The Verdict is In
Kelsey's old-style legal hero stands the test of time, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
The Courtroom Drama was once a Hollywood staple giving us timeless classics like 12 Angry Men (1957) Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and The Verdict (1982). The latter starred Paul Newman as Frank Galvin an Irish-American alcoholic lawyer down on his luck and struggling to pay the bills. Galvin takes a malpractice case against a Catholic-run hospital in Boston. A young woman, Deborah Ann, has been left in a permanent vegetative state after a routine breech birth. The case is the answer to Frank’s prayers as it looks like the ‘Pay Day’ he so desperately needs.
The Archdiocese of Boston do offer to stump up a large amount of compensation to keep the case out of court. Unfortunately for the Catholic hierarchy and the god-like doctors who treated the unfortunate Debbie, Frank has developed a conscience and wants justice for her. The case proceeds to court but Frank’s efforts are thwarted and hampered at every opportunity as the high powered and well funded defence run rings around him. The Verdict was nominated for five Oscars – best film, best actor (Paul Newman), best supporting actor (James Mason), best director (Sydney Lumet) and best adapted screenplay (David Mamet).
In the Middle Ground production at the Gaiety the role of Frank is taken on by Ian Kelsey. Fans of Coronation Street will have no problem recognising Kelsey as he played baddie Vinnie Ashford who was charismatic serial killer Pat Phelan’s partner in crime before he was, in turn, murdered by him.
For the first act the stage is split in two with Frank’s office on one side and Irish bar on the other. There are a lot of Irish characters, themes and music in The Verdict but audiences need to be aware that this is Irish-American, or more specifically Boston-Irish, culture. Further this is the Boston-Irish culture from four decades ago. In other words, modern Irish audiences need to park their sensibilities at the door and enjoy the story.
Similarly, The Verdict is now very much a period piece and needs to be treated as such. While the play is set in the early 80s the prevailing attitudes including sexism and racism are straight out of the 1970s (as are the costumes, seeing a man in a three-piece suit with flared trousers is worth the ticket price alone).
Frank’s character is also problematic for modern audiences - the drunken, macho, hero who sleeps on his office floor and cheats on his wife doesn’t play well with Millennials. When Donna, a young attractive waitress, takes a shine to the shambolic man who downs whiskey for breakfast it appeared preposterous to my modern mind. But it transpires that Donna has her reasons. Also, to be fair to Ian Kelsey, he has enough stage presence and charisma to rise above the bluster of Frank and make him a credible character. It is to Kelsey’s credit that despite Frank being anathema to modern tastes you can’t help rooting for him.
Meehan’s Pub, where Frank hangs out when he’s not sleeping on his office floor, is run by Eugene perfectly played by Michael Lunney. Lunney is a busy man on this production as he also plays Daniel Jonathan Crowley MD, directed and designed the production. Kudos to him as he’s done a brilliant job all round.
While Ian Kelsey delivers an excellent performance as the troubled lawyer trying to find salvation and redemption the star of the show is Denis Lill as Moe Katz, Frank’s mentor, father-figure and ex-partner. Moe is originally from New York and Lill has nailed the accent and speech rhythms, while being thoroughly convincing as the aging and ailing man. (I was shocked when I subsequently discovered Lill played Alan, Cassandra’s Dad on Only Fools and Horses. I could recite whole scripts from memory I’m so familiar with the show, but Lill was completely unrecognizable.)
The second act takes place in a convincing American courtroom. While Lill’s accent is spot on the Boston accent isn’t much in evidence but that’s a small niggle (and perhaps, a relief to many). While the Massachusetts drawl may be missing all of the actors do have consistent American accents. As the trial unfolds the tension is palpable as the verdict is uncertain. There are a couple of shocks and surprises for audiences too. Hollywood definitely needs to bring the courtroom drama back. In the meantime, get to the Gaiety.
The Verdict by Barry Reed starring Ian Kelsey and Denis Lill in a full cast of fifteen runs at The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin from 16th-20th April. www.gaietytheatre.ie
Pogo With the Flow at Kids Musical
Madagascar the Musical at the Gaiety Theatre is great fun, but firmly aimed at families with young kids, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
The original Madagascar film was released in 2005 and has been a firm favourite with all ages ever since. So much so there have been two sequels and now it’s on stage as Madagascar the Musical. The plot revolves around four wild animals in New York’s Central Park Zoo – Alex the Lion, the star attraction, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman a hypochondriac Giraffe, memorably voiced by David Schwimmer in the movie. The zoo also contains a group of Mafioso-type Penguins – Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private, who are determined to get to Antarctica.
