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Reviews: Live Shows

Fri 11 Apr, 2014
By Robert Ingham

What it all boils down to is, “does ‘Orton’ work as a musical?” Yes. Yes it does.

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Joe Orton gets the musical treatment this month as ‘Orton’ opens at Above The Stag theatre in Vauxhall. The story of the infamous playwright from the sixties who wrote ‘Loot’ and ‘What The Butler Saw’, and whose life was tragically cut short at the height of his prime comes alive on a sparse, but well used set, and proves that the theatre company are ready to tackle all styles of theatre – this being their first musical. In fact, it is a double first, as this is also the world premiere of ‘Orton’.

The story opens with the seven-strong cast performing ‘RADA Education’, a song which shows what ‘Fame’ would have been if it were set in 1960s England.

Hopes are built, dreams are created and love is in the air as Joe meets Kenneth. Joe is the wide-eyed boy from Leicester, and his naivety shines through as Kenneth awkwardly chats him up. Richard Dawes, who plays Joe, convincingly switches from carefree to careless with one look, charming to mischievous in the blink of an eye, and it is these qualities that add depth to the show.

Andrew Rowney is a wonderful Kenneth, the lover who struggles to come to terms with Joe’s eclipsing success and sexploitations, leaving him in the shadows. Andrew plays the role assuredly, capturing a man teetering on the edge of jealousy and insanity with precision and clarity. Whilst it is difficult to believe at first Joe would go for Kenneth, the pair’s on-stage chemistry is evident, which is advantageous as there is a lot of dialogue between them.

There is an obvious nod to the film “Prick Up Your Ears”, as Valerie Cutko’s Peggy emulates Vanessa Redgrave’s performance, whilst still standing her own ground. Her vocals aren’t brilliant as Peggy but she completely shines as Mrs Cordon in solo number ‘It Don’t Seem Right’ in the second act. Her pathos commands your attention, and her delivery is emotionally tight.

The songs themselves are not hugely memorable. Not a criticism by any margin, but you would struggle to sing them afterwards. However, there are some stand-outs, in particular Mrs Cordon’s aforementioned ‘It Doesn’t Seem Right’ and the final number ‘Together In Paradise’, both show the writers were wise to keep the better numbers for the second half. ‘Another Night, Another Man’, about the benefits of cottaging, is also a popular one for the audience, though as the show goes further into the run it will become tighter and more polished.

Director Tim McArthur uses the space and the cast very well, and you do feel as if you are in Peggy’s office, the lovers’ flat, or in RADA. Kudos to Tim (and the lighting team) as it could have quite easily become a mess in this intimate theatre.

As for the cast – they can really sing. Simon Kingsley’s Kenneth Williams is incredibly funny, yet my favourite was Katie Brennan, who plays Tina. She has a set of lungs on her and, whilst at the start you think there’s a risk of her overpowering the others, her vivaciousness and commitment to her character(s) is an absolute joy, especially when she tries to seduce Joe, knowing full well he swings the other way.

What it all boils down to is, “does ‘Orton’ work as a musical?” Yes. Yes it does. It could well be picked up in many arenas – am-dram, universities, and even West End – so it is with pleasure to say this reviewer saw its world premiere. A must-see for any Orton fan, and a great introduction to those who should know who he is.

‘Orton’ is on until 4th May at Above The Stag Theatre, Arch 17, Miles Street, Vauxhall, London SW18 1RZ.


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