Tag Archives: Bruno Poet

“Julius Caesar” at the Bridge Theatre

Showing off his new venue’s versatility, director Nicholas Hytner has transformed London’s newest theatre for only its second show. Presenting Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy as a promenade performance, with the pit peopled by theatregoers standing in for the populace, reveals a cavernous space that seems rather empty at first. But as Bunny Christie’s set of rising and falling cubes gets into action we see Hytner’s skill at staging. This crowd control is superbly done, and probably fun if you are in among the action (I paid to sit). But it’s almost too interesting to watch the hard-working ushers moving the crowd around.

In a play that discusses manipulating the masses so openly, there’s a kind of appropriateness to being distracted by the mechanics of the production. There are many instances when it’s clear the show is trying hard to be a spectacle with impressive touches that give it an expensive feel. It’s loud – right from the start when a band opens the show – and Bruno Poet’s lighting design is superb. Scenes of battle include a barricade that appears with stunning speed to divide the space. There’s even a Jeep for a few seconds.

Ben Whishaw
Ben Whishaw

The performances have to fight against a lot here – with mixed results and plenty of shouting. Those who join the mob seem best placed, including Rosie Ede and the show’s lead vocalist Abraham Popoola. But David Calder’s Caesar seems lost; presenting him as a populist politician may make the production feel topical but it stunts his performance, making the role a box ticked rather than a figure to engage with. David Morrissey’s Marc Antony holds the crowd, he is convincing and a suitable heir to his crowd-pleasing mentor. Ben Whishaw delivers his lines with finesse and his performance is in keeping with a theme of sincere activism, but his Brutus is too meek. Cast as an academic who plays with his spectacles, it’s tricky to see his nobility behind his obscurantism. There are also strong performances from two women cast in traditionally male roles: Michelle Fairley and Adjoa Andoh make an impassioned Cassius and a ruthless Casca, respectively.

It is nuance that is lost in Hytner’s production. The action is clear, often exciting, but rather too black and white. And this is a humourless Julius Caesar. Of course, the play isn’t a comedy but there’s usually a cynicism that delivers a dark wit. These characters are all politicians, after all, manipulating one another as well as the mob, but the tone is one of intellectual conviction. Arguably, it’s in keeping with the times to persist in such an earnest tone. What inspires Hynter is a feeling of youthful sincerity – but this doesn’t make the play particularly interesting or entertaining.

Until 15 April 2018

www.bridgetheatre.co.uk

Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Miss Saigon” at the Prince Edward Theatre

Miss Saigon is the biggest news in theatre this year. A massive success when it was first staged in 1989, running for a decade, the show’s arrival at the Prince Edward Theatre was keenly anticipated and has been widely applauded. The pre-publicity was big, the reviews had plenty of stars and the production itself feels gargantuan. It’s not just the story of an Asian woman and her relationship with an American that Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil cribbed from Madam Butterfly and updated to Vietnam – the whole show has an operatic feel, with every emotion highly pitched.

This is a new production, directed with a fresh eye and fast pace by Laurence Connor. Those with good memories will enjoy an exercise in compare and contrast. The staging seems simpler, strongly relying on the lighting design – Bruno Poet’s work is stunning and a shoe-in for awards season. There’s also a new song for the American GI Chris’ wife, Ellen. And some of the lyrics have been modernised, with Michael Mahler joining Richard Maltby Jr on the credits list.

Producer Cameron Mackintosh’s timing seems regrettably impeccable – foreign wars and refugees give Miss Saigon a real edge. The show feels dark in our troubled times. Although the local pimp, who goes by the moniker of The Engineer, gets some laughs, the sex trade is depicted as truly seedy and the show’s raunchiness is suitably discomforting. While the famous helicopter still wows, it doesn’t detract from the terror of the scene where the Vietnamese who have helped the Americans are left behind to face their fate. It’s all suitably serious.

Miss-Saigon-Jon-Jon-Briones-as-The-Engineer-Photograph-by-Matthew-Murphy
Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer. Photographed by Matthew Murphy.

A deal of effort has obviously gone into the casting – a move that has paid off. The ensemble is fantastic and the leads more than fantastic. There’s very little dialogue in Miss Saigon, so the show is a real test of a musical theatre actor’s ability. All the more credit then, to Alistair Brammer for establishing our ‘hero’ Chris as a sympathetic character traumatised by the war. The Engineer, like many a devil, has all the best songs but Jon Jon Briones adds an energy to the role that is dynamite. As for Miss Saigon herself, Eva Noblezada makes both her vulnerability and determination believable, with a terrific voice. It’s hard to believe Noblezada hasn’t held the role for years. With a performance this strong, in a show this good, let’s hope that’s just what she will be doing.

Booking until the 25 April 2015

www.miss-saigon.com

Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench