Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review: The Children, Royal Court

"At our time of life, we simply cannot deal with this shit"

It's interesting to see the things that make ruffles in the theatrical establishment and those which pass by without comment. Vicky Featherstone's reign at the Royal Court has not been without its uneven moments but the fact that The Children will be followed on the main stage by the return of Escaped Alone is indicative both of the daring nature of her programming in forefronting stories about older people, and also its success.

Lucy Kirkwood's new play further ups the ante in making her protagonists sexual beings, her trio of retired scientists are battling not only the fallout from nuclear disaster but from the collision of their emotional lives. Nearly 40 years ago, Hazel and Rose were rivals for Robin and the play opens with the two women seeing each other for the first time since then. It's a stilted, strange encounter, further complicated by Robin's arrival. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Re-review: The Last Five Years, St James

"First, a story"

When The Last Five Years announced an extension of a week just after opening, it meant I was able to nab a pair of cheap tickets down the front, conveniently on the side where the shirtless scene happens, and take a friend. And I'm glad to I got to revisit the show, both to see it (literally) from a different angle and also to experience it with understudy Samuel Thomas playing Jamie, as Jonathan Bailey was suffering from an indisposition.

My original review of Jason Robert Brown's production of his own musical can be read here and as per, it still stands. Samantha Barks has really got the role of Cathy down to perfection with a beautiful line in rueful, reflective humour alongside that gorgeous voice. And Thomas did a great job as Jamie, perhaps more of a vocal match for his co-star as evidenced in a stellar 'Nobody Needs To Know' - my only note would be his clock dancing could be a little freer (and that's only because I've seen Bailey do it, my friend thought he 'clocked' just fine!).

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Marianne Elliott wasted no time in making headlines twice over last week - after the announcenement of her departure from the National Theatre, it was officially been announced that she has teamed up with theatre producer Chris Harper to set up Elliott Harper Productions which will produce new work throughout 2017. The first play in the season will be Simon Stephens' Heisenberg which will be directed by Elliott and run at a yet-to-be confirmed venue in Autumn 2017. This will be followed by Oedipus to Antigone in a new adaptation by Yael Farber who will also direct. 

But the highlight of the season looks set to be a modern revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's musical Company which will see the glorious Rosalie Craig take on the role of Bobbie, in a gender-reversed version of the musical about a confirmed bachelor that has been specially approved by Sondheim, once again directed by Elliott.

Not much else is known about the production or even the season, but watch this space!



Though it may feel that the world needs another production of A Midsummer Night's Dream like it needs a Trump presidency, Joe Hill-Gibbins is sure to make it one to remember at the Young Vic. And predictably, he's got a great looking cast to help him. Announced so far are:

Michael Gould as Oberon,
Anastasia Hille as Titania
Leo Bill as Bottom.
John Dagleish as Lysander and
Jemima Rooper as Hermia
Oliver Alvin-Wilson as Demetrius
Anna Madeley as Helena
and Matthew Steer as Peter Quince.

A Midsummer Night's Dream starts on 16th February 2017.


Casting news coming thick and fast - the London Musical Theatre Orchestra's production of Christmas Carol - The Musical has also revealed its cast. Tackling the Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens' hit Broadway show will be:

Robert Lindsay as Scrooge
John Addison as Fred Anderson
Madalena Alberto as the Ghost of Christmas Past
Carrie Hope Fletcher as Emily
Giovanna Fletcher as Mrs Cratchit
Hugh Maynard as the Ghost of Christmas Present
Peter Polycarpou as Mr Fezziwig
and Norman Bowman as Jacob Marley.

The concert will take place on 19th December at the Lyceum Theatre.



Whoopi Goldberg is to perform her stand up show Whoopi Goldberg - Stand Up Live! for the first time in the UK. The Sister Act actress will appear on stage at the London Palladium for one night on 11 February 2017. I got to see her in the musical version of Sister Act in her brief run at the same venue but her stand-up promises to be something else entirely.



