Tag Archives: Jonathan O’Boyle

“Cruel Intentions” at The Other Palace Theatre

The market for this new musical is clear enough – it’s an adaptation of a popular film from the 90s with pop songs from the same era that should secure an audience. You might like the movie and the hits. But Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin, and Roger Kumble’s efforts at bringing both to the stage are messy and unsatisfying. The combination of story and song isn’t inspired and the whole show comes across dated.

At least the story is OK, after all, it’s based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons. The action is moved to a wealthy school. Emotions and motives are simplified but the book is clear and replacing French aristocrats with wealthy American teenagers is an interesting idea. If it suffers from the characters all being the same age, and focusing on sex rather than power, the change provides insight.

The show is well performed. The leads, now wicked stepsiblings, have strong voices and are convincingly sexy. Daniel Bravo has the required charisma as Sebastian Valmont and sounds great. Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky, who takes the part of the villainous Kathryn Merteuil, is phenomenal. She has a voice that can make anything sound good (a talent she employs frequently here). Their victims can also sing but their roles are less successful; the parts for Abbie Budden and Rose Galbraith are either saintly or stupid and neither is particularly interesting. At least director Jonathan O’Boyle keeps everything clear and swift.

Problems arise with the songs. It’s not just a matter of taste or the issue of forcing songs into a musical that were never intended to be there (this can be done well, look at &Juliet). The trouble is that the mix seems random. Styles often jar…but pointlessly so. With a couple of exceptions, songs are thrown into the action with little thought. Even if you enjoy the performances, it’s hard to get past questioning – why this number? Compounding the problem, the orchestration is, mostly, unimaginative.

Yet it isn’t the music that really dates the show. Dangerous Liaisons should shock. Credit where it is due, these characters really are awful (and foul mouthed). The action isn’t coy. But any challenge or drama is dampened by injecting humour. Mixing Choderlos de Laclos with pop songs is, undoubtedly, camp. But camp should be clever. There’s a complicity with laughing along here that is thoughtless. Maybe it goes back to changing everyone’s age? Again, it isn’t a question of the talent on stage: Josh Barnett and Jess Buckby both have nice cameos that show their comic skills. It just seems odd to laugh at teens exploiting one another. In case that is a judgement based on taste, if you do want a comedy, the jokes still need to be better. Random profanities and unimaginative innuendo shouldn’t cut it nowadays. Ultimately, we know what’s going on here isn’t funny – as the end proves – so the show concludes on a downer and the jokes feel pointlessly tasteless.

Until 14 April 2024

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

Photo by Pamela Raith

“The Last Five Years” at the Southwark Playhouse

After having its run cut short by the lockdown, this return to the stage – for this five-star show – is especially welcome. This is a superb production of a fantastic musical.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle and his talented performers Molly Lynch and Oli Higginson, as the couple, Cathy and Jamie whose romance we follow, all get the most from Jason Robert Brown’s superb writing.

The story’s structure is original: Cathy’s tale plays backwards (we start by seeing the marriage end) and alternates with Jamie, who begins by falling in love. Showing us such highs and lows, flipping back and forth from song to song, is explicated and elaborated magnificently by O’Boyle.

The interaction between Lynch and Higginson – which is mostly ignoring one another – as they sing about different times in their lives, creates a layered, often ghostly, effect. A moment when Jamie reaches for Cathy’s hand, which she is oblivious to, results in shivers. Even smarter, both performers take turns on a piano, starting or ending each other’s numbers to startling effect. A revolving stage, part of Lee Newby’s set, adds further sophistication.

Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography places extra demands on both cast members which, along with sounding great, they live up to. Again, some of the imagery created is almost spectral, as if each can see the other in their imagination but fail to really communicate. 

Lynch brings a credible fragility to her sympathetic character that proves moving. We are on her side from the start. It was a worry whether she would manage lighter numbers but, thankfully, these have a satisfactory comedy to them. Lynch works wonders with a ukulele and that revolving stage.

Each time I see The Last Five Years I like Jamie a little less. The character seems more arrogant and selfish as I age! And Jamie objectifies Cathy something rotten. Countering this, Higginson’s performance is often charming and energetic, as well as always heartfelt. There’s an edge that makes me suspect Higginson doesn’t like Jamie much either… I hope so.

George Dyer’s musical direction is also impressive (the percussion sometimes a little heavy). And I wonder if the show was originally conceived for a proscenium stage, understandably altered for extra socially distanced capacity? I’d certainly recommend you don’t sit to the sides. So, the production isn’t perfect… but it’s pretty close, and one of the best shows in years.  

Until 14 November 2020

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photo by Pamela Raith

“A Guide For The Homesick” at the Trafalgar Studios

There’s a good story within Ken Urban’s play. Bear with me, as the opening isn’t promising: a one-night stand between two men in a foreign city who begin to reveal their dark secrets. As you might guess, it’s contrived, predictable and a little silly. But, as themes of betrayal are exposed, the fine line between friendship and romantic love is explored. As the play develops to include a global look at LGBT rights, it gets better and better.

The two main characters here are not appealing. It’s not that they’ve done anything bad, as becomes apparent all too quickly, but because their privilege brings their remorse perilously close to indulgence. Maybe Urban is making a point here? The characters ring true enough, their virtue-signalling as empty as any cynic might wish. But their self-obsession borders on the incredible. It takes two fine performances to flesh the characters out.

It’s easy to see the roles’ attraction for both Clifford Samuel and Douglas Booth, who take the parts of Teddy and Jeremy, respectively. Under the careful direction of Jonathan O’Boyle, they excel. Both are careful studies: Booth’s character is full of nervous energy and Samuel’s a false confidence. Better still, the backstories of the men who now haunt Teddy and Jeremy mean switching into new roles – accomplished in fine style. Booth has a good line on tortured mania, while Samuel is stunning as a happy man whose life is destroyed.

It is the stories of these other men, Nicholas and Eddie, that are really interesting. We need to know more of Eddie’s mental health, not least how this relates to Teddy’s feelings for him. And it would be good to explore Jeremy’s motivations for becoming an aid worker in Africa more deeply. But the plight of Nicholas as a gay man in Uganda, which is where most of the play’s impact lies, makes A Guide For The Homesick an urgent call to action. The role of the American right in the rise of homophobia is mentioned more than once and the questions of responsibility that fill the play become forceful. There’s an uncomfortable balance between the two traumatic stories, while both make the angst of our moaning main protagonists pale. Again, how much Urban intends this highlighting of first world problems is an open question, but it’s a fascinating one that, after a false start, makes the play one to ponder.

Until 24 November 2018

www.atgtickets.com

Photo by Helen-Maybanks