Tag Archives: Timothy Sheader

“Jesus Christ Superstar” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Artistic Director Timothy Sheader scores tops marks yet again for his venue’s annual musical. Sheader has wowed with grown-up and demanding shows before, but in this production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s concept album/rock opera even the glitter is gritty. This abbreviated Passion of Christ could win converts with its charged staging of ‘The Flagellation’ alone.

Updates to the music are respectful, coming mostly from the vocals. The score feels fresh and the rock guitars aren’t just retained, they are revelled in. More startlingly contemporary is choreographer Drew McOnie’s work and the athleisure clothes from designer Tom Scutt. Jesus and the apostles aren’t hippies but hipsters. It makes sense. Flares, glitter, a glam-Rocky-Horror outfit for Peter Caulfield’s excellent Herod and Judas’ hands dripping in silver paint, show carefully colour-coded scenes. All aided by Lee Curran, whose lighting for the finale is breath taking.

Sheader emphasises community (those ‘Shoreditch’ touches have a point). This is a big cast and it encircles the auditorium before mounting the stage, grabbing microphones and playing around with the stands, cultivating the idea this being a concert. The performative angle provides insight into the piece. And such a commanding use of the ensemble adds emotion as those who followed Jesus quickly turn, to hound him, then demand his death.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR by Webber,         , Lyrics - Tim Rice, Music - Andrew Lloyd Webber, Director - Timothy Sheader, Designer - Tom Scutt, Choreography - Drew McOnie, Lighting - Lee Curran, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London, UK, 2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /

There are as many superstars on stage as you could pray for. Anoushka Lucas is an excellent Mary, making the most of her show-stopping number. Tryone Huntley (above) is a faultless Judas, with a soaring range and tremendous power. As the lead, Declan Bennett may strike you as lacking charisma – his Christ is introspective – but when power is called for Bennett delivers and his acting is astonishingly focused. Moments when it is difficult to hear what Bennett is singing are an especial pity, given that these are Tim Rice’s best lyrics. It’s testament to the strength of the production that a normally fatal flaw does little to diminish the power of this revelatory show.

Until 27 August 2016

www.openairtheatre.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“Porgy and Bess” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s annual musical is always at the top of my must-see list. For 2014, artistic director Timothy Sheader is more ambitious than ever with a production of the Gershwins’ iconic Porgy and Bess. The show lives up to expectations in near miraculous fashion – it’s an easy five stars.

The musical landscape Gershwin created to reflect the doomed love affair, between the crippled Porgy and the drug-addled fallen woman, Bess, is legendary. Musical director David Shrubsole has done a remarkable job, with the largest number of musicians ever working at the venue, to reinforce the adventurous nature of the score. This production reminds us how mind blowing Porgy and Bess must have sounded in 1935.

Sheader’s stripped-back production brings out the power of the story. What this man does with a few chairs and tables is fantastic. Firmly placing the protagonists within context is masterfully done. We are transported to a different world – full of pain and prejudice – and never doubt its coherence. Good and bad are clear here, brutality omniscient, but Sheader’s attention to detail insures complexity and depth.

The cast is superb. Sharon D Clarke and Golda Rosheuvel play the matriarchs of the setting, Catfish Row. Leading a stunning chorus, they sound fantastic and are utterly convincing as women committed to fighting for their community who suffer cruel lives with dignity. As Bess, Nicola Hughes is magnificent, her voice stunning. A study in sensuality, repentance and conflict, she takes Bess to the edge and comes perilously close to testing the audience’s affection for her.

Arthur Kyeyune and Tyrone Huntley with Cedric Neal as Sporting Life. Photo Johan Persson
Cedric Neal

Three cast members from America join these truly leading ladies. Phillip Boykin and Cedric Neal play very different bad guys: the instinctual Crown, who claims Bess as his woman, and the insinuating Sporting Life. Boykin is a powerful presence with a voice to match. Neal, like many a stage devil, gets great lines, his It Ain’t Necessarily So as intoxicating as the drugs he peddles. In the title role, Rufus Bonds Jr is deeply moving, with a voice that will melt your heart. Seeing any one of these performers on stage would be a privilege. Seeing all of them is an honour.

Until 23 August

www.openairtheatre.com

Photos by Johan Persson

Written 30 July 2014 for The London Magazine

“All My Sons” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s 2014 season got off to a cracking start last night with a new production of All My Sons. The Arthur Miller classic, about a war profiteer and his family, is given a terrific treatment by the theatre’s artistic director Timothy Sheader. The play’s moral concerns and complexity receive due deference while a tremendous amount of suspense is added in.

