Henry V, Act 1, Scene 1
As I said in yesterday’s post, I’ve very fortunately been able to see loads of plays recently, so I thought I’d write about them all in one update, so you don’t have to keep checking back 😉 I’m too kind to you, I know! So this post is about some musicals (‘Kiss Me Kate’ at the Old Vic Theatre and the much-praised film of ‘Les Miserables’), some Shakespeare (‘Twelfth Night’ at the Apollo Theatre) and a straight play (‘The Dark Earth and the Light Sky’ at the Almeida Theatre), all of which turned out to be very different to my expectations – don’t worry, mostly in a positive way 🙂
So, let’s start with Les Miz, the recent film directed by Tom Hooper, starring so many celebs it’s basically pointless me listing them all – Google it 😉 Now, I’m going to admit I didn’t go into this with a particularly open mind – Les Miserables is my favourite musical of. all. time. I’ve seen the stage show twice and have listened to the CD (cast recording of the original 1985 London prduction, naturally) so many times I know all the songs backwards, frontwards and inside-out. To say I was sceptical about the film, therefore, is an understatement. In my opinion, the soundtrack is the best in any musical, and I was ridiculously worried about a load of actors butchering it in their mission to give ‘real’ emotion.
However, saying all of that, I was pleasantly surprised by the film, particularly Eddie Redmayne’s rendition of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ which was incredibly emotional and very well sung, and the finale, which was also very stirring. The cast were actually much better than I expected, especially Anne Hathaway. Hugh Jackman, as the protagonist Jean Valjean, was excellent, barring one of the hardest songs to sing and, unfortunately, one of the most emotional songs in the musical, ‘Bring Him Home‘. I felt he just didn’t perform the song vocally in the best possible way. Nevertheless, the rest of his singing was pretty good. Disappointingly, Russell Crowe as one of my absolute favourite characters, Javert, was just awful; yeah, his voice is fine, but he gave absolutely no range of emotion. It was simply all in the same solemn quiet dynamic for the entirety of Javert’s moral conflict and his complex relationship with Valjean, which is key to the plot. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so annoyed if I didn’t love Javert’s songs so much: ‘Stars‘, ‘Confrontation’and his part in ‘One Day More’ – they’re all amazing and Roger Allam sang them all so well in the original production that I felt seriously let down by Crowe’s lacklustre peformance and his failure to show any emotion at all.
My ony other real criticism was of Helena Bonham Carter as Mme. Thenardier – the Thenardiers are supposed to be the comic turn of the otherwise entirely tragic tale, and yet Bonham Carter just didn’t seem totally dedicated to the singing part of the role. She was completely overshadowed by Sacha Baron Cohen, (who was surprisingly good as her husband, the corrupt innkeeper), and didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities for comedy there were in that role, slurring her words whilst singing which meant at times it was a struggle to hear exactly what she was muttering about.
Saying this, overall it was good film, even though big numbers like ‘One Day More’ simply work better live on stage. Jackman, Redmayne, Hathaway, Samatha Barks, Amanda Seyfried and all the revolutionaries, including Aaron Tviet were pretty damn good both singing and acting, but I stand by my view that the stage production is just more exciting and stirring. Still, a film worth watching – just listen to the original soundtrack first 😉
Moving onto a much cheerier musical, the one I posted about yesterday: ‘Kiss Me Kate’ directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Hannah Waddingham and Alex Bourne. Now, this is much more frivolous and fun than Les Miz; the singing and dancing is infectious, especially in massive tap and jazz numbers like ‘Too Darn Hot’and ‘Another Op’nin Another Show’. Both of the protagonists were very strong singers, and songs like ‘I Hate Men’ produced a lot of laughter among the audience. Sections were a little slow, and although the numbers were great fun, they weren’t particularly memorable afterwards. However, a truly fun night out, and worth seeing – especially since it’s a musical of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ – WOO SHAKESPEARE 😀
Speaking of Shakespeare…. after looking forward to it for aaaaggggess, I finally got to see the all-male ‘Twelfth Night’ starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry on Thursday – YAY 🙂 Although I think the production would have worked even better at the Globe, (they kept the audience lights on, but it didn’t quite have the same effect as being outside in the groundling pit), since it took a little while for the audience to warm up, it was still brilliant, particularly Rylance, who managed to be completely credible, yet hilarious as Olivia. His stuttering and flounderings, which he is well-known for, made the lines more realistic – actually, all the men-dressed-as-women, including Paul Chahidi as Maria and Johnny Flynn as Viola/Cesario, were crazily believable, and the way they glided across the stage was amazing. I got super excited by the fact that Sebastian was played by Samuel Barnett, who originated the role of Posner in ‘The History Boys’ – erghmygoddd, because Jamie Parker played Henry V at the Globe this summer too, and he was in the History Boys as well and it’s just too toooo exciting!!! Just me? Yeah, thought so 😉
As Malvolio, I felt Fry was good, but not aything special. Whereas during the production that the Red Rose Chain did a couple of years ago, Malvolio’s sections were the bits most eagerly looked forward to by the audience, in this version he was not the starring role. Nevertheless, there was no weak link among the cast, and the comedic scenes between Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek were superbly done, although, actually Maria was surpsingly one of the funniest characters. Basically, a great production.
Last on the list is ‘The Dark Earth and the Light Sky’, a play written by Nick Dear about Edward Thomas, the famous British poet, and his relationships with his wife, their friend Eleanor Farjeon and with the American poet Robert Frost, with whom Thomas spent many hours talking about writing and poetry and walking in the English countryside. The play is intense, and there are constant leaps in time back and forth, as well as direct adresses to the audience, which make the play quite different from many of the things I’ve seen. Hattie Morahan is excellent as Helen, Thomas’ wife, who is in turns both sympathetic and annoying, and Pip Collins is briliant as the aloof, introverted, selfish protagonist. An understated, yet powerful play.
So, there you go. Four productions, four great nights out 🙂 Thanks for reading, and if you’ve seen any of the things I’ve written about, or anything new, please comment with recommendations and opinions. Have fun in the snow!