Tag Archives: Cassidy Janson

“The Mousetrap” at the St Martin’s Theatre

It feels appropriate that the first big show to reopen after lockdown is the West End’s longest running. After a hiatus in its record-breaking 68-year run, Agatha Christie’s whodunit is back in fine form and with a new idea – two casts are taking turns to perform the show. I enjoyed it so much that I might see both.

The Mousetrap is one show where any plot spoiler would be unforgiveable… more on that later. And the murder mystery’s success speaks for itself – the story is excellent. But it should be stressed that the new cast I saw are superb. Under Ian Talbot’s direction, Cassidy Janson and Danny Mac take the leads as the Ralstons, steering the action and adding to the drama. Meanwhile visitors at the suitably isolated Monkswell Manor are impeccably performed by Alexander Wolfe, Susan Penhaligon, Derek Griffiths, Lizzie Muncey, David Rintoul and Paul Hilliar. 

We are used to enjoying Christie adaptations, but her biggest hit reminds us what a solid playwright she could be. We know the plotting is unparalleled and accept the characterisation falls short. But it is a pleasant surprise to be reminded that the show is, quite simply, perfect light entertainment.

The Mousetrap knows it is funny. Although maybe not written to be giggled over in quite the way a modern audience can do, there is plenty of wit here. Christie and the cast play with the stock characters setting up our suspicions. And staging the manor house genre is neatly served by the all the comings and goings. Expectations are masterfully played with – consider the joke that a post-war lack of servants means there isn’t a butler in sight.

Meanwhile, characters remind us we can take The Mousetrap seriously – should we wish. Indeed, the insistence that we could do so is the one thing that slows the show down after the interval. Glimpses into a painful motive for murder carry weight and are unveiled with care. And the final revelation still provides a shock, even if it isn’t one of Christie’s best.

Playing with its audience in a manner that might strike you as surprisingly knowing, it’s worth remembering that back in 1952 Christie and her genre were firmly established. Theatre goers then and now know the rules of this game and love it. The final address to the audience – after the curtain – calls for us all to keep the secret of the play. The confirmation of complicity with an audience is always welcome and, after such a long break, moving. It’s my favourite part of the show!

uk.the-mousetrap.co.uk

“Chess” at the English National Opera

Nobody can say that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of Abba can’t write a song and their 1984 concept album-turned-musical is full of good numbers, a couple of which were big chart hits. Directed by Laurence Connor, this major revival boasts some wonderful performances. Tim Howar brings a powerful rock sound as the maverick chess master Freddie Trumper, Cassidy Janson and Alexandra Burke are both fantastic as the female leads, and there’s impressive work from Phillip Browne and Cedric Neal as the men behind the scenes at a chess tournament that pits the USA against the USSR. The star of the show, as the Russian player, Anatoly Sergievksy, who defects to the West, is undoubtedly Michael Ball. Giving an impressively understated performance while belting out the numbers shows a performer of upmost confidence and technical skill. Ball is the master here, even if this chess game isn’t quite worth playing.

With music for the orchestra, the main theme, played during matches, is beautiful but adds little tension to an already wafer-thin story. There just isn’t enough in Richard Nelson’s book to hold attention, despite the backdrop of the Cold War and machinations of the Russian delegation. Connor tries hard with a barrage of video screens that ultimately only prove distracting. But the biggest problem is the writing for many voices. The ENO’s own chorus adds prestige to the event, but they seem lost – underused and with Tim Rice’s lyrics barely audible. As chess travels the world (well, Merano and Bangkok), attempts to add local colour end up pretty risible and Stephen Mear’s choreography surprisingly lacklustre. It all has to rest on the love triangle between Anatoly and the women in his life. There are moments when the cast, especially Ball, make this work, but the whole piece feels so slim that it’s more like a game of draughts.

