Tag Archives: Peter McKintosh

“Guys and Dolls” at the Phoenix Theatre

With so many shows on offer in London, it’s unusual to see the same production twice. But the latest hit from the Chichester Festival Theatre, a brilliant revival of Frank Loesser’s classic musical of gamblers, gangsters and their gals, has a new cast that makes revisiting as joyous as the first time around.

The production is also on a parallel UK tour, and Peter McKintosh’s clever neon sign design is sure to serve the show well on its travels. A fine ensemble does justice to the choreography from Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, while director Gordon Greenberg gives the show a Broadway feel despite its modest size.

Gavin Spokes remains with the show to reprise his brilliant Nicely Nicely Johnson and get yet more encores for Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat. Joined by Jason Pennycooke as Benny Southstreet, this is a double act that gets the show up to speed double quick. Siubhan Harrison also remains in town, ever more comfortable in her role as Salvation Army Sergeant Miss Sarah. Playing her love interest Sky Masterson is Oliver Tompsett, who gives a fine performance showcasing a surprisingly old-fashioned voice – he’s a proper crooner, sure to acquire fans. If the chemistry and charisma you might hope for isn’t quite magical, the humour is spot on.

GUYS AND DOLLS, ,Music and lyrics - FRANK LOESSER., Book - JO SWERLING and ABE BURROWS, Director Gordan Greenberg, Choreographer - Carlos Acosta, Designer - Peter MaKintosh, Phoenix Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /
Richard Kind and Samantha Spiro

Greenberg’s focuses on the fun in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book. As a result, it is low-rent fixer Nathon Detroit and his long-suffering fiancée Adelaide who become our heroes. Chichester’s original casting coup (David Haig and Sophie Thompson) is, if anything, bettered. American comedian Richard Kind takes over as Detroit, adding a down-at-heel quality that makes this smalltime crook all the more appealing, while Samantha Spiro is wonderful as his eternal bride to be, with comedy skills second to none and a belting voice that makes the most of Adelaide’s Lament and brings a Dietrich spin to Take Back Your Mink.

Until 29 October 2016

www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk

Photos by Johan Persson

“Guys and Dolls” at the Savoy Theatre

Another hit transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre which, after its production of Gypsy, must be feeling at home in the Savoy. This exquisitely polished show matches the venue’s sophisticated glamour perfectly. New Yorker Gordon Greenberg directs, bringing an appropriate feel for Broadway to Frank Loesser’s “musical fable” of men about town and their much put-upon women.

Great material, superbly executed, the show’s hit songs sound better than ever. At the risk of being ungallant, the guys have the edge slightly, creating a big sound and working together to get the laughs. Greenberg pays attention to the humour in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book, following two gamblers, the high-rolling Sky Masterson and fixer Nathan Detroit, placing their bets on matrimony to, respectively, a Salvation Army sergeant and a nightclub hostess. Space is created for a series of strong comic performances, especially from Gavin Spokes and Ian Hughes, as Nicely Nicely and Benny – a double act to die for. This gang of gamblers forms a coherent group that’s more than just a background note to the love affairs on offer.

A further highlight is the production’s strong choreography – they’ve got both Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright on board – with a trip to Havana generating a genuine fantasia as well as a spirited fight scene. Peter McKintosh’s design is a simple affair that will serve the production well on tour, but aids the dancers immeasurably. The key is the lighting (bravo designer Tim Mitchell) impressively adding structure to scenes. And special mention goes to the gloriously colourful costumes.

The central performances are superb. These characters are grown-ups and the balance between romance and realism is deftly handled. While Siubhan Harrison stalls slightly as Salvation Army Sarah, failing to exploit the book’s satire, Jamie Parker is a hit from the start as Sky. Charismatic and sounding superb, Parker adds tension to Luck Be A Lady – a revelatory performance of a well-known number. Close to stealing the show are David Haig and Sophie Thompson as Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide (we all recognise the cracking chemistry from Four Weddings And a Funeral). Haig is at his most charming and Thompson makes both renditions of her Adelaide’s Lament something to celebrate.

