1 May 2021

Theatre's Coming Back - May Show Picks.

We're officially in May and that means we're just over a couple of weeks away from the next step on the UK government's road map out of the lockdown. From the 17th May (hopefully!) theatres will be allowed to open with social distances measures in place. Regional theatres that haven't opened since last March are currently preparing for their doors to open again.

As a blogger, reviewer but firstly a theatre lover I've tried not to allow myself to get overly excited about the thought of being able to go to the theatre again, simply cause I'm a little anxious if it all gets moved back again. I'm not sure it'll feel real for me until that first night where I'm back sat in a theatre seat and a show is about to begin. 

Here I've compiled a list of shows that you should consider booking for the coming weeks.

Amelie - Criterion Theatre, London
I could hardly start anywhere else. I instantly fell in love with this gorgeous show in 2019 when I went to review it at the Haymarket Theatre here in Leicester. I loved it so much that I went back again the next night and ended up traveling to various cities to see it on tour and a further 3 visits once it transferred to The Other Palace. To me, it's my favourite show I've ever seen so I urge you not to miss your chance to see it this time.

After picking up 3 Olivier Nominations and also a Grammy Nomination the show is transferring to The Criterion Theatre in London's West End where it opens for a limited season from May 20th. Tickets are on sale now https://ameliethemusical.com/

Many of the original London cast return once again with the production led by Olivier Nominated Audrey Brisson as the title character, Amelie Poulain. Chris Jared as Nino, Oliver Grant as Lucien/Mysterious Man, Johnson Willis as Collignon/Dufayel, Jez Unwin as Raphael/Bretodeau, Rachel Dawson as Amandine/Philomene, Samuel Morgan-Grahame as Joseph/Fluffy, Caolan McCarthy as Hippolito/Elton John, Kate Robson Stuart as Suzanne, Nuwan Hugh-Perera as Jean-Yves, Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Georgette/Sylvie, Jack Quarton as Blind Beggar, Sioned Saunders as Gina, Matthew James Hinchliffe as Raymond, Miiya Alexandra as Delphine and Robyn Sinclair as Cecile. 

The original cast of Amelie. Photo by Pamela Raith.

AMDRAM: A Musical Comedy - Curve
This new comedy musical written by Alex Parker and Katie Lam is coming to Curve for four performances this May. It tells of the Great Osterley North Amateur Dramatic Society, or GONADS, as they face the challenge of a professional director and leading lady joining their forthcoming production of The Golden Empress. Cast, crew, and committee are forced to explore friendships, theatre, and community with hilarious consequences but with so much drama happening off the stage will the production even make it to opening night?

The new musical boasts a fantastic cast including Janie Dee, Laura Pitt-PulfordRaj GhatakDebbie ChazenSharan PhullJordan Lee Davies, and Wendy Ferguson.

AMDRAM will run Thurs 27th May, Fri 28th May at 7.30pm, and Saturday 29th May at 1.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale now from www.curveonline.co.uk

Curve's May re-opening season also includes Residents Creative New Work (Fri 21st and Sat 22nd May), Rising from Aakash Odedra Company (Mon 24th and Tues 25th May).

Animal Farm and Othello - Royal And Derngate, Northampton
When I saw The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel in The Royal Theatre back in March 2020 I didn't suspect that it'd be my last night in the theatre for 15 months but excitingly Royal and Derngate are opening with a couple of productions in collaboration with National Youth Theatre. 

Animal Farm has been adapted by Award-winning Political Playwright Tatty Hennessy who adapts George Orwell's classic novel as an allegory for our own times exploring themes of revolution, the price of sovereignty, and power with humour and sharp wit.

Othello receives a thrilling and lyrical retelling, with Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in the title role, and sees the company explore themes of love, jealousy, systemic racism, and misogyny through the lens of crime and power.

Animal Farm runs from Monday 17th - Saturday 22nd May and Othello runs from Tues 25th May - Sat 29th May 2021. Tickets are on sale now from https://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

The artwork for Animal Farm.

