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Thursday, September 15, 2016

REVIEW: Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

HKAPA Drama Theatre, Wednesday September 14

My introduction to the works of P.G. Wodehouse came in the form of the musical By Jeeves by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn. Later on, I had the chance to see the comedy series Jeeves and Wooster that starred Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in YouTube. A genial but ditzy gentleman with an improbably intelligent and efficient valet seems to resonate well as an antidote to my Disneyesque childhood.

Last December in London, I had the dilemma of having to choose between this play, Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense or Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwyn. Nell Gwyn won but I am so glad that Jeeves & Wooster have come to Hong Kong. Winner of Best New Comedy at London’s 2014 Olivier Awards, Jeeves & Wooster was pure silliness that managed to keep what Robert McCrum identified as Wodehouse’s combination of "high farce with the inverted poetry of his mature comic style". Indeed do not expect the play to have any depth of meaning; but instead, it is filled with Wodehouse’s dry metaphors such as to be reminded that one of the characters had "the sort of eye that could open an oyster at 60 paces".

Matthew Carter (Wooster) and Joseph Chance (Jeeves)
The premise of the play was that Wooster, played by Matthew Carter with winning toothiness, is recounting what happened in Totleigh Towers, when he was tasked to steal a cow-shaped silver jug. The problem was that Wooster has only two actors to play all the other characters! This led to a continuous parody of theatrical mishaps and madcaps, with sound effect gags, and quick set and costume changes. Robert Goodale, the other half of Goodale Brothers who adapted and wrote this comedy, played fellow valet Seppings. With physical bravura, Seppings switched from the daunting Aunt Dahlia to the imposing Roderick Spode, who came fortified with a Hitlerian moustache. In the style of Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps and Ben-Hur, the play got to a point when the number of actors required onstage exceeded the number of actual actors available. The boil-over came when the imperturbable Jeeves, played by Joseph Chance, was obligated to simultaneously play an overbearing old bully, Sir Watkyn Bassett, and the unmistakably womanly Stiffy Byng. Having said that, I feel that the pace of the play was a tad slow; and I can’t help but feel that there can be a bit more chemistry between the actors.

While the play was utter nonsense, it was nonsense at its hilarious best. The audience chuckled constantly. It was the perfect mid-week cure to my busy week.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

REVIEW:Imperial Ice Stars' Swan Lake on Ice

Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Wednesday April 27

I am a big fan of the ballet Swan Lake. It was the first full-length ballet I have ever seen when I was a teenager and since then, I have seen it in various reincarnations. Whether it was Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov's classic in Mariinsky Theatre, Derek Deane's 60-swans in-the-round production for the English National Ballet, Peter Schaufuss' erotic but ill-conceived creation or Matthew Bourne's all-male-swan re-imagining, the story and Tchaikovsky's music never fail to inspire and challenge re-interpretation.

This Swan Lake however, is a totally different animal. Tony Mercer's re-interpretation of this classic for "on-ice" version struck a perfect balance of tradition and innovation. While still using mostly Tchaikovsky’s music, no longer was the role of Odette and Odile danced by one performer, but there was also a pas de trois that led to a joyous ending. This show is designed to entertain and captivate the audience. Gone was the subdued and subtle dancing. Instead, the audience got high-octane dancing, flying, jumping, twisting, lifting and spinning. As if that was not enough, there were also fire spinning and pyrotechnics.

The costumes of Albina Gabueva were colorful, traditional and appropriate for the different characters in the story. The set design was flimsy yet effective to give way to the massive ice rink. Even the ice rink itself was something to behold! Apparently, to create a performance-ready ice surface, the production would need to 36 hours. This would involve assembling the tray-base, lining it with 256 square meter of pool liner, connecting 15km of pipe-work chiller units, and then 4 tonnes of crushed ice to provide a head start! The rink is then sprayed every 15 minutes overnight and throughout the day until three inches in thickness of ice is achieved!

At the very center of this wonderful show are the amazing performers. Bogdan Berezenko' Prince Siegfried was what you expect a young prince would look and act like. He, together with Alexandr Kazakov' Benno, were the unadulterated bromance on ice. While Benno had most of the daring jumps, Siegfried got the mind-blowing lifts and partnering. Volodymyr Khodakivskyy, who played the attendant to Hungarian Princess, had amazing moments in his aerial silk sequence. Don't be surprised if you catch yourself holding your breath or inevitably blurting out "wow" and "whoaah"! Overall, it was a very enjoyable show and I would highly recommend it!

SWAN LAKE ON ICE - from April 27 to May 8.

Friday, April 15, 2016

REVIEW: The Illusionists - Direct From Broadway

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Thursday April 14

I have never been to a live magic show before. When I was in London last December and passed by Shaftesbury Theatre, I thought that I should really try to see The Illusionists playing there, then I got distracted and I believe I watched a musical instead. Since they have followed me back to Hong Kong (though apparently this batch came from Broadway), I feel that it is my fate to see the show.

Through television, I tend to associate magic shows with Las Vegas and The Illusionists didn't fail in providing the big, razzle-dazzle, bass-thumping and female-assistant-running-around elements so common to Las Vegas. Even the performers’ names were too plain for the show that they were assigned monikers like "The Manipulator", "The Eccentric", "The Enigma" or "The Alchemist". 

Overall, it was an enjoyable show; but surprisingly, I find some of the more flamboyant and glamorous acts a bit stale. It was the more quiet acts that I found more intriguing. I enjoyed Luis de Matos "The Master Magician", who was also the master of the ceremonies (I was so tempted to put ""). His acts were simple, entertaining and baffling. One particular act was that all audience members were given an envelope with 4 cards featuring 4 different Illusionists. After a series of instructions like shuffle, tear them into halves, choose one and hide it in your pocket, shuffle, exchange one with the person beside you, throw away one, keep one, throw away another one... this went on until a half was only left; and amazingly, that half was the other half of the one previously hidden in your pocket!
Another act that I enjoyed was Charlie Frye "The Eccentric". This act was peculiar because it is the one act that fit more in a vaudeville act, rather than a Las Vegas-style magic show. In fact, Frye's act would fit snugly in a Cirque du Soleil show as he seriously show skills, be it comedy or juggling. Hyun Joon Kim "The Manipulator" showed fantastic sleight-of-hand tricks that made one seriously want to stop the show and ask him to do it slower again.

