Tag Archives: Tom Scutt

"Berberian Sound Studio" at the Donmar Warehouse

This must be the show of a lifetime for composers and sound designers Ben and Max Ringham. It follows a fictional sound engineer – the oddly named Gilderoy – who is working on an Italian horror film, and a claim might be made that sound is the subject matter for this whole show. Let’s be ringing, crystal clear that the Ringhams do a great job throughout. It is their night… but perhaps theirs alone.

A too thin plot fails to hold attention even at just over 90 minutes. As Gilderoy works behind the scenes to find a particularly horrible noise, and as his backstory is clumsily developed, there’s little tension and no surprises. Tom Brooke makes for a charismatic lead, doing well to restrain the hammy humour in the piece, but the character’s timid English manners are too caricatured, and contrasting his inhibitions with his continental colleagues becomes painful. As for the continually promised horror that’s played with, you’d have to be very timid to jump even once. While Gilderoy is searching for what frightens us most, his biggest fear is literally written above him in lights – no wonder the quest ends up dragging.

Weightier themes painfully forced into the play are the real terror here: Art and Ethics, screamed out loud. We get two sides of the debate, first from a voiceover actress offended by torture scenes. Eugenia Caruso does well and manages to craft a credible character here, but her points are pretty obvious. Then the auteur director himself comes in with a seductive defence. Credit to Luke Pasqualino, who has a good stab at making the part memorable, but the appearance is too brief and, by the time he arrives, it’s already obvious that the film being worked on is too awful to bother about.

Director Tom Scutt tries hard to raise the stakes. This show is clearly a pet project for him and writer Joel Horwood, who have brought Peter Strickland’s screenplay to the stage. As well as bells and whistles, Lee Curran’s lighting design includes complete blackouts (rarer than you’d think in the theatre). And there’s an effort at comedy with two assistants, both called Massimo (chortle), played by Tom Espiner and Hemi Yeroham, whose creation of the sound effects before our eyes proves a diversion. But restricting action to the booths that make up Scutt’s and Anna Yates’ design makes the show static, as surprisingly little of the stage is used. And placing the actresses’ booth in one corner of the stage is a big mistake – if you do bother to see the show, don’t sit stage right. Time and again it’s too clear that a film would be (and was) more effective. There’s a growing frustration that anyone bothered to stage the piece at all. Let’s hope that the Ringhams, at least, had fun.

Until 30 March 2019

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

"Little Shop of Horrors" at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

If this production is anything to go by, director Maria Aberg has green fingers – she nurtures this hit musical about a carnivorous plant from outer space marvellously.
Adapted from Roger Corman’s B-movie back in the early 1980s, Little Shop of Horrorsis a youthful work from the legendary Alan Menken, packed with musical ideas and barely a bum note. It includes the catchy-as-anything title tune, the brilliant romantic theme ‘Suddenly Seymour’ and the hilarious number ‘Be A Dentist’ – all of which you’ll be humming long after the show ends.
The book and onomatopoeic lyrics by Howard Ashman are great fun and there’s an underlying wit that continually impresses. The story of a freakish flower that changes the fortunes of its florist shop owners is told at a cracking pace, while the fact that growth comes at a price makes the piece a simple but effective morality tale. It’s quirky, dark, campy and cultish – all qualities appreciated by Aberg.
The mock low-budget design from Tom Scutt recalls the show’s Off-Broadway origins and original film source, full of anarchic energy and surprises – an achievement in such a polished production – and adds great charm. Scutt’s wonderfully detailed costume designs are fantastic, too, and his skyscrapers in shopping trolleys a nice nod to the skid-row setting.

