Privates on Parade, Noel Coward Theatre, London
Monday 17 December 2012
His staging of Privates on Parade at the Donmar Warehouse in 2001 was one of the productions that marked out Michael Grandage as the natural successor to Sam Mendes.
Now, on the other side of a triumphant decade at the helm there, the director has chosen to launch his new project – the Michael Grandage Company – with a second look at Peter Nichols's hilariously satirical revue-style 1977 play about a British Army song-and-dance unit (where men were men and so were the women) in Malaya in 1948 during the Communist insurgency.
This is the spirited opening gambit of a fifteen-month season in which the Company will offer five lusciously cast productions using a new pricing model whereby roughly 200 seats per performance (three-quarters of them, admittedly, in the balcony) will cost only £10. This combination of affordability plus some seriously top-drawer names is designed to lure in a young audience for whom the West End is normally out of reach.
The main marquee attraction in Privates is Simon Russell Beale who has never done drag before but is now making up for lost time in a big way in his sublime portrayal of the outrageously camp Captain Terri Dennis.
Compared to the madly stage-struck and gloriously over-the-top impersonations of Marlene Dietrich, Carmen Miranda, and Vera Lynn that he gives us here, most of this year's pantomime dames are going to look about as extravagantly out-going as an anchorite nun.
The great thing about Beale's performance, though, is that it manages to be both blissfully broad – whether he's letting out a little wince as his suspender-belted bulk strains to straddle a bentwood chair in the “Blue Angel” sequence or rolling louche, mascara-lidded eyes as he dispenses endless doubles entendres – and humanely subtle too. From under the mountain of slap, he lets you see the man who has suffered – self-involved but observant and shrewd, and prepared to turn fairy godfather,too when a heterosexual man fails to do his duty.
In Grandage's assured, beautifully well-cast production, the Oh What A Lovely War-like blend of end-of-the-pier vaudeville and political anger becomes powerfully expressive as the piece shifts between the concert-party turns (the spot-on musical pastiches are by Denis King) and scenes depicting the unsentimental education of 20-year-old newcomer Private Steven Flower (a beguiling Joseph Timms).
Angus Wright is very funny (and oddly sympathetic) as Major Flack the barmily myopic and out-of-touch muscular Christian. Oh, and by the way, there are, in every sense, privates on parade.
2 March 2013; 0844 482 5140
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Greece debt crisis explained: A history of just how the country landed itself in such a mess
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Greek debt crisis: Yanis Varoufakis's funniest (and most memorable) quotes
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
Wireless 2015: Nicki Minaj 2 hours late to main stage due to 'travel issues'
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender hints showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Amy: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' Amy Winehouse film as it scores the highest ever UK opening for a British documentary
Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture