Tag Archives: Gielgud Theatre

REVIEW: Blithe Spirit – Gielgud Theatre, London

Noël Coward’s irresistible play Blithe Spirit returns to the West End accompanied by a fanfare of trumpets and Dame Angela Lansbury in her first London stage appearance in nearly 40 years. But in some ways Lansbury’s presence is a distraction that overshadows the supremely gifted actors on whom much of the action hangs.

Written in five days in 1941 whilst on holiday in Portmeirion after his London flat was bombed, Coward said on its completion: “I knew it was witty, I knew it was well constructed, and I also knew that it would be a success”.

Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre Blithe Spirit at GielgudMarried to second wife, the straight-laced, reliable Ruth (Janie Dee), and seeking some background for a new novel about a homicidal medium, author Charles Condimine (Charles Edwards) decides to hold a séance with local spiritualist Madame Arcati (Lansbury). But when the dotty medium summons the spirit of Charles’ first wife, the effervescent (and unfaithful) Elvira, marital discord ensues as Charles begins to question the quiet life he’s come to embrace.

10529_show_landscape_large_01While accusations of misogyny have been levelled at the play in modern times, it ploughs a familiar furrow for Coward, a subject explored in different ways in his works Private Lives, Hay Fever and Design for Living, that of his belief in the impossibility of monogamy. It must be said though that Coward does allows his female characters to be as naughty as his males. Sparkling with Coward’s wonderful, witty dialogue the whole production is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. It has its flaws, it takes a little while to warm up and there’s a little lull in the second act, but any flaws are easily forgiven.

For most, it is Lansbury that is the draw and it’s undoubtedly a belter of a role for any actress to get her teeth into, and happily she doesn’t disappoint. Delightfully dotty, she totters around the stage with an energy that belies her years, conjuring mayhem with every step. To her credit Lansbury doesn’t play it solely for laughs, Madame Arcati truly believes she has a gift and the withering looks she aims at sceptical local doctor’s wife Mrs. Bradman thoroughly chill. It must be said though that there are little moments when she’s grasping for her line but she covers it well, and for an 88 year old it is a remarkable performance.

1.168979The stand-out star though, is Charles Edwards without doubt one of the UK’s finest actors. He careers from suave imperturbability to abject panic when Elvira threatens his cosy existence with consummate ease and his comic timing is masterful. Edwards is ably supported by a flirty Jemima Rooper as Elvira and the ever-watchable Janie Dee as Ruth. There’s also an amusing turn from Patsy Ferran as dippy maid Edith here in her professional debut.

This is a classy affair throughout and well worth catching if you can and oh, so much more than just a vehicle for Britain’s latest theatrical Dame.

REVIEW: Strangers on a Train – Gielgud Theatre, London

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel (followed in 1951 by the radically adapted Alfred Hitchcock film version) Craig Warner (writer) and Robert Allan Ackerman (director) have returned to Highsmith’s original source material for this stage version of Strangers on a Train at the Gielgud Theatre in London.

Strangers-on-trainAfter a chance meeting on a train, up and coming young architect Guy Haines (Laurence Fox) and flamboyant playboy Charles Bruno (Jack Huston) make an unlikely bargain which will change both of their lives forever.

Haines, saddled with a promiscuous wife from a disastrous teenage marriage and pursuing a new love, in the form of a high society heiress, meets Charles Bruno, Bruno, directionless and in want of his expected inheritance from his much-hated father, hits upon the perfect solution to their woes. Each will rid the other of their ‘problem’.

Charles carries out his side of the ‘bargain’ but Guy begins to lose his resolve, resulting in a terrifying level of psychological pressure from the increasingly unstable Charles, culminating in a suspenseful and shocking denouement.

10341_show_landscape_large_06Tim Goodchild’s ingenious revolving set is a star in itself, rendered entirely in black and white and shades of grey, complemented by projections and an atmospheric Hitchcock-like soundtrack, it is stunning, moving swiftly between a mind-boggling amount of changes.

