Tag Archives: Katherine Kingsley

“Top Girls” at the National Theatre

Lyndsey Turner’s revival of Caryl Churchill’s classic play has a reverential air. With such variety in the writing – starting with a fantasy dinner party, turning into a domestic drama and becoming increasingly political – there’s no doubting the text’s importance. But in this staging, the humour in the writing stumbles, the edge is blunted and the production is luxurious to a fault.

The novel, and expensive, move is not to double up roles as most productions of the play do. So performers playing guests at the opening scene, women from different cultures and times, don’t reappear in other roles. Using actors the calibre of Amanda Lawrence, Siobhán Redmond and Ashley McGuire for just one scene seems positively wasteful and it also isolates the brilliantly bizarre prologue scene.

There can be no quibbles about the cast – or Turner’s massive investment in them. The play is capably driven by Katherine Kingsley as the highflying executive whose success we scrutinise. And there are strong performances from Liv Hill and Lucy Black as her estranged family. It’s possible these roles don’t have to have be portrayed as quite so downtrodden – Churchill’s point is still made if they are just ‘normal’ people – but the play’s themes of inequality and individuality are depressingly pertinent.

Ian MacNeil’s design is bold in its variety of spaces – restaurant, office and home are all very different – and the scene changes are impressive. And dealing so well with characters speaking over one another gets more praise for Turner. In short, the production is without question technically accomplished. But is all this sleek professionalism necessary? Or appropriate? Does a dinner party with the long dead or fictional characters need so stylish a setting? Or the shabby world of corporate recruitment have to look so lush? Turner has too much respect for Churchill’s work not to present it impeccably, but the play is strong enough for productions to take a more inventive approach with it. There’s a disappointing lack of energy, or anger, that seems inappropriate: Churchill’s message is there, but the challenge is not.

Until 20 July 2019

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

“She Loves Me” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Here’s a real treat for loyal fans of David Babani’s London Bridge venue. The ‘musical lovers’ musical’, by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, is perfect fare for the Menier, ticking every box with gorgeous songs and great lyrics. And this fine production does the musical masterpiece full justice.

Joe Masteroff’s book is one of many adaptations of Miklós László’s play about two lonely-heart letter writers, Georg and Amalia, who are in love while unaware that they work together in a posh perfumery. It’s a delicious, fun-filled scenario, given weight by the performances of Mark Umbers and Scarlett Strallen. The couple’s delivery of each song is spot on. And each song is wonderful.

Katherine Kingsley and Dominic Tighe
Katherine Kingsley and Dominic Tighe

There’s a second love story, too: the romantic adventures of Ilona, betrayed by her colleague, the womanising Kodaly. What could be a sub plot stands proudly alongside the leads because of Katherine Kingsley and Dominic Tighe’s performances. And a third affair: the melancholy discovery of the shop’s owner, played by Les Dennis, that his wife is betraying him.

For every sentimental element in this musical, the trials of the characters make you feel this is a grown-up affair. The careful age distribution adds to the effect – Umbers does well to show us George as a middle-aged man. As with Amalia’s letters, everyone becomes a ‘dear friend’, their lives, loves and ambitions so perfectly encapsulated in the songs.

Director Matthew White does an impeccable job. Superb cameos from shop clerk Sipos (Alastair Brookshaw) and Cory English’s maître d’ show his level of attention and care. His decision to have strong British accents seems an unnecessary complication. There’s no reason for Georg and Amalia to sound like something from Brief Encounter. The only role that benefits is Ilona – turned into a northern blonde bombshell that makes Kingsley irresistible. A minor quibble for a production that deserves applause even for the set – brilliant work from Paul Farnsworth. And if some scenes seem cramped, it’s only more proof that the production deserves a bigger venue. She Loves Me is increasingly recognised as a major work. What a present a transfer of this great show would be.

Until 4 March 2017

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photos by Alastair Muir

Norman Pace will take over from Cory English between 10 January – 6 February.

“Aspects of Love” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Aspects of Love was a bold musical departure for Andrew Lloyd Webber back in 1989. Following the success of Phantom of the Opera, it seems the composer was determined to produce something different – a small, intimate chamber piece with a simple theme and storyline.

Reports of the original production at the Prince of Wales Theatre suggest the musical was somewhat lost in the West End. It faired even less well on Broadway. Now its original director, Trevor Nunn, is back to have another go and, thankfully, at the Menier Chocolate Factory the whole piece comes alive.

As we follow the characters’ lives and loves, through infatuation, betrayal, amity and familial affection, we cannot resist being pulled in. And David Farley’s clever set is the perfect minimal setting in which to develop the drama and embrace events and emotions.

Nunn’s rather indulgent direction takes a slower pace than we might expect. He clearly revels in the musical’s many tête-á-tête scenes. The care taken, combined with the strong cast assembled, pays off.
Katherine Kingsley plays Rose Vibert, and Rosalie Craig is Giulietta Trapani, and both make convincing love interests for the men of the piece. Kingsley has the difficult task of playing an actress who might have fallen for her own press, but she still manages to be appealing. Craig’s magnificent energy results in the most electrifying number of the night, the funeral celebration of both women’s lover, George.
The role of Sir George is played by veteran musical theatre actor Dave Willetts. He gives a vintage performance full of energy and technical knowhow. At the other end of the spectrum, we have a great stage debut in Rebecca Brewer as George and Rose’s daughter, Jenny.

Best of all, and it really is a close call, is the London stage debut of Michael Arden. He assumes the lead role of Alex with such charm that he is in danger of winning us over a little too much. From gangly adoration of Rose, to crazed passion and then a cool melancholic acceptance of her betrayal, his performance is as rich as his mellifluous voice. Just like the wine enjoyed on stage throughout the show, this is a fine performance within a full-boded production that’s a delight to savour.

Until 26 September 2010

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 23 July 2010 for The London Magazine