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Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York)

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) is agreeable enough – it’s rather sweet actually.

Set in New York, this festive caper is far from a work of art, but it’s a superior musical comedy, well written by Jim Barne and Kit Buchan and directed tactfully, by Tim Jackson.

First produced in 2018 in Northampton as The Season, reimagined last year at London’s Kiln Theatre, this upbeat show is now running at the Criterion Theatre, London until 31 August.

What holds this musical together is the warmth supplied by the two performers. Brit Dougal (Sam Tutty) has flown to the Big Apple for a 36-hour trip to attend dad’s wedding (whom he has never met). New York barista Robin (Dujonna Gift) is sister of the bride, his new step aunt. She has a great voice and an excellent counter to Tutty’s excitement. 

It is all good fun. Played with even more conviction it could be great fun.

Imagine a Richard Curtis movie combined with A Christmas Carol, and you get the general picture. Yet there is a sense here the creators are doing something more interesting than just adapting a popular movie for nostalgia. 

Jackson’s production and suitcase set and costumes by Soutra Gilmour ushers us into the syrupy world and skilfully allows the songs to seem part of an extended conversation. Honestly, I didn’t like the set at all. But that’s that. 

It seems churlish to grumble when so much of this show, with its entertaining book, hits the mark.

Tutty’s motor runs a little fast. As an actor, he has a singular smartness that takes the form of speed; he’s always a little ahead of everybody, and this quicker responsiveness makes him more exciting to watch. His grin could melt stone, and he and Gift are a magical pair. 

There are charming numbers about online dating, and a drunken night of ice-skating when the couple go rogue with the groom’s platinum credit card, “hitchin’ a ride on the American Express”. Most memorable is Tutty’s tender, tear-jerking song-warning to eager Dougal that, like the father’s in classic Christmas films, fathers “always seem bigger and better from farther away”. Poignant. 

Anyway, our emotions rise to meet the force coming down from the stage, and they go on rising throughout. The end is subdued. It would have been better with the last quarter lopped off. 

As I sat in the Criterion Theatre watching middle-aged men and women alike wiping away a tear, it was evident that, for all its flaws, the musical had indeed delivered.
The tears are the tokens of gratitude for the spell the production has put on the audience.

In short, a feel-good show that captures magic of New York City without exploding the concept, I suspect Barne and Buchan’s likeable musical will have a long life.

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) runs until 31 August 2024

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For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy writer and Director Ryan Calais Cameron’s vision is bold and unapologetic, weaving together a tapestry of vignettes that oscillate between introspection and explosive catharsis. 

Inspired by Ntozake Shange’s 1976 work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Calais Cameron’s play opens with six young men: Tobi King Bakare, Shakeel Haakim making his professional debut, Fela Lufadeju, Albert Magashi, Mohammed Mansaray and Posi Morakinyo. 

This is a memorable piece about Black masculinity and Black life in Britain, the wounds and crises of class conditioned by the background weather of race and identity. The nature of manhood is one of Mr. Calais Cameron’s chief concerns.

It’s an entirely unique vision and wrongfoots us from the start. Exhilarating and emotionally rich exploration of masculinity, mental health and the six men’s relationship with black history. The production’s emotional intensity is all the greater for the fierce restraint that the actors—and the characters—display.

One is passed over by the girls playing kiss-chase. Another is subjected to a “routine check” by police in Hackney. There’s the one who accuses his educated friend of being “whitewashed” as he tries to fit in. This was exciting, unnerving, bristling with youth and volume. 

The crucial thing is that this play – now on its second West End run – is urging people to look hard at these profound issues around human behaviour, and really think about what makes people who they are. 

Here, too, the entire ensemble’s acting is elegant, emotional, and superb in all its impacted pain and ongoing struggles. The combination of artistry and emotional directness in this play is overwhelming to me.

Anna Reid’s fluorescent playground set and costume design is terrific. The music — hip-hop, R&B, astute classical sound design and composition by Nicola T. Chang — is both surprising and perfect. 

