Tag Archives: Rosalie Craig

“Company” at the Gielgud Theatre

Marianne Elliott’s new production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical gained great press when it was announced that the gender of the lead would be swapped. Bobby, the still-single thirty-something, pressured and puzzled by commitment, becomes Bobbie. The change adds an urgency to debates about marriage that the show explores, adding the pressure some women feel to have children. But the joyous surprise is how remarkably easy the alteration feels. If you didn’t know the piece you wouldn’t guess at any fuss. A frequent argument in theatre is resolved conclusively. And that’s just the start of this show’s many virtues.

Rosalie Craig, Alex Gaumond and Jonathan Bailey
Rosalie Craig, Alex Gaumond and Jonathan Bailey

Rosalie Craig is in the spotlight and she is brilliant. Even though she’s barely off the stage, and everyone is talking about her character, Bobbie has to take a back seat as her friends’ marriages are examined through fantastic songs. Craig achieves this with, well, grace – I can’t think of a better word. Throughout the show, and even when it comes to her big numbers, Craig brings a coolness to the role that ensures her character’s questioning is communicated. Frequently looking to the audience, exclaiming ‘Wow’ more than once, she shares the oddities she sees with us. It’s a perfect reflection of Sondheim exploring friendship and love with complexity and openness.

Patti LuPone in Company
Patti LuPone

 It’s another achievement on Elliott’s part that a star as big as LuPone fits the show so well. There’s a Broadway feel to the production that’s appropriate to the story’s location, but which surely has an eye on a transfer – it deserves one. If there’s a tiny cavil, the pace occasionally feels driven by a desire to display value for money – even if every minute is enjoyable, a couple ofscenes are drawn out. But Company is as close to flawless as anyone should care about. Bunny Christie’s design is stunning– this is a set that actually gets laughs. Rooms, outlined in neon, connect characters in the manner of a farce, while playing with scale gets more giggles. Elliott employs an Alice InWonderland motif that is no laughing matter.

With the couples watched, there isn’t a poor performance. Mel Geidroyc and Gavin Spokes are great fun as the squabbling Sarah and Harry – will karate help their relationship? While Jonathan Bailey gives a show-stopping turn as Jamie, in a panic on his wedding day. Previously Amy, his relationship with Paul (played by Alex Gaumond) is a delicious modernisation. But the biggest casting coup? The legendary Patti LuPone takes the part of the acerbic Joanne and is simply unmissable. Every line from LuPone lands. Every gesture captures the audience. And her rendition of TheLadies Who Lunch is revelatory – to make a song like that your own takes real class.

 It’s another achievement on Elliott’spart that a star as big as LuPone fits the show so well. There’s a Broadway feel to the production that’s appropriate to the story’s location, but which surely has an eye on a transfer – it deserves one. If there’s a tiny cavil, the pace occasionally feels driven by a desire to display value for money – even if every minute is enjoyable, a couple ofscenes are drawn out. But Company is as close to flawless as anyone should care about. Bunny Christie’s design is stunning– this is a set that actually gets laughs. Rooms, outlined in neon, connect characters in the manner of a farce, while playing with scale gets more giggles. Elliott employs an Alice InWonderland motif that is no laughing matter.

It isn’t just Bobbie’s gender that has changed – she is now a Millennial. There’s no crude casting as a snowflake, but one wonders if she might be infantilised? There are party games at her 35th birthday, after all. Elliott makes a point about life – now – that is subtle and topical. Credit to Sondheim’s piece, of course, so full of themes ripe for development. But it is the production that makes it hard to believe the piece is nearly 50 years old – Bobbie and her crowd always feel contemporary. For all the joys of the show, it is seeing a director use a piece with such skill and invention that makes this Elliott’s triumph.

Until 30 March 2019

www.companymusical.co.uk

Photos by Brinkhoff Mogenburg

“The Threepenny Opera” at the National Theatre

While the chance to see Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s famous work is welcome, regrettably, this production isn’t the finest hour of anyone involved. There’s nothing embarrassing – there are even good bits – but Simon Stephens’ new adaptation lacks charge, while Rufus Norris’ direction of his talented cast is low voltage.

Of course it’s fine to change the original setting (Brecht and Weill used John Gay’s earlier work themselves). Mack the Knife, aka Captain Macheath, the libidinous crook whose adventures we follow, is recast as an East End gangster. Neat enough. But not specifying a time period for this ‘updating’ diminishes its power. The dark reflections on human nature are robbed of satire, falling into a generic gloom that fails to challenge. Stephens’ lyrics are admirably clear, but they can’t shock – no matter how many expletives are crammed in – as it feels those involved would like them to.

