Phil Willmott travels through theatreland...
I’m dividing my time between the UK and the States at the moment and the quality of London Theatre is so much higher this autumn.
As well as the superlative productions of the Norman Conquests at the Old Vic and Creditors at The Donmar Warehouse Theatre, you should also check our Ralph Fiennes in Oedipus at the National Theatre.
This is an uncluttered, very dramatic telling of the famous myth in which, over a mere hour and a half, a great king discovers a horrific secret from his past that destroys him. This ancient Greek play is the Great Grandfather of all thrillers and Fiennes is wonderful at registering every twitch of the suspense and horror. He’s supported by a fantastic cast as the enemies and friends who help him uncover his fate.For another fine, but very different evening get along to the Hippodrome, off Leicester Square, for the burlesque circus, La Clique. A variety of sexy, finely toned, muscled acrobats entertain in a range of stunts that really show off their appeal including a German hunk who practically has sex with a bathtub of water as he swings in and around it on ropes that only add to the eroticism. There’s some great male and female comics too and everything has a delicious undercurrent of sleazy sex.
Meanwhile on Broadway my favourite show is still Mel Brook’s musical, Young Frankenstein. It hasn’t been a hit with the critics but it delivers Broadway spectacle and big broad comedy that cuts through the jet lag.
The new musical 13, written by star composer Jason Robert Brown who created the show Parade, recently at London’s Donmar, is also fun. It captures all the angst of being 13 and trying to fit in and is performed engagingly by a teen cast. Although it’s no West Side Story it’s good enough to ensure high schools all over the world will perform it – which was probably the objective.
The new Sondheim musical Road Trip, formally called Bounce, is cleverly directed by Brit, John Doyle, who’s production of Sweeny Todd was a hit in London and New York. But even he can’t disguise that there’s little to engage with in this tale of two trickster brothers in turn of the century Florida – despite the fact that this latest incarnation of the show includes an openly gay love story, the first Sondheim has tackled in his long career.
One of the most exciting things about New York is talent spotting. So many little bars have songwriter showcases and I was delighted to discover the music of a very talented performer called Chris Wade (pictured). His haunting songs really capture the loneliness and complexities of urban life in a song cycle called 29 Lives that deals with life approaching 30 just as effectively as Jason Robert Brown deals with life at 13. It’s all simply but cleverly staged by up-and-coming director Stephen Brotebeck, whose work is creating quite a buzz at the moment, and features a terrific group of young singers led by a dashing Erik Sisco and the quirky Amanda Stocker.
Phil Willmott has directed over fifty productions across the world from Shakespeare & musicals to cutting edge new writing. He is founding Artistic Director of his own multi award winning theatre company The Steam Industry, incorporating The Finborough Theatre (under the Artistic Directorship of Neil NcPherson) and the London's annual Free Theatre Festival at the open-air "Scoop" amphitheatre on the South Bank.http://www.philwillmott.co.uk