Category Archives: theatre

➤ Stoppard’s superlative new play is a tearjerker echoing his own roots

Theatre, reviews, history, 20th century, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard, Patrick Marber,

Iconic poster for Leopoldstadt the play: a 19th-century grandchild learns the new mathematics by playing with a cat’s cradle, emblem of cross-generational connections. (Photography Seamus Ryan; design Bob King Creative)

TOM STOPPARD’S MOST PERSONAL PLAY YET opened this week in London and detonated a mighty thunderclap of profound drama. I was not alone with tears streaming down my face when the curtain fell at Wyndham’s Theatre and many of us sat in our seats stunned. Heavens, even our greatest living playwright himself admits he has sat sobbing in the stalls during previews, as he did while writing the final scenes. “Nothing I have written has had that effect on me,” Stoppard told Radio 4’s Front Row on Tuesday about the play that proves more heart-wrenching than any of his previous 30.

Theatre, reviews, history, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard, Patrick Marber,

Another gifted collaboration: Marber and Stoppard in rehearsal

Though named after Leopoldstadt, the poor Jewish district of Vienna, the play is set on the posh side of town. It is monumental in scale and epic in emotion. Its ensemble of 40 accomplished actors headed by Adrian Scarborough, Faye Castelow, Caroline Gruber and Ed Stoppard (yes, son) explore the traditions and fortunes of an extended cosmopolitan family through the first five decades of 20th-century history, made flesh with more harrowing detail and revealing dialogue than most of us could imagine or would want to when the jackboot of the Third Reich arrives. While a clock ticks loudly.

Untypically for Stoppard we hear less of his usual glittering wit and fewer laughs, while those that spasmodically do surface reflect Vienna’s intellectual achievements in art, maths, music and Dr Freud’s new-fangled psychoanalysis.

A glimpse of wit from the play: “Today’s modern is tomorrow’s nostalgia: we missed Mahler when we heard Schoenberg”

The bedrock is memory. Questions are raised about identity and heritage in a city and an era when Jews and Catholics happily inter-marry. Director Patrick Marber illuminates the interwoven branches of family trees as deftly as he did with the preposterous though mostly real life stories of Lenin, Joyce and Tzara that made his 2016 revival of Stoppard’s Travesties its wittiest production yet.

Theatre, reviews, history, 20th century, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard, Patrick Marber,

Leopoldstadt the play: Jewish and Catholic families celebrate Christmas in the Vienna of 1899

Leopoldstadt is the nearest thing to tragedy written by the 82-year-old playwright. It also features himself in the character Leo who is aged 24 in the final scene set in 1955, a caricature of English privilege who has grown up in Britain, having arrived at age eight, as Stoppard did, after being whisked away from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia where he had been born Tomas Straussler. His four grandparents all died in concentration camps, though Stoppard only discovered his Jewish heritage relatively late in life owing to his mother’s reluctance to revisit the past.

The play has been years in gestation and might possibly be Stoppard’s last. For its eloquence, prescience, intimacy and empathy, it will stand as a gloriously moving testament to his humanity.

➢ Leopoldstadt runs at the Wyndham’s theatre, London, until 13 June

➢ John Wilson interviews Stoppard for Radio 4’s Front Row, 11 Feb

Theatre, reviews, history, 20th century, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard,

At the premiere of Leopoldstadt: Sir Tom Stoppard and wife, Sabrina Guinness

REVIEWS THE MORNING AFTER

➢ Director Patrick Marber has knitted Tom Stoppard’s putative swan song into a compelling whole – reviewed at Theartsdesk

➢ Stoppard’s family portrait is an elegiac epic – reviewed in The Guardian

➢ Stoppard’s new masterwork is an early contender for play of the year – reviewed in the Evening Standard

➢ Raising the emotional voltage, the dramatist puts a version of himself on stage – reviewed in The Observer

