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 René. 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.

28 October 2020

Curve Announces Community Day Line up and Family Christmas Show

After the fantastic news  a couple of weeks ago from Curve that they'd secured government funding and that the theatre is to re-open with 3 fantastic productions (The Color Purple in Concert, Sunset Boulevard in Concert, and Memoirs of An Asian Football Casual), there's more good news today from the venue.

Running between 10am and 4.30pm on November 14th the Curve will re-open its doors for a Curve Community Day, a day of socially distanced free events and activities to welcome members of the community back to the Curve building.

Legendary theatre choreographer Arlene Phillips will lead a dance workshop at 10am, she's taking inspiration from David Bowie's 'Life On Mars' and 'This is Me' from The Greatest Showman to get people of all ages and abilities moving and feeling together again after months apart in lockdown.

Later in the day Curve Associates Mel Knott and Tasha Taylor Johnson will teach families to sing and dance the 'Rhinos' Rock and Roll' number from the 2019 Made at Curve production of Giraffes Can't Dance. 

Local artists Rebecca Harvey-Hobbs and Kate Unwin will host design workshops for participants to create and craft their own pieces. The sessions will focus on mental health and environmental sustainability in the wake of lockdown, designing worry boxes to help manage stress, and creating an installation from unused 2020 posters.

The award-winning Showstoppers team return to the Curve stage with The Showstoppers Kids Show, putting the kids in charge of the interactive improvised musical. Taking place in the Curve's specially adapted socially distanced auditorium, the hour-long performances will take place at 11:30am and 2:30pm.

Curve. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Ahead of the day Curve’s Chief Executive Chris Stafford and Artistic Director Nikolai Foster said:

“We couldn’t be more overjoyed at the prospect of welcoming our communities back to Curve for this very special, socially distanced day of activities and performances.

“Lockdown has taken its toll on everyone and the extension of Leicester’s restrictions has been sharply felt in our brilliant city and across our communities. We’re proud to be able to welcome people back to our building for a safe, fun and creative day out for all of the family, focusing on positivity and mental well-being.

“We’re immensely grateful to the incredible practitioners leading these workshops and all those who will be part of creating what is sure to be an extraordinary and memorable day for all of us.”

All of the workshops will be free to attend, with tickets for The Showstoppers Kids Show priced at £10 each. Tickets for all activities and performances must be booked in advance and can be booked now from www.curveonline.co.uk/

Curve has also announced that from 3rd to 6th December, families can enjoy live, socially distanced performances of Dear Santa, adapted from author Rod Campbell's beloved book. The show follows Santa as he tries to find the perfect Christmas present and to help spread cheer, every child in the audience will receive a free gift as part of the show.

Perfect for families and children aged 2+, tickets for Dear Santa will be on sale to Curve Friends and Supporters Wed 28 Oct, Members and Access Register customers Thu 28 Oct and on general sale Fri 30 Oct, all from 12pm.

Curve’s Community Day will officially welcome audiences back to the theatre, ahead of a trio of Made at Curve favourites performed in Curve’s transformed 533-seat auditorium. The theatre’s reopening plans are only possible thanks to grant funding received from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund and the ongoing support of Arts Council England and Leicester City Council. Tickets for performances of The Color Purple in concert (23 Nov – 5 Dec), Sunset Boulevard in concert (14 Dec – 3 Jan) and Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual (25 Jan – 6 Feb) are on sale now.

For more information visit www.curveonline.co.uk or call Curve’s Box Office team on 0116 242 3595.

17 October 2020

Midlands Theatre

With a raft of theatre's being able to reopen again with socially distanced audiences and productions. I've put together a helpful guide of what's happening at some of the theatres here in the Midlands.

Updated: 17th October 2020

Curve, Leicester
The flagship theatre in the heart of Leicester is re-opening with a special celebration evening, a family day and 3 productions. The theatre space is being transformed so the productions can be performed in the round allowing for an audience of 533. Sir Cameron Mackintosh has donated a triple revolve. Full details https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

The Snail and the Whale - 25th October 2020
Tall Stories present a live-streamed production of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's story. The stream will be available both online and an in theatre screening.

Launch Event - 12th November 2020
A special event which will be streamed live from the theatre

Family and Community Day - 14th November 2020
A socially distanced day which will include low cost and free workshops, performances and activities. Full details will follow.

The Color Purple in Concert - 23rd November to 5th December 2020
After a successful run in 2019, the production returns to Curve in a staged concert. Original cast members T'Shan Williams (Celie) and Danielle Fiamanya (Nettie) return with original creatives Tinuke Craig (director), Alex Parker (musical director) and Mark Smith (choreographer) to returning. Further casting to be announced.

Sunset Boulevard in Concert - 14th December 2020 to 3rd January 2021
The 2018 Whatsonstage Award-winning (best regional production) production of Sunset Boulevard also returns in a staged concert. Directed by Nikolai Foster and with returning stars Ria Jones (Norma Desmond) and Danny Mac (Joe Gillis). The production will have a 16 piece live orchestra. Further casting to be announced.