This show has a good mixture of tricks. There's the mind-reading, escaping, sawing-the-body-in-half and more. The Illusionists have the ability to make a Houdini out of you, an escapist of your boredom.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Theatre Pilgrimage - 12 Shows in 4 Cities

After watching 14 shows in the United Kingdom less than 3 months ago, I am back again. This time however, apart from London (5 shows) , I also traveled to Cardiff (3 shows), Munich (1 show) and Wurzburg (3 shows). This time, the shows were also a bit more varied. Given that I have already seen most of the musical in West End, I scheduled a bit more plays this time. I saw 6 musical, 1 opera, 4 plays and 1 concert. Here's my ranking based on my enjoyment of the show: 
  1. Sunset Boulevard 
  2. Matilda 
  3. Mrs. Henderson Presents 
  4. Nell Gwynn 
  5. Only the Brave 
  6. Painkiller 
  7. Wagner-Gala 
  8. Jekyll and Hyde 
  9. Albert Herring 
  10. Hetty Feather 
  11. Miss Atomic Bomb 
  12.  A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing 
Here's my impression of the shows (in chronological order): 

St. James Theatre (London), Friday March 25

Miss Atomic Bomb came second to the last in my ranking mainly because I have such a high expectation and it failed miserably. Overall, it gave me the impression that it was trying to follow the template of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Mr. Producer, but came nowhere near; and I would attribute it to a mediocre story, pathetic dialogues, misjudged pacing and second-rate music. The cast tried their very best and I wanted so badly to like it, but the material was so high-school that there was no way to take it seriously.

Set against the backdrop of atomic bomb tests and a city controlled by mob, there was a farm girl who's in deep debt, a fashionista who was designing clothes for pigs, a young soldier who deserted the army, and a hapless hotel manager brother who desperately needs some gimmick. The peculiar collection of characters and situations seemed too bizarre that it would make a great musical comedy, but that's all it is... a peculiar collection of characters and situations that were forced to make a story. It was like a product of drug-induced team-building workshop or of the show Showstopper! The Improvised Musical.

The saddest thing about this musical is the involvement of Catherine Tate and Simon Lipkin... what a waste of great talent.

Cast: Catherine Tate, Dean John-Wilson, Florence Andrews, Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys, Michelle Andrews, Stephane Anelli, Charles Brunton, Jessica Buckby, Cavin Cornwall, Olivia Fines, Ryan Gover, Alyn Hawke, Sion Lloyd, Suzie McAdam, Kirk Patterson, Sasi Strallen 
Author: Adam Long, Gabriel Vick & Alex Jackson-Long 
Director: Bill Deamer & Adam Long 
Producer: Tanya Link Productions 
Choreographer: Bill Deamer 

Apollo Theatre (London), Saturday March 26

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I am less partial to plays, BUT Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale has to be one of the most entertaining, funny and intelligent play I have ever seen (up there with Noises Off for me). 

What really made Nell Gwynn worked, apart from a very witty and funny script, was Gemma Arterton. Unlike the last time I saw her in the musical Made in Dagenham, Arterton was perfect for the role of Nell Gwynn. She was captivating, charming and credible. One of the most impressive moment in the play was when Nell was being taught how to act; and when it came to being sad, Arterton managed to immediately shed tears right then and there!

What makes a good play however is the work of the whole company and Arteton was in very very good company. Playing opposite her as King Charles II was David Sturzaker; and he was equally charming and credible in showing great affection toward Nell Gwynn. I also like Greg Haiste's Edward Kynaston (the King’s Company’s female lead) as he grew more and more outraged over the possibility of Nell taking up his place. Michele Dotrice's Nancy (Nell’s dresser) was downright funny as she maneuver her position in the different circumstances Nell was in or out. Further enhancing the play was Nigel Hess' score and Hugh Durrant's design.

Cast: Gemma Arterton, Paige Carter, Michele Dotrice, Matthew Durkan, Michael Garner, Greg Haiste, George Jennings, Ellie Leah, Peter McGovern, David Rintoul, Anneika Rose, Nicholas Shaw, David Sturzaker, Jay Taylor, Sasha Waddell, Sarah Woodward 
Author: Jessica Swale 
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Designer: Hugh Durrant
Music: Nigel Hess
Lighting Designer: Nick Richings
Sound designer: Jeremy Dunn
Choreographer: Charlotte Broom

Noel Coward Theatre (London), Saturday March 26

Yes, there are nudity. But that is expected given that is the whole premise of the show. I haven't seen the movie, but have seen the trailer. For some reason, I was kind of expecting that there will be a few scenes about losing her husband, trying to find something to spend on and an incident that will trigger her buying of a theatre; but all that were absent and the musical almost immediately started on the theatre start-up. Having said that, the pacing of the narrative was in good pace and rarely did I find it sluggish.

What is most noticeable for me was the lyrics of Don Black; they fit like gloves to the music of George Fenton & Simon Chamberlain, which caters mostly to the period of the story. Tracie Bennett's formidable Laura doesn't have the charm of Judi Dench, but who does? Still, Bennett managed to give us a different but still equally effective Laura. Ian Bartholomew’s Vivian was equally effective but somehow less memorable. Emma Williams played Maureen, who was hired to make tea at the Windmill theatre and ended up as its nude centrepiece, with a a great balance of self-doubt and confidence. This, together with featuring an older woman who run the show, was almost a showcase of feminism. The evening also featured Jamie Foreman’s Arthur, the a cockney emcee, who provided some kind of a break between the scenes.