➢ Stoppard delivers an unforgettable play from the heart – reviewed in the Telegraph

➢ Stoppard’s supremely moving new play – reviewed in The Stage

➢ A master playwright finds urgent lessons for the present in the past of a Viennese family – reviewed in the New York Times

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➤ Second time unlucky as fire ravages former Camden Palace nightspot

Koko, Camden Theatre, Camden Palace, nightclubbing, music venue, fire, architecture, Music Machine,

Koko nightclub ablaze last night: 60 firefighters extinguished the flames within five hours

TWICE IN 40 YEARS Camden Town’s most renowned theatre has been set ablaze. Last night the 119-year-old former Royal Camden Theatre, currently known as the nightclub Koko, burst into flames at about 9pm during the course of renovation work. Video footage showed giant flames devouring its historic copper dome. London Fire Brigade reported 30% of the roof to be alight and despatched eight fire engines and 60 firefighters to tackle the inferno.

The venue was also damaged by fire during its last gasp as the post-punk Music Machine, soon after a Theatre of Hate gig in December 1980. Subsequent restoration saw it reopen in 1982 renamed the Camden Palace as Steve Strange and Rusty Egan made this the flagship for their New Romantic movement when they took it mainstream. Madonna played her first London date there by Rusty’s invitation.

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

The rave scene saw Camden Palace through its second decade until it closed in 2004. Koko emerged after major refurbishment of its richly ornate interior by new owners who established a cool reputation for live music and with clubbing capacity for 1,500 people. However during further refurbishment in September 2018 surveyors deemed the building unsafe so the venue was forced to close.

Theatre historian Matthew Lloyd reports: “As of 2017 the theatre was to undergo a full restoration, including the replacement of the cupola on the roof. The Hope and Anchor at the back of the theatre was projected to become a boutique hotel at the same time, and would be a part of the whole complex, including a restaurant on the roof.” This £40-million state-of-the-art redevelopment was scheduled to finish in April this year but the latest fire is likely to impose a delay.

Opened in 1900 by the celebrated actress Ellen Terry, the theatre has enjoyed a dozen or so reincarnations as playhouse, music-hall and until 1940 as the Hippodrome and Gaumont cinemas. In 1945 the BBC revived the Camden Theatre name as its studio for recording variety shows and most famously The Goon Show (1951-60), starring Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers. Their Last Goon Show of All was recorded for radio and television at the studio in 1972, the year the building was awarded a Grade II listing. It had lain empty for several years and faced demolition, so the listing at least postponed that fate. English Heritage drew attention to the original architecture by W.G.R. Sprague, celebrated for his many West End theatres: a pillared façade “in baroque pastiche style”, and cantilevered dress circle and balcony with plaster work by Waring & Gillow in a mixture of baroque and rococo ornament.

Let’s hope Koko’s owners can wave a wand to revive the lustre of this iconic play-place.

➢ More about the Camden Theatre at Matthew Lloyd’s wide-raging history site named after his great grand-father Arthur Lloyd

POSTSCRIPT IN THE TIMES

➢ Another iconic building wrecked by fire during renovations – Richard Morrison in The Times’s arts column writes on 10 Jan 2020:
It’s striking how often historic buildings go up in smoke when there is renovation work happening, as there was at Koko… Recent examples are the 2018 fire that ripped through Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s superb Glasgow School of Art building as a £36-million restoration was being completed after a fire in 2014. Incredulous MSPs of all parties asked a series of questions that mostly cannot be answered… And the fire that devastated Note-Dame in Paris… rebuilding doesn’t appear to be going smoothly either… / Continued online

Koko, Camden Theatre, Camden Palace, nightclubbing, music venue, fire, architecture, Music Machine,

Steve Strange in 1982: invariably being filmed at Camden Palace

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1983, Posing with a purpose at the Camden Palace

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2019 ➤ The Boulevard rises from the ashes of the Raymond Revuebar

