Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Owls for Easter.

A little (late) eggciting something for Easter season.

For you, by me.
See a further few musings over at Love Letters to Melbourne.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Recruiting Officer Review

The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar has had an illustrious performance history, including being the first play performed in Australia 1789 one year after the colonialists settled in Sydney. This year, over 300 years since it was written, it returns to our stage at the Donmar Warhouse and immediately were we are immersed into the world by a fabulous and transformative use of space. Whilst remaining inherently theatrical Lucy Osborne’s design invites us to become part of the space. Beautiful and functional are two descriptions that apply to good design and her work and that of lighting designer James Farncombe are to be commended.

A definite highlight was the music that immersed this production. The combined talents of Tom Giles, Stuart Ward, Matthew Romain, Peter Manchester and Chris Grahamson made a truly wonderful performance in their own right to open the show and beautifully complemented the continuing action of the play proper. Live music is best incorporated into a performance rather than tacked on as a afterthought and The Recruiting Officer demonstrated just how effective it can be in both creating a world and layering a text. This was a strong decision from director Josie Rourke to use traditional and composed music by Michael Bruce and it paid off handsomely.

Despite being a play that that is plotted around a woman’s dilemma; The Recruiting Officer is strictly a lad’s play. The fun here is not in the determination of the woman to follow her love into the army – it is all about the officers themselves. Indeed the action turns on their loves, their loyalties and ultimately forging the best possible path through their circumstance.

The female roles in this drama were doled out in a predictable fashion as either conniving, stupid or naïve. Or all three! Whereas the male roles were much more complex, interesting and fun, no wonder we spend so much more time with them on stage. This is a feature common to a lot of Restoration Comedy; it isn’t an issue that only affects this play. The core dramatic incident of the plot doesn’t even occur on stage – we are not with Silvia as she decides to don her dead brother’s clothes and join up to her lover’s regiment to see both what he is really like and to find a way of spending her life with him in spite of her father’s wishes. We just witness the bloke-y reactions to this new upstart that on the Captains' recruiting ground. 

Luckily being superbly performed and directed gave vitality to the women that could have quite easily been completely absent. Rachael Stirling as Melinda was frustratingly hilarious; Nancy Carroll played the straight Silvia with quiet determination; the ladies maid Lucy played by Kathryn Drysdale was coy and yet incited great pathos and Aimeé-Ffion Edwards joyously cavorted through the play as Rose.

With much more to dig into the lads were reliably wonderful. We laughed along with the cheeky manipulative Mackenzie Crook as Sergeant Kite; tittered at the lovelorn despair of Mr. Worthy played by Nicholas Burns and giggled Gawn Granger as the delightfully indulgent and well-meaning Justice Balance. The actual recruiting officers themselves the dashing Captain Plume (Tobias Menzies) who is after Silvia and the dandy Captain Brazen (Mark Gatsiss) who has his sights set on Mr. Worthy’s Melinda have great presence and at times in their company it is easy to understand why the author preferred them to the female characters he had written.

Overall The Recruiting Officer was an energetic ensemble performance that at times slipped into broad farce but never totally descended into it. Neither the playwright or the director let us forget the context behind the fun and as we left the theatre there was little doubt that the recruited men would actually travel over the hills and far away to war and most would not return.

The current season has just finished at the Donmar Theatre but fingers crossed for a tour of this production.

Matilda The Musical Review

Being a favourite book can be a surprisingly cumbersome burden. Matilda by Roald Dahl has always been particularly special to me (not the least because the main character is an almost namesake). I mean, she practically was me despite my parents being normal; my school life not as dangerous and my genius levels never quite living up to magical powers. I loved it.

So little me was conflicted with my incredible enjoyment of this show – on ever so many levels it is fabulous. An intricately woven together, great staging and fabulous performances, what conflict could there be? Well they changed it. They were really naughty with it. I’m sorry, I understand (especially having seen it twice) why Dennis Kelly did this but part of me will never be able to accept that he did.

The additions that worked included the development of Mrs. Phelps the librarian and the parallel story world that Matilda creates in the library. However the tying together of this reality with Miss. Honey’s story came across as far too convenient, hammering a point home that was unnecessary. And speaking of unnecessary, the Russian Mafia? Really? It was objectively rather funny but what it did was present Matilda as the most splendiferous, wondrous, marvellous, glorious girl that ever existed. The point of the book that I had always taken is that whilst it is true she is special, every child is and the crime of her parents is not to recognise that. This would have been a crime whether she was reading Dostoyevsky or not. It’s not that she actually is a princess/prince it is that she is not regarded as one. Miss. Honey recognises this and loves her for who she is. A little bit of naughty goes a long way and for me this changing of essence behind the story almost ruined it. It was great testament to the quality of the show itself that it didn’t. 

The characterisation generally was great, the slight reworking of Mrs. Wormwood worked well, suited the medium and was energetically performed by Josie Walker and the dumbing down of Michael had many comic rewards for Peter Howe. Agatha Trunchbull was less the monster I remembered and more pantomime villain but the audience were generally on board with this and Bertie Carvel was greeted by cheers and boos when she stalked on stage. Paul Kaye as Mr. Wormwood was a highlight and Melanie le Barrie as Miss. Honey had a souring voice that lent an emotional depth to her role. The school children were all fabulous and Matilda especially in both performances was captivating as she had ever been on the pages of the book – as brought to life by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake.

Their original spirit of fun was embedded in all elements of this show. The choreography and direction was dynamic and the set by Robert Howell was impressively immersive. Tim Minchin has always been a favourite of mine and his songs lifted this Matilda above an adaptation. They were funny and cheeky and a little bit heartbreaking. At times hilarious and at times beautiful his music the perfect mix with Dennis Kelly’s script – which despite my misgivings was impressive. That it was performed by a live orchestra was a real treat, in fact, the entire performance was!

Hopefully the well deserved success of Matilda the Musical will get us all not just to read more but to go and see theatre as an alternative to TELLY. And even little me cannot find any fault in that story.