Wednesday, December 3, 2008

London Cries


Adapted from Henry Mayhew's London Labour & The London Poor by Frank McGuinness and Di Trevis. Dir. Di Trevis. Irondale Ensemble Project. (CLOSED)

Irondale Ensemble Project unveils their new Fort Greene digs with an impressive commission from London's Old Vic: an adaptation of Henry Mayhew's classic 19th-century journalism about London's desperately poor citizens, juxtaposed with ironically cheery music-hall tunes of the same period. Critics mostly liked this idea but found the execution uneven at best; a few hailed the fierce performance of Jenny Galloway.

The New York Times B+
(Claudia La Rocco) As it turns out, 19th-century London translates quite well to early 21st-century New York, where all of a sudden lots of people are feeling rather impoverished and grim. Throw in a little scarlet fever and Bob’s your uncle...The star here is Jenny Galloway, whose blustering, charismatic portrayal of the brothel owner, Jenny, contains a dark, sinister undertow that comes closest to conveying the desperation and brutality endured by London’s poor. B+
(Martin Denton) The concept of London Cries is quite brilliant: to juxtapose the songs, sketches, and milieu of Victoria Era British Music Hall with the real lives of the London poor who frequented them...The tension between the harshness of the characters' lives—which Trevis and her company relate unstintingly to us—and the uplift and high spirits of the music hall gives London Cries a unique potency. The cast of 11, headed by British stage star Jenny Galloway (best known to Americans as the definitive Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables), is somewhat uneven. Galloway, as Jenny, is triumphant throughout...Trevis and her movement coordinator Kim Jordon use the company and space beautifully, keeping the show lively and, mostly, tight...London Cries is on its way to becoming a very stirring and very entertaining work of theatre.

New Yorker B
This small musical...would benefit from a plot, a little more dancing, and a glimpse of genuine pain and suffering, to break up the monotony of its many autobiographical monologues. Still, some of the music is strong and catchy, the motley cast, with its less-than-perfect voices and bad accents, is charming, and the set—a huge, spare room in an old Brooklyn church—is grand in an aptly shabby way.

Village Voice B-
(Christopher Grobe) Director and auteur Di Trevis has gathered an intriguing assortment of material, but in the end, London Cries feels a workshop or two short of coherence: It features neither the panoramic scope of a slice-of-society docudrama, nor the clear agenda of a thesis play, nor the organic arc of a dramatic tone poem. In the final song, a sense of purpose emerges, but not one that has been steadily developed throughout the evening.

Backstage C+
(Karl Levett) The creators, Di Trevis (who also directs) and Frank McGuinness, have coupled this bleak but interesting commentary with appropriate songs from the heyday of the British musical hall—songs originally aimed at this same working-class audience. This combination would seem a natural match, but on stage the components often undermine each other, resulting in an odd theatrical tug of war. And the grimmer subjects of sewer workers, battered women, and child prostitution pose difficult problems in finding musical equivalents...This well-intentioned but strung-together piece will still have a difficult time engaging attention on the Old Vic's famed proscenium stage.

Variety C
(Marilyn Stasio) Sentimental to a fault, this superficial treatment pretty much ignores its grim source, finding more inspiration in the formulaic characters and maudlin sentiments of vintage music hall songs...The show’s don’t-take-this-too-seriously aura is established at the outset by the storytelling framework--the stage of a dilapidated music hall theater, executed with more efficiency than flair by house designer Ken Rothchild...The air of make-believe does nothing for the characters...Although they work well as an ensemble under Trevis’ disciplined helming, company members visibly struggle to discover some individuality in their stock roles...As executed on an upright piano with the utmost verve by musical director John DiPinto, the dozens of vintage ditties collected here hold terrific appeal.

NY Times B+ 11; B+ 11; New Yorker B 10; Village Voice B- 9; Backstage C+ 8; Variety C 7; TOTAL: 56/6= 9.33 (B-)

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