Twilight enchantment

We begin this week with Sue Efthyvoulou welcoming in the al fresco season…
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid was a childhood favourite. Once on This Island (Regents Park Open Air Theatre) is a re-working of that classic tale set in Haiti. It deals with the age-old problem of peasant girl Ti Moune meeting a boy, Daniel, (Stephenson Ardern-Sodje) from a different social stratum, a union that prejudice forbids, despite her believing that the gods have initiated this liaison believing this is her moment after “waiting for life to begin.” The show by Lyn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) is a delightful mix of eclectic music, colourful costumes, beautifully lit by Jessica Hung Han Yun, creating a feeling which makes you believe that in the end love can conquer all. Note to self – no spoilers here!
It is, in modern speak, a toxic mix of the underlying impact of colonialism and the conversational inferno of race and colour. She is dark and he is light. Director Ola Ince thankfully avoids overplaying these elements and allows the story within a story scenario to unfold sensitively and entertainingly. Woke folk may not approve but I was enchanted and occasionally bewitched, especially when designer Georgia Lowe revealed some stupendous effects, evoking fire and water. There is also a joyful spirit about the whole cast, who portray a range of characters and animals as well as providing sound effects that are both evocative and tuneful. Gabrielle Brooks is absolutely wonderful as Ti Moune, her appearance out of a wedding cake with golden confetti summing up the impact she has.
The icing on that cake is the moment that day turns to night and this venue takes on a magical aura. Cue huge gasp of pleasure.
Meanwhile Sotira Kyriakides finds pleasure in drag…
Miss Hope Springs (Wilton’s Music Hall) is the drag creation of composer and lyricist Ty Jeffries. With a 1972 sequinned pantsuit, eyelashes “built for snow drifts” and radiant blonde hair she bristles with confidence. She delivers a performance of hilarious ballads with accompaniment from her sequinned organ. Dodgy tales of interesting ‘encounters’, feather boa chic, it is an evening riddled with scandal and risqué humour. From the “Ritz to the Pitz” and a suitcase stuffed with her dreams.
Her backstories of being a Vegas showgirl who ends up living in a camper van in Dungeness are a hoot, as is the story of travelling for work at a West Berlin club only to find it partitioned through the middle by the Berlin Wall. Told that she was meant to be in the East Berlin part of the club, she scales the wall in full costume, to be met by a tall dark gentleman named Hans Zoff. This cabaret is Wunderbar!
Finally, I return to a familiar train station. In 2008 I saw the Kneehigh Theatre Company’s production of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter at the Empire Haymarket in London. A musical adaptation created by director Emma Rice, it was both cinematic and theatrical, a memorable experience. Last week the lucky denizens of Guildford got to see the latest incarnation of the show at The Yvonne Arnaud by the New Wolsey Theatre directed by Douglas Rintoul. It remains a production full of innovative storytelling with a multi-skilled cast of actor/singer/musicians who vividly bring to life the story of married housewife Laura and her chance encounter with a doctor, Alec, at a train station. An affair of the heart that ends in tears. The station staff are getting up to their own shenanigans bringing humour and merry musical interludes to the ongoing passion and pain of the serendipitous station lovebirds. The design is realistic, playful and immersive with video footage cleverly used on a translucent curtain, a reminder of the plays’ filmic origin. An encounter to treasure.

Once on This Island –
Miss Hope Springs – run complete
Brief Encounter – on tour

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