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Tag Archive | "Union Theatre"

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Review: Fair Em

Posted on 13 January 2013 by Lucy Cave

Fair Em

Fair Em is a bit of a tricky one to get your head around. While it was compelling visually, with some moments of pure comedy, the whole show was let down by its age. According to the play’s posters, this is the first time Fair Em has been performed on a modern stage, and you can see the reason why.

The play starts with Sir Thomas Goddard (James Horne) and his daughter Em (Caroline Haines) having to flee after William The Conqueror (Jack Taylor) invades the land. Meanwhile, William The Conqueror falls in love with a beautiful woman painted on the Danish Ambassador’s (Tom Gordon-Gill) shield, he sets off to Denmark to make her his wife.

When William gets to Denmark, he is greeted to the terrorising Danish King, who currently holds Mariana (Alys Metcalf), a Swedish princess, for ransom. William discovers that the lady on the shield is the King’s daughter, but Blanch (Madeline Gould) is not the oil painting he expects, and he instead falls in love with Mariana, who is actually in love with the ambassador.

Back in England, Em is trying desperately to drive rival suitors away, but goes to extreme measures to do it, also turning her own true love away too. Back in Denmark, Mariana tricks William into taking Princess Blanch home to England in her place. Everyone’s deceptions start to unravel, with everyone trying desperately to make sure it is a happy ending.

While the play is called Fair Em, when you first see Princess Blanch, played Madeline Gould, you start to wish it were called Fair Blanch. The scenes that take place in Denmark are much more exciting than the scenes that take place in England. A highlight of the show was the masquerade ball, where Blanch tries to make sure she is always near her love William, but it ends up becoming a full-blown fight.

The poor cast do try desperately to keep this show on its toes, though. There are some redeeming scenes, but the absolutely absurd plot makes it hard to enjoy it fully. An example of the absurdness comes in a scene where Em is trying to fight off her suitors but also convince her father that she is blind and deaf – it all becomes a bit cringe-worthy.

Nick Morrel’s music also helps give this show some life. The songs by the ensemble between scenes are catchy little ditties, songs that you would never expect to get stuck in your head as you leave. ‘All Around My Hat’ gives the show a much-needed boost…just as it is ending.

The ‘happy ending’ is the last straw, with Em falling in love with the one person she did not want to be with, and Princess Blanch being with William The Conqueror after he compared her looks to dying fruit.

I am sure that some Shakespeare buffs will enjoy this play no end, because Phill Willmott has tried his hardest to put on a good show, but the outdated plot line lets it down. It is definitely a ‘go to see it to make your own mind up’ show.

FAIR EM is currently showing at Union Theatre, Southwark till February 9th.

Lucy Cave

Lucy Cave

Lucy is a 2nd year Media Writing student living in South East London. When she's not blogging you can find her working on her scripts or novel.

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Review: Call Me Madam

Posted on 08 October 2012 by Lucy Cave

If you’re looking for a big, ballsy, Broadway-style evening you might not be expecting it in a theatre beside the arch of a bridge in South East London, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

“Mrs Sally Adams requests the pleasure of your company” is the first thing that is sung in the show, and immediately you are drawn into this cast. The story starts with the announcement that Sally Adams (Lucy Williamson) has been appointed the US ambassador for a fictional country called Lichtenburg. While she is the ambassador, Sally manages to use her charm on the locals and a politian named Cosmo Constantine (Gavin Kerr). However Cosmo is far too proud to take a $100,000,000 loan from the States for his poverty stricken country.

At times, the pacing of the show can be a little off, but maybe that is just musicals in general. Sometimes the atmosphere is really happy and then we have sadness, and if you’re not used to that it can toy with your emotions. The falling in love element really did nothing for the story; I did feel compassion for Sally’s press officer and the princess of Lichtenburg falling in love but the scenes with Sally and Cosmo just did nothing for me.

The group dance numbers were tight in the small space; watching them felt like the ensemble could not be as big and bold with their moves as they wanted o, because they feared that their hand might hit a pole in the room. However, during the number ‘Something to Dance About’, where couples performed different dances, it was electrifying. The tap dancing piece during this song is to absolutely die for. Choreographer of the show Mark Smith took the limited spacing he had and made that scene faultless.

