Wicked – Gregory Maguire

I am a big fan of musicals, including Wicked, and wanted to revisit the novel that inspired the musical.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West does not have the same plot as the musical, but the same starting premise. Elphaba is given a stronger destiny, and Galinda more socially constrained in the novel. Not to mention the stronger political tones with genocide and murdering dissidents.

This is a full story of a life, starting with a difficult childhood, and an escape to university which is more complex than expected, and full circle being reached again with family links. She has life-long friendships throughout this in the flawed but loving Nanny and Boq, her partner-in-crime. But fundamentally it is about the life of a woman who faces discrimination and battles it to try and be a force for good in the world.

Maguire’s reimagining of Oz manages to be magical and political. He weaves together complex characters with a range of motives, each of them flawed, but so many driven by a higher purpose or destiny.

And of course, it being Wicked, we need a video. I’ve had a good few weeks of concerts recently, and have heard Defying Gravity at both Idina Menzal’s world tour and at an orchestral performance sung by Ashleigh Gray.

Persuasion – Jane Austen

With the second centenary of Austen’s death there are many events going on to commemorate her and celebrate her works. This runs from appearing on banknotes to plays and other cultural events. I went to a modern “retelling” of Persuasion at the Manchester Royal Exchange, which was both true to the original language and hilarious in its modern interpretations. I confess I didn’t recall a foam party in the text.

Having seen the play (at short notice) I then returned to the book, to take in the depths and layers that a play with limited cast and a short timeframe couldn’t include. Cousins are added, the full detail of who Mrs Clay is and a bit more detail that makes the courtship make more sense.

It is of course beautifully written, humerous in places and shows Anne Elliot manoeuvring her position to navigate through life and find a suitable future for herself.

Have you recently revisited any classics?

La Boheme – Manchester Palace Theatre

I had never before seen an opera, and felt this was something I should do. When I was browsing this season at the Manchester Theatres, I was glad to see La Boheme on the programme. As a Rent fan since my mid-teens, I expected that the themes and plot of La Boheme would be accessible, and make the whole opera experience easier.

Still I didn’t know quite what to expect when we got to the theatre. In some ways an opera in a language I knew better than Italian may have been a better call, but I now know just how much of Rent is taken from La Boheme, including throwing artistic material into the burner during the first scene, a flitation through candle-lighting, dancing on the tables and Mimi overhearing the male friends discussing her health as the setup for the final scene takes place.

I’m not sure I would ever go to see another, but I am glad this was my opera, and would recommend anyone to give it a try.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) – Chorley Little Theatre

Totting up beforehand we realised we had watched about half a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays between us, although that did count the three times I have seen Romeo and Juliet as one. But of course we have had exposure to the rough plot of many more.

We laughed out loud at this. The actors were lively and the script did not run through each play formularically, but instead tackled them in vastly different manners. From a cook show to a rugby match through to just skipping between main scenes, each was satisfying to watch. The two of us ended up on stage for the audience participation though, with my husband having to scream as I ran back and forth.

Good customer service from the Little Theatre too, who came to find us in the interval and ask if we wanted the same seats next year (a definite yes from us).

 

Kindertransport at Chorley Little Theatre

Play number four of our 2016/17 season ticket was Kindertransport, this year’s serious drama. It was indeed very serious, an intense play with very few light moments. Of course this is to be expected from the subject matter, and certainly we weren’t expecting a light-hearted comedy.

We live through Eva’s trauma and recovery, and how that effected herself and her relationships within her family. There were so many points where I had tears rolling down my face, as recovery seemed impossible. The actors were very powerful, in what must have been an emotionally tiring play.

In terms of angles on the impact of war theme, this stood in sharp contrast to Pals, which had been a story about men’s friendships, as instead a story about women’s family bonds. My only sorrow is that the playwright ended it where she did. It could easily have turned more towards a reconciled note at the end, although of course that would lessen the impact.

Funny Girl – Manchester Palace Theatre

Don’t tell me not to live
Just sit and Putter

Sheridan Smith’s interpretation of Fanny Brice’s rise from Brooklyn musical halls sparkles with energy. She easily handles the big numbers in this show, as well as the emotional depth of how she handles her personal life.

Life’s candy and the sun’s
A ball of butter

But then it is a piece from its own time, with some rather dated views on the roles of women and men within relationships, which are held up to be right and proper. But at least we establish that Fanny won’t let anyone rain on her parade.

Don’t bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade

I couldn’t work out how the set was moving until I saw this video (with the Orchestral Overture) of how it was built. Fascinating to watch for someone like me who belongs firmly in the audience.

Cleopatra – Chorley Little Theatre

Its panto time! For this edition of using our Chorley Little Theatre membership, we also took the little lad, because panto is really for the children after all. He asks a lot of the time when he can go to the theatre again, and when something suitable for under-fives comes up at any vaguely local theatre I try to take him. For this one he was bouncing off the walls with excitement.

