Matt Wolfe, International New York Times, Douglas Hodge discussed on Monocle 24: The Globalist


Now it's time for a theater roundup with Matt Wolfe, who's theater critic at the international New York Times. Good morning. Thank you for coming all the way in. That's not sure. Always so much nicer to do this face to face. And of course we are here just around the corner from where we are going to see the opening of a stage musical version of a 101 dalmatians. I couldn't be more excited. Yes, this is a show that's been talked about for a very long time. There was a previous version unrelated to this version in the states, but this is something that's been very intriguing because Douglas Hodge, who people will know better as an actor in plays and television and musicals. He's not in this, but he's written the music and lyrics. And I think in the musical theater world, where was interested in somebody new comes along as a composer. So interesting to see what he's like off stage. And then of course, who can follow in the footsteps of Glenn Close and Emma Stone and whoever else is Cruella de Vil. The first thing to say about this is leave aside any thoughts for the Disney film. It has very little to do with that. It's much more connected to the dodie Smith source book. Which is set in regions park. Yes. So it's in the perfect perfect location. And it's spotty, I think, to use an image appropriate to the canines of the title. But when it works, it really works. And when it doesn't, it sort of just gets by on charm and goodwill. The unalloyed triumph of it for me were the puppet designs of Toby olier, who's a puppeteer who first shot to attention with warhorse, a decade or more ago, and since then he's become top of the tree. And what he has to do here is to live for her a 101 dalmatians. And I didn't count them in Georgia to see if they're all there. But there is an incredible feeling through sleight of hand. Especially by the end that wherever you look on stage, tiny little dalmatians are coming up everywhere. And it's really, really thrilling at taps into the inner child in all of us. And Hajj, his score is very nice so that the sound mixing at the theater doesn't always give it full to you. There are lots of bits where I couldn't quite hear what the lyrics were a bit muddied. But there's a wonderful song in the first night called bury that bone, which I think could become a standard. It's a song that you can imagine kind of performers doing in nightclubs and things like that. The core of de ville is Kate Fleetwood, Tony nominated actress married to Rupert Gould who runs the almeida. And she's very, very good. I must say. The character has been conceived very modern as a really evil doing social influencer. So she talks in terms of hashtags and boosting her popularity online. Some of that gets a little much, you think does everything have to be pointed now can it not just be? But she really does carry the day in a production that is a bit bus over busy and bustling. My guess is they will continue work on this and take it further. It feels like it feels like it wants an onward life. And this is the first step. Yeah. Absolutely brilliant. Sounds excellent. Now let's talk about Stephen Sondheim, of course. He died last autumn age 91. And there's a concert for him. Yes, his death was devastating to me. I'm working on a book about performing his material. And so, I mean, inevitably he was going to go, but I still couldn't believe it when it happened. The day after American Thanksgiving. Anyway, this was a one off concert on Saturday night, which actually is the title of the very first show song I've ever wrote, which was called Saturday night. So it seemed the perfect night on which to have this concert. It was at the kodagu hall, but it was a one off except that the talent in it are people we are going to see again and again and again. And what was lovely was the mixture of familiar Sondheim names, rosalie Craig, Janie Dee gene Russell, all in top form, with people you might not associate with Sondheim, Jamie Parker, who was Harry Potter on the West End. Daniel Denise, the opera singer, Courtney Bowman, who was just on the West End and legally blond. And it was a real tribute to his work, courtesy Alex Parker, who's a phenomenal young conductor and his luminar orchestra, which is devoted to the musical theater repertoire. And it raised the roof, and I think we're going to be seeing a lot of tributes to sonho coming up. Because truly, his work is ageless. Absolutely. As is Chekhov's. Oh yes, I absolutely love this production. So very controversial. It's a very Marmite production. People have either given it one star or 5 stars. We're talking about the seagulls. Yes, I'm in the 5 star camp. It's an extraordinary reworking of Chekhov's 1896 play the first of his four great plays at the end of his life. And what's weird about it, although to me fascinating about it is has no props. It's presented in a kind of chipboard environment very claustrophobic and the actors just sit in 7 plastic chairs or more actually 11 or 12 that get rearranged as the production continues. It's not just sitting at random. It's all been very carefully rehearsed. But the results are in it is that you feel like you're watching an x-ray of the play. You're getting right into the sinew and the muscle of how these tortured people who were writers and artists self diluted lovesick, heartsick, the usual chuck of terrain, but everything is a raw nerve. And the result is that it feels very, very immediate, and the cast into your varma, Tommy's Harry is the wonderful Daniel monks in Australian performer based here now. They're just magnificent. And Nina is played by Nina, I was 7 for the last Amelia Clark in her West End debut, she, of course, is best known from Game of Thrones. But grew up apparently her father worked in the theater so she grew up around theater, and she's, she really is radiant. That's the word that gets thrown around a lot, but in this production, she genuinely is. You feel like there's a light emanating from within her. And that works within the show because her character is so hopeful and optimistic, even when everyone else around her is kind of shutting down themselves. She's still questing for something. And finally, on to something very topical right now, this is the almeida play patriots. Yes, I like this play very much. It's a bit talky, and you have to really want an evening of words. But the words are interesting and the topic is, as you say, incredibly pertinent, it's about a bar spare. The billionaire who, of course, died in exile. They now think that his death. There was an open verdict at the time, but the play very much suggests his death was a suicide. And Tom hollander plays that part very well. And you get a look at the Russia power elite, starting in the 1990s. And the takeaway performance though of the night for me was will keen as Vladimir Putin. And it's obviously been written by Peter Morgan, who created The Crown to suggest that the Putin then and how we got to the Putin now. So if you want some inkling of where we've got to in the current day, here it is. And keen gives remarkable performance that makes you understand this guy who was with the KGB work

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