By Peter May
Emma Rice may have ruffled some feathers during her time as artistic director over at the Shakespeare’s Globe, but here she resurrects one of her older shows, which became a debut hit ten years ago. This production of Noel Coward’s infamous movie from 1938 excels at being a beautiful spectacle, merging live acting with big screen special effects. The show suits the intimate venue at the Empire Cinema in Haymarket very well and converting the cinema into a wide fronted plush stage is quite a feat one should imagine too.
The story remains largely faithful to the film but instead of the main romance in the frame we are introduced to three colliding romantic rendezvous as well. Most of it is played out around the same railway station involving a street vendor and a waitress, the sexual desire and sometimes-unrequited love between a café owner and a security guard, then finally the love affair of unhappily married leads Alec and Laura.
Like many women of her class at the time, Laura has a rather mundane set routine, when every Thursday she goes shopping and then to a matinee. However, while waiting at the station one day on the way home, the handsome doctor Alec solicitously helps to remove a piece of grit from her eye. From then on the two begin enjoying each other’s company but soon worry their casual relationship is developing into something much deeper.
The two main lovers are ably played Jim Sturgeon and Isabel Pollen, but the show’s real highlights come in the array of bit-part eccentrics who inhabit the world Emma Rice has created on stage. Beverley Rudd’s portrayal as loveable dimbo Beryl is a particular delight as she turns to her comic hand to remedy various situations. A special mention for musician Jos Slovick is warranted, as his rendition of Sail Away’s ‘So good at love’ is excellent particularly accompanied with some thrilling choreography. This is a quirky play loaded with plenty of amusing moments and will certainly appeal to anyone who remembers the original film.
Until 2 September at the Empire Cinema, Haymarket
This is Elvis
Before his untimely death Elvis had stunned audiences across the globe with his raw musical talent and charm. To this day he is never far from the highest yearly earner list as he still continues to rake in the cash with residuals. Things were not always smooth running for the King of Rock though as this musical set in 1968 tells the story of Elvis’ fall from grace. He’s made one too many movie stinkers and lost touch with his roots.
It is the likes of The Beatles and Tom Jones who have knocked him off his perch. Things soon change however when he scores a TV show contract with NBC. His original plan to sing Christmas carols is scrapped in favour of him being given the chance to sing whatever he likes with the help of a few of his friends. Backed by 10 talented musicians and three backing singers, its not long until Elvis’s fears of a failed comeback are unwarranted, they soon raise the roof and the whole thing is a huge success. All the hits come thick and fast including Heartbreak Hotel, Suspicious minds, All shook Up, Love me Tender and Blue Suede Shoes plus more are all here to get you swaying in your seat. There is a searing Bridge over trouble water and a funky version Beatles Get Back plus a gospel Oh Happy Day number to mix things up too.
The second act follows the road Elvis takes when his agent gets him a glitzy lucrative deal playing shows in Las Vegas. The audience witnesses not only how excellent the Vegas show was but the sad exploitation which led Elvis to desert his dreams and just follow the dollar signs. The award winning and internationally renowned Steve Michaels is certainly not your typical dodgy Elvis personator, he is superb as the King. He strikes a remarkable facial resemblance and sounds and moves just like him. This isn’t just another jukebox musical but one that sheds new light on the king and guarantees to send you home with a song in your heart and a skip in your step.
New Wimbledon Theatre until Sat 17 March, then touring around the UK