Thursday, 19 June 2008

Come on Jeeves

18 June 2008
Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage

By Jeeves, where's the fizz?!

Well, I liked the costumes!

And the set was nice!

But I have to say, and I KNOW it's a cliche, but, about half way through the first half, I really did find myself thinking about what I would have for dinner the next night! And to be honest, I really don't know what to say about this production!

Firstly, the plot - I can at least outline that I think!

In this story, Jeeves (Richard Pocock) is without Wooster, which is a bit like Pinky being without Perky. But it's explained away by Wooster being out of town and Jeeves only being "on loan" to the Earl of Towcester (James Cawood).

This Earl is struggling to maintain both his crumbling Towcester Abbey home, and a secret gambling habit and most of the play is based on the fact that he he has to keep this information from his fiancée Jill (Myfanwy Waring), as well as his visiting sister Lady Monica (Judy Buxton), and her husband Lord Rory (Derren Nesbitt). Yawn.

The rest of the story is based on wealthy American Mrs Spottsworth, played by the legendary Anita Harris, who has been brought to the ailing home by Lady Monica with a view to her buying it.

Jeeves, played by Richard Pocock is of course always on hand to help preserve sanity amongst it all.

That's about it really, but it's all rather long-winded and as the first half is basically all about setting up this scene and as this takes more than an hour, I think you can get my drift! It's so slow, it's like being behind a tractor in a 70mph zone.

I did an interview with the legendary Anita Harris before I saw the play and she said that it was "lovely, relaxed and safe" and this to an extent is true but I would say that for "relaxed and safe" read "a bit boring" really!

She also says that it's a funny play rather than a comedy and yes, it's vaguely amusing in places, but not "funny" in the true sense of the word - i.e. it makes you laugh! There were some polite chuckles in places but that's about as far as it got. PG Wodehouse is said to be one of Britain's greatest literary humorists but I think it's fairly safe to say that this is not him at his finest.

Jeeves has some nice lines but in general this play should have sparkling repartee - in reality it just had a light fizz.

What made this night really interesting was that it was a signed performance and this inadvertantly provided the funniest moments for me. Because the signer didn't really seem to understand what was happening either!

When I wasn't pre-occupied by tomorrow night's dinner, I glanced at her because she seemed to be providing most of the action and interest, but even she seemed to be somewhat under-employed! I think she was actually paraphrasing - there were a lot of gaps between the odd flick of the hand!

The cast were OK and did their best to eek out the chuckles. James Cawood as the Earl of Towcester is a daffy kind of toff, just like Wooster in fact, and Richard Pocock's Jeeves has good stage presence and delivers well, the few good lines that I enjoyed.

Anita Harris’ clairvoyant Mrs Spottsworth was glamorous and did a very good Charleston, but was, dare I say it, a little bit hammy! Sorry - Anita, I think you are fabulous but this role really didn't do anything for you. For me the stars were Judy Buxton and Darren Nesbitt as Lady Monica and Lord Rory because they were the ones who were responsible for the spartan amount of laughs with their well-timed delivery.

But the main problem with this production is that I really didn't care about it. I didn't engage with the story, didn't feel anything for the characters and couldn't really give two hoots what happened.

It all felt a bit tired and a bit dated and was ultimately rather disappointing. 1930s drawing room comedies can be sparkling - this was just dull. But the costumes were nice!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Relatively Speaking

Relatively Speaking
16 June 2008
Milton Keynes Theatre

The joy of the well-made play!

If there's anything that will make you give up any thoughts of ever writing a play, it's seeing one like this!

Alan Ayckbourn's 'Relatively Speaking' is so fantastically well-constructed that it made me want to cry - both with the pleasure of watching and the pain of it being something I could only hope to aspire to! And this was his FIRST major hit - it wasn't even written after loads of practice! Of course he's now written more than 60 plays and is one of Britain's most popular playwrights.

This one though was written in 1967, and while the plot is quite complex to explain, it is so beautifully laid out that the audience is able to work out what's going on little by little, at just the right pace, just as they need to. The characters of course are always a step behind and deliciously so too.

Basically, after a month long romance, Greg wants to marry Ginny. But Ginny’s former lover, Philip, who is a much older married man, is still sending her chocolates and flowers. Ginny also wants to get back the love letters she has sent to him before she can marry Greg.

