Friday, 24 June 2016

CD Review: Nadim Naaman - Sides

"Livin' for the moment's rewards"

I did like Nadim Naaman's first album We All Want The Same but with its compositions stretching over a decade of Naaman's songwriting, it didn't quite have the cohesion to show off his emerging talents. For his second CD though, he's gone all-out to demonstrate the depths of both sides to him as a musician - opting for a double-length album, half the songs are musical theatre numbers which have received his own spin, and the other half are original songs written over the last year. Thus Sides reaches with larger ambition, and succeeds.

Naaman has a marvelous showman quality to his voice but it's beautiful to hear him bring out all the colours he can - the sense of building excitement in The Hunchback of Notre Dame's 'Out There', the driving, the driving swagger of The Fix's One, Two, Three complemented by its tenderly heartfelt break. A jaunty 'Moving Too Fast' sees him looking back to one of his first professional roles as The Last Five Years' Jamie whereas his current gig - Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera - is acknowledged with a startling but hugely effective Latin-inflected treatment of its title song, accompanied by the glorious richness of Celinde Schoenmaker's voice.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

CD Review: As Long As I Have Music - the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould

"There's still music in the air..."

As Long As I Have Music - the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould is a new album showcasing the new musical theatre writing partnership of composer Eyles and lyricist Gould. Gould has been a prolific writer for some time now, as evidenced on his last CD Words Shared With Friends and whilst Eyles may be a newer composer, the pair have clearly found a rich vein of collaboration. The album features songs from two Eyles & Gould musicals - Stiles + Drewe Award finalist A Pebble for Aaron and The Wonderful Musician, a new musical-in-development based on the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale, with a smattering of other songs too to complete the collection. 

The brace of songs from The Wonderful Musician are both strong - Joe Sterling capturing a beautiful sense of optimistic innocence in the title track and Michael Riseley and Kayleigh McKnight soaring on 'Perfect Companion'. But it's the trio of tunes from A Pebble for Aaron that stand out. Kieran Brown's reflective 'The Flowers Have Faded', the raw anger of Keith Ramsay's 'I Want You To See You' and the aching pain of Shaun McCourt's 'Losing Him' are point towards a richly emotional and poignant musical that is touching even in these brief excerpts here. The marriage of longing melody and lyrical meaning works superbly well here. 

Review: Ross and Rachel, Battersea Arts Centre

"I'll be there for you..."

Can anyone of a certain generation (well, my generation) hear that Rembrandts theme song and not want to clap along, even if just mentally? Such is the depth of the cultural penetration that Friends managed over its decade of television dominance and then subsequent re-run overkill, that even someone who hasn't watched an episode of the comedy stands a chance of recognising the names Ross and Rachel. Which is partly why playwright James Fritz has so named his latest show.

A big hit in Edinburgh last summer, Ross and Rachel is now midway though a UK tour and its entire run at the Battersea Arts Centre. And it's not hard to see why - people may come because they've some affection to their Geller/Green memories but they'll be hooked by Molly Vevers' performance. Alone onstage, she gives us both sides of the story of a couple whose identities have been subsumed into one, their relationship - and the myths around it - having become bigger than either of them.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #3

“A lot of fighting ensues”

The Globe's Complete Walk is being released in dribs and drabs for all to see and given the helter-skelter busy-ness of a blogger's life, it's actually working out quite well in working my way through them slowly. Click on the links for the first lot and the second lot for read about them and head below for 

Dominic Dromgoole is one of the directors lucky enough to secure the same actor for his film as for the stage versions of the play – Jamie Parker took on Henry V to great acclaim in 2012, clips of which we see here, but there’s a special thrill in seeing him on the fields of Agincourt, chatting incognito with Joel MacCormack’s sceptical soldier. And the final shot, showing Agincourt for what it is today is subtly but beautifully done.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre

"This revolt of thine is like another fall of man"

It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn't newsworthy in and of itself but we don't and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles - the intrigue of Glenda Jackson's return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter's Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.

Insofar as Robert Hastie's modern-dress production has a conceit, it's of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell's Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role - and it's hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry's head. And from then, it's a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle's square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross' movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr.

Review: BARBU, Spiegeltent London Wonderground

"Ma-gique, ma-gique, ma-gique..."

Cirque Alfonse scored a big success with their iconic production Timber! and this summer, they're returning to entertain audiences on London's South Bank with their third - BARBU. They describe their show as a raucous and sexy cabaret and that pretty much hits the mark for this Québécois company as they combine circus tricks and magic tricks, beer-keg juggling and burlesque, acrobatics and audience participation (and alcohol too), the majority of which is delivered by bearded men and women (but mainly men) in their pants.

From roller-skaters pulling each other around by their beards to a man dressed as a glitterball whirling inside a Cyr wheel, the guys using one of their company as an actual skipping rope to human pyramids that seem to defy the laws of physics, the sheer amount of both skill and skills on display is a constant delight. Alain Francœur's direction keeps things constantly moving and each segment sufficiently compact that if, say, gob-smacking trampolining or juggling ain't your thing, it's soon over (although the latter really should be, the scarves and the cups are just genius).

Monday, 20 June 2016

Review: Wild, Hampstead

"You have no freedom, no choice, at the moment you don't even have a passport"

It's a truth universally acknowledged that Mike Bartlett is one of our finest contemporary writers and so it is pleasing to see that his new play Wild sees his reunite with creatives with whom he has had great success. Director James Macdonald was at the helm of the intense inter-relationships of Cock and designer Miriam Buether has reveled in transforming spaces such as the then-Cottesloe for Earthquakes in London and the Almeida for Game and both are on top form once again here.

