Monday, 24 October 2016

Review: The Million Pound Heist, Enigma Quests

"Fill the briefcase"

As the hunger for escape-the-room games increases, so too does the ingenuity of those who come up with these activities, tweaking the format a little every time so that we keep on coming back for more. One of the more ambitious of these companies are Enigma Quests, proprietors of the Harry Potter-inspired School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and newly opened game The Million Pound Heist

And as the name suggests, The Million Pound Heist sees your group take on the role of thieves and rather than escaping the room per se, your job is to break into the vaults of an international art crime syndicate. This you do by solving a series of increasingly fiendish challenges, testing your ingenuity, resourcefulness and downright lateral thinking techniques to make your way through a series of rooms towards the loot.

Top 10 West End Shows To See This Christmas

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas"

The festive season is nearly upon us and if you are making a shopping trip to the bright lights or you just love the feel of Christmas in London, you have to take in a West End show. 
2016 has been yet another vintage year in theatreland and we’ve teamed up with to bring you the top ten shows we recommend you check out for that Christmas treat.
  1. Dreamgirls – Glee star Amber Riley plays the lead role in this brilliant musical telling the story of the rise of a Chicago R&B act in the 1960s. Running at the Savoy Theatre until March 2017.
  2. Aladdin – The latest Disney classic to get the West End treatment is this classic story of the street urchin from Agrabah at the Prince Edward Theatre until April 2017.
  3. The Bodyguard – Whitney Houston classics such as ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ feature heavily in this adaptation of the hit movie, with Beverley Knight playing the leading role at the Dominion Theatre until January 2017.
  4. School of Rock – Jack Black’s 2003 comedy about turning students into rock legends comes to the New London theatre until February 2017, with some new Andrew Lloyd-Webber-penned numbers.
  5. Cinderella – The classic family fairytale is the perfect pantomime performance to take in over Christmas, and you have until January 2017 to ensure you go to the ball at the London Palladium.
  6. Matilda the Musical – Roald Dahl’s Matilda comes to life in this brilliant new musical at the Cambridge Theatre until October 2017 via a successful Broadway stint, with music by comedian Tim Minchin.
  7. The Book of Mormon – From the creators of South Park and strictly for adults only, this much-talked-about mix of laughter and songs runs at the Prince of Wales theatre until January 2017.
  8. The Lion King – Another Disney smash featuring dancing, singing and plenty of African inspiration at the Lyceum Theatre until April 2017.
  9. Thriller Live – Visually spectacular and featuring amazing choreography, the career of Michael Jackson is celebrated at the Lyric Theatre until October 2017, featuring early songs like ABC and classics like Billie Jean.
  10. Wicked – The popular prequel to the Wizard of Oz telling the story of Dorothy, the Good Witch and the Bad Witch is celebrating ten years at the Apollo Victoria and runs until November 2017.   

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Review: The HIV Monologues, Ace Hotel

"I'm not the sort of person to get AIDS"

Following on the success of The Chemsex Monologues, Dragonflies Theatre now turn to the world of HIV in gay men with The HIV Monologues: From AIDS to PrEP: Love, Sex & HIV. Intertwining the stories of four people, Patrick Cash's writing draws the line from the 1980s to the modern day, from those diagnosed with the disease to those who love and care for them, from the condition as a death sentence to the comparative liberation that PrEP now brings. 

So we meet the blithely unaware Alex who tries to escape through the bathroom when a hot date reveals his status, Irish nurse Irene who tackles the stigma of working with AIDS patients in the 1980s with a near-unimaginable compassion, Nick who is a recently diagnosed HIV positive man struggling to come to terms with what that means and Barney, whose life is reinvigorated by the arrival of ARV medication in the 1990s.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

On 6th November 2016, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ever popular State Fair will be performed for the first time on the London stage as a symphonic concert by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra under award winning director and Evening Standard Awards nominee Thom Southerland (currently doing amazing work with Ragtime) at Cadogan Hall.

In a double first for the LMTO, this is also the first full scale public performance by the company which debuted its inaugural gala, in June of this year, to a packed house at Bishopsgate Institute where the orchestra is in residence.

CD Review: Favourite Sins

"No need to fake it, or make it complicated"

Released earlier this month, Favourite Sins is 4-track EP of musical theatre tracks written by actor/singer/songwriter Alex James Ellison with lyricists Robert Gould (whose work I have previously reviewed here and here) and Jimmy Granstrom. Ellison and Gould are in the midst of developing a new musical tentatively called Texting and Tweeting - the Musical and it is the fruitfulness of this collaboration that has inspired this collection. 

It's an interesting, if mixed, collection that is performed here by some strong musical theatre talent. Kane Oliver Parry and Jodie Steele imbue the chirpy 'Vanity is your Favourite Sin' is a real sense of character and Cameron Sharp's 'Just Let Me Love You' is a solid pop-rock tune. My favourite track is short but extremely sweet piano-based balled 'Sun', given a gorgeously warm vocal by Emily Tierney, the clear melodic gifts of the composer shining through. 

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Review: The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, Citizens

"It begins, I suppose, with 1746 – Culloden and all that. The Highlands were in a bit of a mess.'"

As is so often the way these days. accepting an invitation to an engagement party in Glasgow went hand in hand with looking to see what was on at the theatre. And I was rather pleased to see that I would catch the end of the tour of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil. Dundee Rep revived the Scottish classic to great acclaim last year and consequently remounted it for this Scottish tour, of which Glasgow is the final stop. 

