Tag Archives: Curve Leicester

“The Color Purple” from the Curve Leicester

In his introductory remarks to this new online version of a 2019 revival staged with the Birmingham Hippodrome, the Curve’s artistic director Nikolai Foster hopes the production inspires and uplifts the audience. Taking on the task, director Tinuke Craig has achieved exactly that – 100 per cent!

Adapted from Alice Walker’s novel, the Tony award-winning musical sounds fantastic. The singing here is superb, and the score, from Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, is interesting and intelligent. Staged in the round, the play’s sensitive filming allows us to take in strong acting and appreciate Mark Smith’s choreography. Craig combines all this to give us “a story to believe in” that won’t leave a dry eye in your house.

The lead characters, with their difficult lives, aren’t easy to portray. Celie’s self-sacrifice, as her children are taken from her and she endures horrific domestic abuse, is hard to watch. But, taking the role, T’Shan Williams expresses pain and anger through song with incredible power – the range in her singing is awe-inspiring. Celie’s whip-wielding husband, Mister, is relentlessly awful, with Ako Mitchell suitably repellent in the role. Casting vanity aside, his redemption is a strong companion to Celie’s. In the scene of Mister’s breakdown, Mitchell has a raw power that is breath-taking.

Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassarate and Landi Oshinowo
Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassarate and Landi Oshinowo

While Celie’s life is full of trauma, there’s humour in The Color Purple. Plenty comes from the gossiping church ladies, a brilliant trio performed by Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassaraté and Landi Oshinowo, who have some of the most adventurous musical moments. And while the story of Celie’s stepson and his wife Sophia is troubled, their relationship contains laughs as well as passion and is portrayed marvellously by Simon-Anthony Rhoden and Karen Mavundukure – I could have watched both all night.

Handling relief in such a powerful story is tricky. But the show needs light… and colour. This is most clearly revealed in the joy that surrounds the character of Shug Avery. With yet another magnificent performance, from Carly Mercedes Dyer, the blues singer who both Mister and Celie fall in love with becomes a sage who holds the key to Celie’s future. Dyer’s portrayal convinces, while her powerful singing commands. And Shug and Celie have one of the best love songs there is.

The finale reveals how well structured the show is, Marsha Norman’s book prepares us for emotion and T’shan Williams excels in delivering it. It is Celie’s journey of self-discovery that makes the show so powerful. I had goosebumps for the last 20 minutes. Acknowledging the beauty in herself and the world, Celie comes to accept her sexuality and her religion in an inspiring and uplifting fashion that, fittingly, ends with a prayer.

Until 7 March 2021

www.curveonline.co.uk

Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Sunset Boulevard” from the Curve Leicester

This is a Christmas treat for theatre lovers that, thankfully, is carrying on into the new year. Director Nikolai Foster’s production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is produced especially for a lockdown audience and has the clever idea of using all areas of the theatre for filming. Foster gives us a great show and makes you want to visit his venue at the same time.

Like all good revivals, Foster reminds us of the show’s strengths – in particular, what a sturdy piece of musical theatre Sunset Boulevard is.

The strong story, based on the Billy Wilder film, makes a drama of a former movie star, Norma Desmond, in later life. Sophisticated lyrics from Don Black and Christopher Hampton take us deep into the character and motives of Norma and her new beau, Joe. Lloyd Webber’s score is both adventurous and lush, and musical motifs powerfully build while stand-out songs are plentiful.

Sunset Boulevard Photography by Marc Brenner

Them there eyes

From such a firm base, Foster benefits from a fantastic cast. Both Ria Jones as Norma and Danny Mac as Joe know these roles well, and it shows. The casting (David Grindrod) is superb: Jones looks great in a turban and them there eyes are perfect for the number With One Look. Mac’s matinee idol air fits the Hollywood scenario.

Jones is angry and serious – not easy with such a camp character. Mad, sad Norma is to be pitied for her “folly” and her “scrambled brain”, but Jones provides moments of imperiousness to confirm that Norma is a figure to be reckoned with. And she provides magic. When it comes to the power of the movies and imagination, the years slip from her face, and Norma becomes an innocent ingénue.

This is Mac’s show, though. Joe is a great role, a partial narrator (think Nick Carraway) who becomes a victim: his claim to be an observer of Norma – “watching her sunset” – raises questions from the start. Mac’s mix of his character as an “uppity hack” and “stony-hearted” is balanced by moments that show an ambition for an artistic career that hasn’t, really, disappeared. And Mac’s singing is simply wonderful.

Both leads are aided by superb foils. Molly Lynch’s Betty provides a perky love interest that is intelligent and complex for Joe. Adam Pearce’s bass voice is a knockout and his role as Max Von Mayerling is developed magnificently.

Molly Lynch and Danny Mac 'backstage' Photography by Marc Brenner
Molly Lynch and Danny Mac ‘backstage’

Ready for your close up?

There’s no way to not enjoy this show or these performances. But a reservation has to be raised about the filming.