Architecture, theatre, cabaret, live music, comedy, Boulevard Theatre, Soho, Fawn James, Raymond Revuebar,

Contemporary new Boulevard Theatre and function space, photographed by Jack Hobhouse

comedy, Boulevard Theatre, Soho, Fawn James, Raymond Revuebar, Kiri Pritchard-McLean, Rhys James,

Friday’s Late Night Scene: Kiri Pritchard-McLean and Rhys James

◼ AN INTIMATE NEW 170-SEAT THEATRE and function space has opened in Soho on the site of Paul Raymond’s original striptease Revuebar from 1958 to 2004. It is named after the Boulevard Theatre which reinvented itself there in 1980 from its racy predecessor by showcasing The Comic Strip team who went on to rewrite the rules of British comedy. The stage proved the springboard to success for Alexei Sayle, Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson and Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.

After a £40m redevelopment of the site in Walker’s Court under the shrewd business eye of Raymond’s grand-daughter Fawn James, there’s now an active programme of theatre and weekly late events for live music, cabaret and comedy. This weekend’s unruly Friday comedy set from 10.30pm was fronted by the wry Kiri Pritchard-McLean. Stand-ups included Olga Koch, whose name struck a risqué note from the start, plus an Edinburgh Award winner who sadly didn’t quite click. However, topping the bill at machine-gun speed was TV face Rhys James and he alone was worth the £15 ticket price.

The in-house theatre production playing daily is Ghost Quartet, the 2014 “song cycle about love, death and whiskey” by American Dave Malloy, directed by Bill Buckhurst. In January comes The Sunset Limited, from the American novelist Cormac McCarthy, his 2006 exploration of free will dubbed “a novel in dramatic form” and directed by Terry Johnson, the multi-award-winning British dramatist.

The Boulevard’s rebirth is down to Fawn James as a director of Soho Estates, who says she intends to honour her grandfather’s legacy as an impresario and property investor by helping to promote Soho as an arts and entertainment district. The Boulevard’s artistic director is Rachel Edwards who founded the award-winning Tooting Arts Club.

The glorious Revuebar neon sign from Raymond’s era has been faithfully reconstructed to shine out as a Brewer Street landmark though, true to neon tradition, several letters have already blacked out! The four-storey building houses an adaptable, state-of-the-art auditorium, restaurant, bar, lounge and rehearsal room. Versatility is at the core of the venue, with every space fully customisable for a range of functions embracing weddings and conferences. The Boulevard has been actively recruiting to fill a variety of jobs.

Click any pic below to enlarge

Architecture, theatre, cabaret, live music, comedy, Boulevard Theatre, Soho, Fawn James, Raymond Revuebar,

Boulevard Theatre’s new facade and bridge by Soda Studio

➢ Revolving auditorium is showpiece of Boulevard Theatre by Soda – Amy Frearson reporting at Dezeen magazine, 28 October 2019:

The Boulevard Theatre features stalls and a balcony that both revolve independently, along with a stage that moves up and down, making a wide variety of different configurations possible. The entire project is designed by Soda, a London-based studio that works across architecture, interiors and graphic design. It forms part of a new development in the heart of Soho.

The bar and restaurant is an art-deco-inspired space featuring pink panelled walls, marble surfaces, brass lighting, and leather and velvet upholstery. There are also subtle references here to the Boulevard logo, while the glass bridge features an inlay of lace, in reference to a brothel previously located on this street.

Soda worked with theatre specialist Charcoalblue to make the auditorium as functional as possible. The transformations all take less than 10 minutes, so the space can easily host three or four different types of performance in one day.