The musical version of Fantastic Mr Fox is about to open at Southampton's Nuffield, ahead of a London run at the Lyric Hammersmith from late January, and there's a first look at some of the songs in with this interview with composer Arthur Darvill.








Festive news #4 - #StageFaves launches new musical merchandise

Stage Faves, the pioneering social media directory for musical theatre fans, has launched several new ranges of fan merchandise, just in time for Christmas. All designs are available across women’s and men’s t-shirts as well as hoodies, tote bags and mugs. 

Stage Faves is a fresh concept in musical theatre community building, connecting fans, performers and shows with each other and all the 24/7 social media content they want in one place. At its heart is a database of more than 2,000 musical theatre performers – Alfie Boe to Zoe Doano and every letter in between – that pulls together all of their public social media feeds into a single profile page for fans.

Festive news #3 - West End Sings for Childline

And because things come in threes, here's the news about West End Sings' Christmas single 'If We Only Have Love' by Jacques Brel. Released to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Childline and all proceeds will go to the charity. The track can be pre-ordered from Friday 2nd December and will be released on Friday 9th December.

The song features stars from several West End Musicals plus the Sylvia Young Choir, with music by the producers of two out of the last three Christmas number 1s. Just some of the people singing are Dean John-Wilson, Cassidy Janson, Lucy St Louis, Davina Perera, Dylan Turner, Daniel Boys, Ben Forster, Rachelle Ann Go, Caroline Sheen, and Claire Sweeney - more details can be found on their website.

Festive news #2 - Christmas Concert by Music Theatre Masterclass

Also giving up precious time before Christmas in aid of a good cause, is this motley crew to the left. Rufus Hound will be hosting a concert featuring them at The Actor's Church in Covent Garden in aid of Children with Cancer UK on Sunday 18th December from 7.30pm. Children with Cancer UK is the leading national children's charity dedicated to the fight against childhood cancer. Almost 4,000 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK and their aims are to determine the causes, find cures and provide care for children with cancer.


The impressive line-up here features Ramin Karimloo, Cassidy Janson, Ben Forster, Emma Kingston, Peter Polycarpou, Sandra Marvin, Jordan Shaw, Emmanuel Kojo, Carole Stennett, Norman Bowman, and Chris Johnson. And the company will be bolstered by the Musical Theatre Masterclass Choir – a group of talented students from the London performing arts school, run by Michael Xavier (dammit, he really is close to the nicest man alive isn't he!).

Tickets cost £25 plus booking fee and are available here.
.

Festive news #1: West End Up Close… at Christmas

'Tis the season for goodwill to all, and proving most generous with their time are various sets of musical theatre performers who are doing all sorts of charitable endeavours this December. First up are the guys at Relative Motion have just announced West End Up Close… at Christmas, their third concert in partnership with The House of St Barnabas, a charity and members’ club in the heart of Soho.

After
 sold-out concerts earlier this year with Jodie Jacobs and Julie Atherton, this festive concert will take place on Wednesday 14th December at 7.30pm feature the amazing talents of Madalena Alberto, Julie Atherton, Julie Jupp, Joshua LeClair, Nigel Richards and George Ure as they bring some of their favourite songs and seasonal classics to the Chapel of St Barnabas in an intimate, acoustic concert, musically directed by James 
Taylor.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Review: Top to Bottom, White Bear

"One night with your face down in the pillow doesn't make you less of a man"

Kennington's White Bear Theatre has been at the mercy of a considerable overhaul of its parent pub over the last few months, but has now been relocated upstairs in a brand new space and a resumption of its programming. That includes development nights in their Sunday/Monday slot for emerging theatre companies and first up is Tripped Theatre Company with Top to Bottom by Lewis Chandler.

Playing out in real time, it starts off as a dinner party gone awry. Alison and Jeff have gone over to Mark and Tom's for dinner and as they knock back glasses of wine and amuse-bouches, both couples seem to be getting on fine. But a chance remark from Alison shatters the mood and instead of tucking into their main course, the foursome carve up each other as accusations and acrimony dominate the air.

Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith

"You don't get that quality of dance at Sadler's Wells"

There’s something wonderfully political about the Lyric Hammersmith’s pantomime Aladdin this year. Not just in Joel Horwood’s script, which packs in the requisite Trump and Brexit jokes, plus a cleverly worked visual gag for Article 50, and has the land of Fulhammerboosh ruled over by the Emperor One Per Cent. But in almost every aspect of Ellen McDougall’s production, there’s the kind of astute decision-making that has made her a director to watch and whets the appetite even more for her forthcoming Artistic Directorship of the Gate Theatre.

So the first character we meet is Abanazer, played with lip-smacking relish by Vikki Stone as a cross between Mrs Overall and Grotbag, who pretty much steals the show. And our Aladdin is no clueless US import but rather Lyric regular Karl Queensborough, notching up his eighth performance at a venue where he was nurtured by their youth programme. And casting Malinda Parris as the genie not only releases her sensational powerhouse vocal but also further shows up how questionable Disney’s Aladdin’s gender politics are over at the Prince Edward Theatre.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Review: Oil, Almeida,

"I left a man I loved so much, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t die. It makes you strong"

I wasn't 100% sure I'd make it along to Oil - my original date being derailed by travel chaos and a busy Autumn schedule meaning I could barely find space. But space I found eventually and whilst I'm glad that I got to see Ella Hickson's new play, for me it didn't quite live up to the (admittedly high) expectations that had been built up over its run at the Almeida. It's still good, and often very good, especially in its lead performances from Anne-Marie Duff and Yolanda Kettle, but I just didn't connect with the play at large.

There's no doubting the scale of the ambition here, the epic form tackled with gusto as the play's timeline stretches over 150 years with mother and daughter May and Amy playing out their five scenes ranging from the late nineteenth century to the near future. And whilst society's connection to and reliance upon oil is under the microscope, so too is the evolving role of women in that society, its changes explored by the time-travelling nature of the writing and the visionary production by Carrie Cracknell.

Review: Orca, Southwark Playhouse

"One girl, against the happiness of the whole village. Can you not see it has to be done?"

The Papatango prize has unearthed some fascinating new writing over the last few years, Luke Owen’s Unscorched, Louise Monaghan’s Pack and Dawn King’s Foxfinder to name just a few, and it is to the last play there that this year's winner bears some thematic similarity. Mining a vein of dystopian folklore clearly gets you far in this competition and Matt Grinter's Orca proves itself an interesting winner.

Directed by Alice Hamilton at the Southwark Playhouse, Orca works best as a skin-crawling pseudo-thriller, the ominous weight of something terribly wrong weighing down this community. On a remote island, an isolated village goes through the same ritual they've carried out for years - selecting a young girl to enact a mock sacrifice to disperse the orca pods who decimate the fishing stocks on which the community relies so heavily.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Review: Soho Cinders, Union

"Why don't handsome princes
Practice what they preach"

Though there's nothing ostensibly Christmassy about Stiles + Drewe's Cinderella remake Soho Cinders, it was still a little odd to see the show debut at the Soho Theatre in the height of summer in 2012. This revival at the Union Theatre is a little more festively timed and through Will Keith's direction and Joanne McShane's choreography, provides a level of entertainment to rival even the best of pantomimes.

The book, by Drewe and Elliot Davis, puts a gay spin on the story - fresh-faced escort Robbie is our Cinderella, closeted bisexual London mayoral candidate James Prince his Prince Charming, and older gay man (and client) Lord Bellingham just one of the flies in the ointments of their happy ever after. But though we're in the world of contemporary London politics, there's also a pair of 'ugly' sisters and a ball that everyone wants to attend to ensure some of that Cinderella magic sticks.

Cast of Soho Cinders continued

Review: Catch Me, Above the Arts

"We're all hurting"

The traditional image of musical theatre as clap-happy tap-dancing extravaganzas is one that still persists, even whilst musicals about living with cancer play at the National Theatre. And it is something that clearly occupies writers Arnoud Breitbarth and Christian Czornyj, as their introduction in the programme for their new show Catch Me tackles this issue head on. 

