Tag Archives: Carl Grose

“Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)” at the Lyric Hammersmith

This welcome return of Kneehigh’s much admired reworking of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera is ripe for our times. The show is dark – recreating 18th-century villains in a world of corrupt politicians and organised crime, it pushes into pitch black territory. Politically crude and frequently rude, this is a protest piece with anarchic urgency that condemns money, power and the state of the world.

Writer Carl Grose is stark in his views of human nature, which is the key to the show’s satirical punch. The action is led by Martin Hyder and Rina Fatania, who give brilliantly overblown performances as small town mafiosos murdering their way to a mayoralty. For law and order, Giles King’s maniacal chief of police is frightening stuff, flip-flopping between bribery and blood lust. His target is Macheath, a sinister hitman in this version. Rendered cold rather than charismatic in Dominic Marsh’s sterling performance, Macheath brings the personal into politics, deciding between a life of love, a noble death or a career in crime. The result isn’t pretty. Interestingly, the sexual politics in the piece haven’t been updated as much as you might expect. Macheath’s women are still dopey for him, though the roles are performed with spice by Beverly Rudd and Angela Hardie.

Rina Fatania

Maybe the madness for Macheath is appropriate in a show that calls for a touch of chaos all around. Consider the music. All those songs promised in the title are eclectic to an extreme, and composer Charles Hazlewood’s range of references is awe inspiring. There’s a trade off with coherence – and few will enjoy all the numbers – but each song adds to the crazy appeal of the show, and the energy from Mike Shepherd’s direction, with his talented cast of actor musicians, is considerable. The detail throughout is fantastic, not just with Grose’s tongue-tying script – this is a keep-your-eyes-peeled show. With swapping suitcases and plenty of multiple roles (Georgia Frost does especially well here), you don’t want to miss a moment.

While the call for changes in society and for personal responsibility are not convincing enough in this grim vision of our state, they are depicted well through the only character we come close to caring for – Patrycja Kujawska’s Widow Goodman forms the spine of the show (and her violin playing is fantastic). It’s a shame that Punch – yes, as in Judy – gets the last word. While Sarah Wright, who led the puppetry on press night, is fantastic, Punch’s nightmarish commentary ends up overwhelming. That Punch talks most of the sense on stage is downright depressing. We’re not in that much trouble, are we?

Until 15 June and then touring until 13 July 2019

www.lyric.co.uk

Photos by Steve Tanner

“The Grinning Man” at the Trafalgar Studios

The theatre world often fantasises about the next big British musical, and a home-grown piece is always something to celebrate, so this work, spearheaded by composer and lyricist team Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, has arrived from Bristol to the West End like a dream. The Grinning Man is original, polished and has a sense of integrity that, while making its success cultish rather than mainstream, wins respect.

The story is a fairy tale, heavy on the Gothic, but for grownups. Set in a familiar work, although with surprisingly little satire, our eponymous hero was disfigured as a child and is now a circus freak show. It’s a star role that Louis Maskell delivers with conviction. With a blind girlfriend and sinister adopted father in tow (Sanne Den Besten and Sean Kingsley), the much sung about “ugly beautiful” appearance of this charismatic changeling alters society for the better. The colourful royal family, with a strong quartet of performances from Julie Atherton, David Bardsley, Amanda Wilkin and Mark Anderson, all fall under his (inexplicable) spell. The only one on stage who seems immune is a villainous jester, for my money the lead of the show, brilliantly portrayed by Julian Bleach and winning most of the laughs.

The tale is as good as any by the Grimms. It’s based on a novel by Victor Hugo, and writer Carl Grose tackles it well. But the swearing, nymphomania and a bizarre incest plot make it adults only. It’s something of a puzzle – the temptation to appeal to a larger audience must have been great. A bigger problem is that the score only interests by including some bizarre electronic sounds and the songs aren’t catchy enough. While the dialogue is good, the lyrics, from Phillips, Teitler, Grose and also the show’s director Tom Morris, are too often uninspired.

Yet the production itself is an unreserved triumph. There’s fascinating movement and choreography from Jane Gibson and Lynne Page, accompanying Morris’s strong direction. And when it comes to portraying the worlds of circus and court, Jon Bausor’s design is magnificent. There’s a lot of puppetry, superb in design and execution, complemented by sets that are like a trip to Pollock’s toy shop. Topping it all, with a range of influences from steam punk to Gormenghast, are terrific costumes by Jean Chan. It’s the attention to detail, the look of the show, that puts smiles on faces.

Until 5 May 2018

www.thegrinningmanmusical.com

Photo by Helen Maybanks

“Twelfth Night” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Emma Rice has chosen well for her last show as director of the Globe, with a cross-dressing comedy that updates the Bard for our gender-fluid times. If you don’t think Shakespeare and Sister Sledge mix, then be warned – Rice’s energy, sensitivity and sense of irreverence are bountiful. The disco lights are on and it’s time to celebrate her reign at The Globe.

Let’s not forget that organising a good party is hard work and can call for tough decisions. There are moments of forced jollity – musical chairs proves messy – and a close reading of the text isn’t invited. But the passion in Twelfth Night is frenzied and Rice’s insight is to allow this. Nasty edges have poignancy, fate is presented as a choreographed natural phenomenon (cleverly mocked as a touch of “community theatre”) and the laughs are manic.

The twins, Sebastian and Viola, whose adventures we follow, are used to anchor the show. In these roles Anita-Joy Uwajeh and John Pfumojena impress, respectively showing a touching vulnerability and sounding particular gorgeous. The confused suitors who fall for the ship-wrecked siblings are played by Annette McLaughlin, who makes for a joyous Olivia, and Joshua Lacey, whose river-dancing-mullet-sporting-lothario Duke is the funniest I’ve seen.

Marc Antolin
Marc Antolin

The trio of pranksters in Olivia’s house continue the strong comedy. Sir Toby, Fabian and Maria, played by Tony Jayawardena, Nandi Bhebhe and the super-talented Carly Bawden (another strong voice) really go for it. The revelation is Marc Antolin as Aguecheek, transforming the role with physical comedy, ad-libs and fluorescent Y-fronts. And a lisp… sorry, but lisps are funny.

Katy Owen
Katy Owen

What the production takes seriously is drag, spoiling us with cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat, whose Feste steers the tempestuous proceedings like a glittering, magical MC. It’s impossible to steal a show from six feet of sequins, but Katy Owen’s Malvolio holds his/her moustachioed own. Funny again (well, most jokes are better with a Welsh accent), Owen tackles bullying intelligently, tempting us to join in, then allowing the character to retain some dignity. Role-play can be dangerous.

All good parties depend on their soundtrack. Rice’s secret weapon is Ian Ross, whose compositions dominate the show: driving plots, aiding comedy, interacting with the text – check them out online. Using so many lines as lyrics enforces how productive treating the text loosely can be. It annoys purists when Shakespeare is tampered with, but Rice does so intelligently, aided by additional lyrics and lines from Carl Grose. The revisions sustain her imaginative interpretation, making the play both accessible and stimulating and her the sadly departing hostess with the mostess.

Until 5 August 2017

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Hugo Glendinning