Tag Archives: Samantha Spiro

“Lady Windermere’s Fan” at the Vaudeville Theatre

The estimable Kathy Burke is an expert in comedy. Wearing her director’s hat for Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play, her feel for laughs is instinctual: she makes the most heavily quoted of aphorisms light and the whole evening fun. In a cast of big guns, national treasure Jennifer Saunders is the star and has the audience laughing at every turn. Despite a small role, Saunders fans won’t be disappointed. A front of cloth song, written for her by Burke, is the funniest three minutes in a theatre that you can imagine.

Saunders is a good enough actress to know she’s not the lead; her role as the Duchess of Berwick is to show the follies of society and, channelling a previous performance in the much underrated Let Them Eat Cake, she is brilliant at this. The leads are Grace Molony as the moral Lady Windermere and the always excellent Samantha Spiro as the mannered Mrs Erlynne – a woman “with a past before her” –  captivating society despite scandal, and adding drama to attempts at reclaiming respectability.

Grace Molony and Samantha Spiro
Grace Molony and Samantha Spiro

This trio of performers alone makes this a show that celebrates women. And there are some strong performances from the men in the play, too: Kevin Bishop plays the rakish Lord Darlington with passion, and Joseph Marcell gives a first-rate comic turn. But Burke reminds us how strong Wilde’s writing for female roles is – how he treated them with a fairness, if not an equality, far beyond his time. The respect extends to smaller roles for women: Natasha Magigi has a lovely cameo. And Burke makes sure even a maid gets a personality here. There’s a struggle with our titular character, the lesson she has to learn – and the protection those close to her insist on ­– are so dated that she is hard to connect to. But, as Lady Windermere herself says, she is “behind the age” – we are supposed to feel unsatisfied with her, and her development is captured adroitly by Molony.

Most impressive is the production’s treatment of the play’s histrionic moments. We cannot be shocked in the way Wilde expected, although it’s easy to see that the drama and comedy would have been more violently contrasted in his day. But, in keeping with this season of his plays, masterminded by Dominic Dromgoole, we can still see Wilde as a radical. Burke has a clear appreciation of how he played with the theatrical melodramas of his age. There’s a brilliant scene with the burning of a plot-turning letter, and the ironies of family history don’t deserve a spoiler. Wilde was having fun with conventions – Burke follows his lead, and fun is what you’ll have too with this clever revival.

Until 7 April 2018

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photos by Marc Brenner

“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

“Macbeth” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Olivier-Award-winning actress Eve Best makes her directorial debut at Shakespeare’s Globe this summer with an accessible and exhilarating production of Macbeth. It’s an assured first time effort that sends a chill down the spine even on a hot summer’s day.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given Best’s background, her version of the supernatural thriller puts the performers to the fore. Joseph Millson does a great job in the title role, his Macbeth’s fiery temper increasing the drama and sense of instability. Clearly at home in the Globe – like many of the cast, Millson’s direct addresses to the crowd create a sense of startling immediacy.

Best’s attention to her troupe only has one indulgence – an unnecessarily prolonged scene with the Porter. This aside, with such an excellent cast, giving every role its due is clever. Duncan’s court, at first sight, an array of powdered fops, develop their roles wonderfully and the short scene with Lady Macduff (Finty Williams) is superb.

Full of prophecy and portents rather than politics, Best downplays militaristic bravado, and the female roles in the play benefit from this. The witches, for example, are a beguiling bunch, ironically harmonious, using movement and music to cast a spell. Their fright-factor is all the greater for its understated spookiness.

Samantha Spiro is the star of the show. Her Lady Macbeth is dynamic, her transformation into a Queen astounding, and her performance one of great depth. Macbeth clearly blames her for the path he sets foot on and an alarming scene of domestic abuse is a brave and electrifying take on their famous conjugal complicity.

Until 13 October 2013

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Written 7 July 2013 for The London Magazine

“The Taming of the Shrew” at Shakespeare’s Globe

The Taming of the Shrew is surely Shakespeare’s most objectionable play: its politics can’t help offending a modern audience and its conclusion leaves a bitter taste – never a good move for a comedy. But director Toby Frow’s new production at Shakespeare’s Globe comes as close as possible to redeeming the piece. With a simple approach, Frow makes sure we don’t take the misogyny too seriously, expanding the comedy and saving the show in masterful style.

Frow, aided in dealing with the text by Samuel Adamson, adds plenty of slapstick and interjections that enliven frankly duller moments and acknowledge that few of us are up to speed with Shakespeare’s verbal dexterity. The result is two fold. The ensemble truly excels with even the smaller roles shining: Pearce Quigley’s deadpan Grumio is just one example, and the often sickly sweet lovers Bianca and Lucentio get to have a go, with superb performances from Sarah MacRae and Joseph Timms. Secondly, Frow establishes a fantastic, farcical rhythm (often quite literally – his use of music in the production is inspired) that escalates wonderfully. There’s a touch of One Man, Two Guvnors sometimes and more than dash of Carry On. And why not, if it works?