One Sunday, Ginny tells Greg she is going to visit her parents but she doesn't want him to come as they wouldn't be expecting him and it would throw them. Finding an address on a cigarette packet Greg follows her to the house and it turns out that the inhabitants weren't expecting either of them! And unfortunately Greg arrives first!

What follows is a mixture of both joyous and excruciating exposition in a meticulously contructed play! It is quite simply a fabulous spider's web of misunderstandings where the sparkling dew hanging from it is the brilliant dialogue of cross-purposes that never flagged. The genius lies in the way that situations are only partially revealed and the two characters who are basically in the dark about their partners other lives, find out about them bit by bit.

I spent most of the play with the words, "Just TELL them" on the tip of my tongue, while marvelling at the mind who constructed the whole thing!

The cast of four in this production add to its excellence. Peter Bowles is superb as Phillip. He is a veteran and master of comedy but, even more than the perfect timing of the words, sometimes just a look or a raised eyebrow from him speaks a thousand words. He is indeed a national treasure. Diane Fletcher as his wife Sheila also turns in a flawless, assured performance.

Of the younger two, Robin Whiting as Greg is an enjoyable innocent, who always has everybody's best interests at heart and Siobhan Hewlett's Ginny clearly shows the quick thinking needed to deceive, something that Greg really should have taken heed of!

Designer Paul Farnsworth has created two wonderful sets for this production with the garish 1960s colouring of Ginny's bedsit, complete with posters of icons of that time, being in complete contrast to the beautiful Buckinghamshire country house garden, all of which ensures that the production is as enjoyable to
look at as it is to listen to!

In a telegram to Alan Ayckbourn after the play opened at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1967, Noel Coward wrote:

“All my congratulations on a beautifully constructed and very, very funny comedy I enjoyed every moment of it”

I couldn't put it better myself!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

See How They Run

10 June 2008
Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage

Blasts from the Past!

Great comedy is based on a loss of dignity, and while some of my nights out in the past may not have been that funny, I'm sure they caused someone great amusement!

But seriously, people in authority being brought down a peg or two or people in situations where they have to behave well and being made to look foolish have been the staple of comedy writers for centuries and that's why the vicar as become such a popular character in farce, especially when their trousers suddenly appear around their ankles!

So to eek out maximum fun from his wartime farce See How They Run, Philip King has given us not one vicar but FOUR - and also thrown in a Bishop for good measure!

This typical farce is a comedy of mistaken identities. Set in the village of Merton-cum-Middlewick, the proverbial "chaos ensues" when it becomes besieged by an escaped prisoner of war, a visiting priest, an actor, a locum priest and a policeman - all at the same time!

Meanwhile, parish spinster Miss Skillon makes a call to the vicar to discuss what, to her mind, is a far more pressing matter as she is outraged by the dalliances of the vicar’s wife, and of course gets embrolied in the action.

The publicity says that the resulting confusion provides an "hilarious" evening. Well, it is amusing certainly, and quite charming and genteel, but side-splitting it's not. I think this is because it is a play of its time (1945), and it was this fact that made the whole experience something that was almost moving for me rather than one that made me cry with laughter.

The first half spends a lot of time setting the scene, when it seemed that every statement is laboriously setting up something that will happen in the future. I found it a little slow but I produced a wry smile when former actor, Lance-Corporal Clive Winton (played well by Emmerdale's Dale Meeks) has to swap his army uniform for vicar's clothes and remarks that he's been in enough plays to know that when somebody swaps clothes bad things happen! I liked the fact that the author was acknowledging his devices! But, that aside I was beginning to shift around in my seat.

Then I spent the interval reading the programme notes and really thinking about it a bit more.

The writer Philip King was conscripted in the Second World War and wrote See How They Run in his spare time, which is quite a feat in itself under the circumstances. It was first staged in Peterborough in 1944 and transferred to the Comedy Theatre in London in January 1945. Now imagine. Two cities filled with service personel and war weary civilians desparately looking for some form of of amusement, something to make them smile in those dark days that were often filled with little hope. Imagine a comedy play about a vicar and his wife, a bishop, a soldier, a policeman and an escaped POW. These characters would have struck chords of recognition amongst those audiences but instead of reading about them or dealing with them, they were invited to laugh at them and not take them as seriously as they had to in real life. It must have been quite a relief.

