By now you probably know that Theatre Scene Cape Town took a London break during September 2017 to see how the West End embraces the theatre lifestyle. Here’s a snapshot of what we saw and experienced:
WICKED THE MUSICAL
(18 September 2017, Apollo Victoria Theatre)
Wicked is how it’s colloquially known, but the full title of this long-running musical theatre masterpiece is Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. The show challenges audiences to abandon all preconceived ideas of the evil green witch and look beyond the obvious to find humanity and nuance in a story instead of being told upfront who’s evil and who’s good. This is not our first interaction with the Wicked experience, and we are willing to bet it won’t be our last either – it’s just one of those shows you can’t get enough of. Last time, we were eye-level with all the magic, but this time around we opted for a slightly off-centre balcony view. That’s the perspective we’d recommend to all who find themselves in the fortunate position of seeing this magical musical live. The (front row) balcony view gives you a big-picture perspective of the gorgeous lighting, intricate, colourful costumes, and complex set design (mechanised dragon included), while you enjoy the stunning vocal performances and fun choreography.
Upon (re)considering the narrative that carries this production, one concludes that this show has truly stood the test of time (the 2003 book by Winnie Holzman is based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire). Its message is even more relevant now as one listens to the Ozians and the Wizard, and one realises that their statements are echoed almost verbatim in the current-day rhetoric politicians and leaders throw around (in speeches and even tweets) as justification for oppression and division. In the musical, this element is countered by the moral that cautions that differences, as represented by the kind-hearted, outspoken —and green— Elphaba, should be embraced and celebrated. Experiencing Wicked in this milieu, the production makes you pause and reflect, and in fact appeals to your humanity and calls on you to do some introspection and to stand up and speak out against fake-news-spreading Wizards and their discrimination. That message and the show’s fantastic standard of performance will continue to give many a theatre-lover goosebumps.
ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND
(19 September 2017, The Vaults)
A maze of stories, trapeze acts, and puppetry; a heart-breakingly beautiful solo performance by a mock toad; an audience with the Moon, the White Rabbit, and the Queen of Hearts, and even the possibility of being turned into well seasoned soup… If variety is the spice of life, then this latest Les Enfants Terribles offering is the spice of theatre. Sadly, it closed on 23 September 2017.
It is, however, great to know that there are out-of-the-box, site-specific theatre-thinkers who create worlds of escapism and intrigue in the most unconventional and innovative ways. The design of the multitude of rooms itself is jaw-droppingly exquisite: narrow passages covered in books, an underground pond complete with 'crying' sky, a court room, and more. This adventure, based on the premise that Alice has not only been lost in Wonderland but has lost herself and is desperately searching for her identity, is storytelling at its best. With the aid of the talented cast, you unravel the mystery as you yourself tumble through the looking glass and into a world where the revolt against the ‘No Nonsense’ decree is rapidly escalating. All is revealed through a multiplicity of theatre mediums, which makes for an experience that leaves your senses happily buzzing for days. We can’t wait to see what this company of creatives, known for their twisted tales of intrigue, dream up next!
(20 September 2017, Adelphi Theatre)
As this Tony and Olivier Award-winning show, with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein, will make its way to South Africa in 2019 courtesy of the Fugard Theatre, it simply had to be on our must-see list. Disappointed we were not; it’s hip, modern, trendy, and relevant. The RuPaul of musical theatre, Kinky Boots sets to music that inspirational sentiment popularly attributed to Oscar Wild: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
Based on the 2005 British film (written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth), the show is inspired by true events, and has everything that makes a musical appealing: a guy down on his luck after inheriting a shoe factory on the verge of bankruptcy, a serendipitous event that sets the ball rolling, and a great friendship and unconventional partnership between the shoemaker and a drag queen who, in fairy godmother fashion, teaches the shoemaker about transgender culture and fashion, thereby setting both friends on a path of inspiration, conflict, acceptance, and ultimately triumph and happiness. Kinky Boots has been described as ‘an absolute hoot’ (The Times) and ‘dazzling, fabulously sassy and uplifting’ (Time Out) with ‘killer songs and a sensational cast’ (West End Frame), and we have to agree: Kinky Boots is all that! It delivers on all levels, from music to design. We can't wait for the theatre-lovers of Cape Town to experience this feel-good musical sensation.
