Friday, 29 December 2017

REVIEW: Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre

So much had been written about Hamilton, the story of a long forgotten immigrant founding father of America, that it sold out for its opening months when it went on sale in January 2017, long before Cameron Mackintosh knew whether his refurbishment of the wonderful Matcham Victoria Palace would be complete in time. The cancellation of the first performances after a wait of nearly a year added to this anticipation and you could feel the excitement in the theatre before and throughout the show. The audience whooped and cheered at every entrance, look and song showing a familiarity with the production that is only possible in this modern internet world. For those not familiar with the style, historical background or music , the show takes time to adjust to. The opening number "Alexander Hamilton" sets the scene but too many of the words get lost.

The first half is unrelentingly fast paced hip hop and rap telling of the American war of independence and rise of Alexander Hamilton in first the army and then politics. It requires intense concentration to catch the fast talking verbose language set against the heavy rap beat and some of the cast lost the clarity of delivery in this breathless energetic non stop story telling. However in the second half that changes , the mood darkens , the music becomes more melodic, there is more light and shade and the emotional connections between characters and with the audience develops to create a much more satisfying and enjoyable piece of modern innovative theatre.

Central to the production is RADA graduate Jamael Westman as Hamilton. He is an imposing figure who spits out his lines with the precision that his training has given him and establishes the ambition , intellect and low emotional intelligence that ultimately brings his downfall. The scenes with his wife Eliza (an outstanding Rachelle Ann Go) and his son Philip (Cleve September) are the among the best in the show. There is also a delightful cameo from Michael Jibson as King George who comments on events with a quizzical eye and disbelief and assumes "you'll be back".

Hamilton's political rivals (and sometime allies) Aaron Burr (Giles Terera),Thomas Jefferson (Jason Pennycooke), George Washington (Obioma Ugoala) and James Madison (Tarinn Callender) are at their best in "the room where it happens"(which wonderfully describes our wonder of what goes on behind closed door in great historical leaders meetings) and the amusing rapped cabinet battles which seeks to make the politics of the piece interesting.

The shows fast pace is sustained by the simple staging which relies on a few
props to set the scene and one of the best lighting designs in the West End by Howell Binkley which creates the atmosphere and environments of this multi location story so slickly and innovatively. The large ensemble are constantly on the move delivering furniture and props, sometimes for just a moment, in an exciting and fresh looking choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler that flows from one scene to the next with eye catching precision. 

There is no doubt that author and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail have created a vibrant modern feel to this historical story which is sure to scoop hatfuls of awards for the production and young talented cast in 2018 and will bring many new audiences to the West End. It does not live up completely to the pre show hype , but the second half shows that you can make an emotionally engaging and entertaining fresh modern production from old political rivalries if you get the right combination of talented author, director and cast.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★
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