And so, as I imagined people flocking to get even just a hint of laughter in otherwise dark days I felt a pang of guilt in finding it less funny than the more in your face comedy that I am used to. I began to be charmed by it and admired it as a product of its time with affection rather than judging it against modern comedies.

Added to this nostalgic feeling was the fact that many of the parts were played by actors who have formerly appeared in some of our best-loved TV sit-coms and shows.

There was Hi-De-Hi’s Jeffrey Holland as the bumblingly innocent stand-in vicar Arthur Humphrey, and Guy Siner who starred as Lt. Gruber in ‘Allo ‘Allo who played the escaped German POW and who drew a roar of laughter from the audience when one of his lines in this play was "Now, listen very carefully"! Then there was Michael Sharvell-Martin from No Place Like Home as the Bishop and Emmerdale's Frazer Hines.

Whatever you think of the subject matter, good farce needs good timing and physical agility and this cast certainly had those, especially in the second half. And if you love preposterous situations and nostalgic wartime farce, you'll love this portrayal of a preposterous situation in a nostalgic wartime farce!

It was basically an evening of inoffensive comedy, that made you yearn for the simple laughs we had in the 80s and also, when you thought about the context of when it was written, made you feel quite humble.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

9 June 2008
Alban Arena, St Albans

I Closed My Eyes .... And Can't Stop Humming!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat is a bit like Marmite. You either love it or you hate it, and just as I am rather partial to the yeast extract based spread, I have always enjoyed Joseph!

In a nutshell the story is as it is in Genesis and if on the off chance you're not familiar with it, the basic story is thus.
Jacob has 12 sons but favours the youngest Joseph, seemingly just because he liked his mother the best! Joseph has irritating dreams and annoys his brothers by interpreting them as signs that he will end up greater than them. The final straw comes when Jacob gives Joseph a rather snazzy coat!

The brothers plot to get rid of annoying Jo, quite understandably in my view, and he is eventually sold as a slave bound for Egypt where, after a spell languishing in jail, he finds the greatness that he dreamed about as an interpreter of the Pharaoh's dreams.

After some ridiculous scam with a golden cup that I still don't fully understand, Joseph, who is supposed to be the hero, is eventually vindicated, but for the most part I totally sympathise with the brothers! And Jacob’s parenting skills leave a lot to be desired – I didn’t think you were supposed to single out one child for special treatment!

In realising his dreams, Joseph appears as conniving, insensitive and arrogant as some of the best in “The Apprentice” so I’m really not sure what the religious message of this tale is anymore! And to cap it all, the dreams that he has to interpret aren't exactly challenging, he just has to use a bit of common sense!. One is about a baker who is carrying loaves of bread and birds come down and eat it all. Hmmm - now let me see - maybe something not very good is going to happen?!

But nevertheless, in this Rice and Lloyd-Webber musical the story manages to find great form, due to Tim Rice's genuis lyrics and Andrew Lloyd-Webber's incredibly catchy tunes. It is a feast of highly entertaining song and dance numbers in very different styles, from country and western to Parisian and gospel to Hawaiian.

This re-telling of the Biblical story of Joseph, his eleven brothers and the first ever fashion faux pas - the coat of many colours, marked the beginning of the legendary partnership of these two and it's hard to believe it’s over 40 and still going strong - a little like me!

I love the genius of Tim Rice's lyrics - any man who can rhyme "pyjamas" with "farmers" or write the following:
"He's the greatest man since Noah, It only goes to show-ah!" - deserves a knighthood in my book - and thankfully he has already got one!

And I love Lloyd Webber's annoyingly catchy tunes that I am still singing - "Close Ev'ry Door to Me", One More Angel", "Go, Go, Go Joseph" and "Any Dream Will Do" to name but a few. Although by the fifth reprise of the latter, it IS becoming a little wearing!

The cast can take a lot of credit for the joie de vivre of this production. They put in an energetic performance and looked as though they were genuinely enjoying themselves throughout!

Over the years the title role has been played by many famous names, Darren Day, Phillip Schofield, Donny Osmond and of course the wonderful Jason Donovan. In this touring production, Craig Chalmers took on the role. He was one of the finalists in BBC TV's 'Any Dream Will Do', losing out to eventual winner Lee Mead, who got the West End gig. And, not being funny, but you can see why Craig has been confined to the provinces. He gives an enthusiastic performance, and has a winning smile and a lovely voice, but it's just not as strong as Lee's. Also, his acting skills aren't that strong.