Overall, I really enjoyed this show and would recommend it.
Cast: Tracie Bennett, Ian Bartholomew, Emma Williams 
Director: Terry Johnson 
Music by: George Fenton & Simon Chamberlain 
Lyrics by: Don Black 
Book by: Terry Johnson

Cambridge Theatre (London), Sunday March 27

This is the second time I watched this magnificent show. See my review of the first time I saw it here

What really stood out this time around was Emily-May Stephenson's Matilda. She was like an adult trapped in a child's body, who is full of great wisdom and confidence. Also, while watching the show, I can't help but be amazed at how sophisticated this musical is in all levels and how equally enjoyable it is for both kids and adults.

Cast: Emily-May Stephenson, Craige Els, Michael Begley, Olly Dobson, Miria Parvin, Rebecca Thornhill, Sherlene Whyte, Fabian Aloise, Robbie Boyle, John Brannoch, Olivier Brooks, Jonathan Cordin, Demi Goodman, Elliot Harper, Will Hawksworth, Kate Kendrick, Rachel Moran, Tom Muggeridge, Charlotte Scott, Matthew Serafini, Biancha Szynal, Laura Tyrer 
Author: Dennis Kelly, based on the Roald Dahl book 
Director: Matthew Warchus 
Music by: Tim Minchin 
Lyrics by: Tim Minchin 
Book by: Dennis Kelly 
Producer: Royal Shakespeare Company 
Choreographer: Peter Darling 
Costume: Rob Howell 
Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone 
Sound: Simon Baker

Garrick Theatre (London), Monday March 28

I went to see this play because it just seemed crazy to miss to miss an opportunity to see Kenneth Branagh live in a play. In The Painkiller, Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon reprise their roles in Francis Veber’s classic French farce. Adapted and directed by Sean Foley, The Painkiller tells the story of two men in adjoining hotel rooms with an adjoining door. One of them is a killer, while the other one wants to die. How convenient... but not at all. 

Kenneth Branagh didn't disappoint at all and Rob Brydon was very funny also. The play was fast and short and without intermission, which is how I like a farce to be. Having said that, the highlight here is really the company. I am not particularly warm to the play itself which I think lacks a bit of sophistication and I just came out of it thinking that it was a silly play.
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Rob Brydon, Mark Hadfield, Claudie Blakley, Marcus Fraser, Alex Macqueen 
Author: Francis Veber 
Adapted by: Sean Foley 
Director: Sean Foley 
Producer: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company

Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff), Wednesday March 30

I went into this play without knowing much about it. I didn't know that it was an adaptation of a book... in this case, an award-winning book. Unfortunately, I came out not really appreciating it. In fact, it is the least one of the 12 shows that I enjoyed. Without knowing that it was an adaptation, I question the choice of using the solo-performance format as it made understanding the narrative very difficult. 

The language of the play was intense and episodic, the acting was subtle and maybe too subtle to make the delineation of the roles clear. Overall, I can't help but feel that it was devised to showcase the actor's skill rather than the story.
Cast: Aoife Duffin
Writer: Eimear McBride (adapted by Annie Ryan) 
Director: Annie Ryan 
Reviewer: Jaclyn Martin

New Theatre (Cardiff), Friday April 1

This is a show of great contradictions. I really like how it was staged, and acted out, but I don't care much about the story. The story was definitely targeted toward kids, but unlike Matilda, while the story of Hetty is as complicated, it remained two dimensional. 

The highlight of the show however is the simplicity and creativity injected to portray the different scenes. Also, the cast was strong and even; and show immense skills in voice and physicality. In particular, Phoebe Thomas as Hetty was a delight to see, wild yet charming; and full of infectious energy that communicated joy, excitement and sadness with ease and clarity. At the end of the day however, it is still just a children show.
Cast: Phoebe Thomas, Matt Costain, Sarah Goddard, Nik Howden, Mark Kane, Nikki Warwick, Seams Carey, Luke Potter
Director: Sally Cookson
Adaptor: Emma Reeves from Jacqueline Wilson's book
Composer: Benju Bower
Designer: Katie Sykes
Lighting: Aideen Malone
Sound: Leigh Davies

Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff), Saturday April 2

It was the first musical to be produced by the Wales Millennium Centre and I wanted so badly for it to be good. Created by writer Rachel Wagstaff and composer Matthew Brind, Only The Brave recounts the stories of real people, whose bravery and character were tested to the limit by circumstance surrounding the Normandy landings.

Overall, the musical was a moving work, but at its current form, I am afraid that we might not see it in West End. Mind you, it was not a disaster and I truly believe that with a few minor key changes, I actually can see it transferring to West End. Most imortantly, I would have preferred that it be presented in a "real-life story" format where the audience are conditioned at the very beginning... or even on its promotional materials. By doing so, people can be more receptive of the story premises and focus on the narrative. Visually, some of the renditions of slides and video looked too amateurish if not cartoonish - it doesn't communicate a distinct visual style.

Overall however, I sincerely like it. The music and lyrics were touching and effective (I'm not sure with the song about tea though) and the set design was simple but versatile enough to set context with clarity and purpose. I would see it again.
Cast: Emilie Fleming, David Thaxton, Caroline Sheen, Neil McDermott, Moyo Akanda, David Albury, Thomas Aldridge, Max Bowden, Rebecca Craven, Helen Hobson, Steffan Lloyd-Evans, Graham Macduff, Nikki Mae, Karl Borough, Gwydion Rhys
Written by: Rachel Wagstaff
Music by: Matthew Brind

London Coliseum (London), Monday April 4

All the other shows were just incidental. The real reason why I am back in UK is because of Glenn Close. I didn't see her in the original production. In fact, I have only seen staged Sunset Boulevard once and it was at the Marriott Theater in Chicago in 2004. It was the first regional production of Sunset Boulevard and was the first and only regional production to be licensed by the Really Useful Group (RUG) for the next six years after 2004. Needless to say, I was not sure what to expect. Seriously, Close is 69 years old! While I am sure her acting will be fabulous, my biggest concern was her singing. Anyway, I thought success or failure, I wanted to witness it!

