27 November 2020

The Theatre Channel Episode 3 Review

Following on from the success of the two episodes (all 3 episodes are available to stream from here) Adam Blanshay Productions and The Theatre Cafe bring us the third episode of The Theatre Channel series with this time themed as the rock episode.

What works best with this series is that intimacy of the numbers. In a post watch Q and A producer, Adam Blanshay and director Bill Deamer discussed how they don't stage the numbers to play to the camera but to the audience. That is really captured excellently in these episodes. Alex Gaumond described it as having "dialogue with the audience". You get to feel a deeper connection to these numbers because of the way they are staged and filmed. 

Francesca Jackson. Photo by Edward Johnson

The whole team who have come together in these challenge times and are continuing to make magnificent work must be credited. The use of The Theatre Cafe is brilliant, creatively the team manage to set each piece in a unique way befitting of each number. It's keeping that spirit of the West End alive for the audience. 

This wonderful diverse Rock-themed episode opens with Cafe Four (Alyn Hawke, Emily Langham, Sadie-Jean Shirley and Alex Woodward) performing the hypnotic Aquarius from Hair. Director and choreographer Bill Deamer's movement is performed by this talented foursome really well particularly in this number.

Francesca Jackson backed by Cafe Four sings Forgiven from Jagged Little Pill. This number particularly captures that emotion of a number. It's superbly staged both on the doorstep of and inside The Theatre Cafe and sung with great feeling. 

Rob Houchen. Photo by Edward Johnson.

Rob Houchen powerfully sings Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar. This number takes the audience outside The Theatre Cafe and uses the sights of Trafalgar Square as the backdrop. It meant filming the number at 5am on a freezing cold morning for the team but the payoff is some fantastic visual shots. Whether it's shots of the National Gallery or on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields church, the use of the space and the camera by videographer Ben Hewis is outstanding. 

Aisha Jawando sings The Acid Queen from The Who's Tommy. Much credit must go to Jack Weir's outstanding lighting design throughout the episodes but particularly in this number. Aisha, who is the current Tina Turner in Tina: The Musical is a fantastic performer to watch as she effortlessly sings and dances this number.

Alex Gaumond sings Le Monde est Stone from Starmania. This French number falls perfectly into Alex's vocal range. Alex himself being from Canada talked about how this show was his first real connection into musical theatre. You can really feel that connection that Alex has with the song as he sings Luc Plamondon's stunning lyrics. There's a lovely interview with Alex and Luc after the credits that you should stick around for.

Alex Gaumond. Photo by Edward Johnson.

Shan Ako, backed by Cafe Four, sings the stunning I'll Cover You (Reprise) from Rent. The performer who made her West End breakthrough in the Les Miserables Staged Concert's last year sings this number with real heart. The number in the context of the Rent falls at Angel's funeral after his death and is particularly moving and Shan gives a beautiful rendition.

John Owen Jones brings the episode to a close with Pity The Child from Chess. As you'd expect from one of the best leading men around, John sings with great power. Here is a performer who always gives his everything and that shows anytime you watch him. A class act and a tremendous way to wrap up the episode.

Shan Ako and Cafe Four. Photo by Edward Johnson.

Once again much credit must go to the creative team, Bill Deamer's direction and choreography, Gregor Donnelly's costume, Jack Weir's atmospheric lighting, Keegan Curran's strong sound design and Michael England's musical direction all contribute to making the whole episode a delight to watch and listen too. Ben Hewis continues his outstanding videography.

It's another delightful 30 minutes of theatrical escapism that any theatre fan will love. As Bill Deamer said afterwards "the need for live theatre mustn't be forgotten" and whilst we can't all be in theatres this is a lovely way to keep the fire of the theatrical flame burning. Absolutely fantastic.

Purchase episode three (and the previous two episodes) now from https://www.thetheatrecafe.co.uk/channel/

John Owen Jones. Photo by Edward Johnson.

19 November 2020

Marry Me A Little - Barn Theatre Virtual Review.

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester continues its fantastic catalogue of work this year, despite the challenges thrown at them. The theatre is now streaming its production of Stephen Sondheim's Marry Me A Little. The one-act musical revue, unfortunately, had its on-stage run cut short by the second English lockdown but has been superbly captured for a virtual audience.

Celinde Schoenmaker and Rob Houchen. Photo: Eve Dunlop

The piece tells the tale of two single people in New York, both in their respective flats, who share their imaginations, yearnings about a potential relationship, and what they'd said each other if they were to meet. The pair never do meet and it's that 'what could have been' that is the main take away from this sung-through production. It's a timely piece all about connection.

Rob Houchen and Celinde Schoenmaker are simply outstanding. Both manage to develop these characters really well in such a short amount of time (the running time is under an hour). They are warm, touching and enchanting. Their voices are perfectly fit these Sondheim numbers. Here are two performers so at ease with their craft, they're a delight to watch.