Jemima Rooper and Marc Antolin
Jemima Rooper and Marc Antolin

Our hero Seymour isn’t really as sweet as he seems, or maybe he’s just dumb. Either way, Marc Antolin does a great job in the role, sounding great and with terrific stage presence. Jemima Rooper has a nice edge as his love interest and a trio of narrators (Renée Lamb, Christina Modestou and Seyi Omooba) are superb – each has real star quality. A couple of performances are too broad, mistaking the show’s fine edged comedy: Matt Willis’ dentist lacks thrills and Forbes Masson’s Mr Mushnik is reduced to a cheap gag.
Vicky Vox as Audrey II

It’s Seymour’s nemesis, the plotting plant he names Audrey II, that is the star. The clever move is to use not just puppetry here but to cast a drag queen in the role and Vicky Vox steals every scene – this Audrey II really reigns. You’re kept wanting more of Vox, leading to a truly spectacular encore number, including a new wardrobe for everyone, where the show’s crazy creativity is unleashed, making sure the audience leaves blooming.
 
Until 22 September 2018
www.openairtheatre.com
Photo by Johan Persson

"Julie" at the National Theatre

Polly Stenham’s new play, described as “after” August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, has just enough going for it. A bold authorial voice and strong performance from Vanessa Kirby in the title role compensate for flaws in a stylish script full of contemporary touches.
Strindberg’s play, about a love affair that defies class, has been adapted before, but this updating is particularly bold. The 1888 text has been stripped bare: it’s all about the money, as a poor little rich girl starts an affair with her daddy’s chauffeur, with tragic results.
Stenham’s skill is with dialogue, and the way Julie speaks is exemplary, instantly recognisable and witty. We’ve all heard Julie around town or worked with her (one summer I served her in Selfridges). We see how smart she is, how superficially appealing her “technicolour” personality might be, and the tragedy of her “shapeless” life.
Julie makes for an in-depth character study that Kirby embraces – her performance will keep you watching. But sympathy with the character isn’t allowed – any self-pity is a luxury. You may agree with Stenham, or wonder why she is so tough, or speculate on how her decisions relate to Strindberg’s infamous preface to his play. But the sentiment slims the play down and director Carrie Cracknell ends up padding it out with party scenes that look expensive but add little. Robbed of credibility, Julie’s relationships with her servants, fiancés whose romance she destroys, are too crass; there’s little drama and no sexual tension.
Both Eric Kofi Abrefa and Thalissa Teixeira do well in the roles of Julie’s employees, taking advantage of the depth Stenham gives their roles. But the characters are a little too noble, lacking edge or danger. Likewise, Kirby depicts Julie’s mental instability with intensity, but the character is a mess from the start, her end too predictable. The problem is a lack of nuance that makes the show, like Tom Scutt’s stylish set, rather too monochrome.
Until 8 September 2018
www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Photo by Richard H Smith
 

"Woyzeck" at the Old Vic

John Boyega is the young actor who impressed everyone in the reboot of the Star Wars franchise. Bringing him a further credibility it’s questionable he needs, this stage foray is a serious affair, with lots of forehead slapping, that shows he can handle angst with ease. In the title role as a soldier suffering a nervous breakdown, Boyega establishes sympathy for his character commendably. As his health deteriorates, the magnetism increases – it’s tough stuff to watch but gripping, too.
Boyega is star material, but the revelation of the night is young director Joe Murphy. It’s top man Matthew Warchus’ idea to give him the title of Baylis Director, offering emerging talent ‘main stage’ shows. And it’s an opportunity Murphy has embraced. Woyzeck can work well in any space, but the cavernous stage of the Old Vic is used to emphasise a lost, lonely, quality. Tom Scutt’s brilliant design has panels that suggest both walls and beds – sliding in and out, up and down – brilliantly lit by Neil Austin.
Jack Thorne has updated George Büchner’s unfinished play from the German provinces of the 19th century to Berlin at the end of Cold War, with Woyzeck traumatised by action seen in Northern Ireland. The move makes the play approachable but better still are changes to Woyzeck’s unfortunate love, Marie, played by Sarah Greene. More than a foil to her troubled partner, Greene’s modern sensibility makes the play’s domestic violence potent. Along with the addition of a plot about a medical trial Woyzeck participates in to raise cash, the play’s first half feels like a thriller.
Unfortunately the tension falters. As the play becomes ‘madder’ it feels too drawn out. The staging remains impressive but secondary characters, seen through Woyzeck’s eyes and affected by his increasing paranoia, become tiresome rather than threatening. The roles of Woyzeck’s Captain and his comrade, Andrews, are well performed and funny – but thinly written. It’s a great show for Nancy Carrol, playing the Captain’s wife and transforming in flashbacks into Woyzeck’s mother, but her posh cow character shows the problem best – an interest in the army’s class structure feels forced. Woyzeck becomes a victim in search of an excuse. Exploited by all and trapped by his past, causes are crammed in rather than explored.
Until 24 June 2017
www.oldvictheatre.com
Photo by Manuel Harlan

