Saturday, 9 July 2016

Shadows on the Stage: People, places, things

Through the Mill
dir-scr Ray Rackham
with Helen Sheals, Belinda Wollaston, Lucy Penrose, Harry Anton, Tom Elliot Reade, Amanda Bailey, Carmella Brown, Perry Meadowcroft, Rob Carter, Don Cotter, Joe Shefer
Southwark Playhouse, London • 6-30.Jul.16

This inventive new play weaves together three periods in Judy Garland's life to tell her story. It's superbly written and directed, with a very strong cast. The three lead actresses are excellent, evoking the star rather than mimicking her. Penrose is the most magnetic as the teenage Judy in the late 1930s, being pushed into showbiz by her mother (Bailey). The buoyant Wollaston plays her at 29, on the eve of her 1951 comeback concert in New York, with some steamy support from her manager Sid Luft (Anton). And she's played at 41 by the edgy, kinetic Sheals, straining against the TV network as she makes her 1963 variety show. The three periods seamlessly weave amongst each other, allowing the Judys to sing together on a series of her most iconic songs, clearly building to a goosebump-inducing rendition of Over the Rainbow.

Barbu: Cirque Alfonse
dir Alain Francoeur
with Antoine Carabinier Lepine, Jonathan Casaubon, Jean-Phillippe Cuerrier, Genevieve Gaulthier, Licas Jolly, Genevieve Morin, Francis Roberge, Milette Jolly
Wonderground, Southbank • 15.Jun-25.Sep.16

Energetic and very sexy, this riotous old-style circus centres on a team of muscle men who engage in a series of acrobatic stunts that are genuinely jaw-dropping. They throw each other into the air with abandon, and are accompanied by three women who are equally tough (and a lot more bendy). Each act is cleverly designed to build to a big climax, often with some tongue-in-cheek innuendo, sometimes including a spot of nudity. And it's the warm bond between these hairy men in tiny speedos that makes the show thoroughly involving for the audience. Meanwhile, the clownish old man in the group finds his own resonance amid the physical outrageousness. A lot of fun.

dir-scr Claudio Macor
with Alexander Huetson, Gary Fannin, Nic Kyle, Lee Knight, Bradley Clarkson, Emily Lynne, Christopher Hines, Kristian Simeonov
Arts Theatre West End, London • 29.Jun-23.Jul.16

It's perhaps not so surprising that this true story has never been told before: it's about a Danish doctor who performed horrific experiments in Nazi concentration camps, but was able to escape justice with the help of British diplomats. Set in 1940 Copenhagen, the play centres on young artist Nikolai (Huetson) and his boyfriend Zack (Kyle), an American stationed at the embassy. Homosexuality was legal in Denmark at the time, but the occupying Nazis had other ideas, arresting Nikolai and handing him over to Dr Carl Værnet (Fannin) for a brutal treatment to "cure" him. Writer-director Macor cleverly combines the real events with various strands of drama, finding hope and love even in a terrifying situation. It's a bold approach that would perhaps play better on a larger stage. The tiny Above the Arts space gets rather crowded, obscuring the solid work of the cast. Fannin is the standout, adding texture to his villainous character, while Clarkson is riveting as the conflicted SS general in charge. And Huetson and Kyle beautifully provide a strongly emotional centre to the story.

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