Sheader has some fine performers to work with. Tom Mannion and Bríd Brennan play the Kellers with care and skill; he seems all conviviality, the working man made good, while her fixed grin belies an iron will corroded by the secrets they share. Rich from supplying faulty goods to the US Air Force, the next generation must share the legacy of their mistakes.

Back from fighting in World War II, the Keller’s son Chris is caught between a family mourning his lost brother and his own noble ambitions to live a better life. Chris’ love for his brother’s sweetheart, Ann, literally the girl next door, forces him to confront the role her father took as a patsy for the Kellers’ crime. Amy Nuttall plays Ann with skilful restraint, building momentum as the play’s shocking revelations unfold.

Charles Aitken excels as Keller Jnr, the war-traumatised conscience of the piece, with a perfect smile that reflects his character’s optimism and the charm to convince us that he is as good as he seems. In a play seething about the hypocrisy behind the poster-perfect American suburbs (aided here by Maddie Rice’s superb performance as a neighbour), Chris has to be the believable beacon of integrity, and Aitken delivers a great performance.

Not surprisingly, Sheader knows how to use the space at his own theatre. Tying the play’s timing to the setting of the sun is hugely effective, while Lizzie Clachan’s set is thought provoking and Nick Powell’s music superb. The play speeds by at a cracking pace and the carefully controlled tension is tremendous. A stunning final scene makes this a truly haunting evening and shows a director in charge of a quality production.

Until 7 June 2014

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Tommy Ga Ken Wan

Written 21 May 2014 for The London Magazine

“The Magistrate” at the National Theatre

Stepping into a gap in the National Theatre’s schedule left by the cancellation of The Count of Monte Cristo, Timothy Sheader’s production of The Magistrate may be a last-minute stocking filler – but it doesn’t feel like one. Packed with laughs and polished to perfection, it’s a real gift for the Christmas season.

This is a theatrical achievement all the more impressive because Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1885 play isn’t all that great on the page. When Agatha marries Aeneas Posket, she lies about her age and turns her son, Cis, from a 19-year-old man into a 14-year-old boy. The ‘larks’ he gets up to drop the whole family, and any passing female, into deep water, forcing his new step-father, a Magistrate, to get involved. The exposition could be slow and the satire weak, but Sheader fills the show with energy, kicking it into life and giving the National’s last hit comedy, One Man, Two Guvnors, a run for its money.

Of course, comedy is all about timing and The Magistrate‘s wonderful cast excels at this: from the excellent Beverly Rudd, who shines in the small part of Popham the maid, to Jonathan Coy, who plays an Army Captain from Agatha’s past with enough bluster to steal a scene or two, and Joshua McGuire, who gets great laughs as the young son “swelling with agitation” as a result of the five years taken off his age. With so much talent on stage it seems that John Lithgow, who takes on the title role, needs to grow into his part a little – he’s certainly upstaged by his wife, played by Nancy Carroll, in absolutely fabulous style.

Musical interludes with lyrics by Richard Stilgoe (with a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan) add even more fun, and the sets from designer Katrina Lindsay are magnificent – pop-up fantasies that make the most of the Olivier stage, they hint at Christmas cards. But this show is so good that it’s not just for Christmas and should entertain for a long time afterwards.

Until 10 February 2013

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 23 November 2012 for The London Magzine

“Ragtime” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s annual musical is an essential part of summer in London. Following hot on the heels of recent successes might intimidate a lesser man than director Timothy Sheader, but this year’s show, Ragtime, is more ambitious than ever. In a season crowded with events, it’s a bold and spirited affair.

Flaherty and Ahrens’ musical is a serious, dark work about American history and ideas, with a complex score that draws on the music from which it takes its title. It’s a challenging piece, taking on racism and terrorism with strong language; and there’s no playing safe for Sheader, who fights to make it relevant and broadens the work in astonishing fashion and to wonderful effect.

Jon Bausor’s excellent design is the first surprise – for last year’s Lord of the Flies he crashed a jet in the park – for Ragtime the auditorium looks like a rubbish dump with the cast entering through a derelict poster for the Obama campaign. Bausor’s work is a perfect match for Sheader’s time-bending twist on a story ostensibly set in 1906. The focus is on the power of politics to change and Ragtime’s ideals are moving ones. In true musical style, the characters’ aspirations gravitate around the world of entertainment: this is a world where dreams and drama occur “in heaven, in trouble and in Vaudeville”.

The production spoils us with strong central performances. Rosalie Craig and David Birrell are superb as a wealthy husband and wife whose lives intersect with the tragedy of a black couple, performed with great intensity by Rolan Bell and Claudia Kariuki, who makes a professional debut not to be missed. We also get a story of immigrant success, powerfully portrayed by John Marquez, and a host of historical figures that include Stephane Anelli as Harry Houdini in a scene-stealing escape act.