Developer Fawn James said: “One of the things that I really wanted was that element of surprise, because when you’re in Soho you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting. Sometimes you could come to a show in the round, go downstairs, grab a bite to eat, then come back up for the next show and feel like you’re in a completely different room… / Continued at Dezeen online

Photography is by Jack Hobhouse unless otherwise stated

Comic Strip, 1980, Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Alexei Sayle, alternative cabaret, cuttings, David Johnson, Over21 magazine

First published in Over21, January 1981

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1981, At The Comic Strip, ‘alternative cabaret’ throws up the next generation of household names

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2019 ➤ For three nights only, Ziggy’s stylist Freddie stars in his own musical

David Bowie, pop music, Freddie Burretti, costume, designer, modelling,

1973: Stylist Freddie Burretti with David Bowie sporting the boldly striped suit of the moment, designed by Freddie

AND NOW THE MUSICAL. Brace yourselves for Burretti The Man Who Sewed The World, featuring a new band, The Spiders from Bletchley, and starring 40 unpaid local performers at their theatre in the Buckinghamshire town where Freddie Burretti spent his teens as a Mod. You remember: he’s the little-known whizz who designed, if not the red haircut, most of the on-and-off-stage clothes for Ziggy Stardust and is today compared to leaders of British fashion such as Westwood and McQueen. The stage musical is the dream of writer Lee Scriven who remains as infatuated with David Bowie’s early struggle for stardom as the 23-year-old Bowie himself was infatuated with the handsome 19-year-old tailor he met one Sunday in the Sombrero (aka Yours or Mine), London’s trendiest gay disco and celebrity haunt in Kensington.

Paul J Macdonald, Chrysalis Theatre, Bletchley, The Man Who Sewed The World, Freddie Burretti, Lee Scriven, David Bowie, pop music, musical, theatre,

Poster for Lee Scriven’s new musical

Remember too how Bowie had single-mindedly survived nine failed bands during ten years of struggle before Ziggy soared into orbit, and even that took three years to achieve following his first chart hit Space Oddity.

The instant chemistry between Bowie as performer and Freddie as his stylist amounted to what DB called telepathy: “because whatever I think of in my mind, he produces for real”. Freddie had all the flamboyance of a six-foot-tall out gay man in 1970, the first year of gay liberation in the UK. During their intimate four-year partnership, Freddie’s highly sexualised and bravura costumes were like no others in pop.

Much of this was the theme of a biographical movie directed by Scriven four years ago, titled Starman: Freddie Burretti – The Man Who Sewed The World, in which interviews with friends and colleagues pieced together the jigsaw that saw Freddie being invited by Angie Bowie to come to live with her and David at Haddon Hall. As Lee said today, despite various re-edits, potential backers “politely passed” on turning his “demo” version documentary into a feature movie and the result is this new stage musical as a community workshop production aimed at raising money for charity. “Not a West End musical, more a West Bletchley one, like another ‘demo’ version,” he said modestly.

Freddie Burretti, costume, designer, modelling, David Bowie,

1972: Freddie Burretti’s card advertising his talents as a model

Lee has written a script that pays homage to Freddie, captures his teenage growing pains as a homosexual and his escape to London, where he meets the one-hit pop singer. Lee found himself reluctant to put words into the mouth of the future international icon he respectfully calls “Mr Bowie” so instead renamed him Bobby Jones, the only fictitious character in the show. His infatuation is such that he creates a new band in which to showcase Freddie as “the next Mick Jagger”, which proves to be a non-starter. Instead Freddie applies his genius to reinventing Bobby’s own image as a Starman who electrifies the world in 1972 when he reaches Top of the Pops clad in Freddie’s spangly one-piece jumpsuit and confirms his uniqueness as a superstar.

Having changed the show’s title to now emphasise its subject as Burretti himself, Lee said of its origins: “I had to get it out of my system and suddenly realised, Hang on, this is a Billy Elliot story of self-discovery. In fact, the narrative is so strong, it’s like Everybody’s Talking About Jamie [currently running in London] but frankly a lot stronger!”

