Sleepless (Troubadour Theatre, Wembley)
Verdict: So-so in Seattle
Diehard romantics like me will recall, fondly, Sleepless In Seattle as the Nineties romcom that broke all the rules. It starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as two lovebirds on either side of America who don’t meet until the final scene of the film.
Now the hit movie has been turned into a major new musical featuring pop stars Kimberley Walsh (from Girls Aloud) and Jay McGuiness (The Wanted).
It’s one of the first big indoor shows to emerge from lockdown and the intrepid producers must be saluted for taking a huge risk on a production made possible by daily testing and rigorous social distancing at the venue.
The show is a rebooting of the original production that was cancelled at dress rehearsal stage earlier this year when lockdown started — so they all really have been through the wars.
Hit movie Sleepless in Seattle has been turned into a major new musical featuring pop stars Kimberley Walsh, from Girls Aloud, and Jay McGuiness, The Wanted, (pictured) at the Troubador Theatre in Wembley
But while Hanks and Ryan pulled off the oddball film with panache, I couldn’t help feeling Walsh and McGuiness would have benefited from some of the Hollywood A-listers’ charisma.
McGuiness plays Sam, the dad who moves to Seattle with his son Jonah after the death of his wife.
Walsh is Annie, the Baltimore journalist who picks up Sam’s story after Jonah goes on late-night radio and reveals his Christmas wish is for his Dad to find love again — melting the hearts of the nation.
Gone is much of Nora Ephron’s whip-crack dialogue from the movie, and neither Walsh nor McGuiness have the adorable kookiness of Ryan and Hanks.
While Hanks and Ryan pulled off the oddball film with panache, Walsh and McGuiness would have benefited from some of the Hollywood A-listers’ charisma
McGuiness is more awkward teenager than bereft single parent, while Walsh contrives a toothpaste personality to match her pearly whites.
Mercifully, they can both sing. And Robert Scott’s cool, upbeat Sixties-style jazz score, played by a 12-piece band, comes as a blessed relief.
With funky flute and groovy drumming, it has touches of The Pink Panther and The Jungle Book. I certainly came out humming at least one number: the cracking Now I Know.
Some of Brendan Cull’s lyrics are pretty snappy, too (‘Forget all you know about dating, You don’t need a blazer for mating’ . . . which reminds me the age guidance should really be 12+, and not the published 5+).
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Morgan Young’s production is a little antiseptic, while Morgan Large’s set looks like a Travelodge suite with a backdrop of computer-generated architectural diagrams.
Far from rooting for our heroes, I also found myself wondering if Walsh’s Annie might have been better off sticking with her sappy, hypochondriac boyfriend Walter (Daniel Casey), rather than mooning over Sam.
Luckily three chorus girls liven things up by singing mildly lewd proposals to Sam. And Harriet Thorpe and Tania Mathurin, as Annie’s mum and her tough cookie editor, enjoy a couple of Shirley Bassey-sized belters.
But my favourite character was Cory English as Sam’s buddy Rob, who’s an extraordinary cross between Mel Smith and Keith Chegwin — with pipes like Frank Sinatra!
At the performance I saw this week, though, it was Jobe Hart, as ten-year-old Jonah, who stole the show. The kid has a spirited voice and jazz-hands dance moves, too.
Aptly enough, he and English get the house cheering with the one big showstopper Now Or Never. It’s an anthem that could serve as a rallying cry for the theatrical profession.
An angry rant, but a Fiennes return to action
Beat The Devil (Bridge Theatre, London)
Verdict: Public house polemic
At the Bridge Theatre, on London’s South Bank, Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter (also known as Ralph Fiennes) is taking on the devil of Covid-19 in a new monologue by 73-year-old Leftist playwright Sir David Hare.
The show details Hare’s descent into the underworld of coronavirus back in March. And with Hollywood casting and such a titanic title, I was expecting one hell of a 50 minutes.
But to be honest, we’ve already heard some of it on Radio 4 — and as a complete piece it might even (whisper it) be a contender for Book At Bedtime.
Hare starts by telling us how his earliest symptom wasn’t so much losing his sense of taste as discovering that everything ‘tasted like sewage’.
At the Bridge Theatre, on London’s South Bank, Ralph Fiennes is taking on the devil of Covid-19 in a new monologue by 73-year-old Leftist playwright Sir David Hare
He then fills us in on the night sweats causing him to wake in a lake of perspiration. And the chills, which his wife tries to vanquish with full frontal body contact.
She, incidentally, is sculptor and ex-fashion designer Nicole Farhi, but this was still a little too much colour for me!
In line with Hare’s career as an anti-establishment author, Beat The Devil is freighted with stats about the virus’s horrible impact on the poor and ethnic minorities, as well as predictable pot shots at Boris Johnson and President Trump.
He is particularly keen to lament Covid killing off younger ‘better’ people — although statistics indicate his pity should run the other way.
But what really gets Hare’s goat is Government incompetence. Where there should be contrition, he laments, there is ‘bull****’, though much of his excoriation can be heard down any pub.
Hare starts by telling us how his earliest symptom wasn’t so much losing his sense of taste as discovering that everything ‘tasted like sewage’
It is, of course, terrific to return to live performance and for that I am grateful. But theatre mustn’t be allowed to go the way of The Archers: wall-to-wall monologues.
I even found the Bridge’s social distancing arrangements more interesting than Nicholas Hytner’s staging.
It feels like a Soviet-style social experiment, with phased entry times, temperature checks carried out by a hidden ceiling scanner and an auditorium that looks like it’s had two-thirds of its seats nicked.
Fiennes catches Hare’s wry, urbane, passionate tone with consummate ease. Yet Sir David seems bewildered by today’s political landscape, which fails to conform to his expectations of decency, fairness and reason.
It feels like an epitaph to his 50 years as a radical writer, trying to set the world to rights.