Tag Archives: Josefina Gabrielle

“Two Into One” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Ray Cooney’s 1984 farce Two Into One opened last night at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and it’s an exercise in experience and skill. Cooney directs and stars in his own work, a revival of one of his many successful plays, drawing intelligently on the long tradition of British bawdiness and playing with it to perfection.

Two afternoon affairs in a hotel are complicated since they occur in adjacent rooms. You can hear the doors slamming already can’t you? And they do so with satisfying thuds in Julie Godfrey’s set (I’ve lived in less sturdy flats). The lies surrounding the extra-marital mayhem spiral into the surreal, everyone takes their clothes off and nobody understands one another.

Setting the hotel next to Parliament, packed with politicians and civil servants to make fun of, adds to the laughs. Joking with sexuality as well as sex by introducing a misunderstanding about an affair with a tea boy from the Foreign Office, possibly made the work seem topical once. Now mention of “poofs” seems almost quaint. Unashamedly 1980s, there’s a nostalgic appeal that suits the humour.

In farce it’s the complications and extravagance rather than originality that make you laugh and there’s a comfy side to the genre that this show has in spades. Cooney knows what he’s doing – relax, enjoy yourself – and there’s a remarkable sense of confidence from this experienced cast. Michael Praed plays one of those slimy Tory MPs who characterised the 1980s, Nick Wilton is endearing as his bowler-hatted PPS and Jeffrey Holland plays the hotel manager marvellously. Best of all, the gorgeous Josefina Gabrielle, setting pulses racing in her ‘naughty nightie’, times not just every line, but every move, impeccably – the star of the night in a play full of stars.

Until 26 April 2014

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 20 March 2014 for The London Magazine

“Merrily We Roll Along” at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Another transfer, another success for the Menier Chocolate Factory – Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along has just opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre. It is the show’s first presentation in the West End, which seems remarkable since it is one of the master-composer’s greatest musicals – a complex work with the potential to appeal to a wide audience. The Menier’s production deserves its new location, showcasing the piece to perfection.

Making her directorial debut, renowned singer and Sondheim soulmate Maria Friedman excels. Under her supervision, Merrily We Roll Along serves as a tremendous vehicle for its leading trio: Damian Humbley, Jenna Russell and Mark Umbers, who star as Charley, Mary and Frank. Just as excellent are Clare Foster and Josefina Gabrielle as the women in Frank’s life. The latter benefits from an additional number, requested from Sondheim by Friedman, that makes a rollicking opener to the second act. With the chorus the production’s modest origins reveal themselves – positively – this is a mature team that sounds fantastic.

The musical is played backwards: we meet our heroes at the height of their careers, but bitter and weary. And in the finale we see the college chums ready to take on the world. It’s a device used to great effect and adds layers of meaning to music that emblazons itself on the memory. The score becomes simpler as the evening progresses, but feels richer with each number – a magical trick to pull off.

Nothing is lost in this production. The performances make the most of the narrative device of hindsight, but keep it sincere and never gimmicky. Merrily We Roll Along is clever stuff but it’s intelligent not pompous. All in all, it’s a brilliant piece that mustn’t be missed.

Until 25 July 2013

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Written 2 May 2013 for The London Magazine

“Sweet Charity” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

With a terrific blast of brass, the Menier Chocolate Factory’s prodcution of Sweet Charity announces to the audience that it is in for a great evening out.

Tamsin Outwaite plays the eponymous lead.  She gives an endearing and spirited performance as the New York tango ‘hostess’ who wears her heart on her sleeve and manages to stay a romantic against all the odds. It is a demanding role, which she manages with great energy and a broad grin throughout.

Mark Umbers revels in playing the men in her life. A film idol, who sees in Charity a sweet innocence his sophisticated lifestyle now lacks, and the neurotic Oscar, her unlikely knight in shining armour.  He is a superb comedic foil and takes on the contrasting roles with equal skill.

If stars have to be singled out, though, Charity’s colleagues in the tango hall give amazing performances.  Tiffany Graves and Josefina Gabrielle both move far beyond their ‘tart with a heart’ roles to give their characters real depth.  They deserve the great laughs they get and, most importantly, they both sing and dance wonderfully.

But nobody really steals this show. This is one of the strongest ensemble casts I have ever seen – every member works as hard as they possibly can and great credit goes to casting such a talented group. ‘Rhythm of Life’ is probably the best example; Oscar and Charity’s first date is a visit to a drug-fuelled ‘church’ and the ensemble performance as the spaced-out congregation is comic genius.

Underpinning all this talent are some fresh ideas that really bring the show to life.  Director Matthew White has not felt burdened by the film version. The show has plenty of camp appeal but following Neil Simon’s book, a certain sharp, candid edge. ‘Big Spender’, which the whole audience is really waiting for, is an hilarious revelation.  It is performed with a mock sensuality by women who are tired and bored – of course they are, they’re at work.

Choreography by Stephen Mear, who did fantastic work at Regent’s Park this summer, is similarly superb.  He has a great showcase in the ‘Rich Man’s Fugue’ number. The dance brings comedy to the fore and his movements show the strange position of the piece as a late 60s musical – falling between a big Broadway show and something rather more avant-garde. There are set pieces to be sure but Mear has looked as far and wide for inspiration, as the music and lyrics of Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields did. The result might seem odd at times, a joyous musical that denies us a happy ending, but is always thrilling.

Until 7 March 2010

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 7 December 2009 for The London Magazine