July’s best-reviewed new shows: The Car Man, The Gathered Leaves, and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

We’re looking to the past with our latest pick of the best reviewed London shows, which includes­ impressive versions of two dance classics and a new piece that reinvents the old-fashioned family-gathering play.

The Car Man – Sadler’s Wells, 4.3-star average

Back and scoring fives from multiple pro reviewers is what Siobhan Murphy (Time Out) called Matthew Bourne’s “dirty mash-up” of Carmen and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Luke Jennings (Observer) enjoyed “a noirish tale of sex and betrayal” which “hurtles towards its denouement with unimprovably entertaining velocity”.

Jeffery Taylor (Express) described an “angular, almost brutal dance language” executed by a “superb” company.  Jennings described dancing “low-slung, loose-hipped and fast, with a singing neo-balletic line” which “impels the story with thrilling force and economy”. Murphy agreed Bourne “shapes his narrative with crystal clarity through scintillating choreography… You never doubt an intention… never wonder what on earth is going on.” She detected “an explosive energy (and a sly humour) throughout” with “moments of cinematic stillness”. Jennings said Bourne “ratchets up the sexual tension with practised skill” and Taylor found “Davey’s bathing the stage in a vivid crimson at peak moments of desire… unsettling, but powerful”.

Reviewers saw different leads. Jennings found Jonathan Ollivier’s Luca “wholly believable” while Murphy felt Chris Trenfield had “just the right touch of menace”. Judith Mackrell (Guardian) judged Trenfield “especially fine: his sexual charisma all concentrated in the restraint of his swagger”. Taylor praised Ashley Shaw’s Lana for “cool flow and tight technique” while Murphy enjoyed Zizi Strallen’s “whirlwind of pouty carnal passions”.

As Angelo, Mackrell saw Liam Mower move “from vulnerable sensibility to panicked violence with moving conviction” and Taylor found Dominic North’s “ability to express misery and confusion without a hint of bathos… impressive”. Murphy declared the piece “so tuned to perfection it will be a great ride whoever’s in the driving seats”.

Mackrell praised “vintage Bourne… a supremely and inventively slick entertainment” with “a hard core of emotional truth”. Jennings concluded “The Car Man delivers everything it promises. See it.”

Runs to 09 Aug 2015

The Gathered Leaves – Park Theatre, 3.9-star average

Fairly consistent four-star pro reviews greeted what Henry Hitchings (ES) called “meaty family drama”. Honour Bayes (Time Out) said: “Close your eyes and you could be in the 1930s West End” and Michael Billington (Guardian) felt Andrew Keatley “breathes new life into an old form” having “crafted a humane, deliberately old-fashioned play”. Neil Norman (Express) praised his “fine ear for dialogue” and “deft characterisation”.

The cast was hailed as “excellent”, “strong” and “on top form”. Bayes highlighted Jane Asher as “excellent” and Norman found her “very good” in “an underwritten role”. Most agreed with Billington: “The casting of two sets of real-life parents and children lends an instant plausibility to the family relationships.” He observed “an intuitive mutual understanding” between Asher and daughter Katie Scarfe and also thought William “superbly played” by Clive Francis.

Nick Sampson was highlighted by most. Billington praised his “extraordinary observant compassion”, finding his autistic character “compelling” as “the one figure who tells the truth in a family of secrets and lies”. Norman found the performance “wholly authentic”.

Hitchings praised a “sensitive production” which found the play’s “emotional truthfulness”. Bayes appreciated the modern use of the thrust stage, which “brings the action right to you; sometimes as painful revelations pour salt on old wounds it feels too intrusive, but it… keeps you gripped”.

Billington felt “Keatley accurately pins down the tensions within family life and records a moment of social transition”, and Bayes praised “an empathic portrait of the undulating and continuous nature of clan conflicts”. Norman concluded: “Solid craftsmanship and a real feeling for his characters suggest Keatley’s idols are closer to Turgenev and Chekov than the more fashionable role models of Beckett and Pinter. There’s nowt wrong with that. Fine work all round.”

Runs to 15 Aug 2015


Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 3.7-star average

Another four-star majority greeted what Fiona Mountford (ES) called “the stage version of the daft classic 1954 film”, despite “some of the most dubious gender politics in musical theatre”. Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) also found this “totally un-PC hoe-down re-write” of Plutarch’s Rape of the Sabine Women “thoroughly likeable”.

Mark Shenton (The Stage) agreed, “It doesn’t really bear too close scrutiny” but praised Rachel Kavanaugh’s “easy-going, light-as-a-feather” treatment which “takes the story on its own terms”. Tom Wicker (Time Out) described a “cannily self-aware, Golden Age-evoking Technicolor-hued production, which steers into the skid of all the potential appallingness and emerges with a Looney Tunes sensibility”.

Coveney enjoyed “stunning, balletic choreography” and “constant flurries of movement and colour”. He highlighted “spectacular… axe-jumping, cartwheeling, trestle table-assembling, polka prancing, plank bashing and fist fighting” in the barn scene. Billington agreed: “If ever dance made a musical, it is here”.
Mountford praised “beautiful songs” and Coveney enjoyed the “breezy melodiousness… wit and literacy” of the original movie numbers, but was less fond of the 1970s additions’ “sententiousness, drabness and mediocrity”. Billington felt Kavanaugh made A Woman Ought to Know Her Place seem “less like a crude manifesto than the cry of a man in crisis”.

Mountford declared Laura Pitt-Pulford as “an increasingly notable musical theatre performer”. Shenton found her Milly “radiant, ravishing … combining brassy toughness with vulnerability” and Billington observed “the right dogged determination”.

Shenton thought Alex Gaumond “superbly cast” as Adam, describing “an old-fashioned leading man” with “great voice” and “a commanding presence” which makes Milly’s “immediate infatuation… plausible”. Coveney agreed he’s “too damned nice to dislike”.

Mountford thought this “playful, confident production” was “triumphant”.  Wicker praised “a hyper-realised feel and a strong sense of the show’s bonkers brand of naivety and snigger” summing up “a stunningly well-choreographed sugar rush”.

Runs to 29 Aug 2015