Thursday, 14 December 2017

Review: Pinocchio, National

"Do you want puppets?"

No matter the weather, as you walk into the Lyttelton's auditorium for Pinocchio, you’ll find that it is snowing. A simple trick but one that inspires just the right childlike wonder for an adaptation of such a popular fairytale, but it is also a sense of magic that John Tiffany's production of Dennis Kelly's adaptation sometimes struggles to hold onto, as darkly disturbing as it is exuberantly heartfelt.

That darkness comes from several directions. The narrative cleaves closely to the moral instruction of a fable so Pinocchio's struggle with the dark side is presented as a straight-up choice between good and evil - make the wrong choice in dealing with the Fox or the Coachman and things could end up pretty grim, as we witness in a particularly brutal bit of puppet mutilation (it shocked even me!).

Review: Beauty & The Beast (A Musical Parody), King's Head

"What would Jane Austen do?"

Having embraced my inner Scrooge this Christmas by deciding not to see any productions of A Christmas Carol or any pantos either, my resolve was tested by the return of Fat Rascal to the London stage, a young company devoted to create "fresh and funny feminist musical theatre" and whose ode to the vibrator was an unexpected pleasure (ooh-er) last year. This year they're blessing us with fewer sex toys in the form of Beauty & The Beast (A Musical Parody).

And not just any Beauty and the Beast, a gender-swapped one that gives us a Jane Austen-obsessed Beau, a swash-buckling Siobhan in place of Gaston and a Beast who is no less fearsome for being of the female variety. And though it is in the late-night slot at the King's Head, bookwriters Robyn Grant and Daniel Elliot never make the mistake of overloading the smut (as many an adult panto is wont to do), preferring instead to just be really, really funny.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Review: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters, Hope

"Jamie stayed and explored Peterborough, which has a Waitrose. He can’t resist a good Waitrose”

From the minute you walk into the Hope for A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters, you know something special is afoot. Chairs are draped with blankets and cushions, bowls of Quality Street twinkle like fairy lights, and we're heartily greeted like old friends by the couple whose front room we're entering. It's a warmly convivial beginning to a warmly convivial show.

A Curmudgeon's Guide... is based on a book by the late, lamented Guardian diarist Simon Hoggart, where he collated some of the more extreme examples of the Christmas round-up-of-the-year letter that people have received. Gently poking fun at the humblebrags and hubris they contain, Scott Le Crass has fashioned an intimate two-hander which looks lightly at that all-too-human need to share.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Review: Thirty Christmases, New Diorama

"Don't be a prick at Christmas"

As many of us lurch from swapping random Secret Santa gifts at office parties to necking eggnog at pantos (just me?!) in preparation for the culinary bliss that is my dad's Christmas dinner, it is easy to forget that the festive season is necessarily a happy one for everyone. And it is this feeling that Supporting Wall's Thirty Christmases (in association with Arts at the Old Fire Station and the New Diorama) is concerned with exploring, through this bittersweetly wry and affecting comedy.

Written by Jonny Donahoe and directed by Alice Hamilton, it's the story of siblings Jonny and Rachel who haven't spent Christmas together in nearly ten years due to a big falling out. Through the efforts of their mutual friend Paddy, they've come together to delve into their shared past to try and work out their issues, for it turns out they've never actually had a conventional Christmas at all, due to a chaotic upbringing by their single-parent socialist firebrand of a father.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Review: Little Women the Musical, Hope Mill

"Somethings are meant to be"

Finally made my first trip to the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester's fringe powerhouse which has been firing transfers down to London with quite the regularity. I wanted to experience the theatre for itself though and having heard great things about Little Women the Musical, didn't want to miss out in case this is the one that doesn't actually make its way south (although it should, it really should!).

With a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, this musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved novel is a wonderful piece of adaptation. Streamlining plot whilst simultaneously enriching character, it translates the travails of the four March sisters into a warm and witty couple of hours and naturally makes you cry just as much it gladdens the heart.

