Tag Archives: Michael Grandage

“Frozen” at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Everybody knows what they are getting when Disney puts a show on stage. And that’s not just the story – in this case a fairy tale about a magical queen and her sister – and the songs, but what every scene will be. I’m not sure it’s the best introduction to theatre, but Disney does bring its films to the stage very well.

In the case of Frozen, the book, by the film’s writer Jennifer Lee, is sweet and has some surprises. This fairy tale focuses on two female leads and there’s some complexity in their characters. They make nice roles for Samantha Barks and Stephanie McKeon. And the romantic interest isn’t what you might expect – or maybe it is, Prince Charming has had a bad rep for a quite a while, after all. Regardless, there are strong supporting roles for Obioma Ugoala and Oliver Ormson (the latter very much a cartoon villain) that carry a moral well… if not lightly.

The songs, with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, are simple but are effective: pleasant rather than memorable (though many younger fans are likely to disagree with this) but with a good mix of power ballads (which Barks does very well with) and waltzes. The latter are a nice touch. We want some old-fashioned costumes, after all, and Christopher Oram’s work here is lovely. The humour is better than might be expected, the snowman Olaf (Craig Gallivan, with puppet design from Michael Curry) has a good number.

Make no mistake that Frozen is a kids’ show to its core. So, for me, it’s the staging and the special effects, designed by Jeremy Chernick, that are the first highlight. Oram’s scenic design is impressive and Finn Ross’ video work adds immeasurably. The kids really do want to see the film on stage. There’s a superb reveal and, after that, the appearance of Elsa’s pig tail gets its own squeal of delight.

Cast-of-Disneys-Frozen-photo-by-Johan-Persson
Rob Ashford’s engaging and inventive choreography

A quick pace is adopted by director Michael Grandage that hides potential dull moments. Rob Ashford’s engaging and inventive choreography is the second high point. Using the ensemble to create atmosphere or even suggest scenery – an especially strong moment – makes a nice contrast to high-tech touches. Frozen looks expensive and it sure to leave (younger) members of the audience breathless. For me, its genuinely theatrical touches are even more exciting.

www.frozenthemusical.co.uk

Photos by Johan Persson

“Photograph 51” at the Noël Coward Theatre

The promise of a film star who is just as good on stage is fulfilled in Anna Zeigler’s new play. A-lister Nicole Kidman takes the role of scientist Rosalind Franklin, who made a vital contribution to the discovery of DNA, and she doesn’t disappoint (just as she delighted critics with her first famous foray into London theatre in 1998). In this play, more about sexism than science, the characters remember the actor but not the actress in a production they attend – no one could make such an oversight here.

Kidman commands the stage, her performance as controlled as Franklin’s character and is brave enough not to try to make us like this frosty, determined woman. There are just enough perfectly placed glimpses to show a sensitive side. Equally impressively, Kidman works impeccably with fellow performers. Director Michael Grandage’s male casting is another achievement. Stephen Campbell Moore, Will Attenborough, Edward Bennett and Patrick Kennedy excel as a quartet of scientists Franklin has to deal with, while Joshua Silver is an amiable PhD student who serves as a narrator.

PHOTOGRAPH 51 by Ziegler, , writer -Anna Ziegler, Director -Michael Grandage, Set & Costume Designer - Christopher Oram, Lighting Designer - Neil Austin, The Noel Coward Theatre, London, UK, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/
Christopher Oram’s design and Neil Austin’s lighting.

Ziegler writes with ample characterisation and good dialogue. While period detail about post-war London feels sketchy, the male hostility experienced by our heroine generates outrage that makes the play fizz. Unfortunately Photograph 51 is not exactly gripping. We’ve all seen science on stage done better by Frayn, Payne and most recently Tom Morton-Smith. And yet Grandage and Kidman do a remarkable job of spicing things up, the pace is terrific and Christopher Oram’s startling design, evoking London’s ruined King’s College, uses a light-box-style floor to great effect.

One problem is that attempts to reflect the excitement of discovery are contrasted by Franklin’s methodical behaviour. And the focus is so much on how she was treated that her scientific achievements get lost. Conspiracies against Franklin, with an eye to historical accuracy, have to be muted: Crick and Watson, who ‘won’ the DNA race are “a couple of old rogues” rather than anything more sinister. Franklin is a victim of everyday sexism, which is annoying but not the stuff of high-octane drama. I’m somewhat ashamed to have never heard of Franklin, which is much of the play’s point. It’s good to have my ignorance corrected, but the lesson is more admirable than enjoyable.