The only things I didn’t like about this show are things that are really down to personal taste. Other than that, the show is really amazing. There is nothing like this on in London at the moment, filled with an old-school singalong that will have you singing the tunes for days. During the interval every person I walked past was humming ‘The Washington Square Dance’.

Lucy Williamson absolutely steals the show as Sally Adams. I have never seen somebody so comfortable in a role before; would it be clichéd to say that it looked like she was absolutely born to play that role? Well I have said it, and I am sticking to my guns. I cannot wait to see her in different roles in the future.

We cannot leave the rest of the cast out; Leo Miles and Natalie Lipin playing the star-crossed lovers Kenneth Gibson and Princess Maria had the best musical numbers in the show, and when Miles and Williamson come together to sing ‘You’re Just in Love’ the comic timing and talent of the pair shows. The big number from the senators (Blake J Askew, Ralph Birtwell and Jay Worthy) from Washington is also a highlight of the show. Call Me Madam also shows just how much better a show can be when you have an amazing ensemble behind the leads of the show – they kept the energy going when sometimes it could have fell.

In a nutshell Call Me Madam has problems like the Genie in the movie Aladdin: phenomenal talent but an itty bitty living space. The cast and crew work try their hardest to put on an amazing show and it paid off in the end.

Call Me Madam is showing at The Union Theatre till 27 October. For more information and tickets, see the Union Theatre website.

Lucy Cave

Lucy Cave

Lucy is a 2nd year Media Writing student living in South East London. When she's not blogging you can find her working on her scripts or novel.

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Review: Sill Life

Posted on 27 August 2012 by Amelia Forsbrook

Written by Noel Coward as part of a series of short plays, Still Life was designed to be performed within a collection spanning three evenings, before being picked up as the foundation for David Lean’s 1945 classic film, Brief Encounter. A claustrophobic exploration of forbidden passion set inside a train station cafe, the play gives us fragmented chapters of an adulterous couple’s romance. We watch as they meet by chance and, surrounded by freshly baked cakes and a steady supply of tea, return to enjoy stolen moments before catching the trains that will power them back towards betrayed families.

The location here is key, symbolically illustrating the distance between lovers Laura and Alec and their ultimate need to be separated. Audio clips of steam trains reinforce this sense of inevitability, as the couple try to negotiate with the sense of guilt that comes from returning to their respective spouses. By bringing this production to a venue tucked underneath a railway line, DeadAnt Theatre has made a undoubtable creative impact. Trains rolling overhead spontaneously contribute to the sound design, pulling at the boundaries between fiction and reality. This clever positioning endows the production with a playful, realistic edge, which makes the couple’s rushed departures from their ‘brief encounters’ thrillingly convincing. Indeed, as far as venues for this production go, you really can’t get any better.

It takes a little time to warm to the young adulterers, played by a restrained Alice Knapton and an enthusiastic James Powell. Initially, Laura’s respectability seems a little overdone and Alec’s guilty romanticism far too earnest. But, like any good affair, this one fights against our initial resistance and knots us tighter and tighter. We know we shouldn’t, but as soon as Powell detonates a perfect, reassuring smile, we fall for him. With brilliantly emphasised stares, nervous looks at the table and desperate rhetoric, Powell’s Alec is a man set on persuading himself as much as anything else. Knapton, in turn, goes on to deliver a wordless exploration of Laura’s quest to find belonging through love. Trying to match the intelligence of her lover with over-enthusiastic eyes and a smile pressed by anxious concentration, she attentively listens as he explains his work.

The strength of the piece lies in that there’s nothing remarkable about the two lovers, arguably making this one of Coward’s sharpest explorations of denied romance. Significantly, we are never shown the more liberated, guiltless moments of their encounter, making the relationship ultimately seem as hidden from us as it is from their respective spouses. In some productions, this selectivity leaves the sense that something is missing. However, Deadant Theatre has captured the snapshot intensity of these moments and, by balancing these guarded interactions against the hustle and bustle of lighthearted life in the cafe, has brought different episodes into the same scenes with clarity and realistic timing.