Written by Liverpudlian playwright John McGrath in the early 1970s and staged then by 7:84 (Scotland), the show shook up the theatrical establishment by playing venues outside of traditional theatres and telling the story of the Scottish highlands in a way that (presumably) hadn't been done before. So from the population clearances to make way for sheep, to the stag introduced to encourage the super-rich to hunt, to the oil boom, this is a story of economic exploitation and its effects on those exploited.

Re-review: Plastic Figurines, New Diorama

"Mum told me that there was something in his brain that was different"

Not got a huge amount more to say about the heart-breakingly beautiful Plastic Figurines that I didn't say in my review from 2015 when I ranked it in my top ten plays of the years. Ella Carmen Greenhill's play, produced by Box of Tricks, returned for another run at the New Diorama, retaining Jamie Samuel as autistic Mikey but switching in Vanessa Schofield as his older sister Rose who is forced to leave university to become his carer after a family tragedy. I loved it all over again and I'd recommend you go along but it's closed now!

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Richard Davenport
Booking until 22nd October

Friday, 21 October 2016

Review: The House of Usher, Hope

"I didn't like to mention that I had imagined his sister singing to me in my sleep"

Ever ambitious, the Hope Theatre have launched a Gothic Season which will run right up until Christmas, taking in play The Worst Was This, lesbian bonkbuster Her Aching Heart and opening with this Edgar Allan Poe adaptation The House of Usher. Created by Luke Adamson and Dan Bottomley and directed by Adamson with Phil Croft, it takes an actor-musician approach to the material and is very much its own version of the short story, pulling in influences from elsewhere in Poe's oeuvre and also the depths of the writers' own imaginations.

The House of Usher is told to us by the nameless figure of The Narrator, who unexpectedly finds himself invited to visit his old childhood friend Roderick Usher in their stately home. This he does, but he's shocked to find him in the throes of an illness that has heightened his sensitivities to unbearable levels. And he's not alone, Roderick's twin sister Madeline appears similarly afflicted but has a different take on the matter from her overly protective sibling, forcing the Narrator into a series of difficult decisions, something made more challenging by the eeriness of the house itself.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

“In you, I found all the pleasure and pain I could ever hope to feel"

All the best birthday celebrations go on for a while and Bristol Old Vic's 250th Anniversary programme has been no exception, featuring productions from each of the four centuries of the theatre's life. I took in the Lesley Manville opus Long Day's Journey Into Night earlier in the year and returned to the South West with great anticipation for the 21st century strand of work, which is the macabre, and excellent, new musical The Grinning Man

Based on the Victor Hugo novel L'Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs), the show tells the dark tale of Grinpayne, a young man mutilated as a child who scrapes a living as part of a carnival troupe with his adopted family. Grinpayne keeps the lower part of his face covered but the highlight of the fair comes when he reveals his scarred 'smile', a sight that moves people in unpredictable ways, not least the royal family in whose intrigues Grinpayne finds himself increasingly embroiled.

Review: A Pacifist's Guide To The War On Cancer, National

"Fingers crossed
Make a wish
What gruesome game of chance is this?
Cross your chest
Count 1 in 3
And pray it doesn't grow in me"

A musical about cancer? As unlikely as it might seem, A Pacifist's Guide To The War On Cancer isn't even the first one that I've seen. That dubious honour goes to Happy Ending, one of the most misjudged shows I saw last year, but fortunately this Complicite and National Theatre co-production in association with HOME Manchester rejoices in a much stronger pedigree, a collaboration between performance artist Bryony Kimmings (book and lyrics), Brian Lobel (book) and Tom Parkinson (music).

A Pacifist's Guide... posits itself as "an all-singing, all-dancing celebration of ordinary life and death" and this it does by collating varying stories of people diagnosed with cancer into a single hospital waiting room, watched over by Emma, a single mother waiting for some tests or suspected bone cancer to be conducted on her baby son. And over the course of a long night, we hear their tales of living with the disease, the trials of having to deal with other people's reactions to it, the wells of emotion it taps into.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Review: Moby Dick, Union

"The critics won't like it"

Sometimes, returning to shows that might not have lived up to original expectations can reveal real treasures and several of London's fringe theatres have built up a reputation in doing just that, notably the Finborough and the Union. And it is the latter who have opted to tackle notorious 90s flop musical Moby Dick, a frankly batshit meta-adaptation of the Herman Melville novel by Hereward Kaye and Robert Longden.

Moby Dick's conceit is that it is a show-within-in-a-show, the students and staff of St Godley's Academy for Girls putting on a performance in order to save their school, and what a frantically high-energy performance it is. So much so that it's frightfully difficult to work out exactly what the hell is going on - a tongue-in-cheek synopsis of Moby Dick (the novel) is helpfully provided but there's no guide to navigating the whirlpool of this production. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth

“Messing about in a boat"

Messrs Stiles, Drewe and Fellowes clearly have an affinity for working with each other as hot on the heels of Half A Sixpence, about to open in West End after a successful run in Chichester, comes another collaboration on a musical version of The Wind in the Willows. Destined for an as yet unconfirmed West End residency, it is currently touring from Plymouth to Salford and then on to Southampton, spreading its gentle, pastoral charms across the UK.

And its charms are gentle, befitting any iteration of the beloved children's novel by Kenneth Grahame. Julian Fellowes' adaptation is faithful to that story and though the scale of Rachel Kavanaugh's production is suitably large, it is also refreshingly simple. Peter McKintosh's design is atmospheric but uncomplicated, playful rather than epic in its idyllic evocation of the British countryside, ably assisted by Aletta Collins' languid choreography.