For Catch Me is a musical based around male suicide, the mental health struggles that lead people to such an act and the repercussions it has on those left behind. And pleasingly, Breitbarth and Czornyj show a strong understanding of the musical form and its storytelling potential. Here, songs tumble out of the characters, depicting their mental state, an organic extension of the story that really works, especially in the stronger first half.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Review: Shakespeare Trilogy, Donmar at King's Cross

"As you from crimes would pardoned be,Let your indulgence set me free"

I must confess I hate it when critics roll their reviews of separate shows of a larger 'event' into one overarching piece - if you have to buy separate tickets to see the shows, then reviewers should write reviews for each one. Of course, it's never quite as simple as that, it's nice to have the space to talk about the whole as well as the constituent parts, but it should be noted that the Shakespeare Trilogy has been just as enjoyable, if not more so, in its individual segments as it was on the epic (and awkwardly timed) trilogy day. 

I have seen all three of the shows before, and reviewed them - Julius Caesar, Henry IV, The Tempest - so that's my excuse for this composite piece. And for all that Phyllida Lloyd was uber-keen on having the official press response to the trilogy, I have to admit I didn't see too much artistic merit in running them together. The only real common thread that emerges is Harriet Walter's epic performance(s) as Hannah, the lifer who is the only character to recur in the prison setting that is used for all three shows.

The Tempest production photographs

All photos by Helen Maybanks






Henry IV production photographs

All photographs by Helen Maybanks



Julius Caesar production photographs

 All photographs by Helen Maybanks



Sunday, 20 November 2016

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival, Hampstead

"Join the movement for righteous anger"

With
 over 100 cast, writers, directors and crew, and 25 plays (none of which were by Agatha Christie!) spread over 7 programmes, Sphinx Theatre's Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was a full-on day indeed for those of us who stayed the course from midday to nearly 10pm, with scarcely time to imbibe yet another coffee as we moved from rehearsal room to studio to main house. But though I was 90% caffeine by the end, the buzz I was experiencing was one of delight at the sheer breadth and quality of the theatre we'd been privileged to witness.

The Women Centre Stage Festival was initiated by Sphinx to bring together artists, venues, commissioners and funders in expanding the range of women’s roles and this it has done in a number of different ways. Workshops ran throughout the week at the Actors Centre, a panel discussion broached the larger question of how to improve gender equality in theatre and the plays that were presented throughout the festival's performance day ranged from works commissioned and developed from the 2105 festival, to the fruits of Sphinx Writers Group, to rapid responses to this week's headlines.

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival - A Question of Identity

“I’m laughing on the outside but screaming on the inside”

The first session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival, tucked away in a rehearsal room under the stage, was entitled A Question of Identity, featuring three contrasting works of equal but different power. I saw Rose Lewenstein's Fucking Feminists as part of the Acts of Defiance festival at Theatre503 a couple of months ago, but its rapid wordplay and competing voices which parse and pull apart notions of contemporary feminism easily allow for repeated viewing as you consider whether a chair can be feminist or if white feminists are only interested in getting themselves above the glass ceiling.

As directed by Lisa Cagnacci, the foursome of Ania Sowinski, Jody Jameson, Karlina Grace-Paseda, and Anna Elijasz are clearly revelling in the familiarity with their material and pushing both its thoughtfulness and cheekiness. By comparison, Stephanie Ridings' The Road To Huntsville is much more restrained, a one-woman show tracking a writer's research journey into the world of women who correspond and enter in romantic relationships with convicts. Though perhaps less overtly theatrical, its message is no less chilling (I'm still reeling from the Danielle Steel titbit) and Ridings expertly manoeuvres our sympathies through her discoveries.

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival - Women on the Edge

“It’s something about my appearance that I can control”

The Women on the Edge session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival featured three works that were commissioned and developed from the 2015 festival held at the National Theatre. This just happened to include one of my favourite pieces from across the entire day - Camilla Harding and Alexandra Sinclair's Man Up! Deceptively simple in its format yet deliciously complex in its subject matter, the pair give the lie to conventional gender norms and make a fabulously compelling case for the importance of recognising gender fluidity in society.