There are two other reality 'rejects' in the show as well, so it seems that all is not lost if you don't win the coveted West End role.

Tara Bethan got to the final 12 in 'I'd Do Anything' and while she wasn't Nancy, her clear strong singing voice filled the arena in the demanding role of the Narrator, which just goes to show that, just because you've got a good voice, it doesn't mean you're right for every musical role. Tara left the BBC show with doubts over her being able to do eight shows a week. On this evidence, I can't see a problem!

Antony Hansen was one of Craig's colleagues in the 'Any Dream' final and played the usual hip-shakin' Elvis style Pharoah with style and he also took on the role of one of the eleven brothers, all of whom looked different (I suspect that dad Jacob was a bit of a randy old dog!) and fairly bounded on stage every time they were required.

The production itself is, as you might expect, very colourful with some humorous touches such as a talking camel, inflatable sheep and a goat on wheels. The set is simple and not as lavish as the West End but just right for something that has to be packed up every week!

If I have any criticisms it was that the sing and dance-along finale, where they almost did the whole show again, went on a little too long, although it did give the wardrobe department the chance to showcase no less than THREE different styles of coloured coat. It was as if they couldn’t decide what to do in the production meeting so said “Hell – let’s just use all of them!”

But basically, the show is cheery and fun from start to finish – it’s Joseph – what more can I say?!

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Taming of the Shrew

5 June 2008
RSC at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford

Kiss Me Kate. And that's an order.

Stratford-upon-Avon is a wonderful place, and it’s not simply the fact that it’s the place to go for all things Shakespeare! It’s HOW on earth they’ve made it the place to go for all things Shakespeare. Because the whole legend has been built upon precious little evidence!

Shakespeare was born in Stratford and he died there, on the same date (but different years obviously). And that’s about it! He didn’t seem to spend much time there in between and there isn’t that much detail about what he did anywhere else either! His whole life story is based on sentences like “well, we think he was here then, so he might have visited this place or that place. His ‘birthplace’ in Stratford is only the place he might have been born and the date of his death is only the date when he might have died. William Shakespeare is buried there, but who was this person and what did he do? The only evidence we have of his writing is six signatures, so we know that he could write his name and that he did it six times! How do we know he wrote all those plays and sonnets? The original Hamlet for instance was only some 70 pages long. Between the 16th century and now it has become a five hour epic. Who did that? Well, this is a debate that has raged amongst scholars for centuries and frankly I can add no more to the debate, except to look around in wonder, every time I go to Stratford, about the huge industry that has been built on what is essentially hearsay!

But I’ll go along with it too because, down by the river in Stratford, when you spot it through the tourists and throngs of Americans, it is one of the most beautiful places you can be, and watching a play at the RSC there, is sublime. Whoever wrote the plays, however many people were involved in the process and however they have evolved over hundreds of years, what we have now are a collection of plays that say something and provide hours of enjoyment and discussion.

And The Taming of the Shrew is a play that certainly provokes discussion, especially if you go with a partner! The way that Petruchio “tames” the headstrong and wilful Katherine into being a dutiful wife is something that isn’t a very satisfying denouement in this day and age and you even wonder what Elizabeth I would have thought about it when it was written?

As Mr FB pointed out, it’s the only Shakespearean comedy he’s seen where he felt that there should be another scene. The one where Katherine lets on that she only let him think she was obeying him for a quiet life and really it was she who was in control and pulling all the strings – more like a modern day marriage! (I added the last bit!) I had already let him know that despite our two names being similar to theirs, not to get any ideas!

But whatever the rights and wrongs of the story, I enjoyed the RSC’ treatment of it, albeit brutal.

‘Dr Legg’s in it’ I remarked to Mr FB, amused by the fact that even the RSC had resorted to casting ex-soap stars. Although Leonard Fenton’s role was a very different kettle of fish from what was served up at the Gordon Craig (see last post!).

