Tag Archives: Jeremy Legat

“Grey Gardens” at the Southwark Playhouse

There are two five-star performances in this European première of Scott Frankel’s brave musical. Taking the roles of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter ‘Little Edie’ – socialites who descend into far from genteel poverty – are Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell. The latter takes both parts, playing mother at the play’s start in 1941, and then daughter when the action leaps into the 1970s. Full marks in both instances – I’m losing count of how many stars Russell deserves.

Notable as the first musical to be based on a documentary film, the book by Doug Wright and bold lyrics from Michael Korie get a lot from this true story of privilege and mental instability. Grey Gardens is a nuanced look at a bizarre filial relationship that broadens beautifully as it questions frustrations about art, age and class. If there are reservations, there’s a feeling it helps to know the original film, although director Thom Southerland’s characteristically ambitious staging makes this a satisfying theatrical evening.

On the day of Little Evie’s engagement (with a young Jacqueline Bouvier lined up to be a bridesmaid), family eccentricities make eligible bachelor, one Joseph Kennedy, run away. Both mother and daughter (played in these scenes by one-to-watch Rachel Anne Rayham) have a “yen for the spotlight” and fancy themselves as performers. Frankel’s eclectic score gives them plenty of opportunity. Adding to frivolity is the live-in pianist, an “imported” black sheep, tackled stylishly by Jeremy Legat, and disapproving patriarch, Major Bouvier, impeccably performed by Billy Boyle.
Grey Gardens 2 Jenna Russell Photo Scott RylanderThere’s tragedy in the air even with a lot of 1940s fun, And the nostalgia has bite as the Bouvier Beales become trapped in past. The start of Act Two is one of the funniest things you’ll see: with Little Edie preparing to do battle with neighbours unhappy with the state of the house, now described as a 28-room litter box for their out-of-control cats and condemned as unfit for human habitation.Russell is in total control of the audience’s funny bones – it’s a camp treat with a New England drawl that brings tears to the eyes.
Grey Gardens 8 Sheila Hancock Photo Scott Rylander
As the insanity grows, Hancock gets a song about corn – yes, corn on the cob – and it’s clear this odd couple is in real trouble. Hancock’s ability to deliver cruel remarks gets the laughs, but care is taken to show the pain of these reclusive, paranoid lives. It’s a brave musical that carries such dour overtones but I don’t think either Edie would want our pity. These “staunch” women see character as a question of turning any scandal into triumph. Which is close to what the musical itself achieves, with its celebration of the individual and its characters’(admittedly unfulfilled) artistic aspirations. The Bouvier Beales finally get the applause they craved.

Until 6 February 2016


Photos by Scott Rylander

“Thérèse Raquin” at the Finborough Theatre

Thérèse Raquin, a new musical with book, lyrics and direction from Nona Shepphard and music by Craig Adams, has just opened at the Finborough Theatre. It’s bold, courageous even, with feet firmly planted on adventurous ground: an exciting evening of musical theatre with operatic ambitions.

Billed as a radical adaptation (you have been warned) by Shepphard it takes inspiration from Émile Zola’s tale of adultery and murder. The characters have a flatness that calls to mind myths or fairy tales – the conviction of Shepphard’s text makes them captivating. And Adams’ piano score is not easy listening, reminiscent of Philip Glass with its choral emphasis, rounds and repetition.

None of this makes it easy for the cast. But even performances that could be finessed win admiration for their bravura – and many of them are fantastic. The excellent Julie Atherton takes the title role, notable for her weighted silence long into the first act. Jeremy Legat has a trickier job as her sickly husband Camille. Legat sounds great but I am not sure about trying to inject some humour into the part. Ben Lewis plays the lover Laurent, complementing his tall, dark and handsome qualifications with a voice that’ll knock your socks off. Thérèse is accompanied by a chorus, with Matt Wilman, who also doubles as an oarsman, standing out. Shepphard puts Madame Raquin at the centre of the show and Tara Hugo gives a startling performance in the role, especially as the elderly lady succumbs to illness.

Shepphard also deserves credit for her directing skills, creating some great theatrical moments that enforce the imagery in her text. The recurring domino evenings, part of why Thérèse feels she is “buried alive” with her mother-in-law and feeble husband, are full of detail. The scene in a morgue, where Laurent tries to face his murderous actions, and a wedding night, with a ghostly reappearance from Camille, are superb.

Ultimately, to its credit, Thérèse Raquin is too big for the Finborough. This tiny venue is often top of my list for a visit, and what it achieves is remarkable, but the potential of this show seems too much. Despite the skillful set design from Laura Cordery, the production, especially the music, deserves a bigger stage. Naïve, perhaps, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if some far-sighted producer took a risk on something as different as this? Here’s hoping.

Until 19 April 2014


Photo by Darren Bell

Written 2 April 2014 for The London Magazine

“Curtains” at the Landor Theatre

Making its European debut at the Landor Theatre, Kander and Ebb’s last work, Curtains, sets the making of a new musical – a Wild West version of Robin Hood – alongside a comedy murder mystery. It’s a bizarrely inspired combination, executed with a wicked sense of humour.

At the play-within-a-play’s opening night it isn’t just the critics’ knives that are out; a talentless star becomes a showstopper of a special kind when she’s murdered on stage. Behind the scenes is a hive of viciousness and villainy that proves plenty of suspects. Enter our detective, who just happens to be a huge theatre fan.

Jeremy Legat excels in the role of Lieutenant Cioffi, solving the crime in style and inspiring the cast to produce a better show at the same time. Bryan Kennedy, who plays an imperious director, delivers every line in superbly arch fashion and the show’s apparently ruthless producer, played by Buster Skeggs, joins the fray in equally high camp fashion.

Curtains isn’t without its problems. Even for a musical, there’s a touch too much pastiche, the piece loses some steam toward the end and, despite tremendous performances from Leo Andrew and Fiona O’Carroll trying to save their marriage and the show, heartfelt moments seem out of place. But these faults are quickly forgotten in director Robert McWhir’s superb production – injecting humour into every scene, he lifts the piece magnificently.

With designer Martin Thomas’s near miraculous use of the space, Curtains feels very much the big Broadway show. As the cast sing of ‘wide open spaces’ that couldn’t be further from the intimate setting of the Landor, they show off Robbie O’Reilly’s terrific choreography perfectly. No question that this playful whodunit is a hit.

Until 1 September 2012


Photo by Francis Loney

Written 31 July 2012 for The London Magazine