Tag Archives: Victoria Hamilton-Barritt

“The Wild Party” at The Other Palace

The renamed St James Theatre, now in Lord Lloyd Webber’s portfolio, has the new raison d’être of trying out and refining musicals. And there’s the aim of starting conversations from artistic director Paul Taylor-Mills that warms a blogger’s heart. The first show, by Michael John LaChiusa, is a strong start, but a puzzle, too. Seen on Broadway in 2000, it already seems so cogently formed that there is little new to talk about.

The piece is experimental in that it is based on a poem – by Joseph McClure March – can anyone think of another musical apart from Cats with such a source? George C Wolfe’s book is structurally audacious and, while the scenario couldn’t be slimmer – someone holds a party, that’s it – the tension ratchets up and up. Both music and lyrics have little time for novices or a discernable eye on commercial success. The milieu here isn’t that familiar to a British audience (jokes, in particular, are a touch obscure) but LaChiusa’s knowledge of American music is obviously profound.

A good portion of the show is a series of introductions. Taking the lead is Queenie, a dancer in Vaudeville, brilliantly portrayed by the legendary Frances Ruffelle, who gives this tart-with-a-heart appropriate depth. Her common law husband, played by John Owen-Jones – also tremendous – ensures the show is not one for coulrophobics. This complicated relationship is the vehicle for exploring obsession and dependence.

John Owen-Jones and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt
John Owen-Jones and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt

Presenting other partygoers gives the rest of the ensemble a chance to shine. Dex Lee is particularly strong as the arch hedonist Jackie, a sophisticate who turns bestial. And, as Queenie’s best friend Victoria Hamilton-Barritt really gets her teeth into a juicy role. It would be hard to sacrifice any of these characters… but maybe more focus might have made the show more enjoyable? Combining high and low life and a mix of ages, races and sexualities has a point but means there’s a lot to handle here. And don’t forget a moral. Like many works of art about libertines, The Wild Party is a warning. When the bootleg gin arrives, complete with bathtub on stage, it would make Hogarth proud.

The venue’s aim as an experimental home is fulfilled for Drew McOnie. While his acclaimed choreography adds enormously to what could be a static affair, his remarkably assured debut as a director is the real story. The piece calls for strong acting and McOnie secures it. There’s a cutting pathos to many of the affairs. And a crazed wish for love, sex, drugs and ambition, with a scary intensity that McOnie doesn’t spare us from.

Until 1 April 2017

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

Photos by Scott Rylander

“Murder Ballad” at the Arts Theatre

This tale of adultery and death is deliberately downbeat. In the hands of director Sam Yates the realism aimed for casts a spell. With just four characters, who sing throughout, a strong cast creates a greater intimacy than the show really deserves. Distracting from Juliana Nash’s music – efficient with imaginative touches – are too many poor lyrics. Acknowledging truisms doesn’t make them clever. Making stereotypes a theme doesn’t make them interesting.

The cast is superb. Wicked star Kerry Ellis clearly wants to show a serious side and she succeeds, despite nonsensically singing that her character “shouts silently”. Ellis plays Sara, who is in a love triangle with Tom and Michael (Ramin Karimloo and Norman Bowman). The two men in her life sound great, establish their thin characters miraculously – and fans will be pleased that Karimloo takes his shirt off. The latter rises above the fact that he has to sing about the one that got away – literally – moving on to a better number where he gets to be creepy. Shame it occurs so late. Worse, it’s hard to get over Sara and Tom being described as “two cats in a fish bowl”. How big a bowl? How did they get in it? Why don’t they just climb out?

Kerry Ellis and Ramin Karimloo
Kerry Ellis and Ramin Karimloo

The show belongs to a fourth character, played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, who acts as a narrator and brings a cooler edge, observing proceedings, with cynical sophistication. She also gets the best song, which compares the tawdry tragedy on stage to the glamour of the movies. Yates takes his cue from this cinematic reference, creating a noirish feel, with admirable use of projections that adds tension and style. It’s the atmosphere Yates crafts that allows us to examine the “roles assigned” – husband, mother, lover – with wit and intelligence. That’s how you work with clichés.

Until 3 December 2016

www.murderballadmusical.com

Photos by Marc Brenner