Tag Archives: Steven Dexter

“Pippin” at the Garden Theatre

More than a little mad, Stephen Schwartz’s musical, ostensibly about the son of Emperor Charlemagne, has a big revival in this small-scale venue.

This new version of the phenomenal hit has a cast of six who create a band-of-players feel that, along with the traverse staging, suits the setting. And director Steven Dexter hits the mark creating hippy vibes: dating from 1972, the show is very much of its time.

Ryan Anderson does a lovely job with the score’s main theme and its clever love song, where he is joined by Tanisha-Mae Brown making a strong professional debut. Anderson’s Pippin also manages some character development (no small achievement in this role) from awkward to angry – well done.

Tanisha-Mae Brown, Tsemaye Bob-Egbe and Ryan Anderson in Pippin
Tanisha-Mae Brown, Tsemaye Bob-Egbe and Ryan Anderson

Anderson may take the lead, but the production’s sextet works especially well together. They seem like they’re having fun! The cast’s skills show Nick Winston’s choreography superbly, impressive work for such an intimate space.

Pippin has great tunes and smart enough lyrics. The cast do well with the humour (which in truth is one note) aided by jokes about the lo-fi staging and theatre under current conditions. Joanne Clifton deserves special mention for camping it up as Pippin’s gran and his stepmother.

While Dexter has done well, it’s still hard to really get involved with this “anecdotal review”. Pippin’s search for fulfilment is exposed with deep cynicism – fair enough – but the self-conscious storytelling isn’t as clever as it would like and ends up feeling frosty.

Thankfully, Anderson manages to inject some genuine emotion. And the show’s overbearing concepts, with the sinister idea that Pippin is being manipulated, are in the capable hands of Tsemaye Bob-Egbe who performs as the Lead Player; her excellent voice and commanding presence brings the whole show together.

Until 11 October 2020

www.gardentheatre.co.uk

Photos by Bonnie Britain

“Fanny and Stella” at The Garden Theatre

After 149 days of live theatre lockdown – yes, I have been counting – I was always going to love the first trip back to a show. Thank you, thank you, LAMBCO Productions, for the first fringe production since March. But, sincerely, Glenn Chandler’s play with music is a jolly affair that is well worth seeing. It’s entertaining, interesting and a lot of fun.

Chandler takes on a lot, and admittedly over-reaches. Based on true events, a show-within-a-show format tells the story of performers Ernest Boulton (AKA Stella) and Frederick William Park (Fanny), who dressed as women offstage as well as on and were arrested for doing just that in 1871. The history is light: there’s not enough shock about the men’s “painted faces” and not much peril. It is in questionable taste that the medical examination Boulton and Park had to undergo is played for laughs. And the idea of either man as a transwoman is not explored. Chandler’s decision is to entertain, and this is what he does.

Alex Lodge in Fanny and Stella at The Garden Theatre Vauxhall
Alex Lodge

Going for pleasure makes the setting of The Eagle pub garden in Vauxhall appropriate and the audience were clearly smiling under their face masks. All manner of crudity and old jokes are allowed and the cast camp it up considerably (David Shields’ clever costume designs are useful here). Special mention to the hard-working Mark Pearce, who takes on so many roles and accents. And to Alex Lodge, who plays one of the (many) loves of Fanny’s life, injecting some romantic moments and also doing well as a gutter-press journalist.

The evening’s stars are Jed Berry and Kane Verrall in the inimitable title roles, which both the script and director Steven Dexter balance nicely. The chemistry is great and there’s a convincing sense of sisterhood along with some fine comic timing. Both work the crowd wonderfully. All of this is accompanied by Charles Miller’s clever little songs – all, importantly, performed live. It really is a great night out… the best I’ve had in 149 days, actually.

Until 25 August 2020

www.fannyandstellamusical.com

Photos by Alex Hinson

"Loserville" at the Garrick Theatre

A new musical is an exciting prospect for the critics: the thrill of the potential next hit or the perverse pleasure of a failure. Most shows, and Loserville, the newest to open in the West End only last night, fall firmly between the two extremes. The question is whether or not you should bother to see it – and my answer is yes, especially if you have someone young to take along.
Loserville is a coming-of-age story and, like many in the genre, is probably best embraced by those still young. It is set around the idea of the first ever email and presented to the audience as if they can’t really imagine there was ever a world without the web. The ‘geeks in their garage’ characters have the laudable aim of helping the world to communicate, and the mildest of reservations about corporate capitalism. It’s all very wholesome fun.
A joint effort from Elliot Davis and James Bourne, the later formerly of Busted fame, it’s spot on when it comes to a familiar kind of teenage angst. The insecurity, frustration, even anger of young people, along with their sense of fun and excitement, is palpable. All expressed in perky guitar pop, highly catchy and impressively effective as storytelling, it should be a hit.
The kids coming of age in Loserville do so in America in 1971. This poses some problems – the cast struggle with their accents, especially when it comes to singing them. There’s little sense of period, only the briefest musical reference, and any sense of nostalgia fails to convince. The dialogue lacks snap and the jokes aren’t funny enough: it’s passable to rhyme Uhura with cooler in song, but the sci-fi gags are overplayed in the script. However, the production itself is well done, directed with clarity and conviction by Steven Dexter, and aided by Francis O’Connor’s charming low-fi set.
And none of these criticisms are going to stop you having fun. The story of Michael Dork and his friends’ trials and passions goes at such a pace, any subtlety would probably be steamrollered anyway. The large cast, mostly making their West End debuts, are so full of energy, you can’t help but admire them. Highlights include Aaron Sidwell in the lead role and Richard Lowe as his sidekick Lucas Lloyd.
Alongside their enthusiasm, that sense of teenage intensity means the cast occasionally perform with almost embarrassing sincerity – once again your reaction probably depends upon your age. Bourne knows what he’s doing, he’s sold enough records to teenagers already, but shame on my cynicism – like Google, Loserville doesn’t have an evil bone in its body, and is sure to be a winner with plenty.
Until 2 March 2013
Photo by Tristram Kenton
Written 18 October 2012 for The London Magazine