Review: Guys and Dolls, Royal Exchange

"The passengers were bound to resist"

Michael Buffong's reinterpretation of Guys and Dolls, a co-production between the Royal Exchange and Talawa Theatre, is just that, a bold re-envisioning of the classic musical that consequently comes up with something different. That's the point. So it may take a second to recalibrate, to adjust to these portrayals of familiar characters but in doing so you get to embrace something fresh and new and really rather exciting.

Moving the show from Times Square to the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in 1939 allows Buffong to employ an all-black cast, infuse Frank Loesser's score with jazz and gospel (new orchestrations by Simon Hale) and introduce a vibrant choreographic vision (by Kenrick Sandy) that draws on several decades of dance history. The result is less-concept heavy than you might expect and often, explosively good fun.

Album Review: Rachel Tucker - On The Road (Deluxe)

"Will I ever be more than I've always been?"

Proving that you don't need to win the reality show that you're in to set your career, and that it's your talent that matters, Rachel Tucker's success is testament to just how far hard work and a hella big voice can take. Headlining shows in the West End and Broadway, including playing Wicked's Elphaba in both, 2017 has seen her play a series of dates on a UK tour with musical director Kris Rawlinson, which in turn produced an album - On The Road - which has recently been digitally released with some bonus tracks in a deluxe edition. 

Reflecting the diversity of a live show, the record opens with a potency and confidence that could see her take her place among the Rat Pack as she swings confidently through classics like 'Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable To Lunch Today)' and 'The Candyman'. New musical theatre gets a look in with the searching emotion of Dear Evan Hansen's 'Waving Through A Window' and then the intensity is dialled down for a moment with Randy Newman's heartbreaker 'When She Loved Me'.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Review: Daisy Pulls It Off, Park

"Buck up kiddies"

Theatres that aren't putting on pantomimes face something of a dilemma - what do you do to ensure you capture audience attention in this most lucrative of seasons? Some theatres like the Almeida programme counter-intuitively whilst others go for alternatively festive fare (see Wilton's Music Hall and the Christmas-set The Box of Delights).Or you can do what the Park have done and put in family-friendly fare like Daisy Pulls It Off.

It's a nifty move as this type of play - an Olivier winner from 1983 no less - fulfils much of the same purpose as panto, in its endearing daftness as it evokes a world of 1920s jolly-hockey-sticks adventuring and in its slyly subversive sense of humour which manages that thing of making the kids laugh on the one level and letting the parents get their giggles in a naughtier, bawdier way. It's all rather silly but good fun with it.

Midlife Crooner Crisis Album Reviews

With Top of the Pops cruelly taken away from us, I've rarely much of a clue as to what in the charts. But I doubt even the most knowledgable of experts could have predicted that one of 2016's biggest albums would come from the presenter of The Chase. Chasing Dreams ended the year as the second biggest UK debut and perhaps unsurprisingly given his key demographic, achieved that with predominantly physical sales.

So the arrival of a follow-up was never in doubt but it brings with it competition, from a whole raft of middle-aged white male presenters seeking to tap into those CD sales. And me being the kind soul that I am, I've listened to some of them, mainly so that you don't have to...as it's not a field overflowing with the kind of music that floats my boat. Each to their own though. 

Album Review: Anton Du Beke - From The Top

"Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?"

There doesn't seem to be anything that can stop the dead-eyed determination of Anton Du Beke to try and become the kind of all-round entertainer that his website proclaims him to be. Best known for his regular mid-season finishes on Strictly, he's dipped his toes into the world of presenting (whatever happened to Hole in the Wall...) and now it is the record industry that has to avert its eyes politely for a wee while.

Released in time for Christmas, From The Top contains zero surprises. If you were thinking of getting for someone who likes him, then they are going to be satisfied. Du Beke has an inoffensive smooth tone that suits the more undemanding choices of standards here ('Beyond The Sea', 'More', 'It Had To Be You'), Strictly singers Lance Ellington and Hayley Sanderson make guest appearances as does Connie Fisher, and there's bags of that inimitable charisma of his.

Album Review: Alexander Armstrong - In A Winter Light

"I was following the pack"

Alexander Armstrong has many a string to his bow - actor, comedian, presenter and singer - and following a couple of albums that have hit the Top 10, he now makes the move that seem de rigeur for the middle-aged male entertainer this year, in releasing his first Christmas album In A Winter Light

The album is nearly completely stymied by its song selection, misguidedly mishmashing its genres so that we're taken from traditional carols to easy listening to the Fleet Foxes to original compositions pastiching them all. A different kind of performer might have been able to tie such a collection together but there's a stiff formality to Armstrong's singing that means he is not the one.

