Porgy and Bess – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Review

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I used to live near Regent’s Park but until last week had never made the trip to see a production at the Open Air Theatre. Shame on me!

Thankfully the weather in the UK is gorgeous at the moment and so my wife and I spent a pleasant evening enjoying it at the Open Air Theatre. The hot and sticky weather added an extra realism to the setting of the play in South Carolina.

Seeing songs that are now famous such as Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So in their original and rightful context was enlightening to see. The programme notes that this is the largest orchestra and company they’ve ever had at the Regent’s Park Theatre. Unfortunately having the orchestra behind the set, means the stage is pretty small.

The production is cleverly choreographed to use the space available. I was struck by how tragic and sad a story this is. No happy and jolly story is this. The sadness, despair and abject poverty of the characters touched me.

I really felt for Bess – a woman trapped and manipulated by the men around her. Until she meets Porgy, his genuine love breaks through to her, but in the end she breaks him. Undeterred he heroically seeks after her.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess was perfectly paired with Rufus Bond Jr as Porgy. Their performances were emotive and caused a lump to appear in my throat a few times.

The story is wider than just Porgy and Bess though and the other characters are woven into their lives. It’s a raw piece of theatre. The soaring melodies of Gershwin communicate the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters without any veneer.

It’s a great way to spend a summer’s evening.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Looking back at 2011

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For me 2011, has certainly been my busiest year theatrically. As I sit here with my Xmas Turkish Delight and box of choccy’s, what were my highlights?

  • Finally getting to see Robert Lepage was certainly a memorable occasion. His play The Blue Dragon I referred to as “Theatrical perfection”.

    Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

  • I saw my first Burlesque  show, which was certainly an eye opener!

    Mistress of Ceremonies

  • London Road at the National Theatre is certainly one of the highlights for me. An amazing piece of theatre.
  • The best new play of this year I think was The Acid Test by Anya Reiss.

Best new play of 2011

  • The best acting I saw this year was in The Seagull at the Arcola, especially Yolanda Kettle as Nina, who gets my “Best Actress Award”. Best Actor goes to Joseph Milson as Ben Stark in Rocket to the Moon at the National.

    Yolanda Kettle, best actress I saw in 2011, in The Seagull at the Arcola.

Joseph Milson, best actor I saw in 2011, in Rocket to the Moon

  • Crazy for You, was definitely the best musical I saw this year.

    The best legs in London!

  • Manon at the Royal Opera House, wins “best ballet” award.

    Manon left me speechless.

  • Best entertainment award would go to Strictly Gershwin. (so good I saw it twice and my wife saw it three times!)

    Dancing from the beautiful Rhapsody in Blue

  • Best theatre book of the year, without a doubt the publication of Volume 2 Samuel Beckett’s letters from 1941 – 1956, I’m still ploughing my way through them, but they’re one of the most rewarding things I’ve read in a long time.

So all in all a very good year theatrically for me.  Thanks to all my readers and I wish you all a very prosperous 2012.

No Show Makes You Feel Happier! – Crazy For You – Novello Theatre London -Review

The best legs on the London stage!
I’ve had a week of Gershwin this week. On Saturday I had the pleasure of seeing Strictly Gershwin, and last night I saw Crazy For You. It takes no genius to realise I kind of like Gershwin’s  music. This show was a storming success over the summer at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and has now been housed for the winter  in the Novello Theatre London. The theatre itself sets the scene perfectly for this musical, the ornate golden sculpturing, the marble stairs and the accents of brass everywhere, means this is a feast for your eyes before the show starts.
Allow me to say at this point – and WOW WHAT A SHOW!
Firstly we must raise our hat’s (and glasses)  to the Gershwin brothers for their wonderful score. Brought to life by this brilliant cast and orchestra.

The cast could not have more energy - I loved the "Stiff Upper Lip" number

The cast gave this everything they had. The closing to Act 1 , “I’ve got Rhythm”, was stunning, I could not believe they just kept on dancing, and dancing and dancing. The choreography is stupendous, pushing the dancers to their limits, but they deliver (and they’d done a matinée aswell yesterday!). The show is on full throttle for most of the time, and you just get whisked along.  I loved the costumes,  the ladies look wonderful and the gents manage to subtly change from slack hillibillies to dashing dancers by the end.  The company really look and feel like a true company. Each member has their own quirks and turns and so while the story is about Bobby and Polly, each of the characters have a part in this story. When they dance their timing was impeccable and they filled the stage with their presence and joie d vivre.

Music, Dance and Romance - who could ask for anything more?

Each of the cast deserve the fullest praise possible, but I will just specially mention Sean Palmer and Clare Foster as Bobby and Polly they lead this show and their solos and duets both of singing and dancing are beautiful.  Sean Palmer dances like I can only dream of and Polly’s transformation at the end from cowgirl to showgirl is marvellous.
Want a taster? Well have a look here:
If you’re not smiling at the end of that, I’m not sure why, perhaps you’re dead?
This to me is what a musical should look, sound and feel like, yes it’s a classic from the past, but this production feels so fresh, it’s like a brand new show. It’s polished to perfection and Timothy Sheader as Director and Stephen Mear as Choreographer should be congratulated for bringing glamour, pizzazz and fun to the West End.
I’ve recently been wondering about starting to do a star rating on my reviews, I’ve held off for a while as I’ve wanted to work out my own gauge of 1-5 stars.  It seems fitting that now that I’ve worked this out I can give my first star rating and yes it’s a 5 Star one to this!
STARS :  * * * * *

Strictly Gershwin on Tour – The English National Ballet – The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton – Review


I saw this earlier in the year at the Royal Albert Hall, and gave it a stupendous review here. Would the touring version be a let down or more of the same?

Surprisingly perhaps, but I actually preferred this version. It suited a proscenium arch theatre much better than the vast Royal Albert Hall. It felt a much tighter show and the choreography worked much better I felt as it was framed by the theatre, whereas in the Royal Albert Hall, it dissipated.

The dancers were perfect as ever and a joy to watch. I know that the purists have tut-tutted that this show fuses different styles of dancing with ballet, but to me that is a good thing. Seeing the company dance ballroom with a balletic twist is breathtaking on occasions. What also is contagious is the sense of fun the dancers are having. Sometimes in ballet the smiles of the dancers can seem a bit forced, in this there was a genuineness from all.

The orchestra again were a real highlight, I wish a recording was available, as the orchestrations of Gershwin’s beautiful music  are excellent and I’d love to be able to listen to them again. The orchestra was huge and their sound swelled and filled the theatre gorgeously. The quartet of singers provided stylised and brilliant harmonies. While this is a show most definitely about the dancers, it’s nice that the musicians get a chance to shine with a couple of spots just for the orchestra and singers.

The dancing and music complement each other perfectly, Rhapsody in Blue is still the highlight for me, seeing the orchestra and pianist bring one of my favourite pieces to life is great, but it’s the dancing that adds an extra dimension, as the choreography and costumes are majestic.

I’d certainly see it again (and again and again). I takes you to a magical place like few shows I’ve seen do. Full listings of where it’s playing for the rest of the year and 2012 are here.