Aladdin – Prince Edward Theatre

Based on the 1992 Disney film, Aladdin is a fun filled show with great music. I have a soft spot for the film version as it’s one of the first films I ever saw in the cinema, and may have had a small crush on Aladdin too…! There have naturally been some changes to the film in the stage adaptation but none that were too much of a disappointment. Abu the monkey has been replaced by three friends, as has Rajah the tiger. These changes worked well, and Aladdin’s friends in particular provided some comedic moments. Some new songs have also been added, and I especially liked Proud of your Boy and High Adventure.

Without a doubt, the best thing about the show is the Genie, played by Trevor Dion Nicholas, who was the understudy on Broadway. Robin Williams could not be a tougher act to follow but he succeeded in making the role his own while keeping just enough of Williams’ mannerisms. The staging was also very impressive, particularly in the Cave of Wonders and with the flying carpet during A Whole New World.

My small criticism of the show is that it occasionally felt a little similar to panto when Jafar (Don Gallagher) and Iago (Nick Cavaliere) (also a human rather than a parrot) were on stage. This was the fault of the production rather than the performances. I wasn’t sure of Jade Ewen’s acting as Jasmine and I felt she sang A Whole New World a little too much like a popstar rather than a musical theatre performer. These are only small criticisms however, and although I don’t think it’s as good a show as The Lion King and Mary Poppins, I still very much enjoyed it.

 

The Graduate – Cardiff New Theatre

I have never watched the film version of The Graduate so I saw this play with only a very general idea of the plot. Benjamin Braddock (Jack Monaghan) has just graduated from college and is living with his parents. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life and isn’t impressed by his parents ideas for his future. During a party at home, he is seduced by a friend of his parents, Mrs Robinson (Catherine McCormack), who is also disillusioned with her life.

The set was fairly simple but conveyed 1960s America well, and projections were also used effectively. The soundtrack also helped to convey the period, with plenty of Simon and Garfunkel! All the performances were good but I found the character of Mrs Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Emma Curtis) quite unlikeable, and I’m not sure whether I was supposed to do so! I also didn’t think there was a lot of chemistry between the leads, but overall I enjoyed the production and I will definitely be watching the film soon.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Wales Millennium Centre

The National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a huge success since it opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. It has won Olivier Awards, moved to the West End (where it closes this month), opened on Broadway, won a Tony Award and embarked on 2 UK national tours. I have seen this production a few times, through NT Live and also in London and when it visited Cardiff previously. It is without a doubt one of my favourite things I’ve seen on stage.

It is based on the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, which tells the story of a boy called Christopher, who has Aspergers Syndrome, as he sets out to solve the mystery of who killed the dog next door. One of the clever things about the production is the way that it presents Christopher’s inner monologue. Christopher talks to the audience but his teacher, Siobhan, also reads extracts from the book that he is writing, and there are also a few instances of breaking the fourth wall.

Another innovate element of the production is the way it overwhelms the audience’s senses so that we have an idea of how Christopher feels when he goes outside his comfort zone, such as to the train station or on the tube. Lights, projections and loud sounds are used incredibly effectively.

The ensemble in the production play several different characters such as Christopher’s neighbours and passengers on the train or tube. In this production Lucianne McEvoy played Siobhan, and Scott Reid was fantastic as Christopher.

The fact that I’d seen the play before did nothing to wane my enthusiasm for this production. Very funny but also emotional. Brilliant.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead – Old Vic

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is not an easy play to summarise! Two minor characters from Hamlet question what they are doing, why they are there, and where they are going. Scenes from Hamlet are slotted in throughout, and in between their philosophising the title characters play coin tossing games and word games, while becoming increasingly aware of their own mortality, especially due to their encounters with a group of travelling players.

I’d been curious about this play for a while and I was not disappointed. It is witty, at times moving and very funny. The staging for this production was quite bare, with mostly just a curtain across the stage used for scene changes, or sometimes as a half curtain as a divide between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the action of the story of Hamlet.

