Tag Archives: Martin Thomas

“Tanzi Libre” at the Southwark Playhouse

The prestigious Southwark Playhouse has relocated from the arches under London Bridge to a new venue in Elephant and Castle. It opens with the unashamedly populist Tanzi Libre, a show that should make it welcome among its new neighbours. Of all the performances reviewed for The London Magazine, this tale of a young girl’s struggle through life – as a Mexican wrestler – must be one of the oddest, but because of its originality, also one of the most fun.

Writer Claire Luckham’s story started out in Manchester but, in this incarnation, the action is moved to South London. From a baby wrestling with her mother, through school and courtship, Tanzi’s tale puts a heavy weight on audience participation. A sign at the entrance requests our boos, hisses and heckles. It’s an essential part of the night and if it’s your kind of thing you’ll love it.

The staging, set entirely in the ring, really enforces wrestling’s theatricality. Martin Thomas’ superb designs and costumes fit the brash writing and songs with a suitable tongue-in-cheek feel. Deliberately, the only thing about the show that’s polished is the wrestling itself – it would have to be to avoid serious injury, and both the cast’s and director Ellie Jones’ bravery here is quite astounding to this timid spectator.

Throwing one another around, pretty much constantly, impresses, especially when it comes to the finale where Tanzi (Olivia Onyehara) wrestles her husband Dean Rebel (Kazeem Tosin Amore) in order to decide who stays at home with their child and who gets to pursue a professional career in ring. All the stomping and shouting inevitably gets in the way of comprehension, and the singing certainly isn’t a priority but with Mark Rice-Oxley’s rousing performance as the compere there’s little time to question the show’s politics or problems. You should be too busy yelling along.

Until 22 June 2013


Written 22 May 2013 for The London Magazine

“Victor/Victoria” at the Southwark Playhouse

Blake Edwards’ joyous, gender-bending musical comedy – with music and lyrics by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse – is sure to please. The story of a soprano who disguises herself as a man performing in drag, Thom Southerland’s new production at the Southwark Playhouse, is a bold rendering full of expert touches and an abundance of talent.

Staged in traverse, and superbly designed by Martin Thomas, Southerland and his choreographer Lee Proud make the most of the show’s cabaret numbers. No tunnel under London Bridge ever looked this good; it’s a most welcoming cabaret, with a fantastic atmosphere from start to finish.

Taking the title role, Anna Francolini makes the most of this star vehicle and her performance has an emotional edge that is genuinely affecting. It helps that she sounds fantastic, too, and can deliver a tricky dance routine. The show stopping numbers, Le Jazz Hot! and Louis Says, are a  delight and the ensemble are superb.

Matthew Curtis plays her love interest who, Orsino-like, is puzzled by his desire for the ‘man’ he sees on stage. Curtis delivers his challenging solo number marvellously. But it’s Victor/Victoria’s impresario and best friend, performed by Richard Dempsey, who steals the show. Camp as Christmas and loving every gloriously silly moment, the incorrigible, Shakespeare-quoting, “Toddy” charms all and gets the loudest guffaw I’ve heard in the theatre this year. But, I won’t spoil the joke – buy a ticket to make sure you don’t miss it.

Until 15 December 2012


Written 2 November 2012 for The London Magazine

“Curtains” at the Landor Theatre

Making its European debut at the Landor Theatre, Kander and Ebb’s last work, Curtains, sets the making of a new musical – a Wild West version of Robin Hood – alongside a comedy murder mystery. It’s a bizarrely inspired combination, executed with a wicked sense of humour.

At the play-within-a-play’s opening night it isn’t just the critics’ knives that are out; a talentless star becomes a showstopper of a special kind when she’s murdered on stage. Behind the scenes is a hive of viciousness and villainy that proves plenty of suspects. Enter our detective, who just happens to be a huge theatre fan.

Jeremy Legat excels in the role of Lieutenant Cioffi, solving the crime in style and inspiring the cast to produce a better show at the same time. Bryan Kennedy, who plays an imperious director, delivers every line in superbly arch fashion and the show’s apparently ruthless producer, played by Buster Skeggs, joins the fray in equally high camp fashion.

Curtains isn’t without its problems. Even for a musical, there’s a touch too much pastiche, the piece loses some steam toward the end and, despite tremendous performances from Leo Andrew and Fiona O’Carroll trying to save their marriage and the show, heartfelt moments seem out of place. But these faults are quickly forgotten in director Robert McWhir’s superb production – injecting humour into every scene, he lifts the piece magnificently.

With designer Martin Thomas’s near miraculous use of the space, Curtains feels very much the big Broadway show. As the cast sing of ‘wide open spaces’ that couldn’t be further from the intimate setting of the Landor, they show off Robbie O’Reilly’s terrific choreography perfectly. No question that this playful whodunit is a hit.

Until 1 September 2012


Photo by Francis Loney

Written 31 July 2012 for The London Magazine

“The Glorious Ones” at the Landor Theatre

The Landor Theatre in Clapham has the coup of presenting the European première of the off-Broadway musical The Glorious Ones. Set in 17th-century Italy, in the world of Commedia dell’Arte, it celebrates theatrical collaborations. Such affirmation seems appropriate: written and composed by award-winning team Ahrens and Flaherty, of Ragtime fame, the show reunites Landor dream team director Robert McWhir and designers Martin Thomas and Howard Hudson.

The conceit underlying The Glorious Ones is the satisfying fantasy that the actors are as interesting offstage as they are on it. In a stirring opening number we are told that their “lives are like a play within a play”. Flaminio Scala is the man in charge – a pied piper of performers, gathering an ensemble together as much for their personality as their ability. A famous pioneer in the history of Commedia dell’Arte, Scala’s passion is improvisation, and this is the key to his comedy.

Naturally improvisation in a musical is tricky but the cast is admirably fresh and McWhir has succeeded in creating a sense of camaraderie appropriate to a travelling company, aided by the Landor’s intimacy and Martin Thomas’ cleverly designed set. Mike Christie gives a sterling performance as Scala, joined by Peter Straker as Pantalone in fine comic form, and there are excellent turns from Jodie Beth Meyer and Kate Brennan.

The miniature performances of Commedia dell’Arte performed by the group are never quite as thrilling as the musical moments. And a challenge to change the art form from one of improvisation to scripted works – embodied in the conflict between Scala and his protégés – struggles to ignite the imagination. But there are more than enough songs and strong performances to allow The Glorious Ones to live up to its title – praise for the show should be plentiful in every sense.

Until 7 April 2012


Photo by Mitzide Margary

Written 13 March 2012 for The London Magazine