Sheader excels when dealing with Ragtime’s ensemble nature. The whole cast works exceptionally hard and shows great acting skill as well as doing justice to choreography from Javier de Frutos. Although one might consider Ragtime an alternative take on the American dream, it is deeply patriotic. Even though we have plenty of patriotism of our own at the moment, when this cast sings together it is sure to raise goose bumps regardless of the weather this summer – or your nationality.

Until 8 September 2012

www.openairtheatre.org

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 29 May 2012 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

“Lord of the Flies” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

An airplane has crash-landed in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. With an engine planted amongst the audience and luggage hanging from the trees, designer Jon Bausor’s Lost-inspired set immediately establishes the extremity of the situation. The dismantling of the British flag of the tailfin – to make a temporary shelter for the schoolboys who have survived the crash – succinctly reflects the theme of the decline of civilisation that courses though Golding’s original narrative.

Everybody’s favourite text from school days, the 1954 book, is expertly brought to the stage by Nigel Williams. Adapting it [for the RSC in 1995] must have been a daunting task – not simply because of its fame, but because Golding’s authorial voice is so strong, his work so filled with symbolism and so marked by a scarcity of dialogue. Williams neutralises the 1950s schoolboy chat that could cause laughter: the whole production is vague about period, a move that avoids distraction in these ephebiphobic times. Better still, the script makes many of Golding’s concerns, such as the dynamics of society and the struggle between good and evil, only too clear.

Timothy Sheader’s direction is remarkable. Working with a young cast, he has fostered a collection of impressive professional debuts – London hasn’t seen the like since The History Boys. Treating the stage as a playground, then a hunting ground, the boys move with frightening agility, undertake extended fight scenes convincingly and viscerally embody the savagery they descend into.

Alistair Toovey is wonderful as Ralph, the group’s first chief, engaged in a power struggle with Jack (James Clay), a choirboy-turned-hunter who leads the boys in a very different kind of song and dance. Clay bristles with adolescent awakening. There are also stand-out performances from George Bukhari as Piggy, a moving voice of reason in the wilderness, and Joshua Williams as Simon, whose discovery of the truth about the ‘Beastie’ scaring the children has brutal consequences.

Clay does especially well in playing out Jack’s manipulation of the weaker boys through fear. As night descends on Regent’s Park, and the hunt to kill Ralph begins, the boys become the “solid mass of menace” Golding describes. Sheader makes the escalation of violence theatrically plausible but, more remarkably, his pacing and use of slow motion give the audience time to think through what is going on. This is the same privileged position Golding gives his readers, making the production a true compliment to a terrifying modern classic.

Until 18 June 2011

www.openairtheatre.org

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 27 May 2011 for The London Magazine

“Into the Woods” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Into the Woods is Sondheim’s masterpiece. A musical score full of invention yet accessible, lyrics that are at once moving and hilarious, and both perfectly accompanying James Lapine’s wonderful book. Interweaving fairy stories, questioning what these tales are really about and then, after the interval, returning to the characters to find out what happens after the happily ever after; it’s one of the cleverest things you’ll ever see and one of the most rewarding.

Director Timothy Sheader gives the show a production it deserves. His new spin is to cast the narrator as a child. This adds little, but where Sheader excels is to bring out the musical’s qualities. This is particularly well executed in the way he brings out the dark side of the fairy stories we tell children – the woods are a sinister place and we fear for the babies in them.

With Soutra Gilmour’s wonderful set and some startling choreography from Liam Steel, the dynamism of the piece is given full scope. The mix of stories is hectic and a controlled chaos appropriately challenges suspension of disbelief.

The characters’ knowledge of the artificial world they are a part of, along with the lessons they learn and impart, is relished by the cast. There are some wonderful performances here. Beverly Rudd is great as the greedy Red Ridinghood, managing a tune while she stuffs buns in her mouth. Michael Xavier and Simon Thomas play the Princes with a nod to Russell Brand and get the most out of their duets.

There are three great leading ladies. Hannah Waddingham is on excellent form as the witch and Jenna Russell is as superb as ever as the Baker’s wife. Helen Dallimore’s sweet voice serves well in the role of Cinderella, whose proclamation, “I wish”, starts the whole glorious evening.

It seems obvious to stage Into the Woods at Regents Park. There must have been a collective, “ah, yes”, when it was announced, yet it is to Sheaders’s credit that it is done so well. It is great to hear the wind in the leaves accompany Sondheim’s score and see the characters retreating into the trees at the end of the evening. The only problem with this production is the short run. Given the number of wonderful touches, and surprise voice over, it would be great to see it transfer or return to the park next year. That’s my wish anyway.

Until 11 September 2010

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 17 August 2010 for The London Magazine