Celebrating his tenth birthday Marty the Zebra is having a mid-life crisis – he wants to escape the confines of the zoo and run in the open. Marty escapes, with help from the Penguins, and his pals follow him in order to bring him back to the zoo. The animals end up in Grand Central Station, where they unsurprisingly cause chaos. A couple of tranquiliser darts later they all wake up in crates, on board a ship bound for Kenya. The Penguins, have other ideas and hijack the ship to go to Antarctica. During the hijinks, the crates containing the four main characters fall overboard, and are washed up in Madagascar.
The stage production follows the original plot faithfully. The characters are represented using both actors and puppets which is great fun and works exceptionally well. Melman the Giraffe is a mixture of both, but I won’t say more as it would ruin it for audiences. As in the original film, the Penguins steal every scene they are in, thanks to puppeteers Shane McDaid, Laura Johnson, Jessica Bites and Victoria Boden. Not only are they proficient puppeteers but the accents were spot on – and I lived in New York for a long time, so I’m an expert!
2016 X-Factor winner Matt Terry heads up the cast as Alex the Lion and does as good a job as anyone playing a singing lion could do. The real star of the show though, in the first half, is Antoine Murray-Straughan, who plays Marty and is a classic ‘triple-threat’ being able to act, sing and dance. Boy, can he dance! Both Jamie Lee-Morgan as Melman and Timmika Ramsay as Gloria have the great comic timing that these roles demand.
Madagascar the Musical is firmly aimed at families – families with young kids. My son, at twelve while enjoying it was just that little bit too old. The theatre was packed with wee ones – some babies on knees and it was joyful to see how much they were enjoying themselves. Many of the children had Madagascar toys clutched firmly in their hands and a small boy just behind us announced “It’s Alex the Lion!” rapturously every time the character walked on to the stage.
The show owes more to the Panto tradition than it does to Musical Theatre but who doesn’t enjoy a good panto? The sets are simple and bright, but fans will be pleased to know the famous crate scene, when the animals wake up in boxes aboard the ship, is recreated faithfully. All of the characters are visually very colourful in the bold palette that appeals to smallies. Both first and second act are shorter than in traditional theatre but again, this helps keep the small people focused.
Act Two begins with the animals arriving in Madagascar (although they’re all convinced they’re in San Diego Zoo) where they meet King Julien the Lemur who was famously voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen in the original film. Baron Cohen is a hard act to follow but Jo Parsons nails the character and had everyone, children, adults, the soon-to-be-teen beside me, crying laughing. Unfortunately for the rest of the cast while Parsons is on the stage, all eyes are on him. When Julian launches into the song ‘I Like to Move It,’ the audience went wild. Small children were pogoing in their seats. Later when Julian reprised the song the whole theatre got to their feet and danced. If you could harness sheer happiness the energy meter would have burst. There is nothing in this show that could disturb or upset a small child but there are a lot of flashing lights which could affect some little people.
Most of the original songs are fine for the younger audience but two stood out as worth mentioning. ‘Relax, Be Cool,’ got everyone clapping along and Alex’s homage to the magnificence of steaks was a wonderful musical number complete with black and white clad waitresses with bright red curls and, get this, singing steaks!
Having sat through more than my fair share of kid-centric entertainment over the past twelve years I know that some of it is excruciating. Not this. Madagascar the Musical is
genuinely fun for all the family. Just be prepared to pogo!
Madagascar the Musical is at the Gaiety Theatre Dublin from 26th – 31st March. Tickets from EU 26. www.ticketmaster.ie. Tel. 0818 719 388. Email. firstname.lastname@example.org
Motown Magic Reigns Supreme
Motown the Musical is a joyous celebration of one of the most definitive sounds of the Sixties, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
It's a Bucket List dream. See all the stars of Motown live on stage in one place. In 1983 the musicians of Motown reunited in LA to celebrate the first 25 years of the now legendary record label. This is also the starting point for Motown the Musical which looks back at the first quarter century of the label, whilst also telling the story of Berry Gordy, the man who created the brand. Gordy also created the careers of some of the all time greats. Gordy coined the term Motown, short for Motor Town, in honour of the city where the label was founded – Detroit, then the home of General Motors.
The record producer had worked on a GM production line and applied this knowledge to the music industry managing to become one of the most successful African American business owners in an era where some States were still segregated.