The power of this little production is derived from the fact that, as we watch the interactions contained within the station cafe, we’re not quite given enough details to truly believe in the ardent lovers. This is a production that forces us to speculate on what goes on outside and, with secretive love being its major theme, that is surely the point.

Still Life is playing at the Union Theatre until 25 August. For more information and tickets, see the Union Theatre website.

Amelia Forsbrook

Formerly one of the Wales Arts International critics, Amelia moved to London in early 2012 with two big aims: to continue working as an arts writer, and to discover whether it's ever possible to pull off both telephones and flying in theatre. With particular interests in regional arts, South Asian performance and twentieth century European theatre, Amelia writes for a number of other publications, as well as being an Off West End Assessor.

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Review: The Fix

Posted on 24 June 2012 by Veronica Aloess

The Fix (written by John Dempsey and composed by Dana P.Rowe) hasn’t had many revivals since its premiere at the Donmar Warehouse in 1997, and that’s a real shame. This musical is catchy as hell, and dare I say it, actually rather complex when you dig a little deeper.

The Fix follows Cal’s (Louis Maskell) rapid rise and fall in the world of politics; his affair, drug addiction and association with the mafia, as his mother Violet (Liz May Brice) forces him to follow in his dead father’s footsteps without caring that Cal doesn’t want any of this. The first act only touches the surface in comparison to the second, concentrating a little too long on the expository details around Cal’s rise (and story-wise has echoes of Lloyd Webber’s Evita and the song ‘Rainbow High’). Maskell and Brice lead the cast superbly, but it’s Miles Western as Grahame, Cal’s uncle and the brains behind the both Cal and his father’s political careers, that carries the show. Throughout, Western’s lines have superb comic timing (which is important as the rest of the characters’ dialogue isn’t as funny as it tries to be), but opens Act Two on a painfully moving song which sets the tone for the rest of the show.

In musicals, characters generally break into song just because they can. But The Fix is clever; the big numbers play on the showmanship of American politics. The chorus numbers scream of Broadway – it’s all tits and teeth from the sultry female dancers and it’s a wonder there were no jazz hands. As an ensemble, their individual personalities stand out but they’re always absolutely together and full of energy.

As a result, the solos feel more intimate. Rowe’s rocky score is delivered by Maskell like a rock star. Cal was originally played by John Barrowman, and Maskell looks set to follow in his footsteps: his vocal is flawless and edgy, and the delivery is sexy. He doesn’t overplay the addiction, but captures both the vulnerable and dangerous elements. His coming-of-age story is one we’ve seen a thousand times before, but is handled with maturity. Brice, in comparison to the crescendo this production undergoes, overplays her part, coming across as a little screechy with her lines in the small space. However her performance is one that must grow alongside her transformation from a ‘Washington bitch’ to a proper mother. In the Union Theatre, it takes some time for the band and cast to balance with one another, and I couldn’t hear everything that was being said or sung.  The diction isn’t always there with some cast members and words get lost in Rowe’s heavy score. Notably though, beautiful Daisy Tonge doesn’t have enough stage time as Cal’s lover, Tina; her big voice and open heart swell in the space, and she’s a delight to watch.

Director Michael Strassen achieves a tremendous amount with barely any set due to the strength of the cast and their ability to command the stage, and Steve Miller’s lighting design. His use of spotlights and camera flashes distinguishes between when the characters are in the public eye and at home, and he dims the lights when Cal is indulging in more scandalous escapades with the mafia, or Tina. With the minimal props used, I don’t see the need for three serving trolleys to be forever coming in and out with drinks and such, but they are handled with surprising grace and little distraction. Strassen’s direction is appropriately neat. Everything looks right, and in politics that’s what’s important.

The Fix is an intelligent musical, it captures the superficiality of politics and translates this into song and dance. The musical rhythms of ‘I See The Future’ reflect those of great speeches like Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’, but also highlight how style comes before content in order to have such an impact. The Union Theatre’s done it again; this cast and crew are the future of musical theatre.

The Fix plays at the Union Theatre until 14 July. For more information and tickets, see the Union Theatre website.

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She is co-founder of Don't Make Me Angry Productions which is dedicated to original writing and innovative performance.

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