United Kingdom

Tonight, Matthew... I'll be massaging your ego: PATRICK MARMION reviews The Dresser 

The Dresser (Theatre Royal Bath and touring)

Verdict: Gloriously gamey

Rating:

Indecent (Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark, London)

Verdict: A little too decent 

Rating:

Two former titans of light entertainment go head to head in Bath. In the heavyweight corner, playing a derelict old thesp, we have Matthew Kelly, veteran of TV shows such as Stars In Their Eyes.

In the feather(boa)weight corner, playing Kelly’s long-suffering dresser, we have Julian Clary, veteran of pantos at the London Palladium.

The occasion is Ronald Harwood’s 1980 play The Dresser, in which Clary’s Norman patches up the precipitous ego of Kelly’s old-school actor-manager ‘Sir’, despatching him every night to climb the Everests of Shakespeare’s mightiest roles.

Tonight, it’s King Lear — but Sir is in no fit state to appear, having absconded from hospital after a breakdown. Norman dismisses stage manager Madge’s (Rebecca Charles) and Sir’s wife Her Ladyship’s (Emma Amos) pleas to cancel. He knows how to deflect Sir’s demons — even as bombs fall in the Blitz.

Kelly is inspired casting as Sir in Terry Johnson’s production. With his basset hound features and cloud of white hair, he has a rueful charm that makes Sir’s vanity seem like a last-ditch bid to maintain morale.

Two former titans of light entertainment go head to head in Bath. In the heavyweight corner, playing a derelict old thesp, we have Matthew Kelly, veteran of TV shows such as Stars In Their Eyes. In the feather(boa)weight corner, playing Kelly’s long-suffering dresser, we have Julian Clary, veteran of pantos at the London Palladium

Effortlessly patrician, he offers advice to actors, including Pip Donaghy as Lear’s ancient Fool: ‘Serve the playwright, and keep your teeth in.’ And his entrance as Lear is full of comic pathos.

Clary also amuses, but his reputation for innuendo sticks like a small dog to his ankle. Camp inverted commas seem to pop up around all his lines.

As an actor, he also feels too high-status to suit the part of a servant exploited as prompt, valet and minder. The sadness of his character’s unrequited love goes missing.

Even so, the bohemian melancholy of the damp dressing room, fitted with a knackered chaise longue, is nicely caught by Tim Shortall’s design.

It also opens up into the chaos backstage, as the crew attempt to create the thunder effects for Lear on the heath. So, if an elegiac quality is lost, we at least get the comedy — and a gloriously gamey turn from Kelly.

The occasion is Ronald Harwood’s 1980 play The Dresser, in which Clary’s Norman patches up the precipitous ego of Kelly’s old-school actor-manager ‘Sir’, despatching him every night to climb the Everests of Shakespeare’s mightiest roles

Asch’s play was castigated by some Jews for pandering to stereotypes, and condemned by non-Jewish people for alleged indecency. But Vogel makes it clear that Asch wanted to represent Jews as complex, and assert the values of love versus the obscenity of anti-Semitism.

Rebecca Taichman’s production starts with the ten performers lined up against the Menier’s brick wall, ash falling from their coats. It’s a potent image, evoking the Holocaust in a show otherwise performed as a kind of cabaret, with a Klezmer band of violin, clarinet and accordion.

Finbar Lynch is powerful as an idealistic stage manager, and Peter Polycarpou dips deftly in and out of roles, including that of a raging patriarch. Molly Osborne and Alexandra Silber enchant as the lesbian couple.

But the show never quite lives up to its title, and I couldn’t help wondering why, if Asch’s play really was so powerful, we weren’t watching that instead.

Indecent is a curious love letter to another play: The God Of Vengeance — an incendiary drama with a lesbian love scene set in a Jewish brothel, written by Polish Jew Sholem Asch in 1907

Hamilton’s back in the room 

Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop phenomenon Hamilton (★★★★✩) is back at London’s Victoria Palace and still firing on all cylinders.

Karl Queensborough clicks straight back into place in the title role of America’s driven founding father, Alexander Hamilton, who combines the slickness of Barack Obama with the Teflon of Tony Blair.

Sharon Rose, as Hamilton’s wife Eliza, sweetly humanises him, and Waylon Jacobs raises a storm as two men who fancy themselves rotten: French revolutionary Lafayette and Hamilton’s political foe Thomas Jefferson.