(20 September 2017, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre)
We saw a performance of Boudica and proceeded to read the play immediately after (because we left the theatre debating the various themes involved, which is always a good indication of theatre as commentary). The staging’s reflecting of a particular piece of history —the almost mythological tale of warrior Queen Boudica of the British Celtic Iceni tribe of which in truth very little is known expect for a few facts— miraculously manages to give a period feel while merging that essence with the modern too, easily moving from sword fights to helicopter drop-ins. Although this vision of director Eleanor Rhode is fresh and impressive, further silent contemplation of the brilliant text penned by Tristan Bernays makes one wonder: if more consideration was given to the stage directions perhaps Bernays's concept and vision could have been showcased with even more power, especially in view of the strong feminist element involved? Apart from the strong feminist angle, another, perhaps incidental, theme is that of colonialism, with the oppressed later becoming the oppressor —as reflected in the South African production The Fall, which opened at the Royal Court Theatre the week after Boudica closed on 23 September 2017. We would advise all who saw Boudica to go see The Fall too, as it brings a full circle balance to the history setting and its later impact.
Overall, though, as a holistic theatre experience, Boudica was thought-provoking and showcased great performances from an impressive cast, with the stand-outs being Joan Iyiola as Alonna and Clifford Samuel as Suetonius. Regardless of what play is one, moreover, a visit to The Globe is a theatre bucket-list must.
Pairing your Globe experience with a pre-show visit to The Swan, the Shakespeare's Globe restaurant, is a must, with delicious meals and mouth-watering (Bard-themed) afternoon tea options to get you in a festive mood. A tour and exhibition visit during the day also lets you in on some interesting details: from the influence of King Charles II in re-establishing theatre as entertainment in London, to the fact that Zoë Wanamaker (Madam Hooch of Harry Potter fame) is the daughter of Samuel Wanamaker (the visionary who championed the modern recreation of the Globe but sadly died before its completion in 1997, resulting in his daughter’s being the first person to speak on the stage of the replica theatre's opening), and the revelation that all modern lighting and sound equipment is to be removed from the Globe theatre for its next season to allow it to return to its original theatrical aesthetics.
(21 September 2017, Trafalgar Studios)
Stockard Channing as the American (though ‘not by choice') Kristin Miller is everything! The rest of the cast are undeniably talented and truly impress too, especially Desmond Barrit as Miller’s sarcastic lifelong friend Hugh (who brilliantly breaks the dramatic tension with his darkly witty interjections), and Joseph Millson, who skilfully doubles as Miller’s sons Peter (the strikingly self-assured businessman) and Simon (who says very little but reveals so much through expressions and body language), while Peter's gullible fiancé Trudy, played by Laura Carmichael, balances out activist Kirstin’s unorthodox scepticism perfectly. Witnessing the character development of Freema Agyeman’s slightly superficial yet very jaded Claire (girlfriend of the troubled, broken Simon), is also a treat. It is, however, Channing’s captivating and heart-wrenching performance that leaves you speechless. She brings great depth to Kirstin as the spill around which this family drama turns.
We are willing to bet that after seeing this standing-ovation-worthy production, you will sit in quiet contemplation to let all you’ve witnessed sink in through heart, body, and soul: Oh, how we judge those who silently sacrifice so much for a greater good, a bigger cause, a selfless love ... while misunderstandings hide in the silences, and echo through regrets.
THE COMEDY ABOUT A BANK ROBBERY
(22 September 2017, Criterion Theatre)
This farce had us in stitches. Just when you think Mischief Theatre can't make you laugh more, they up their game... Literally: up, down, flying (with and without seagulls), plot twists within twists (and actual twists), defying gravity with a next-level hilarity, in what we can only describe as a sui generis cirque du music comedy production! A definite #TSCTinLondon highlight. Everyone in this cast clearly has ‘exceptionally well-trained physical theatre performer’ written in bold on their CV. As soon as you think, ‘Oh, that’s the stand-out performance’, the next scene sees someone else mesmerising you, while you snicker uncontrollably at their onstage antics. In the end you can't decide who you should be rooting for: the cops or the crooks? This show has heart and laughs: the best of both worlds!
These are also the crazy minds behind the genius that is #PlayGoesWrongSA, which is back by popular demand for a Pieter Toerien Productions Monte Theatre run, before SA's crazy cast head back to Theatre On The Bay to share their shenanigans and catastrophic comedy with Cape Town audiences again ... and we simply can't wait to see it again! Book your tickets at Computicket.
SCHOOL OF ROCK THE MUSICAL
(23 September 2017, New London Theatre)
Last time we saw Gary Trainor on stage was at Theatre on the Bay in the hilarious parody piece Potted Potter. Now he’s shaking things up in London’s West End as the lead in the screen-to-stage phenomenon School of Rock. This is a rock concert turned musical that entertains from beginning to end, with a narrative that is youthful and funny. It will speak to the soul of all who thank the gods of rock for ACDC, Led Zeppelin and alike. What’s even more impressive is that the youngsters who perform alongside the talented Trainor all play their own instruments. There is nothing fake about the rocking talent on display in this production.