The performances were all strong. Daniel Radcliffe was bewildered and likeable as Rosencrantz, the quieter of the pair. At times I felt that he didn’t project his voice as well as the other actors – this is only a very small criticism as I didn’t miss anything he said, and it may just have been that he was meant to be the quieter character, or that he was struggling a little with his voice that day! Joshua McGuire was also very good as the livelier, bossy and more talkative Guildenstern. David Haig was excellent as The Player, the impresario of the travelling group. The comedic timing was perfect by all throughout.

I not only thoroughly enjoyed the production but the play itself. It’s very clever, especially as Tom Stoppard was so young when he wrote it. I look forward to seeing it again at some point, as I feel it’s a play where you notice something new each time you see it, but I think this production could be difficult to beat.

The Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett

Having seen the film version in the cinema, I was interested to read Alan Bennett’s original writing about the eccentric woman who lived in her van on his driveway for 15 years, until her death.

This novella is taken from a selection of Bennett’s diary extracts during the time when Miss Shepherd was such a presence in his life. As you would expect from Bennett it is well written, descriptive and humorous. Despite naturally feeling frustrated with Miss Shepherd at times the compassion and affection he felt for her is evident, and there is a more than a touch of sadness when she has passed away. There are some elements of a social commentary in his writing, but in his usual witty way.

The only thing that lets this novella down is the fact that it is so short. I felt the film gave me more of a chance to get to know both Miss Shepherd and Bennett, and I would imagine the play did the same. However, it is still well worth a read.

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Swan Theatre

The Two Noble Kinsmen is Shakespeare’s last play, which he is believed to have co-written with John Fletcher. Two friends, Palamon and Arcite, are put in prison, and they both fall in love with Emilia who is the sister in law of their captor, Theseus.

This was a very well staged and lively production. I particularly enjoyed the entertaining bickering between Arcite (Jamie Wilkes) and Palamon (James Corrigan) while they argued over Emilia. However, I didn’t feel this was a very strong play, and I found the sub-plot which involved the jailer’s daughter falling in love with Palamon and later going mad to be just a poor version of Ophelia in Hamlet, despite being well acted. It is quite a rambling play, without that much action. However, as always the RSC’s productions are of such a high standard, and I am glad to have seen it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Despite being a huge Harry Potter fan, my initial reaction when I heard that J.K.Rowling was collaborating with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne to write a new Harry Potter play wasn’t excitement. I think I felt that the original series was enough and I was happy with how it ended, so I was worried that anything new would be a disappointment. However, once the previews for the stage production started and the word spread that it was an amazing spectacle, I felt I had to read the story. I did consider waiting until I’d seen the play on stage before reading the script, but as it would appear that I’m going to have to wait years to be lucky enough to get a ticket I decided to go ahead and read it!

I’ve read a few reviews of the script and I feel that many people forget the main purpose of a play which is to be performed, not read. That’s why many fans of Shakespeare say that his plays should be seen by school pupils before they are studied. Of course, reading plays can also be enjoyable, but the playwright isn’t writing for the script to be read, but performed. In the world of Harry Potter, where so many of the events depend on visual effects and scene changes, of course things are going to be missing when reading the script. I feel that the Cursed Child has been unfairly criticised in many ways because of this, but that doesn’t mean that I was completely satisfied with it either.

I liked the development of the original characters in general, particularly Harry’s struggle with being a father having not had a father himself when he was growing up. I was disappointed that Ron was reduced to just a comedy character though, and I felt sad that he was working in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes (although I guess he wouldn’t necessarily want to work for the Ministry when his wife is the Minister for Magic…) I felt the writing let him down as a character. I did however love the friendship between Scorpius and Albus, and their bond due to living in the shadow of their famous parents. I also loved Scorpius’ humour.

I didn’t feel that the plot was particularly strong, with a lot of emphasis on time travel, however again this could be as it’s in the format of a play. The stage directions are very simple, but this would give an actor or director more freedom and I would imagine that these were developed and possibly adapted during rehearsals.

I wouldn’t say I felt disappointed exactly on finishing the play, but I think I felt that something was missing, which I believe is that I wasn’t reading the story in the form in which it was intended. I have no doubt that it must be an incredible production to see on stage, and I hope that I’m lucky enough to get a ticket one day.