Memoirs Of An Asian Football Casual - 25th January to 6th February 2021
Another award-winning production returns with Nikolai Foster again directing this production which brings to life on the terraces to the Curve stage. Based on the life of former football hooligan Riaz Khan and adapted to the stage by Dougal Irvine.

The Little Theatre, Leicester
This little gem of a theatre which is predominantly run by volunteers has been open for over 90 years and will re-open with some festive family joy. Full details https://www.thelittletheatre.net/

We Need A "Little" Christmas - 1st, 3rd and 5th December 2020
Devised and directed by John Ghent this evening of music and song will bring the sparkle of Christmas magic with singers and musicians popular with Little Theatre audiences returning. 

Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham
The Nottingham Playhouse opens with a new season titled Nottingham Playhouse Unlocked which sees the theatre re-open with productions also being streamed online too. Full details and booking https://nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/

Rootless Island Baby - 21st October 2020
A staged reading of a new play by Nottingham Playhouse associate artist Sarah 'Rain' Kolawole and directed by Madeline Kludje.

Bubble - 23rd and 24th October 2020
Nottingham Playhouse associate artist, James Graham (Ink, This House and ITV's The Quiz) returns to his home city with a love story for today. It'll star Pearl Mackie and Jessica Raine.

A Double Bill Of New Work By East Midlands Talent - 28th October 2020
This exciting double-bill will feature two new works, A Short Tour Of The Heart by Ben Norris and Where It Lands by Naomi Obeng. 

Shuck - 29th October 2020
A thrilling new work by Nottingham company LaPelle's Factory which will be staged for the first time.

Ghost Stores with Mark Gatiss - 30th and 31st October 2020
The master of spooky tales, Mark Gatiss, and Jade Anouka bring some of classic ghost stories to the Nottingham Playhouse stage. 

Hand Me Down - 3rd November 2020
In a story of dance and spoken word this piece by Wayward Thread. 3 friends see their reflection in family who exist on opposite sides of British identity, being pulled apart in an increasingly aggressive discussion about race.

Improvisation - 4th November 2020
James "Lloydie" Lloyd returns with his 4-session course exploring emotion, relationship and context. Perfect for beginners, improvers and teachers. 

Wolf - 4th November 2020
Armed with just a chair, Lewis Doherty mimes every prop, makes every sound effect and brings to life over thirty characters in this cyberpunk, neo-noir, one-man action-packed blockbuster!

Rosalie, Sandra and Jodie: Live in Concert - 6th and 7th November 2020
Rosalie Craig, Sandra Marvin and Jodie Prenger bring a night a musical theatre with songs that made their careers. 

Dot. Dot. Dot. Daniel Kitson - 9th November 2020
Daniel Kitson presents his account of six ridiculous and devastating months, experienced largely from a safe distanced. 

Cinderella - 27th November 2020 to 16th January 2021 
A magically reimagined production of legendary festive pantomime will bring some much-needed family joy to the theatre this Christmas. Filled with all the usual pantomime humour, upbeat musical numbers and all the characters you know and love.

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
The wonderful venue in Coventry is re-opening its doors with productions both inside and outside. Full details https://www.belgrade.co.uk/

Boys To Men - Mind Taster Workshop - 22nd October 2020
A free online workshop exploring mental health issues in young black men.

COBO: Comedy Shutdown - 23rd October 2020
COBO bring a Black History Month special evening of comedy. Line up (subject to change) includes Kane Brown, Christopher Savage, Nabil Abdulrashid and Annette Fagon. 

Dr Blood's Old Travelling Show - 23rd and 24th October 2020
A thrilling production taking place outdoors in Belgrade Square. imitating the dog bring their innovative skill to create a deliciously dark tale of mischief and immorality. 

The Snail and the Whale - 28th October 2020
Tall Stories present a live-streamed production of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's story. The stream will be available both online and an in theatre screening.

Black Future: Untitled - 30th October 2020
Join artists and speakers from the Maokwo Fusion Artists Network to wrap up Black History Month with an evening of socially distanced performance and discussion.

The Cat and the Canary - 3rd to 7th November 2020
The Classic Thriller Theatre Company bring the famous stage thriller The Cat and the Canary to the stage.

The Indians Are Coming - 9th November 2020
Join Desi Central as they return to the Belgrade Theatre with some of the best comedians on the circuit. Line up (subject to change) includes Hyde Panaser, Rahul Kohli, Tommy Sandhu, Jay Droch and special guest Nabil Abdulrashid.

Jack and the Beanstalk - 1st to 31st December 2020
Written and starring Coventry's favourite Dame Iain Lauchlan, alongside the wonderful Craig Hollingsworth, this seasonal pantomime will be streamed online with special screenings at the theatre on various dates too.

Santa's Christmas Rescue - 10th to 24th December 2020
Santa, Rudolph and Ellie are back for another Christmas cracker of a show for pre-school children. 