Until 21 November 2015

www.michaelgrandagecompany.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“Danton’s Death” at the National Theatre

As anyone who has attempted Hilary Mantel’s supernovel on the theme will know, revolutionary France seems to have been a fairly confusing place. All those factions and ideologies and decapitations make our current coalition government look dull. And they can be hard to follow. Fortunately, Howard Brenton’s new version of Büchner’s classic, Danton’s Death, cuts to the chase and is light on history and politics.

It is Danton the philosopher that we meet at the National Theatre. His meditations on mortality and fame just happen to have political turmoil as a background. Unfortunately, thinking and politics don’t mix well for him.

Toby Stephens plays Danton. He shouts against corruption superbly but excels when showing the mania of his complex character. Charges of libertinism seem well founded but he is so full of life and charisma that he is appealing. Stephens is magnetic whether on the soapbox, in the bedroom or in prison with his friends.

It is clear we should be following him. Anyway, the opposition are a tiresome lot. Elliot Levey’s Robespierre is a sibilant schoolboy who holds your interest but is hardly terrifying. His followers do far too much arm waving to rise above pantomime.

More disappointing than our hero’s enemies is his wife. Danton’s philandering doesn’t seem to have disturbed Madame at all. I am not sure what would fluster her, as Kirsty Bushell’s performance is so understated as to be soporific. She might be annoyed at the mess he’s going to make of his collar, but that’s about it.

Thankfully the spotlight is on Danton most of the time. And what a spotlight it is – Paule Constable’s lighting for the production is stunning, working perfectly with Christopher Oram’s cliché-free set and aiding director Michael Grandage’s clear, fast-paced production.

Danton’s death comes quickly and the props department’s stunning guillotine is truly convincing. I panicked for a moment, thinking Toby Stephens had been sacrificed for the sake of his art. That would have been a tragedy indeed – this production can’t afford to lose him.

Until 14 October 2010

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 2 August 2010 for The London Magazine

“Hamlet” at Wyndham’s Theatre

A key ingredient to the year long, highly ambitious Donmar in the West End project has been its ‘celebrity’ casting. Younger members of the audience at Jude Law’s Hamlet would certainly feel that the venture has saved the best until last.

It is always great to feel the excitement a star creates in a theatre and heart warming to see the different crowd of people that they attract. But while devoted fans are sure to have a thrilling evening, the rest of us are bound to ask if Law justifies such a charged atmosphere? It is good to report that he does.

Jude Law’s delivery of Shakespearean verse is clear and confident. His stage presence, if not commanding, is conscientious and a real effort is made to engage the whole auditorium. He seems fully aware of the space surrounding him, in a manner many actors working mostly in film frequently forget.

And Law’s engagement with the text genuinely adds something to our understanding of the play. His approach is to show us an angry Hamlet – one of the loudest we might have seen and certainly the most potentially violent. His is not just a brooding and tortured presence but also one who really does seem capable of the play’s bloody ending. Any melancholia has a dangerous edge, which adds drama. Viewers may find this bombast unconvincing, even humourless, but it is a refreshing take on the role.

Unfortunately, Michael Grandage’s production neglects the rest of the cast. So much attention has been focused on Law that other performances appear weak. Kevin R. McNally’s unfrightening Claudius seems to have stumbled on to the throne rather than plotted his way there – we get the impression that the murder of his brother was something that happened by chance. A fine actress, Penelope Wilton sadly makes little of Gertrude. While we can see that she comes to repent her marriage, we cannot fathom her motive for it. In avoiding a Freudian interpretation of the play we are left with a sexless Queen who wears comfy looking trousers. It is difficult to feel anything for her.

One problem might be the speed of this production – commendably, it is just as fast as a thriller and often as gripping. Yet while Hamlet’s soliloquies allow him to take time, the other characters seem rushed. Nobody else in the cast really gets the chance to stand up to Law – it they did then this might have been a great production. As things stand, we simply have a great Hamlet.

Until 22 August 2009

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 7 June 2009 for The London Magazine