If time allowed, this is the show we would see a second time, purely for the fun energy it exudes and because it pays tribute to the spirit of music from the era we grew up in. Look out for our upcoming Spotlight interview with Trainor, as we chat to him about how the UK and SA theatre scenes compare, and ask him what he’s learnt from his time spent performing in both countries.
(25 September 2017, National Theatre)
This was a bit of a surprise treat for us: To see live on stage a show that we will very likely be reviewing when it makes its way to South Africa as part of a NT Live screening at Cinema Nouveau (which we are willing to be it will, because it is just so entertaining the world needs to see it). With that in mind, we will but say this for now: The Follies as staged at the National Theatre is proof that true talent has no expiration date, and that it is not nostalgia that breaks the heart, but rather misplaced hope. It shows Sondheim peeling away at the human condition, as only his vision can: the musical way.
P.S.: If you find yourself at the National Theatre, pop into their bookshop. We walked out with enough plays to make us consider buying more luggage. Some of these may also find their way to Play Club (book club for theatre lovers), so keep an eye out for a session and come join the #lovetheatre #PlayClubCpt discussion. There may just be Deetlefs wine in the mix too!
(26 September 2017, Minerva Theatre, Chichester)
As we saw this on a preview evening, a promised was made not to officially review this gem. If we may be permitted to exploit a bit of a loophole though, we will simply state that the following reviews reflecting on this production (starring the über-talented Ian McKellen as King Lear, with direction by Jonathan Munby and set design by Paul Wills) speaks the praiseworthy truth:
"This King Lear is an intensely moving experience, not just for its piercing portrait of advancing mortality anda man losing his grip both on power and of himself, but also for the melancholic weightof age that McKellen inevitably now brings to it." The Stage *****
"Ian McKellen... not only brings to the role deep theatrical experience but also takes full advantage,in Jonathan Munby’s lucid production, of the intimacy of the space. It is like getting, in McKellen’s superbly detailed performance, a permanent closeup of a soul in torment." The Guardian ****
As a side note, you may recall that Jonathan Munby is also the director of King Kong The Musical, which makes its return to the Fugard Theatre this December 2017. Furthermore, not only is Paul Wills also the designer of that production's set, but you will see his vision once again on the Fugard Theatre's stage in Shakespeare in Love, which opens this October. Watch out for our Spotlight interview with this scenic visionary, coming soon!
BOOK OF MORMON
(27 September 2017, Prince of Wales Theatre)
This show represents satire-turned-musical with the tongue-in(-and-out-of)-cheek blunt flair associated with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. What’s not to love about The Book of Mormon?! Although this is definitely not a show for the easily offended, we loved it's shock-driven, fun take on the absurd. Special shout-out to Darth Vader for his awesome cameo and the great cast for their toe-tapping performances incorporating a style of inappropriate humour we couldn't stop giggling at: comedy commentary that has you humming all the way home on the tube.
Side note: Bless the Prince of Wales Theatre for being one of the few places in London that didn't amp up the heat so much that you melt as soon as you step indoors after freezing your behind off outside. This mercy allows one to acclimatise naturally and breathe without forcibly too rapidly defrosting. Happiness, no jokes!
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN - THE NEW MUSICAL COMEDY
(28 September 2017, Garrick Theatre)
Based on the 1974 comedy film of the same title written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, this musical parody exaggerates all things associated with the early days of the horror movie genre. It was a great privilege to be in the audience the night this production presented its first show on the West End, with the added treat of having Mel Brooks in the audience, too. Director and choreographer Susan Stroman personally welcomed the audience and opened the premiere performance with a ‘Welcome to the beautiful Garrick Theatre’.
To quote the entertaining Monster (played by Shuler Hensley), it was a ‘super duper’ evening of comedy set to music in quintessential Mel Brooks style —admittedly a type of comedy that isn't everyone's cup of tea, but we love the slightly off-beat humour that this stalwart still dishes up to all who wish to be entertained. Elphaba definitely has some great green tap-dancing company in London town now! Along with Hensley's Monster shenanigans, Hadley Fraser as Frederick Frankenstein, Ross Noble as Igor, Lesley Joseph as Frau Blucher, Dianne Pilkington as Elizabeth, and the rest of the talented company had the audience mesmerised from beginning to standing-ovation-end. Almost a week later, we still catch ourselves humming ‘Together Again’ as performed by Fraser and Noble.
THE CAPE TOWN FUNNY FESTIVAL IN LONDON
(29 September 2017, Leicester Square Theatre)
This was simply the perfect way to end our #TSCTinLondon adventure, with producer Eddy Cassar proving again that he knows how to choose a great coemdy line-up. Thank you Alan Committie, Marc Lottering, Rob van Vuuren, Daniel Mpilo Richards, Mark Palmer, and Dylan Skews for the laughs. As always, you guys simply know how to read and entertain a crowd. Great fun!