Lighting wise, Rory Beaton paints the stage not in the gritty, neorealist tones expected of such streetwise stories, but with the rich textures and saturated colours of a waking dream that uniquely mixes music, movement, storytelling, and verse.

Overall, this is a provocative piece of theatre that delves deep into the complexities of the black male experience. With raw honesty and poetic flair, the production navigates themes of identity, mental health, and systemic oppression with an unflinching gaze. 

Red Pitch, a piece about three Black teenagers first seen at the Bush, is running up the road at the new Soho Place theatre. Watching this at the Garrick Theatre I noticed how racially and socially mixed the audience was compared with nearly every other West End show. 

But we’re starved of these narratives in the West End and Calais Cameron’s raw drama showcases why they are so hugely important.

Considering this started life at the 80-seater New Diorama in 2021, it’s a stunning achievement but also proves theatre can flourish on the small scale, by commissioning fresh, interesting work that doesn’t rely on expensive production.

Late to the party, I know. Alas, I doubt that I will see a better play in the West End this year.

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is at the Garrick theatre, London until 4 May

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Faith Healer

Faith Healer at Lyric Hammersmith is a poignant exploration of faith, deception, and the blurred lines between reality and illusion. Rachel O’Riordan’s immaculate production transcends the stage to deliver an emotionally stirring evening, both competently staged and beautifully spoken.

A lost showbusiness world is conjured through stirring monologues, hauntingly delivered by Declan Conlon, Justine Mitchell and Nick Holder

Thematically, Faith Healer grapples with weighty existential questions, exploring the knotty nature of faith, the limits of human empathy, and the search for meaning. Brian Friel’s bleak 1979 play unfolds through four simmering monologues delivered by three characters: Frank, the travelling faith healer; his shellshocked wife (or mistress), Grace; and his chatty manager, Teddy. (The only thing that all three characters agree on is what route they took into Ireland).

What to make of Frank? On good nights, he is a saviour. On bad nights, he’s a fraud.

At the heart of this luminescent production is the exceptional cast, who breathe life into Friel’s richly drawn characters. “As a young man I chanced to flirt with it and it possessed me,” Declan Conlon’s Hardy says, warm, lilting, direct, eyes widening theatrically at that word ‘possessed’. Grace, played with boozy raw emotion by Justine Mitchell, captures the heartache and resilience of a woman grappling with love and loss. And Teddy, brought brilliantly to vaudevillian life with wit by an excellent cockney ‘dear heart’-ing Nick Holder.

It’s all about the story that demands the total attention of the audience and gets the performance of their lives from the actors. Elsewhere, Grace allows herself to let in certain memories of Frank, “like a patient returning to solids”.

Colin Richmond’s smoky cracked earth set and costume design and evocative lighting by Paul Keogan creates an atmosphere of introspection, the non-linear structure of the play is handled with attention to detail, with each overlapping monologue building to create a complex narrative. A test of our faith in what we see and hear.


Through the lens of Frank’s dubious gift and the characters’ fractured relationships, the play invites us to ponder the ways in which we construct our own realities and the lengths we will go to hold onto our beliefs. The riveting play struck me as a masterpiece: one in which Friel wrestles with the artist’s dependence on the unpredictability of inspiration, and at its deepest level the play seems to be exploring the mystery of creativity itself, as if Friel were attempting to come to terms with his own unreliable genius.

While I have your attention, I want to pick up on Kate Kellaway’s Guardian review of Faith Healer

“Nick Holder is a terrific comic turn as Teddy, Frank’s cockney manager. He is a drab, drunk, Humpty Dumpty of a man in a slovenly waistcoat, but never more than a belly laugh away from pathos.”

The thing that really irked me was Kellaway cruelly comparing a performer to ‘Humpty Dumpty’. 

Yeah, wow. I think an apology is in order, Kate. 

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Opening Night

THE joy and the pain of writing about theatre is that, after a while, you realise you’ve seen almost everything theatre has to offer.

