Review: Girl from the North Country


Image via London Theatre Guide

I’ll be honest: I really really wanted to see Mosquitoes. I queued twice to try to get tickets. But I was denied the two Olivias (sob!). So I went to the Tkts booth intending to maybe see Hamlet but there being only obstructed view, I decided to go with Girl from the North Country. Advertising worked: I had seen that poster everywhere. Besides, the trip had picked up a musical theme somehow so it fit.

What a cast! Shirley Henderson, Ciarán Hinds, Bronagh Gallagher, Ron Cook, Jim Norton, Sheila Atim, Arinzé Kene. Of course, the underlying strength of Dylan’s songs had to count for a lot too: and then there was the script and direction by Conor McPherson.

For me, it just didn’t work. There was so much that seemed like it would be right: the Great Depression setting, the diverse cast of singers, the potential for drama inherent in the songs. The performances were a knockout: the songs were wonderful to hear in a completely different way. Thoughtful interpretations of old favourites — though I could have done without the bros next to me singing along with Jokerman. Hearing Dylan’s songs in a new way that was more bluesy than the usual Broadway show tunes style made them a new experience. The cast, especially Atim, brought the tunes to life. All of them were wonderful in the songs and the arrangements were innovative and interesting without feeling like they were going for deliberate novelty. The band was tight!

The script on the other hand — ugh! When you start out the play with a character introducing and setting up the scene, then saying ‘but I don’t come along until later’ — well, you’ve started out on the wrong foot. Theatre should throw you into a world, make it live. I’m hoping this is a work in progress because it definitely feels like one. The ideas are there but I didn’t believe even one of the characters. They felt like plot points. It’s to the credit of the stellar cast that they poured themselves into these characters. I felt for the actors but I never much felt for the characters.

Everything about it felt anachronistic. There’s so much here with potential: the economic hardship, the precarious difficulty of being a carer — Henderson’s character seemed to be as ‘crazy’ as the plot required at the moment though she wrung a good bit of sympathy out of this difficult woman, while the characterisation of the apparently autistic boy felt too much like a plot idea that never came to life — and the racial tensions which are brought up and then kind of sidestepped. I realise in a musical people might want to avoid getting too dark but seriously, it’s the Great Depression. You’re going to have to embrace the dark.

But I seem to be in a minority here, so see it for yourself and tell me what you think.

Review: The Light Princess


You can count on the National Theatre to offer interesting projects and imaginative stagings, so I was delighted to hear they were doing a musical with Tori Amos. Of course The Light Princess was so long in development that I had missed the news that it finally opened! Fortunately a fellow writer posted on it, lamenting that she could not get to London to see it and I got a ticket at once, knowing I would not regret splurging on this performance.

The play is based loosely on George MacDonald’s Scottish fairy tale of the same name, which tells the tale of a princess cursed to have no gravity in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Amos and her collaborator Samuel Adamson turn the tale into a very modern one that touches on serious issues like environmental devastation and cynical drives to war, but the story really centers on the conflicted messages for girls in modern culture — the push toward frivolity, the scapegoating and victimisation and the sheer terror about their sexuality.

But it’s done with magic, so it seldom feels like a heavy-handed message — in fact, it soars. Director Marianne Elliott has done a fantastic job with her cast and the music and musicians are, of course, superb. You can’t imagine any less from Amos. The puppetry and aerial effects are a wonder. The four acrobats who make the princess float are so effortless and integrated to the visuals that when they switch to wires during her dance with the prince, it takes your breath away because all at once she seems to really be flying.

The cast shines. Rosalie Craig has already won Best Musical Performance in the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards this year for her portrayal of Princess Althea, and you may have seen Clive Rowe belting out a song from Guys & Dolls during the National’s 50th celebration — simply stunning both, but the whole cast is amazing and treads a very fine line between the mythic and the modern, swinging from grief to soaring joy with such skill.

I want this on DVD so I can watch it over and over, and give it to friends who couldn’t get to London to see it and I hope it comes to Broadway, too. Oh, sure, there are quibbles here and there but on the whole I was absolutely delighted with the look, sound and thrill of it. I even bought the programme which has a bonus essay from Marina Warner about the power of fairy tales. And when we came out of the matinee, all of us floating above the lobby carpet, we heard popping sounds and rushed outside to see the Lord Mayor’s fireworks. Magic.

See the full cast & crew and remember these names.

Interview with Tori on the development of the production.

In Other News:

The Fox Pocket series now has a video trailer.

I’m over at Savvy Authors talking about how outlining can save you time and frustration and speed up your writing.

I’m pleased as the proverbial punch by the kind words from Vince Zandri on my Chastity Flame series:

“Londoners (and the world) beware! How can you not be drawn into the fire by a beautiful but lethal dame by the name of Chastity Flame? K.A. Laity has been proving for quite some time now that her noir prose ranks right up there with the likes of Meg Abbott, Dorothy B. Hughes, and Sara Paretsky. A Cut-Throat Business only further solidifies her standing as a contemporary master of the genre.”