Album Review: Bradley Walsh - When You're Smiling

"I'm living in a kind of daydream"

No-one could accuse Bradley Walsh of resting on his laurels. Between hosting The Chase, appearing in his regular Peter Pan panto and preparing to become one of the 13th Doctor's new companion, it's a wonder he's managed to find time to record a new album. But such was the success of his first that you could guarantee this was a trick not to be missed and so When You're Smiling is now selling well in the few places that still actually sell CDs.

And it is a perfectly serviceable album that is as enjoyable to listen to as these things get. Walsh has a richly strong voice but more importantly, a keen sense of what is suited to it. So we get an album full of standards from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong, plus a smattering of hits from musicals such as Cabaret, The King and I, and Guys And Dolls.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Review: The Box of Delights, Wilton's Music Hall

"The wolves are running, Kay Harker"

There'
s a wonderfully rough magic to Justin Audibert's production of The Box of Delights that makes it the perfect choice for Wilton's Music Hall's festive show. And it is one that will have extra resonance for those of a generation similar to my own, whose childhood TV watching centred on a VHS copy of the 1984 TV adaptation, whose use of graphics and green screen hasn't necessarily aged all that well (see around 14.30)...

The nods to the occasional naffness of that design (a car that turns into an aeroplane!) were much appreciated but such is the warmth and wit of the theatrical invention here, that it is hard not to be won over by Piers Torday's adaptation of John Masefield's 1935 fantasy novel whether you're familiar with it or not. And though it flirts with the odd sinister undertone, the abiding feel is one of adventurous derring-do and festive cheer, fit for whatever family you have around you.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Review: Dear Brutus, Southwark Playhouse

"I am not the man I thought myself"


There's a knack to finding the kind of long-neglected plays that respond well to a revival, as opposed to the ones that are deservedly collecting dust, and Ashley Cook's Troupe seem to have nailed it. Making a name for themselves with the likes of Rodney Ackland's After October and James Shirley's The Cardinal, Troupe has now turned to JM Barrie - best known of course for sharing the same birthday as me, oh, and Peter Pan - to shine a light on the little-performed 1917 play Dear Brutus.

It is undoubtedly a curious thing. It is set in a country house where the Puckish figure of its owner - Robin Hooper's Lob - has invited a group of strangers for the weekend, with the intention of luring them into the enchanted wood that appears every midsummer to explore the lives that they might have led. A piece of magic-infused escapism that shifts tonally between whimsical frivolity and real psychological acuity, tear-jerking drama and comic romps and as such, can feel hard to pin down. 

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Review: Austentatious, Piccadilly

"I am nine and ten, NINE AND TEN"


It's no secret that I do enjoy a bit of improv and alongside The Showstoppers, Austentatious are surely one of the most reliably entertaining and inventive of companies in the field. Regular readers will know that I'm a big fan, regularly attending their monthly residency at the Leicester Square Theatre and so I was delighted to find out that they've gone for an upgrade and for the next few months, you can find them in one of the grander houses of the West End at the Piccadilly Theatre.

If you're new to the game, audiences get to suggest the title of a lost Jane Austen work like below



and once one is picked - tonight's was We Need To Talk About Emma - the company of six (from a larger rotating crew of eight) set about creating an entirely new literary masterpiece from scratch, relying on nothing but the surreal swerves of their imagination. And without fail, they are simply hilarious. 

Album Reviews: Marisha Wallace - Soul Holiday / Leslie Odom Jr - Simply Christmas (Deluxe Edition)

"Drive the dark of doubt away"

By all accounts, Marisha Wallace has had quite the couple of weeks. Taking over as Effie White in Dreamgirls, delivering a cracking performance on the Strictly results show and somehow finding the time to fit in two solo concerts to support the launch of her debut album Soul Holiday. I was otherwise occupied on Sunday but I have been able to listen to the album and it is a delightfully warm and happy collection, destined to put smiles on faces this Christmas.