Please forgive any sense of over-indulgence, exaggeration or deja-vu that accompanies the following announcement, but I think I may just have watched the best worst musical of all time.

“I’ve been in the theatre all my life and I still don’t know anything about it,” cries one character. Well, quite.

After a few minutes of Opening Night, I began to get that depressed feeling, and, after a half hour, felt rather offended. 

In the West End, cynicism and pessimism are natural bedfellows. Do we really need another piece of musical theatre about sad actresses?

The show includes an immersive segment in which Sheridan Smith’s character, Myrtle, collapses in a drunken state outside the stage door with the scenes projected onto screens inside.

There’s so much going on – flashbacks and crosscutting – that you’re never allowed any peace. Why? To keep you from getting bored. It succeeds in that, but the effect is nerve jangling.

Something odd happened during Opening Night, which is based on the 1977 film of the same name, with music and lyrics by Rufus Wainwright, on Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

One minute the star Smith was quietly contemplating how to ‘make magic out of tragic’.

The next, a dubstep backing track had kicked in and Smith was murdering ghost girl Nancy (Shira Haas), – who doesn’t exist – with a lamp. 

At which point — and I make no apology for this reaction — I exploded, with laughter, not just because the scene itself was unintentionally very funny, but I’d also noticed the entire row in front of me had left during the interval. 

Admittedly, it could’ve been even more mortifying if Cameron Mackintosh had popped out from behind one of the doors and joined in on backing vocals.

You could also describe it as “so bad it’s good”, but that would underestimate the scale of this one massively. 

I hated act 1. I left the Theatre delirious. 

Van Hove sets up promising situations and then the pay offs are out of step. The show is full of bits of dialogue that have lost what they connected with, character relations that have become disjointed, scenes that dribble off, so after the first 30 minutes or so the production loses momentum.

In the story, Myrtle, played by Smith, is having a nervous breakdown after the death of one of her fans, the very image of her younger self.

Various men letch over her. And so, it continues. A visual atrocity with an unnerving use of creepy physical intimacy, and a tired use of video footage. 

And, no, technically it’s not actually a musical, it’s a very po-faced play with jazzy music. Smith’s work doesn’t hold together here, but how could it? 

Opening Night is so epically, wonderfully, bloody awful it’s occasionally brilliant. 

Still, the cast are seriously talented, and they saw it right through to the bitter end and then, like trained psychopaths, carried on the curtain call as if nothing untoward had happened, cheerfully clapping along with no coordination and telling us: “You gotta make magic out of tragic.” 

This is clearly not just my opinion. Because I want to make it clear I am laughing at this show, not with it. One can have a fairly good time laughing at Act 2, but it doesn’t sit too well as a joke because the people on stage are being humiliated and underused. (I didn’t really enjoy seeing Sheridan Smith making a fool of herself)

The 16 credited producers clearly haven’t noticed what they’re doing, though, as they’ve spent the preview period chopping and changing this from an incoherent shambles into a dystopian Funny Girl

Without Smith the piece is extinct.

Someone really should’ve had a word here and said: “Ivo, darling, loved your A Little Life, but Sunset Boulevard did all this with more style.” But they didn’t.

This is not to deny that the actors do a good job. I thought Hadley Fraser tried his best. 

Yet, for all its skill, I found myself admiring Jan Versweyveld’s lighting more than relishing drama.

But look, when Van Hove goes wrong, he goes laboriously, painfully wrong.

Anyway, Opening Night is, at least itself: and has become more like a weird cross between Zorro – The Musical and Merrily We Roll Along — with zero joy or musicality. 2.5 wretched hours of dissonant play-within-the-play madness. 

Opening Night is at the Gielgud theatre, London, until 27 July

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The Hills of California

Every so often, you’re watching a play about ordinary, deprived, unlucky people and something divine happens and they are are no longer ordinary. The transformative power of live theatre is very strong in Jez Butterworth’s new play.