Neville's Island - Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
This fresh new production of Tim Firth's critically acclaimed comedy will run re-open Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch. 

This hilarious farce about four out-of-condition middle managers who are forced out on the outdoor awayday from hell. When they're shipwrecked, wrapped in fog, and cut off from civilisation, Gordon, Angus, Roy, and the hapless Neville are about the experience the misadventure of their lives.

The new production is directed by Emma Baggott and will star Beruce Khan as Angus, Philip Cairns as Gordon, Sean Michael Verey as Neville, and Stephen Leask as Roy.

The show will run from May 20th - June 12th and from 22nd June - 3rd July 2021. Tickets are on sale now from https://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/

A Russian Doll - Barn Theatre, Cirencester
Few theatres have created so much amazing original content than the Barn has during the past year. Through streams, a summer outdoor season, and more, The Barn has done so much amazing work, now thankfully the theatre is due to welcome audiences back with a world premiere co-production with Arcola Theatre of Cat Goscovitch’s new play, A Russian Doll

The play, which is based on a true story, follows twenty-something Masha as she becomes embroiled in the world of data and deceit as a member of Russia’s disinformation campaigns during the EU referendum.

A Russian Doll, which will be directed by Nicolas Kent (All The President’s Men?Another World) and will star Rachel Redford, will run in Cirencester from 18 May – 13 June 2021. Following the run in the Cotswolds, the production will run at the Arcola Theatre in London. Ticket's for the Barn run are available from https://barntheatre.org.uk/

Cruise - Duchess Theatre, London
Following a successful and critically acclaimed online run, Cruise will play to audiences at The Duchess Theatre in London for a limited run.

The new drama written and performed by Jack Holden. It tells of Michael in 1988's Soho who has is heading towards the last day of his life as he was given four years to live after being diagnosed with HIV. 

Cruise is a celebration of queer culture; a kaleidoscopic musical and spoken word tribute to the veterans of the AIDs crisis; an urgent piece of theatre, with an irresistible 80s soundtrack, which will make you laugh, make you cry, and which inspires us all to live every day as if it’s our last.

The production will run from May 18th - June 13th 2021. Tickets are available from https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/cruise/

These shows are just a handful of brilliant productions that will be re-opening up and down the country. I personally can't wait for each and every venue, regardless of size to re-open. Come back in a few weeks to see my June recommendations.

26 April 2021

Cells Review

Metta Theatre has partnered up with three regional theatres, Northampton's Royal and Derngate, Hornchurch's Queen's Theatre, and Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre in releasing their latest project, Cells, a brand new musical film by P Burton-Morgan. 

The film brings together two seemingly strangers whose lives become intertwined. It's a touching tale of two ordinary blokes who are seeking a connection with others who meet at 2am in a kebab shop. Clive Rowe and Lem Knights are fantastic as the two characters, they're perfectly casting, they both emote every feeling of their characters with real skill. In the 30 minutes running time you instantly get to know so much about these two men, much thanks for the great writing but also the two tremendous performances.

The skill of the actors is captured brilliantly by Jon Dickinson's work as director of photography, the use of the lens to capture the emotion of the characters is superb, from close up to wider shots, the film is shot really well using great locations.

P Burton-Morgan's story and music are superb. The film is told mostly through song and every number is fantastic, I particularly enjoyed the opening number 'First/Last Day' where Clive's character is on his last day as a uni professor and Lem's character on his first as a biology student. Each number further fleshes out each character. With Clive and Lem's great voices it's both a joy to watch and a joy to hear. 

The musical was written, filmed, and produced during the lockdown period and is a prime example of how creative people have been. Taking their work from the stage to screen with such aplomb. Cells is a delightful watch with two well fleshed out characters played by two accomplished actors. I couldn't recommend it higher. Sequel, please!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Cells is available to watch on YouTube via Metta Theatre's own page or via Royal and Derngate, Queen's Theatre Hornchurch or The Stephen Joseph Theatre websites. With the soundtrack released on Spotify.