Their stagecraft is ingenious too, transformations subtly worked so that they were halfway complete before you clock exactly what's going on. Judith Jones and Beatrix Campbell's Justice has no such ambiguity about it, an emotionally bruising look at the lasting impact of the Cleveland child abuse scandal and the trials its victims face in trying to escape its shadow, in search of a truth, a resolution that might somehow set them free. Directed by Ros Philips, Claire-Louise Cordwell's damaged warrior of justice is a brilliantly thorny part and contrasted well with Kathryn O'Reilly's softer but no less fierce budding campaigner.

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival - PRIDE and Prejudice


“Being deaf isn’t being broken”

The middle session of Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival saw our first trip into the Hampstead's main house for PRIDE and Prejudice. Opening with What I Was Told I Could Be And What I’ve Become, a collection of new worldviews from Graeae’s female writers. Directed by Jenny Sealey, six scenes played out with increasingly intermingled with each other, different experiences of life as disabled women coalescing into a theatrical roar.

Full list of playlets
Boys on Bikes by Karen Featherstone starring Phillipa Cole, 
Klutz by Amy Bethan Evans starring Kellan Frankland, 
Kids by Jackie Hagan starring Ali Briggs, 
Days of Our Lives by Rosaleen McDonagh starring Taharah Azam 
Statuesque by Rebekkah Bowsher starring Nickie Wildin 
Single by Matilda Ibini starring Vilma Jackson

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival - New Women


“Engaging with the voices is a radically liberating move”

There was undoubtedly a lot of theatre during the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival but for me, the New Women session in the middle of the day was the highlight - three cracking pieces which variously looked to the past, the present and the future to thrilling effect. We started with a group new to me - The Hiccup Project - two Brighton based performers blurring the lines between dance, comedy, and theatre to create a most beguiling form of performance art.

Somewhat confessional, somewhat quirky, altogether fun, Cristina Mackerron and Chess Dillon-Reams' May-We-Go-Round was a delight and a canny piece of programming as it was unlike anything else in all 10 hours of the day, made me excited to see further work by them and if nothing else, reminded us all of the benefits of a good skip. Looking to the past, Winsome Pinnock's Tituba embroiders a rich emotional life for the character who almost incidentally appears in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival - Sphinx Writers Group


“You told me getting pregnant would kill me”

The Sphinx Theatre Writers Group have been developing new ideas for six months now and the penultimate session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival allowed us to peep at the fruits of their labour. First up was Jessica Siân's White Lead directed by Chelsea Walker (the pair reuniting after their incendiary work on Klippies last year). Circling around ideas of artistic legacy, both genetic and physical, with a healthy dose of lesbian angst and same-sex parenting thrown in for good measure, Sian's writing was undoubtedly elevated by fearsomely committed performances from the glorious Kirsty Bushell and Karen Bryson and definitely left me wanting more.

Bunch by Catriona Kerridge, directed by Holly Race Roughan took an interesting route into the world of its mystery, first up contrasting the nature of public and private grief through the all-too-real loss suffered by two young women and the almost manic behaviour of a professional mourner, relishing the shared emotions released by high profile deaths be it Princess Di or the victims of the Soham murders. Bunch took a little while to get going for me but once it did, delivering a hell of a twist, I was again hungry for a continuation. Sara Huxley, Natasha Rickman and Miranda Bell starred in that one.

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival - 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines

“Open your eyes, what do you see?”

It may well have had much to do with the fact that I was knackered after the previous six but I have to admit that the seventh final session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was probably my least favourite of the day. The 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines programme saw writers respond to headlines of the moment to create rapid response plays - none of which really lived up to the quality of the programmed works that had preceded them.

There were lots of interesting ideas floating around - Rebecca Lenkiewicz and director Anna Ledwich's scorching take-down of Vogue's declaration that the cleavage is out of fashion probably worked the best, interleaved with a young woman's desperate search for adequate healthcare and the inadequacy of male responses to a serious discussion about breasts. And Charlene James' kidnap drama with a twist gave Maggie Steed a cracking part to play, directed by Alice Hamilton.