10341_show_landscape_large_07Huston is superb as Bruno, charming and chilling in equal measure, he appears entirely at home on stage. His increasingly claustrophobic and unhinged portrayal is fascinating with its minutely detailed mannerisms and the uncomfortable, almost incestuous relationship with his fading southern belle mother (Imogen Stubbs, giving her best Tennessee Williams) is grippingly played. Fox is marginally less convincing but his geeky, uptight Guy comes into his own in the second act as he increasingly loses control of his life.

204296_2_previewThe undercurrent of homosexuality, only hinted at in the novel is played up to good effect here. Suspenseful throughout with some nerve-shredding moments, there’s much black humour in this noir production. Fast-paced and visually striking and with a genuinely unexpected and shocking final scene, this filmic production is a welcome addition to the West End. There’s a need for more classy and mature thrillers onstage, as evidenced by the packed house here – producers take note.

strangers on a train

REVIEW: The Audience, Gielgud Theatre, London

The_Audience_RT_569x315Again in the West End it would appear that the main draw of new play The Audience is its star Helen Mirren, however, that would be doing a great disservice to Peter Morgan’s deftly written, insightful and highly amusing play.

For the 60 years of her reign, on a Tuesday evening, Elizabeth II has met with each of her Prime Ministers. In his play The Audience Peter Morgan, writer of Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning role in The Queen, uses the fact that these encounters are never minuted and bound by a confidentiality that excludes even their spouses, to imagine what takes place during these interactions.

The audiences with eight of the Monarch’s twelve Prime Ministers is told in non-chronological sequence, and is interwoven with scenes of reflection between the Queen and her teenage self, illustrating as she nears adulthood, her growing resignation to her duty.

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As well as showing Her Majesty as confessor and therapist, the piece also hints at a monarch with strongly held political convictions of her own: Harold Wilson at one point jokingly telling the Queen that he has always suspected she was a Lefty at heart and the Queen strongly asserting her disapproval at Margaret Thatcher’s reluctance to impose sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime.

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Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson

There are moments of weakness shown too: the de-commissioning of the royal yacht Britannia and Princess Diana’s scathing criticism in Andrew Morton’s tell-all memoir reveal chinks in the Monarch’s armour.

The inclusion of current events, only 48 hours on from the death of Mrs. Thatcher the details of her funeral have been added in by the writer and the Queen’s disapproval of the recently abdicated Pope whom she bemoans as a light weight, not a lifer like her, all imbue the play with a greater  believability.

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Mirren is, as expected, suitably regal in the role and travels through the decades with ease. The eye-poppingly swift on-stage costume and wig changes are accompanied by a well-observed subtle change of voice here or a more youthful gesture there.

However it is with varying degress of success that the characterisations of the eight ministers are achieved. Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson and Paul Ritter as John Major are particularly effective. McCabe doesn’t come close to Wilson’s nasal tones but his portrayal of (allegedly) the Queen’s favourite PM is endearing, humorous and touching in turn. Ritter perfectly conveys Major’s ill-ease and inadequacy in a job he really didn’t want, his revelation to the Queen that he left school with only three O-Levels is met with the retort: “Well I have no O-Levels at all…what fine hands the country is in.”

Less successful is Nathaniel Parker’s portrayal of Gordon Brown, his physical quirks are on the money but his Scottish accent appears to have come to him via Dublin and Mumbai. Haydn Gwynne also veers into Spitting Image territory, giving a steely-eyed and shellac-haired version of Mrs. Thatcher.

Conspicuous in his absence though, is Tony Blair, having been thoroughly dealt with in Peter Morgan’s 2006 film The Queen.

THE AUDIENCE by Peter Morgan

Bob Crowley’s clever design reflects both the formal coldness of Buckingham Palace and the actual arctic conditions but comfort and shabbiness of Balmoral, replete with its three bar electric fire.

With a stellar cast and some perfectly honed performances, this is finally a show that lives up to the hype.

All images by Johan Persson.