The Brechtian staging of the work is tokenistic. There are knowing gags, including Keystone coppery and Buster Keaton, but the production feels lost or, more specifically, better suited to a smaller stage. Regular visitors to the National Theatre will know how powerful the Olivier can be – even empty – but here, Vicki Mortimer’s set of stairs and paper screens feels both slim and cumbersome. And there are a lot of signs to read – tricky from the circle. Impressive moments of staging have to be ascribed to Paule Constable’s lighting.

Haydn Gwynne and Nick Holder
Haydn Gwynne and Nick Holder

The biggest disappointment here is the cast. There are good performances when you’d expect great ones. Rory Kinnear takes the lead, his singing voice a pleasant surprise, but even his brilliant acting can’t hold things together. The excellent Rosalie Craig, as his young bride Polly, fails to bring her normal shine (maybe the interpretation of the role as an accountant hampers too much), while Sharon Small, as one of Mack’s many former lovers, sounds painful. The show belongs to the Peachums, Macheath’s enemies, played by Nick Holder and Haydn Gwynne. With this malicious Mr and Mrs, exaggerations in the piece pay off. Elsewhere, this Threepenny Opera feels deflated.

Until 1 October 2016

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Richard Hubert Smith

“As You Like It” at the National Theatre

The usurping Duke Frederick’s court is a surveillance state in director Polly Findlay’s new production of Shakespeare’s comedy. The colourful but cumbersome office setting thankfully disappears when our heroines, Rosalind and Celia, escape the city – chairs and desks ascend, transforming into the Forest of Arden. Lizzie Clachan’s Cornelia-Parker-inspired vision is a breath-taking use of the Olivier auditorium – a design to applaud.

The forest, brilliantly lit by Jon Clark, is sinister and cold, but romance is at the heart of the show, ensured by strong performances from the young cast. Rosalie Craig is captivating as Rosalind, with an immaculate transformation into her disguise as a man, while Joe Bannister matches her in appeal as a boyish, modern Orlando. Patsy Ferran makes a strong Celia and the two women’s relationship is satisfyingly explored. All three leads are on top of Shakespeare’s comedy, making this a production of big laughs rather than the usual small smiles. Joining in, Gemma Lawrence is an energetic Phebe, Mark Benton a convivial Touchstone and there’s a superb cameo by Siobhán McSweeney as his love interest, Audrey.

Findlay has no shortage of ideas. A choir fills the forest with music and bold sound effects; Orlando Gough’s score buoys the whole show. A scene where the vast cast perform as sheep in Arran jumpers is memorable – flirting fills the flock, too. The “shade of melancholy boughs”  the forest casts is probed with style but unfortunately this leaves Paul Chahidi’s Jacques making less of impact. There is also a big problem in the production’s notable lack of tension. Some suspense is sacrificed for laughs (that Orlando’s wrestling match is a Mexican one means he is never in danger) while both Dukes suffer from roles that feel truncated and a little flat. Findlay’s forest looks great and her take on the play is fresh, but journeying into these woods isn’t as interesting as it should be.

Until 5 March 2016

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

“Sweeney Todd” at the English National Opera

Lonny Price’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd has been widely anticipated since its rapturous reception in New York last year. Now the hot ticket at the ENO, opera megastar Bryn Terfel plays the demon barber, seeking revenge for the injustice that ruined his family while supplying his landlady Mrs Lovett with filling for her cannibalistic pies.

The jewels at the centre of the production are the orchestra and chorus. It’s a precious treat to hear a Sondheim score performed so masterfully, under the baton of David Charles Abell, while a massive chorus, of mostly young musical theatre performers, benefits from the Coliseum’s impressive acoustics and thrilling atmosphere. This Sweeney Todd sounds fantastic.

ENO Sweeney Todd Emma Thompson and ensemble (c) Tristram Kenton
Emma Thompson and ensemble

The quality of many secondary roles is notable. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall are irresistible as the young lovers Anthony and Johanna. Hall’s performance of ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’ is the best I’ve heard. The excellent Rosalie Craig plays the Beggar Woman and Philip Quast is superb as the villainous Judge Turpin.

But what of the stars? There’s an impression we wouldn’t be here without Terfel and Emma Thompson as Mrs Lovett, here returning to the stage after 25 years. The audience response may be hysterical but minimal chemistry between the leads means they aren’t really a dream team. Thompson’s celebrity aura never quite leaves her – it doesn’t help she’s dressed like Helena Bonham Carter on a night out – and while her voice is surprisingly strong she is not that funny. It’s a serious allegation but I suspect a moment of shameful scene stealing as a curtseying exit is carried on far too long. Terfel isn’t the greatest actor you’ll ever see, but casting him makes sense. His stage presence cannot be doubted, and any inadequacies can be forgiven for his magnificent voice: pray for a cast recording.

