Tag Archives: Jamie Parker

“Guys and Dolls” at the Savoy Theatre

Another hit transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre which, after its production of Gypsy, must be feeling at home in the Savoy. This exquisitely polished show matches the venue’s sophisticated glamour perfectly. New Yorker Gordon Greenberg directs, bringing an appropriate feel for Broadway to Frank Loesser’s “musical fable” of men about town and their much put-upon women.

Great material, superbly executed, the show’s hit songs sound better than ever. At the risk of being ungallant, the guys have the edge slightly, creating a big sound and working together to get the laughs. Greenberg pays attention to the humour in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book, following two gamblers, the high-rolling Sky Masterson and fixer Nathan Detroit, placing their bets on matrimony to, respectively, a Salvation Army sergeant and a nightclub hostess. Space is created for a series of strong comic performances, especially from Gavin Spokes and Ian Hughes, as Nicely Nicely and Benny – a double act to die for. This gang of gamblers forms a coherent group that’s more than just a background note to the love affairs on offer.

A further highlight is the production’s strong choreography – they’ve got both Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright on board – with a trip to Havana generating a genuine fantasia as well as a spirited fight scene. Peter McKintosh’s design is a simple affair that will serve the production well on tour, but aids the dancers immeasurably. The key is the lighting (bravo designer Tim Mitchell) impressively adding structure to scenes. And special mention goes to the gloriously colourful costumes.

The central performances are superb. These characters are grown-ups and the balance between romance and realism is deftly handled. While Siubhan Harrison stalls slightly as Salvation Army Sarah, failing to exploit the book’s satire, Jamie Parker is a hit from the start as Sky. Charismatic and sounding superb, Parker adds tension to Luck Be A Lady – a revelatory performance of a well-known number. Close to stealing the show are David Haig and Sophie Thompson as Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide (we all recognise the cracking chemistry from Four Weddings And a Funeral). Haig is at his most charming and Thompson makes both renditions of her Adelaide’s Lament something to celebrate.

Until 12 March 2016

www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk

Photos by Johan Persson

“High Society” at the Old Vic

Here’s a bold claim: Maria Friedman’s production of High Society has more laughs than the much loved film it’s based on. More than an amusing trip down memory lane, the show is laugh out loud funny, making the most of Cole Porter’s hit-crammed score and the humour of Arthur Kopit’s book. Updating the original 1930s setting to match the movie’s 1956 date injects a rock and roll feel, making the piece energised and a whole lot sexier.

Admittedly there’s a somewhat slow start. The sound could be bolder and some characters take time to establish themselves. The initial preamble to the wedding of wealthy socialite Tracy Lord and her arriviste fiancé George Kittredge lacks tension, despite her ex-husband CK Dexter-Haven being around. It feels like we’re being served a good prosecco rather than the champagne that plays such a big part in the show.

But by the time I Love Paris is sung, by Tracy and her feisty young sister Dinah, to bemuse two gate-crashing journalists, we’re onto the real thing and laughing a lot. And after the interval the use of the Old Vic’s current in-the-round format is embraced. When the cast sing What A Swell Party, we really feel part of it – it’s a tremendous scene that makes you glad you’ve been invited. The finale also uses the space cleverly as Tracy announces that the wedding is off to the audience, who at this point double as the congregation.

Of course, we’re all happy Tracy ends up with the right man. Rupert Young makes a suitably charismatic CK, while it’s best not to think too much about the fate of the unfortunate George. Dinah and the rogue reporters, played superbly by Ellie Bamber, Jamie Parker and Annabel Scholey, are on our side to allay complicity in the snobbery.
Amongst such a talented cast it’s all the more remarkable that Kate Fleetwood’s Tracy stands out so much. Her sexy voice and stunning comic skills mean you daren’t take your eyes off her. And she looks fantastic in Tom Pye’s glamorous costume designs. I’m not classy enough myself to know the best brand of champagne, but whatever it is, it should serve as a metaphor for Fleetwood’s performance. And she deserves a jeroboam of the stuff.

Until 22 August 2015

www.oldvictheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

“Assassins” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Many musicals – and I love them for it – push the boundaries of the genre. Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins is a great example; musically and lyrically adventurous, with notably long spoken passages and a book by John Weidman that feels defiant. The idea of a musical telling the stories of those who have tried to assassinate presidents of America, seeking out their motivations and uniting them in infamy, is brilliantly bold.

