Hamilton – Disney +

Directed by Thomas Kail

Book, Music & Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Rating: 5 out of 5.

For people who never understood, indeed resented, the attention and proclaimed brilliance of Hamilton – this is the opportunity to witness the phenomenon which has, and continues to, challenge the face of theatrical culture and historical perception. The American founding fathers, among the hundreds of names left out of their rise to glory, one individual sits overcast throughout history – Alexander Hamilton. A man who, before Lin-Manuel Miranda, the majority of us had perhaps heard of, but knew nothing about.

Sly, charming to a dysfunctional level, Miranda may be the father of Hamilton, but this production is by no means dominated by his exceptional ability or presence. There isn’t a character or moment of the production which feels bereft of wit, emotion or intention. Continuing the spark ideas of intrigue, or conjure debates which, somehow, a mere two centuries later we still seem to be having, Miranda’s Hamilton is both a product of the original century, an immigrant getting the job done, but is also a contemporary figure, a man who cries of the inequality and obstacles many continue to unjustly face.

And in this battle to free a nation, Hamilton is aided by a troupe of ambitious men and surrounds himself in a supportive network of influential women. From Daveed Diggs’s Marquis de Lafayette or his hypnotic Jefferson to the wonderment which is Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo as Angelica and Eliza Schulyer, two of three sisters who Hamilton finds an opportunity to climb the ranks, but ends up in a triangle of love and adoration he will never emerge from. Facing adversity from near and afar, from his former equal Aaron Burr, and across the sea from the Mad King George, performed sinfully by the eminent Jonathon Groff. Under the command of George Washington, Hamilton and this new generation of thinkers, writers and fighters seek to wash out the British and start anew.

Similarly, a rising tide of youth against a sea of tyranny, written from the hand of a man who has stepped forward, challenging a defiant series of expectations and prejudice, seems to have brewed a perfect storm which is now, as viable and potent as ever. Originally debuting in the Obama era – the first black president, to this modern re-framing in the wall-building Trump era. A production which catapults Black, Hispanic and Asian men and women into the roles of the founding fathers and other significant white historical figures is still met with futile resistance. Hamilton has perhaps, accepting idiom, never been more vital to grasping the attention of the people, and blazing a rallying song of the masses.

And what an album of the people, where any individual number can be illuminated for its merit. An infusion of Hip-Hop, Jazz and R&B collie with Broadway belts in a manner in which could crash and smoulder, but Miranda changes the game to his rules. Miranda’s lyrical scripture is magnificent in wit, humour and potency – infusing vast genres into a harmonised balance of wonder. The original cast perhaps demonstrates the flexibility and enthusiasm of the soundtrack, from the venomous energy Leslie Odom Jr. infuses Burr throughout The Room Where It Happened to the silencing tormented emotion of Who lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. The equally powerful Wait For It, as Odom Jnr’s descent into vendetta is bathed in the midnight brilliance of Howard Binkley’s colossal lighting. Where Hamilton perhaps cements itself as not only a piece of theatre but stunning filmmaking is with Satisfied, Goldberry’s signature moment and a defining moment for the first act. 

This cinematography, from legendary filmmaker Declan Quinn, understands marrying the two mediums in synchronised perfection. If you’ve experience Hamilton from the ‘cheap seats’ in the Gods, you were stunned by the stage and the composition. Now, live from home, you can see the detail, the brass buttons and flickers of emotion in the faces of remarkable performances. Slow tracking shots, following the direction, allows focus and clarity with little to no direct cuts or edits, emulating a one-take aesthetic. Further, the tilts in camera angles serve as enforcers – Quinn’s decision to plummet the camera commands a sense of status from key cast members Washington (Christopher Jackson) or gradually spinning for dear ol’ King George III as his seething fury and madness rises, his competency dying out, his frabjous glee descending.

Where the camera has an edge on the stage, is bringing life to Blankenbuehler’s choreography, an overlooked aspect for Hamilton. A spirituous heavy-footed show, with plenty of revolutionary speeches and thundering stomps courtesy of Yorktown, the footwork is elegant on occasion, and no movement is without design. Orchestrating the movement of often busy stages is a difficult feat, but returning to Satisfied, if it’s possible to resign yourself from the erupting sentiment, observe the intricacy of arranging the cast around a solitary figure, catapulting back in time, and how accomplished this cast is.

So, from a Brit to the Yanks on this 4th of July – embrace history, do not spurn or alter its truth – confront the atrocity, reflect on it and represent it in all of the glorious diversity one can muster. The sons and daughters of bastards, and the immigrants who founded and freed nations are still breathing, still fighting, and still suffering. And if you can, parcel history in all of musical theatre’s majesty. The, well, you may just have taken your shot and forged a piece of cultural significance which will defy expectations, and deservedly strides forth as the par excellence which is Hamilton.

Hamilton is available to stream from Disney+

SceneToSeen – Permanent Scar

Written by Rachel Flynn

Directed & Edited by Ryan Alexander Dewar

Rating: 4 out of 5.

How far would you go for love? Not just any run of the mill kind of crush, but a genuine connection with someone. Would you wait? Would you be their shoulder to cry on? Or would you allow this ‘love’ to taint, decay and rot into an obsession. It’s more common than you would suspect, and easily ‘written off’ or hidden – as even the ‘nicest’ guys can be the fiercest wolves in sheep’s clothing.

A couple of best pals having a night out. One of whom is in the pangs of a break-up, her life in need of a few comfortable nights, some self-care and one hell of a hangover. The other seeks to help – or so he claims. Rachel Flynn’s Permanent Scar seeks not to place women in the role of victim, lord knows we have enough of that form of media, but instead subvert the expectations and quivering underbelly of rejection, masculine ego and the lifelong effects it leaves. 

