The Magicians Elephant at the RSC

‘A sweet, warm-hearted Christmas show’: THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT – Stratford-upon-Avon (RSC)

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Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – until 1 January 2022

The Magician’s Elephant re-opens the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon after some 19 months of closure. It’s the same slot that famously produced Matilda, Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story, now in its 10th year at the West End’s Cambridge Theatre where it reopened on 16 September after its 18-month pandemic shutdown.

Of course, hits like that are once in a generation; the RSC’s previous blockbuster Les Miserables had occurred some 25 years earlier. The Magician’s Elephant is dressed to the nines — and has a 10/10 life-size puppet elephant — but it ends up with nowhere to go, which sadly may be its fate.

It’s a sweet, warm-hearted Christmas show, but despite a few lovely tunes by composer Marc Teitler (who also co-wrote the lyrics with book writer Nancy Harris, adapted from Kate DiCamillo’s 2007 novel), it won’t linger long in my elephantine theatrical memory.

At least it’s an original musical with a new score. Less than an hour from Stratford-upon-Avon, Birmingham Repertory Theatre is the scene for a try-out of yet another bright, colourful jukebox confection, What’s New Pussycat?, that improbably maps the song catalogue of Welsh troubadour Tom Jones to the story of Henry Fielding’s 18th century romantic chancer, all relocated to the 60s.

It is directed by Luke Sheppard, who similarly folded the songs of Swedish pop writer Max Martin into a contemporary updating of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to become & Juliet (that recently resumed performances at the Shaftesbury; it is now boasting that it is about to celebrate its 2nd anniversary there, which is technically correct in terms of when it first opened in November 2019, but given that it has been forced shut for some 18 months by the pandemic, that’s a bit of an exaggeration).

Like & Juliet, What’s New Pussycat? won’t win any prizes for subtlety, but it sledgehammers the songs into a narrative, devised by Joe DiPietro, with an infectious sense of fun and charm, led by dashing Dominic Andersen and clarion-voiced Bronté Barbé (pictured above) in stylish form.

Arlene Phillips provides the delightful period choreography, Jon Bauser the witty set, Janet Bird the irresistible 60s costumes and Gareth Owen the superb sound for a West End-ready show; is may sizzle there, but would it sell? Does a Tom Jones musical without Tom himself in it have enough to attract the fans?

Finally, Cordelia Lynn’s bleak, sparse Love and Other Acts of Violence — a Donmar Warehouse commission — has re-opened that Covent Garden powerhouse in uncompromising, discomforting style. Part dystopian romance, part cautionary historical reminder, it is set in the near future in the first part, then the past in second, to establish grim parallels of the human cost and impact of anti-semitism across the ages. It is haunting, harrowing and disturbing.

The post Reviews round-up: November 2 first appeared on Shenton Stage.

 

‘A sweet, warm-hearted Christmas show’: @ShentonStage catches @TheRSC’s #TheMagiciansElephant. But, a 10/10 life-size puppet notwithstanding, it ‘won’t linger long in his elephantine theatrical memory’. #theatrereviews

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Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton has been a full-time freelance London-based theatre critic and journalist since 2002, and is proud to have co-founded MyTheatreMates with Terri Paaddock. He has variously (and sometimes simultaneously) been chief theatre critic for the Sunday Express, The Stage, WhatsOnStage, What's On in London magazine and LondonTheatre.co.uk. He has taught at ArtsEd London in Chiswick on musical theatre history since 2012. He was until recently President of the Critics' Circle, and is also on the board of Mercury Musical Developments and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). You can follow him on Twitter @ShentonStage, and on instagram at @ShentonStage. His personal website is www.shentonstage.com.
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Mark Shenton on FacebookMark Shenton on RssMark Shenton on Twitter
Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton has been a full-time freelance London-based theatre critic and journalist since 2002, and is proud to have co-founded MyTheatreMates with Terri Paaddock. He has variously (and sometimes simultaneously) been chief theatre critic for the Sunday Express, The Stage, WhatsOnStage, What's On in London magazine and LondonTheatre.co.uk. He has taught at ArtsEd London in Chiswick on musical theatre history since 2012. He was until recently President of the Critics' Circle, and is also on the board of Mercury Musical Developments and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). You can follow him on Twitter @ShentonStage, and on instagram at @ShentonStage. His personal website is www.shentonstage.com.

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