➢ View Burretti’s designs in the image gallery
for the V&A’s exhibition David Bowie Is

The show is directed by musical polymath Caz Tricks, and embraces sounds of the era such as Desmond Dekker and the Trojan label, and of course some surprising Bowie numbers. Lee recruited “a great little band I’ve worked with” as The Spiders from Bletchley, led by the onetime Stray guitarist Del Bromham, plus choreography from Alex Kent, an Edinburgh Festival veteran, and Jack Sullivan, fresh out of uni. Lee added: “The mood is very Buzzcocks, very edgy.”

Hardly off-stage throughout is local lad Paul J Macdonald in his first gig starring as Burretti. He proves to be an ace dancer – as indeed was Freddie himself who caught many an eye in his white Spandex hotpants on London’s first uplit dancefloor at the Sombrero.

Burretti: The Man Who Sewed The World runs at the Chrysalis Theatre, Milton Keynes MK15 9JY on May 16–18, 2019. Tickets cost £15 by calling 0333 666 3366 or by booking online here

Paul J Macdonald, Chrysalis Theatre, Bletchley, The Man Who Sewed The World, Freddie Burretti, Lee Scriven, musical, theatre,

2019: Paul J Macdonald playing Freddie Burretti in The Man Who Sewed The World

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Burretti movie adds an epic and essential chapter to the Bowie story

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: A feast of Bowie-ana
served in waffeur-thin slices – Any Day Now,
Kevin Cann’s new book about Bowie

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➤ Topical issues enliven Leave to Remain, an innovative stage musical about gay romance

Leave to Remain, Lyric Hammersmith,EDM, Matt Jones ,Kele Okereke, theatre, stage musical, Billy Cullum , Tyrone Huntley ,inter-racial ,gay marriage,

Romantic leads in Leave to Remain: Billy Cullum as Alex and Tyrone Huntley as Obi

➢ Andy Polaris, singer with Eighties band Animal Nightlife, reviews Leave to Remain, a startlingly original new musical at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith until 16 Feb 2019. Here’s an extract from his blog APolarisView:

Leave to Remain is an energetic new musical play jointly created by TV writer Matt Jones and Kele Okereke, the former frontman of indie rock band Bloc Party, who supplies new songs.

Swinging 80s, Andy Polaris,TV review, David Bowie Finding Fame,,singer,pop music,

Andy Polaris

The story focuses on the fast-moving tumultuous romance between a young upwardly mobile inter-racial gay couple embarking on what seems to be a hasty marriage of convenience in a Britain seemingly ill at ease with immigration and suffering status anxiety. Obi (Tyrone Huntley) is a rather conservative well educated son of a first-generation Nigerian immigrant, and has started a relationship with visa-less American Alex (Billy Cullum). Alex’s US employer is planning to relocate from London and in order for him to remain in the UK, he proposes a civil partnership with Obi.

This is where the play comes alive. What should be joyous news elicits feelings of apprehension as childhood upbringings reveal contrasting experiences of coming out to loved ones. It is these differences that drive the play forward and there is some laugh-out-loud hilarity from Alex’s visiting liberal parents.

Tyrone Huntley’s charismatic performances have been acknowledged by an Evening Standard Emerging Talent Award. As an ensemble, the Lyric cast is strong. . . As Okereke is one of a few out black singers, I’m assuming this is autobiographical material and the songs reflect his roots with percussive African highlife rhythms and language peppering the show’s original mix of EDM soundtrack.

What set this show apart are the interesting modern dance moves by director/choreographer Robby Graham that fuse all characters while the two leads move in a beautiful balletic embrace. This intimacy is rare to see for a gay couple on the London stage and it’s something that LGBTQ audiences have been quite starved of. It’s a tribute that both leading actors convey touching believability. . . / Continued at APolarisView

➢ Leave to Remain, a modern love story with music, is written by Matt Jones and Kele Okereke, directed by Robby Graham, and runs at the Lyric Hammersmith, London W6 0QL, 18 Jan–16 Feb 2019

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