Review: The Importance of Being Earnest (A Musical)

Written for Time Out

‘A handbag? A handbag?’ Gyles Brandreth titters before breaking into song. Is this Oscar Wilde or Noël Coward doing a party piece impression of him? ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is given new voice in Douglas Livingstone’s musical.

‘A musical?!’, Dame Edith Evans might have exclaimed. But this diluted interpretation does suit an audience already used to giving Wilde’s witticisms and aphorisms a life of their own.

Livingstone’s book and Adam McGuinness and Zia Moranne’s score are classy and character-led. Flora Spencer-Longhurst sparkles in Cecily’s joyful Charleston number ‘Wicked!’ and Miss Prism (Susie Blake) and Dr Chasuble (Edward Petherbridge) cause much hilarity with their reverent courting in ‘It all Began in a Garden’.

Samal Blak’s design, in which gardens grow out of suitcases, is imaginative and stylish and Brandreth makes a regal Lady Bracknell. It’s not exactly ‘My Fair Lady’. But even Wilde would have admired the new-found silliness
in this light-hearted musical.

Runs until 31st December 

Review: Do We Look Like Refugees?!

Written for Exeunt

Alecky Blythe, whose previous work includes The Girlfriend Experience and most recently the acclaimed musical London Road,  is known for giving voices to those whose words are not usually given space in a public arena; even knowing this about her and her work,  it is exciting to see a piece about the aftermath of the 2008 Georgian/Russian war touring England. In 2009 Blythe went to Georgia where she spoke to refugees from the Gori and Tserovani, temporary camps which have long been turning into semi-permanent settlements as the conflict remains unresolved. True to form her interviews were then edited into a 50 minute piece of theatre, with each cough and repetition presented exactly as it was recorded via headphones worn by the performers.

But for all that it promises this is a strangely unfulfilling event, a taster of what could have been. With a running time of just under an hour, the piece allows no room for these voices to grow and the result feels prosaic. Perhaps this is as it should be, the day to day trials of this resolute nation not being the stuff of romantic poetry. Yet the only moment in the production where one feels really connected is when the cast remove their headphones to sing a national folk song; it’s a defiant and universal moment that highlights their iron resolve more powerfully than the edited accounts of their survival ever do.

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Interview – Howard Barker

Written for Whats On Stage

Whilst the nation is in the thralls of political discussion one writer remains defiantly apolitical.  The Howard Barker Festival, opening today at Riverside Studios, is about sacrifice; but whilst this concept will ring true with people in the middle of a recession, it is not an association that he would welcome.  Howard Barker has no respect for the conventional belief that theatre is there to ‘say something’; “Do you ask that question of modern abstract art? No. So why is theatre such a slave to the need to educate?”

So what drives him as a writer? “I am driven by personal crises” he states after some thought. And has he solved any of them yet? “Clearly not!” 

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