"Jesus Christ Superstar" at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Artistic Director Timothy Sheader scores tops marks yet again for his venue’s annual musical. Sheader has wowed with grown-up and demanding shows before, but in this production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s concept album/rock opera even the glitter is gritty. This abbreviated Passion of Christ could win converts with its charged staging of ‘The Flagellation’ alone.
Updates to the music are respectful, coming mostly from the vocals. The score feels fresh and the rock guitars aren’t just retained, they are revelled in. More startlingly contemporary is choreographer Drew McOnie’s work and the athleisure clothes from designer Tom Scutt. Jesus and the apostles aren’t hippies but hipsters. It makes sense. Flares, glitter, a glam-Rocky-Horror outfit for Peter Caulfield’s excellent Herod and Judas’ hands dripping in silver paint, show carefully colour-coded scenes. All aided by Lee Curran, whose lighting for the finale is breath taking.
Sheader emphasises community (those ‘Shoreditch’ touches have a point). This is a big cast and it encircles the auditorium before mounting the stage, grabbing microphones and playing around with the stands, cultivating the idea this being a concert. The performative angle provides insight into the piece. And such a commanding use of the ensemble adds emotion as those who followed Jesus quickly turn, to hound him, then demand his death.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR by Webber, , Lyrics - Tim Rice, Music - Andrew Lloyd Webber, Director - Timothy Sheader, Designer - Tom Scutt, Choreography - Drew McOnie, Lighting - Lee Curran, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London, UK, 2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /
There are as many superstars on stage as you could pray for. Anoushka Lucas is an excellent Mary, making the most of her show-stopping number. Tyrone Huntley (above) is a faultless Judas, with a soaring range and tremendous power. As the lead, Declan Bennett may strike you as lacking charisma – his Christ is introspective – but when power is called for Bennett delivers and his acting is astonishingly focused. Moments when it is difficult to hear what Bennett is singing are an especial pity, given that these are Tim Rice’s best lyrics. It’s testament to the strength of the production that a normally fatal flaw does little to diminish the power of this revelatory show.
Until 27 August 2016
www.openairtheatre.com
Photos by Johan Persson

“King Lear” at the Almeida Theatre

London audiences are spoilt when it comes to stars and Shakespeare. Depending on their age, anyone aspiring to credibility tackles Hamlet or King Lear, and we all get to benefit from the results. Among the exciting celebrity strewn shows, none is more splendid than Michael Attenborough’s latest production of King Lear at the Almeida, with Jonathan Pryce in the title role. Not only is Pryce gut-wrenchingly good – every aspect of this riveting production deserves praise.

Pryce’s Lear is full of subtlety and dynamism. By turns forceful and frail, he makes the character’s decline unbearably moving, even while injecting an unusual degree of humour into the role. But any banter comes with a steely edge – this is a man used to people laughing when he tells a joke. There is a residual power that makes it easy to imagine what kind of ruler he was.

There are also fine performances in the supporting roles, especially from the women in the cast. Phoebe Fox is a spirited Cordelia whose prickly edge makes it easy to identify her as her father’s daughter. Zoe Waites and Jenny Jules play Goneril and Regan with a terrifying ferocity that remains credible despite the extremity of their actions.