We open in a Victorian Guesthouse in Blackpool in 1976, during the driest summer in 200 years. The joint is called Seaview (where there’s no view of the sea), and a family is gathering to say goodbye to their dying mother.

The rooms are given the names of American states: “I’m going to Minnesota”.

From here, we spiral back through time.

In the beautifully layered piece, we see younger and older versions of the four sisters.

At one point, matriarch Veronica coaches them, “Now then. Obstacles. Children, who else, in their career, when they were starting out, faced a barrage, nay avalanche of seemingly unsurmountable hurdle snags, bars, blocks and impediments.”

This is a fine piece of craftsmanship, with almost every detail in place. Magic runs through nearly all of Butterworth’s 3 hour drama. (Child cast Nicola Turner, Nancy Allsop, Lara McDonnell and Sophia Ally as the younger singing siblings are terrific).

To say that Hills of California is well lit doesn’t do exact justice. It is perfectly lit, by Natasha Chivers, which is to say, the colours are lustrous, the images so completely composed they are almost static – picture postcards of grief.

Yet the most memorable parts of the beautifully acted female-led play don’t *always* reach for that special clarity that makes action memorably poetic.

However, the details accumulate; nearly every detail of meaning is worked out, right down to each flicker of emotion in the supporting characters eyes.

On Rob Howell’s revolving set, with endless stairs, director Sam Mendes handles the cast immaculately; Mendes’ love of the material is palpable; it regularly makes one smile and gulp.

Butterworth isn’t afraid to hook you and to keep hooking you. There are no weak performances, either. The finely balanced tone of Hills of California is startling, both brutal and lyrical. An expansive evening that is heavy with the anticipation of buried secrets about to be revealed.

Laura Donnelley, playing both Veronica and estranged sibling Joan, soars particularly as the matriarch – her words are convincingly hers. Donnelley, Butterworth’s wife, has never been better, you don’t see her trying to act.

As Veronica, she conveys her remorseless watchfulness, sharp intelligence and chip of ice in the heart by coaching her daughters on the path from Lancashire to the London Palladium. She creates a driven, embattled woman – a woman prepared to do whatever it takes for her children to succeed.

“A song is a dream, a place to be, somewhere to live,” she explains, as she gathers them at her feet. 

A few trims and tucks would render it sleeker but part of Butterworth’s charm is the scaffolding that goes into the structure. There is nothing middle of the road about it.

More significantly, the emotional violence of this play is violent; you can’t get it out of your mind. There’s no question Veronica is guilty of allowing her teenage daughter to be left alone with a predatory music producer. 

Yet the harmonies and singing cradle us, quietly enhancing a tale that is at once timely and timeless. Deftly chosen songs (You can see it all come together during a rendition of Nat King Cole’s ‘When I Fall In Love’) put us right there in the moment.

Even so, it’s hard to find a critical language to account for the delicacy and intimacy of this play. This is an emotionally piercing and beautifully understated tale of family estrangement and loss.

What a pleasure.

‘The Hills of California’ runs until 15 June, Harold Pinter Theatre, London. haroldpintertheatre.co.uk

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Sunset Blvd

“GREAT stars have great pride…”

For all its bravado, Jamie Lloyd’s Sunset Boulevardbook and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, is a bitter and queasy production, and the figure of Desmond is its greatest grotesque, a former Pussycat Doll of 47 striving to be 25, surrounded by video images of herself and entranced by her own face on a screen.

First thing is first, Scherzinger cannot act – it does not matter, though: her vocals are world class. 

This is musical theatre as gothic assault and battery, and like the recent sexy Oklahoma! grabs you by the balls from the first moment and never slackens.

Lloyd’s stylish revival opens with Joe Gillis, the narrator (Tom Francis), unzipping himself from a body bag. “I believe in self-denial,” sings Francis in Let’s Have Lunch, the line both a humorous take on his financial status and an acknowledgement of his sense of frustration. 

