Tag Archives: Lynne Page

“The Grinning Man” at the Trafalgar Studios

The theatre world often fantasises about the next big British musical, and a home-grown piece is always something to celebrate, so this work, spearheaded by composer and lyricist team Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, has arrived from Bristol to the West End like a dream. The Grinning Man is original, polished and has a sense of integrity that, while making its success cultish rather than mainstream, wins respect.

The story is a fairy tale, heavy on the Gothic, but for grownups. Set in a familiar work, although with surprisingly little satire, our eponymous hero was disfigured as a child and is now a circus freak show. It’s a star role that Louis Maskell delivers with conviction. With a blind girlfriend and sinister adopted father in tow (Sanne Den Besten and Sean Kingsley), the much sung about “ugly beautiful” appearance of this charismatic changeling alters society for the better. The colourful royal family, with a strong quartet of performances from Julie Atherton, David Bardsley, Amanda Wilkin and Mark Anderson, all fall under his (inexplicable) spell. The only one on stage who seems immune is a villainous jester, for my money the lead of the show, brilliantly portrayed by Julian Bleach and winning most of the laughs.

The tale is as good as any by the Grimms. It’s based on a novel by Victor Hugo, and writer Carl Grose tackles it well. But the swearing, nymphomania and a bizarre incest plot make it adults only. It’s something of a puzzle – the temptation to appeal to a larger audience must have been great. A bigger problem is that the score only interests by including some bizarre electronic sounds and the songs aren’t catchy enough. While the dialogue is good, the lyrics, from Phillips, Teitler, Grose and also the show’s director Tom Morris, are too often uninspired.

Yet the production itself is an unreserved triumph. There’s fascinating movement and choreography from Jane Gibson and Lynne Page, accompanying Morris’s strong direction. And when it comes to portraying the worlds of circus and court, Jon Bausor’s design is magnificent. There’s a lot of puppetry, superb in design and execution, complemented by sets that are like a trip to Pollock’s toy shop. Topping it all, with a range of influences from steam punk to Gormenghast, are terrific costumes by Jean Chan. It’s the attention to detail, the look of the show, that puts smiles on faces.

Until 5 May 2018

www.thegrinningmanmusical.com

Photo by Helen Maybanks

“Oh What A Lovely War” at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

The hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War One is being embraced by the cultural community in many ways. Of all the projects planned the production of Oh What A Lovely War, which opened last night, is the one that should excite theatregoers most. Also marking the show’s fiftieth birthday, the legendary Joan Littlewood’s ‘musical entertainment’ returns to its first home, the Theatre Royal Stratford East, with a respectful new version directed by Terry Johnson.

I vividly remember every history student at my school being trooped off to our local cinema for a specially arranged showing of the 1969 film. All credit to my far-sighted teachers, even if Michael Gove would have disapproved (and well done for getting a mention of him in last night, guys). The concept – telling the story of the awful events of 1914-1918 through the words and music of the time, and adamantly focusing on the average soldier, rather than his officers – is both informative and inspirational. This theatrical method tells you more than any history lesson could and its power has not diminished.

Commitment to the show is clear from the excellent ensemble. The variety of roles, as well as accents, that they take on is remarkable. Both the singing and the choreography by Lynne Page are strong. It seems a little unfair to single anyone out but Shaun Prendergast is superb as the lead narrator, as well as a perfect Sergeant Major. And Caroline Quentin is great value; as a vaudeville star who will “make a man” of anyone joining up, and an impassioned peace protestor. Her Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts is a real highlight – join in if you can.

Incredible as they seem, the events presented are facts, and make the evening a humbling experience. Johnson and his designer Lez Brotherston use technical advances developed since the show first appeared subtly, with a dot matrix sign displaying casualty figures and photographs projected on a grand scale. Both are given due reverence at key moments. There’s rich, vicious satire here, a shocking humour born from tragic events that still surprises. And there’s no room for timidity when dealing with this subject matter – credit that none is shown.

Until 15 March 2014

www.stratfordeast.com

Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 12 February 2014 for The London Magazine