Semi-staged, Sunset Boulevard was amazing! The narrative was clear and I actually felt like I was in a show and not in a concert. The only thing I am not sure of is the floating mannequin... yes, I get it, it was suppose to imply the dead body of Joe Gillis (Norma Desmond's lover), but it was distracting. As for Glenn Close, she was stunningly good!!! I have never ever seen an audience more eager to give a show a standing ovation!!! The rest of the cast was equally good.

There's not much more to say that the press haven't said. For me, this is the best one in all the 12 shows I have seen. Even better was that everybody was there to take their bow, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Chris Hampton!
Cast: Glenn Close, Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon, Fred Johanson, Julian Forsyth, Mark Goldthorp, Fenton Gray, Haydn Oakley, James Paterson 
Director: Lonny Price 
Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber 
Lyrics by: Don Black & Christopher Hamilton 
Book by: Don Black & Christopher Hamilton 
Producer: English National Opera & GradeLinnit Company

Cuvilliés Theatre (Munich), Tuesday April 5

Since my final destination was Wurzburg, I found out that flying into Munich and traveling by train to Wurzburg was the most convenient and practical one. Upon finding this out, I casually checked whether there will be any opera on; and to my surprise, there's Albert Herring and better yet, it will be at the Cuvilliés Theatre - a theatre that I haven't been too since all of the operas I've seen in Munich was always staged at the National Theatre. 

There is one catch though... the only seats that I can find for me and my friend were the last two seats and they were the cheapest and worst seats. They were in the box closest to the stage at the highest level. In short, I have to lean forward to see only the front bit of the stage. In any case, I thought that even if I can't see the stage, I can still listen to the music given that I have never ever heard it live.

Well, I left during the interval. The heat inside the theatre, together with the uncomfortable seats were just not the most conducive condition to appreciate the opera. All I can think of was... it sounds like an endless stream of recitatives and how come the orchestral line sounded more interesting the vocal lines?

Congress Centrum (Wurzburg), Wednesday April 6

This is a last minute purchase. I thought I should really rest my eyes and ears... and bum from theatres, but I just can't resist it. To be perfectly honest, part of my resistance to buying tickets to this concert in advance was that I was not so sure of what to expect from a regional orchestra like Philharmonisches Orchester Wurzburg. Well, the orchestra under the direction of Maestro Enrico Calesso was very good even in the not most ideal venue such as the Congress Centrum Wurzburg (which is more of a plenary hall rather than a concert hall).

The highlight of the evening though was tenor Klaus Florian Vogt. Vogt has a rather preternatural voice, it has the distinct sweetness and brightness of a Rossini tenor but also with the volume to cut through a Wagnerian orchestra. The most awe-inspiring and almost disturbing, is the fact that Vogt sang with ease. Needless to say, I can't believe that I haven't heard of him... so I did some research only to find out that actually I have his CD. So what happened? Well, in this live concert, one can clearly appreciate his tone together with its volume; and it is that combination that makes him magnificent. Unlike his CD, all I hear is a tenor voice that I tend to associate with Rossini or Mozart. The significance of his voice was most apparent in the second half of the gala (Act 1 of Die Walkure) where he sang Sigmund across Karen Lieber's Sieglinde and Gunther Groissbock's Hunding. Here, suddenly, we get a Siegmund who sounded young and naive, rather than virile and forceful, and the result was thrilling!
Ouvertüre zu Rienzi 
Fliedermonolog aus Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg 
Vorspiel und Isoldes Liebestod aus Tristan und Isolde 
Gralserzählung aus Lohengrin 
Erster Aufzug aus Die Walküre 

Mainfranken Theater Wurzburg (Wurzburg), Friday April 8

This musical was sung in German and I am fine with that. I saw the original cast before in Broadway and I am familiar with the music and story thus I was able to appreciate this even though it is in German. 

This production in Wurzburg started out really strong. The staging was simple with a rotating stage and hydraulic elevations within the rotating stage. The repetitious and tiring use of this mechanism however had become a burden. 

In the original Broadway production, one of the strongest effect it had was when Jekyll and Hyde did the duet in the number Confrontation. In this number, both Jekyll and Hyde took turn in singing and visually, the audience got to see quick transformation of the actor from Jekyll to Hyde and vice versa. The effect was simple but extremely effective and memorable, the actor would portray Jekyll by facing left and looking up, while portraying Hyde by facing right and hunching down. The quick transformation was further aided through the simple use of hair - half tied up (Jekyll) and half loose (Hyde). In this Wurzburg production however, while I appreciate that they tried something different, the effect was not as good.

Another devise that this production have overused was the display of mirror. While the reflection on huge panels of reflective materials can be effective if you are seated in the stalls, its effect from the balcony was totally lost because all one can sea is the reflection of the brightly lit conductor. The singing was generally good, but nothing to shout about.
Cast: Polina Artsis , Kenneth Beal, Bryan Boyce , Herbert Brand , Ivan Dantschev, Monika Eckhoff, Daniel Fiolka , Tobias Germeshausen , Anja Gutgesell , David Hieronimi , Milatin Ivanov, Armin Kahl , Sonja Koppelhuber , Deuk-Young Lee , Barbara Scholler , Paul Henrik Schulte, Taiyu Uchiyama , Anneka Ulmer
Music by Frank Wildhorn, a 
Book by Leslie Bricusse 
Lyrics by Wildhorn, Bricusse and Cuden
Originally conceived for the stage by: Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden 
Orchestrator: Kim Scharnberg 
Arrangements by: Jason Howland 
German by: Susanne Dengler and Eberhard StorzConducted by Sebastian Beckedorf Director: Ivan Alboresi 
Stage design: Bernd Franke 
Costumes design: Götz Lancelot Fischer 
Choir director: Michael Clark 
Dramaturgy: Christoph Blitt

Sunday, February 28, 2016

REVIEW: Compagnie 111's What's Become of You?