Desmond appears in just a black slip for most of the show and Soutra Gilmore’s design is dark. 

Crucially, video designers Nathan Amzi and Joe Ransom deserve credit for the cinematography, initially distracting, it pays off in that it gives a nod to old Hollywood and the Insta-era. There are big screens and live relay cameras, while both the backstage at the Savoy and in the street. Watchers and watched.

The screen wins, every time.

Meanwhile, at 10086 Sunset Boulevard, in Desmond’s mad mansion, there is always champagne to hand, and enough money to cater to her every whim and to turn Gillis into a kept man. 

“Without me there wouldn’t be any Paramount studios,” she declares, discounting film crew on the lot: in Scherzinger’s hands she becomes a victim of her own mania.

The lyrics – bittersweet, sharp and accompanied by a fabulous orchestra – are left to speak for themselves.

David Thaxton as Max Von Mayerling (he is the only one writing her fan letters) is brilliant as Desmond’s fiercely protective servant and former husband. 

Though the musical may be 30 years old, Lloyd’s stripped-down, psychologically focused production forces us to contemplate the cost of needing to be adored – namely, the unquenchable thirst for validation that cultivates beneath a culture of self obsession.

The opening of Act 2 is pulled off to stunning effect. 

Fabian Aloise supplies incisive choreography for the lively ensemble. I really liked the tongue in cheek staging of This Time Next Year. But for traditionalists – which I would mostly class myself – it’s a curiously disengaging experience. (Just don’t expect any of them to smile at the curtain call).

Elsewhere, there is subtlety from Grace Hodgett Young as Betty. The triumph is in showing that the jauntiness is not separate from darker aspects but dependent on them.

There will be those who can’t stand it, I am normally wary of parachuting pop stars and reality stars into musicals, but this version is an almost total triumph. It works.

Every now and then there is too much mugging and self-consciousness, of working too hard on pressing a point, but the detail is unrelenting. Here, Jamie Lloyd demonstrates that he has a sense of humour, which is a relief. 

Norma Desmond still causes excitement when she enters the soundstage. After all, she is big – it’s the pictures that got small. This is a revival with razor sharp clarity and passion.

Sunset Boulevard runs at Savoy theatre, London, until 6 January 2024


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Miss Saigon

Ah, Miss Saigon. You wonder why UK theatre puts itself through the torment of trying to entertain Britain. It has never been harder to produce theatre – let alone big musicals. 

I should start, then, by reminding everyone, including myself, that Miss Saigon first opened in 1989 and ran for “only” 10 years –it later transferred to Broadway and won multiple prizes including two Olivier and three Tony awards.

Following the dreary controversy surrounding Sheffield Theatres’ production of Miss Saigon– (one theatre company dropped the venue from its touring schedule in protest) here is the UK’s first brand-new production of the crowd-pleasing musical, with lyrics “modified in collaboration with the show’s original writers”. Fair enough. 

What’s undeniable, though, is that this bold Miss Saigon isn’t ‘deeply traumatic’ at all, it’s merely embroiled in another front of the 2023 culture war.

Indeed, a couple of the lyrics have been tweaked. Take for instance: “Why was I born of a race that only thinks of rice” becomes, “Why am I stuck in a place where they make you plant rice?” 

Anyhow. Robert Hastie and Anthony Lau, directors of the Crucible’s production of Miss Saigon, said they had taken a “new approach” which they hoped would “shift the perspective” on the show. For me, it did.

Anyway, what is the secret of its new success? Partly the fact that music and words are by the geniuses behind Les Misérables, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. 

The score is beautiful and this production packs some impressive punches. 

Making her debut, the role of Kim was Desmonda Cathabel; a ‘Stephen Sondheim Performer of the Year’ winner, who seems a remarkable find. There were moments when she moved me to tears. 

In any case, Chris Maynard gives a powerful performance as her beloved GI Chris, though fails to generate much warmth.

It was an inspired idea to relocate the story of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly to Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon, and the production superbly captures the confusion and terror of war.