Simon-Anthony Rhoden is right on the beat as Hamilton’s nemesis, Aaron Burr; while Trevor Dion Nicholas plays alpha-papa George Washington, umpire of the founding fathers’ poetry slam.

Honestly, though? I admired it more than I enjoyed it. It looks lean and mean, with its wood-and-rope set that’s half galley, half scaffold. The often illustrative, always explosive dancing is an impressive feat.

But after nearly three hours of verbal and visual bombardment I felt demolished. Hamilton’s mission statement may as well be ‘shock and awe’. Resistance is futile.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop phenomenon Hamilton (★★★★✩) is back at London’s Victoria Palace and still firing on all cylinders

Opera gets its mojo back – and it’s a trill a minute!

By Tully Potter for the Daily Mail 

Rigoletto/The Magic Flute (Royal Opera House, London)

Verdict: A great Rigoletto; a lovely Flute

Rating:

Rating:

The Royal Opera regaled its first full-capacity audience post-lockdown with a powerful performance of a magnificent melodrama, Rigoletto.

At 55, Spanish star Carlos Alvarez has a slight beat on some extended notes, but his portrayal of the hunchbacked jester is one for the ages and he is today’s pre-eminent Verdi baritone, capable of grandeur, fury and introspection.

As his tragic daughter Gilda, Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa is touching, with a beautiful tone (she should not have to get into bed while holding a trill — the director clearly knows little about singing).

Liparit Avetisyan, from Armenia, plays her lover, the Duke. He has a decent trill but could give his Act 1 and Act 3 arias more swagger and humour. Ramona Zaharia as Maddalena has little to sing but makes her mark, vocally and histrionically.

Director Oliver Mears has an uncertain grip on proceedings. Do we really need head-banging disco dancing, sadism — even if lifted from Shakespeare — and simulated sex?

The Royal Opera regaled its first full-capacity audience post-lockdown with a powerful performance of a magnificent melodrama, Rigoletto

Why the big projections of Old Master paintings, including a Titian Venus? The first scene promised something close to what Verdi and Piave wanted, but that was a masquerade, and thereafter we had tedious modern costumes, often redolent of a funeral, and mostly ditchwater-dull sets — Act 3 looked better.

You can tell a lot about a production from the chairs. Were they beautiful Italian Renaissance artefacts? No, we were fobbed off with a job lot of boring brown objects from a 1950s school hall.

But how edifying to have Verdi’s score virtually complete, with most of his cadenzas, and fine conducting from Antonio Pappano, galvanising the men’s chorus and orchestra. Musically, it is terrific.

The Memory Of Water (Hampstead Theatre, London)

Verdict: Women behaving badly 

Rating:

The revival of Shelagh Stephenson’s 25-year-old comedy is a bracing blast of fresh air. It’s about three sisters returning to their North Yorkshire family home after the sudden death of their mother. Each of their lives is an inglorious mess.

The divorced eldest sells organic produce and self-medicates with Bach Remedies and ‘nerve pills’.

Middle daughter Mary is a high-flying doctor who’s desperate for a baby with her married lover and who knocks back paracetamol with scotch before breakfast.

And the youngest, Catherine, is a chaotic spliffhead who rues the fact she’s seen 78 lovers come and go and not been able hang on to one.

What I love about this play is that it has blood flowing through its veins. It’s almost impossible to imagine people being allowed to behave like this on stage today without their ‘dysfunctional behaviour’ being treated as a po-faced cautionary tale.

The revival of Shelagh Stephenson’s 25-year-old comedy is a bracing blast of fresh air. It’s about three sisters returning to their North Yorkshire family home after the sudden death of their mother. Each of their lives is an inglorious mess

Instead, Stephenson’s work is a raucous meditation on how we all concoct delusions from unreliable memories.

Where lesser writers might find this troubling, she finds it joyous and liberating. Her characters’ break down, lash out, rediscover themselves and launch into a carnival of dressing up from their dead mother’s wardrobe.

The second half staggers into further drink-induced revelations, and the ghost of the mother pitches up, too; chastising her daughters for not being grateful for opportunities she never had.

The Memory Of Water will alarm some and offend others, but Alice Hamilton’s raucous production, set in a chintzy bedroom suite, is a salutary reminder that it’s mad to be normal and normal to be mad.

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