Gordy and Motown launched the successful careers of many black artists such as The Supremes, “Little” Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Temptations and of course Miss Diana Ross.
Gordy himself wrote this show and doesn't hold back on the significant role Diana Ross played in his personal life. (To be honest, I think he still loves her.)
The rest of Gordy’s personal life (three wives and eight children) doesn’t feature but to be fair to the writer he doesn't present himself as sainted or perfect.
During the sixties and seventies Gordy faced much criticism from the black community that, while Motown was a black-owned label which promoted black artists, it was run by white men and this is addressed more than once in the show.
But all of this is by the by. While the story of Motown and Gordy's life is interesting the real draw is the music (over 50 Motown hits being sung in full or in part).
That Gordy and his team had an ear for a good tune is beyond doubt and the vast majority of the audience, which was made up of all ages, knew all the words to sing along.
Star-maker Gordy is also a notorious perfectionist and it certainly shows. Motown the Musical goes beyond 'Jukebox Musical' and all the performances - acting, dancing and singing are extraordinary and at no point do you feel like you're watching a 'tribute act'.
The fine details are also spot on, with costumes and sets being recreated in detail from original shows and TV appearances. The costume department deserve special credit – especially with the period outfits as worn by ‘ordinary’ people. All too often in theatre people are clothed in the designer's idea of what that era looked like.
The show also deploys an audio visual display of images, news and TV reports to put events in the context of the civil rights movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam and the rise of the Black Power movement.
One particularly moving scene between Berry Gordy (Jay Perry, who plays a blinder throughout) and Marvin Gaye (a fantastic Carl Spencer) stands out. When Gaye, who was one of the most successful Motown artists, wants to use his platform and music for political protest his mentor insists that he’s just a Pop Star. This scene also contains the sad and prophetic line that Gaye says to Gordy “I have a father.” (Gaye was shot dead on the eve of his 45th birthday by his own father.)
The staging of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles singing You Really Got a Hold on Me in front of a segregated audience is, to my mind, the best scene in the whole show. The music is top notch – as it is throughout the show but this scene is a reminder to modern audiences of how brutal segregation was.
As police escorts on stage start throwing the N-word around like snuff at a wake my 11-year-old child’s jaw literally dropped. He was horrified, as were many in the audience. And despite this David Albury as Smokey still makes the audience laugh.
Finally, Miss Ross. While Jay Perry was astonishing as Berry Gordy most of the audience don’t have a personal relationship with him. Miss Ross though, is quite a different matter. We’ve all grown up with her, her songs and those of the Supremes have been our collective soundtrack. And Natalie Kassanga was her.
Honestly, grown men and women, myself included, forgot that we weren’t in the presence of the Miss Ross. And when we did remember we didn’t care. As the theatre emptied at the end of the night, there was actually some dancing in the streets.
Cirque du Soleil
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
Fear of clowns is such a ‘thing’ that the term ‘coulrophobia’ was specifically minted to explain it. My own coulrophobia is firmly rooted in experience. Bear with me now. When I a very small child my mother took me to the Circus. A large nail sticking out of the bench we sat on ripped a massive hole in my trousers (cords if I remember correctly) and it was sheer luck that the same nail hadn’t torn a large hole in me.
My mother, as you can imagine, was extremely upset. After the show, she went into the arena to have a word with the Ring Master. While they were talking a pair of clowns, were, quite literally, kicking around in the background. Up close their large feet were quite disturbing, but when one of them smiled at me, and I saw his real mouth move in the opposite direction of his painted on mouth, it was game over. Since then I have loathed the circus and found clowns about as funny as being hit repeatedly in the face with a plank of wood.
Cirque de Soleil is not a traditional circus – they’re famous for not exploiting animals, but even at Cirque there’s no escaping clowns. Well, imagine my shock when at Ovo, Cirque’s latest show, the clowns were my absolute favourite thing. Instead of sitting there with a face like setting porridge I was doubled over laughing.
Actually it’s unfair to say the clowns were my favourite thing – it’s impossible to have a ‘favourite thing’ at this show. Ovo is set in the world beneath our feet – between the blades of grass where colourful insects live and love. The story revolves around an outsider, a fly (Jan Dutler) who arrives to the insect community with a mysterious object on his back (an egg, the Ovo of the title). He then falls in love with a Lady Bug (Neiva Nascimento) who has the most fabulous handbag, shaped like a strawberry. But there’s a, ahem, fly in the ointment, a Scarab Beetle also thinks the Lady Bug is the Bee’s Knees. OK, I’ll stop now.
