Theatre FootNotes for February 2020 – a summary of other theatre events in my diary

SOAPDISH

(Seen at Battersea’s Turbine Theatre on Saturday 8 February, duration 60 minutes)

As part of the Turbine’s Music Theatre Festival, I saw the last of three public performances of a much-anticipated work-in-progress, the Stiles and Drewe musical treatment of one of my favourite films, SOAPDISH.

The story of the attempts made to bring down a popular but demanding daytime TV star by her rivals was a hugely funny- and popular- film from 1991 which starred Sally Field and Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Downey, Jr and others.

From the work put in by Stiles and Drewe, book writer Robert Harling (writer of the original movie), director Rachel Kavanaugh, MD supreme Alex Parker and the starry cast, it all looks very promising.

Following the storyline of the film tightly, the songs are natural extensions of the plot framework, which gives them credibility and solidity.

The starry cast did a great job of putting over the material. The busy, uptempo “Get Ready” – set at the Daytime TV awards – is a perfect opener. It was great to hear Louise Dearman as Celeste the star, tunefully lamenting about wanting to “Wash My Hands of Soap”. Good also to see Laura Pitt-Pulford playing hard as nails Montana, Celeste’s mortal enemy, hilarious in her breathy seduction of the show’s producer David (nicely twitchy Richard Dempsey), in her gleefully tacky song “Tit for Tat”. Ben Richards, cast as Jeffrey (Celeste’s previous on-screen love interest but in reality bitter enemies, brought back to the show to torment Celeste) doesn’t get too much to do in Act One (which is essentially what we saw a digest of), but he was very welcome anyway.

Clive Rowe pops up delightfully as the philistine TV exec who gives a great number about what he likes – “Peppy and Cheap”.

Stiles and Drewe’s work is always a delight. Here they even musicalise “Death of A Salesman”. And what other team could so ballsily rhyme and coin new words such as “menopausable” ?

Having been to a lot of these readings and presentations over the years, often its the cast themselves who give you the best indication of how good the material is. And here the cast reactions while sitting and following the performers who were “on” were a delight. And if they enjoyed it, I can’t see how anyone else couldn’t.

This already has “big hit” written all over it.


THE ROYALE by Marco Ramirez at Milton Court Theatre (Guildhall School). (Seen on Saturday 8th February, 80 minutes duration)

Describing the aspiration of Jay “The Sport” Jackson to be the first black world heavyweight champion. Looking at the drive, the sacrifice and the real reasons behind his motivations-to give his sister a black role model she could identify with.

Good acting all round, but especially by Shaka Kalokoh as Jay and Anele Mahamba as his sister Nina

The play itself was highly descriptive but eventually too talkative and lacking in action to maintain my interest for the complete running time.


FLIGHTS by John O’ Donovan at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham. (Seen on Sunday 16 February, 2 hrs 30 minutes duration)

In a teenage hideout in rural Ireland, three contemporaries gather for their annual celebration and remembrance of their school friend Liam who died aged 17, now as long dead as he was alive. They sit around and reminisce, remember Liam, discuss their dissatisfaction with their current lives, drink a lot of beer and cider and take drugs, in ways which seem still stuck in adolescence.

With no action to speak of, it’s a very static two and a half hours, with long, rambling conversations interspersed with each actor taking a turn to metamorphose into the late Liam, with each having a fifteen-minute plus monologue about the world from Liam’s viewpoint.

All three actors do sterling work in being absolutely on top of reams of writer John O’ Donovan’s text, full credit to them all. But we are given little reason to care about these characters, and therefore for me their issues did not hit home.


The Cost Of Cutting Culture: A discussion

The Cost of Cutting Culture – can a creative education close the business skills gap?

A lively and engrossing discussion formed the majority of the Lord Mayor’s Gresham College Lecture on Thursday 9th January, attended by a packed audience and a knowledgeable panel including William Russell, Lord Mayor of London, and the directors of the City of London’s key cultural institutions: Kathryn McDowell CBE, DL, MD of the London Symphony Orchestra, Lynne Williams who is Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE, MD of the Barbican Centre, and Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London.

Introduced by the Lord Mayor, he made the points that over the last twenty years the tech companies have replaced the oil and engineering firms as as the world’s largest employers, with a raft of implications for what the jobs of tomorrow will look like.

With the changing demands at work, and the threat of automation to 40% of the UK’s current jobs, creative skills are becoming more important and desirable in the workplace. The so- called “Fusion Skills” – social, analytical and creative skills – will progressively play a larger part in the job descriptions of many future UK Jobs.

The alarming situation is that there is a genuine demotion of the arts in the UK school curriculum. The arts are not represented at GCSE Level at all.