HK City Hall Theatre, Saturday February 27

Compagnie 111’s What’s Become of You? (Questcequetudeviens?) is a piece by Aurelien Bory for Stephanie Fuster. Part of the 44th Hong Kong Arts Festival, this work was rich in imagery and visually dramatic. Everything about it seems to be just right, whether it is the space, the time or the concept.

Campgnie 111, under the direction of Aurelien Bory, explores the use of space through developing a physical theatre that is an amalgamation and juxtaposition of different performing art forms including theatre, circus, dance, visual arts and music. In the case of What’s Become of You?, Aurelien Bory met Stephanie Fuster in Toulouse before she threw herself into learning flamenco in Seville. Eight years after, Fuster went back to Toulouse and asked Bory to write a show for her. At first, Bory declined, but eventually warmed to the idea after realizing that Fuster’s career was in fact a manifestation of her moving in and out of spaces, crossing and pushing boundaries; and confronting an art of another territory.

The result is a one-hour portrait of Fuster. The work investigates her journey from aspiring, wanting, trying, repeating and finally, being. As a theatrical piece, I particularly like the subtle and nuanced design of the set (the composition of tetragonal cubicle, dance floor and water tank), sound (the variation in spatial relations) and lighting (the use of silhouettes, shadows and reflections) that propelled the passage of time into distinct and diverse episodes of Fuster’s development.

At the center of this amazing portrait is Fuster herself. Fuster, who danced alone on the stage with the accompaniment of composer and guitarist Jose Sanchez and singer Alberto Garcia, was utterly captivating. The music was gentle, the voice was heartrending; and most compelling, the percussive feet of flamenco and the purposive yet fluid arms of Fuster were evocative.

What’s Become of You? is a fascinating and successful study of the possibilities for the development of flamenco, be it the dancing, singing or guitar playing. Yet its greatest achievement is its ability to depict study of a study.

Monday, February 22, 2016

REVIEW: Jane Eyre by Bristol Old Vic and National Theatre of Great Britain's

HKAPA Lyric Theatre, Sunday February 21

Jane Eyre, a co-production of Bristol Old Vic and National Theatre of Great Britain; and part of the 44th Hong Kong Arts Festival is an exquisite and mesmerizing panoramic landscape painting of an intensely touching and personal portrait.

Originally published as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, the novel on which this play is based, was written by English author Charlotte Bronte. The play, directed by Sally Cookson, followed the focal point of the novel and explored the psychological and moral development of the main character from youth to adulthood. The 3 hour and 15 minute play wonderfully portrayed the passage of time, the gradual unfolding of Jane’s moral and spiritual sensibility, by allowing the performance to show a huge amount of stage actions without the temptation to infuse dialogues. In the expanse of time, the play was rhythmically punctuated with scenes that are coloured by heightened bewilderment, intense consciousness and lucid realization.

The set (constructed of wood and composed of raised platforms, a ramp, a few monkey bars and tons of step ladders) by Michael Vale, with costumes by Katie Sykes, were deceivingly simple yet surprisingly right and effective. A good example of how the set worked with the play was that a lot of times when the action was happening up on a ladder, the sense of vulnerability and passion were amplified. Another element that was spot-on and really enhanced the play was the music; and this includes songs that were beautifully performed by Melanie Marshall.

At the center of this immense production is the immeasurable artistry of the cast who were effortlessly convincing in the color-age-gender-blind casting of the production. Madeleine Worrall brought a compelling combination of damage, bravery and compassion to her Jane. Felix Hayes’ Mr. Rochester was grumpy and sarcastic, yet with enough vulnerability to demand love and empathy. Laura Elphinstone had the task of playing the most varied characters of sanctimonious cleric St. John, little French girl Adele and older friend Helen Burns; and she portrayed each persuasively. Craig Edwards also played several roles but was spectacularly (and hilariously) effective as the dog Pilot. 

Rarely does a production demonstrate such clarity with a complex story. This, together with the straightforwardness and without-pretense of the way the narrative unfurl was what made this performance an absolute pleasure.

Friday, January 22, 2016

REVIEW: Theatre Pilgrimage in United Kingdom

I spent my Christmas and New Year in the United Kingdom and managed to watch 14 shows: 10 musicals, 3 plays and 1 variety show. While they are of different genre, here's my ranking based on my enjoyment of the show:

  1. Funny Girl
  2. In The Heights
  3. Kinky Boots
  4. Guys and Dolls
  5. Bend It Like Beckham
  6. Ben Hur
  7. Mr. Foote's Other Leg
  8. Shrek
  9. Elf
  11. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
  12. Wendy and Peter Pan
  13. Close to You
  14. The Ken Dodd Happiness Show

Here's my impression of the shows (in chronological order):

Tricycle Theatre (London), Friday December 18

I chose Ben Hur in particular because it will be first night in London. I thought that I would need something funny to keep me awake from my jet-lag and indeed it worked! 

From the team behind The 39 Steps and billed as “One of the most authentic versions of ancient Rome ever seen”, the production promises a "103% bona fide chariot race featuring real chariots, a sea battle with real water and a decadent and unexpurgated Roman orgy that is suitable for all ages." Somehow, I think it might have just avoided from false advertising charges by a hair.

