August 2013: Boats and Goatherds

It’s silly season, but for those of us not rapt by the sport, there are a few productions likely to repay investigation this month (particularly if you have a penchant for goatherds…) 

Best of the Month: August 2013


The Sound of Music, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (4.0-star average)


Rachel Kavanaugh’s production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s oh-so-familiar musical had six of seven pro reviewers split between three and five stars.


Most felt compelled to declare personal feelings about what Paul Taylor (Independent) called an “(at times glutinously) sentimental story” but which Michael Billington (Guardian) judged “tougher-than-it-looks”. Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) observed of this production: “There are a few camp moments, some cloying ones and an occasional note of competent blandness, but there are also many pleasures.”


Alexandra Coghlan (The Arts Desk) pinpointed its appeal for most: “Director Rachel Kavanaugh has no agenda to push, no revisionist opinion to offer here, contenting herself with crafting an affectionate and sincere revival.” Only Jenny Lee (FT) complained “the movie casts a long shadow over this production”.


Louise Gooding (What’s on Stage) proposed “it’s the songs that matter”, praising both the direction and the ‘extremely high’ standard maintained by musical director Stephen Ridley. Minor quibbles aside, there was general approval for all performances and for the songs selected from the original show.


All, including Lee, admired the “spontaneity and charisma…crisp proficiency and note-perfect delivery” of Charlotte Wakefield’s Maria. As Coghlan put it: “Passionate to a fault, bursting with nervous energy and good intentions, she has her audience from her first notes.” There was similar general approval for the children, who Taylor called: “…an ideal product of brilliant drilling and bubbling zest”.


Billington, among others, welcomed back the original show’s darker politics. He wished for more political tension in the party scene, but admitted: “…everything else about the show feels right”. Reluctant fan Charles Spencer (Telegraph)declared the production “the finest I have ever seen” and Coghlan warned: “Get out of the way or prepare to be reduced to a giddy, ecstatic wreck.”


Runs to Sep 7. Click here to save to your Playlist.



The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and His Sexy Wife Chipo, Tricycle (4.0-star average)


Zimbabwean comic Denton Chikura’s tale of a narrator’s desperate quest to build the ultimate African fable around an unworldly goatherd garnered a respectable 4-star average from 4 pros.


What Henry Hitchings called “an impish summer pantomime,” was variously lauded as “original and ambitious”, “riotous” and “mad”. New writer Chikura, as Suzi Feay (FT) put it, “leaves no cliche unstoned in his witty satire of African stereotypes from western film and theatre”.


Feay praised Lucian Msamati’s “fast and furious” direction and Hitchings welcomed his “keen eye for the absurd”. Some aired reservations about the pace of early scenes, hackneyed comic devices or confusing story structure, but all were won over by four strong performances.


Georgia Blake (What’s On Stage) explained:

“The extremely talented cast are charming and polished and look like they’re having the time of their lives. As the narrator, Don Gilet is jaded, charismatic and a perfect foil for Ery Nzaramba’s naive yet dignified Nhamo. Tanya Fear plays Chipo as so much more than a sexy love interest and it’s impossible to root against Nyasha Hatendi’s hilarious villain.”


Daisy Bowie-Sell (Time Out) was impressed by how “Chikura cleverly gets us to consider the way cultural identity in both Britain and Africa has changed” and Hitchings judged the piece “noisy, silly and undeniably great fun”. Blake concluded: “Interesting, challenging and absolutely hilarious. A total joy.”


Runs to Aug 24. Click here to save to your Playlist.



The Boat Factory, King’s Head (4.0-star average)


More direct in appeal, writer and star Dan Gordon’s elegy to the Harland & Wolff Titanic Shipyard in Belfast received 4 stars from each of 3 reviewers.


This is a two-hander in which a wide range of lesser roles are also covered by the leads. There’s plenty of praise for the actors’ “masterful performances” and Gordon, who “touchingly” portrays shipworker Davy, is described as “genial, solid” and “a reflective, soulful everyman”, while Condron is lauded as “versatile and funny”.


Vicky Ellis (What’s On Stage) described the production: “A tea-coloured map of the shipyard is the simple backdrop to two metal frames on stage which serve as the scaffolding the pair clamber up”.


“The stunning, sometimes dangerous [shipyard] is conjured for us by an excellent script with detail and lyricism, composer Chris Warren’s soundscape of seagulls, boat horns and hammering tools and Philip Crawford’s tight direction.”


Of the performances, Daisy Bowie-Sell explains: “Gordon and co-performer Michael Condron weave and hang from the set…as they act out the many colourful characters Davy meets…The performances are full of physical comedy and the duo move seamlessly from one character to the next”.


All seemed entranced by a piece Henry Hitchings called “a bittersweet picture of friendship and at the same time a vision of industrial decay” and the others hailed as “formidable”, a “gripping tour de force”.


Runs to Aug 17. Click here to save to your Playlist.