Theater

This week The Bishopgate Institute, in partnership with Musical Theatre International presents Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s classic West Side Story. This is The Bishopgate’s in house production and is set in The Grand Hall in traverse. Written sixty years ago this show, like the original star crossed lovers tale is a classic. This is Bishopsgate’s first solo venture in to the Non-professional Theatre scene after working with Centre Stage London in 2016 when the co-produced Ragtime in Concert. I use the term ‘Non-professional’ as AmDram always makes me think of village halls and Tinkly out of tunes pianos: this is far from it. First off it’s such a treat to sit in Bishopsgate’s Great Hall listening to a full orchestra playing Bernstein’s masterpiece. It’s no wonder West Side Story is so timeless. Conducted by Ben Ferguson, the orchestra bring every moment and nuance to life. It’s resplendent to say in the least. Director Toby Hine’s set is minimal leaving the full stage for the actors and the music to shine and shine they did. Unfortunately these were the only things that did shine brightly. I believe that musical theatre progresses and evolves by new musicals being created and grown, not by taking works of art that have been around for several decades and giving it your own spin: especially when it’s West Side Story. The reason it’s so timeless is because it’s perfect. Hine’s artistic liberties drastically changes things. I really do have to speak about one vital change - Tony kills Bernardo by snapping his neck. By accident. Since watching the show I have looked in to how easy it would be to snap someone’s neck and the answer is ‘not easy at all’, it is a deliberate killing. In the situation of the rumble, where everyone is on guard, it’s highly unlikely this would have happened - this is a case of stick to the source material. Guy Salim, Lemington Ridley and Chris Whittaker’s choreography wasn’t as structured as expected with West Side; the music is the air for the lungs of the choreography and at times it seemed a bit chocked; Perhaps a case of too many cooks. However the cast delivered it sensationally and America, as always was the moment the roof was raised! Bravo Sharkettes! The cast were brilliant and it was hard to remember that all of them are workingin a non-professional show. As the star crossed lovers we have James Gower-Smith and Emily McDouall. Gower-Smith’s Tony is a fantastic vocalist, making easy work of the score, smooth and very pleasing to listen to. As Maria McDouall’s control is superb in the upper notes demanded of the part. Together their voices blend superbly, marrying and working together to pull at the audience’s heart strings. Playing Anita is Victoria Greenway bringing a slightly older interpretation of the character. I believe the dichotomy to Maria worked well in this production as McDouall played her more naive than I have seen previously. Greenway’s vocal is strong and wonderful to listen to, demanding your attention; reminds me of Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, brilliant.Both groups of men were very good. Form the Sharks Charlie Smith as Baby John and Glen Jordan as A-Rab were brilliant, keeping the energy high which clearly filtered through to the other boys. Their dancing was strong as well as their characterisation, comedy and vocals. Bernardo (Christopher Georgiou) led a strong group of boys in the form of the sharks. This gam commanded the stage each time they walked on. Georggiou’s strong characterisation was a stark contrast to the Jets and grounded the piece. The most perturbing part of the piece was a girl holding down Anita during the scene we all feel uncomfortable watching. Unfortunately having the chorus of girls taking Anybody’s (Lauren Pears) story arc was a poor directorial choice and spoiled what was a spot on, superb performance from Pears. This cast gave stellar performances; which combined with good choreography and the grandeur of the orchestra sat perfectly in this venue. Heartfelt and moving. The cast did Bernstein and Sondheim proud: sadly some directorial decisions let the production down. Review by Samuel ClemensRating: ★★★★Seat: C11 | Price of ticket: £25
July 02, 2018
Every man was a boy once. Whether he is following protocol, correcting his posture or relying on his uniform, that boy never leaves.“For King and Country” is a court room drama that takes place in 1918 on the Western Front. Private Hamp is facing a trial following his desertion. Only we learn that he has little active memory of that desertion, that it wasn’t a brave act but a symptom of his need to just leave, as he just couldn’t take it anymore. After seeing his friend blown to pieces and ending up drowned in mud following an explosion, he was shell shocked, and just “couldn’t take it no more”. This show directed by Paul Thomlinson and playing at Southwark Playhouse until 21 July, is an intensely sad two hours fuelled by moments of surprise, desperation and hope. During the Great War, acts of desertion and cowardice were punishable by death. I recently read a book called “Dead Man Walking” about the death penalty in the US. It asks about the point of killing a soul when that death will not rectify what he did. Here, Hamp cannot even articulate why he left or whether he would ever have come back to the front if he had had the chance, and you notice how fragile life can be, even in war where there are hundreds of casualties every day. The play involves the themes of mental health, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Today, we are lucky to be faced with theatre that accepts that mental health is just as important as any other physical illness. For a play that is over 50 years old, it is incredible that they were already addressing it! In the play, the President of the Court (played by Peter Ellis) asks Hamp’s lawyer, who mentions his mental health, “do you mean he is a lunatic?”. I feel lucky to be alive in a time when PTSD can be truthfully discussed. What I enjoyed about the ensemble cast is that it was made of a diverse group.While they all wear pretty much the same uniform and colours, the personalities come out through voice and speech pattern. They all form a brotherhood, despite their harsh arguments. The lead Adam Lawrence as Hamp presents a highly emotional and troubling performance of a 24-year-old married man and father of a boy from Northern England whose uncertain speech pattern seems to have the ability to save him and kill him at the same time. One can imagine that back home, his slow and hesitant speech will make people ignore him, lose patience. I admire that his defendant, Lieutenant Hargreaves (played charismatically and sensitively Lloyd Everitt) finds that patience for him. He waits humbly, respectfully, for but a word or two that will help his defence. While he tries not to get too emotional about Hamp, the brotherhood takes over and he can’t accept that this very brotherhood would kill him. Andrew Cullum as the medical officer O’Sullivan is excellent as his mind will not accept that he could have helped Hamp more when he came to him because of his nerves and moves us when losing his calm. We can’t even imagine what he sees every day. I would say that more than anything, what the soldiers all have in common is keeping it together and being patient. This may be the reason Hemp makes some of them so angry: they may be thinking “why did he just walk off when I am on the verge of doing it every day but stop myself?” I must mention the loyalty between the soldiers. During the trial, while Hargreaves defends Hamp against Lieutenant Midgley (Fergal Coghlan), and that the latter passionately attacks Hamp’s desertion, they are still brothers and comfort each other at the end of the day. With scenes interrupted by trench fighting, the weight of what these men are going through is palpable. We can sense the heat, smell and comfort of liquor thanks to Jacqueline Gunn’s dark and wooden design and the men’s tight costumes by Deborah Wilkins and Paulina Domaszewska. As we approach the end of the centenary, this play honours the individual souls’ irrational hope and desperation that led them through the War. It is an at times uncomfortable reminder of the individual within the large statistics.Review by Sophie TergeistRating: ★★★★Seat: B29 | Price of Ticket: £20
July 03, 2018