Cast of 24 Hours Plays continued

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Review: Princess, LOST

"So you think you can be a princess?"

Caught somewhere between theatre and dance, art installation and gay club extravaganza, Stuart Saint's Princess makes for a fascinating project, conceived as a response to traditional Disneyfied notions of fairytale femininity and finding something altogether more Grimm at its heart. Accompanied by a pulsing 80s-influenced electropop score by Saint, who also directs and choreographs, it's a show full of striking moments.

It's also a faintly perplexing show - a detailed synopsis in the programme offers clues as to what is happening once we've gone down the rabbit hole but even so, the narrative thread is hard to follow. Matters aren't helped by the talented company having to multi-role their way through the mash-up of storybook tropes, too often lacking the time to give characters the necessary definition before the next costume change and then the next.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Somewhat appropriately in the week following International Men's Day with its theme this year of male suicide, two shows tackling the subject open in London. Ella Hickson's Boys gets a short revival at the LOST Theatre (read my review of the 2012 Soho Theatre production) and new musical Catch Me, written by Arnoud Breitbarth and Christian Czornyj, slots into the Above the Arts Theatre - I'll be 'catching' it later in the week so watch this space for a review.


Some interesting casting news coming out of the National Theatre's Winter Season. Joining Tamsin Greig as Malvolia in Simon Godwin's take on Twelfth Night is the delicious Oliver Chris (Orsino) and the equally lovely Phoebe Fox (Olivia), along with Daniel Ezra (Sebastian) , Tamara Lawrance (Viola), Doon Mackichan (Feste) and Daniel Rigby (Sir Andrew Aguecheek).Also, Kate Fleetwood will be leading the cast of Lindsey Ferrentino's Ugly Lies the Bone.



Friday, 18 November 2016

Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

"You can never go back to before"

Mother may spend a song telling us that we can never go 'Back To Before' but fortunately you can go back to Ragtime with no fear. And in a post-election climate, it can't help but feel even more charged as the USA finds itself at a(nother) momentous point in its history. You can read my original review here and if anything, Thom Southerland's production has gotten even better as the actor-musicians feel even more confident and comfortable. 

Leading performances from Jennifer Saayeng and Ako Mitchell, Earl Carpenter and Anita Louise Combe, and Gary Tushaw remain powerful as ever. But on second viewing I enjoyed watching ensemble members and just how damn hard they're working - Kate Robson-Stuart, Christopher Dickins and James Mack particularly standing out for me... If you've not seen the show yet, there's a trailer below for your delectation but move quickly, there's less than a month less of the run.

>

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photos by Annabel Vere & Scott Rylander
Booking until 10th December

Cast of Ragtime continued

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Review: Half A Sixpence, Noël Coward

"I'd let him strum my banjo"

It was no surprise to discover that Half A Sixpence would be transferring into the West End - its run at Chichester Festival Theatre was a huge success (you can read my review here) and with Cameron Mackintosh on producing duties, it was always going to be a case of when rather than if. It's a slow-burner of a show, the second act really is the business thanks to Andrew Wright's choreography and as it opened at the Noël Coward Theatre last night, you can now read my 4 star review for the transfer over at Cheap Theatre Tickets here

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th February

Cast of Half A Sixpence continued

Cast of Half A Sixpence continued

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Review: The Sewing Group, Royal Court

"This is what we call a safe space"

When I was at primary school, we did a thing in needlepoint where we sewed seemingly random shapes in a line and only when we'd finished and Mrs Holcroft (I think it was) told us to look at the spaces inbetween, did we see that we'd made a handicraft tribute to Jesus. That's still the first thing I think of when I think of sewing and there's a tenuously similar link of 'do you see what it is yet' to The Sewing Group, EV Crowe's new play for the Royal Court.