The Menier Chocolate Factory’s new production directed by Jamie Lloyd does justice to the piece’s bravery. Lloyd isn’t frightened by how mad these men and women were. A fairground setting adds a scary surrealism and the staging in traverse makes it confrontational: most of the audience ends up looking down the barrel of a gun at some point. It’s appropriate that we feel ill at ease ­– these are tragic tales and Lloyd’s gory touches ensure there’s no chance of these characters receiving the acclaim many of them wished for.

The cast, onstage watching each other throughout, is tremendous. Intense performances, buoyed by demanding monologues, show the strength of the acting. Catherine Tate plays a hapless housewife who attempted to kill Gerald Ford and Mike McShane has a stirring speech as Samuel Byck who tried to crash a plane into the White House. Assassins takes us to dark places.

A trio serves as the focus of the show. The always-excellent Simon Lipkin presides over the fanatics’ funfair. Aaron Tveit is superb as John Wilkes Booth, creating a charismatic prototype for those who followed his murder of Abraham Lincoln. Jamie Parker is marvellous, first as a balladeer presenting another side of the stories, then as Lee Harvey Oswald, embodying a contest between stability and disruption, so perfectly understood by Lloyd, who has created a show close to perfection.

Until 7 March 2014

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

“Proof” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Immediately before the interval of Proof, just opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory, the heroine drops a bombshell, claiming that she, and not her recently deceased famous father, has made an important mathematical discovery. It’s a fantastic moment of drama – so much so you can’t wait for the break to be over, which is surely indicative of the high quality of both play and production.

The genius father, who fought a losing battle for sanity most of his life, was looked after by his devoted Catherine, who put her own career on hold to care for him. Dealing with his death is proving difficult: in the first scene she talks to his ghost, portrayed with great emotional control by Matthew Marsh, and there’s a complex sibling relationship with her sister Claire, played wonderfully by Emma Cunniffe, to factor in. Add to the mix a former student of her father’s, Jamie Parker, sniffing around old notebooks for an academic scoop, and there are plenty of components to this fascinating equation.

David Auburn’s artfully written play deserves all the acclaim it has received since its New York premiere in 2000. It’s a controlled piece, easy to admire, full of subtlety actors can work with. Clearly visualised, the text must be a joy to direct; Polly Findlay does a superb job and brings out some humour with the help of Parker’s affable stage presence. Playing another Hal, after his triumph as Prince Henry at the Globe last year, his Catherine here takes the lead. Fearful that she shares her father’s instability as well as his intelligence, this is a demanding role for both actor and audience. Mariah Gale is wonderful in the part – frequently on the brink of tears yet with a wicked sense of humour – this play gives all the proof we need of her talent.

Until 27 April 2013

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 22 March 2013 for The London Magazine

“Henry V” at Shakespeare’s Globe

The Globe has a special relationship with Henry V: the play opened the new theatre and any bardophile is sure to thrill at the lines referring to “this wooden O” when they hear them in situ. With the bunting still out on the streets, Shakespeare’s most patriotic king is in tune with this summer. Henry’s rallying “once more unto the breach” is addressed so directly to the audience that it receives spontaneous applause. And it is richly deserved: Dominic Dromgoole’s new production is a triumph.

Droomgoole is too intelligent a director to reduce Henry V to jingoism. Fully at home in The Globe, he brings out the nuances in the play with all its bittersweet humour. There’s a tremendous performance from Brendan O’Hea as the leek-loving Welshman Fluellen, providing a cynical twist on patriotism. Leading the low life is the superb Sam Cox as Pistol, getting the laughs while reminding us that those who suffer most in war are often the poor.

The production is aided immeasurably by a wonderful performance from Brid Brennan in the role of the chorus. She sets the scenes, urging us to “work our thoughts” with beautiful clarity, perfectly reflecting Droomgoole’s simple, no-nonsense approach. This Henry V is full of confidence, it has faith in the play, and the production’s achievement is to show off Shakespeare at his very best.

The jewel in the crown of Droomgoole’s Henry V is Jamie Parker in the title role. Martial certainly, blood curdling when he has to be, but also full of charm, Parker’s frequently understated performance shows total control (he’s even better than Branagh), and you want to back him and even fight for him. This is a truly glorious reign, certain to make any theatre lover happy.

Until 26 August 2012

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by John Haynes

Written 14 June 2012 for The London Magazine

“Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Having to write about a play can spoil watching it. Many a schoolchild has been put off Hamlet, trying to fathom out what happens, conscious they will be examined on it. It’s a relief to find that in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the characters are in the same situation; baffled by the unfolding plot and their role in it, their predicament creates a special affinity with the audience.