Celinde Schoenmaker. Photo: Eve Dunlop

As with any score written by Sondheim, it's exquisite musically. The score takes 'cut' songs from A Little Night Music, Follies, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Company, Anyone Can Whistle and from the yet to be staged Saturday Night from an idea by Craig Lucas and Norman RenĂ©. Whilst these numbers may have been cut from other Sondheim shows it certainly doesn't lessen their quality. As you'd expect they're brilliant numbers and with Houchen and Schoenmaker's vocal strength and skill it's a delight throughout. Credit to must go to musical director Arlene McNaught for further making the music sound fantastic with strong piano work.

Director Kirk Jameson has really captured the right feeling with this production along with Gregor Donnelly's superb design which clearly distinguishes the two apartments that are separated by the middle of the stage which runs through the sofas in both. There's a great use of a screen on the back wall which shows photos of New York and of the pair, text messages and more. The projection design by Benjamin Collins enhances the character and plot development. There's effective lighting designed by Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner.

Rob Houchen. Photo: Eve Dunlop

Marry Me A Little is right up there with the best work that the Barn Theatre has produced since the venue opened in 2018. It's a lovely watch. Long may this venue continue to create outstanding work such as this revival. Two world-class performers with gorgeous music. Magnificent.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Marry Me A Little streams from the Barn Theatre's website from Thurs 19th to Sunday 22nd November. To purchase a virtual ticket visit https://barntheatre.org.uk/

12 November 2020

A Hunger Artist - CVIV Arts Review

CVIV Arts bring their debut production, an adaptation of Frank Kafka's A Hunger Artist, to the screen their onstage run was cut short by the virus. You can watch it here.

It's safe to say this piece is both bizarre and compelling. The narrator explains the plot as two actors play out the action. The premise is an artist who starves himself for the entertainment of the public, the artist who can only be displayed for 40 days at a time by his manager, something the hunger artist resents as he wishes to see just how far he can push his endurance.

Carrieanne Vivianette makes for a strong narrator, she remains unmoved at the back of the stage for a large part of the action but shines when she delivers the narrative. Henry Petch plays the Hunger Artist, he captures the emotion of the character well as the public lose interest and his endurance becomes harder. His struggle and eventually exhaustion is acted really strongly. Richard Koslowsky plays The Warder, dressed in all black he looms like a Bill Sykes with a cane in tow. He doesn't get much to do bar one speech and to change the number of days on the chalkboard.

The performance is enhanced by Duncan Evans's tremendous music but its the performances, in particular of Viviannette and Petch, that keep you watching. An hour to get lost in a well-acted tale. It's an intriguing study of human endurance and how far someone will go for their art. Enjoyable and a bit bonkers in truth but well worth a watch.

It's an interesting first production for CVIV Arts and I suspect they'll go on to create many great projects based on this debut. Visit https://www.carrieannevivianette.co.uk/current-projec to learn more about the company and follow their social media.

You can watch The Hunger Artist now by clicking here.

31 October 2020

What A Carve Up! Review

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester, who have done some magnificent work during this difficult period, has produced a virtual piece, What A Carve Up! In co-production with The Lawrence Batley Theatre and The New Wolsey Theatre.

This intriguing murder mystery is written by Henry Filloux-Bennett adapted from the book by Jonathan Coe and told by a hugely talented company of actors, most of whom are only ever heard and not seen. 

Alfred Enoch

The story is told from the perspective of Raymond Owen (Alfred Enoch), he sits in his office with a wall behind him that shows how dedicated he's been to his own investigation into events. Raymond's father Michael Owen (Samuel Barnett) is the prime suspect in a murder case that happened 30 years previous where 6 members of the infamous Winshaw family were killed. Can Raymond prove his father's innocence with the evidence he's found? As the viewer it's as if we're in the hot seat watching Raymond conduct his own trial.

With all the current government guidelines the production is mostly told through interviews over radio tape with Raymond tying it all together. The only interview we see involves the only remaining member of the Winshaw family, Josephine (Fiona Button) who is talking with an interviewer (Tamzin Outhwaite).

Whilst I did feel the first 20 minutes felt a little slow once we got through those this compelling mystery began to unfold with great pace and intrigue. Writing this review alone I've written 3 sides of paper with notes trying to work out what has happened and how all the characters tie in together! It's a tremendous performance by Alfred Enoch who brilliantly keeps you involved with the story and stops the viewer from becoming overwhelmed with the amount of information that is thrown at you. 

Tamzin Outhwaite and Fiona Button.

We cleverly delve deeper into the past of these characters and it's clearly painted on the viewer how disliked the Winshaw family are, it's not difficult to see why they've been bumped off! All the strands of the family seem to have upset people around them with even Josephine being painted as a Trump-voting highly opinionated individual. We learn a lot more about Michael too and how he became involved with the family through writing The Winshaw  Legacy all about them and about the cinema trip he went on as a child to see the film 'What A Carve Up!'