All of the outfits are fabulous, Costume Designer Liz Vandal’s beautiful colourful creations easily identify the various insects. Both the individual and cumulative effect is stunning. The bright green Crickets make a huge visual impact before they even start to move but that’s nothing when it comes to their scene-stealing wall walking. I almost had Vertigo watching and all the while my brain kept doubting what my eyes were actually seeing. The show is full of ‘gasp out loud’ moments and the wall walking is truly jaw-dropping.
The bright red ants perform precision juggling with their feet using large ‘Kiwi Slices’. These look flimsy, but in reality they’re extremely heavy, dropping one could cause seriously injury and yet they are juggled and passed between ‘ants’ in such a seamless and ‘easy’ way that Craig Revel Horwood himself would weep with joy at the sight.
By contrast the ‘Flight of the Butterflies’ performed by two performers clad in white costumes, complete with wings and antennae, is a sensuous sexy dance that combines hand-to-hand ballet, contortion and an aerial flying act. The “pas de deux in which they swoop and land, leap and fly in perfect unison” is a wonderful visual portrayal of love and lust without anyone removing their clothing.
The agility of the performers is nothing short of miraculous. They all push their bodies to the very limit and make it look easy, like they’re made of rubber and have no bones at all. I’ve never felt so unfit in my life – especially when I witnessed a real live human being, quite literally, bending over backwards – from the waist. (Not a word of a lie, I went home and did a few stretches before I went to bed).
The set, like the costumes, is a riot of colour and invention by Gringo Cardia. In general, I’m a words person. I like stories that are laid out for me, with a plot I can follow. With Ovo, there are few words, and where they are uttered they make a huge impact. The show is an incredible experience on so many different levels and I can highly recommend Ovo as a unique and wonderful night out.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
OVO OCTOBER 10 - 16, 2018
AT 3ARENA, DUBLIN
Flying a kite for this most spectacular production
Khaled Hosseini's best seller The Kite Runner soars in this production of Matthew Spangler's stage adaptation writes
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
Where to begin with The Kite Runner? The play was adapted from the best-selling book of the same name by Khaled Hosseini in 2007 before the film version came out.
Ostensibly the story is about two childhood friends Amir and Hassan but their complicated relationship also gives rise to many other issues which are confronted by the drama.
The Kite Runner deals with male friendship, toxic masculinity, the father/son dynamic as well as that of master and servant, friendship and betrayal. Tribalism, religious and cultural sensibilities also feature.
Then there’s also the story of Afghanistan itself how it went from a relaxed peaceful haven to a place governed by dictatorial Taliban, many of whom used the cover of religion to exercise their own inherent hatreds and vices.
Yes, that’s a lot to pack in in just over two hours, and I haven’t even mentioned the immigrant experience in the United States. Given the sheer volume of themes Matthew Spangler who adapted the novel has done a stellar job. However, The Kite Runner is by no means a perfect play – the script could be tighter at times.
Having said that this production is so spectacular in terms of acting, sound and lighting that the imperfect script is overwhelmed by the sheer energy and emotion of the cast. The play kicks off in the early 70s and concerns two young boys Amir (Raj Ghatak) and Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) who are best friends. Amir is the more dominant one, being older by a year, a Suni Muslim and the son of a rich man. Hassan, a Shia Muslim, is the son of Amir’s father’s servant.
Both boys have lost their mothers, Amir’s in childbirth while Hassan’s ran off with a theatre group.
Raj Ghatak who plays Amir is a veteran of stage, television and films having appeared in EastEnders, Dead Set (the precursor to Charlie Brooker’s much acclaimed Black Mirror series) and in Mrs Browns Boys D'Movie. Jo Ben Ayed by contrast has just left drama school and this is his first big role (apart from playing the Easter Bunny in a chocolate commercial).
Both actors exude energy and absolutely own the stage. Their boyish games and kite flying is highly synchronised and put me in mind of the two Gars, in Brien Friels Philadelphia Here I Come. Movement Director Kitty Winter has done a wonderful job managing to sychronise the movements whilst keeping them natural.
While both Ghatak and Ayed give powerful, funny and emotionally wrenching performances, I’d question director Giles Croft choice for Hassan’s voice. Yes, he's meant to be a young boy and the sing-song high pitch may be how some tweenage boys speak but with prolonged exposure it becomes irritating which undermines what is a fantastic performance by Ayed.
