If the weather were always so beautiful as it has been recently then the theatre may seem like a strange idea for a sunny afternoon. However English weather, like its people, is known for its eccentricities. Therefore, here is a pick of the best plays to be found in London this summer.
‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Wyndham’s Theatre (running until 3rd September)
Named as ‘Doctor Who About Nothing’ by its critics, the casting of this production is either genius or gaff. Playing the comic couple Beatrice and Benedict are the gifted actors David Tennant and Catherine Tate famous, of course, for their pairing on BBC’s Doctor Who. David Tennant has already made his name in theatre particularly for his expert portrayal of Hamlet recently at the RSC. This production has been set in 1980s Gibraltar: a time of partying and crisp, white uniforms which will lay the perfect platform for a Shakespearean comedy and a wonderful evening of gaiety.
‘Pygmalion’ at the Garrick Theatre (running until 3rd Spetember)
George Bernard Shaw’s masterpiece play of duelling minds has had confirmed admirers since its first appearance in 1912. This popularity only grew with the emergence of ‘My Fair Lady’ which added a new dimension to Audrey Hepburn’s fame. This latest version at the Garrick stars Rupert Everett and Kara Tointon: a strange mix of respected actor and soap/ reality show star. Whether Miss Tointon will meet the mark is yet to be seen. From the 15th August until the end of the run Alastair McGowan will take over from Rupert Everett, surely adding a more comic side to the sarcastic and arrogant Professor Henry Higgins.
‘The Woman in Black’ at the Fortune Theatre (currently booking until 17th December)
This production has been running at the Fortune Theatre since 1989 and has chilled the bones of thousands. It tells the tale of Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor who is sent to investigate the estate of a Mrs Alice Drablow, who gets tangled up into a story that very quickly becomes to intrude on his own life. What is particularly remarkable about this production is the way in which two (and a bit) actors and a few sound effects can hold an audience right in the palm of their hand as they are carried along with Kipps’ journey until its fatal conclusion.
‘Doctor Faustus’ at Shakespeare’s Globe (running until 2 October)
Shakespeare’s Globe has taken the dramatic decision to stage the theatrical sparring partner of its namesake in the form of its new production of Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’. ‘Doctor Faustus’ is the journey of a man who sells his soul to the Devil for knowledge. Here, the Devil is played by Arthur Darvill whose recent work in Doctor Who as Rory has made him a household name. This tale of fate, hell and humankind seems rightly placed in the Globe in its very nature and therefore this production should be one to watch.
‘The Railway Children’ at the Waterloo Station Theatre (running until 4th September)
Recent winners of the Olivier Award for Best Entertainment and a record-breaking run; this production was always going to be a hit. Its staging is a mark of pure inspiration using the abandoned Waterloo Station to full advantage. Based on E. Nesbit’s well-loved novel ‘The Railway Children’, it is the story of Bobby, Peter and Phyllis who move to the countryside after their father is imprisoned. A favourite for everyone from 9 year olds to 90 year, this truly is family entertainment at its best.
Seventy-two years ago, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz dazzled audiences with its vivid colours and unforgettable songs. This year, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest undertaking was to reinvent this musical in order to thrill those already familiar with the story and to capitivate a new audience the way in which the original film did all those years ago. To begin with, Webber (Producer and provider of Additional Music) and the rest of the production team made the sound decision not to simply recreate the film on stage. So many productions in the past have tried to do this to little avail. Instead, this new production is a quirkier and sweeter imagining of the story. The additional music Webber encorporated into the musical adds greater depth especially to the character of the Wicked Witch making her seem a more comedic character from the sinfully witty Red Shoes Blues. Hannah Waddingham makes the most of these new aspects to the character and sparkles in every scene.
Another way in which the show was brought into the 21st century was by the casting of Dorothy. Danielle Hope was cast into the role by the BBC search Over the Rainbow in which she triumphed over the thousands of girls that auditioned for the role and quite rightly so. The voting public took no risks in their choice: she is as close to a Judy Garland lookalike as the BBC could find and definitely not the “Avril Lavigne or a bit like Amy Winehouse” Webber requested. However, it is impossible to be disappointed by Danielle Hope’s performance. In the Finale, she looked overwhelmed at the opportunity she has been given almost to the brink of tears which considering she has been in the role for over a month now seems incredible. It was not the iconic and dramatic performance that Garland gave but a much more vulnerable and misunderstood take on the character of Dorothy which does not fail in sweeping the audience with her into the Land of Oz.
The sets were everything you’d expect of a Palladium production with the Emerald City of Oz in particular looking like a 1920s New York. The famous double-revolvin stage was used to great effect. However, the production team took the easy option in the tornado sequence. A short film-like sequence made the scene become simply like viewing another CGI-crammed film at the cinema. A similar technique was used in another of Webber’s recent productions Love Never Dies. However, in that the projections fitted better with the mood of invention and electric experimentation that the play embodied.
Another disappointment was in the gangly trio who accompany Dorothy on her adventures throughout Oz. None of the characters seemed to feel anything very much for Dorothy. This seems only to be blamed on the actors themselves. Paul Keating played the Scarecrow as the traditional clown rather than the lovable scarecrow with not a thought but how to care for Dorothy. The Tin Man was marginally better and yet had something of the Arnold Schwarzenegger about him. Neither of these two characters where given enough opportunity to dance by the celebrity chereographer Arlene Phillips. The best performance of the three was David Ganly’s Cowardly Lion who was even more camp than he was in the film, declaring proudly to the Wizard “I am proud to be a friend of Dorothy”.
The Wizard himself, played by musical maestro Michael Crawford was a much scarier interpretation of the Wizard giving a performance which could have been easily found in a production of Nineteen Eighty-Four as Big Brother rather than in a family show. However when he is revealed as simply a doddery old gentleman he is like a grandfather on Christmas Day: warm, lovable and completely forgiven.
As with any show in which animals are present, Toto was of course the star of the show. Here, it is four dogs alternating the role. The four westies were all born actors (if a dog can be a born actor): barking, jumping and scrambling on command. The bond between Dorothy and her dog was completely believable.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Wizard of Oz is clumsily done in places. It was a brave choice for re-imagining and perhaps smarter choices could have been made but this production definitely has its heart in the right place. If you go down to the Palladium, do not expect a musical version of Judy Garland’s The Wizard of Oz. Think of it as just another shade to Dorothy’s story.
Star Rating- 3 stars
Thank you for reading the latest article from ‘All the World’s a Stage’. The next article will be on the Titanic Exhibition at the O2 Arena and will be published on Monday 6th June.