At first glance, it might not look like Buether has done much to the Hampstead's main stage but you can rest assured that she'll have tipped the world on its axis by the end of the play, and what a fierce play it is. Bartlett has turned his gaze to the realm of information security as he imagines the experience of an Edward Snowden-like figure called Andrew who stuck two fingers up to the state by releasing sensitive data online. Sequestered in a Moscow hotel room on the run, he's left awaiting his fate. 

Competition - Win a pair of tickets to EUGENIUS! starring Warwick Davies

The wait is over…Eugenius, the eunique new musical is here! Playing for one night only at the London Palladium featuring an all-star cast led by Warwick Davis.

Come and be part of the world premiere concert performance at the London Palladium on 29th June 2016. With an incredible cast, led by Warwick Davis (Star Wars, Harry Potter) and a host of award-winning musical theatre names including the Olivier award winning David Bedella (In The Heights, Jerry Springer The Opera), Amy Lennox (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), Samuel Holmes (Mrs Henderson Presents, Spamalot), Summer Strallen (Top Hat, The Sound of Music) and narrated by comedian Marcus Brigstocke.

Eugenius is a classic love story between two kids – Eugene and Janey. She is mad on him, but he always has his head inside a comic book – so much so that he actually writes his own comic about a superhero. Against the odds, Eugene’s creations take him to Hollywood and he becomes the unlikely hero of his own intergalactic battle! With hit song after hit song and a brilliantly funny script, “Eugenius!” is the musical you’ve been waiting for, even if you don’t like traditional musicals!

Review: YOUARENOWHERE, LIFT 2016 at Shoreditch Town Hall

"The world happens, again and again and again"

You are now here or you are nowhere? Which is it? Does it matter? Has the amount of hype for this show torpedoed its chances with me? Will the fact I know there's a 'thing' to watch out for ruin it? Should I have booked for the beginning of the run instead? Does it matter? Are we allowed to talk about how hot Andrew Schneider is? He gets a bit sweaty but that's fine isn't it? Have I got any Robyn on my iPhone? Why is it that hearing rave reviews from certain people turns me off? Does it really matter? Does any of it?

Presented by LIFT, Shoreditch Town Hall and Gate Theatre, Schneider's YOUARENOWHERE arrived in East London for a brief week-long sojourn and preceded by such notices as those mentioned above, quickly became one of the hot tickets of the 2016 LIFT Festival. Which brings with it its own set of problems as I hate not being able to make up my own mind about something, hell it's one of the reasons I'm a blogger so that I can tell other people what to think!

Review: The Donkey Show, Proud Camden

"I'm gonna say hee, and you're gonna say haw"

So we hit my sixth different production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2016 with The Donkey Show - A Midsummer Night's Disco which is less Shakespeare than Shalamar, more Baccara than the Bard. Setting up shop for the summer in nightspot Proud Camden, Athens is thus swapped out for the more hedonistic locale of Club Oberon, where trapeze artists swing from the ceiling, fire breathers roam the stage and pole-dancing go-go boys take the place of fairies.

First created by Randy Weiner and Diane Paulus in 1999, the immersive nature of the production - audience members are encouraged to dance throughout, climbing on podiums optional, - proved a hit formula as disco classics replace iambic pentameter and aerial hoop work is substituted for characterisation. The reimagined and much-reduced story sees merry wanderers of the night Mia, Dmitri, Helen and Sander at the mercy of club hostess Lady Puck, a drag artiste on rollerskates, pushing pills left right and centre at the bidding of nefarious owner Oberon.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Review: Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse

"You're quite something, aren't you"

The Faction are probably best known for their repertory seasons, running over the early months of the last six years at the New Diorama, brightening up dark wintry nights with their inventive reimaginings of classical plays. Their tenure there has now come to an end though and so they're branching out to alternative venues and times of the year, popping up now at the Southwark Playhouse with a new version of Gorky's rarely-performed Vassa Zheleznova.

Adapted by Emily Juniper who has transported the play to a Liverpool in the midst of the dockers' strike of the mid-90s, Sian Polhill-Thomas' Vassa is the tough-as-nails head of a shipping company whose grip on power is slowly being loosened. The business belonged to her husband's family but he's long been busy failing to be a rock star, so it has been her guts and determination that has built the firm's success, but at some considerable personal cost and as crisis looms, things don't look to be getting any easier.

TV Review: Mum

"I feel as sad as the sisters of Lazarus"

A number of the reviews of the first episode of Mum (here's mine) were cautiously optimistic but commented that Stefan Golaszewski's writing wasn't really funny enough for a sitcom, or up to his previous TV show Him and Her. I hope that people persisted with it though, for it emerged as a simply beautiful piece of television, closer to a drama in the end than an outright comedy, and all the more affecting and effective for it.

In some ways, it's not that surprising that it wasn't a canned laughter kind of show - an actor of the stature of Lesley Manville, with her nearly 40 years of collaboration with Mike Leigh, wouldn't do that, would she (I guess My Family being the exception here...). Instead, what we got was a subtle meditation on how life continues after bereavement, working through the stages of grief and minutiae of life over the course of that tricky first year. Plus Manville ate a large crisp in one go, now you don't get that kind of quality just anywhere!