In the opera, Pinkerton’s abandonment of Cio-Cio-San strikes one as heartless. But, in this version, the lovers are separated by the enforced American evacuation of Saigon in 1975. 

So much of it works. The genuinely funny and self aware young Vietnamese women working as sex workers for the American GI troops under the watch of a sardonic local pimp called The Engineer – here gender switched and played brilliantly by Joanna Ampil. She is caught between two worlds and dreams of escape to the USA. Ampil gets maximum value from her number The American Dream, the one moment in the show of razzle dazzle. 

Overall, this ‘rigorous reimagining’ leaves one admiring the technical tightrope skill of Lau and Hastie’s production, the combined saturated designs of Ben Stones and Andrezj Goulding, which bring out particularly strikingly the gaudy vulgarity and neon ugliness of Bangkok.

Anyway, for fans of revisionism, untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play moves to Young Vic in September.

Miss Saigon runs at Crucible Sheffield until 19 August.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

a touching musical about a man who ages backwards

Youth is wasted on the young. Maybe.

First seen off West End four years ago, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (The Musical) takes F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short supernatural story and 2008 Brad Pitt film, smashes them both together, and shifts the setting to Cornwall.

Benjamin Button (Jamie Parker) is born, as a 70-year-old, to bemused parents in December 1918. Time marches forward, he ages backwards.

Parker never does the expected, and is never sloppy or over-expressive. The role of Benjamin seems to have released something in him.

There is no overkill in writer-director Jethro Compton’s production that is always self-aware that this is a stage version of a story that most people are familiar with from the film: a man who is old when he is born and an infant when he dies.

The chief pleasure, however, lies in the music and the production. Some of the songs – especially the wistful ‘Matter of Time’ – etches itself on the memory.

Sometimes the evening feels a little underpowered, and while Molly Osborne and the enthusiastic 12-strong actor-musician ensemble deliver, some of the 22 scenes need a touch more definition.

But the whole Benjamin Button cast is blessed with a zest and captivating charm I have rarely seen equalled, and one leaves this ambitious production in a mist of joy and tears.

Yes, there are rough edges that could be chopped, yes, there are occasional scenes that are not powerfully played. Yes, it is too long. But there is so much more that is big and bold, imaginative and great-hearted.

Olivier Award-winning actor Jamie Parker plays the title character who ages in reverse in the actor-muso production at Southwark Playhouse Elephant

Indeed, it’s hard not to compare it to foot-stomping musicals Come From Away and a Once for all its sentiment. Darren Clark’s score is lush; what makes it so special is the ripple of bitterness beneath the surface.

The film was a twee train wreck. This Benjamin Button, however, is a multifaceted gem, chock-full of love, charm and joy, and it fits the Southwark Playhouse Elephant space like a glove.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button runs until 1 July (020 7407 0234southwarkplayhouse.co.uk)

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Aspects of Love

There is something off in the tone of Aspects of Love right from the start.

The decision to revive Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical – based on David Garnett’s 1955 novella – about a love triangle in 2023 was Michael Ball’s idea.

Ball – who played Alex in the 1989 production – returns to sing Love Changes Everything, (lyrics by Charles Hart and Don Black) this time as uncle George. He does it nobly.

There are 39 random scenes. At some point through Alex (Jamie Bogoyo) shoots former lover Rose (Laura Pitt-Pulford) in the arm. His uncle (Ball) is more concerned about his Matisse wall art. 

The majority of the book and lyrics are stupefying. At the interval I thought my drink had been spiked.

“I only have one life,”‘ drones one character. Only judderingly to add: “Not two.”

In one bit, the chaotic singing collides with the unspeakable: “George used to say you can have more than one emotion at the same time.”

The actual dialogue seems almost an afterthought, and the actors speak their lines without much confidence that they’re worth saying. And so we’re aware of the performers as performers. They’re not all sure what they’re meant to be conveying. And we’re not either.