As the title suggests, the dominant mood is a soulful one and it is one which reinvigorates this familiar material with a fresh spirit. Festive standards like 'I'll Be Home for Christmas' and 'The Christmas Song' shimmer with new feeling, 'Do You Hear What I Hear' somehow becomes more glorious, and a subtle take on 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' with British jazz pianist Ross Stanley is a truly beautiful affair, deeply heartfelt throughout.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Review: Goats, Royal Court

"Has anyone ever told the truth?"

Can I recommend Goats, even with live goats appearing onstage with the cast? Not by the hairs on my chinny chin chin. There's definitely something interesting at the nub of Liwaa Yazji's play, based on so many real events from her native Syria, but it has yet to achieve dramatically effective form. Whether lost in translation into English (by Katharine Halls) or onto the stage (by Hamish Pirie), it is hard-going indeed.

The problem is a pace that is stultifyingly slow. And in a society completely riven by conflict, increasingly divested of its young blood by rising death tolls, it shouldn't be so. As Yazji interrogates the madness of an ongoing civil war, where the families of dead soldiers are rewarded for their sacrifice with the gift of a goat, where neither side can really be considered 'good', where the role of propaganda muddies the water even further, the potential is clear.

Full cast of the Bridge Theatre's Julius Caesar announced

The full cast for the Bridge Theatre's second production - a promenade version of Julius Caesar - has been announced and obviously the news that Adjoa Andoh will be playing Casca is the bee's knees.

The company is: Adjoa Andoh (Casca), David Calder (Caesar), Leaphia Darko (ensemble), Rosie Ede (Marullus/ Artemidorus), Michelle Fairley (Cassius), Leila Farzad (Decius Brutus), Fred Fergus (Lucius/Cinna the Poet), Zachary Hart (ensemble), Wendy Kweh (Calpurnia), David Morrissey (Mark Antony), Mark Penfold (Caius Ligarius), Abraham Popoola (Trebonius), Sid Sagar (Flavius/Popilius Lena), Nick Sampson (Cinna), Hannah Stokely (Metellus Cimber), Ben Whishaw (Brutus) and Kit Young (Octavius).

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Winners of the 2017 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

The winners of the 2017 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards have been announced and there's barely a hint of controversy about them at all! A worthy set of winners and I don't think many would begrudge The Ferryman its headline-grabbing success, nabbing three of the four it was nominated for.

Full list of winners below the cut.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Review: Parliament Square, Bush

"No one ever changed the world alone"

With pretty much every production of hers that I see (most memorably Lela & Co. and I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole), Jude Christian is becoming one of those directors whose work cannot be missed. And with the 2015 Bruntwood Prize-winning Parliament Square, now opening at the Bush after an October premiere at the Royal Exchange, that reputation doesn't look in any danger at all.

She's helped here by a magnificently fearless piece of writing from James Fritz, split almost schizophrenically into two contrasting parts. The first presents us with Kat, a woman on the precipice of leaving her husband and their young son to commit some unspeakable act, being urged along the way by an enigmatic figure far more bluntly daring than she seems to be. The second then takes us past the act, which failed, into an uncertain world of uneasy compromise. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

Review: La Soirée, Aldwych

"This isn't a sit-back-and-fold-your-arms kind of show"

Variety is the spice of life and it's a taste we apparently can't get enough of, it would seem. Brett Haylock, Mark Rubinstein and Mick Perrin's La Soirée has been around in one form or another (previously called La Clique) for well over ten years and the grandeur of the venues it has played has grown from unused casinos to Spiegeltents to finally now, when it has taken up residence in the West End itself, in a reconfigured Aldwych Theatre.

La Soirée is a scrumptious smörgåsbord of entertainment, an ever-changing line-up of acrobats and daredevils and comedians and burlesque acts and so on and so forth, who ask you to put your scepticism and reserve to one side for the evening, and just have a real good time. To this end, the bar remains open throughout and if you're anywhere near the front, then considerable audience participation is a real possibility but roll with it and you might just have the time of your life (like Warren did tonight...!)

