Tag Archives: Sarah Wright

“Bagdad Café” at the Old Vic

Nobody brings film to the stage like director Emma Rice. Following hits such as Brief Encounter and Romantics Anonymous it’s now the turn of Percy and Eleonore Adlon’s 1987 movie. The story of an unlikely friendship between two women – Brenda and Jasmin, estranged from their partners in the remote titular location – has a quirky appeal. While the adaptation fails to move beyond appealing eccentricity, a drop in standards for Rice is still a show worth seeing.

As a Rice fan, I’d argue the problem lies with the source material. I’m puzzled by the choice. There’s a fairy-tale charm in the story of a German tourist and a hassled coffee shop owner… but little else. The women’s quirks, as well as those of Brenda’s family and clientele, replace plot. Maybe this was the attraction – Bagdad Café is novel and Rice is one of the most original theatre makers around – but, frankly, too little happens.

It is a collection of characters to enjoy. Much is made of former “songbird” Brenda and her current sorry state struggling to run a business. Sandra Marvin takes the part and is believable. But it’s her husband, performed by Le Gateau Chocolat, who complains about how hard she works – it’s not clear why we should share that problem. The show’s heroine Jasmin, who walks out on her husband in a scene with no dialogue, is a touch too mysterious. Patrycja Kujawska portrays the character’s quiet power well as she changes the lives of those she ends up living with. But she encounters oddities rather than odds, as conflict and tension are absent. Even learning magic tricks comes suspiciously easily. With little backstory, secondary characters are pleasant to watch but suffer a similar complaint: there are lovely turns from Gareth Snook and Sam Archer as a couple of misfit hippies, but you can’t help wondering how they ended up in the story and what they are there for.

The music for the show, ably directed by Nadine Lee, consists of too few tunes (the show relies heavily on Bob Telson’s hit, Calling You). And the numbers are truncated. There’s a defence for this – Bagdad Café isn’t trying to be a conventional musical. But the show’s originality ends up frustrating. It’s down to the theatricality of the production to hold our interest. Rice and her cast attempt this admirably. There are lovely touches with puppetry and movement (credit here for John Leader, Sarah Wright and Etta Murfitt) that make for plenty of memorable moments – it’s almost enough.

Bagdad Cafe at the Old Vic
Sandra Marvin and Patrycja Kujawska

A world is vividly created. And even if it puzzles too much to entirely suspend disbelief, it is enchanting. There’s not much to Bagdad Café apart from atmosphere. But what an atmosphere! A finale where Brenda and Jasmine put on a show gave me goosebumps. The show’s feelgood simplicity coalesces to make sure we leave the theatre happy. And an encore, showing an accompanying digital project for the production, further confirms a striving for originality that wins admiration. The conjuring here is more than tricks that Jasmine enjoys on stage, it’s theatrical magic of the kind Rice excels at.

Until 21 August 2021

www.oldvictheatre.com

Photo by Steve Tanner

“Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)” at the Lyric Hammersmith

This welcome return of Kneehigh’s much admired reworking of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera is ripe for our times. The show is dark – recreating 18th-century villains in a world of corrupt politicians and organised crime, it pushes into pitch black territory. Politically crude and frequently rude, this is a protest piece with anarchic urgency that condemns money, power and the state of the world.

Writer Carl Grose is stark in his views of human nature, which is the key to the show’s satirical punch. The action is led by Martin Hyder and Rina Fatania, who give brilliantly overblown performances as small town mafiosos murdering their way to a mayoralty. For law and order, Giles King’s maniacal chief of police is frightening stuff, flip-flopping between bribery and blood lust. His target is Macheath, a sinister hitman in this version. Rendered cold rather than charismatic in Dominic Marsh’s sterling performance, Macheath brings the personal into politics, deciding between a life of love, a noble death or a career in crime. The result isn’t pretty. Interestingly, the sexual politics in the piece haven’t been updated as much as you might expect. Macheath’s women are still dopey for him, though the roles are performed with spice by Beverly Rudd and Angela Hardie.

Rina Fatania

Maybe the madness for Macheath is appropriate in a show that calls for a touch of chaos all around. Consider the music. All those songs promised in the title are eclectic to an extreme, and composer Charles Hazlewood’s range of references is awe inspiring. There’s a trade off with coherence – and few will enjoy all the numbers – but each song adds to the crazy appeal of the show, and the energy from Mike Shepherd’s direction, with his talented cast of actor musicians, is considerable. The detail throughout is fantastic, not just with Grose’s tongue-tying script – this is a keep-your-eyes-peeled show. With swapping suitcases and plenty of multiple roles (Georgia Frost does especially well here), you don’t want to miss a moment.

While the call for changes in society and for personal responsibility are not convincing enough in this grim vision of our state, they are depicted well through the only character we come close to caring for – Patrycja Kujawska’s Widow Goodman forms the spine of the show (and her violin playing is fantastic). It’s a shame that Punch – yes, as in Judy – gets the last word. While Sarah Wright, who led the puppetry on press night, is fantastic, Punch’s nightmarish commentary ends up overwhelming. That Punch talks most of the sense on stage is downright depressing. We’re not in that much trouble, are we?

Until 15 June and then touring until 13 July 2019

www.lyric.co.uk

Photos by Steve Tanner