Tag Archives: Peter Stone

“The Doppel Gang” at the Tristan Bates Theatre

What a good idea. A failing theatre troupe, finding unperformed scripts by the Marx Brothers, decides to masquerade as the comedy greats… for one night only. Suspending disbelief is part of the fun. Seeing the character’s troubles and rehearsals provides behind-the-scenes mayhem and, with accomplished comedy writing, the whole thing is hugely entertaining.

There are some problems, the most obvious coming from the production. Terence Mann’s direction is slow, with time often wasted moving things around between scenes. Mann seems enamoured of background music and, even worse, recorded dialogue that sucks the life out of scenes painfully quickly.

Jordan Moore and Peter Stone
Jordan Moore and Peter Stone

With my sympathies, the cast mime their lines well. But they are a lot better when they speak out loud. Jake Urry makes a credible spiv impresario, despite the role really needing more mature casting, while Rachel Hartley makes you want to see more of her character. As the tired comedy duo forced to take over the show, Peter Stone and Jordan Moore have a great chemistry – both can boast a natural stage presence – and Moore deserves special praise for bravely taking on the iconic figure of Groucho Marx with such care.

Playwright Dominic Hedges, with nerves of steel, replicates the Marx material well. But the real story here is backstage and this could have been elaborated on much more. The material has potential, as do the characters who all beg to be fleshed out further. Two examples: it wouldn’t hurt to know earlier on where and when the play was set, and a romantic subplot suffers from too little development too late.

If this sounds like a lot of criticism, many points are relatively easy to implement. The cast can clearly deliver and the creatives produce a good story. With a few tweaks and some extra polish, this play could have a very bright future. As it stands, The Doppel Gang is still well worth seeing.

Until 11 February 2017


Promotional photo by Tom Barker. Production photograph by Mitchell Reeve

“Titanic” at the Charing Cross Theatre

Maury Yeston’s musical, set on the doomed ocean liner, won five Tony Awards, and praise for this production from the Southwark Playhouse has followed it around the world. Now that director Thom Southerland has taken up residence at an oddly charming venue underneath Charing Cross, there’s another chance to see the show. And it’s every bit as good as critics say.

Yeston, with the story and book from Peter Stone, succeeds in making a well-known story exciting enough. Seeing the ship as a microcosm of society is neat, if hardly novel. It’s all about the details, and a careful and inventive execution along with an ambitious and intelligent score ensure success here.

There’s the combination of observing different classes of passengers, mankind’s inevitable search for “progress”, and plenty of emotion when the boat sinks. Impressively, the dangers of Downton Abbey kitsch are avoided and the excitement and glamour of the boat is persuasive, despite audience hindsight. And get ready for tears before the end, with characters we have come to love at a rate of, well it would have to be, knots.

Niall Sheehy photographed by Annabel Vere
Niall Sheehy photographed by Annabel Vere

The production is hugely impressive. Southerland’s direction is faultless, a miracle of economically effective staging. David Woodhead’s set and costume design are smart, facilitating swift role changes for the 20-strong cast. Yes, 20 –and all performing at the highest standard. One bold thing about Titanic is that there aren’t ‘leading’ roles so it isn’t really fair to highlight individual performers. But indulge me. Niall Sheehy’s role as a coal miner stands out (there just aren’t enough songs about men from the Midlands in musicals) and I can’t resist pointing out that the cast includes the excellent Victoria Serra.

Of course, it’s Yeston who’s the real star. The lyrics, filled as they are with facts and figures, could so easily have failed, but the score energises them remarkably: combining waltz themes with historical references such as rag, inspired contemporary touches and a big choral sound that uses that huge cast superbly. This is a truly accomplished score. Adoration of the ship, described as a “perfectly working machine” could carry to a critique of the musical – its well-engineered construction is a marvel.

Until 13 August 2016


Main photo by  Scott Rylander