The Producers – June 2012

8/10

By Mel Brooks, book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan

Directed by Nikolai Foster

GSA Graduate Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 18th June 2012

Steve and I had only seen the film of The Producers up to this point, so I was keen to see what the GSA would do this year following the excellent Fiddler last time. I wasn’t disappointed. It took me a little while to warm up to Max, but once Leo came along and their plot got started, I was completely hooked. The writing is superb, with lots of humour and some marvellous songs, including a Fiddler pastiche, a negro spiritual and many others.

I won’t go into the story; it’s different from the film, but still near enough for jazz, as my Dad used to say. The cast did another excellent job, changing from old dears to Nazi pigeons (had to be seen to be believed), office workhorses to dancing Nazis. One of the men was really disappointed to find he wasn’t allowed to be a showgirl, and in truth he did look stunning in his spangly red costume, but it was not to be.

There was a New York cityscape at the back, with a girder balcony in front of it. Underneath were central double doors (most of the time) which were mainly the entrance to Max’s office, but moonlighted occasionally for other locations. To emphasise the theatrical nature of the musical, the rest of the sets were created from big theatre hampers that they wheeled around. These hampers stored props, became desks, opened up to reveal posters, etc. – very versatile. I loved the looser feel these gave to the show, and I’m sure they made the scene changes much easier.

For the scenes with Roger de Bris, the director, a gold curtain swept across the stage, with only some stairs peeking through, while the whole stage was transformed again for the Springtime For Hitler performance, looking altogether more glamorous. We didn’t get to see the reactions of Max and Leo during the show, but the post-show trauma song, Where Did We Go Right?, was hilarious.

The individual performances were all good. Craig Golding was very strong as Roger de Bris, taking over the lead role of Hitler at the drop of a hat. Rob Eyles, who played his assistant Carmen, really caught our eye; his spot-on camp bitch performance almost stole the show at times. Brittany Field did well with the tall gorgeous blond Swedish character, but let’s face it, these bimbo roles are not the best parts that Mel Brooks has ever written.

Max Bialystock was played by Hans Rye, and he did remarkably well in such a tough role. Not only was he competing with the memory of Zero Mostel, he was also playing much older than he is, and given that musical performers have to take good care of their bodies, he was never going to look like a totally dissipated has-been just by turning up. He had to act the part instead, and after a few scenes I was happy to go along with his performance. He had me hooked long before his big number, Betrayed, which was excellent.

Rob Houchen may have had it slightly easier as Leopold Bloom, since that character can be younger than Max, but he was up against a master of nervousness in Gene Wilder. Even so, he managed to establish his own performance and maintained it superbly, with some of the funniest business of the evening. His singing and dancing were great too, while the standard of the whole cast was excellent. Good luck to everyone with their careers.

My final mention has to be those Nazi pigeons. Operated by the female members of the cast, they flew around, perched everywhere, sang a rousing song, gave Nazi salutes (with the armbands, too) and generally stole the show. (Never work with animals, puppets, animal puppets …… )

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Hay Fever – April 2009

4/10

By Noel Coward

Directed by Nikolai Foster

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Friday 24th April 2009

Let’s be clear from the start. This was an excellent cast, with several of the young folk coming straight from the RSC’s recent productions and the rest being well experienced and talented. However, as great an actress as Diana Rigg is, she was definitely too old to be playing Judith Bliss. The humour of that part depends on an actress who is old enough to be worried about losing her looks but young enough to be physically active still, rather than looking like her zimmer frame is parked around the corner.

However, this was a good stab at a classic comedy and Chichester certainly gave them a luscious set to perform on, with plenty of sofas, chairs, tables, a staircase and large windows through which we could see the clouds gather and the rain pelt down, only to clear to bright sunshine when the guests have gone. The costumes were in keeping, and overall we managed to enjoy ourselves.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

London Assurance – June 2008

7/10

By Dion Boucicault

Directed by Nikolai Foster

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 20th June 2008

We would all have enjoyed this play a lot more with a better audience. One chap fell asleep and was snoring for most of the first half. As he was on his own, and surrounded by empty seats, there was nobody to give him a delicate nudge, and so it continued. The couple next to me took a while to settle down, preferring their own conversation to the offering on stage, and although one of them did turn her mobile phone off, she waited till the play had already started! The rest of the audience was remarkably quiet – although it does take a while to get into gear, the cast were working very hard, and there was more to enjoy in the first half than you would have guessed from the audience’s reactions. All in all not the best reception for what was a very good production of a dated but still entertaining play.

As it’s a touring production, the set was compact. Basically a large circle, there was plenty of room left on the Yvonne Arnaud stage. There were two French windows on either side of the central door, curving round the rear of the circle, and seats and tables were moved around to create the different settings. All very efficient. Backdrops gave us the general locale, and there may have been some other scenery behind the windows.

We’d seen this play before, at Chichester, but I couldn’t remember much until the play got going. Sir Harcourt Courtly has a son whom he believes to be very straight-laced and shy of company, thanks to the many and varied lies told to him by his servant, Cool. In truth, his son is the complete man-about town, staying out till the cows have come home, been milked, had a kip and gone out again. Like his father, he usually sees sunrise before bedtime.

As this is a comedy, there has to be some unusual circumstance to complicate matters. In this case, it’s the extraordinary set up whereby Sir Harcourt will regain the lands he mortgaged to his neighbour provided he marries the neighbour’s daughter, Grace. If Grace doesn’t marry him (and she does have a say in the matter), all the lands will revert to Sir Harcourt’s heir, i.e. his son, Charles. When Grace and Charles take an instant and serious liking to one another, the opportunities for confusion and a happy ending are set up at the same time, for when they meet, he’s pretending to be another man, Augustus Hastings. Although she sees through his imposture very quickly when the time comes for him to reappear as himself, she’s not going to give him an easy time of it. This situation, coupled with Sir Harcourt’s fancy to seduce another, married, lady only days before his wedding to Grace, give us the main comedy of the play. There’s some humour in one of the subplots – a wannabe lawyer who tries to persuade everyone else to sue someone so he can make money. He eavesdrops freely, and comments on the action, which led to some laughs, but although the performance was good, either the production or tonight’s audience let it down.

In fact, all the performances were good. Gerard Murphy gave us a fairly robust Sir Harcourt, and this set off his affectations nicely. Geraldine McNulty played Lady Gay Spanker really well. With a name like that the laughs should come easily anyway, but she went beyond the basics. So despite the difficulties, and my own tendency to nap a bit during the early stages, I enjoyed this performance very much.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me