Tag Archives: Peter McKintosh

REVIEW: South Pacific – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Unlike other works of the period, Richard Rodgers, Joshua Logan and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1949 musical South Pacific, has largely stood the test of time. Originally written with the intention of sending a strong progressive message on racism, it also benefits from a re-imagination in this incarnation originally staged at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2021. There are re-orchestrations, the introduction of a prologue, additional music from the 1958 film version and most importantly, a fixing of the racial overtones and elimination of the ethnic stereotypes in the characterisations of Bloody Mary and her daughter Liat.

Set during World War Two on an island in the Pacific, it is essentially two intertwining love stories; Ensign Nelly Forbush (Gina Beck) falls for older plantation owner Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden) but despite the strength of her feelings, Arkansas native Nellie struggles to accept his mixed-race children. The tandem love story is that of Princeton educated, US Marine Lieutenant Cable (Rob Houchen) and Tonkinese woman Liat (Sera Maehara), and the pressures on their mixed-race relationship.

The set is simplistic, projections on a corrugated back drop with different scenery rolled in and out, and no less effective for it. The lighting too is gorgeous and atmospheric. It all provides a darkness that the subject matter warrants and a suitable back-drop to the talent on stage.

From the first swelling bars of this lush-sounding orchestra to the final notes, this is a work of infinite quality, it simply oozes perfection from every pore, there is not a weak link among this large and hugely talented cast. Gina Beck is suitably perky as nurse Nelly and a rich-voiced Julian Ovenden is perfectly pitched as a more realistic, well-rounded, less caricature Emile. Instead of swanning around in a white linen suit, this Emile looks as if he might actually work on a plantation in the south Pacific. The male chorus are unmatched in the memory of this writer, the sound they create is simple sumptuous, and the female cast give them a good run for their money. The two child actors who portray Emile’s children are again, much more realistic, less stereotyped. The casting overall, couldn’t be better.

That such subject matter, and songs like Carefully Taught, shone a light at racism in America in 1949 is brave indeed, but there’s a discomfort to some of the material to 21st Century ears. Of particular note, is the re-orchestration of the usually saccharine Happy Talk, sung by Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil). Here it is a pleading tune of desperation at the fate of her daughter and the American serviceman, instead of a silly ditty written (in a now uncomfortable to hear) pidgin English.

Almost every aspect of this production is to be lauded, from its design, its re-imagination, re-orchestrations and ultimately its astounding cast. This is a production not to be missed.

Runs until 8 October 2022 | Image: Johan Persson

Originally published at The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: The 39 Steps – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Patrick Barlow’s Olivier and Tony Award-winning take on John Buchan’s classic tale of derring-do, The 39 Steps, has been doing the rounds in its current form since 2006.

Based the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film version, our hero Richard Hannay flees to Scotland after the glamorous spy he’s just met is murdered in his London flat. With stiff upper lip, starched collar, the latest Harris Tweed suit and a dashing Robert Donat style pencil moustache, and the fetching femme fatale’s last words ringing in his ears, he heads off to catch a German espionage ring, clear his name, oh, and send a few female hearts a-quivering on the way.

This high-energy Boys Own yarn retains much of the charm and wit it possessed when it first appeared a decade ago and much of the success of the piece lies in the originality of its design and staging. The cast of four change clothes, wigs and accents in the blink of an eye, suitcases and trunks become train carriages and ladders become the soaring Forth Rail Bridge. We are transported over hill, bog and glen and from farmhouse to the London Palladium with shadow puppets or the swish of a (shower) curtain. There’s an added thrill too for Hitchcock fans who can spend the night spotting the references to the director’s other works (there’s even an appearance from the man himself) and while many productions have tried to replicate the witty staging and direction, the original remains the best.

As our hero Hannay, Richard Ede has exemplary comic timing as do Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb, who garner the lion’s share of the laughs as an astonishing array of both male and female characters. Less successful is the lone female in the cast Olivia Greene, despite looking the part her appalling diction and projection render almost every line lost, particularly as the German Annabella. That said, the talent of the rest of the cast more than makes up for her shortcomings.

The 39 Steps proves that a thrilling tale, no matter it’s age, will always entertain. If it’s a good giggle you’re after, then this fast-paced spy-spoof is still a sure-fire winner.

Runs until Saturday 21 May 2016 | Image: Dan Tsantilis

This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Guys and Dolls – Edinburgh Playhouse

So successful is Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2014 production of Guys and Dolls, that not only has it made the transfer to the West End but has also spawned a comprehensive national tour. Sad to say, however, it appears to have lost some of its five-star sparkle in transit.

An amalgamation of three of Damon Runyon’s Broadway fables; The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, Pick the Winner and Blood Pressure: shifty, small-time crook Nathan Detroit (Maxwell Caulfield), in need of money to host ‘the oldest established, permanent floating crap game in New York’, bets charismatic cool-cat and inveterate gambler Sky Masterson (Richard Fleeshman), that Masterson can’t get frosty missionary Sarah Brown (Anna O’Byrne) from the Save-A-Soul Mission, to go with him to Havana on a date. A merry band of misfits help colour the tall tale, from eternally engaged, fourteen years a fiancée Miss Adelaide (Louise Dearman), to local low-lives Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Harry the Horse.

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The witty words of Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows are regarded as among the funniest in the musical theatre canon and they remain intact in Gordon Greenberg’s revival. However, the pace and direction of Greenberg’s production lacks the spark required to bring Runyon’s stories fully to life, playing like a poorly connected series of stand-alone scenes rather than a flowing whole.

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None of the faults of the production can be blamed on the cast, with West End leads Louise Dearman, Anna O’Byrne, and Richard Fleeshman and seasoned actor Maxwell Caulfield at the helm, then quality is assured. Dearman turns in an especially effective turn as a Lucille Ball-like Miss Adelaide, managing to balance the humour and pathos brilliantly and Fleeshman conveys the easy charm and charisma of Masterson with aplomb. The supporting cast too is of the highest quality.

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Peter McKintosh’s set design is essentially simple, an arc of lightbulb-ringed adverts and a series of roll-on-roll-off accents, which only really brings the vivid world of New York alive when fully lit. The choreography of Cuban ballet superstar Carlos Acosta and West End stalwart Andrew Wright has been placed firmly centre stage, with extended dance sequences throughout. The duo’s work is especially effective in the ballet-inspired crap game in the sewers with its athletic, inventive sequences and a nod to Acosta’s ballet background in the Swan Lake line up.

With such a top-notch cast and first-rate creative team, it’s hard to see how this could go wrong, but Greenberg’s production falls flat in too many places that if fails to do full justice to the stellar cast and this musical theatre classic. Ultimately unsatisfying.

This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub

Images: Johan Persson