The truth is that I have never seen the movie before; thus to be able to appreciate the parody, I watched the movie before I went to London. With the movie fresh in my mind, the parody worked extremely well. As if the story in the movie was not enough, Patrick Barlow created a play within a play, complete with a love triangle among the cast members. The pace was fast and furious; and the gags worked extremely well.

Cast: Alix Dunmore, Richard Durden, John Hopkins, Ben Jones 
Author: General Lew Wallace 
Adapted by: Patrick Barlow 
Director: Tim Carroll 
Producer: Fiery Angel and Tricycle Theatre 
Lighting Designer: Mark Doubleday 
Movement Director: Siân Williams 
Sound: Ben and Max Ringham

Adelphi Theatre (London), Saturday December 19

This is one of the few shows that I was truly looking forward to see and was not disappointed with it. Based on the 2005 comedy film about a son who reluctantly inherits his father’s shoe factory, this Tony Award-winning musical was big in heart and high in spirit.

At the core of this musical is a really good story about personal journey and coming to terms who one really is; and more important is that it was told in a light and easy way. The performers were very good and balanced with the leads standing out for the good and right reasons. Killian Donnelly’s Charlie Price (who inherited the struggling shoe factory) was a very likeable character and Donelly ensured that we will all root for him in his struggle. Matt Henry's Lola, on the other hand, (who was tasked to help re-invent the shoe business) was every inch a flamboyant diva, though he can also be disarmingly vulnerable in conflict moments.

Overall, it was an extremely entertaining musical... but does it really deserve to win the Tony Award for Best Musical over Matilda? Nah....
Cast: Killian Donnelly, Matt Henry, Amy Ross, Amy Lennox, Jamie Baughan, Michael Hobbs, Marcus Collins, Gemma Atkins, Paul Ayers, Emma Crossley, Jeremy Batt, Arun Blair-Mangat, Jordan Fox, Callum Francis, Robert Grose, Gillian Hardie, Chloe Hart, Sophie Isaacs, Luke Jackson, Robert Jones, Adam Lake, Catherine Millsom, Sean Needham, Tim Prottey-Jones, Verity Quade, Javier Santos, Dominic Tribuzio, Alan Vicary, Michael Vinsen, Bleu Woodward 
Director: Jerry Mitchell 
Music by: Cyndi Lauper 
Lyrics by: Cyndi Lauper 
Book by: Harvey Fierstein 
Costume: Gregg Barnes 
Lighting Designer: Kenneth Posner 
Set Designer: David Rockwell 
Sound: John Shivers 

Phoenix Theatre (London), Saturday December 19

Written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, who worked on the original hit film starring Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra, This musical version of Bend It Like Beckham was both a hit and a miss. The musical tells the story of Jess, a young woman with a big decision to make, should she live the life her family expects her to live or chase her dream in sports.

Watching this musical made me wonder what it would looked and sounded like in the original West End production. But wait, this IS the original West End production, so why is it that there is so many elements in it that looked and sounded so amateur?

Bend It Like Beckham as a musical definitely works, creator/ director Gurinder Chadha ensured that the story unfolded at a rhythmic pace and the audiences are transported and inspired by it. On the other hand, composer Howard Goodall and lyricist Charles Hart provided voices that are anchored emotionally and melodiously. Where it went wrong was the rest. The cast, choreography and set design are not what one expects in a production in West End. Mind you, they were not horrible, they were just not nuanced and polished enough.

Will I go and see it again? Maybe. Will I recommend it? Yes.
Cast: Natalie Dew, Lauren Samuels, Jamie Muscato, Sophie-Louise Dann, Jamal Andréas, Preeya Kalidas, Natasha Jayetileke, Tony Jayawardena, Sohm Kapila, Buckso Dhillon-Woolley, Harveen Mann, Irvine Iqbal, Karl Seth, Sejal Keshwala, Serina Mathew, Sharan Phull, Rakesh Boury, Jorell Coiffic-Kamall, Tom Millen, Daniel Bolton, Raj Bajaj, Michelle Bishop, Lisa Bridge, Chloe Chambers, Genesis Lynea, Kirstie Skivington, Danielle Young, Rekha Sawhney, Shahid Khan, Kayleigh McKnight 
Author: Paul Mayeda Berges and Gurinder Chadha 
Director: Gurinder Chadha 
Music by: Howard Goodall 
Lyrics by: Charles Hart 
Producer: Sonia Friedman Productions 
Choreographer: Aletta Collins 
Costume: Katrina Lindsay 
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin 
Set Designer: Miriam Buether 
Sound: Richard Brooker

Menier Chocolate Factory (London), Sunday December 20

FUNNY GIRL is a tricky one. I was looking forward to seeing it because it is rarely staged since its 1964 Broadway premiere; and because I actually believe that no one but Barbra Streisand could pull it off. I went to the performance knowing that the show was well received, but don't know much about the leading lady Sheridan Smith.

During the first 15 minutes of the show, I was pretty convinced that I will not like the show. Sheridan Smith is short and chubby and doesn't particularly has a spectacular voice... in short, nowhere near Barbra Streisand. However, as the show moved on, one forgets Streisand and by the end of the show, Smith totally owns the show. Smith provided an earth-bound character with knows-no-bounds eagerness for love and approval. 

The production was simple and sleek as one would expect in a small theatre like the Menier. The set and lighting were very effective and the rest of the cast were most competent. I am glad to see Darius Campbell in the role of Nick Arnstein (I last saw him in the undeservingly short-lived musical From Here to Eternity). He was every inch (all 6'4") the man that almost no one would resist. I particularly love the moment when the wedding picture showing his height difference Smith was passingly walked through the stage.