Along the way we hear from such characters as Findlay Onyx (Derek Jacobi) who has ties to the murder incident and a further incident that happened some 30 years earlier, Joan Simpson (Celia Imrie) who describes the Winshaw's as "their poison gets everywhere", Patrick Mills (Stephen Fry) the publisher who worked alongside Michael Owen. It's a talented company who all lend their vocal skill to the characters and add to the mystery.

This mystery certainly keeps you interested throughout, as we delve further into the past of these characters. The use of stock footage with the voice-overs is clever as it allows you to picture what the characters are discussing. Tamara Harvey has done a fine job with the direction, brilliantly wrapping everything together. Harry Smith has done an accomplished job with sound and music.

This is certainly a production fitting for these times (it's set now and there are references to Trump, Dominic Cummings and COVID). It's hard to imagine how you could create a better murder mystery in these challenging times. A fascinating watch.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - a cleverly crafted intriguing murder mystery.

Tickets to stream What A Carve Up! can be purchased from https://www.whatacarveup.com/  with two ticket option available, the stream option and an option to stream including a goody bag (a programme and pre-show recipe cards by Darjeeling Express founder Asma Khan)

30 October 2020

The Theatre Channel Episode 2 Review

Following on from the success of the first episode (available to stream from here, or read my review here) Adam Blanshay Productions and The Theatre Cafe bring us the second episode of The Theatre Channel and on the eve of Halloween, it's a spooktacular themed episode.

Jordan Shaw. Photo by Edward Johnson

We open this episode with Jordan Shaw and Cafe Four (Alyn Hawke, Emily Langham, Sadie-Jean Shirley and Alex Woodward) performing 'Translyvania Mania' from Young Frankenstein (can we get a revival of this show please!). It's a superbly upbeat opening and features some dazzling choreography by Bill Deamer.

Aimie Atkinson sings 'Dead Mom' from Beetlejuice. The space is once again completely transformed with leaves strewn all over the place and a stone bench and a pot of dead flowers. The number fits perfectly into Aimie's powerful vocal range and she sings it with great gusto.

Aimie Atkinson. Photo by Edward Johnson

Atmospheric smoke and candlelight take us into 'Life After Life' from Dracula, The Musical performed by Bradley Jaden and Sophie Isaacs. It's not a number I knew but Bradley and Sophie sing it tremendously, it's probably my favourite number of the episode. Ben Hewis's videography(which is faultless throughout) is at it's best here.

Sophie Isaacs. Photo by Adi Haroush

The always classy Ria Jones sings 'Last Midnight' from Into the Woods. She stands regal like the Queen of Halloween and makes singing the number appear effortless.

Josh Piterman then brings us 'Confrontation' from Jekyll and Hyde. Josh combines his great voice with his fine acting skill as he plays the two characters. You feel every word he sings. There's a fantastic use of some outdoor space here including a stairway which adds to the effectiveness of the number.

Josh Piterman. Photo by Edward Johnson.

Linzi Hateley, the star of the original production, sings 'When There's No One' from Carrie. This powerfully touching number is sung with so much heart and feeling that I must admit I found myself a little misty-eyed. Linzi is captivating to watch. Make sure you don't turn off during the credits because there's a lovely bonus interview with Linzi after the credits roll where she discusses Carrie.

Linzi Hateley. Photo by Adi Haroush.

Is there a more perfect Halloween number than the iconic 'Time Warp' from Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Show? Trevor Dion Nicholas is a fantastic Riff Raff and is ably supported by Cafe Four who are all dressed as various characters from the musical. There's a cameo too from Bonnie Langford. Joined on the roof by a larger ensemble it's a delightful way to end the episode.

Much credit must go to the design team behind this weeks episode. Gregor Donnelly's set and costume design brilliantly capture the theme for each number, the transformation of the look of The Theatre Cafe for each number are stunning. Diana Hudson's make up design is faultless as is Jack Weir's atmospheric lighting. Keegan Curran's sound design is strong and Michael England's musical direction allow these numbers to flourish. This combined with Ben Hewis's outstanding videography and Bill Deamer's direction and choreography allow for a visual feast for the viewer. 

Trevor Dion Nicholas. Photo by Edward Johnson.

Overall it's a delightful feast of an episode, undoubtedly stronger than the first. Much like reaching into a pick and mix bowl, you're never disappointed by what you find. 30 minutes of theatrical brilliance. Stream the show from www.thetheatrecafe.co.uk/channel 

The next episode which releases on November 27th is 'The Rock Episode' and will feature Shan Ako, Alex Gaumond, Rob Houchen, Francesca Jackson, Aisha Jawando and John Owen-Jones.

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