Seeing the orchestra (performing from the stalls) and camera staff at work adds an element of theatricality – nice – but the editing is sometimes manic. Points of view syncopated to the score is fair enough. But too many cuts to different cameras make it hard to appreciate the work of choreographer Lee Proud (in my experience, that’s a shame). Split screens also confuse. Graphics overlaid on to the action are just unnecessary.

Such caveats fade when considering how Foster has used his theatre. Taking the action into the auditorium works well. Setting scenes ‘back stage’ makes for great moments. Posing Joe in a bank of seats, watching events, then joining in the action is a perfect reflection of his ambiguous role. And to have Norma alone in the circle for her entrance and finale is a stroke of genius.

For a filmed show, Sunset Boulevard makes you crave to get back into a theatre in 2021. And you’ve got to love that! There’s a sense of pride in this very smart-looking venue that makes me regret never having visited it. Given other strong work, such as My Beautiful Launderette and What the Butler Saw, that Curve has shown during lockdown, a trip to Leicester might be my resolution for a sunnier 2021.

Until 9th January 2020

www.curveonline.co.uk

“My Beautiful Launderette” from the Curve Leicester

In the hope of much-needed donations during lockdown, director Nikolai Foster has made this archival recording, from a production last year, available to theatre lovers. Hanif Kureishi’s own adaptation of his renowned 1985 film, concerning immigration and 1980s Britain, proves a real treat.

The recording is of a dress rehearsal – so not strictly suitable for review – but well worth watching. Playing to an empty auditorium, a few of the performances are somewhat shrill. But this is impressive work in progress from the nine-strong cast that made me envy those lucky enough to have seen the show.

Gordon Warnecke (who played Omar in the original film) and Kammy Darweish play brothers from Pakistan. Kureishi’s script conveys a strong sense of their history, even though they only meet in the final scene. There’s a similarly fantastic chemistry between the leads from a younger generation – Johnny and Omar – played by Jonny Fines and Omar Malik respectively. And a strong performance from Hareet Deol as family friend Salim, who is “cunning, dangerous and a liar”, with each quality shown with convincing menace.

It’s the changes Kureishi has made to his script, which Foster directs with confidence, that fascinate. Deol benefits, as his role is far more central as part of a boosted plot. The roles of Nasser’s wife and daughter (now “a revolutionary”) have both been expanded. There’s also more to hear from Johnny’s fascist friends, a move that isn’t so successful. The two characters here are just too stupid: that may be accurate given their views, but it doesn’t serve the piece dramatically – despite the violence in the play, they are bizarrely unthreatening.

While the love affair between Johnny and Omar was explicit in the film, Kureishi spends more time with their relationship on stage. Starting as friends, their love story develops with humour, tenderness and eroticism. The romance makes for some magical theatrical moments that use Grace Smart’s set and a soundtrack from none other than the Pet Shop Boys to great effect. 

Seeing this recording will surely make you miss live theatre more than ever, provoking fond memories for those lucky enough to have seen the show for real and providing a chance for the rest of us to glimpse a fascinating show I’d love to see revived sometime.

Available at www.curveonline.co.uk/the-show-must-go-online/

“What the Butler Saw” from the Curve Leicester

While trapped in our homes due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the generosity of theatres all over the country means that we can enjoy shows from venues we might not normally visit. This production of Joe Orton’s classic 1967 madhouse comedy, from the Curve Theatre Leicester, is one of many examples of plays from places I’m afraid I’ve never been to.

A word of warning: the recording is very much for archival purposes, as the camera is static and at the back of the auditorium. It’s a long way from the broadcasts put on for cinemas by NTLive. The sound quality is poor. But, to be positive, it’s closer to your average trip to the theatre – there’s even coughing and chatting from the crowd that you can pretend to shush if you like!

What the Butler Saw is a great play. Orton’s mix of crude farce, Wildean epigrams and just a touch of horror is extraordinary – clever as well as funny. Director Nikolai Foster gives the show the speed it needs, as outrageous characters all descend into a “democratic lunacy”, while a talented cast delivers the often complex dialogue assuredly. 

Rufus Hound and Catherine Russell both give star turns as the unhappily married Dr and Mrs Prentice, who run a madhouse and should qualify as inmates. Hound starts off nicely reserved, although not missing any chance to be saucy, and escalates the action marvellously. Russell ensures her character matches her husband for malice and has a great icy edge. Dakota Blue Richards and Jack Holden acquit themselves well as a prim secretary and a blackmailing hotel bellboy who cross-dress and change identities to great effect. Stealing the show is Jasper Britton as the visiting government inspector, Dr Rance. Britton delivers Orton’s convoluted nonsense superbly, with terrific ravings and delightfully delivered crazy theories. He is, of course, the maddest of a mad bunch.

Best of all, Orton’s play still shocks. The question of how our squeamishness might have changed since it was first written is raised: Dr Prentice as predator is surely more uncomfortable, likewise the jokes about sexual assault and rape. But Orton’s queasy incest theme and satirical highlighting of all kinds of hypocrisy haven’t faded in their power at all. The “pointless and disgusting” subject matter and increasing improbabilities, handled with Orton’s fantastic energy, pose a challenge as well as plenty of laughs.

Available for the duration of the lockdown

https://www.curveonline.co.uk/the-show-must-go-online/