Tag Archives: Phoenix Theatre

"Come from Away" at the Phoenix Theatre

Good news stories are few and far between, so any positive coverage from the tragedy of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 is all the more precious. Recounting the generosity of the people of Gander in Newfoundland to those stranded when flights were diverted on that dreadful day becomes a testament to the better part of human nature – making this musical from Irene Sankoff and David Hein truly inspiring.

One of many winning elements here is the strong sense of place created for the island called ‘The Rock’ that the audience, like the stranded passengers, find themselves visiting. Careful research and the Celtic-inspired music, performed superbly, make the location convincing without even a set. Firmly rooted in the chaos of events and ensuing emotions, the score perfectly reflects the drama and diverse reactions to it.

Depicting residents and visitors are a cast of just 12, although it’s hard to believe at times. Transformations are achieved with simple costumes and brilliant acting. Come from Away is a true ensemble piece – another big tick – very much to the credit of director Christopher Ashley, whose attention to detail is clear at every moment. The story is led, slightly, by Clive Carter, who plays the town’s mayor with affable energy, and Rachel Tucker, who plays a pilot and gets the most rousing solo, delivered with incredible passion. Among the many stories, two couples anchor the show with relationships beginning and ending, making meaty roles for Jonathan Andrew Hume, David Shannon, Robert Hands and Helen Hobson.

Rachel Tucker

If Sankoff and Hein’s lyrics are at times prosaic, and the humour a little broad, the book is outstanding. Injecting tension into a story that’s literally about people stuck somewhere is a remarkable achievement. The sheer range of issues tackled in the show is prodigious, coming as close as possible to do doing justice to the big events of that day, while never losing focus on a small world full of intimate stories. Realism is the key, and the show never shies away from less than noble fears and prejudices – there’s more than one confrontational moment in the chaos and confusion of events. Racism and religion are deftly handled, and a number unifying the different faiths among the passengers is a real triumph.

Life-changing repercussions from the terrorist acts, and the extended stay while air space remained closed, are explored in depth. But it is a question of balance that makes the show special. Of course you expect an episode of painful grief. This comes with the case of a mother who has lost her son (a role Cat Simmons excels in), where the candid and respectful handling of the story is impressive. But there’s also the figure of a young man who finds himself more at home away from home. Nathanael Campbell holds his own in this far less dramatic role, and its intriguing inclusion shows the scope of the impact of events with quiet intelligence. Focusing on ordinary stories and regular people is the key, and it’s all perfectly pitched to emphasise each story’s power and importance.

Until September 2019

www.comefromawaylondon.co.uk

Photos by Matthew Murphy

"The Girls" at the Phoenix Theatre

It’s right that the arrival of a new musical should be a positive, optimistic occasion. The opening night atmosphere for Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s show was extra electric. With a crowd this committed – including the original, real-life ‘Calendar Girls’ who are the show’s inspiration making a trip to the West End – it’s hard to gain an objective impression. But it’s clear that this is a fun and engaging night out, with lots of heart and plenty of brains behind it.
Firth has already written up the story, of Women’s Institute members who posed nude for a calendar, for stage and screen. Here, the plot is simplified, which works well, and the script more youth friendly, which works less well. Big emotions arrive quickly. Annie, grieving for her husband, and her friends, led by school chum Chris, decide to raise money in his memory. They fight stuffy conventions to make this a feel-good, grown-up show that’s sentimental but effective.
As with many a British musical of late, the show removes us from London. Here, it becomes a paean for Yorkshire (it’s canny of the tourist board to sponsor the programme). The view is idealised, but the team have clearly worked closely with the community to develop the show. And, with its admiration for women of “a certain age”, Firth’s focus is on an under-represented demographic without patronising it… too much.
The cast makes a lot out of roles far from complex. In the leads, Joanna Riding and Claire Moore hold the stage and their chemistry leads to both funny and sad moments. The turns provided for other WI stalwarts are contrived and slight, but superbly performed and entertaining. Sophie-Louise Dann and Claire Machin bring strong voices to their roles, while Michele Dotrice and Debbie Chazen show off impeccable comedy skills. The finale, of the group disrobing for the cameras, takes guts, and handling it so lightly is a big achievement.
The music is a collaborative effort from Barlow and Firth. It’s an understatement that the former can write a good tune and there are plenty here. It would be too generous to say that they are memorable but all the songs are enjoyable, and there’s a nice mix of comedy and pathos. A variety of musical styles are included, somewhat studiously, and there’s a satisfying distance from any pop-song fodder. The lyrics are the best and boldest bit, basking in the prosaic, everyday details that embody the show’s down-to-earth nature and generous spirit.
Until 22 April 2017
www.thegirlsmusical.com
Photo by Matt Crockett, Dewynters