Until 2 June 2018

www.eno.org

“Rooms – A Rock Romance” at the Finborough Theatre

Receiving its European premier at the Finborough Theatre Rooms – A Rock Romance is written by husband and wife team Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon. A straightforward love story, set against the backdrop of the music business, it sees two Scottish singer-songwriters battling to find a balance between their careers and their relationship. Starting in 1977, it’s a pretty mad affair, which takes its inspiration from anarchic times. If energy is what you’re looking for you’ll find it here, with spirited performances from the dynamic duo of Cassidy Janson and Alexis Gerred.

After falling in love at first sight, Monica and Ian travel from Glasgow to London and then New York. From the pairs’ early gigs at Bat Mitzvahs to brief success on the punk and New Wave Scenes and a spell trying out cabaret, Rooms is more than a ‘Rock’ musical – there are so many styles it’s a little confusing, and the music fails to take hold. Similarly, the lyrics are quirky to say the least: a bizarre mix of the high falutin’ and the mundane. But the cast give their best in every scene and the pacey direction from Andrew Keates is a triumphant use of speed – at about 80 minutes long its difficult to spot exactly what’s awry. The whole thing keeps you on your feet and entertained.

Rooms has a sense of humour: an early concert for the Jewish community is called “let my people go go”, while the punk band is named ‘The Diabolicals’. But the laughs sit uneasily with serious issues touched upon, including abortion and alcoholism, dealt with so briefly that they have little emotional impact. The characters are appealing; Janson and Gerred’s commitment, if not their accents, is great, but they are an odd couple. Ian is an agoraphobic rock star and Monica a punk yet her idols are Barbra Streisand and Carly Simon. You can’t help but admire the ambition here, but even the show’s highlight, a hilariously inappropriate Bat Mitzvah song about bisexuals, is a little too crazy to succeed.

Until 18 May 2013

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Photo by Scott Rylander

Written 26 April 2013 for The London Magazine

“Lend Me A Tenor: The Musical” at the Gielgud Theatre

A musical farce is a tricky thing to pull off, but Lend Me A Tenor shows us how it’s done. The book is the important thing. Based on the play by Ken Ludwig, Peter Sham’s adaptation of a star tenor’s guest performance is as simple as a farce is able to be. Confused love affairs, disguises, behind-the-scenes dramas and onstage shenanigans at a Midwestern opera house are combined with ease and plenty of laughs.

Sham’s lyrics are a model of clarity and hilarity. And if it takes guts to rhyme the name Tito with “indeed-o” then it pays off. Brad Carroll’s intelligently nostalgic score is easy on the ear. So what if you can see the mechanics? It works.

Despite the manic action (with the doors on Paul Farnsworth’s impressive set naturally getting a satisfactory amount of slamming), Ian Talbot’s direction seems effortless. With this cast, he can afford to be confident – Lend Me A Tenor has plenty of experience on stage and it really shows.

Matthew Kelly takes the role of Henry Saunders, harassed opera impresario, in his stride. Michael Matus is the star singer with a believably great voice and the kind of Italian accent you only get on stage. This team knows there is only one thing funnier than an outrageous accent… another character faking an outrageous accent. Stepping into the tenor’s shoes is Damian Humbley as mild-mannered Max, who gets the show’s big tune, ‘Be Yourself’, just as he is going onstage to masquerade as the divo.

With its female leads, Lend Me A Tenor, also excels. Maggie (Cassidy Janson) is our ingénue, and the opera’s resident diva Diana DiVane (Sophie-Louise Dann) is the “not so ingen-new”. Both are infatuated with Tito the tenor for romantic and professional reasons: Maggie wants to borrow him for a fling before she settles down, leading to the show’s romantic title tune, DiVane sees him as a kind of bridging loan to the Met and has a show-stopping ‘audition’ number. The superb Joanna Riding plays Tito’s long-suffering wife with delightful comic timing.

This cast is so strong that the performers might seem somewhat wasted; it’s an enviable position for any production to be in. But a musical needs more – that special something that critics are loath to describe as ‘heart’, and Lend Me A Tenor is such an enchanting piece that it’s clearly in credit.

Until 6 August 2011

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Written 1 July 2011 for The London Magazine