Tag Archives: George Bukhari

“101 Dalmatians” at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

While adults like lots of shows that are aimed at kids, giving children’s theatre a broad appeal isn’t a necessary condition for praise. This new musical from Douglas Hodge, based on Dodie Smith’s book, deserves plenty of stars but is aimed so firmly at youngsters it doesn’t offer much to anyone over 12.

Even the average teenager could get restless with the frantic energy in Timothy Sheader’s production. With Toby Olié’s strong puppetry and Colin Richmond’s shouty set, the feeling of a cartoon or Saturday morning TV show fills the stage. If you’re as old as I am, you might end up with a headache.

Which is not to say that the show shouldn’t earn your respect.

There are clever lyrics and jaunty, if not particularly memorable, songs. A stronger second half includes good numbers for children in the cast. It just isn’t a soundtrack you would want to listen to at home. Johnny McKnight’s book (from a stage adaptation by Zinnie Harris) is a touch too crammed and could move quicker – but it is fun.

There’s a great villain too, of course, in Cruella De Vil. Updating the furrier’s best friend into a social media influencer is a great idea. Willing to risk “eternal Dalmatian” in hell to get a coat of puppies is a pun that was the highlight of the night for me. Kate Fleetwood takes the role (and a pair of very high-heeled boots) in her stride and gives a performance to be proud of.

In short, there’s little to fault in the production. Cruella’s accomplices make a pair of nicely old-fashioned crooks for George Bukhari and Jonny Weldon. And there are appealing performances from the dog’s “pets”, i.e., their owners, played by Eric Stroud and Karen Fishwick. Singing for the dogs and being literally a part of the puppet means that Danny Collins and Emma Lucia get even more points. The performances are bright and bouncy; even addressing the audience is done with an eye on their age.

There is a reservation it seems fair to raise – the venue itself. The Open Air Theatre has a tradition of work for children but this gorgeous location doesn’t seem particularly well used. Howard Hudson’s lighting design further on in the show gives an idea of what we are missing. And it is late at this time of the year. With a 7:45 start time for a relatively long show, most of the target audience are well past their bedtime by the time they get home.

Until 28 August 2022


“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has such a long association with A Midsummer Night’s Dream that any production of the Shakespearean favourite is highly anticipated. Director Matthew Dunster’s bold version seeks to challenge any tendency to see the play as comfortable by reimagining the setting as a gypsy camp.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea: it allows a fresh look at a well-known text and affords designer Jon Bausor the chance to create a fantastic set, full of surprises, that Laura Hopkin’s costumes look great on. Unfortunately, it’s a concept that pays few dividends and results in a misguided midsummer night.

The gypsy theme works fine for the play’s quartet of lovers. Making their entrance mid-fight, Demetrius and Lysander, finely performed by Kingsley Ben Adir and Tom Padley, are full of youthful virility. As Hermia and Helena, Rebecca Oldfield is spirited and Hayley Gullivan superb.

In comparison, the fairies are conventionally supernatural. Despite a BMX-riding Puck, they seem to have little connection with the rest of the play and this is hampered by some histrionic performances and laboured choreography. When Titania falls in love with Bottom, the result is crude and silly.

The workmen who perform for the now Gypsy King are another unhappy fit. Valiantly led by George Bukhari, their extended party scene is a surreal mix of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Britain’s Got Talent that pleases the crowd but creates an unbalanced production. Their play within a play is performed in mock-operatic style with great energy, but the laughs they get become a problem as their success jars with the overall feel of the production.

Dunster makes many efforts to inject menace into A Midsummer Night’s Dream, emphasising violence from the start. Theseus’ confession to his bride – “I woo’ed thee with my sword” – remains a threat throughout: their wedding celebrations are fraught. But as a device to add tension the idea is overplayed. Dunster has to add to the play – to the extent of including a karaoke performance! Like much of the show, it’s inventive, but this is a problem that Dunster has created in the first place.

Until 5 September 2012


Photo by Johan Persson

Written 13 June 2012 for The London Magazine

“Lord of the Flies” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

An airplane has crash-landed in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. With an engine planted amongst the audience and luggage hanging from the trees, designer Jon Bausor’s Lost-inspired set immediately establishes the extremity of the situation. The dismantling of the British flag of the tailfin – to make a temporary shelter for the schoolboys who have survived the crash – succinctly reflects the theme of the decline of civilisation that courses though Golding’s original narrative.

Everybody’s favourite text from school days, the 1954 book, is expertly brought to the stage by Nigel Williams. Adapting it [for the RSC in 1995] must have been a daunting task – not simply because of its fame, but because Golding’s authorial voice is so strong, his work so filled with symbolism and so marked by a scarcity of dialogue. Williams neutralises the 1950s schoolboy chat that could cause laughter: the whole production is vague about period, a move that avoids distraction in these ephebiphobic times. Better still, the script makes many of Golding’s concerns, such as the dynamics of society and the struggle between good and evil, only too clear.

Timothy Sheader’s direction is remarkable. Working with a young cast, he has fostered a collection of impressive professional debuts – London hasn’t seen the like since The History Boys. Treating the stage as a playground, then a hunting ground, the boys move with frightening agility, undertake extended fight scenes convincingly and viscerally embody the savagery they descend into.

Alistair Toovey is wonderful as Ralph, the group’s first chief, engaged in a power struggle with Jack (James Clay), a choirboy-turned-hunter who leads the boys in a very different kind of song and dance. Clay bristles with adolescent awakening. There are also stand-out performances from George Bukhari as Piggy, a moving voice of reason in the wilderness, and Joshua Williams as Simon, whose discovery of the truth about the ‘Beastie’ scaring the children has brutal consequences.

Clay does especially well in playing out Jack’s manipulation of the weaker boys through fear. As night descends on Regent’s Park, and the hunt to kill Ralph begins, the boys become the “solid mass of menace” Golding describes. Sheader makes the escalation of violence theatrically plausible but, more remarkably, his pacing and use of slow motion give the audience time to think through what is going on. This is the same privileged position Golding gives his readers, making the production a true compliment to a terrifying modern classic.

Until 18 June 2011


Photo by Johan Persson

Written 27 May 2011 for The London Magazine