Tag Archives: Cockpit Theatre

“Diaries of Madmen”at the Cockpit Theatre

Xameleon Theatre works with Russian-speaking artists and specialises in bringing their distinctive performance traditions to London. If this latest piece is any indication, producer and artistic director Vlada Lemeshevska has a keen eye for talent, having brought together an admirable team whose work has a clear sense of identity and whose skills both fascinate and excite.

The idea behind Diaries of Madmen isn’t great, though. Marrying Nikolai Gogol’s novella with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s letters proves initially puzzling and ultimately unconvincing. The madness of Gogol’s character Poprischin is incongruously interspersed with Tchaikovsky’s decision to leave the civil service, then the critical drubbing he faced. The parallel between the two stories is forced – delusions of grandeur and ambition along with flights of the imagination are too tenuous as links. A potential theme of unrequited love is, oddly, unexplored. And the culmination is weak: while Poprischin is committed to an asylum, Tchaikovsky destroys his sixth symphony. From the story, there is little insight into mental health or creativity.

Ordinarily it would be difficult for a show to overcome such problems. But, while the idea driving director Konstantin Kamenski’s show may not inspire, his work and his performers are marvellous. It’s a fantastic save brought about with the aid or careful, inventive details, a distinct style of movement aided by Natalia Fedorova that comes close to choreography and some fantastic animation projected on to the floor from Irina Gluzman.

Kamenski’s cast is also exceptional. Irina Kara offers superb support as the mostly mute Mawra, who follows Poprischin around like a living prop. It’s not quite clear why she has to be encumbered so much by a picture frame and a rolling pin, but she manages to portray servility and belligerence simultaneously. Brief glances of her as Tchaikovsky’s sister show that she can also express a dignity and an inner turmoil that the show could easily have exploited further.

Taking both lead male roles, the performance from Oleg Sidorchik is truly bravura. Tchaikovsky has too small a part in the piece to be that well defined, but Sidorchik makes his portrayal distinctive and articulate. You don’t need to speak a word of Russian to admire his delivery, and his stage presence is frequently so magnetic that he distracts from the English surtitles. Whether gambolling around, writhing in agony, doing forward rolls or interacting with his shadow, Sidorchik is clearly a performer at the top of his game and you’d be без ума to miss the chance of seeing him.

Until 10 February 2019


Photo by Oleg Katchinsky

“The Distance You Have Come” at the Cockpit Theatre

There are six big reasons to see this show, namely, every member of the cast. It’s a song cycle, from composer Scott Alan, with numbers vaguely related to relationships: their beginning and endings, and the fears, ambitions and dreams they provoke, including parenthood. And it’s important to remember the nature of the piece – as a showcase for Alan’s work – which is performed with upmost professionalism by an impressive collection of West End regulars.

Alan also directs and makes an effort to interweave the numbers, which works better musically than theatrically. There are recurring characters, but this is sometimes confusing and, in one instance (a number called Quicksand), downright jarring. But there’s no pretence at an over-arching story – the music is the focus and it’s strong. It’s no surprise Alan is so successful or boasts so many collaborators. His compositions have instant appeal and his carefully constructed melodies are delightfully lyrical. The lyrics themselves, though, are poor, crammed with repetition and cliché. Generally downbeat, the work is heavy on emotion and very light on humour. The sincerity might grate – it’s a question of taste –and there’s a general air of entitlement in the songs, Nothing More is a good case in point, a sweet duet where “All I want” turns out to be quite a long list!

Andy Cox and Adrian Hansel

The performers make the evening by squeezing the most out of the songs. Emma Hatton get the show off to a great start with a song about a performer’s ambitions – it’s a mock audition that makes you certain she would get any job. Andy Coxon and Adrian Hansel impress with their acting skills, as well as their voices, as they perform as a couple in a number of songs. Some of these are sickly sweet, so credit to both for grounding the pieces a little. Jodie Jacobs also adds value to her numbers; in truth she has more personality than the songs she’s singing, and she sounds great. Likewise, the strong voices of Dean John-Wilson and Alexia Khadime propel the songs. They both have beautiful voices, manage to make most of the earnestness convincing and, with a mix of sweetness and sheer power, are a privilege to hear. Accompanied by just piano and violin, The Distance You Have Comeprovides a chance to hear all six top-notch talents in an intimate setting that is well worth travelling for.

