Tag Archives: New London Theatre

“School of Rock” at the New London Theatre

Since Matilda’s triumph, anyone putting kids on stage has more than ever to live up to. Even with credentials as impeccable as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, this film adaptation can’t be called the best thing in the West End. The fact that it is so predictable probably doesn’t matter – many like to see a movie on stage – and with some good songs added, one of which is still buzzing around in my head, this is a crowd-pleasing show.

It’s the story of a wannabe rock star, David Fynn, fraudulently becoming a teacher in a posh school. Too ‘hardcore’ to bother with ‘gold stars’, his attitude endears him to the privileged but ignored pupils and sets him in conflict with their parents. Recognising “soul brothers and sisters” in the children, he takes them to compete in a Battle of the Bands, fulfilling his dreams and engendering new ambitions in them. And there’s your structure. I can’t imagine Julian Fellowes, credited with the book, broke into much of a sweat, unless stubbornly refusing twists or complexity is difficult for him.

Dewey Finn takes the lead and is amiable, busy and charismatic. With the best will in the world, though, you can’t say the role belongs to anyone other than Jack Black who made the film a hit. The other adult roles are disappointingly flat. School of Rock tries too hard to get the kids on side for my taste, and parents get too rough a ride, but pandering to the young audience makes commercial sense and is done well. The children in the cast cannot fail to impress with their talent and energy, creating a palpable excitement. This pedagogical introduction to musical theatre, a well-trodden path for Lloyd Webber, is hard to dislike, but there’s little here for grown ups.

Until 14 January 2018


Photo by Tristram Kenton

“Show Boat” at the New London Theatre

Daniel Evans, director of this latest revival, describes Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat as “the mother of all musicals”. It’s old – a first version dates from 1927 – so it’s safe to say that the songs have stood the test of time. Serious subject matter – a troubled love story with a backdrop of racism in the Deep South – carries a message of tolerance. And while the piece is not exactly timeless, this brilliant production makes it considerably more than a period curiosity.

Sandra Marvin (Queenie) and Emmanuel Kojo (Joe)
Sandra Marvin (Queenie) and Emmanuel Kojo (Joe)

Rave reviews from the production’s premiere in Sheffield, and the reason the show unquestionably deserves all those stars, come from high production values and the performances secured by Evans. Lez Brotherson’s design screams that it’s a big bucks show. The action is held together by Malcolm Sinclair, as the showboat captain, and there are stand out performances from Sandra Marvin as Queenie and Emmanuel Kojo, who sings that famous anthem to the Mississippi. As for the leads, the lovers Magnolia and Gaylord, Gina Beck and Chris Peluso are real stars at the top of their game.

Chris Peluso
Chris Peluso

But what to do with all the history? Despite noble intentions, it’s impossible not to see Show Boat as uncomfortably racist, not to mention sexist and snobbish. Black characters are the backdrop here, no matter how much Evans tries to refocus our attention. And all those gals who ‘Can’t Help Loving Dat Man’ need a talking to. Wisely, Evans accentuates the affirmative with a view of the family – extended by theatrical camaraderie – that gives pause for thought and makes this a feel-good evening.

Drama arrives unexpectedly on the river, the years pass glibly and resolution is minimal. Love at first sight and characters bursting into song, well, that’s what fools who dislike musicals complain of. And, let’s be honest, the characters here are wafer thin and everyone’s heart is permanently on their sleeve. But, with a somewhat luxurious pacing, Evans doesn’t bother with excuses or gimmicks that try to update the experience. This show has earned respect – let’s call it old fashioned and enjoy it.

Until 27 August 2016


Photographs by Johan Persson