Until 12 March 2016

www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk

Photos by Johan Persson

“Our Country’s Good” at the National Theatre

An undisputed modern classic, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play explores politics, power and the potential of theatre. Its setting is an 18th-century Australian penal colony, its performers, newly arrived convicts who stage a play. It is a text to spend time with and Nadia Fall’s revival presents the ideas with great clarity. But it should also be a work that entertains and invigorates, and, here, this production lacks consistency.

The show looks great, with Peter McKintosh’s design a mix of Aboriginal art and Anish Kapoor, creating a sense of heat and tension. But this show is a cold affair, distinctly lacking humour and failing to exploit the text’s many ironies. Fall’s pacing slows and rushes – possibly because so much music is introduced. Cerys Matthews, making her theatrical debut as a composer, creates a diverse soundscape with snatches of songs you never hear enough of to enjoy.

There are credible performances from the lead: Jason Hughes plays the soldier tasked with directing the convicts and Caoilfhionn Dunne is the prisoner who becomes his leading lady. It’s a shame there isn’t more sexual tension between their characters – an element missing throughout the show which could have added considerable drama.

Productions often have actors doubling up roles to perform as both guard and prisoner – Fall has a larger crew but the play doesn’t benefit from bigger numbers. Disappointingly, with some of the cast, there is a sense of fighting for attention that should have been checked. The actors that do stand out give the most generous and controlled performances: Ashley McGuire’s down-to-earth Dabby Bryant and Peter Forbes’ bullish Major.

The later acts are better; the violence in the colony is bravely depicted and that raises the stakes. But what might have countered this brutality – camaraderie between the players and what little joy their common humanity affords them – isn’t given its proper place. That the show goes on and the prisoners perform doesn’t leave us as elated as it should.

Until 1 October 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

“Another Country” at the Trafalgar Studios

The Theatre Royal Bath and Chichester Festival Theatre’s revival of Julian Mitchell’s Another Country is now showing at the Trafalgar Studios. The 1981 play, which imagines the school days of a future spy, to all intents the real-life traitor Guy Burgess, is an accomplished text and this fluid production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, serves it well.

Set in a prestigious public school, the play begins with a pupil’s offstage suicide. This tragic death compels the lead character, Bennett, to confront his homosexuality and take comfort from his only friend, a schoolboy communist, Judd. It’s possible Herrin could have injected more tension by conveying just how much the political machination of the prefects matter to these youngsters. But Peter McKintosh’s set and, above all, the writing itself recreate the world of the school with conviction. Despite levels of repression that could strike you as clichéd, melodrama is avoided.

Rather than teenage angst we have an intelligent examination of class and community. Cold War politics seem a distant issue now, but there are plenty of arguments raised by these juvenile protagonists that make you stop and think. The youngsters here are far removed from those we know today, being by turn strangely naïve and remarkably articulate, but the deep passions that arise in youth and their impact later on in life remain compelling themes.

To consider another kind of legacy: the play has always been a springboard for acting talent. The cast is well drilled and highly professional. Rowan Polonski makes a superb Fowler, a youth brimming with religious fervour, and Mark Quartley convinces as the stressed head of house Barclay. As Bennett, Rob Callender is sure to be compared to Rupert Everett, who performed the role in the 1984 film. But what Callender lacks in terms of instant charisma he makes up for in terms of credibility as a gawky schoolboy – Everett never appeared this gauche – and his is a better interpretation of the role. As Bennett’s communist comrade Judd, acting scion Will Attenborough gives a tremendous performance, managing to inject passion into the polemic and demanding we sit up and listen to every word he says.

