#214 - Noel Coward: Art & Style

Guildhall Art Gallery

Noel Coward was a child star, composer, playwright, actor, director, anecdotalist, spy, painter and as nearly out as a gay man as his times and temperament allowed. The Guildhall’s admirable exhibition covers every aspect of his six-decade career, while showing how carefully Coward crafted and modulated his own enduring image: clipped, immaculate, urbane. It was a lived pose, presented in more or less filtered form through the work, press coverage, holiday snaps and caricatures. There are gorgeous things here, from Gertrude Lawrence’s stage frocks to Coward’s 1920s makeup box and 1960s Jamaican shirt. Too, too divine.

#213 - Everybody's Talking About Jamie revisited...

Apollo Theatre

This Sheffield-based tale of a gay boy’s battle to wear a dress to the school prom still lacks jeopardy – the outcome is never in doubt – and still has plenty of heart. Noah Thomas is an exuberant Jamie and Hiba Elchikhe fiercely strong as his Muslim BFF Pritti. Tom Gillespie-Sells’ score plots a predictable emotional arc while Tom McRae’s book has been given an unobtrusive, Covid-ware rewrite. Thank goodness for the drag queens – now including Shane Richie as Loco Chanelle – whose faux-bitchery undercuts all the saccharine yass-kween affirmation. And maybe a show that’s all about acceptance and mutual support is what we need right now.

#212 - JR: Chronicles

Saatchi Gallery

Given his artworks usually cover whole walls, rooves, even an entire hillside favella, you might think French street artist JR would be diminished in a gallery. Not so: this collection emphasises the bold universality of his work, the way he turns everyday experience – in particular, the faces of ‘ordinary’ people – into something momentous, across Europe, America, Africa and the Middle East. The show documents his progression from graffiti artist to photographer to creator of huge, ephemeral public interventions that celebrate common humanity. Usually video artworks leave me cold but here they are an essential record of physical creations that, rather wonderfully, gradually wear away.

#211 - Amelie the Musical

Criterion THeatre

This sweet musical adaptation of the 2001 French cinematic fancy lifts the spirits, though its narrative flaws are more obvious in the West End. Craig Lucas sticks loyally to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film but adds flourishes of his own, such as Amelie fixating on dead Princess Di and a lot of romantic prevarication in the second half. Daniel Messe and Nathan Tysen’s 36 string-driven songs blur into pleasant variations on a theme. But a tight ensemble of actor-musicians conjures a vivid Parisian whirl on Madeleine Girling’s lovely set, and Audrey Brisson adds a welcome sharpness to the heroine’s potentially saccharine whimsy.

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Shakespeare's Globe

This carnival-style Dream is a resolutely silly one, but perhaps that’s what we need right now. The emphasis of the neat, 120-minute revival of Sean Holmes’s 2019 production, is on fun. Gender is flexible rather than flipped: the lovers are cis/hetero – Shona Babayemi’s Helena is the standout - but Bottom is given charming, lusty life by Sophie Russell. I’ve seldom seen funnier Mechanicals, and this production contains the most amusing Wall ever. Social distancing in the courtyard is less intrusive than expected. God, it’s good to be back.

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