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things




The race to declare the most exciting show for 2018 has well and truly been declared by Complicite with Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a new production based on the award-winning novel by Max Porter. Directed by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy, it is a moving story of a widower and his young sons which becomes a profound meditation on love, loss and living.

And if only dates for Galway and Dublin have been announced thus far , a glance at the co-producers - the Barbican, Cork Opera House, Edinburgh International Festival, Oxford Playhouse, St Ann’s Warehouse and Warwick Arts Centre - gives a little hope that we might not have to travel the Irish Sea if we don't want to (although don't quote me on that!)

Nominations for the 18th What's on Stage awards

It's that time of year again and getting in early with the announcement of their nominees is What's on Stage. Voted for by the public, they're often skewed a little towards the bigger 'names' but this year's set of nominations are relatively controversy-free. There's something a little odd about the way that regional theatre has its own separate category but its actors appear in the main ones - I feel like regional theatre productions should either be considered entirely in or out, rather than this halfway house.

Naturally, big shows rule the roost - 42nd Street and Bat out of Hell lead the lists with 8 nominations apiece - and they've even found a way to shoehorn in Hamilton by nominating it for the two new categories of Best Cast Recording (which somehow includes Les Mis??) and Best Show Poster, thus being able to get round it not actually being open yet and grabbing the requisite headlines once it does, inevitably, win.

I've put a tiny bit more thought into the acting nominations here:
And all that's left to say it that the final voting stage, which closes 31 January, is now open and the winners will be announced at the annual Awards ceremony held on 25 February 2018 at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

Nominations for 2018 WOS Awards - Best Actor in a Play/Best Actress in a Play

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY SPONSORED BY RADISSON BLU EDWARDIAN

Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Andrew Scott, Hamlet
Bryan Cranston, Network
David Tennant, Don Juan in Soho
Martin Freeman, Labour of Love

I was ill the night I was meant to see Labour of Love and went to the pub instead of seeing Don Juan... Of the others, I think Scott edges just ahead for my vote, though I'm betting Tennant sweeps the award.

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Eve Best, Love in Idleness
Imelda Staunton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Olivia Colman, Mosquitoes
Natalie Dormer, Venus in Fur
Tamsin Greig, Labour of Love


I think I'd go for Best in this category, just because I do love her so. I'm thinking Dormer's striking goddess might take the public vote despite how loved Greig and Colman both are.

Nominations for 2018 WOS Awards - Best Actor in a Musical/Best Actress in a Musical

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL SPONSORED BY THE UMBRELLA ROOMS

Andrew Polec, Bat Out of Hell
Danny Mac, Sunset Boulevard
Hadley Fraser, Young Frankenstein
John McCrea, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Tom Lister, 42nd Street

Out of this bath of milky whiteness, John McCrea's fierce queen-in-the-making gets my vote, though I suspect Polec will be walking away with this one.



BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL SPONSORED BY 100 WARDOUR ST

Carrie Hope Fletcher, The Addams Family
Christina Bennington, Bat Out of Hell
Janie Dee, Follies
Josie Walker, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Ria Jones, Sunset Boulevard


A category that feels marred by a lack of clarity about how these awards consider regional productions. For me, I'd be happy with either Dee or Walker walking away with this but Fletcher would seem to be the one with the mobilised fanbase.

Nominations for 2018 WOS Awards - Best Supporting Actor in a Play/Best Supporting Actress in a Play

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY

Adrian Scarborough, Don Juan in Soho
Fra Fee, The Ferryman
Nathan Lane, Angels in America
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Angels in America
Peter Polycarpou, Oslo

A pleasingly diverse selection here, not one I could have predicted either, and I don't know which way it'll go - Lane perhaps? I think Polycarpou nicks it for my choice though.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY SPONSORED BY TONIC THEATRE

Denise Gough, Angels in America
Imogen Poots, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Jessica Brown Findlay, Hamlet
Juliet Stevenson, Hamlet
Sheila Atim, Girl from the North Country


Another one I find hard to call - maybe Gough has the buzz to carry her over the finish line? For me, Atim is hands down the winner, though it will eternally bug me that this is considered a play rather than a musical.

