences peaked at 25 million who tuned in to the misfortunes of Frank Spencer, played by Michael Crawford.

Now it is the turn of Joe Pasquale to introduce the hapless Frank to a new theatre audience – the grandchildren and children of the original fans.  And make them laugh with rather than at dear Frank, he of the distinctive black beret, Fairisle sweater and beige raincoat

It’s perfect casting for a role that demands a physical comedy actor who can deliver rapid fire monologues, fall down stairs, command empathy and unashamedly take centre stage as the rest of the cast gift him most of the limelight.

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Carmen

Slain by Daring Passion

Carmen

by Didy Veldman, music by Dave Price after Georges Bizet

Bird and Carrot Productions at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Southbank Centre until 29th May

Review by Suzanne Frost

Fearless.  Passionate.  Dramatic.  Daring.  All the characteristics that are traditionally attributed to Carmen could just as well be true about Natalia Osipova, who has reached a point in her career where she seems to be much more than simply one of the legendary ballerinas of our time.  Her personality and star power is so large these days, it transcends any role she might interpret on stage.  So it feels almost inevitable that when looking for a new full length dance piece to create, her eyes lit up, according to the programme notes, at the thought of playing Carmen, and thanks to her celebrity and standing within the dance world, she was not only able to fill the Southbank Centre but also pull together an impressive collective of artistic collaborators, first and foremost the beautiful Dutch contemporary choreographer Didy Veldman. 

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God of Carnage

Pitfalls of Parenthood

God of Carnage

by Yasmina Reza, translation by Christopher Hampton

Richmond Shakespeare Society at the Mary Wallace Theatre until 4th June

Review by Celia Bard

The play God of Carnage, a farcical comedy, runs for about ninety mins without any breaks or change of scenes.  Throughout the play, characters hurl a barrage of insults at each other, many concealed by a thin veneer of civilised behaviour.  The two sets of parents have met to discuss the behaviour of two boys, one of whom has attacked the other with a stick, resulting in the breaking of two incisors and damage to a ‘half a nerve’ in a tooth.

Theatrically, these types of argument make for interesting theatre, as they often succeed in revealing multidimensional levels of character when emotional buttons are pressed.  The play is funny and presents the kind of humour that makes you laugh aloud either through verbal wit or farcical comedy.

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Mozart and Salieri, Suor Angelica

A Diptych Hinged on Poison

Mozart and Salieri

by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, libretto after Alexander Pushkin

and

Suor Angelica

by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giovacchino Forzano

Rose Opera at Normansfield Theatre, Teddington until 29th May

Review by Eugene Broad

Poisonous motivations and, well, actual death by poisoning, links this double-bill put up by the Rose Opera.  Featuring two one-act operas, the first was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri, based on a short drama by Pushkin. 

Featuring the eponymous composers, the opera Mozart and Salieri served as the direct inspiration for the masterful and charming but (almost certainly) historically inaccurate 1984 film, AmadeusSalieri (Ian Helm)  broods in his atmospheric Viennese bachelor pad, resplendent with harpsichord, draped velvets, and candelabra, lamenting to himself how despite decades of disciplined labour of his mastering all elements of music, fate smiled on Mozart instead, giving him a “holy gift” (or innate talent) despite having an “idlers mind”.  Unannounced, Mozart (William Smith), full of child-like innocence and inanity, drops by.  He confides in Salieri with respect and admiration, almost as if Salieri were an elder sibling or father figure, sharing his compositional self-doubt in crystal tenor (“at night / insomnia tormented me / and two or three ideas came to mind / today I’ve put them down.  And I wanted / to hear your opinion, but I see / you don’t have time for me”). 

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Abigail’s Party

Social Climbing Seventies Style

Abigail’s Party

by Mike Leigh

Teddington Theatre Club at The Coward Studio, Hampton Hill until 28th May

Review by David Marks

Abigail’s Party is one of those plays that is so well known it has become the stuff of legend.   Its famous lines, background music and artwork are so familiar that they’ve become part of the national consciousness.  So it was with no little trepidation that I entered the Coward Studio at Hampton Hill Theatre to see TTC’s production of this modern classic.

