The damned dame


My walk to the Playground Theatre was dominated by the looming monument of death that is Grenfell Tower. The public inquiry is on-going and far be it from me to promulgate any particular view but for the sake of those who died, the countless others affected, and indeed all of us, let’s hope justice is done and that those responsible for this disaster are punished for what they did or indeed for what they didn’t to protect those who lived in the fated tower block. Apparently, the inquiry will not be looking into the causes until November which seems like an inordinately long time after the event to be doing so.

It took even longer for the misdemeanours of Dame Shirley Porter to be exposed back in the 1980’s in Westminster City Council. However, despite every effort to conceal her malpractice and corruption she was caught red-handed, found guilty of gerrymandering. Put simply she was done for a ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal which entailed dumping homeless families in unsafe tower blocks – yes one of those – while offering cut-price council houses, made empty by the dumping, to mainly white middle-class folk, who having been favourably treated would then hand over their votes to the Dame who had greased their palms.  A super scam, ironically called ‘Building Stable Communities’ – oh how political slogans are recycled, now we have a ‘strong and stable’ government – Porter carefully planned and executed the scheme, got the votes she required and then said nothing.

Gregory Evans’ Shirleymander is a witty and entertaining reveal of Porter’s misdeeds and offers Jessica Martin an opportunity to show off her acting talent. She revels in the blue-blooded naughtiness of it all, appearing in an eclectic mix of outfits befitting of a pantomime dame, a figure of fun who displays shameless conceit with little thought for the consequences of her actions. Evans writes for laughs which he duly gets, the shower of sycophants that surround her adding even more blasé arrogance and hubris, but that somewhat dilutes the seriousness and the balance is too heavily weighted in favour of giggles than gravitas. Director Anthony Biggs keeps it ticking along nicely on a colourful set design by Gregor Donnelly that evokes the period vividly and is backed up by a nostalgic soundtrack which included many of the hits of the 80’s.

They say there ain’t nothing like a dame and the one that was in Downing Street at the time, Lady Thatcher, was a staunch ally. That may explain why Porter, who was levied with a surcharge of £27m, ended up only paying a “full and final” settlement of £12.3m. Always good to have friends in high places but it still didn’t prevent this dame being hoist by her own petard.

Meanwhile Sotira Kyriakides is far from happy…

TriOperas (Peacock Theatre) is guilty of operatic treason. My charges against it are numerous. Firstly, it abridges classic operas crudely making them a parody of what they are. It uses amateurish stage designs which would not pass muster in a bad ‘am-dram’ production. The vocal quality is distinctly dodgy, especially the men, though thankfully it is partly redeemed by a very good female lead in Turandot. There are always far too many actors on stage at one time leading to a shambolic mess. As for the choreography, imagine somebody trying to do a galamathkiano to the music of Madame Butterfly. Finally, the flying acrobatics are farcical. I rest my case and sincerely hope the usually excellent Peacock productions are not tarnished by this abysmal show.

And Gregoriou Bellapais applauds the audacity of adaptation…

Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (Cockpit Theatre) is best described as ‘of the street’ with a subject matter that homes in on messed up folk of all kinds. Tim McArthur’s adaptation is like a musical version of tough love. The fact that it is a woodland fairy-tale does not detract from the weighty theme and Joana Dias provides a set more urban than pastoral. As a result, the characters strut and chat in a manner that would not be out of place in Glasgow or Hackney. I wasn’t taken with the songs which lacked a cutting edge but the actors are all very capable both in creating a posse of believable characters and singing with confidence despite the weakness of the compositions. Particularly strong are Florence Odumosu as a feisty Red Riding Hood and Michele Moran who is a furnace of emotion as Witch. A really good adaptation that deserves a larger audience.

Finally, Matheous Gologeri is bewitched by the crepuscular…

Peter Pan is a fantastically magical start to the season at the Open-Air Theatre in Regents Park, one of those productions that will make you laugh and cry, sometimes within an instant. Set in a French military hospital during the horrific First World War we see the young man who does not want to grow up forced into confronting ageing and death through the vehicle of war. The set, designed by Jon Bausor, is full of invention and playfulness and composer Nick Powell mirrors the design with music that is a mix of favourite nursery rhymes that morph into the militaristic. Beguiling stuff that takes on an extra layer of atmosphere as day turns to night in this wonderful setting.

The whole cast, an ensemble totally in tune with each other, are superb in bringing the story to life with energy, charm and craft. Directors Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel have created a theatrical experience that is rich in emotion and creativity and will move even the most hard-hearted. The parents who grieve for their lost boys, the beds no longer occupied, this is real life, a war not played out on TV screens or video games but one that left an indelible mark on human history. It’s nice to be young but in the end we all return to the earth and this spellbinding production is a reminder that Peter dwells in all of us.


Shirleymander –

TriOperas – 020 7863 8222

Into the Woods – 020 7258 2925

Peter Pan – 0844 826 4242

Barney Efthimiou

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