Tag Archives: Lucie Pankhurst

“How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” at Wilton’s Music Hall

Frank Loesser’s 1961 hit musical doesn’t get a London airing very often, so this revival, from director Benji Sperring, is an exciting chance to see the show. As you would expect from the creator of Guys and Dolls, Loesser’s smart score has a satisfying complexity, served well by Ben Ferguson’s musical direction and Wilton’s acoustics. The story is a neat idea, too – following the corporate career rise of a former window cleaner, J Pierrepont Finch, aided only by guile and a self-help book. While many of the jokes are laboured, a committed cast gives its very best.

Sperring’s actors adopt an exaggerated style that’s apt, fun, and makes light of the outmoded working environment and sexual politics on offer. The cast gets a lot from camping it up, especially the lead, Marc Pickering – a charismatic comedian with a strong voice. Also benefitting are Matthew Whitby and Daniel Graham as Finch’s dastardly colleagues, accompanied by Richard Emerson, who multi-tasks a shocking number different roles… at least that’s one thing that reflects current workplaces.

The mannered treatment might have been pushed further; not so much with the performances but rather Mike Lees’ set and costume design. Maybe even more drastic measures are needed – especially given the cringing sexism of the piece. Despite valiant efforts from all the actresses, no matter how tongue-in-cheek the delivery, there are too many uncomfortable moments. Hannah Grover sounds sweet as Finch’s love interest, but this character makes Miss Adelaide look like Germaine Greer. Her sidekick is more interesting. Played by Geri Allen with a voice perfect for this music, she almost manages to make you forget that she is singing about marriage being a woman’s ultimate goal.

Of course, Sperring doesn’t take any of the show seriously. His production’s silliness builds pace and humour (despite a lot of moving office furniture) while Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography gets funnier throughout. The actors are unfailing in their efforts but it’s a shame a more ruthless approach wasn’t taken. The germ of how to deal with the piece’s problems is clear to all – but more of an aggressive takeover is needed to make this business succeed.

Until 22 April 2017

www.wiltons.org.uk

Photo by Darren Bell

“Dogfight” at the Southwark Playhouse

Southwark Playhouse staged the European premiere of Dogfight this week. The musical was a hit off Broadway just a couple of years ago, garnering awards and acclaim. Smoothly directed by Matt Ryan, this exciting work is a must for fans of shows, yet also has huge mainstream potential. Do go and see it.

The scene is San Francisco, the night before a group of marines embark for Vietnam. It’s the Corps tradition to host a revolting bet – to see who can bring the ugliest girl to a party. Thankfully, Peter Duchan’s book, tightly constructed throughout, uses this unedifying competition to provide a strong female lead and a fresh-feeling love affair.

It’s easy to see why composers and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are hot property. The music and words are assured, the influences are sound (several numbers are sure to please Sondheim devotees) yet the score is complex enough to avoid pastiche. Dogfight isn’t perfect. The songs for the marines are much weaker than those for our heroine, Rose. And scenes of war feel too briefly dealt with, despite an impassioned performance here from the male lead Jamie Muscato.

Dogfight 1 Jamie Muscato (Eddie Birdlace) Photo Darren Bell
Jamie Muscato

There are problems with the production as well. Not all the singing is as clear as you could wish for, Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography seems a little ambitious for the cast and, despite Ryan’s experience, the production seems too small for the show. I suspect this goes back to the material; regular fringe goers know the biggest shows can be happy in small venues, but here the military machismo needs a larger cast and bigger sound to convince.

So with all these reservations, why the strong recommendation? Quite simply Laura Jane Matthewson, who grabs the role of Rose, a great part with strong songs, with both hands. Newcomer Matthewson is a wonderful actress, who makes you believe her character’s innocence, convinces in her defiance and is adorably sweet in the central romantic scene. Most importantly, she sounds great, with a confidently understated style that produces a powerful authenticity. Both the piece and the production may have some faults, but Matthewson’s  performance will make you forget them.

Until 13 September 2014

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Darren Bell

Written 14 August 2014 for The London Magazine