Review: Once, Phoenix Theatre

Editor’s Rating

In general, the vogue for adapting films into stage musicals tends to be looked down upon in musical theatre circles. Ghost, Top Hat, Legally Blonde, Singin’ in the Rain, The Bodyguard, Footloose, Dirty Dancing… the list seems to get ever longer.

The quality of such adaptations varies wildly – and generally, the closer the stage version attempts to remain to the original, the less creative and enjoyable the result for the audience.

Once is the latest movie to make the transition to the stage. One advantage it has is that the film itself is comparatively little-known, despite the song Falling Slowly winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song. But mostly, its staging ignores that origin, and instead treats itself as a standalone piece of art. The result is a sublime evening of warm humour, great songs and heartbreakingly beautiful romance.

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Review: Once, Phoenix Theatre5Scott Matthewman2013-05-23 14:03:58In general, the vogue for adapting films into stage musicals tends to be looked down upon in musical theatre circles. Ghost, Top Hat, Legally Blonde, …

Tales of the City: Barbary Lane comes to Broadcasting House

Now this is exciting: from next Monday, BBC Radio 4 will be airing the first radio adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series. Airing in the network’s 15 Minute Drama slot, which takes up the tail end of Woman’s Hour every weekday, with an evening repeat and weekend omnibus in Radio 4 Extra, the adaptation from novel to audio serial has been done by playwright Bryony Lavery, so it should be good.

No details on the BBC Media Centre website, unfortunately – but Maupin has written a blog post on the BBC Radio 4 website. Tales of the City starts on January 28, with the second novel, More Tales of the City, the following week. I don’t know if any further adaptations are planned, but it would be good if, unlike the three TV miniseries, the whole range could be completed with the cast remaining constant.

UPDATE: More and more people seem to be landing here via Google on a quest to find out the theme music used for both series. It’s called, appropriately enough, San Francisco by Son of Dave:

Yes, Prime Minister, Gielgud Theatre

There are two main challenges that Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn face in reviving and updating their classic television sitcom for the stage. The first is that anybody who knows the original series will have fond memories of Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds in the central roles of Jim Hacker, Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard Woolley. The second is that, in the intervening years, Westminster has changed, with power flowing more and more to the press secretary, as The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker so ably demonstrates.

The former problem is overcome by treating the characters as eminently recastable. Rather than going for actors that emulate the performances that have gone before, the producers have chosen actors who can take the characters off the scripted page and construct completely new interpretations. David Haig’s Hacker is a more hyperactive, physical Prime Minister than Eddington would, or could, ever be. And, as a result, he probably works better on stage, too.

Similarly, Jonathan Slinger’s Bernard Woolley is much more of a naif than Fowlds’. They share the sense of relentless, if not pointless, optimism, but that’s about it.

Sir Humphrey, though, is perhaps the character that remains the least changed. While Henry Goodman does his best to banish thoughts of Hawthorne’s portrayal, the character itself is defined by his rigidity within the boundaries of his role, so it’s perhaps inevitable that for all the 21st century trappings, Sir Humphrey remains essentially exactly as he was in the 1980s – indeed, as he probably would have been at any point in the last several hundred years.

As for the second problem – that Whitehall life has moved on – that’s partly dealt with by relocating the action to the PM’s country residence, Chequers. In the comparative isolation away from Downing Street, all oak panels and bookcases, there is a sense of timelessness – despite the flat screen TVs and 24 hour news – that works in the production’s favour.

The result is a farce that works well throughout. The political satire may aim for obvious targets – European projects derailed by national self-interests, the BBC’s uneasy relationship with government, general confusion on all sides about climate change – but it pretty much nails them every time.

Less successful is the supporting cast. Emily Joyce’s policy advisor is hammily over-played in the first act, although had calmed down somewhat in the second, while Sam Dastor’s Kumranistan Ambassador never quite works. William Chubb’s brief appearance as the Director General of the BBC works better in the brief scene he’s given.

At times, the pace does flag a bit, particularly in the second act. But the bigger problem, post-interval, is one of casting structure. Sir Humphrey is absent for most of Act Two, which unbalances the dynamic and forces Bernard to assume more of the cunning and guile of his mentor than his character should possess.

That said, though, we laughed heartily throughout and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

The top 10 musicals based on movies… that aren’t

Earlier today, I received an email from an online PR company promoting ticket exchange website Viagogo. Tying in with the arrival into the West End of Flashdance – the Musical, the website polled its users to find the most popular movie based on a musical. (Polling users to generate PR? Who would go in for such a thing, really?)

Winning the poll was Legally Blonde. That pleases me, if only because I’m seeing it for the first time in a couple of weeks and am really encouraged by all the positive noises from friends who have seen it before, as well as public sentiments such as those expressed in the poll.

However, there were some curious decisions further down the list. Not least because two musicals in the top ten weren’t based on movies at all – quite the reverse: they were stage musicals later adapted for the silver screen. And one entry in the list has never been a movie in the first place, although a related film has used the same source material…

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All about All About My Mother

So last night I was at the press night for All About My Mother, the Old Vic’s new adaptation of Pedro Almodovar’s classic [film]( My review’s [online now](, and will be in print in next week’s issue of _The Stage_. In the meantime, the condensed version:

> Oh. Dear. God.

It got [three stars in the Guardian](,,2162704,00.html). I’m thankful, really, that I don’t have to allocate stars to productions. Heaven knows what I’d have given last night’s show.

The tragic thing is that in so many ways it was _nearly_ right. I remember hearing when the adaptation was first announced, it made perfect sense: here was a film with many theatrical allusions that could easily work as a small, tightly-contained piece. But what happened instead was an opening out, using every inch of the Old Vic’s stage so that actors ended up having to project to be heard by one another, let alone the audience.

The car crash scene, in which Manuela’s son is hit by a car while running to get an autograph from his favourite actress, was technically a great piece of stagecraft. But, like so many scenes which tried to ape the visual look of the original film, it needed a little tough love to prune it away.

**Update:** My review is [now online](
**Update 2:** My review made it into [The Guardian’s review of reviews](