It’s a very lively opening where a stag do arrives in what appears a kind of Eastern European stag do heaven. From the shenanigans, emerges a drunk Christopher Sly who is persuaded to watch a group of travelling players perform the comedy. This they do in the traditional style, so that anyone dismayed by the modern opening was immediately appeased by boots and cloaks. But there is also some very clever use of props to dress the set, designed by Francis O’Connor, with models of Italian buildings that open up to be tables and the travellers truck that reverses onto the stage to collect the players.

The rest of the comedy is then performed with the usual Shakespearean suspension of disbelief to extract comic effect. For example, no one bats an eyelid that the sisters Katherine, and Bianca, expertly played by (Michelle Gomez and Amara Karan) were of different ethnicity, yet when the brilliantly funny Keir Charles as Tranio, dressed as Lucentio, needs someone to stand in as his father, he chooses a black man and maximum comic effect is made from the fact that he tries to speak with a Caribbean accent!

But while the Commedia del Arte influenced slapstick is highly enjoyable, the darkness of the play’s subject is brought right into focus by Stephen Boxer’s excellent cruel Petruchio who treats Katherine with violent brutality, starving her, dressing her in rags, depriving her of sleep and physically striking her. But she still becomes the dutiful wife. In fact, Gomez’ Kate is not just tamed, she is destroyed. She suddenly becomes cold and obedient in stark contrast from her opening scenes.

Walking back to the car provided us with the usual discussions that are a mark of a good experience. Was this a play of Shakespeare’s time or was he ahead of it? And why, if Shakespeare was so forward thinking, did he not see a time when women would be equal to men? But then, I guess that’s the point, they aren’t really. And when at the end of this production, all the characters reverted to contemporary dress, it can be seen as a sign that men’s dominance over women is neverending. After all, there are relationships now that are built on fear and where one partner is submissive because of the controlling nature of the other. I'm just glad I'm not one of them!

Daisy Pulls It Off!

3 June 2008
Gordon Craig Theatre

Daisy, Daisy, Give Me An Answer Do!

I’ve got to be honest. As always, Ian Dickens has got a good cast together and produced a slick production, but I have to say, the question that I want an answer to is, what is the point of Denise Deegan's play?!

The title makes you think it’s going to be a slightly risqué romp, a good old-fashioned farce, but it’s not. It’s amusing, but the main joke runs out after about five minutes and you spend the rest of the two and three quarter hours wondering if anything new is ever going to happen and if we will ever get to the ending, which frankly you can see coming from early in the first half.

The main joke is that it is all set in a girls boarding school in 1927 and all the characters say spiffing and scrummy and other such Enid Blyton-esque phrases in every sentence. As the school girls are played by much older girls it is vaguely comic for a couple of pages, but when you realise that this isn’t going to be the glorious send-up of those kinds of scenarios that the Comic Strip did so brilliantly in the 80s, but merely a recreation of something like Fifth Form at Malory Towers, you know you’re in for a long night. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Enid Blyton, I devoured her books with relish. But I was seven at the time.

The story centres around Daisy Meredith, who as an ordinary girl at an ‘elementary’ school wins a scholarship to the ultra posh Grangewood boarding school. She’s poor but clever so guess what – despite her one friend Trixie, the rich girls hate her and so they play jolly japes on her, although they are not always jolly and she ends up on the brink of expulsion until, guess what, she saves the day and, guess what, they find out that she is not what they think. Yawn.

How they don’t know this from the start though is impossible. As soon as they start talking about missing heirs and long lost fathers early in the first half, the denouement is galloping towards you faster than Desert Orchid, it just takes an age to get there!

Daisy is charmingly played by Carly Hillman who used to be Nicki de Marco in EastEnders and Trixie by Julia Mallam who was Dawn in Emmerdale, so if you like seeing your ex-soap stars in the flesh then Ian Dickens, as always, has done a good job. I also liked Kim Hartman (Helga in Allo Allo) as the firm but fair headmistress and Ben Roberts (Inspector Conway in The Bill) as the enigmatic music teacher. They are all very good in these roles, don’t get me wrong! They deal with what they are given on the page extremely well, it’s just what they are given that I find wanting!

I have to try and be objective though. The audience around me seemed to be enjoying themselves so who am I to say? There’s obviously a niche for this production so if you’re in a family with daughters between the ages of seven and ten or you’ve never grown out of Upper Fourth at St Clares, wizard wheezes and midnight feasts, then this will make excellent viewing. If you don’t fall into that category, I wouldn’t waste your money!

