The Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark Street, two minutes from London Bridge station, is a pleasant Fringe venue with a theatre, art gallery and restaurant. Here you can see the British premiere of Tick Tick Boom by the late Jonathan Larson.
His unfinished autobiographical chamber piece is about a struggling New York composer who is about to celebrate his 30th birthday and is frustrated that his career hasn’t yet taken off. Larson, tragically, died in 1996, aged 35, of an aortic aneurism, a few hours before the final dress rehearsal of his hugely successful rock opera, the awarding-winning Rent.
The charming, witty and tuneful Tick Tick Boom was originally written as a monologue. Edited by David Auburn for three performers, it was premiered off-Broadway in 2001. The 90-minute production, slickly staged by Scott Schwartz, is engagingly sung and acted by Christian Campbell, Cassidy Janson and Tee Jaye. (Box Office: 020 7378 1712.) You would naturally expect that a person who commands the entire British Navy would be the most accomplished sailor who could be found, but that is not the way such things are managed in England. Sir Joseph Porter in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore is based on W H Smith, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who had never been to sea. Audiences on both sides of the Atlantic have always enjoyed the gentle debunking of the Queen’s Navee, the British class system and the flag-waving patriotism ever since the premiere in 1878, when it ran for 571 performances.
Five years ago the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park had a lot of fun with The Pirates of Penzance. So hopes for Ian Talbot’s Pinafore were high. These were quickly dashed by the unimaginative production, the uninspired acting, the very limited choreography, the poor band and the rewritten libretto.
The major mistake was to turn a supporting and underwritten character – Dick Deadeye, the misshapen archetypal Victorian villain – into the star of the show. Poor Gary Wilmot remained resolutely outside the production and was there only to interrupt it and point out the jokes, the anomalies and embarrassingly milk the applause by throwing brooms in the air after the show finished.
The best comic performance came from Sirene Saba as Cousin Hebe, a role which was written out in 1878 because the singer couldn’t act. It might, in the circumstances, have been more rewarding to have built up Cousin Hebe instead. (Box Office: 020 7486 2431.) At the last count there were well over 150 versions of Swan Lake. In Graeme Murphy’s production for Australian Ballet (which I saw at the London Coliseum) Odette marries Prince Siegfried only to find that he is continuing his affair with Baroness von Rothbart, who has her eye on the throne. This particular royal ménage à trois will, no doubt, bring back memories for many people of a royal remark made on television: “There were three of us in the marriage and so it was a bit crowded.” Odette is so distressed that she ends up in an asylum run by nuns where she hallucinates about being a swan. (Why is she hallucinating about swans? This version has nothing whatsoever to do with swans.) She escapes from the asylum to gatecrash one of the baroness’s soirees. (Why does she come through the wall and not through the door?) Odette reclaims her husband and drives his mistress mad, before dashing off to the lake to drown herself. I think it will be generally agreed that for Siegfried to be involved with one woman who goes mad may be regarded as a misfortune, but to be involved with two women who go mad looks like carelessness.
Nevertheless, despite its flaws Murphy’s version, attractively designed by Kristian Fredrikson, is always entertaining. Madeleine Eastoe (wearing a wedding dress whose very long train is cleverly included in the choreography) is certainly a dramatic force to be reckoned with, especially when Odette goes bonkers and throws herself into the arms of the equerries, one by one, willing to have sex with each of them.
Steven Heathcote (who dances in a three-piece suit) is a manly Siegfried. Lynette Willis is the glamourous mistress.