Perhaps most concerning, and a testament to Cameron Fulton’s performance, is the credibility of the character, we know this boy, most of us have spent a night in the pub with this chap. Cheeky, charismatic, and garbed as genuine – a distressingly familiar person. A knot sits in your stomach as you reflect, realising that, to begin with, you found Fulton funny, you enjoyed the character, even though something felt off. Direction on the part of Ryan Alexander Dewar, who has already turned a trick with editing, is entirely on point, tight and refraining from grand gestures of unrequired emotion. There’s an unnerving correlation between the distinct lack of overwrought emotion, which could easily have tipped the balance, underpinning Fulton’s controlled performance.

We’ve come to expect awkward greenscreens, bathroom walls and less than stellar framework during lockdown, with various production relying on storytelling over aesthetic, but good lord – hats off to Interabang and Dewar. Those who have followed the company behind-the-scenes will understand how the team re-created the sweaty, neon-dazzled floors of a night club, hopefully without the sticky floors. Their method? Incredibly simple, the effect? Astonishingly convincing.

A distinctive piece of commentary on the part of Flynn – the authenticity of the narrative is repulsive in its accuracy. Living with terms such as ‘friend zone’, empty manifested words to preserve egos, is a tiring experience for women. The assaults, threats and gas-lights of supposed friends, family and companions are not only tiring but dangerous. More than this, there’s a poetic bounce to Flynn’s writing. As slippery as Fulton’s performance, it reinforces him by a deceptive structure where the writing is so charged with imagery and emotion, that it too surprises the audience when it shifts.

Flynn’s language is ultimately accessible, but occasionally, due to the film’s length, Flynn’s use of language has short-cuts for the exposition – which is entirely understandable. The fluid movement drops, only briefly, before thundering into a darker abyss, of brutal – needed – honesty surrounding ‘white knights’ with tarnished armour and selfish goals.

Starting their SceneToSeen season smashing expectations, Interabang productions champion a method of storytelling many are growing more accustomed with. While the short film is nothing new, the wealth of theatrical talent pouring in to maintain their creativity and promote a sustainable online platform is a brief glimmer in the ensuing bleakness. Permanent Scar is a terrific leaping point, which promises others in the series which aim to be clear, concise and thoroughly engaging. Here’s to a successful five-week run. 

Permanent Scar and subsequent ScenesToSeen videos can be found here

Birdsong – Online

Written by Sebastian Faulks

Adapted by  Rachel Wagstaff

Directed by Alistair Whatley & Charlotte Peters

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In the bleakest moments of atrocity, even war, stories of the human ability for kindness, compassion and endurance offer lifelines. 104 years, to the day, since the Battle of the Somme, one of modern Europe’s most horrific events, Rachel Wagstaff’s adaption of Sebastian Faulks 1993 novel Birdsong pays tribute to the tremendous valour and sacrifice of so many while streamlining their theatrical production for a digital medium – hoping to not only maintain the embers of theatre but promote The British Royal Legion and grasp the world’s focus, on the precipice of such inward destruction, that the lesson we seemingly have yet to learn about conflict.

For those lucky enough to catch the 2016, or subsequent 2018 touring production, fond memories will flood back of a dauntingly poignant show, and this returning online version contains enough deviation and difference to feel entirely innovative and individual. Set shortly before, during and after the Battle of the Somme, Faulks’ story revolves around the Tommys, miners who would dig the trenches and attempt to uncover enemy tunnels, focusing particularly on Jack Firebrace, and of his commanding officer Stephen.

Amalgamating the video format into a live performance, Alistair Whatley and Charlotte Peters’ direction refrains from cheap gimmickry, and while other productions find difficulty in modifying their narrative to a digital format, Birdsong excels. The intensity of the close-ups, only achieved with direct video, convey a rich connection with the performers, particularly Tim Treloar’s Firebrace. Fixated, it’s difficult to look away as the black knot in your stomach grows as Treloar’s words enrapture you, gripping the audience. In the silence of your own home, away from the distractions of a theatre, Treloar’s performance breathes humanity into Wagstaff’s words.

And this silence is paramount to the enjoyment of Birdsong – where possible, try to avoid watching this on a tablet or small screen, the editing process and visual quality has been crafted for no different an experience than a feature film. Dynamically staged, with multiple screens and the occasional fourth-wall break, Birdsong adapts to the medium, rather than accepts limitations. Where there is no physical set, it makes do, focusing on background designs, audio tricks and score. A composition played and designed by musical director James Findlay manages to almost evoke an intense response as hearing it in the heart of a theatre.

Additionally, combining elements of theatre and film, Faulks narrates the interceding scenes, offering a transition in place of a theatrical one which would enable time displacement or location changes. Swerving between the trenches, the earth-laden tunnels beneath the German troops or in the bright, fresh lands of provincial France, Tom Kay, Madeleine Knight and Liam McCormack all play their part in engaging with the audience, strengthening the believability of the digital production. Transformation is imperative, and each cast member evolves as the production moves forward. Kay’s status dynamic with Treloar shifts, as too does his emotional chemistry, resulting in powerful moments of silence, as he comes face-to-face with the enemy.

Are there insignificant issues of audio or effect warping? Certainly. Does this cause issue with enjoyment or appreciation? Not in the slightest. The tenacity, ingenuity and momentum propelling this unique performance of Birdsong forward are precisely what theatre thrives on, what empowers its creators and drives the audience to follow the siren calls of our treasured artform. Wagstaff’s adaption of Birdsong seeks to reignite our respect, recover a sense of waning history and demonstrate a significant reminder of the imperative words; “Never Again”.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/birdsong-online/

Available here to rent from 7pm 1 July until 3 July