Nominations for 2018 WOS Awards - Best Supporting Actor in a Musical/Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Chris Howell, 42nd Street
Dex Lee, Five Guys Named Moe
George Sampson, Our House
Rob Fowler, Bat Out of Hell
Ross Noble, Young Frankenstein

Not made it to Five Guys Named Moe yet and I do love Lee, but on those I've seen, Fowler gets it, not least for his sizzling chemistry with Sharon Sexton (sadly overlooked below). I think Fowler will win this one too.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL SPONSORED BY NEWMAN DISPLAYS

Clare Halse, 42nd Street
Danielle Steers, Bat Out of Hell
Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Tracie Bennett, Follies
Zoe Rainey, An American in Paris

As with the Best Actress category, this is a Follies/Jamie dust-up - think Shorthouse nicks it this time though. And I'd like to think she'll emerge as the winner too, one of the most feel-good performances from a feel-good show.

News: Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor All Stars album is released

The weather outside might be frightful but new musical theatre is always delightful, especially when it is festive-themed. Following a target-smashing Kickstarter campaign this October, Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor All Stars album is released today, just in time for the holiday season. Featuring performances by Olivier Award-winner Rebecca Trehearn, Jon Robyns, Tori Allen-Martin, the Italia Conti School Choir and many more, the album is packed full of music by selected winners and runners-up of Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor from 2013-16.


Xmas Factor is Iris Theatre’s annual showcase of the very best new musical theatre, around the theme of Christmas. Writers are invited to send in a song which is selected by the programming team to continue in the competition, culminating in a Panel Award and Audience Award at the concert. This year’s event, All Stars, features the best of those finalists from across the last four years, including winners and runners up of the two awards - all of which feature on the album. Songs cover an eclectic mix of themes from Korean festivities in 'Christmas in Pyongyang' to the best Yuletide movies in 'Christmas Films Again' and the thoughts of Jesus’s dad himself in 'Joseph’s Lullaby'.

And as an Advent treat, you can listen to Trehearn's gorgeous contribution to the album right here - 'The Little Match Girl' written by Darren Clark.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National

"It's not about the word, it's the context in which it's used and who uses it"

A much welcome reprise for this extraordinary production of Inua Ellams' Barber Shop Chronicles, a co-production with Fuel & West Yorkshire Playhouse which sold out its initial run at the Dorfman in the summer (here's my review from then) and has already sold out this return engagement which brings back the original cast, ahead of a wee international tour when four new players, David Ajao, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe and Tuwaine Barrett, will step in for Anthony Welsh, Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun and Simon Manyonda.

That it is sold out shouldn't stop you from trying to get tickets - there's Friday Rush and there's refreshing this page in case of returns, and boy is it worth it. Bijan Sheibani's production does that magnificent thing of genuinely transforming the theatre into someplace else, someplace special, and the energy that crackles through every single minute of the performance - which starts from the moment you walk into the auditorium, this is definitely a show to be early for - is charged with the significance of these stories being told.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Review: Privates on Parade, Union

"Everyone knows it's the start of the Third World War"

Written in 1977 about events in 1948, there can be a temptation to dismiss the campery and dated gender politics and racial stereotyping of Privates on Parade as outdated and offensive. An argument could be made - and it is one that I have made myself before - that such notions need to be interrogated and challenged by productions. But equally, when the writing is intelligently nuanced and the direction sensitively done, audiences can be left to do this for themselves.

And so it is - I find - with Peter Nichols' play with songs, presented here by Kirk Jameson at the Union. Take the time to delve beneath the surface and you'll soon see there's incisive commentary about the insidious nature of colonialism, about the personal freedoms that can be explored when released from the social strictures of home, about the contemporary lack of opportunities for women, about how war is an equal opportunities offender when it comes to shattering happiness, whether gay or straight. 

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Brockley Jack


"In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing"

In some ways, the notion of mounting a production of Oscar Wilde's stalwart comedy The Importance of Being Earnest is a sound one - its effervescent wit remaining evergreen even 120 years after it was written. But equally, the weight of such familiarity - for it is a play that gets consistently put on a lot - means that audiences arrive with certain levels of expectation that can undermine anyone not completely secure in their work.

It's an issue exacerbated that the fact that there's not a huge amount that one can do, or that get done, to productions of Wilde's work - rooted as they are in that specific turn-of-the-century English milieu - to provide the levels of excitement that make them stand out. To wit - its last excursions in the West End relied on a soon-forgotten metatheatrical twist and the stunt casting of David Suchet as Lady Bracknell and neither really succeeded. 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Review: Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Apollo

"Go give the boys boners they won't know what to do with"

When Everybody's Talking About Jamie made its debut in Sheffield earlier this year (here's my review), hopes were high for a transfer, the news of which took a little time to be confirmed, leaving me worried it would suffer the fate of the gorgeous Flowers for Mrs Harris. But this sparkling new show has arrived in the West End and now sits on Shaftesbury Avenue at the Apollo as a proud piece of new British musical theatre and an equally proud piece of LGBT+ storytelling.

Written by Dan Gillespie Sells (music) and Tom MacRae (book and lyric) and adapted from a BBC documentary, Jamie casts off the archetypal coming out and gay bashing stories (though not completely ignoring them) in favour of a main narrative about an out and proud teen who is insistent that he's going to his high school prom in drag but only belatedly coming to realise that his determination to be fierce has consequences for those who love him.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Review: Klein Zielen, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

“En de ziel begreep dat dat kleine stukje genoeg was”

Completing a trilogy of Louis Couperus adaptations for Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Klein Zielen (Small Souls) is the kind of magisterial theatre on which reputations - such as Ivo van Hove's - are sustained. Couperus is a Dutch writer with a kind of Rattigan-like status as his work is revived here and Klein Zielen is no exception, a study of a family living under the same roof but shattered by the neuroses and traumas of the past that haunt every moment of their existence. 

This is about as lo-fi as van Hove gets, just the one video insert betraying any technological leanings, recalling the stark intensity of A View From The Bridge. And here again, you see the razor precision that he instils in his company and the way they relate to each other, interact with each other. As they each move around the wide open space of the Rabozaal carpeted in a ginormous rug, so much is said about their relationships in the juxtapositions they create.

Review: Uit het leven van marionetten, Rotterdamse Schouwburg

"In de stilte hoor je de waarheid"

In the name of maximising my time in the Netherlands, I've seen a fair few productions in Dutch without any linguistic assistance. Thursday night shows at the Stadschouwberg Amsterdam are regularly surtitled in English but I always want to see more. In the case of plays like Blood Wedding and The Maids, I've been able to get away with since I know them; with others, like A Bride in the Morning, it's been more of a challenge. 

And so it was with Uit het leven van marionetten (From the life of the marionettes), the fifth Ingmar Bergman adaptation from Toneelgroep Amsterdam, helmed by film director Nanouk Leopold in her stage debut. I'd hoped to watch the film in advance but I couldn't track it down in time and so went into the Schouwburg in Rotterdam armed with just a flimsy synopsis and an overwhelming admiration for a company that included the rather fab Eelco Smits.

The 2017 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

The nominations for the 2017 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards have been released and naturally I have thoughts. Initially, they are:


Review: Tiger Bay, Wales Millennium Centre

"

Rather fittingly, my first ever visit to the magnificent feat of civil engineering that is Cardiff's Wales Millennium Centre was for new musical Tiger Bay (Y Sioe Gerdd). And not just any musical, one based in and on the very area where it is playing, the docklands of Tiger Bay at the turn of the century, when the industrial revolution sent shudders through every level of society. Socio-political unrest not being known for getting the crowds in though, book-writer Michael Williams has fashioned a multi-stranded narrative with truly epic ambitions.

So there's coal men fighting to improve working conditions, African immigrant labour complicating the picture by undercutting them, racism emerging as an ugly thorn, child labour being abused, suffragettes agitating for the vote, and the richest man in the world (the Third Marquess of Bute) who has turned to crystal balls to try and find his missing son. What emerges is a prototype vision for a multicultural society in all its myriad complexities and inequalities, connected in an all-too-human way by circumstance and some stonking great choruses.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Review: Inside Pussy Riot, Saatchi Gallery

"Failure to do this will result in your fellow inmates being punished"

How far can immersive theatre push you? How far should immersive theatre push you? The disclaimer for Les Enfants Terribles’ Inside Pussy Riot warns us it is "not for the faint hearted, come prepared to demonstrate and stand up for what you believe in!". But given that it is trying to give audiences a taste of what it is like to be on the wrong side of a totalitarian regime, from arrest to trial to incarceration with a bit of forced labour in there for good measure, there's a limit to how far they can actually go.