The other overriding issue with this toe-curling production is that it borders on misogyny. Grooming is overlooked. It’s grim viewing, obviously.

Theatre is an addictively evil thing, though, so once I’d watched act 1 I knew I’d sit through the lot, just to see if something deeply significant actually happened. It didn’t, obviously.

The second half of Jonathan Kent’s production is scattered – as if it had been added to or subtracted from at random. Everything is spelled out. 

Nothing you think could possibly be worth salvaging from this abomination.

The ones who really stand out in this mess, though, are Pitt Pullford and Bogoyo. But their work doesn’t really hold together here, how could it?

They deserve better.

One of the only other things I thought, though, that really elevated the occasion beyond the sum of its parts was the 13-piece band and Tom Kelly’s lush new orchestrations. Other redeeming moments come thanks partly to John Macfarlane’s design and Jon Clark’s lighting. 

But the set, expensive costumes and people seem to be sitting there on stage, waiting for the unifying magic that never happens.

Leaving the Lyric theatre where I saw Aspects of Love, I felt the same way the women must have when uncle George dropped dead: exhausted and relieved.

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Brokeback Mountain

Yeehaw!

I had an uneasy feeling that maybe it would be better if I didn’t go to see Brokeback Mountain— but, if you’re driven to seek the truth, you’re driven.

The West End is currently overrun with movie musicals and stage adaptations, they serve a useful purpose, because they lead people to see live theatre on which the films are based. Not a bad thing in my book.

The young producers who are pushing their way up don’t want to waste their time considering scripts or new ideas that may not attract stars. For them, too, a good show is a show that makes money.

God forbid it that they should have to sit through the whole thing.

But when you see a stage show after seeing the film, your mind is saturated with the actors (Jake Gyllenhaal & Heath Ledger in this instance) and the imagery, and you tend to view it in terms of the movie, ignoring characters and complexities that were not included in it, because they are not as vivid.

This 90 minute stage adaptation is directed by Jonathan Butterell, with a functional script by Ashley Robinson.

Anyway, Young cowboys Jack Twist (Mike Faist) and Ennis Del Mar (Lucas Hedges) meet in the early 1960s when they are hired to tend a huge flock of sheep up on Brokeback Mountain.

They begin a physical affair, but then go their separate ways. Both marry women. When they cross paths four years later, they resume their relationship behind their wives’ backs. Ugh.

Brokeback Mountain, here a memory play with songs, features a live band who perform throughout. Eddi Reader, perched on a stool, delivers these mediocre bluegrass numbers by Dan Gillespie Sells. 

On the one hand, it’s lightweight, and too stifled to be boring. On the other, it’s efficient and visually engaging.

But the colour imagery of Tom Pye’s set and design is so muted that I regretted the need to look at the older Ennis (Paul Hickey) haunting the proceedings. It took precious time away from the other two’s complex performances, their hint of something passive, brooding and repressed.

Technically, the production is slovenly, and the in-the-round staging at the clinical 602 seat sohoplace doesn’t always work. There are totally dead spots in Butterell’s direction. And I was sat by the bed.

There are, however, marvelous actors here, and now and then almost all of them demonstrate how wonderful they can be, but they can’t sustain their roles or blend them without the guidance of the director, because in a show only the director, finally, can be responsible for the coming together of the piece.

Add to that, young and handsome Faist who delivers the famous speech “I wish I knew how to quit you” with raw emotion. He is a remarkably intelligent casting selection for Jack. Faist, fortunately, can wear white pants and suggest splendour without falling into the narcissistic athleticism that juveniles so often mistake for grace.

I suppose it’s a bit crude to say there isn’t enough gay sex. But we do get a quick shadow fumble of belts and zippers in a tent. Apart from one tender embrace, the show mostly left me cold.

There is a chemistry void. Still, it’s a great play for people who don’t like plays.

At worst, Brokeback Mountain becomes a desolate souvenir of the movie, an extended reminiscence.

Brokeback Mountain runs at @sohoplace, London, until 12 August