Tag Archives: Howard Hudson

REVIEW: Strangers on a Train – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

A chance meeting on a train introduces Charles Bruno and Guy Haines, two wildly different men but with problems in common. As the journey progresses, a hypothetical plan is hatched between the pair: what if Bruno kills Haines unfaithful wife in return for Haines bumping off Bruno’s much-loathed father? When Bruno follows through on his side of the imagined bargain, Haines is subjected to stalking, intimidation and blackmail.

Mistress of mystery Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel, Strangers on a Train was an instant hit on publication, with the heavily adapted Alfred Hitchcock classic film noir following quickly on its heels one year later. Good old-fashioned thrillers, once so prevalent on the theatrical landscape, are woefully few and far between, so it’s refreshing to see this classic chiller on stage. Craig Warner’s stage adaptation, (which had a run in the West End under the filmic direction of Robert Allan Ackerman in 2013 with a star-studded cast and a hugely impressive set) has been given a more perfunctory treatment here. Though it must be said it is undoubtedly simplified by necessity in order to tour the UK.

Images of the Hitchcock movie are seared on the memory: the tennis match with its subtle homosexual undertones; the creepily gripping murder of Haines’ first wife reflected in the eyeglasses and the suspenseful finale. Unfortunately, under the direction of Anthony Banks, there’s an overall sluggishness that fails to ratchet up the tension sufficiently, and large parts of the action plod. At two hours 25 minutes, it’s a bit of an endurance test.

The directorial choices for the actors are also questionable at times. Populated by familiar TV faces, some emerge more convincingly than others: Coronation Street’s Chris Harper has the lion’s share of the dialogue and for the most part delivers a fully three-dimensional characterisation of Bruno however, his Tennessee Williams-like relationship with his louche mother does teeter too close to parody for comfort and the most emotional moments can read as too manic. Call the Midwife’s Jack Ashton’s delivers a coldly unemotional turn as Haines, failing to convey the character’s emotional descent: the words come out, the acting doesn’t convince. Hannah Tointon, best known for Mr. Selfridge, has a slim theatrical CV and it shows, while her role as Haines’ new wife is hideously underdeveloped, her delivery is quite frankly unforgivable, calling to mind the enthusiastic, but amateur thespian. Another crucial flaw in the proceeding is that both murders take place off-stage and any chance at thrills and chills are passed over.

David Woodhead’s set design comprises a series of sliding panels and projections and while functional and at times clever, suffers in scale. Many locations are confined to a tiny box on the main frame of the set. It does though evoke Edward Hopper’s classic paintings of mid-century American life, especially when coupled with Howard Hudson’s atmospheric lighting design.

This much-anticipated thriller fails to live up to its potential and ultimately there are too many flaws to make it truly enjoyable.

‘This review was originally published at: http://www.thereviewshub.com/strangers-on-a-train-theatre-royal-glasgow/

 

 

REVIEW: Crazy For You – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Based on the 1930 musical Girl Crazy, (where Ethel Merman made her stage debut and turned Ginger Rogers into a star overnight) and utilising the glorious back catalogue of the Gershwin brothers, Crazy For You was reworked in the 1990s by Ken Ludwig to recreate the golden age of Hollywood and Broadway musicals.

This Watermill Theatre production starring Tom Chambers, Charlotte Wakefield and Caroline Flack, stops off in Glasgow this week on its UK tour.

New York boy, Bobby Child works in the family bank, he’s sent to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a failing theatre. However, stage-struck Bobby harbours a secret desire to be a song and dance man. Instead of shutting down the business, he disguises himself as Hungarian theatre impresario Bela Zangler, and utilises the classic ‘let’s put on a show right here!’ device. There are multiple plot twists and the old ‘boy-meets-girl, girl-hates-boy-on-first-sight’ too.

Despite Ludwig’s attempts to beef up the original material, the characterisations are so thin they are positively see-through and the storyline is frankly, barmy. It’s also a mystery why, with one of the richest back catalogues in musical history, that it’s been padded out with some of the least well known Gershwin tunes.

The big hitters that remain from the original Girl Crazy are glorious: Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm and But Not For Me as are Someone to Watch Over Me from Oh, Kay! and They Can’t Take That Away From Me from Shall We Dance, there are also some tantalising snippets of An American in Paris.

