Culture Bound – August

As nearly everything seems to shift up to Edinburgh for a theatrical holiday, there’s been time to catch up on some recent big hitters.

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Theatre

Noises Off by Michael Frayn (Lyric, Hammersmith) An excellent cast and spot on direction make this classic one of the funniest plays ever. The first act was very good but not great, seeming to lack a bit of momentum but after that it was all systems go. The behind the scenes mayhem was choreographed to perfection and I could only wonder at the stamina of the performers and their sheer technical brilliance. The third act, which can be a minor let down, was actually even funnier than usual – perhaps because there was no second interval, so the momentum was maintained. A great play one (well me anyway) never tires of. ****

BEST OF THE BUNCH

The Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini – adapted by Ben Power (NT at the Piccadilly) Wow several times over! An absolutely consummate powerhouse of writing, acting, directing and design. Such careful and even pacing, such clarity of diction, such total excitement. Simon Russell Beale was quite extraordinary,  Dominik Tiefenthaler (taking over from Ben Miles) was rock solid and Adam Godley was a complete revelation – particularly when he played all eight prospective fiancées in rapid succession. Even the uncomfortable seats could not detract from 3.5 hours of unalloyed pleasure in what must be one of the most significant theatrical achievements this decade. Theatre at its very best….and then some. *****

Once On This Island  by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Southwark Playhouse)  This spin on Romeo and Juliet mashed up with The Little Mermaid was enhanced by memorable musical numbers and exuberant staging which demonstrated that sometimes simple is best; the transformation scene at the end was particularly effective. The stage was sometimes over full and I found the direction a bit frantic. Sound balance at the start was awry and intermittently throughout. Where this production really scored was in the high-level energy and sheer enthusiasm of the whole ensemble; although difficult to single anyone out, Chrissie Bhima as the central character has obvious star potential. ***

The Weatherman by Eugene O’Hare (Park Theatre) A highly flawed and depressing drama which left me pining for lighter fare. Full review here **

(Just as an aside I must just also mention a rehearsed reading of Alan Ayckbourn’s Way Upstream at Tower Theatre. More of a semi staged performance this notoriously difficult to stage piece was brought to vivid life by an enterprising crew of actors and some inspired direction. A real treat.)

Film

The Lion King directed by Jon Favreau. This “live action” remake of the classic cartoon included some new elements taken from the stage musical which improved on the original. That aside it was a faithful recreation – perhaps too faithful, meaning there were few surprises or new elements. Whereas I don’t find it difficult to accept cartoon animals speaking I found it grating that their more realistic counterparts did so. It was difficult to suspend belief, particularly when the songs kicked in. That said the photography and sense of realism was superb. I’m not sure Disney’s mania for reinterpreting its back catalogue is fully justified ***

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