3 April 2021

Astrom Club Interview

Astrom Club, a brand new LGBTQIA+ animated short musical will premiere online later this year. 

The musical has been written by Hannah Jessica Limb and Hannah Belle McAleer and follows the coming of age story of five teenagers at Maple Ridge Academy. Wanting to make their academic year one to remember, all five take a risk and sign up for the academy's astronomy club. Quickly the five discover they're more alike than they originally thought.  

I had the pleasure of speaking to the writers about the project. 

Can you please give an introduction to the piece for those who haven't heard about it?

"Astrom club is a new coming of age animated musical following a group of queer students from various walks of life, and how they tackle issues in their community, friendships, and families. We wanted to tell genuine stories and provide a platform for creatives all over the world to share their experiences, shedding a new light on a younger generation that is never wholly explored."

Where did the inspiration for the musical come from?

"This project originally started as a final University project for Hannah Limb’s music degree, but quickly spiralled into a worldwide passion project. Everyone on our various teams is here of their own volition and has provided immeasurable input on what it really means to be a part of the queer community in its many forms. Ultimately, the story’s message grew with our team: we wanted to be real. We won’t solve prejudice in a matter of scenes, but we can take a look at what kids are doing realistically to better their interpersonal and community relationships. That won’t stop us from having fun, though. These characters deserve to have fun, be goofy, have outlandish musical numbers, and explore tones less grounded in reality. Our message is realistic, but stories involving minorities can’t just focus on their minority status. They’re kids. Everyone else has fun, and they should too."

The characters in the musical come from LGBTQIA+ backgrounds. How important was that to you?

"Including multiple facets of the LGBTQ+ community has been an important part of Astrom Club’s foundation from the beginning. Sexual and Gender Identity can take many different forms, and a lot of them are overshadowed or forgotten in media. There are people out there that don’t know that what they’re feeling is normal, or have no positive influence around them to make them feel safe. We won’t go around claiming we’re some grand beacon of light, the saviour of media culture, but we do want to open the door for more representation, with both impactful stories and more casual narratives."

The show is being developed as an aminated musical, what has the process been for that and how did that affect the development?

"We have a wonderful team of artists, animators, press, musicians, and our lovely cast. Making Astrom Club an animated endeavour has led to meeting and working with all these wonderful people, though scheduling over all our scattered time zones has become an innermost circle of hell. We try to work with our artists’ pace and provide everything we can to smooth productivity, but it can come with its fair share of challenges."

What musical styles can we expect from the show?

"We’re experimenting with a lot of different musical styles. Expect to see some inspiration straight out of modern musical theatre: you’re classic Mean Girls and Heathers and a touch of Sondheim. We also get random inspiration out of nowhere... Disco, a spare 19th century Russian Waltz, compositions from old children’s cartoons... it’ll all come together, we swear!"

How has the COVID pandemic affected the work on the show?

"Hannah Limb can probably speak to this a bit better, but I personally was quarantined at home with a lot of time on my hands, looking to do more creatively than I had allowed myself previously. School or work always came first but now I had much less of an excuse to not be doing what I always wanted to. I reached out to Hannah in Early November after her TikTok found its way to my for you page, and the rest is history!"

What are the future plans for the show?

"Our present goals are to release a soundtrack this spring and go from there. A lot could happen in just a few months if we met the right people. We’re always looking for more artists and animators to increase our output and provide the care and quality these characters deserve."

To discover more about Astrom Club visit https://astromclub.squarespace.com/. You can follow the show on social media for further updates and  you can view a trailer below.

1 April 2021

Now or Never Review

During the national lockdown's there been no theatre more innovative with its online streams than The Barn Theatre in Cirencester. Ryan Carter's recent Secret Society of Leading Ladies saw viewers being able to choose their own setlist from the on-screen options. The theatres latest production sees Ryan return as creative director on Now or Never, a new British song cycle written by Barn associate artist Matthew Harvey.