This is definitely the best show I have seen during my trip and I would love to see how this petite show translates to a bigger stage like the Savoy Theatre. 
Cast: Valda Aviks, Natasha J Barnes, Emma Caffrey, Darius Campbell, Matthew Croke, Marilyn Cutts, Joelle Dyson, Rebecca Fennelly, Luke Fetherston, Leah Harris, Kelly Homewood, Sammy Kelly, Maurice Lane, Bruce Montague, Joel Montague, Stuart Ramsay, Sheridan Smith, Gay Soper 
Adapted by: Harvey Fierstein 
Director: Michael Mayer 
Music by: Jule Styne 
Lyrics by: Bob Merrill 
Book by: Isobel Lennart 
Choreographer: Lynne Page 
Costume: Matthew Wright 
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson 
Set Designer: Michael Pavelka 
Sound: Richard Brooker 

Dominion Theatre (London), Monday December 21

Elf is one of the most disappointing show I've seen; and the only saving grace of this show was the fact that it is an inherently entertaining show to watch. Was it justified to be the most expensive show in West End? Absolutely not. Everything about the show shouted "tour", which means that everything tends to be flimsy with designs that didn't really fit the stage and performers that were very average. 

Of the 14 shows I have seen, Elf ranks 9th. The fundamental material of the musical is good. It has a good story and book; and the music was jolly and hummable. What really annoyed me was pretty much the whole production design in relation to the cost of the tickets. Ben Forster has a beautiful voice but he was too sophisticated to convincingly play the naive Buddy the elf. Kinberley Walsh was also too sophisticated to play the jaded love interest of Ben Forster's Buddy; she in fact looked like she was tired and bored with the role. 
Cast: Ben Forster, Kimberley Walsh, Joe McGann, Jessica Martin, Jennie Dale, Mark McKerracher, Graham Lappin
Book by: Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin
Music by: Matthew Sklar
Lyrics by: Chad Beguelin
Director and Choreographer: Morgan Young
Musical Director and Supervisor: Stuart Morley
Production Designed by: Tim Goodchild
Lighting Designer: Tim Lutkin
Video Designer: Ian William Galloway
Sound Designer: Clem Rawling for MAC Sound 

King's Cross Theatre (London), Monday December 21

This ranks second in my list and it was a great show. I love the fact that the setting and the stage configuration is different. The stage is set like a runway with the audiences assigned to both sides of the runway. The performers fluidly enter and exit on either ends of the runway. From the audience perspective, it was almost like witnessing a slice of the neighborhood while walking down the street.

I saw a staging of this musical back in 2011 in Manila, and really enjoyed it. At first, I was concern that I wouldn't like the rapping in the musical, but I actually quite like it as it was used quite fittingly. The performers were all top-notch, really can't find a any fault. The one thing though that stood out in this production was the beautiful choreography executed by technically competent dancers.

I would love to see it again.
Cast: David Bedella, Josie Benson, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Sugababe Jade Ewen, Sam Mackay, Sarah Naudi, Eve Polycarpou, Lily Frazer, Antoine Murray-Straughan, Joe Aaron Reid, Cleve September, Jocasta Almgill, Courtney-Mae Briggs, Michael Cortez, Gabriela Garcia, Reiss Hinds, Alexandra Sarmiento, Spin
Director: Luke Sheppard
Music by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lyrics by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by: Quiara Alegría Hudes
Choreographer: Drew McOnie

Savoy Theatre (London), Tuesday December 22

I almost didn't go and see this musical, mainly because I have seen it several time before. However, there's was not a lot of musicals in London that I haven't seen and among those I haven't seen, this was the more attractive. Having said that, I LOVE IT!!!

I really can't say that the set was grand or spectacular. It was simple and yet extremely effective. It captured the glitz and naughtiness of the musical and left a lot of space for the audience to focus on the performers. The cast were fantastic. When the four principals came out, I thought that they were a bit old for the roles, but as an ensemble and by the virtue of their fabulous portrayal, I actually quite enjoyed them. I particularly like Jamie Parker as Sky Masterson. He is not particularly good-looking, but he definitely has the suave and voice to lure the likes of Siubhan Harrison's Sarah Brown.

Another aspect of this show that stood out was the dance. I noted that there were two choreographers, though I am not sure who did what. Having said that, there was certainly a renewed energy in the interpretation of this musical. They were not just there to entertain, but was there to contribute dramatically.
Cast: Sophie Thompson, Jamie Parker, David Haig, Siubhan Harrison, Gavin Spokes, Ian Hughes, Neil McCaul, Nic Greenshields, Cornelius Clarke, William Oxborrow, Lorna Gayle, Carl Patrick, Lucy Jane Adcock, Abigail Brodie, Momar Diagne, Lavinia Fitzpatrick, Selina Hamilton, Frankie Jenna, Jacob Maynard, Genevieve Nicole, Max Parker, James Revell, Giovanni Spano, Jonathan Stewart, Lucie-Mae Sumner, Liam Wrate 
Author: Damon Runyon 
Director: Gordon Greenberg 
Music by: Frank Loesser 
Lyrics by: Frank Loesser 
Book by: Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows 
Choreographer: Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright 
Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell 
Sound: Paul Groothuis

National Theatre Olivier (London), Tuesday December 22

Ugh... not sure what to say... 

The concept was good and even though there's tons of weirdness, that is what one should expect isn't it? This is a play on Alice in Wonderland. The performers were good, but the failure of this musical lies in the more fundamental aspect of the work, that it it has a poor book with worse music.

Also, while the designs are creative, they never feel like they were cohesive. Having said that, peculiarly, I would want to go and see it again... give it a second chance. Don't ask me why.
Cast: Simon Anthony, Sam Archer, Carly Bawden, Lois Chimimba, Leon Cooke, Nadine Cox, Ivan De Freitas, Hal Fowler, Anna Francolini, Adrian Grove, Paul Hilton, Joshua Lacey, Dylan Mason, Daisy Maywood, Enyi Okoronkwo, Lisa Ritchie, Stephanie Rojas, Abigail Rose, Golda Rosheuvel, Cydney Uffindell-Phillips, Ed Wade, Witney White 
Author: Lewis Carroll 
Director: Rufus Norris 
Producer: National Theatre 
Choreographer: Javier De Frutos 
Costume: Katrina Lindsay 
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable 
Set Designer: Rae Smith 
Sound: Paul Arditti

Theatre Royal Haymarket (London), Wednesday December 23

I am not big with plays, but every now and then when there's not much else to see and if one is traveling with a friend who prefers plays, I am more than willing to give in to one or two. And it is plays like this that may somehow convert me. 