Until 21 June 2014

www.atgtickets.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 27 April 2014 for The London Magazine

“The Sound of Music” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

This year’s musical at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s firm favourite The Sound of Music. Whisper it, but not everyone is a fan of the family Von Trapp, or the novice-turned-governess Maria’s journey of self-discovery: tarnished by TV, the problem to solve here is one of over familiarity. Courageously, this production demands an open mind, presenting the piece with remarkable freshness.

The Sound of Music is one of those musicals where everything is expressed in a song, and a good tune can literally be your salvation. While it’s hard to imagine a heart hard enough not to melt at the children cast as the Von Trapp infants, the real achievement is that that sweetness doesn’t become saccharine. Rachel Kavanaugh directs the show with ruthless efficiency and creates a version devoid of silly camp theatricality – no small feat when everyone is dressed as nuns and soldiers with a smattering of lederhosen.

There is an impressive simplicity that serves the show well, even managing to inject menace and tension. Kavanaugh seems to have taken Maria’s back to basic approach to music making to heart. The songs we love are delivered without fanfare and are all the better for it. And this approach is echoed by Peter McKintosh’s superb meadow-fringed set, effectively changing from convent to mansion, concert hall to mountain range with a magical minimalism.

Taking on the lead role must be an uphill struggle for any performer, but Charlotte Wakefield gambols along, sounding great, with a gawky, infectious charm. Like policemen, it seems Captain von Trapps are getting younger – surely someone with seven children has to have a tinge of grey in the hair? – but Michael Xavier has a great voice and is a virile presence on stage (remember, seven children). And who can remember the supporting characters in the much re-played 1965 film? Here, Michael Matus and Caroline Keiff make room for their roles as the Captain’s cowardly friend and sophisticated Viennese fiancée with humour and grace and a couple of decent songs. But my favourite thing? Helen Hobson as the Mother Abbess and her superfluity of nuns performing their chorus numbers with a real feeling of religiosity. A brave move that injects weight into the show and, as night falls over Austria both literally and figuratively, provides a stunning finale that has both a bang and a wimple.

Until 14 September 2013

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 7 August 2013 for The London Magazine

“Relatively Speaking” at Wyndham’s Theatre

It’s always a pleasure to see one of our most loved actresses, Felicity Kendal, on stage. A superb comic performer, she really comes into her own in Lindsay Posner’s revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking, which opened at Wyndham’s Theatre last night. The show confirms that when it comes to farce, Kendal is unmatched.

Relatively Speaking was Ayckbourn’s first West End hit, in 1967 – the summer of love – and it’s a comedy of mistaken identity surrounding adultery, with a battle of the sexes as a biting undercurrent. A young girl (Kara Tointon) about town travels from London to Buckinghamshire, pursued covertly by her boyfriend (Max Bennett), who aims to meet her parents, but instead encounters her lover and his suspicious wife. It’s a slim affair and all the more impressive for that: sleek and streamlined in construction, Posner puts his foot down and races through in under two hours.

Tointon and Bennett play the young sixties swingers convincingly, and are a pleasure to watch. Though Peter McKintosh’s designs are excellent, it’s a relief to report this production is nostalgia-free. Ayckbourn’s characters seem real and recognisable, regardless of the crazy situations they find themselves in. It’s a welcome take on this most mythic of decades, as well as being the key to great comedy.

The philandering Philip is played impeccably by Johnathon Coy. This golf-playing, sherry-spitting adulterer provides further insight into Ayckbourn’s changing times – and yet more laughs. There’s a joyousness in the writing that makes you feel Ayckbourn is having as much fun as the audience, with the hoops he jumps through to avoid resolution. The characters discover the truth while simultaneously pretending more and more.

No one plays this game more deliciously than Kendal. As the slightly dim, yet ‘perfect’ wife, she knows less than anyone, a position Kendal exploits to gain our sympathy. Kendal is a spry figure, full of energy, commanding attention with perfect timing. She could easily steal every scene, such is her charisma, but her disciplined performance is never overplayed. It’s only fitting that in the end Kendal gets the upper hand and the last of the evenings many laughs.