Stewart Laing's production opens in the bare timber of a log cabin where two women are sewing. Enigmatically short scenes, sometimes containing just a single glance, interspersed with total blackouts offer tantalising threads to follow - an outsider joins this rural community but her mere presence in the group soon becomes a disruption, leading to more than just dropped stitches in the slow and increasingly strange unfolding of the story.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Review: The Mirror Never Lies, Cockpit

“Sometimes being subtle doesn't have the desired effect"

'Mirror
mirror on the wall', 'the mirror crack'd from side to side', 'it's like you're my mirror', there's many a mirror that has gone down in fame but in its current form, new musical The Mirror Never Lies doesn't look set to join them. Based on the Barbara Pym novel The Sweet Dove Died and a clear labour of love for bookwriter, lyricist and director Joseph - with music by Juan Iglesias - it is ill-served by this flimsy production.

The plot certainly has potential. Set in the swinging Sixties of Carnaby Street, girl-about-town Leonora is struggling to come to terms with the realities of middle age. When handsome young university student James drops into her life, she sets herself to making him hers, but she has stiff competition first in fellow student Phoebe and then in lascivious American Ned who brings out James' bisexual side.

Mary Stuart - heads you win

"We are both queens"

There's much to enjoy about this Mary Stuart but what is particularly pleasing to see is Robert Icke's directorial instincts developing and maturing. The production opens with Tim Reid's live video, capturing the opening gambit, but cannily isn't used again until a key counterbalancing action later on; likewise original compositions from Laura Marling are quite the coup but again are used sparingly, wisely, at two crucial and contrasting moments. The timestamping of each act over a more or less 24 hour period measures out a steady but always forceful sense of pace - Icke has always been a strikingly effective director but the less is more ethos espoused here is singularly superb.

So too with the political overtones of his adaptation, everywhere you look contemporary resonances can be found but they're never overplayed. The 52% are hauled over the coals when "a majority does not prove a thing is right"; the dangers of riding roughshod, Trump-like, over the tenets of "international laws" are explored; the doublespeak (or rather non-speak) of 'Brexit means Brexit' finds a chilling partner in Elizabeth's determination to shift the responsibility of the death warrant onto her man Davison, surely no accident that his modern-day equivalent is called David Davis...

Mary Stuart - tails you lose


"You seem to know our miseries alright"

A coin toss is naturally a game of chance and so the odds of getting the same side twice in a row are just as high as getting heads and then tails (or maybe not, but I'm not researching probability theory on Wikipedia to pretend that I know). What I'm trying to say is that I went back a week later and I got Williams as Elizabeth and Stevenson as Mary again and so my plans of having two different reviews went kaput!

Here's the review I did write.

CD Review: Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe

"Shall we dance?
'I thought you'd never ask!'"

Though Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe could form a weirdly intriguing supergroup, it's actually two separate CDs that they've released in pairs. Last Tango In Halifax co-stars Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid have their gently swinging You Are The Best Thing... That Ever Has Happened To Me and powerhouse belters Michael Ball and Alfie Boe and come Together for a booming musical theatre extravaganza.

Recorded with the Jason Carr Quartet, You Are The Best Thing... is exactly how you'd imagine an album by two such national treasures would play out. Standards like 'The Way You Look Tonight' and 'I Wish I Were In Love Again' rub shoulders with lesser known tracks (to me at least) like 'I May Be Wrong (but I Think You're Wonderful), and 'You Haven't Changed At All' and the mood is one of exquisitely tailored classiness.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Review: School of Rock, New London

"Wreck your room and rip your jeans.
Show ‘em what rebellion means"

The 2003 Jack Black-starring film School of Rock was a big success, trading off its stock talent show plot device with genuine rock music credentials in a soundtrack full of the likes of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and The Doors. So it was a little bit of a surprise to find that Andrew Lloyd-Webber decided to adapt it into an original musical - his version of rock is certainly not the same as that espoused by Dewey Finn, School of (Pop-)Rock perhaps.

But one sticky moment aside (where a snippet of Stevie Nicks' Edge of Seventeen sits awkwardly alongside a rock ballad 'Where Did the Rock Go?' exposing the contrast between the two kinds of rock), this School of Rock is a cheerily appealing slice of musical theatre. And with a seemingly endless role call of talented youngsters who, as we're reminded at the beginning and the end of the show, play all their own instruments live, shows off a wealth of emerging British musical theatre talent.

