Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Jane Eyre

Bristol Old Vic’s production of Jane Eyre started its tour two years after its transfer to the National Theatre in London in 2015. The company devised the piece based on the themes and characters they thought were important to include from the book. Although the book is so well known and has taken on almost legendary status, the play gives the story a modern twist through set and choreography.

The set is very minimal, consisting only of a wooden structure and ladders, with additional pieces of set and props such as chairs only being brought on when needed. For a tale as well-known as Jane Eyre, there wasn’t the need for anymore. An onstage band provided music and sound effects during the play – the music was totally one of my favourite parts of the whole production. It was evocative and cinematic as a mixture of period pieces and contemporary songs. All the choreography was slick, especially for the carriage sequences, and gave the production bursts of ferocity – much like Jane herself.

Nadia Clifford’s Jane Eyre is both strong and vulnerable. She is so certain of herself that it’s hard not to be bowled over by her force of character. However, she still has those human moments of doubt which are so perfectly shown through the ensemble becoming the voices in her head. Clifford is Jane from childhood to adult and never falters in her passion and strength as she remains on stage for the entirety of the three hour play. Jane’s coming of age is violent, isolated and constricting, all of which she fights against in order to become the person she knows she is. As a school teacher, she is compassionate – a direct contrast to the way she and her schoolmates were treated – and as a governess, she is stern but fair and softens to her young charge, Adele’s, enthusiastic energy.

Within this production, the focus is not put on Jane and Rochester’s relationship, but on their human emotions. The struggle for them to be together and to admit their feelings for one another is far too relevant for a modern audience. Tim Delap’s Rochester is angry, brooding and is an imposing figure, yet he never overwhelms or overpowers Clifford’s Jane. They are perfect sparring partners – finding common ground with their wit and their words.

But let’s talk about Bertha – Rochester’s first wife. Melanie Marshall is compelling to watch and stays on stage for almost the entire play. She is a figure in Jane’s life from childhood, always watching over her and she remains a shadowy figure in the background even after Jane and Rochester get their happy ending. Forever seen as the ‘mad woman in the attic’, Marshall’s Bertha shows no sign of insanity; she knows exactly what she is doing and that makes her dangerous, not mad. Whilst all the other characters wear dark blues, Marshall is resplendent in a bright red dress. She is the fire that consumes the house. And what a singing voice! Although Bertha has no lines within the play, Marshall sings a mixture of folk and contemporary pop songs with the onstage band as she reinforces herself throughout Jane’s life.

Jane Eyre was a really good production and I’m so glad I managed to catch this production live and for £5 too!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

Based on the BBC Three documentary, ‘Jamie: Drag Queen at 16’, the Crucible’s new musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a riot of fabulous, feel good sass! Set in Sheffield about a teenage boy trying to break into the drag scene, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a coming of age story about acceptance and staying true to yourself. Yet Dan Gillespie Sells’ toe-tapping soundtrack and Tom MacRae’s quick witted script stops it from becoming too clich├ęd.

John McCrea’s Jamie has an easy confidence and humour which makes it hard for the audience not to love him within the first few minutes of the first act, and very easy for him to outmanoeuvre the school bully and the conformist views of the school later on in the play. Jamie knows exactly who he is and what he wants to do (quite the feat for a sixteen year old!). However, because of this, he soon bulldozes through his friends and family to make sure that everybody is talking about him – producing at times some outraged gasps from the audience. The journey that Jamie goes on isn’t one of self-acceptance but one of compassion and acceptance of other people’s choices.
John McCrea and the cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie.
Credit Johan Persson.

Jamie’s mother, Margaret (brilliantly played by Josie Walker), is truly a hero throughout the play. She encourages Jamie throughout and never lets anything stand in his way; even if her protection can sometimes backfire. Walker’s solos are full of raw emotion; handling her vulnerability as she tries to do everything for her son and the love she feels for him. Even though she doesn’t take part in the big group numbers, she demands the audience’s attention when she is onstage.

Lucie Shorthouse is quietly brilliant as Pritti Pasha, Jamie’s studious best friend. Although she takes part in the larger group numbers, it is her solo in the second half when she is given the chance to truly shine. She is not as loud and extroverted as Jamie is but she has a fierceness which is unleashed in the final confrontation with the school bully and elicited many a cheer from the audience – she basically said what I’m sure many of those bullied would have liked to have said!

Although it is the big group pop numbers that get everyone dancing along and leaves the audience on a high, it is the slower, softer songs which really get to the heart of the play. Like I said at the start of this post, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is about acceptance and it is not just Jamie who is looking for it. The characters all have their own obstacles to overcome and it is Jamie’s passion which inspires them to all become superstars in their own right.

With the success in recent years of other original musicals – This is My Family and Flowers for Mrs HarrisEverybody’s Talking About Jamie is just another example of how strong Sheffield Theatres’ musical game is. 

Saturday, 14 January 2017

There's No Business Like Show Business!

This is a very late post but there is still one week left to catch Annie Get Your Gun at The Crucible
It’s that time of year again – the Christmas musical at The Crucible is in full swing! This year it is Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, (very loosely) based on the life of Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West Show’. This year’s musical was extra special for me as I got to go on a behind the scenes social media event a week before the musical opened which was hugely exciting and I enjoyed every minute of it!

This behind the scenes look encompassed seeing the costume sketches and the costumes themselves being made as well as watching a small section from the technical rehearsal and getting a sneak peek at the set. It was huge amounts of fun to see how a musical is put on stage and listening to some of the music live under the stage.

'Chaps on Chaps' has to be my favourite thing ever!

Walk through the Annie Get Your Gun doors!

Annie Get Your Gun is a high energy, fast paced and action packed production which can’t help but put a smile on your face! Anna-Jane Casey takes centre stage as Annie and is at once feisty and vulnerable – reminding everyone that although she is new to the business of show business, she still has claws. She seems to have unlimited energy in the number ‘I Got the Sun in the Morning’ which she sings, dances and is hoisted into the air. She is absolutely magnetic upon the stage and her voice is incredibly powerful. Ben Lewis is the proud Frank Butler and gets the show off to a joyful start with ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’. Cleve September and Lauren Hall are beautiful as Winnie and Tommy, a young couple kept apart by Winnie’s older sister. The ensemble is fabulous and I am insanely jealous of all of their acrobatic skills! Annie Get Your Gun has a lot of heart and there is still one week left to see it so I would definitely recommend it if you want something to brighten your day!