REVIEW: Chariots of Fire, Gielgud Theatre, London

‘I can run fast, but I think I can run even faster. I want an Olympic medal. It’s waiting for me’

In a week of unusual and entirely new theatrical experiences (the silent disco technology of Biding Time (remix) at The Arches and taking to the water at lifeguard in Govanhill Baths) last night I was lead through the wings with twenty-odd others to take my seat on the stage of the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to watch Mike Bartlett’s version of the multi award-winning Chariots of Fire. Seated in bleacher seating to represent the 1924 Paris Olympic stadium, surrounded by a steeply banked running track and with my feet beside the double revolve, the excitement of seeing a play, on a West End stage from the performer’s eye view was making the heart beat that little bit faster.

Based upon the true story of Cambridge educated Harold Abrahams, wealthy son of a Lithuanian Jew and Eric Liddell child of a devout Christian missionary family, and the two men’s path to compete at the 1924 Paris Olympics, Chariots of Fire is a genuinely moving and inspiring tale. 

The differences between the two men have always been the heart of the story, but the two have many more similarities than differences. Both are driven, Abrahams with the desire to overcome antisemitism and win the approval of his distant father and Liddell by his Christian faith to run for the glory of God.

The actors are required to sing and play instruments as well as show athletic prowess and to a man they deliver impressively. James McArdle is particularly impressive as Abrahams, the man’s raw determination to do whatever it takes to win and his arrogance about his chances of achieving glory could easily have made him unsympathetic. McArdle manages to imbue him with a vulnerability that even in the midst of his greatest triumphs, the loneliness and struggle still shows through the cracks. 

This is a wonderful celebration of Britishness, there’s Gilbert and Sullivan, Scottish country dancing, bagpipes, marching bands, university life and of course a rendition of Jerusalem.

Tam Williams who appears alongside father Simon, delivers a fine turn as archetypal English gent Andrew, Lord Lindsey who re-creates the famous champagne glasses on hurdles scene (below) not once but three times. He also typifies the classic British turn up and get on with it spirit when he arrives, jacket casually slung over shoulder, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth to compete. 

This is a truly remarkable feat – bringing to life the beloved multi-Oscar winning film and managing to take the audience on a powerful emotional journey, and it is down to a truly gifted creative team. Writer Bartlett’s ability to get straight the emotional heart of a piece is stunning (his Medea at Glasgow Citizens two weeks ago was as pin sharp and straight to the point as this), the dialogue is sparse and it relies on a series of short emotive, quick moving scenes to drive the narrative. Miriam Buether’s double revolve set, Scott Ambler’s inventive choreography and Vangelis’ iconic score heighten the excitement and truly carry the audience along with the actors in this fully immersive theatrical experience.

This is stirring and spine-tingling – the sound of the actors as they pound the track around you, the whiff of embrocation and the blast of wind as they streak by is utterly visceral. I can’t recommend this highly enough – it will put joy in your heart and bring a tear to your eye. See it if you can.

Runs at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until 2nd February 2013, ticket details here

REVIEW: The Ladykillers – Gielgud Theatre London 4th April 2012

Many, including me have had doubts about the wisdom of turning the 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers into   a stage show. The story of a “professor” of crime who masterminds a   daring robbery and uses the subsiding house of a sweet little old lady in   King’s Cross as the hideout for his villainous gang, all of them impersonating (badly) the members of a classical string quintet, isn’t just one of best Ealing   comedies, it is one of the most loved British films of all time.

But, amazingly, the show works and oh boy does it work, so much so that the tears of laughter running down my face were so bad that I had to reach for a hankie to mop them away. This is truly laugh out loud funny – and that’s rare thing to say. Just the sight of the crooked house   of innocent Mrs Wilberforce raised a round of applause from the audience. The set has been brilliantly designed by Michael Taylor and springs some   fantastic surprises in the course of the show.

This isn’t an exact re-telling of the film – that really couldn’t be done, instead, Graham Linehan’s new adaptation and Sean Foley’s inventive production is full of fantastic jokes and amazing physical comedy, but most amazingly of all, it still remains true to the charming spirit of the brilliant original.

The cast are truly stellar; Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller, James Fleet and Stephen Wight not only play their individual roles to perfection but also combine beautifully as a whole.This is a rare treat – just a perfection from start to finish.

It has also just been announced that it will tour the UK at the end of the year. I urge you to get tickets. This truly is a must-see.