Proof, Limelight Theatre, Aylesbury

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Last night turned out to be a pleasant change from reviewing London fringe and West End shows, with a visit to Aylesbury’s Limelight Theatre, which is part of the Queen’s Park Arts Centre.

The original Broadway production of David Auburn’s Proof won the Tony Award for Best New Play ten years ago, and tells of Catherine, who is struggling to come out of her mathematician father’s shadow at the same time as worrying that she may have inherited the mental illness that plagued him for years.

Although the play is set in Chicago, director Nikita Strange wisely has the three actors who play the central family retain their English accents, so they can concentrate on the tensions and the humour that come with familial bonds. It does on occasion mean that the slightest difference in idiom sounds wrong, but it brings more benefits than problems.

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Proof, Limelight Theatre, Aylesbury4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:36:45Last night turned out to be a pleasant change from reviewing London fringe and West End shows, with a visit to Aylesbury’s Limelight Theatre, which is…

Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond Theatre

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After visiting one of Shakespeare’s great comedies on Friday, on Saturday I travelled to Richmond-upon-Thames to see how one of his greatest tragedies fared as a comedy musical.

Hamlet! The Musical is such an intrinsically silly idea that it’s no surprise that it had its genesis on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, first in 2001 and then with a reworked version in 2010. From there, the Royal & Derngate Theatres Northampton have developed it from a 50-minute fringe show into a full hour and a half.

And it’s a hoot, with a cast of six that pulls out every stop to make Hamlet! as funny as possible.

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Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:42:47After visiting one of Shakespeare’s great comedies on Friday, on Saturday I travelled to Richmond-upon-Thames to see how one of his greatest tragedies…

Northern Ballet: Swan Lake, Aylesbury Waterside

I’m not a huge ballet fan, I must admit. Indeed, last night was the first time I’d attended a full length ballet at the theatre, as a guest of the new, rather beautiful, Aylesbury Waterside theatre on its opening night.

I suppose, as first ballets to attend, Swan Lake is pretty usual. And as the first full scale production in the Waterside, Northern Ballet‘s interpretation feels particularly appropriate. Not only is it a show that could not have been staged in the old Civic Centre, but Act I’s gorgeous countryside set worked well with the theatre’s wood-clad interior, while the lake shore setting added an additional waterside resonance.

There have been some tweaks to the more traditional Swan Lake story. Set in an early 20th century land, Prince Siegfried becomes Anthony, who loses his brother to the lake during the ballet’s prologue. As the first act progresses, young man Anthony cavorts with his friends Simon and Odilia.

The romantic triangle at the heart of this relationship is the strongest and most successful part of this production. Anthony and Odilia are friendly, a little flirtatious, but when she moves in for a kiss his sudden recoil embarrasses her. Likewise, when Anthony’s boyish horseplay with Simon threatens to break into more romantic territory, he too is pushed away, the spectre of the lake preventing Anthony from exploring his emotions with anybody – until the swan appears.

To be honest – and this is probably more as a result of my own tastes, rather than of the production or the dancers – the extended sequences with the swans and cygnets tired a little. Compared to the powerful evocation of a love triangle on land, the swan dances contain little plot or emotion. The story, such as it is, seems to be “Look at me! I’m beautiful! I can jump high, but higher if you support me! And look, I’m still beautiful after 15 minutes of dancing!”

As the second act progresses and his parents host a party for Anthony’s coming of age, the focus returns to the Anthony/Odilia/Simon triangle, before a return to the lake in the concluding act which sees Anthony seemingly take a decisive move to join the swans. Again, it’s the emotions of the “humans” that makes for my favourite elements of this production, but I guess that’s again down to my preference for story, story, story.

Despite my own tastes, there’s no denying that the production is beautiful throughout, and I have more problem with anachronistic bicycles than I do with a corps de ballet performing classic routines. It’s a fine production to kick off what deserves – and, given how much the theatre cost to build, needs – to be a successful first season for the Aylesbury Waterside.

Doctor Who Live, Wembley Arena

On television in 1973, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor encountered a travelling showman who entertained his public with a device containing miniaturised versions of intergalactic monsters. The BBC’s new stage extravaganza uses a similar conceit to explain why creatures from Cybermen to Venetian vampires are invading the country’s arenas.

Gareth Roberts and Will Brenton’s script openly acknowledges the heritage of their carnival of monsters. It is let down slightly by their new character, the duplicitous Vorgenson. Starting out as little more than a narrator, Nigel Planer struggles to keep a sense of momentum through a succession of walk-on monster appearances. Men stomping around in character suits gets tired quickly, although the recreation of the terrifying Weeping Angels provides some genuine heart-stopping thrills.

It must be hard for any single actor to hold an audience the size of Wembley in his thrall. Nicholas Briggs manages much better than Planer in his brief cameo as Winston Churchill, but the show only really comes alive when the current Doctor, Matt Smith, interjects via a series of often hilarious prerecorded video sequences.

The real star of the show is the music. Murray Gold’s incidental score for the series is not to everyone’s tastes, but as performed here it mostly works. Some foreshadowing by the reuse of a sixties sound effect as a bassline will delight hardcore fans.

Given Smith’s limited participation, the denouement to the story could not be anything other than a little anticlimactic. Despite its faults, though, it does at least capture much of the charm of the TV series.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, Richmond Theatre

Under Richmond’s magnificent, Matcham-designed proscenium nestles another, more gaudy one. This has the air of a Victorian children’s toy theatre, with its simplified, painted-on swags and crudely-drawn ornamentations.

The effect is amplified once the small theatre’s curtain rises, revealing sets constructed from painted flats and characters ripped straight from the Big Boys’ Book of Wildean Archetypes. There’s the imperious dowager who is the fulcrum of society; the absent-minded vicar for whom devotion to God is not top of his list of priorities; the foppish aristocrat who can’t help but get himself into trouble; and his fiancée, whose only role seems to be the prize the aristo will receive for relinquishing his foppish ways. If the actors had lengths of wood attached to their feet, running off into the wings to be controlled by the hands of giant children, it would be no surprise.
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