Despite Terfel’s magisterial voice and that wonderful orchestra, Price presents a stripped-back Sweeney Todd. A minimal feel plays with the idea of a concert performance, with musicians on stage interacted with and simple banners used for signage. Musical instruments are transformed into props and the sense of scale comes from the large numbers of people on stage.

Price’s staging is witty and clever but there’s an unwanted irony that couldn’t have been anticipated. This kind of inventiveness, abundant and impressive as it is, is usually seen on the fringe rather than in an opera house. For those lucky enough to have seen the Tooting Arts Club’s production of Sweeney, which has its own West End transfer, it makes for a strange comparison. The two productions couldn’t be of more different scales but it’s possible, and oddly inspiring, that a small team from South London has made the more memorable show.

Until 12 April 2015

www.eno.org.uk

Photo by Tristram Kenton

“Ragtime” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s annual musical is an essential part of summer in London. Following hot on the heels of recent successes might intimidate a lesser man than director Timothy Sheader, but this year’s show, Ragtime, is more ambitious than ever. In a season crowded with events, it’s a bold and spirited affair.

Flaherty and Ahrens’ musical is a serious, dark work about American history and ideas, with a complex score that draws on the music from which it takes its title. It’s a challenging piece, taking on racism and terrorism with strong language; and there’s no playing safe for Sheader, who fights to make it relevant and broadens the work in astonishing fashion and to wonderful effect.

Jon Bausor’s excellent design is the first surprise – for last year’s Lord of the Flies he crashed a jet in the park – for Ragtime the auditorium looks like a rubbish dump with the cast entering through a derelict poster for the Obama campaign. Bausor’s work is a perfect match for Sheader’s time-bending twist on a story ostensibly set in 1906. The focus is on the power of politics to change and Ragtime’s ideals are moving ones. In true musical style, the characters’ aspirations gravitate around the world of entertainment: this is a world where dreams and drama occur “in heaven, in trouble and in Vaudeville”.

The production spoils us with strong central performances. Rosalie Craig and David Birrell are superb as a wealthy husband and wife whose lives intersect with the tragedy of a black couple, performed with great intensity by Rolan Bell and Claudia Kariuki, who makes a professional debut not to be missed. We also get a story of immigrant success, powerfully portrayed by John Marquez, and a host of historical figures that include Stephane Anelli as Harry Houdini in a scene-stealing escape act.

Sheader excels when dealing with Ragtime’s ensemble nature. The whole cast works exceptionally hard and shows great acting skill as well as doing justice to choreography from Javier de Frutos. Although one might consider Ragtime an alternative take on the American dream, it is deeply patriotic. Even though we have plenty of patriotism of our own at the moment, when this cast sings together it is sure to raise goose bumps regardless of the weather this summer – or your nationality.

Until 8 September 2012

www.openairtheatre.org

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 29 May 2012 for The London Magazine

“Aspects of Love” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Aspects of Love was a bold musical departure for Andrew Lloyd Webber back in 1989. Following the success of Phantom of the Opera, it seems the composer was determined to produce something different – a small, intimate chamber piece with a simple theme and storyline.

Reports of the original production at the Prince of Wales Theatre suggest the musical was somewhat lost in the West End. It faired even less well on Broadway. Now its original director, Trevor Nunn, is back to have another go and, thankfully, at the Menier Chocolate Factory the whole piece comes alive.

As we follow the characters’ lives and loves, through infatuation, betrayal, amity and familial affection, we cannot resist being pulled in. And David Farley’s clever set is the perfect minimal setting in which to develop the drama and embrace events and emotions.

Nunn’s rather indulgent direction takes a slower pace than we might expect. He clearly revels in the musical’s many tête-á-tête scenes. The care taken, combined with the strong cast assembled, pays off.
Katherine Kingsley plays Rose Vibert, and Rosalie Craig is Giulietta Trapani, and both make convincing love interests for the men of the piece. Kingsley has the difficult task of playing an actress who might have fallen for her own press, but she still manages to be appealing. Craig’s magnificent energy results in the most electrifying number of the night, the funeral celebration of both women’s lover, George.
The role of Sir George is played by veteran musical theatre actor Dave Willetts. He gives a vintage performance full of energy and technical knowhow. At the other end of the spectrum, we have a great stage debut in Rebecca Brewer as George and Rose’s daughter, Jenny.

Best of all, and it really is a close call, is the London stage debut of Michael Arden. He assumes the lead role of Alex with such charm that he is in danger of winning us over a little too much. From gangly adoration of Rose, to crazed passion and then a cool melancholic acceptance of her betrayal, his performance is as rich as his mellifluous voice. Just like the wine enjoyed on stage throughout the show, this is a fine performance within a full-boded production that’s a delight to savour.

Until 26 September 2010

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 23 July 2010 for The London Magazine