"Guys and Dolls" at the Phoenix Theatre

With so many shows on offer in London, it’s unusual to see the same production twice. But the latest hit from the Chichester Festival Theatre, a brilliant revival of Frank Loesser’s classic musical of gamblers, gangsters and their gals, has a new cast that makes revisiting as joyous as the first time around.
The production is also on a parallel UK tour, and Peter McKintosh’s clever neon sign design is sure to serve the show well on its travels. A fine ensemble does justice to the choreography from Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, while director Gordon Greenberg gives the show a Broadway feel despite its modest size.
Gavin Spokes remains with the show to reprise his brilliant Nicely Nicely Johnson and get yet more encores for Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat. Joined by Jason Pennycooke as Benny Southstreet, this is a double act that gets the show up to speed double quick. Siubhan Harrison also remains in town, ever more comfortable in her role as Salvation Army Sergeant Miss Sarah. Playing her love interest Sky Masterson is Oliver Tompsett, who gives a fine performance showcasing a surprisingly old-fashioned voice – he’s a proper crooner, sure to acquire fans. If the chemistry and charisma you might hope for isn’t quite magical, the humour is spot on.

GUYS AND DOLLS, ,Music and lyrics - FRANK LOESSER., Book - JO SWERLING and ABE BURROWS, Director Gordan Greenberg, Choreographer - Carlos Acosta, Designer - Peter MaKintosh, Phoenix Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /
Richard Kind and Samantha Spiro

Greenberg’s focuses on the fun in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book. As a result, it is low-rent fixer Nathon Detroit and his long-suffering fiancée Adelaide who become our heroes. Chichester’s original casting coup (David Haig and Sophie Thompson) is, if anything, bettered. American comedian Richard Kind takes over as Detroit, adding a down-at-heel quality that makes this smalltime crook all the more appealing, while Samantha Spiro is wonderful as his eternal bride to be, with comedy skills second to none and a belting voice that makes the most of Adelaide’s Lament and brings a Dietrich spin to Take Back Your Mink.
Until 29 October 2016
www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk
Photos by Johan Persson

"Once" at the Phoenix Theatre

Arriving from America with eight Tony Awards to boast about, the new musical, Once, which opened this week at the Phoenix Theatre, is a fantastic show, impressive in its simplicity. This love story is a world away from the brummagem you often see in the West End. This is genuine, heartfelt stuff – and refreshing for being so.

Declan Bennett (Guy) and Zrinka Cvitesic (Girl) in Once. Photo Credit Ma...
Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić

The guy and girl are a Dublin busker and a Czech immigrant, played by talented duo Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić. They fall in love because of a shared passion for music. This is a modern affair with complications that make them chaste; their brief encounter is more about creativity than carnality, as she inspires him with the confidence to pursue his musical career.
Based on the 2006 film of the same name, spruced up with poetic moments from writer Enda Walsh, Once started out at the New York Theatre Workshop before its transfer to Broadway. It’s easy to fantasise how wonderful it would be in a small venue. But the atmospheric design by Bob Crowley, recreating an Irish pub where all the action takes place, is wonderfully intimate. The bar can be visited by the audience, and the actor-musicians, who perform marvellously, never leave the set.
Most of the songs, including the Oscar-winning ‘Falling Slowly’, are marvelled at as they are performed: by the girl when she first hears them, a sympathetic bank manager approached for a loan (Jez Unwin providing some much needed comic relief) and the studio manager as the band make their demo tape. It’s key to the piece’s charm – the invitation to revel in creativity. Behind this is the beautiful score written by Glen Hansard and Markèta Irglovà. A mix of folk-inspired tunes, performed with a raw energy that is infectious. Instantly appealing, and with the potential to grow on you – these are songs you will want to hear more than once.
Until 4 July 2014
oncemusical.co.uk
Photo by Manuel Harlan
Written 12 April 2013 for The London Magazine

"Goodnight Mister Tom" at the Phoenix Theatre

Goodnight Mister Tom arrives in London’s Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road after strong reviews at Chichester and before embarking on a UK tour on 26 January. David Wood’s skilful adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s best-selling book about the relationship between a young evacuee and an elderly widower is a surprisingly challenging and dark tale that’s wonderfully theatrical and hugely entertaining.
Starting with Operation Pied Piper, in 1939, when nearly three million were evacuated from cities into the country, our hero William Beech is a troubled young boy from an abused home. His deeply shocking treatment at the hands of his own mother shoots through the sometimes sickly nostalgia of the piece to give it real bite. William is ‘billeted’ with a reclusive and curmudgeonly old man. It is, of course, their slowly warming relationship that makes Goodnight Mister Tom a tale of redemption for both of them.
The play’s two roles for children, William and his friend Zach, are both hugely demanding, and the youngsters performing on the press night, Ewan Harris and William Price, were impressive indeed, but praise has also to go to the creative teams and the adults in the cast who so skilfully support them. Angus Jackson’s clever direction, the clued-up ensemble who take on a variety of roles, and the clever use of puppetry from Toby Olié make Goodnight Mister Tom a slick affair. In the title role Oliver Ford Davies is marvellous and he has a rapport with his young co-star that will melt your heart.
Until 26 January 2013
www.atgtickets.com/phoenix
Photo by Catherine Ashmore
Written 28 November 2012 for The London Magazine