Fat Pig

29 May 2008
Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, London

Food for Thought!

Neil La Bute has added to his plays about body image with an interesting take on, to put it bluntly, having a fat partner with a great personality!

And what I liked about it was that, as well as being very witty, there was always that dark uneasy undercurrent beneath that made you really think about the situation. He also doesn’t take you down the road that you expect at the end, which I think was a far more truthful way of dealing with the subject.

Tom (Robert Webb) meets the big, beautiful, intelligent and funny Helen (Ella Smith). They have an instant attraction and start to date, but although they begin to fall in love, Tom feels that he can’t tell his work colleagues Carter (Kris Marshall) and Jeannie (Joanna Page), of whom the latter had been having a casual relationship with him.

I was so pleased that Robert Webb, one half of Mitchell and Webb, didn’t just do his popular Peep Show slash comedy act. As he veered between being the sensitive and understanding boyfriend who knows what the right thing to do is, but just can’t quite do it, he proved that he really is a very good actor indeed.

Kris Marshall as always gave a solid and well timed comedy performance as the lad about town for whom a woman’s appearance is everything and Joanna Page was good as the slim but spurned ex-girlfriend, although her character is very difficult to actually like and her American accent often sounded as though it had come by way of Barry Island, just like her Gavin and Stacy character.

But the performance of the night goes to Ella Smith as the girl who can’t believe that someone likes her just for her. She feels that her weight will always be an issue and as the play unfolds she is proved right. Her combination of bravado and sadness is quite heartrending and you just want to Tom to stick two fingers up at the others and do the right thing. But does he?

I don’t want to give it away so you’ll have to get down to Whitehall to find out. But I feel it’s more than worth it to see a top cast in an entertaining play that keeps you guessing.

And what’s more? I even know which one’s Mitchell and which one’s Webb now!

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Common Pursuit

27 May 2008
The Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street

In Pursuit of Nigel!

Every girl has a fantasy and Nigel Harman is mine (apart from Sean Bean that is …. Oh and Gary Lineker!) But Mr K thinks the Harman is, and I quote, “a c**k” and not the love god that I know him to be! In fact, when I first suggested that he come on a theatre trip to see the aforementioned extremely talented and versatile performer – to see Guys and Dolls back in 2006 - he said that he would “chuck maltesers at his podgy face”, followed by the classic and predictable “he’s probably gay anyway”. Sigh. Just remember who I married!

Nevertheless, he got through the sighing and eye-rolling that characterised my Guys and Dolls experience and began to understand that everyone has a ‘crush’ or as I put it ‘a celebrity buy’ i.e. one person in the public eye you are allowed to be unfaithful with. Well, to be fair Mr K hasn’t agreed to that per se, but seeing as Nigel is never going to ask me, it doesn’t matter!

I should point out that he was the one who told me that Nigel was in The Common Pursuit at The Chocolate Factory in London’s Southwark St, and as it had an excellent cast, including James Dreyfuss and The League of Gentleman’s Reece Shearmith, he agreed that we could go. I had the tickets booked within about ten seconds!

The great thing about these Fringy venues is that there’s every chance that you will bump into the cast in the Foyer. And yes, you’ve guessed it! As I walked up to the Box Office to collect our tickets, who should walk out of a side door, back lit to make him appear as some kind of God – which of course he is – and walk straight towards me? Yes – the Harman! OMG I whispered to Mr K who, when he realised what was happening looked completely panic-stricken as I am not known for my composure when faced with a love God! But breathing normally, eventually, I nonchalantly got our tickets while trying to ignore the delicious breeze caused by Nige passing just inches from me.

But onto the play!

I first saw this Simon Gray play back in the 80s with Rik Mayall, who frankly could read the phone book and I would howl with laughter. This latest production by Fiona Laird turned out to be a witty and engaging evening, enhanced by the site of the Harman of course!

Look. I’m sorry. I am a serious theatregoer honestly, I don’t normally go on about men like this but goodness me – I really can’t help it in this case!

The play starts in 1986 when all the characters are Cambridge undergraduates about to launch a literary magazine with high intellectual standards.

After that each scene moves forward by a few years until we get to 1986, after which it goes back to the beginning so that we can view their first meeting with the benefit and poignancy of hindsight.