When it comes to the most unpleasant aspects of “taming”, Frow exploits the play’s dream theme and also sets up a relationship between Katherina and Petruchio that treads a fine line between feigned lunacy and the possibility of equality – this is a subtle, complex relationship underneath the broad comedy and works through the intelligence of its lead performers. Simon Paisley Day plays Petruchio in fine bombastic style, believable as the “devil” people describe him as and reducing the audience to fits of laughter. But his intended is more than a match, with Samantha Spiro putting in a tremendous physical performance as a head-butting, door-bashing Kate that steals every scene. Even if you can’t understand why anyone would want to tame Spiro’s shrew, you can still laugh along at the attempt.

Until 12 October 2012

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 5 July 2012 for The London Magazine

“Filumena” at the Almeida Theatre

Both the Almeida and its artistic director Michael Attenborough have well-deserved reputations for European classics. Their latest offering, Filumena, is a quality affair that both entertains and highlights the voice of its author, Eduardo De Filippo. In a tight, sprightly new version by Tanya Ronder, the show sparkles with wit and preserves an unusual edge. Filumena, a retired prostitute and the ultimate tart with a heart, plots and plans marriage with her long time partner Domenico in order to secure a future for her illegitimate sons. And what could be a cliché is enriched by the text and the direction to contain thrilling elements of the will-they-won’t-they kind and a moral questioning that runs through to its satisfyingly sweet end.

Clive Wood plays Domenico, an ageing lothario with a touch of Tony Soprano and a patronym Filumena fancies for herself. We shouldn’t like him but we do. Part of the appeal is his relationship with Filumena. Wood does a fantastic show of both frustration and fidelity. Because of his bullying tactics, it’s great to see him taunted, yet the dilemmas Filumena forces upon him make him much more than just a stereotype. As Filumena chillingly invites him to “laugh while you still can, because soon you won’t remember how,” his machismo mask slips just long enough for us to see his complexity – treading this fine line is a marvellous achievement from Wood.

Wood has a worthy sparring partner. Samantha Spiro brings alive any production she stars in and in Filumena she excels yet again. Formidable and frightening, she’s a shrew who refuses to be tamed and yet conveys a sense of vulnerability, presenting her character’s tumultuous, potentially hackneyed journey in a way that feels real. It’s not just funny, it’s also engaging, as we band behind Filumena praying she gets her way. Attenborough’s pacing is essential here, giving us time to catch our breath and think. But never long enough to fall out of love with Filumena. Domenico knows he is with someone special but that he has to take care. “Anyone who has anything to do with you needs to be wide awake,” he says. Given Spiro’s magnificent performance, it’s true that you won’t want to take your eyes off the stage.

Until 12 May 2012

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Written 24 March 2012 for The London Magazine

“Chicken Soup with Barley” at the Royal Court Theatre

First performed at the Royal Court in 1958, Arnold Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley is the story of Sarah Kahn, a dedicated East End communist, and her struggle against capitalism. Director Dominic Cooke’s revival of this state-of-the-nation period piece does justice to Wesker’s ability to unite the political with the personal.

The play opens on the day of the Battle of Cable Street, on 4 October 1936, and the characters’ enthusiasm for rioting seems strangely quaint. When Sarah reaches for the rolling pin it gets a laugh and handing a Communist flag to her husband, telling him to “do something useful,” takes on a delicious irony.

Chicken Soup with Barley is a convincing family drama. Sarah’s husband Harry’s lack of political involvement is only the start of their marital problems. In these roles, Samantha Spiro and Danny Webb give tremendous performances. As the story spans three decades, the actors have plenty of opportunity to show off their technical prowess (Spiro has done this before – she seems capable of playing any age). But what really impresses is the close emotional bond one can sense, despite their cruelty to one another.

The arguments between the couple, including the fight for a socialist future, take their toll on their children. Here are two fine professional debuts, with Jenna Augen as Ada establishing her character’s complexity with impressive speed, and Tom Rosenthal as Ronnie providing a moving and astute performance.

Hindsight might make rebellion against their mother’s ideas seem predictable, but it is Cooke’s masterstroke to open up this division and make it so emotional. In a production that often feels rushed, time is taken to remind us of Ada’s absence, while Ronnie’s rejection of the ‘Party’ has apathy at its core. And that makes the themes in Chicken Soup with Barley seem relevant today. Londoners still protest, but our riots are reactionary not revolutionary. Fortunately for Cooke, the heart of Wesker’s political comment is engagement and a repeated desire to debate and act that becomes not just compelling drama but an important message that is clear and loud.

Until 16 July 2011

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photo by  Johan Persson

Written 13 June 2011 for The London Magazine