Looking like a million dollars isn't good enough these days.
The most fantasmagorical stage musical in the history of everything
- which is the official subtitle of the West End's new Chitty
Chitty Bang Bang - must do better. This show has got to looklike
pounds 6.2m, for such are its record-breaking production costs
- chitty being the operative word. You can't help sighing at
the innocence of little Jeremy and Jemima - the pre-Second World
War tots in Ian Fleming's motorised family fantasy - as theyassure
their impoverished daddy, Michael Ball's Caractacus Potts, that
he can purchase the rusting old banger they adore for 40 shillings.
The producers of
this show include Bob and Harvey Weinstein (of Miramax) and
Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (of various 007 movies).
So one should point out that throwing money at theatre, mogul-style,
rarely renders it truly magical. It's alsoworth noting that
Fleming' s story teaches us that we don't need megabucks: our
fine four-fendered friend is restored with tender loving care
and elbow grease.
a bob or two can come in handy if you want to get airborne.
Anthony Ward's sets are spectacular and mostly jolly. The windmill
where Caractacus resides amid his cranky inventions is a whirring
mass of Heath Robinsonian cogs, pulleysand pistons. And the
vintage auto is a dazzling beast. I'm not sure of the model
- maybe a Recoupe - but there's a hint of dragon about its silver
pointy bonnet and unfurling wings. And take-off, when it finally
comes, is breathtaking. Hoisted aloft onan almost-invisible
hydraulic arm, the Potts and their travelling companion, Miss
Truly Scrumptious, go for a spin right out over the audience.
Children squealed with delight and the 10-year- old next to
me didn't mind this adaptation's divergences fromthe classic
1968 movie, either.
However, too many
gimmicky special effects are shoved in and the big dance numbers,
though nattily choreographed, stall Caractacus's rescue mission
to Vulgaria, realm of the villainous Childcatcher. The Sherman
brothers' original songs are often merediversions too. Still,
Nichola McAuliffe is having a blast as sneering Baroness Bomburst.
Emma Williams is an assured Truly, and Ball, though anodyne,
is a reassuringly loving father. Jeremy Sams' new book could
do without contemporary quips about Marksand Spencer, but he
and director Adrian Noble inject dry wit to counter sentimentality.
More seriously, they
highlight that Vulgaria is akin to Germany during the Holocaust
- Richard O'Brien's skeletal Childcatcher flaunting a wisp of
Hitleresque hair. Also there are sound modern role models here:
sassy females and happy alternativefamilies. Destined to be
a hit, probably.
Contrary to some
critics' predictions, the RSC hasn't fallen into complete disarray
while Noble, its artistic director, has been otherwise engaged.
The company's conversion of Camden's Roundhouse for a season
of Shakespeare's late romances is thrilling.Inside the industrial
brick rotunda, you discover a towering, rough wood stadium -
like a steep operating theatre or gladiatorial coliseum (with
some promenaders encircling the stage). Matthew Warchus's production
of The Winter' s Tale intelligentlyexploits the space. Anastasia
Hille's excellent Hermione is metaphorically thrown to the lions
when put on trial by her jealous husband, for Douglas Hodge's
Leontes prowls around while she stands chained by her ankle.
Besides such symbolic
moments, the translation of Sicilia to interwar America with
Hodge playing a shorn-headed Mafia-type fits with Leontes' patriarchal
brutality. He goes crazy with intense conviction and Hille is
bitterly dignified even when shakingwith grief. Myra Lucretia
Taylor is also magnificent as Paulina, the housekeeper who fiestily
argues for liberty and justice and haunts about Leontes' mansion
like his guilty conscience.
production goes off the boil. In Bohemia, the next generation
- Lauren Ward's Perdita and Alan Turkington's Florizel - are
bland. The festive Country and Western band can't compensate
for that. The final family reunion, with Hermioneresurrected,
also needs sharper focus to be either full of heavenly forgiveness
or interestingly problematic.
Redemption is on
offer but seems a peculiarly twisted notion in The Night Heron.
Jez Mojo Butterworth's new play unfolds in the not-quite- Godforsaken
fens of contemporary Cambridgeshire. A Byzantine Jesus stares
from a huge photocopied iconostasis,pinned up in the barn where
Griffin and Jess (burly Ray Winstone and scrawny Karl Johnson)
are living hand to mouth. Jess is terrified of demons, egged
on by a local cult leader. Our duo, we glean, are also ex-gardeners
exiled from Corpus ChristiCollege's orchards for some unspeakable
misdemeanour. A menacing lodger moves in: a jailbird calling
herself Bolla (Jessica Stevenson). A savage mugger starts targeting
the marshes and a golden- haired young man, loins swathed, materialises
on the barnfloor. But when the day of reckoning comes, confessions
and lies are so confused it seems criminals survive unreformed
while (maybe) the wrong man dies for others' sins, hanging himself
The Night Heron,
directed by Ian Rickson, is a bizarre mix of the confounded,
the clumsy, and the extraordinarily compelling. Winstone and
Johnson's earthy accents are so broad, the play initially could
be in Double Dutch. You tune in but, ultimately,whodunnit or
rather whodunnwhatunwhy remains murky. The Christian symbolism
grows heavy- handed and the combo of naturalism and crude lowlife
caricatures can be uncomfortable - particularly when Stevenson's
Bolla barks every line like a pea-brained pitbull.
And yet there's a
slow burn here. Butterworth's characters are almost surreally
unpredictable. Though you can spot influences from Orton and
Pinter to Tarantino and Philip Ridley, the plot embraces highly
idiosyncratic digressions (Cub Scouts and poetrycompetitions)
and the tone veers between the comical and the sinister very
Worth a look if not
its weight in gold.
Bang Bang': Palladium, London W1 (0870 890 1108), booking to
28 Sept; `The Winter's Tale': Roundhouse, London NW1 (0870 609
1110), to 19 June; `Night Heron': Royal Court Downstairs, London
SW1 (020 7565 5000), to 11 May Kate Bassett, The critics: THEATRE;
-Is it a bird, is it a car? No, it's pounds. , Independent on
Sunday, 04-21-2002, pp 9.