Until 31 August 2013

www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk

Photo by Nobby Clarke

Written 21 May 2013 for The London Magazine

“The Turn of the Screw” at the Almeida Theatre

You know that a ghost story works if it makes you jump. I can faithfully report that Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new adaptation of Henry James’ classic story, The Turn of Screw, elicited from this reviewer a couple of good gasps, a genuine shudder and one squeal so pronounced that the Almeida Theatre should really think about planting me in the audience for subsequent performances.

James’ novella about a governess going to care for two children, who it seems are haunted by former staff members, is a subtle work. Any adaptation is going to blunt the original but here the payoff in terms of entertainment provides justification. Lenkiewicz opts to emphasise the psychosexual content, which won’t be to all tastes. But this decision adds to the drama, and the thrills, in a logical enough fashion.

The direction from Lindsay Posner is efficient and all the performances competent, with an admirable star turn from Anna Madeley as the governess. But it’s Peter McKintosh’s impressive design, with creepy sounds from John Leonard and moody lighting from Tim Mitchell, which really makes the night. The spooky atmosphere may not be subtle but, then again, nor is screaming during a show – it’s good fun though.

Until 16 March 2013

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 28 January 2013 for The London Magazine

“Death and the Maiden” at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Ariel Dorfman’s play, Death and the Maiden, is a fantastic vehicle for a star actress. Making her West End debut in the role of Paulina, a former political prisoner still haunted by trauma years later, Thandie Newton instantly establishes a febrile fragility. When chance leads to her encountering the man who tortured and raped her, she unleashes a manic power to exact a stunning revenge.

Newton is an avenging fury, waving around a gun in a most unnerving manner, but she is always articulate – tragically aware of her “irreparable” condition and focusing intensely on the play’s questions about justice and tolerance. Any fears about Newton’s inexperience in the theatre are banished by Peter McKintosh’s design, forcing her to the front of the stage as a commanding presence. This is a bold performance bringing out the pathos as well as the grotesque anger of Paulina’s impossible situation.

Newton is aided by strong performances from her co-stars. Anthony Calf plays Dr Miranda, the man she accuses, captures and interrogates, in chilling style. Toying with the possibility of his innocence as he begs for his life, Calf shows us a real person – not just a monster. Paulina’s husband is “caught in the middle” of them both: in conflict because he loves his wife but doubts her sanity, because of his high ideals, and also because his recent appointment as a political crimes investigator means that his career is at stake. Tom Goodman-Hill gives an outstanding performance. Rational and passionate by turns, he is tremendous.

Dorfman’s text is constructed to transcend its vague setting in some South American state and focus on themes of retribution and resolution. Alongside this, Jeremy Herrin’s production enhances the play’s potential as a taut thriller, and his direction grips like a vice, making this one of the most exciting nights out in the West End as well as one of the most powerful.

Until 21 January 2012

www.atgtickets.com

Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Written 20 October 2011 for The London Magazine

“Crazy For You” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Crazy For You, which had its Broadway debut in 1993, is a tribute musical woven from the work of George and Ira Gershwin. Inspired by the 1930 stage hit Girl Crazy, Ken Ludwig provides a new book and adds hit songs. An appropriately slim, yet seamless, plot has a banker-cum- wannabe-dancer disguising himself as a theatrical impresario in order to save a neglected theatre and win a girl.

Taking us from New York to Nevada, mixing the Ziegfeld Follies with the Wild West, there are plenty of laughs and, more importantly, plenty of tunes. Musical theatre takes any opportunity to sing -‘Let’s put on a show’ – and witness, without questioning, the power of a show tune to change lives. This is joyous stuff full of the feelgood factor.

The Regent’s Park production is marked by a justified sense of confidence, most notably in director Timothy Sheader’s lightness of touch. These days, Sheader has an enviable reputation for musicals and he has reunited the team that brought us Hello Dolly, including Peter McKintosh, whose intelligent costume design surely merits him another Olivier nomination.