Tom Scutt’s design makes the most of the stripped-back venue, evoking prisons and army camps, adding to a tense production that at times is paced like a thriller. Attenborough’s attention to detail is captivating – watching the actors’ hands, as they reflect emotions from repression through to violence, becomes compelling. You will be gripped the whole way through.

Until 3 November 2012

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Keith Pattison

Written 12 September 2012 for The London Magazine

“13” at the National Theatre

After the success of last year’s Earthquakes in London, Mike Bartlett’s return to the National Theatre with his new play, 13, has something of triumph about it. Promotion to the grand Olivier Theatre would be a dream for most playwrights, but Bartlett seems undaunted and bravely presents us with a fear-fuelled nightmare that’s ambitious, big and bold.

It’s one nightmare, to be specific, spookily shared by 13 different people. This clever device shows a disparate section of society, from a cleaning lady to the Prime Minister (Geraldine James on excellent form), all living in anxious times and searching for something to believe in.

It would be impossible to mistake Barlett’s version of the future as the very nearly now – social networking, riots on the streets, economic catastrophe and the threat of war – it’s all highly topical, with enough iPads on stage to make Steve Jobs smile down on us. As if this weren’t enough, Bartlett introduces religion as a fulcrum to his play. A central messianic character, John, performed with gnomic intensity by Trystan Gravelle, raises yet more questions and heightens the dramatic stakes.

Thea Sharrock’s direction and Tom Scutt’s design match Bartlett’s vision. With the Olivier’s revolve used to great effect, this is a precise production, technically impressive and rewardingly theatrical. The dreams the cast share, full of “monsters and explosions”, are complemented by spectacular lighting design from Mark Henderson.

After detailing a depressing catalogue of ills that beset our world in fantastically dynamic fashion, the pace changes to present a debate between the PM, the prophetic John and Danny Webb who plays an atheist academic with commanding presence.

It’s possible Bartlett has a young audience in mind for 13 – a crowd fresh for debate and highly engaged. If so, then I applaud him. But, despite Bartlett’s skill, the ideas behind 13 don’t match the novelty of their execution. It isn’t that the issues aren’t important or interesting, rather that they have been debated so many times before. What is impressive is that Bartlett presents them with a degree of impartiality seldom seen. And that is a very grown-up thing indeed.

Until 8 January 2012

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Marc Brenner

Written 28 October 2011 for The London Magazine

“Through a Glass Darkly” at the Almeida Theatre

Michael Attenborough’s latest production at the Almedia is an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s classic film, Through a Glass Darkly. A family holiday, designed as recuperation for Karin after a mental breakdown, goes horribly wrong as the neuroses of the rest of the clan come to the fore and Karin herself has a dramatic relapse. If you like your drama dark and psychological, then this will not disappoint.

It is, indeed, grim stuff. The location is rendered in abstract muted greys by designer Tom Scutt, and is spot on as a backdrop for some brooding introspection, of which we get plenty. Cast members bare their souls with skill, and at the same time illustrate Bergman’s highly intellectual approach to his characters.

Ruth Wilson, playing Karin, deserves special note in her portrayal of both powerful delusions and moments of painful clarity. A key scene in which she hallucinates is fantastic theatre, aided marvellously with a score by Dan Jones. Dimitri Leonidas makes an impressive professional debut as her angst-ridden teenager brother Max. Karin’s father (Ian McElhinney) gets to show his creative Weltschmerz and her husband (Justin Salinger) worries about Karin’s health. Clearly there is no attempt on anyone’s part to avoid certain Nordic stereotypes.

The exploration of these relationships is cleverly done but somewhat dutifully reported. Bergman, like the character of Karin’s father, seems to have the rather morbid desire to examine mental illness for the sake of art. The production reports his investigations well and the acting is superb but it is all very cold. It is also very quick. In the end, Karin’s collapse is so rapid that her descent into madness is more of a plummet. Any attempt at resolution seems glib and, ultimately, unsatisfying.

Until 31 July 2010

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 18 June 2010 for The London Magazine