Praise is also due to Gary Pillai who plays Amir’s father Baba, a man who goes from great riches to being smuggled out of his home country to doing menial labour in America just to get by. Pillai, is a very subtle actor and as such his work could be easily overlooked.
Less subtle, but that’s the part as it is written, is Soroosh Lavasini who is terrifying as the villain of the piece Assef, who starts out as a childhood bully and goes on to make brutalising and terrorising people his life’s work. I shrank back in my seat every time he appeared on stage.
Assef is responsible for the horrific act that changes the lives of the two fathers and sons at the heart of the story. I don’t want to give away spoilers but I wasn’t the only one with my hands on my face, utterly horrified at the end of the first act.
Apart from the stellar performances of all of the main cast members lighting and sound are an integral part of the production. Charles Balfour’s lighting design is such that it is capable of changing mood, atmosphere, scene or country.
Composer and Musical Director Jonathan Girling has done an absolutely outstanding job. The live music, including having Tabla player Hanif Khan on stage throughout, while enhancing the story and making the play much more of an ‘experience’, is so good it would easily stand alone.
At the end of the play many audience members were in tears. In the bathroom one young woman was absolutely wracked with sobs and being consoled by another girl. While the play is emotionally draining and shocking at times there are lighter moments as well. (But you'd best bring plenty of tissues anyway).
As Amir says at the start, you can bury the past but “the past claws it’s way out.” While terrible things afflict the characters and indeed the country of Afghanistan, the takeaway from this superb production is one of hope for the future.
Sheridan Spectacular as Funny Girl Brice
Sheridan Smith is simply a phenomenal being, with the ability to act, sing and dance, as well as having impeccable comic timing. She is the Funny Girl. Barbra who?
The Sunday Independent
Funny Girl is synonymous with two women. Fanny Brice, the funny lady of the title, the vaudevillian star of early twentieth century Broadway and Barbara Streisand who got her big break when starred in the original Broadway show in 1964 before reprising the role in the 1968 film for which she won an Oscar.
At the risk of raining on Streisand’s parade and irritating her legion of fans, playing Brice wasn’t that much of a stretch. Both women were Jewish New Yorkers who could turn their hand to singing, dancing, acting and comedy. Similarly, both women were known for not being typically “beautiful.” What chance would anyone, let alone, a pretty girl from Lincolnshire like Sheridan Smith, have of outdoing Streisand?
Nothing I can write here can convey just how amazing a performer Smith is. As Brice she is wholly convincing as a little Jewish girl in pre World War 1 New York. Her accent, and those of the rest of the cast, is spot on and I know from New York.
Smith is a talented actress as anyone who saw her on TV in The Moorside earlier this year, or in the title role of Cilla last year will know, but by God can she sing. Once you hear her rendition of People Who Need People you will walk out of the theatre thinking “Barbara who?”.
While Smith can turn her hand to anything – breaking your heart one minute and making you break your heart laughing the next, with all her richness of talent it is her comic ability that stands out beyond all else. Smith has physical comedy nailed and her timing is, quite simply, flawless. Not for nothing, (as Fanny would say) is this called Funny Girl and if the original Brice had half as good the comic chops of Smith then no wonder she was a hit.
While Smith plays Brice, a woman who trod the boards over 100 years ago, to perfection there’s something about the actor herself that harks back to a different time. Occasionally Smith’s personal life hits the headlines and it appears that she is in many ways a ‘Tragic Diva’ in the same mould as Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe - that despite all the talent and acclaim that she struggles to sustain happiness. In Funny Girl Brice is a 'Tragic Diva' and it is Smith’s ability to let the audience see her vulnerability that puts the cherry on top of what is already a barnstorming performance.
Brice fell in love with a bad un – Nicky Arnstein, who in Funny Girl is let off the hook as being more of an eejit than a serious criminal. Darius Campbell (formerly known as Danesh) turns in an impeccable performance as the smooth suave Nick and dusts it off with just the right amount of cheese.
Props too to Rachel Izen who plays Fanny’s mother – the relationship between them is so natural that it’s easy to forget that they are not a genuine mother and daughter.
Fanny gets her heart broken but in the old showbiz tradition the show must go on and so must. As Smith reprises Don’t Rain on My Parade, while Fanny paints on a smile, I challenge anyone to see it and not get goose bumps.
Funny Girl is coming to Bord Gais Energy Theatre follow the link for more details http://bordgaisenergytheatre.ie/index.php/artist/funny-girl