Until 28 October 2018


Photos by Darren Bell

“Into the Woods” at the Cockpit Theatre

Stephen Sondheim’s grown-up musical about fairy tales is an undisputed modern classic. Any chance to see this marvellous piece, with its super smart book from James Lapine, crammed with Sondheim’s wit and wisdom, as well as some of his best music, is worth a punt.

Tim McArthur’s version of the show has “updated” touches that rethink the story-book characters with an eye on reality television. So the wicked step-sisters could be on The Only Way is Essex– fair enough, given that the show’s premise mixes and matches stories so blissfully. But the idea adds less than presumably intended, since the sensibility of the piece already suggests modernity. And some of the performers seem trapped by the idea of contemporary characterisations and need to relax; especially Jack and his mother (Jamie O’Donnell and Madeleine MacMahon), said to come from the Jeremy Kyle show. But beneath this veneer lies strong direction: McArthur knows what he is doing, showing a clear understanding of every scene, indeed each line, making the show swift and coherent, as well as suiting this in-the-round venue. When the whole cast comes together, the production is impressive.

There are some uneven individual performances, with less than first-class voices unaided by problems with the sound system. But there are good turns from Abigail Carter-Simpson as Cinderella and Louise Olley as Rapunzel. Director McArthur takes the role he identifies as central – that of the Baker. His performance is surprisingly flat, his stage wife, played by Jo Wickham, more enjoyable. The production is not as funny as you would expect – and I’ve a suspicion this is deliberate. When it comes to the loss of loved ones and fears for the future, McArthur comes into his own (alongside Michele Moran as the Witch). It is the sombre elements of the fairy tales that become the focus in this sensitive production. It makes the show less magical than it should be, but a trip into these woods is still well worth it.

Until 24 June 2018


Photo by David Ovenden

“King Lear” at the Cockpit Theatre

Last night’s press evening for the Darker Purpose Theatre Company’s King Lear was filled with emotion. It’s a collaboration between young director Lewis Reynolds and seasoned RSC pro David Ryall in the lead role. Sadly, a course of chemotherapy has left the well-respected actor’s memory so affected that he carried a copy of the text as an aid.

Ill health has not diminished Ryall’s commanding stage presence or the wonderful timbre of his voice but it seems unfair to review a performance that was clearly – no matter how brave and generous – an effort. Nonetheless, Reynold’s intelligent production offers much to the discerning theatregoer. The direction is considered and confident and handles staging in the round particularly well. It’s also remarkably calm and quiet, serving as an interesting comparison with the National Theatre’s current blockbuster show.

Reynold’s emphasis is on the “madmen and fools” of the play, and Ryan Wichert stands out as a spirited fool, putting a megaphone to great use, while Dominic Kelly gives a sterling performance as his Edgar takes on the persona of Poor Tom. Tension between these two roles is brought out and it was one of the few productions in which I actually missed the fool after his sudden departure.

King Lear at The Cockpit Theatre
Nikki Leigh Scott and Ian Hallard

Although not all of the performances are as even as might be wished, there’s good work from the wicked sisters Goneril and Regan, with Wendy Morgan developing her role nicely and Nikki Leigh Scott joined in convincing villainy by Ian Hallard as Cornwall.

The production also has the coup of seeing Ryall joined by two of his daughters. Imogen Ryall appears in the small role of the Doctor and Charlie Ryall is Cordelia. Both give understated performances in keeping with the tone of the evening – and powerful as a result. Concern for their father’s health has an extra, unwished for, charge given the circumstances. Sincere wishes for Mr Ryall’s quick recovery.

Until 29 March 2014


Photos by Robert Workman

Written 12 March 2014 for The London Magazine