The ingenious thing about this performance is that it was streamed live from The Barn and shot in one continuous take. It's a creative decision of genius, this could have easily have been shot with cuts between each location but here the camera glides throughout various parts of the theatre building into each set for each performer. It was as much of a celebration of excellent theatre as well as a great showcase for The Barn Theatre building itself. 

Matthew Harvey in Now or Never. Photo by Jenya Steanson

Now or Never intertwines the story of 7 characters who are all living a world of global adversity. The performance began with Janie Dee playing a news presenter explainer the dire situation the world was in - masking the real-life situation we've all been living with this past year. You make an instant connection to the characters here because we've all felt those feelings they've felt this year.

Matthew Harvey's writing is magnificent, he perfectly captures the feeling and the mood with his lyrics and music. Freddie Tapner's musical supervision and the sound team make the songs sound even better. Each character gets a number, from a song about getting a load of dogs, the reflection of a breakup or a song about wanting to travel but time was running out with the final number sung by all 7 performers which had me reaching for the tissue box to dab the tears that were running down my face - lyrics like "hope will survive" really resonate with us all right now as we head to hopefully the end of the lockdown restrictions. Whilst this isn't a set in the COVID world we're living in it certainly parallels it.

Irvine Iqbal in Now or Never. Photo by Jenya Steanson

The assembled cast is sublime, Matthew himself, Katie Shearman, Lucy St Louis, Eloise Davies, Courtney Stapleton, Irvine Iqbal and Ahmed Hamad all deliver great vocal and the skill of acting through song. You get a little glimpse into the world and mind of each character. I'd have loved to learn more about each.

The show ran for around 40 minutes and certainly deserves a bright future. Matthew's writing and the whole creative team deserve all the plaudits. A timely celebration of life, theatre and the power of music.

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Now or Never was live-streamed from The Barn Theatre on Thursday 1st April. To learn more about the theatre and its productions visit https://barntheatre.org.uk/

Eloise Davies and Courtney Stapleton. Photo by Jenya Steanson

An Elephant In the Garden Review

 The Barn Theatre in Cirencester has been a real beacon of light during the lockdowns and their online work is continuing to be utterly brilliant, their latest offering is a streamed one-woman adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's book, An Elephant in the Garden, produced by Poonamallee Productions. Adapted and directed for the stage by Simon Reade, this production is a fast-paced delightful piece of story-telling.  

It's 1945 in war-torn Dresden, Germany. Lizzie, our main character, her mother and an elephant, Marlene, from the zoo. After a terrible bombing, the trio flees, trying to escape from the end-game of the second world war. Along the way, they encounter a downed RAF officer, a homeless school choir and the mechanised American cavalry. 

Alison Reid in An Elephant in the Garden. Photo -  Farrows Creative

This might be Lizzie's story but the true heroine is Marlene, the elephant. She's the heart of the tale, with a great spirit and an indestructible never say die attitude. She's a gentle giant who drives the story and its characters forwards. 

Alison Reid is outstanding in delivering the story. She tells the story with the highest skill, she does with the words what a great painter would do with their paint, she delivers tremendous art. 

The design by Max Johns is fairly simple, the stage features nothing much more than a bombed-out wall at the back, but the simple design allows for the words to draw you in. Matthew Graham's lighting captures all the right moods throughout the production as does a great soundscape by Jason Barnes. The production is superbly captured by Alex Tabrizi and their team.

Alison Reid in An Elephant in the Garden. Photo - Farrows Creative

The production had me completely gripped as it reached its heartwarming conclusion. A superb adaptation with a dazzling one-woman performance.

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ storytelling at its very best.

An Elephant in the Garden is streaming from the Barn Theatre from 2nd April - 18th April. Tickets are £13.50 and give the viewer a 24-hour access window to watch. barntheatre.org.uk/barn-at-home 

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