Tag Archives: Laura Pitt-Pulford

“Flowers for Mrs Harris” from Chichester Festival Theatre

The story of a widowed char lady who saves up to buy a Christian Dior dress doesn’t sound like a winner. But I’m shocked that this show, which started at Sheffield Theatres in 2016 and is generously presented online by the Chichester Festival Theatre, wasn’t a big hit. High-quality, old-fashioned and unashamedly feelgood, Richard Taylor’s score and lyrics, with a book by Rachel Wagstaff based on Paul Gallico’s novel, is musical theatre magic.

There are risks here. The central character is naïve as well as ridiculously self-sacrificing. Her motivation, the dream behind her triumph over adversity, really shouldn’t convince. And the show is predictable – we all know where Mrs Harris will take a trip (cue dodgy accents to join already plentifully dropped consonants). But if you’re going to manipulate, emotional restraint isn’t called for, and director Daniel Evans shows he knows that. The proof is in the puddin’ – I was close to tears for most of the second act!

Much of the success is down to the mammoth title role, played by Clare Burt. At first gravelly, her voice gets stronger as the show progresses – along with a score that reflects dreams and imagination with style. The trials she faces in saving for her dress create remarkable investment with the audience. When winning the pools isn’t enough (an excellent sequence) hard work is the key, and admiration for the character, and Burt’s assured performance, are secured.

Flowers for Mrs Harris
Laura Pitt-Pulford and Louis Maskell

Mrs Harris goes around inspiring all, like a mix of Mary Poppins and Dolly Gallagher Levi. It makes for plenty of subsidiary characters, admittedly of varying success. It’s great to see some older roles, like Mrs Harris herself, but the younger parts are better and create a rush of romance that adds further escapism. Helping the French in their amours indicates a nice sense of humour underlying the show and provides great numbers for Laura Pitt-Pulford and Louis Maskell. There’s a touch here of She Loves Me – it’s a chocolate cake rather than ice cream – and that’s never a bad thing.

That there’s plenty of love for Mrs Harris is only fair. Mark Meadows’ roles – as her dead husband and then a Marquis who sees her as a fellow spirit – anchor the show. Like the gown she so covets, everything in Flowers for Mrs Harris is “made to make you feel”. Taylor doesn’t let up, and even a couple of twists at the end of the show ram home humour and heart. Nor does the finale disappoint, with each bouquet for Mrs Harris bringing a smile and a sob.

Available until 8 May 2020

To support visit www.cft.org.u

Photos by Johan Persson

"Falsettos" at The Other Palace

William Finn’s 1992 musical has two Tony Awards to its credit and for its long delayed British premiere a strong cast. To add to the excitement, the book is from none other than James Lapine. But Finn’s music and lyrics make this story of a modern Jewish family ramble. Even sterling performances from Laura Pitt-Pulford and Daniel Boys, as divorcees Trina and Marvin, cannot save what descends into a frantic scramble for “tears and schmaltz”.

Director Tara Overfield-Wilkinson deploys a sensible strategy in trying to keep the show simple. And Finn’s off-beat wit, focusing on neurosis, is given its due. But Falsettos’ off-Broadway history, a merger of two single act shows that form a trilogy, makes the show unwieldy. Finn gets bogged down in the minutiae of how Marvin left his wife for a no-good-guy, who turns out OK, while Trina starts an affair with the family shrink, and their son Jason acts with more maturity than all of them. Oh, we’ll get detail…but not depth.

Laura Pitt-Pulford (Laura Pitt-Pulford in Falsettos at The Other Palace
Laura Pitt-Pulford

The opening number sets the tone. ‘Four Jews In A Room Bitching’ is sharp and quirky but predictable and lacking charm. Ultimately, none of the characters rise above caricature. Pitt-Pulford gets the chance to shine with a number about a mental breakdown. And Marvin’s affair with the promiscuous Whizzer (what kind of name is that?) is filled with passion by Boys. But like their new partners – successfully performed with strong vocals from Joel Montague and Oliver Savile – the characters are too thinly written to care about.

Daniel Boys & Oliver Savile in Falsettos at The Other Palace
Daniel Boys & Oliver Savile

Things don’t get better. The second act focuses on the characters ageing and on mortality – a message hammered home. The combination of Jason’s bar mitzvah and Whizzer contracting AIDS is painfully forced. Shockingly, despite Boys’ forceful singing, the finale arrives too quickly and is dealt with too briefly to carry much emotional impact.

Gemma Knight-Jones & Natasha J Barnes in Falsettos at The Other Palace
Gemma Knight-Jones & Natasha J Barnes

All the way through, too many questions arise. Why should Trina and Marvin care so much about each other’s new sex lives? What’s the real motivation for either starting a new affair? The close family that Marvin still wants – the depiction of which guarantees the show has a place in the history of LGBT theatre – isn’t really shown to us. And why are the lesbian neighbours – a shameful waste of the talents of Gemma Knight-Jones and Natasha J Barnes  – only introduced in the second act! Even the title theme, introduced in a dream, is a puzzle; too much in Falsettos is ill conceived and under explained.

You can forgive a musical many failings if the score is up to scratch. It’s clear why Finn’s compositions have admirers – he can write a tune and some of the harmonising is beautiful. But the musical references are obvious and the variety in the structure of each number repetitive:  a staccato opening includes a gag, there’s a pause for the thought then a manic finale. Worse still, Finn’s lyrics come close to sounding lazy. The dazzling delivery here can’t hide how much repetition is used (although credit for getting canasta in a song). The words, like the characters’ confused motivation, sometimes don’t even make sense. Despite fine performances, the truth is that Falsettos ends up a disappointing mess.