I need not have worried.   Set designers Wesley Henderson Roe and Fiona Auty, together with props mistress Jacqui Grebot had conspired to transport their audience back to the 1970’s with excellent attention to detail – from “leather look” sofa to wine bottle candle stick.   The space was configured in the traverse, which worked well to bring the audience into the action.   Because of this configuration, however only half the audience were able to see Beverly and Laurence’s “kitchen” – the most ingenious use of a fire escape I’ve ever seen.  Gary Stevenson’s lighting design was the icing on the design cake; as well as “stage” lighting, ceiling light fittings and the obligatory lava lamp all added to the general ambience.   As did the soundscape from Charles Halford, who must have had lots of fun researching the “sound of the 70s” for the pre-show music.   Demis Roussos and Jose Feliciano made their obligatory performances, too.

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The Rocky Horror Show

Naughty Trisexual Megalomania

The Rocky Horror Show

by Richard O’Brien

Trafalgar Theatre Productions and associates at Richmond Theatre until 28th May, then on tour until January 2023

Review by Mark Aspen

Tonight I lost my virginity.  Yes, it came as a surprise to me too, especially as I have three children and three grandchildren.  But it seems that if you have not seen The Rocky Horror Show before, then you are a virgin.  At least that’s what the lady in the seat next to me said.  She was wearing stockings, suspenders and a basque.  The gentleman with her was not wearing trousers, but he did look quite, er … fetching, in fishnet tights. 

There are lots of conventions to trap the unwary audience member in this cult musical, although there is a useful virgin’s guide.  Moreover, the audience need to know their lines, or have ready ripostes when cued by a character’s half-beat pause.  It’s a bit like the pantomime, but a hundred times naughtier. 

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Maynard’s End

Fagatha Christie – Almost

Maynard’s End

by Jeremy Gill

Q2 at The National Archives, Kew until 21st May

Review by Mark Aspen

Miss Marple meets Midsomer Murders in Q2’s premiere of Jeremy Gill’s post-pandemic parody of a much-loved genre, the murder mystery.  His is a gentle take on the form: it is no harsh send-up, but a lovingly massaged homage to a peculiarly English theatre genre that was popular following both World Wars.  (There is some interesting psychology there.) 

Gill sets Maynard’s End in 1968, perhaps late for the genre, but in a period-perfect setting.  The design trio of Harriet Muir, Bob Gingell and Tamsyn O’Connor create props, costume and, tellingly, hair styles with great authenticity, within a neatly versatile set.  

The only period detail missing was the smoking, even the hashish was eaten (by mistake, in a laced cake) rather than smoked.  Otherwise the play could almost be described as a Fagatha Christie (whoops, couldn’t resist that!).  Nevertheless, Q2 would not want to risk catching on fire a building that is home to the Doomsday Book!  And what a magnificent location is The National Archives: what other local theatre nestles in parkland with lakes, and fountains and swans?

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Apologia

Blame Game

Apologia

by Alexi Kaye Campbell

The Questors Theatre at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 21st May

Review by Eleanor Lewis

“Every generation, blames the one before,” states the lyric of Mike Rutherford and BA Robertson’s 1988 hit, The Living Years.  The song, about a conflicted relationship between father and son, hits a nerve with almost everyone, generational dissonance being a given in the course of most family life.  For children of the activist counterculture ‘60s generation though, the dissonance is particularly acute and reaches that much further. 

The central character of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia is one such ‘60s idealist, Kristin Miller (Pamela Major).  An active campaigner throughout her professional life as a respected art historian, she continued as she became mother to two sons.  In later life her opinions are many and strong and she seems largely oblivious to the needs and feelings of those around her, including her children. 

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