Over time their initial hopes and ideas have faded and friendships have become strained or betrayed. It has witty dialogue and laugh out loud moments but underneath, there’s a sadness as everyone either sells out in the end, or has to compromise or fails to meet their own high standards.

For me, the star of the show is James Dreyfus, a brilliant actor who is so much more than the series of camp, and admittedly very funny, characters that he is known for on the telly. As Humphrey he is sharp, dry and immensely hard on himself. You laugh one minute and feel his intense pain the next.

Ben Caplin is a moving Martin, a troubled but decent man who lives through the lives of his friends before following a route that can destroy the friendships that he holds so dear. And Robert Portal’s Stuart is a suitably irritating, yet still sympathetic character.

As you might expect, Reece Shearsmith provides good comic support as the chain-smoking cynic, but what of Nigel?!

Well, as Peter, the philandering, womanising don who forgoes his talent in order to mass produce popular history books, it seems that he has developed a good sense of comic timing and a nice line in fairly tight trousers! That’ll do for me! But when he is forced to look at the mess he has made of his life, there’s an intensity in his eyes that took me back to young Dennis in Eastie!

This is ultimately a sad piece that shows how innocence and hope for the future dwindles with time, but told in a witty way that makes its climax all the more poignant.

The Jersey Boys

21 May 2008
Prince Edward Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue

Oh What a Night!

With Liverpool not in the Champions League Final there was only one thing to do on the night when the two teams that I despise most went head to head to become Champions of Europe – and that was go to the theatre! Well, as I didn’t want either of them to win, which sadly wasn’t an option under FIFA rules, the only remedy was to do something else completely.

And what could have been more different than The Jersey Boys - a musical biography of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

This show has had a lot of coverage on various TV shows so I was keen to see it, but, not being a big fan of Juke Box musicals I was reluctant to shell out for it. So when I was invited by a PR company, Mr K and I were only too happy to accept - the date was just a bonus!

And we were so glad we did, for we were treated to a great musical experience. Instead of this being a string of hits, loosely held together by a flimsy plot, The Jersey Boys is more like Buddy because it actually tells you a decent story. Yes the plot is still a mechanism between the hits but for someone like me who wasn't familiar with the Four Seasons story, I was hooked to the end. And unlike Buddy, where you know at the start what's going to happen, I didn't know what the denouement would be.

But while the story is interesting and followed the Italian-American boys from New Jersey from their beginnings, through their hits and their connections with the mob, the music was sensational. As the four leads sung their way through hits such as 'I Can't Give You Anything', 'Sherry', 'Big Girls Don't Cry' 'Walk Like a Man' and 'Can't Take My Eyes Off of You' the toes tapped with increasing frequency.

The leads were highly competent. Ryan Molloy gives an excellent imitation of Frankie’s distinctive and high pitched voice and is a strange combination of charisma, sexual magnetism and weed! It’s an excellent performance, as was that of Stephen Ashfield as Bob Gaudio. I was particularly delighted to see Stephen who I had last interviewed and then watched on stage about four years ago when he played Jack in the Watford Palace’s production of Mother Goose! He had brought tears of joy to my eyes when he sang ‘Never Forget’ – something that is not supposed to happen while watching a panto – and it was a real pleasure to hear more of his voice – especially in Oh What a Night! It certainly was!

Glenn Carter is handsome bad boy Tommy DeVito, the dodgy one who starts the band off and then nearly destroys it and Philip Bulcock is wonderful as “the Ringo of the band”, the one who never seems entirely comfortable with the whole set up. It's all sung, danced and staged well and the whole ensemble are well drilled.

This may not be Shakespeare, Ibsen or Blood Brothers (the king of musicals in my book) but it's lively, enjoyable and takes your mind off the football, so may be a perfect andedote to England's non-appearance in Euro 2008!

On heading out into the London night air and picking our way through the mound of those lethal carriage-on-the-back-of-bikes things (who GETS IN one of those?!) we completely forgot to find out who won the big game! In fact, it was only as we heard a chant of 'United' that our hearts sank. Does that mean we wanted Chelsea to win? No way, so we just concentrated on humming our way across Waterloo Bridge!

It had been an excellent evening and as proof I am now the proud owner of Best of The Four Seasons CD - who'd have thought?!