Marking the 100th annversary of the Russian Revolution, Inside Pussy Riot revisits the experience of Nadya Tolokonnikova and her post punk, feminist art collective colleagues in Pussy Riot, who were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment for performing less than 40 seconds of an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral. From the opening moments when you're invited to pick a balaclava (a range of colours available) to the climactic encouragement to raise your voice in protest, there's quite the journey ahead.

Review: The End of History, Tristan Bates

"Sod the League of Nations"

At the heart of it, Iain Hollingshead (book and lyrics) and Timothy Muller's (music) new musical The End of History has an interesting conceit - exploring the history of the 20th century (at least, from 1919 to 1989) through the experiences of a GCSE history class over the two years of their course. Moody teenagers as zealous nation states, geopolitical relations as schoolyard battles, there's potential here. 

It is potential that isn't quite realised though, due to the huge scale of the ambition here. There's the individual stories of 7 students each with their own individual struggles competing for room alongside the historical parallels being drawn at key moments, plus their teacher keeps stepping into the spotlight to pull focus with her own trials and general dissatisfaction at being a teacher to disinterested kids.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Album Review: Leading Ladies - Songs From The Stage

"Lock the door and stop complaining
Gather 'round and listen well"


Between them, Amber Riley, Beverley Knight and Cassidy Janson have racked up Olivier Awards and accolades aplenty and their mutual respect has led to them joining forces to create musical supergroup Leading Ladies. And working with producers Brian Rawling and Paul Meehan through East West Records (Warner), their debut album Songs From The Stage is about to be released.

Across the 14 tracks of the collection, there's a variety of approaches as they tackle songs from a wide range of musicals. Each singer gets a couple of solo numbers, and they all chip in with backing vocals on some of those, but the highlights come when the trio sing together. And none more so than on an utterly transcendent version of Carole King's 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' whose close harmonies are goosebump-inducingly extraordinary, the marriage of their voices a perfect alchemy.

Album Review: Helen Power - Enraptured

"There is joy in the air
So be gone with dull care"

What to do to make your album stand out in a crowded marketplace of musical theatre-related albums? Get Auburn Jam's Joe Davison in to do your arrangements, that's what. A glimpse at the tracklisting of Helen Power's new album Enraptured may not initially suggest a great adventurousness but on first listen, its playful and subtly daring nature soon become apparent.

A relaxed take on Porgy & Bess' Summertime is a strong opener, full of bold musicality and Power's confident soprano, but it's the next of couple of tracks that set out the vision here. A Latin-inflected 'The Sound Of Music' has no right to be effective but as Davison introduces silky bossanova rhythms and elastic double-bass lines, it's impossible to resist its easygoing charm. And if less radical, his Bond-esque re-arrangement of the title track from The Phantom Of The Opera is no less exciting, its duelling brass section and violins building to a breathless climax that thrills just as much as Power's soaring top E.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review: Drip, Bush

"Dive, dive, dive right in
Dive, dive, dive, dive, dive right in..."

On the one hand, I think I'd like to see Tom Wells really surprise us with something completely different. But on the other, he does what he does so bloody well that I kinda never want him to stop. Drip sees him playing with form, as it is a one-man musical but thematically, we're once again in the world he has explored so affectingly in plays such as Me As A Penguin, The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts

Our protagonist is Liam, a 15 year old from South Shields who has moved to Hull cos his mum is seeing a guy named Barry who lives there. Making fast friends with Caz, the 'other queer student' at school, he throws himself into helping her with the annual project prize presentation that she is so desperate to win. Only thing is, she's planning Hull's first synchronised swimming team and Liam can't swim... 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Review: Network, National Theatre

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore"

With Network, Lee Hall's adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale - a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston - has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he's going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling 'prophet'. 

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers - as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers' box...the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story.