Tag Archives: Jason Carr

“A Woman of No Importance” at the Vaudeville Theatre

Dominic Dromgoole’s latest project, with his new company, Classic Spring, is a year of Oscar Wilde plays. It’s off to a fantastic start with this story of adultery and sexual inequality. Wilde, the Victorian radical, has a sharp eye on masculine privilege that feels depressingly topical.

Providing effective pathos is Eve Best as the wronged woman, Mrs Arbuthnot. It’s hard for modern ears to hear her self-excoriation. But Best sets up an underlying anger towards her reencountered seducer (impressively performed by Dominic Rowan) that thrills. Best and the whole company’s handling of the play’s plentiful melodrama is masterful – a few well-placed laughs help us over some crippling sincerity.

This play is serious. But this is Wilde, so the comedy is as good as any you could find – in his day or now. Leading the epigrams alongside Rowan is Emma Fielding as the archly aesthetic Mrs Allonby. And there’s a great little performance from Phoebe Fildes as a sophisticate in training. Leading the way are Eleanor Bron and Anne Reid as two aristocratic dowagers giving top-class performances. It takes a lot not to be controlled by Wilde’s comedy; both make the lines natural, while Reid’s suggestion of a little too much digestif in the third act is a cheeky move that gets a laugh with every line.

So far, this is strong actors making the most of a genius. More than enough reason to see the show. But Dromgoole has a programme of ideas driving his production that elevates this to one of the finest of revivals.

First is the idea of exploring the proscenium theatre that Wilde’s plays were written for and that the Vaudeville is such a gorgeous example of. Let’s celebrate this wonderful format. It leads to fantastic sets and costumes from Jonathan Fensom and sensitive lighting from Ben Ormerod. Scene changes include some songs and period numbers arranged by Jason Carr – now that’s entertainment. After years at Shakespeare’s Globe, Dromgoole is an expert at the potential of a period.

Dromgoole also knows how to make sure a play doesn’t get stuck in the past. In a revelatory move, he’s utilised a study of the play’s previous drafts. The assumption that Wilde would have been bolder had the theatre of his day allowed it is a point for discussion. But it’s a fun debate, and all-too- suitable for a figure whose legacy has been so often used (and abused). You have to know the text well to work out what’s gone on, and plenty of lines still feel old-fashioned, but the idea is brave and effective. Classic Spring has a winning formula set up for an exciting year. Get booking.

Until 30 December 2017

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

 

 

“Annie Get Your Gun” at the Young Vic

Annie Get Your Gun ranks for many as their desert island musical.  A sweet, sharp plot, with memorable characters who have great lines, but above all it has an amazing number of show-stopping songs.  It also contains the essential element necessary to make a musical work – fantasy.  In this case a rags to riches romance that famously deals with the business of show business itself.

Richard Jones’s new production, starring Jane Horrocks and Julian Ovenden, is a delight because it embraces this fantasy.  He correctly understands that Annie Oakley’s journey from the Wild West to Buffalo Bill’s world of show business are only part of the story. More interesting is the way her gun slinging talents and the background of the Wild West are presented.

The locals, portrayed by a strong ensemble cast, are suspicious of the touring actors arriving in their town, and they know the reputation they have as country bumpkins.  At the same time the performers, headed by Chucky Venn playing a powerful Buffalo Bill, are anxious to uphold the flash image that preceds them.

The music has a reputation of its own and key to this production is Jason Carr’s re-scoring of the Irving Berlin masterpieces for a quartet of pianists who sit at the front of the stage.  Carr, who has produced such wonders at the Menier Chocolate Factory, restores the music’s clarity and freshness.  Some might miss the orchestration at times, but the approach has great charm.

Characters are portrayed with broad strokes and it is no small achievement that the cast manage this so well while maintaining the audiences attention and involvement.

Julian Ovenden seems born to the role of Butler.  His matinee idol good looks are combined with that very old fashioned quality – charm.  This likeable combination is backed up with a wonderfully strong voice that is more than a match for Jane Horrocks who excels as Annie.

Playing a hillbilly tom-girl Horrocks shows a touching confusion at the lessons to be learned about life and love.   With great comic ability she shows Annie is not simply  naïve but more importantly instinctive – her opening song ‘Doin’ What comes Natur’lly’, pefectly embodies this.  Horrocks gets great laughs but also presents a confidence that has to adapt during the story to include tact.

A fantastic design from Ultz makes the productions footlights, where the pianists sit, dominant and the pillbox shape of the stage gives a clever flavour of cinemascope.  This is, afterall, all about putting on a show. Props are minimal with amusing cardboard Americana setting the scene.  Annie’s amazing gun skills are presented only to our imaginations with a witty tongue in cheek light and sound display.

Influenced by her adventures in show business Annie concludes that she must present herself as a failure in order to get her man. Throughout the show of course we have seen that this is not the case – whatever the (much disputed) order of billing on the Buffalo Bill show banner – as their duets show, Oakley and Butler, as well as Ovenden and Horrocks, are a great team.

Annie’s compromise may rile contemporary audiences.  It may simply baffle.  Yet while the sexual politics are dated the pride Butler can never overcome surely remains a common vice.  If you want to be clever you can note this productions wry commentary on the American Myth and machismo.  Or you could just simply enjoy yourself.

Until 9 January 2009

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Keith Pattison

Written 25 October 2009 for The London Magazine