The UK’s future workplaces will need to attract the best candidates by offering creative work environments but also extensions of that out into the environment. People aspire to work and live in areas like Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and Camden, as they are seen to have a creative vibe which enriches their environments. 

Culture Mile is a move to create a similar creative hub destination, a creative partnership between The Barbican Centre, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the LSO and the Museum of London. It aims to create a thriving and intriguing cultural community which runs from Farringdon to Moorgate- the Culture Mile.

The discussion covered what businesses can do to support and drive creativity, and the role of the Culture Mile in supporting a creative society.

Each organisation outlines the way that their work has developed to encompass outreach and life-long learning opportunities in the community, with particular drive to unlock each person’s creativity. The links between culture ,commerce and finance were also discussed.

Questions from the audience included issues such as sponsorship, digital services, and the work of creating a cultural community which could call Culture Mile its home- central to this being affordable housing.

So, lots to enjoy and lots to think about for the future, in a very listenable hour.

You can watch or listen to the whole event via the link here.


Theatre FootNotes for July 2019 – a summary of other theatre events in my diary

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

Monday 8th July – Guildhall School of Music and Drama final year students’ graduation show at the Silk Street Theatre, Barbican. Sondheim and Furth’s bittersweet musical complimented by an excellent 20-strong band, as always at Guildhall.


THE LAST SONG OF OLIVER SIPPLE

Sunday 14th July – The Last Song of Oliver Sipple (at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington) tells the story of a forgotten American hero tortured by prejudice, hypocrisy, media intrusion and the rift created within his own family.

“I loved my country, but my country didn’t love me”, laments Oliver (Billy) Sipple, a decorated Vietnam veteran who bravely averted an assassination attempt upon US President Gerald Ford in 1975. An invitation was planned to the White House to thank him. But Oliver Sipple was gay. So the invitation was withdrawn and Sipple received a tiny note of thanks from Ford instead. Sipple’s life story and death at an early age from drink in 1989 after years of media hounding and being preyed on by opportunists makes for a rather sketchy 50-minute play as presented here. It feels like there is a deeper story to tell, but not knowing what research this work is based on it is impossible to say whether anyone connected with the play actually knew Sipple.

The meat of the story is in the central incident, with the rest feeling very much like supporting material. The stories about meeting and working with Harvey Milk are interesting but go no further than a sort of diary entry, so it is difficult to know this character further. What is undoubted is that he was a national hero who was not respected. We hear a lot about what happened but the bio doesn’t leave much time to explore the feelings of this private man reluctantly thrust into the public eye with all the attendant challenges.

Here is another show with no specific theatrical, visual component until the final moments. This would make a fine radio play but I do not see what bringing it to the stage added to the script.

Whilst being grateful to writer David Hendon for bringing Sipple back to the public eye, this show itself is an historically interesting but sketchy introduction to an ordinary man who happened to be in the right place at the right time to avert a potential crisis…and happened to be gay.


THE OFSTED MASSACRE

Monday 15th July – LAMDA final year graduating students’ show. A specially commissioned new comedy by Phil Porter and directed by Joe Murphy. Acting was generally of a very high standard (particularly the leads) and a majority of these actors are clearly stage-ready. The script was relatable and funny, although sadly it ran out of steam halfway through act two, and would have perhaps played better if it was shorter. Nevertheless, by this time the actors had mostly been seen to good advantage.


FERNANDO AND HIS GRANDMOTHER

Wednesday 31st July – At Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre, Out of the Wings ( https://ootwfestival.com/ ) is presenting its fourth annual festival, exploring untapped theatre from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. Over five days, a series of staged readings bring to life new English translations of works by playwrights from six countries, alongside workshops, talks and events, in celebration of theatre in translation.

“It’s the voices, boy, the voices.”

In a dance across the generations, the legendary Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa duets with his irrepressible grandmother Dionísia Seabra. Spanning almost a century, their meetings continue despite illness, distance, and even death. Come what may, some bonds refuse to be broken.

Fernando’s a troubled boy, haunted by his private terrors. From an early age the only refuge is his intimacy with his demented grandmother. They are a conspiracy of two. They are complicit. Faced with a disapproving and seemingly threatening world, they share a private universe of make-believe games and songs.

Are genius and insanity as close as this? These two both spend their lives in different ways as outsiders. Dionísia hears voices in her madness. Fernando as a child is already inventing alter egos which as an adult become the fully fledged fictional “heteronyms” – the many writers under whose names his work is eventually published – and considered among the greatest of the twentieth century.

Written by Armando Nascimento Rosa , translated by Susannah Finzi and directed by Almiro Andrade

Cast Dora DaCruz, Patrick Campbell