Tag Archives: Gavin Spokes

“Company” at the Gielgud Theatre

Marianne Elliott’s new production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical gained great press when it was announced that the gender of the lead would be swapped. Bobby, the still-single thirty-something, pressured and puzzled by commitment, becomes Bobbie. The change adds an urgency to debates about marriage that the show explores, adding the pressure some women feel to have children. But the joyous surprise is how remarkably easy the alteration feels. If you didn’t know the piece you wouldn’t guess at any fuss. A frequent argument in theatre is resolved conclusively. And that’s just the start of this show’s many virtues.

Rosalie Craig, Alex Gaumond and Jonathan Bailey
Rosalie Craig, Alex Gaumond and Jonathan Bailey

Rosalie Craig is in the spotlight and she is brilliant. Even though she’s barely off the stage, and everyone is talking about her character, Bobbie has to take a back seat as her friends’ marriages are examined through fantastic songs. Craig achieves this with, well, grace – I can’t think of a better word. Throughout the show, and even when it comes to her big numbers, Craig brings a coolness to the role that ensures her character’s questioning is communicated. Frequently looking to the audience, exclaiming ‘Wow’ more than once, she shares the oddities she sees with us. It’s a perfect reflection of Sondheim exploring friendship and love with complexity and openness.

Patti LuPone in Company
Patti LuPone

 It’s another achievement on Elliott’s part that a star as big as LuPone fits the show so well. There’s a Broadway feel to the production that’s appropriate to the story’s location, but which surely has an eye on a transfer – it deserves one. If there’s a tiny cavil, the pace occasionally feels driven by a desire to display value for money – even if every minute is enjoyable, a couple ofscenes are drawn out. But Company is as close to flawless as anyone should care about. Bunny Christie’s design is stunning– this is a set that actually gets laughs. Rooms, outlined in neon, connect characters in the manner of a farce, while playing with scale gets more giggles. Elliott employs an Alice InWonderland motif that is no laughing matter.

With the couples watched, there isn’t a poor performance. Mel Geidroyc and Gavin Spokes are great fun as the squabbling Sarah and Harry – will karate help their relationship? While Jonathan Bailey gives a show-stopping turn as Jamie, in a panic on his wedding day. Previously Amy, his relationship with Paul (played by Alex Gaumond) is a delicious modernisation. But the biggest casting coup? The legendary Patti LuPone takes the part of the acerbic Joanne and is simply unmissable. Every line from LuPone lands. Every gesture captures the audience. And her rendition of TheLadies Who Lunch is revelatory – to make a song like that your own takes real class.

 It’s another achievement on Elliott’spart that a star as big as LuPone fits the show so well. There’s a Broadway feel to the production that’s appropriate to the story’s location, but which surely has an eye on a transfer – it deserves one. If there’s a tiny cavil, the pace occasionally feels driven by a desire to display value for money – even if every minute is enjoyable, a couple ofscenes are drawn out. But Company is as close to flawless as anyone should care about. Bunny Christie’s design is stunning– this is a set that actually gets laughs. Rooms, outlined in neon, connect characters in the manner of a farce, while playing with scale gets more giggles. Elliott employs an Alice InWonderland motif that is no laughing matter.

It isn’t just Bobbie’s gender that has changed – she is now a Millennial. There’s no crude casting as a snowflake, but one wonders if she might be infantilised? There are party games at her 35th birthday, after all. Elliott makes a point about life – now – that is subtle and topical. Credit to Sondheim’s piece, of course, so full of themes ripe for development. But it is the production that makes it hard to believe the piece is nearly 50 years old – Bobbie and her crowd always feel contemporary. For all the joys of the show, it is seeing a director use a piece with such skill and invention that makes this Elliott’s triumph.

Until 30 March 2019

www.companymusical.co.uk

Photos by Brinkhoff Mogenburg

“Carousel” at the English National Opera

Director Lonny Price’s new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical is billed as ‘semi-staged’. But with a massive stage that rotates, impressive projections to set the scene and a huge cast – you’d be very fussy to feel short changed. This is a big-scale show, befitting such an iconic piece, with star names and an orchestra that do justice to the legendary score.

The much-loved Alfie Boe takes the lead of wastrel Billy Bigelow. Star soprano Katherine Jenkins joins him as the devoted Julie Jordan. Their doomed love affair sounds so good that any deficiencies in their acting skills are easily forgiven. Jenkins is a little wooden and Boe seems to regard running around as shorthand for frustration. But it’s a tough job making characters fit for a parable really breathe.

Smaller roles compensate. The show boasts a strong villain in Derek Hagen’s Jigger Craigin – his work with the chorus on Blow High, Blow Low is a real highlight, full of convincing machismo, adding tension that ripples out through the whole piece. And there’s a super Mr and Mrs Snow, in Gavin Spokes and Alex Young, who are full of sweet comic touches.

The operatic voices here, bolstered by the excellent ENO chorus make an ambitious statement about taking the sublime score seriously. But the production has a reverence that’s questionable when it comes to the dated sexism of the piece. Julie’s final exoneration of Billy’s domestic abuse is too tough a line to stomach. Changing it wouldn’t be a matter of political correctness – it was never the suggestion that hitting your wife is OK. The finale is for resolution and keeping the line doesn’t work anymore. A small quibble about an excellent show… but it leaves a nasty taste that could be avoided.

Until 13 May 2017

www.eno.org

“Guys and Dolls” at the Phoenix Theatre

With so many shows on offer in London, it’s unusual to see the same production twice. But the latest hit from the Chichester Festival Theatre, a brilliant revival of Frank Loesser’s classic musical of gamblers, gangsters and their gals, has a new cast that makes revisiting as joyous as the first time around.

The production is also on a parallel UK tour, and Peter McKintosh’s clever neon sign design is sure to serve the show well on its travels. A fine ensemble does justice to the choreography from Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, while director Gordon Greenberg gives the show a Broadway feel despite its modest size.

Gavin Spokes remains with the show to reprise his brilliant Nicely Nicely Johnson and get yet more encores for Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat. Joined by Jason Pennycooke as Benny Southstreet, this is a double act that gets the show up to speed double quick. Siubhan Harrison also remains in town, ever more comfortable in her role as Salvation Army Sergeant Miss Sarah. Playing her love interest Sky Masterson is Oliver Tompsett, who gives a fine performance showcasing a surprisingly old-fashioned voice – he’s a proper crooner, sure to acquire fans. If the chemistry and charisma you might hope for isn’t quite magical, the humour is spot on.

GUYS AND DOLLS, ,Music and lyrics - FRANK LOESSER., Book - JO SWERLING and ABE BURROWS, Director Gordan Greenberg, Choreographer - Carlos Acosta, Designer - Peter MaKintosh, Phoenix Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /
Richard Kind and Samantha Spiro

Greenberg’s focuses on the fun in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book. As a result, it is low-rent fixer Nathon Detroit and his long-suffering fiancée Adelaide who become our heroes. Chichester’s original casting coup (David Haig and Sophie Thompson) is, if anything, bettered. American comedian Richard Kind takes over as Detroit, adding a down-at-heel quality that makes this smalltime crook all the more appealing, while Samantha Spiro is wonderful as his eternal bride to be, with comedy skills second to none and a belting voice that makes the most of Adelaide’s Lament and brings a Dietrich spin to Take Back Your Mink.

Until 29 October 2016

www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk

Photos by Johan Persson