A Mad World, My Masters,
by Thomas Middleton
(a.k.a. Guys and Dolls in Soho)
If there is a chance to get to only one show this summer at Stratford, make it this one. Middleton is not as well known as he should be, and this is his ultimate masterpiece—a wickedly satirical and utterly hilarious farce. It is also a production that makes it clear that you could consider Middleton to have been the Damon Runyon of 1605 in his approach to satire. The director, Sean Foley, has come up with the idea of updating the action from Soho (the London lowlife areas of 1605) to Soho in 1955, and the parallels not only work, but give the show the feeling of a Jacobean Guys and Dolls. As in that show, the louche underworld characters are treated with a kind of indulgence and we see everything from their viewpoint.
With some wonderfully evocative and edgy jazz music from the era being played and sung throughout, the evening feels like an intelligent and provocative musical; and there really are an awful lot of laughs.
The performance I attended was rollicking fun and the audience was captivated from the moment the excellent Linda John-Pierre sang her bewitching opening number. With a little modernization of some of the more difficult Jacobean language and of some of the characters’ names, the points are made that much sharper. I especially like the protagonist being named Mr Littledick (not to mention the hypocrite, Mr Penitent Brothel), excellently played by Steffan Rhodri and John Hopkins, respectively. The text is remarkably clear and accessible in this production. I came out wondering why the play is performed so rarely.
I think they should transfer A Mad World, My Masters to the West End and then Broadway and that it could have the same success as the National Theatre’s update of A Servant of Two Masters (now known as One Man, Two Guvnors). I resist picking anyone out for special praise because everyone in the cast was giving a peak performance; the staging amounts to a brilliant piece of ensemble work.
This is Sean Foley’s debut at the RSC, and I expect to be returning to see his work as often as I can. Mad World: in repertory, Stratford’s Swan Theatre til 25 October 2013
A Kick-Ass Chorus Line
When it opened in February of this year, a facsimile edition of A Chorus Line hit the Palladium road running, as it were, and got sensationally positive notices everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s not doing sensational business, even though it’s very good.
So if you’re in London and fancy seeing as-near-as-damn-it to the original production, then you should be able to get in at half price or less! They are keeping the show running through the tourist season and then sending it on tour all over Europe in September.
I saw A Chorus Line all those years ago when it opened off-Broadway in a small house at the Public Theatre, but I don’t remember its specifics well enough to be able to say point by point how this production differs or is fitted to the new cast. All I can say is that it doesn’t have the dazzle or, indeed, the surprise value that it did in 1975; and much of the stuff that was original with this show—like dealing with homosexuality openly in a musical—is now common enough not to shock or distress as it could when the show ran originally. The things that made people gasp with surprise and recognition and with the excitement of breaking taboos just can’t do that any more. Nor can sitting in the Palladium give you the sense of proximity to the stage or intimacy that the original production did before it transferred to Broadway for its .
That said, it is still a very appealing show, best seen live because of the energy and impact of the dancing. The cast is uniformly excellent and Leigh Zimmerman deservedly won an Olivier award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in March. That means she beat out the boys too, because in the Oliviers there is only one supporting role award, not one for each sex.
Zimmerman’s movingly acted, nuanced and dazzlingly sung-and-danced performance as Sheila is memorable. She conveys the tough carapace that Sheila has grown through years of disappointment as well as the vulnerability that still exists underneath. Scarlett Strallen is a poignant Cassie. In both cases you wish the parts were longer, the back stories more fleshed out. And Cassie’s solo routine, a long and demanding piece of choreography, is a true show stopper.
The entire cast keeps on giving: I liked Victoria Hamilton-Barrit, Rebecca Giacopazzi, and the Zach of John Partridge, for example. A Chorus Line has been faithfully restaged for this London run by two members of the original cast, Baayork Lee and Bob Avian, who were also members of the whole, fascinating lengthy workshop process that developed A Chorus Line in the first place. And though the Palladium is somewhat too large for what was originally done as an intimate show off Broadway in a small theatre, this theatre is a legendary venue in itself and some of the fun is simply being enveloped in a place which has hosted so many wonderful vaudeville stars and Royal Variety performances.
A Chorus Line stands up to repeated scrutiny despite my quibbles. The score by Marvin Hamlisch is a fine one, with superb lyrics by Edward Kleban, the whole show building inexorably to that famous climax when everyone you have gotten to know as individuals over two hours suddenly returns glitteringly attired and melts into the anonymity of the chorus line with the unforgettable number One.
A Chorus Line runs at the Palladium Theatre in London until 31 August 2013 and then starts its European tour. Catch it while you can! One of the tempting offers for the show is at: Best price tickets