Sheader gets the best out of his cast. Sean Palmer takes the lead of Bobby with ever-present charm and elegance. His love interest, Polly, is played by Clare Foster. Her voice doesn’t zing, but it is wonderfully sweet and her acting skills are superb. And there’s a thrilling supporting cast, including Harriet Thorpe and Kim Medcalf, with a string of great numbers.

Gershwin’s music is made to dance to. This is the real joy of Crazy For You and Stephen Mear’s choreography, full of wit as well as grace, does it justice. McKintosh provides a moon to ride and Tim Mitchell’s lighting design means the stars aren’t just in the skies above you. This team succeeds in making Regent’s Park more glamorous and romantic than it has ever been.

Until 10 September 2011

www.openairtheatre.org

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Written 11 August 2011 for The London Magazine

“Serenading Louie” at the Donmar Warehouse

Landford Wilson isn’t a well-known playwright in the UK but he is an extremely successful and noted figure in his native US.  He has received many awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and his critical reputation lies in being one of the founding members of the Circle Repertory Company in New York.  The Donmar’s revival of Serenading Louie gives London audiences a chance of exposure to his work.

The play is the simple story of two, thirty something, couples and the problems in their marriages. Successful lawyer Alex is about to move into politics but is bored with his neurotic wife Gabrielle.  His old college friend and football superstar Carl has become a millionaire property developer who still adores his wife Mary yet becomes aware that she is having an affair.

If this sounds like a mildly interesting soap opera, be warned  – it isn’t.  It isn’t soap opera because its intentions are far too serious and its characters far too well developed. Unfortunately, it also isn’t very interesting.

In a quiet, subtle way this is very much a state of the nation address. Wilson wants us to examine the state of his country – the ambitions and aspirations of its citizens and the nature of their isolated claustrophobic lives.  Written in 1970, its characters have missed most of the sixties counter culture and feel baffled by those not much younger than themselves.  Their wealthy suburban lives are relatively untouched by the changes in America and Wilson successfully conveys a general anxiety about the unknown.  Having worked hard, this generation can’t even find solace in reminiscing about their youth – it is not just the present that disappoints them. Many of these observations are still valid and the play is interesting in terms of its historical content but it is difficult to get too passionate about events in Middle America forty years ago.

The strength of Wilson’s writing comes when he deals with character.  We get to know his quartet inside out in a rigorous psychological examination that is intense, beautifully written but also vaguely unpleasant. Charlotte Emmerson as Gabrielle is genuinely annoying in her opening scene and this is meant as a great compliment – her voice really is like finger nails on a blackboard.  Her husband’s complaints seem understandable until we get to know him better.  Alex, played by Jason Butler Harner, masks his lack of direction with a vague social conscience but he is lost man and breaks down as the play progresses.  Jason O’Mara plays his friend Carl.  Also on the edge, his character’s explosive emotions are the plays highlight and lead to its startling traumatic conclusion.  Geraldine Somerville is wonderful as his wife; sleek, sexy and icy cold, she has her husband and life in the palm of her hand but just doesn’t know what to do next.  These are the kind of roles that actors love but it seems that those playing them like them a great deal more than the audience.  All four are so self-obsessed and unlikeable that it is hard to be interested in what happens to them.

There is much about this play to commend it and plenty about this production that excels.  Peter McKintosh’s period set is great – the detail wonderful and the temptation to lapse into kitsch restrained.  Simon Curtis directs the piece with a similarly talented eye to period and manoeuvres his cast skilfully as the one set serves for both couples’ homes.  They come and go, leave their own homes and visit each other quite seamlessly until Wilson wants to shake us up and has characters talking to one another when they shouldn’t.  Similarly there are occasions when the cast address the audience.  Its clever stuff no doubt, but it isn’t entertaining.

Until 27 March 2010

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Written 17 February 2010 for The London Magazine