Until 23 November 2019

www.lwtheatres.co.uk/theatres/the-other-palace/

Photos by The Standout Company

“The Grönholm Method” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

It’s a good idea to splash out on this venue’s excellent meal deal for this one. While this blog doesn’t recommend food and drink, this play, from Jordi Galceran, is perfect after-dinner theatre. With some wine helping you to swallow the improbable antics that four candidates for a job are put through, and a digestif over shared stories afterwards, an evening should go well enough. If a little smugly.

It’s no surprise that the play has been a global success (since its Spanish premiere in 2003 there have been productions in 60 countries). The job interview is a nice enough universal scenario, even if are watching executives here. Does Galceran tap into truths about the modern work place? Inevitably, if exaggerated for comedy, but not profoundly. The production itself goes down smoothly, with efficient direction from BT NcNicholl and a suitably sleek office design from Tim Hatley. There is humour in the bizarre interview situation, the cruel and pointless challenges posed, and lots of surprising twists that are set up well.

The characters themselves are simply devices to play with. It’s a bit of a shock to see one transgendered character bullied, partly because even bigoted interviewees would surely be more guarded, but more because this leaves a nasty taste in what is predominantly easy fare. But Jonathan Cake does well as a ruthless salesman we can all enjoy hating, Greg McHugh and John Gordon Sinclair have a firm grasp of the comedy, and Laura Pitt-Pulford is her usual good value as the predictably-tough-but-still-more-sensitive-than-the-men Melanie. All the cast make it look easy – which it isn’t – and without these strong performances the show would stink. But, as things stand, this play is an entertaining, if forgettable, diversion.

Until 7 July 2018

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Barnum” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

With the success of the film The Greatest Showman, also about nineteenth century theatrical impresario P.T.Barnum, the time should be ripe for this revival of Cy Coleman’s 1980 hit show. This is a whistle stop biography of the biggest barker in show business, rattling past his eventful life courtesy of Mark Bramble’s concisely structured book. With a big top themed design, by Paul Farnsworth, the stage is set for an extravaganza worthy of the man himself. There’s a lot of skill on stage and off so it’s a surprise and a shame that this production never reaches its full potential.

A multi-talented ensemble, many with breath taking circus skills, are impossible to fault. There’s a tremendous turn from Harry Francis as Tom Thumb, and an excellent performance from Celinde Shoenmaker as the famous singer Jenny Lind. The direction from Gordon Greenberg is accomplished, alongside Rebecca Howell’s choreography, it’s notable how well the theatre-in-the-round staging is handled. As for Coleman, there are some great show tunes here, truly rousing numbers you go away humming. To top it all is Laura Pitt-Pulford, as Barnum’s aptly named spouse Charity. Featuring large in his story – well done Bramble – Pitt-Pulford crafts a developed performance that gives a real sense of the character throughout her life. And she sounds great. Unfortunately, it’s a performance uncomfortably superior to Marcus Brigstocke who takes the title role.

Quite early into the show, Barnum notes that his “humbug” is old fashioned and that “educated” people won’t fall for his sales technique anymore. But what could create sympathy distances us from a potential hero. Even if Barnum’s politics were progressive, his affair with Lind strikes a sour note right before the interval – it’s enough to put you off your ice cream. There simply isn’t enough charm here and the fault falls with Brigstocke. We never get past the well-known comedian’s personality – a nice way of saying he can’t act. And while some adlibs around audience participation, including a painful attempt at tightrope walking, are fun Brigstocke doesn’t land the jokes in the show. Yes, he’s a funny man, but his Barnum isn’t funny. Worse still Brigstocke cannot sing. More specifically, his voice is weak and renders Michael Stewart’s patter lyrics, which should excite, inaudible. In short, he can tightrope walk better than he can act, and act better than he can sing, and he can’t walk the tightrope.

Until 3 March 2018

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photo by Nobby Clark

“Mack and Mabel” at the Southwark Playhouse

Mack and Mabel has a reputation as a difficult musical to stage successfully. But you’d never guess that from the fine production now showing at the Southwark Playhouse. In the expert hands of director Thom Southerland the piece becomes what aficionados have long suggested – one of Jerry Herman’s finest works.

The love story, set in the early days of the movie business, is slight. But, like the films its protagonist Mack Sennett makes, it has all you need to capture an audience: “love, light, laughter”. Perhaps inspired by Mack’s love of speed, Southerland takes the piece at such a pace that you won’t have time to worry about plot. This is a glorious mix of melodrama, bathing beauties and Keystone Cops. The only disappointment is that the often-promised gorilla doesn’t turn up.

One thing everyone agrees on is how fantastic the songs are. There isn’t a bad number in Mack and Mabel and in this production they all get the delivery they deserve. Norman Bowman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are both impressive in the title roles. The latter deserves special mention for her fantastic delivery of the Barbara Cook standard ‘Time Heals Everything’. There are fine performances from Jessica Martin, as studio stalwart Lottie Ames, and Stuart Matthew Price shows he’s thoroughly on the ball, dealing with a minor wardrobe malfunction while sounding fantastic.

Lee Proud’s choreography is outstandingly ambitious and, impressively executed by the ensemble, it adds a great deal of humour. There are fine comic performances, especially from Steven Serlin as the studio’s producer – his crew may be making comedy shorts but Mack and Mabel is a grown-up affair with a famously downbeat ending. Some find this unsatisfying, but Southerland emphasises the work’s melancholy and nostalgia to create a moving, weighty experience that is not to be missed.

Until 25 August 2012

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photo by Annabel Vere

Written 12 July 2012 for The London Magazine