How many productions does it take for a playwright to have a moment? We could be on the cusp of a William Wycherley wave, with the second production of The Country Wife to arrive this year (the first being at the Southwark Playhouse in April).
Humble Boy is a play about life and about families, about how nothing can be certain no matter how hard we try. Not all our ambitions and hopes will be rewarded with stars and recognition. And it is a masterclass in writing from Charlotte Jones.
Characterised by black humour, loopy writing and good acting, Humble Boy at the Orange Tree Theatre combines laugh-out-loud delights with a quietly moving ending.
Belinda Lang’s performance is beautifully human, encapsulating rage, despair, delusion and self-possession in equal amounts.
Paul McGann and Belinda Lang star in the 20th anniversary production of Moira Buffini’s Gabriel, which launches a UK tour from Richmond Theatre in March.
Revival of Alan Bennett’s classic double bill about the Cambridge Spies is resonant, but only takes off in the second half.
Alan Bennett is a playwright that most are familiar with, if not for his plays then certainly for his films (which started as stage productions), History Boys and Lady in the Van. From my personal point of view, he never fails to astound with the topics he chooses to pursue and this particular piece pushes […]
Ah Oklahoma, another in that list of musicals who have been produced and cast so perfectly in the past (in this case the wonderful National Theatre production that gave Hugh Jackman his big break) that you begin to wonder why anyone would dare attempt it again. But clearly Music & Lyrics – the collaborative effort of a number of the UK’s finest regional receiving theatres – are braver souls than I.
Royal & Derngate, Northampton
Music by Richard RodgersBook and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein IIDirected by Rachel Kavanaugh
Ashley Day and Charlotte Wakefield
There is a traditional charm that pervades the Royal & Derngate’s Oklahoma! This show, the first collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, is at once dark and glorious but above all, crammed with some of the biggest numbers from the Golden Age of Broadway. And here, on Francis O’Connor’s set that has been cleverly designed to be taken on the road, it is beautifully staged.
Set around the turn of the last century, the Oklahoma!’s book glosses over much of the Indian Territory’s troubled history (the actual State of Oklahoma was not created until 1905). Whilst the legacy of the recently ended American Civil War is roundly ignored, the tale does hint at the vastness of the land that was there to be grabbed, as well as the agricultural rivalries between the cattle rancher and the farmer and all alongside the emerging technologies that were seeing automobiles appear and skyscrapers come out of the ground. Famously though, the story bravely weaves its human interest themes as light and frivolous romance seamlessly segues into the dark and damaged side of our fellow man.
Charlotte Wakefield is a delight as Laurey, the orphaned niece of her aged Aunt Eller with whom she lives on the farm that they own and tend. Wakefield has previous form with Rachel Kavanaugh, having garnered an Olivier nomination in the director’s The Sound Of Music two years ago.
The actress epitomises tough yet cute, with a carapace that ultimately holds a vulnerable soft-centre. Initially wary of suitor Curly’s advances, Laurey is in fact desparate for the love he offers. Throughout, Wakefield’s singing is divine, with her handling of the harmonies in People Will Say We’re in Love proving a gorgeous take on the classic tune. Alongside Wakefield, Ashley Day’s Curly is handsome and well sung , but he needs to dig deeper to earn our sympathy. All too often Day glosses over the nuance of his lyrics, losing much of the cleverly crafted Hammerstein verse. But these are early days for the production, though and there is no-one better than Kavanaugh to coax that little bit more from her leading man.
Elsewhere there is doom and delight from the supporting cast. Belinda Lang is fabulous as Aunt Eller. With no apparent kin aside from Laurey, Eller is the loving matriarch not just to her niece but to her wider community too and Lang nails the fiercely protective loyalty that the old woman shows towards her ward.
Nic Greenshields’ Jud Fry offers a chilling take on the tragic desparate loneliness of a man shunned by the world. As Laurey’s hired hand on the farm, he craves her beauty and there is a true terror and menace in his manner. But in Greenshields’ singing of Lonely Room there is also a profound exposition of a deeply damaged man.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Lucy May Barker’s Ado Annie is just so incredibly believable as the girl who sings I Cain’t Say No. Barker shamelessly steals her scenes, but with a performance that deliciously good who cares? Other comic treats come from Gary Wilmot’s exquisitely timed work as peddlar Ali Hakim, whilst James O’Connell’s Will Parker truly gives his all in All Er Nothin and his Kansas City makes for good fun too.
Edging south down the M1 following his recent stints at Leicester, Drew McOnie choreographs in his first ever partnership with Kavanaugh. The flamboyant hallmarks of musical theatre’s wunderkind of dance have been reined in for this is tale, but it still remains a treat to see his interpretation of some of Broadway’s biggest classic routines. McOnie’s work impresses with his movement perfectly capturing the humour of It’s a Scandal! It’s a Outrage in a whirl of chaps, petticoats and bloomers, whilst the ballet sequence that closes act one is truly a dream. Credit too to Stephen Ridley’s 10 piece band. They’ve been well drilled and as the first notes of that gorgeous Overture sound out, they set the tone for an evening of musical excellence.
Shortly to tour the UK, Rachel Kavanaugh’s Oklahoma! is a classic musical, wonderfully performed. Go and see for yourselves, you won’t be disappointed.
Plays until February 28th 2015, then tours
After the press night of The Killing of Sister George starring Meera Syal, intrepid Londonist reviewers JohnnyFox and Zefrog hid in a wardrobe in the dressing room shared by characters Alice McNaught (Childie) and June Buckridge (George) as they fought over their postmortem of the night’s performance. Here’s what they may have heard: Childie: oh come on, George. It wasn’t that […]
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A social-climbing middle-class Home Counties couple launch their pretty but awkward daughter on the London marriage market and eventually steer her towards the ‘right’ public schoolboy with a title to inherit … … but enough about the Middletons. In The Reluctant Debutante, it’s 1957 and the pushy mother is Jane Asher in a series of […]
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