This panto was written by the local director, for “Little Theatres” to put on. It stuck faithfully to all the tropes, but with a story we hadn’t already seen a hundred times. There were only two little criticisms, firstly that the Evil Asp was too scary: my reception-aged child was genuinely terrified and he wasn’t the only one hiding on a parent’s knee in the audience. He didn’t want to watch the second half until we explained that we needed to see Cleopatra defeat him and we were all going to shout “Booo” even more loudly to let him know we weren’t really scared of him. And secondly, the sing-along was very complex with an unfamiliar tune (instead of a minor rewording of a nursery rhyme/carol) so even I struggled to follow and the young audience didn’t stand a chance.

But we still had a fabulous time. The chorus were great: doing complex dance routines and singing well known songs. Everyone liked shouting “Ali Ali Ali!” although at the end my son reported that a man and a lady and two ladies had got married. Apparently he didn’t quite get the cross-dressing part! I didn’t have the heart to tell him that one of those two ladies was supposed to be a man…

And in the little one’s own typing:

BEAUTIFUL  WEDDING AND DRESS AND THANK YOU FOR MAKING THE MONSTER GO DOWN!

Edit: I’m told the song is a One Direction song called “History”. I am clearly not down with the kids.

Breaking the Code – Hugh Whitemore

After seeing Breaking the Code at the Manchester Royal Exchange, there were a few monologues that I wanted to read at leisure. Unfortunately the script was printed in 1987, so copies of it are hard to come by and expensive. Thankfully though, Lancashire Libraries have a good collection of published scripts, so I requested it and it came from the reserve stock (not on the shelf anywhere in the county).

This is of course a script, with light stage directions from the 1986 Guilford production. As a stand-alone read it isn’t much, but it just added that ability to reflect on specific sections of the play that I had enjoyed, such as this  tiny segment of one of Turing’s monologues:

Hilbert took the whole thing a stage further. I don’t suppose his name means m-m-much to you – if anything – but there we are, that’s the way of the world; people never seem to hear much of the really great mathematicians. Hilbert looked at the problem from a completely different angle, and he said, if we are going to have any fundamental system for mathematics – like the one Russel was trying to work out – it must satisfy three basic requirements: consistency, completeness and decidability.

How often do concise explanations of the fundamentals of mathematics like this make their way into any cultural piece of work, much less a play that fills the house?

Hair the Musical at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Prior to seeing this I knew that Hair was a 1970s musical that significantly changed the direction of musical theatre, but not the storyline or any of the songs. So seeing it was due to run in Manchester, I booked tickets to go with my Mum – who had been considered too young for even the LP when it first ran.

Set in a hippy community during the Vietnam war years, we were taken on a journey through anti-war, but mostly anti-draft protests, free love and drug usage. I was most drawn into that political debate on war and freedom – and how strong fears and passions merged with mob-like behaviour with the social norm becoming to refuse law whilst also (allegedly) refusing to harm others.

I was blown away by the score and the quality of the cast and music: helped by Hope Mill Theatre being a very intimate venue: with only around 100 seats and most of those only two rows deep, a lot of the time we were eye to eye with the actors and there’s nothing to make you feel part of the story than a moment with eye contact, linked hands and someone singing right to you.

The cast sang well and were convincing, and the music was rocking: my favourite part was at the end when we were all pulled up to dance on the performance area once the actors had all taken their bows.

Breaking the Code – Royal Opera House, Manchester

Regular readers may have noticed I’ve been on a bit of a theatre binge lately. This is mostly because going to the theatre triggers more theatre because I find out about other interesting things I need to see. But this Manchester Science Festival play was my first time in the Royal Opera House in about a decade: its a good place to go, a fully “in the round” (or heptogon/octogon) space where the action is surrounded by the audience.

Breaking the Code is of course quite light on actual code, and much heavier on Turing’s personal life and relationships. There are however a couple of lovely little maths monologues. I was most puzzled however by the line:

“You haven’t heard of Hilbert. Its a great shame”

Because to my mind, everyone knows of Hilbert’s Hotel. A wonderful place, although it is somewhat tiresome to always be moving rooms. But then probably we can’t assume the whole audience does!

However even knowing what was going to happen next, the ending is still somewhat out of the blue. The problem seems to be simply that there was too much material between mathematics, personal life and legal trouble to be fitted into a two hour play and therefore something had to give.

It was very well produced in the Royal Exchange: a simple system of horizontal and vertical light bars were moved up and down to form room outlines, with the only other set pieces used being a few chairs and a single table that were moved about to form different rooms. Gave a real sense to movement between scenes, even if poor Daniel Rigby (playing Alan Turing) hardly left the stage for the whole play.