THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS
by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin book adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks musical score adapted by Diedre L Murray.
Open Air Theatre Inner Circle Regent’s Park NW1 4NU To 23 August 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 826 4242 (24hr).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 July.
A musical and dramatic triumph.
Catfish Row, in 1920s Black Georgia, isn’t the dive its name might suggest. It’s full of decent citizens (troublemakers come from outside), hardworking fishermen and church-minded women. Yet, while it’s this show’s world, it’s a ghetto which has learned to be self-sufficient. The only White people who appear are police-officers, brutally doing their duty.
Even the law-abiding clam-up against them, while the police are the only characters given no music. When someone’s sick, the community’s Healer sets to prayer rather than trust in the White hospital.
Three named characters are killed – one by a villain, one by the hero and one by Nature. The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (its title identifying it as the scaled-down, briefer version of George Gershwin’s opera) is no easy ride. But it ends on a note of triumph, caught in Timothy Sheader’s magnificent Regent’s Park production.
Rufus Bonds Jr maintains Porgy’s unassuming firmness, based on years surviving with a damaged leg. Deprived of Bess, the gangster’s moll he’s helped reform, Porgy sets-off after her, limping along a row of table-tops, his determination contrasting the downbeat opening, where Nicola Hughes’ fine, tormented Bess, who will want to overcome her past life, puts on the vivid red dress she goes around in with Crown, one of two troublemakers.
Philip Boykin’s Crown is a huge violent slab, though his crimes aren’t detailed. Unlike the other disruptive element, Cedric Neal’s Sporting Life, snake-like in his bright yellow suit and yellow parasol, always on hand to tempt Bess with the drugs she’s fighting to avoid as she seeks acceptance in Catfish Row.
They’re a mundane lot but spirited, with a strong community sense. When the baby whose mother opens the show with the famous (and ultimately ironic) lullaby ‘Summertime’ is orphaned the community moves in.
George Gershwin’s wondrous jazz-soaked score, ranging from soulful solos through dramatic duets to lively ensemble numbers, is gloriously delivered. Katrina Lindsay’s huge metallic sculpture set is puzzling but does no harm, while Rick Fisher’s lighting heightens individual tensions and brightens optimistic moments in a production which captures the suffering, solidarity and hope in Catfish Row.
Porgy: Rufus Bonds Jr.
Crown: Philip Boykin.
Mariah: Sharon D Clarke.
Clara: Jade Ewen.
Detective: Alex Giannini.
Policeman: Owain Gwynn.
Bess: Nicola Hughes.
Jake: Leon Lopez.
Sporting Life: Cedric Neal.
Serena: Golda Roshuevel.
Robbins: Marvin Springer.
Ensemble: David Albury, Angela M Caesar, Tyrone Huntley, George Ikediashi, Claudia Kariuki, Arthur Kyeyune, Oliver Lidert, Jay Marsh, Tania Mathurin, Ellen O’Grady, Yemie Sonuga.
Director: Timothy Sheader.
Designer: Katrina Lindsay.
Lighting: Rick Fisher.
Sound: Nick Lidster for Autograph.
Orchestrator/Musical Director: David Shrubsole.
Conductor: Simon Lee.
Movement/Choreographer: Liam Steel.
Voice: Claire Moore.
Dialect coach: Jill McCullough.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Dance captain: Arthur Kyeyune.
Assistant director: Ola Ince.
Associate designer: Jenny Lee.
Assistant choreographer: Diane Alison-Mitchell.