Cast of School of Rock continued

Cast of School of Rock continued

Cast of School of Rock continued

Cast of School of Rock continued

News - Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival begins

Monday 14th November sees the launch of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival at Hampstead Theatre and The Actors Centre. Produced by Sphinx Theatre Company and Joanna Hedges, Women Centre Stage exists to promote, advocate for and inspire women in the arts and has developed and commissioned a wide range of new work which uniquely brings together a diverse array of women characters far from the margins into centre stage.

This is the second year of Women Centre Stage and the festival features a range of workshops and creative comings-together which will culminate in the Performance Day on Sunday 20th November which will feature seven programmes throughout the day. This will include opportunities to see emerging work from new and established writers, plays commissioned from last year's festival, and see four playwrights respond the headlines of the day in writing a new play each in 24 hours. 
“What will we say at the Women Centre Stage Festival? Enough of being backgrounded. The world will just have to get used to our stronger presence in every walk of life and art. I’m happy to be part of that conversation.” 
Dame Janet Suzman.
(c) Ruphin Coudyzer
Reflecting the significance of the festival and the work it has been and will continue to achieve, there's a mightily impressive role call of British talent contributing to the programme. Writers such as Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Evening Standard Award-winning Charlene James, Dawn King, Howard Brenton, Vinay Patel, April de Angelis and Sabrina Mahfouz will be represented with actors like Dame Janet Suzman, Ann Mitchell, Maggie Steed, Cecilia Noble and Ronke Adekoluejo treading the boards.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Review: The Worst Was This, Hope

"I have no gift for filling up a page"

The Hope Theatre's Gothic Season continues with The Worst Was This - a steampunkish take on Elizabethan London where the troubled relationship between two guys named Will and Chris plays out in a local hostelry, The Wayward Sisters' Bar and Grill. You might know them better by their last names, Shakespeare and Marlowe, but make no mistake, this is no ordinary take on the authorship question.

For we're in a parallel world where war and plague has devastated the land and the three sisters who run the pub have to eke out a living by taking inspiration from Mrs Lovett in recycling corpses for their meat pies. Marlowe, left disfigured after a street brawl and cared for by Odette, clearly holds a torch for aspiring handsome actor Will but long-hidden secrets threaten to bubble up and it is soon apparent that there's little place for affection in this cruel world.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Review: Tonight with Donny Stixx, Bunker

"The boy with tricks..."

New venue The Bunker has been rather canny with the programming for its opening season - opting for a couple of Edinburgh hits to ease their way into the public consciousness before giving new British musical Muted its debut. Skin A Cat opened eyes as they opened their doors last month and now it is the turn of Philip Ridley's similarly arresting Tonight with Donny Stixx

The inimitable characteristics of Ridley's writing are as complex as Sondheim's magisterial musical theatre and equally, they respond to creatives who are well-versed in his ways. So regular Ridley director David Mercatali is at the helm of this monologue, (a kind of sibling to Dark Vanilla Jungle) with Sean Michael Verey performing, following on from their collaboration on Radiant Vermin, which also starred DVJ's Gemma Whelan.

Review: Othello, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

"O god that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains"

Playing in rep with Twelfth Night at Highgate's Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre, Arrows and Traps' Othello sees them take a slightly different approach to the tragedy, one which is closer to the way in which they reimagined Macbeth earlier this year. Modernised and musicalised, Will Pinchin's movement plays a key role in the elegant tenor of Ross McGregor's visually stimulating production.

Much less of an ensemble show than Twelfth Night, Othello offers an interesting contrast in featuring leading performances, even if they are somewhat uneven. Spencer Lee Osborne's Othello is fascinatingly insecure which offers a route into his emotional journey, if not quite convincing that he could ever become a general. And Pippa Caddick's Desdemona responds well to this intensity, playing up her innocence but never cloyingly so.