The Watermill Theatre has had mixed success with the actor/musician approach employed here. The cast of 19 certainly fill up the King’s Theatre’s tight stage, but under Paul Hart’s fussy direction, they are more of a curse than a blessing. It’s all just a bit too busy visually, and the poor women who are having to give their all while hoofing are doing it while holding on to a trumpet or a violin.

Diego Pitarch’s multi-level set serves the production well, with smooth and simple transitions it transforms into Deadrock, New York, the theatre and the saloon. Howard Hudson’s clever lighting adds depth, warmth and atmosphere.

Where it does win out is in the casting of Chambers (Bobby) and Flack (Irene). Chambers looks as if he’s having a ball throughout. For someone who dreamed of being Fred Astaire as a little boy, those dreams have certainly come true. Flack is clearly talented and her American accent remains on-point throughout, but it’s a mystery that such an excellent dancer, barely gets to display what she can do. Wakefield, has an excellent singing voice, however, it’s not a singing voice entirely suited to this material, with the arrangements of the songs she sings straying into more modern territory, she also, for reasons that are hard to pinpoint, isn’t easy to warm to. The ensemble, provide excellent support throughout.

The energy levels are high from all, but despite this the second act drags and suffers from unnecessary filler material, both in song and in dance routines.

This is a corny piece of fluff, with an excellent, hard-working cast, and in some ways a welcome escape from the grim world outside, but ultimately that certain stardust that makes a production truly spectacular, is missing.

Runs until 21 October 2017| Image: Richard Davenport

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com/crazy-for-you-kings-theatre-glasgow/

REVIEW: The Smallest Show on Earth – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Adapted from the 1957 British Lion film of the same name, with the classic hits of Irving Berlin weaved around the action, The Smallest Show on Earth is a wonderfully charming new musical from the pens of Thom Southerland and Paul Alexander. Packed full of warmth and wit, and executed with energy and enthusiasm by the first-rate cast, it is a welcome addition to the musical theatre canon.

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A classic underdog tale, David faces Goliath when struggling screenwriter Matthew Spenser (Haydn Oakley) and his wife, Jean (Laura Pitt-Pulford), inherit the decrepit Bijou Kinema. Across the road is the shiny new Grand Cinema run by the ruthless Ethel Hardcastle (Ricky Butt), a woman who’ll do anything to annihilate the competition. With employees as decrepit as the building, Jean pulls out all the stops to save the failing fleapit and its inhabitants.

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Set in the late 1950s, the script, set and lighting are beautifully evocative of a bygone era. The tunes, while at first glance a seemingly strange fit for a thoroughly British story, fit seamlessly and, while it would have been nice to have original songs, you know you are on to a winner when the first few bars of these much-loved tunes ring out, and the audience is quietly mouthing every word.

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Much of the success and a whole heap of its charm is due to the faultless cast and there’s a ridiculously high number of standouts: stage and small screen veterans Liza Goddard and Brian Capron as the redoubtable box office battleaxe Mrs Fazackalee and “well-oiled” projectionist Mr Quill lead. Goddard has the lion’s share of the best lines and her comic timing is spot-on and Capron is charming as the permanently sozzled projectionist with a broken heart. Laura Pitt-Pulford’s crystal clear voice is wonderfully era-evocative as is Haydn Oakley’s as husband Matthew. Sam O’Rourke (Tom) and Christina Bennington (Marlene) are utterly irresistible as the young lovers from rival families and are particularly impressive during Steppin’ Out With My Baby as is Matthew Crowe as the solicitor with a hankering for the stage.

Mention must be made too of Lee Proud’s choreography, which is refreshingly original and energetically executed throughout.

Writer/director Southerland has form breathing life into existing musicals and his sure-handedness shows here. This is a heart-warming and utterly charming show, which will have you leaving the theatre with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside – perfect for these cold, autumn evenings.

Runs until 31 October 2015 | Image: Alastair Muir

This article was originally written for and published by http://www.thereviewshub.com at: http://www.thereviewshub.com/the-smallest-show-on-earth-theatre-royal-glasgow/