Tom Stoppard, of course, knows exactly what is going on, in his hands we never feel too scared – just highly entertained. Stoppard’s first masterpiece, from 1965, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, doesn’t feel dated in the slightest – its intelligent humour shines forth. Seeing the events in Hamlet unfold via once minor, now major characters, we are introduced to the theme of free will, with speculation on aesthetics, and dazzling verbal badinage.

Stoppard’s dexterous writing is well served in director Trevor Nunn’s superb production. Having missed out on the chance to direct the plays premiere, Nunn relishes the opportunity now. There is an appropriate exuberance in his direction that does him credit.

Arriving from the Chichester Festival the production is already polished. The Players that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern encounter make a convincing ensemble of tatterdemalions. Times are tough for performers, they will “stoop to anything” to entertain, and as their leader Chris Andrew Mellon conquers, hilariously guiding our heroes around the artifice of the world they are trapped in.

In the lead roles, Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker, the one-time History Boys, are reunited, and this duo needs no lessons in comedy. Parker explains their predicament marvellously: seeking logic and justice in the theatre, fate means they are condemned to “death followed by eternity”, with their roles puzzled over forever more. But Barnett literally runs rings around his colleague, getting every laugh going and showing that Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead is a very lively affair indeed.

Until 20 August 2011

www.trh.co.uk

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 22 June 2011 for The London Magazine

“Henry IV Parts 1 and 2” at Shakespeare’s Globe

This year’s terrific Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe gives us the theatre’s first production of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. Under the direction of Dominic Dromgoole, the plays thrive on the clarity and immediacy of the venue. With the cast Dromgoole has assembled the plays receive the complex subtlety they deserve.

First for the king. Suitably careworn from the start, Oliver Cotton’s Henry IV has a fiery temper that encompasses both the passionate young man he once was and the disgruntled father he has become. In plays so concerned with the theme of age, he manages to convey the journey of a life time.

Then there are those who would be kings. Jamie Parker (fittingly, a member of the original History Boys cast) plays Prince Hal with an eye on the time. He has huge fun with the low-life company he keeps but also shows a cold edge that, for all Parker’s charm, is unsettling.
Sam Crane’s Hotspur also plays it for laughs, which makes him less of a foil to the dissolute Prince. His performance has perhaps too much of the puff-chested schoolboy about it to create the required tension as he leads his men into rebellion and bloodshed.

And now to the rogue – Falstaff, that “villainous, abominable misleader of youth”. Like Elizabeth I, we all fall in love with Sir John. Especially this one. Shakespeare gives him a lot to work with, but Roger Allam doesn’t miss a trick – he squeezes every last drop of comedy out of the text and adds some of his own. His Falstaff is urbane, fey and philosophical. He is also crude, reckless and (unusually) sexy. With impeccable timing and joyous physicality he is, oh, such good company.

Allam’s genius is to embrace the theatricality of the character – Falstaff loves being on show and Allam uses the particular intimacy of The Globe to great effect. The character doesn’t just perform in those famous tavern scenes. He also gets turns as wrestler Giant Haystacks in a Pythonesque moment where a superb Mistress Quickly (Barbara Marten) threatens him with a dead fish. And he is a passable Barry White figure, with Jade Williams’ fantastic Doll Tearsheet swooning at his charms. And who could blame her? With Allam in total, joyous control, we are all a little heady from the performance. This Falstaff is faultless.

But Falstaff isn’t irresistible to all. The fun cannot last and in Part 2 we see that the piper, in the form of the recorder-playing Hal, has to be paid. Solemnity sets in as the kingdom in turmoil takes its toll. There are still laughs but they start to sound hollow as the characters succumb to fatigue and stress.

Allam injects an escalating unease. Increasingly sordid and diseased, Falstaff is compelled to continue his charade as a soldier and this is one spotlight he isn’t comfortable in. Estranged from Hal, he is forced into plotting a poor joke against the charmingly doddery Shallow (William Gaunt). He never gets to tell the punchline. Appearing as an exhausted Bacchus, the energy passes to Jamie Parker who returns as a demented Pistol. Behind the euphoria at Hal’s ascendency we sense fear.

Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 are epic plays. The history they write takes in the whole of the country and also the span of man’s life. It is to Dromgoole’s credit that this twin focus is never lost. Lording it over all is the epitome of life itself – Falstaff. In all of his joy and his pain Allam’s rogue is truly magisterial.

Until 9 October 2010

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by John Haynes

Written 15 July 2010 for The London Magazine