Simon Russell Beale was aboslutely brilliant in the role of Samuel Foote, the 18th century satirist and comedian Samuel Foote. Transferring to the West End following a sold-out run at the Hampstead Theatre, the play charts the story of Foote as he becomes a celebrity in London. The transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket marks an appropriate move for this production as Foote was both theatre manager and a performer at the venue. 

For people who are more knowledgeable about the theatre history in UK, this play is absolutely a must-see. It was very cleverly written and the staging was just right, right to elaborate but highly atmospheric.
Cast: Simon Russell Beale, Dervla Kirwan, Joseph Millson, Micah Balfour, Jenny Galloway, Ian Kelly, Forbes Masson, Colin Stinton, Sophie Bleasdale, Joshua Elliott
Author: Ian Kelly
Director: Richard Eyre
Producer: Michael Codron, Anthony Pye-Jeary and Greg Ripley-Duggan for Hampstead Theatre

Criterion Theatre (London), Wednesday December 23

I found this under MUSICAL in the Official London Theatre website; and it shouldn't be there. This is just a mini concert with jazzed up tune of Burt Bacharach sang one after another. The set was very interesting, but it was simply there to make all the singing interesting. Thanks to The Ken Dodd Happiness Show, this was saved from being the worst show in my list.

Cast: Kyle Riabko 
Director: Steven Hoggett 
Music by: Burt Bacharach 
Lyrics by: Hal David 
Producer: David Lane Seltzer for Entertainment 360 
Costume: Matthew Wright 
Lighting Designer: Tim Lutkin 
Set Designer: Christine Jones and Brett Banakis 
Sound: Richard Brooker

The Sherman Theatre (Cardiff), Thursday December 24

I really do not need to see this show, but I thought that since there is a slight possibility that I might move or travel to Cardiff more often, I should really checkout this theatre and see just how good or bad it is.

I personally did not expect that I would like this show as I have never like this C.S. Lewis story... book or movie, I never liked it. There's something about it being an allegory of Christ's crucifixion that put me off. The end-result? It was better than I expected, but I wouldn't want to go see it again. The staging was creatively functional and the performers were not too bad. Overall, the whole thing was just a bit better than average.

Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff), Sunday December 26 

I have seen SHREK when it was playing at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London; even then, I didn't particularly like it. However, since it is the only decent thing showing at the Wales Millennium Centre and because my friends in Cardiff haven't seen it, I thought I should give it another try... well, my verdict remains the same as my previous review. In isolation, the different elements of the musical seemed to be not bad… in fact, quite good. However, while the music (by Jeanine Tesori) is good, they didn’t seem to build-up the musical. The songs just floated happily throughout and only somehow climaxed with a 1966 song I’m a Believer. 



Royal Shakespeare Theatre (Stratford-Upon-Avon), Sunday December 27

Part of the reason why I didn't enjoy this production is because I can't get over the fact that I didn't like what they did to the theatre. My first experience with the theatre was back in 2006 when I went to see Dame Judi Dench in RSC's Merry Wives of Windsor. The theatre was a regular one with defined proscenium. This newly transformed theatre that opened in 2010 has a thrust stage. There's nothing wrong with the thrust stage except that all the columns in the theatre suddenly don't make sense. If you are an audience sitting upstage, your view will be practically restricted by two to three columns... anyway...

This version of Peter Pan was more about Wendy. It was about a inspired teenager who wants to be courageous and strong. It was also a play where she talked about her feelings a lot, including her grief for her dead brother Tom, who she was convinced was taken by Pan to Neverland.

The set, costume and lighting design were excellent. My other big problem was that none of the actors plating kids (except for Sam Clemmett playing Tom) were convincing. They all looked by a bunch of adults pretending to be kids. Yes, of course they were real adults, but they all seem to have the notion that all kids acted like they are mentally challenged... something they must have thought was cute, but I just find it annoying.
Cast: Simon Carroll-Jones, Cavan Clarke, Sam Clemmett, James Corrigan, Darell D’Silva, Mariah Gale, Adam Gillen, Susan Hingley, Jack Homer, Rebecca Johnson, Paul Kemp, Arthur Kyeyune, David Langham, Douggie McMeekin, Jordan Metcalfe, Charlotte Mills, Mimi Ndiweni, Dodger Phillips, Laura Prior, Rhys Rusbatch, Patrick Toomey, Lawrence Walker, Harry Walker, Jay Webb, Dan Wheeler
Director: Jonathan Munby
Designer: Colin Richmond
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick
Music: Olly Fox

Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Tuesday December 28

It was not my idea to go and see this. I don't know who Ken Dodd is. My friends were explaining that he was huge when they were kids. 

Anyway, we went to the theatre late deliberately. After finding out that the show lasted up till 1am the previous night, me and my friends thought that we really shouldn't sacrifice our dessert for Ken Dodd. Upon entering the theatre, I noticed that it was full. There was a guy on stage and he could have been speaking German. There was a slur in his enunciation that made me think that he either had a stroke sometime ago or his dentures are loose. After a while, I somehow got used to his sound and I started to understand about 50%. Some of his jokes are okay, but most of the times...

After his section, there came somebody who sang a few songs and then a fat woman who also sang and danced. At this point, I excused myself to go to the toilet. I got out of the toilet and thought of checking out if there is news in my BBC apps... the next thing I know, all my friends also came out of the theatre... so we left early.


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