Derby Theatre, Derby
Derby Theatre presents a season of online work and festive production of The Little Mermaid. Full details https://www.derbytheatre.co.uk/

User Not Found - Available online till 31st October 2020
User Not Found is an immersive video podcast about what happens to our online identities after we die.

The Snail and the Whale - 25th October 2020
Tall Stories present a live-streamed production of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's story. The stream will be available both online and an in theatre screening.

PETRICHOR - 16th to 22nd November 2020
Step into a new world. PETRICHOR combines live-action theatre with animation in an immersive VR experience. Available to view online through Derby Theatre for a limited time.

The Little Mermaid - 2nd December 2020 to 2nd January 2021
The theatre re-opens this Christmas for a socially distanced festive production of The Little Mermaid - an uplifting underwater adventure suitable for ages 5 and over.

Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham

Van Gogh Alive - until 31st December 2020
Don't just admire Van Gogh's paintings, immersive yourself in the most visited multi-sensory exhibtion in the world. Created by Grande Exhibitions, Van Gogh Alive, a digital art experience uses stunning projections, classical music and scent to give you a unique opportunity to step on to the Hippodrome stage and truly venture into Van Gogh's world. For more details https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/

The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham
The Birmingham Rep has re-opened its doors with a couple of shows. Full details https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/

Birmingham Royal Ballet: Lazuli Sky - 22nd to 24th October 2020
This one-act ballet commissioned and presented by Carlos Acosta as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Will Tuckett's Lazuli Sky is inspired by ideas of 'social distancing'.

Rosie Kay Dance Company: Absolute Solo II - 21st November 2020
Rosie Kay returns to the stage performing a triple bill of solo new work created in lockdown.

Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-Upon-Avon
The company will focus on only the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 2021 meaning The Swan and The Other Place will remain closed till 2022. The company is hopeful they'll be to open The Winter's Tale and The Comedy of Errors which should have run this summer in spring. The Magician's Elephant is scheduled for the Christmas period 2021. 

The company will reopen the RST with performances in December and January with further details to be announced in November. Check https://www.rsc.org.uk/ for further updates.

Lots of theatre is happening again in the midlands which is exciting. I'm sorry if I've missed anything here. I'll keep this blog post updated.

10 October 2020

Talking Mental Health on World Mental Health Day 2020.

Before I start this post I just want to trigger warn any readers that this post will contain references to anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. Please don't read on if any of these things may trigger any thoughts. 

There I was standing at the top of the stairs. Ready to throw myself down. To throw myself into hopefully the abyss, to never see another day but something stopped me. I couldn't do it. Fear held me down and eventually I walked away and I survived.

I was very hesitant to write such an open post on my theatre page but I just wanted to encourage any of you who are/have struggled to be open and honest and to talk. Talking helps. On my own personal blog that I very rarely post on these days, I've often written about my mental health and just unloading those thoughts can be helpful. I'm not saying to necessarily write a blog post but maybe write it down on paper, write to a friend, talk to a professional. The one thing with mental health is to try to not bottle up those thoughts because if you bottle them they'll start to expand and try to push the lid of that battle off and then you can feel even worse.

2020 certainly hasn't been a great year. I think many of us have had struggles and mental battles during this year. Whether that be a rise in anxiety thanks to the COVID situation or just the general down feels during the lockdown. Naturally, one of the things that helps my mind escape the most is the theatre and being without theatre not for 6 months has been a very difficult time for my mind.

I send my love to all the theatre professionals who have lost jobs, incomes and continue to struggle during this time. I've often felt completely overwhelmed by the situation. The lack of support for the arts, in general, has been devastating. I'm only a very small voice in a big pond of voices and I know I can't change much but together hopefully the louder all the voices the more noise and positive change it'll make going forwards. Quite simply the arts are vital. 

I wrote the other day on the social media take over that the Arts did that how important theatre can be, how it can let someone escape, how it can maybe give a lost soul hope, how it can impact on them in the days following a performance. If one show can help one person isn't that enough?


Around this time last year I'd been re-prescribed sertraline by my GP and I had the darkest spiral backwards after I started taking them. Early parts of 2019 had been okay, but then I started to gradually feel lower and lower to the point where I talked to my GP about it and he recommended we try the tablets again (in 2018 the GPs kept changing my medication, something which they admitted was a mistake, so I was very unsure about re-starting them). It's hard to describe how I felt in the weeks after I started taking them. It honestly felt like I'd died. I was a ghost just participating but I felt nothing. No emotion, nothing. I wasn't there at all. 

A certain musical set in Paris (Amelie), which I'm sure I've talked about too much, really helped me escape. I dragged my dad all the way from Somerset back up to Reading during a weeks holiday just to catch it. It was during that time I was on the medication and just being in the theatre again watching something that meant a lot to me was so freeing. 

That's the one constant thing that has helped me battle on, theatre. It's most of my life. I'm often writing about theatre on my site or my social media, often watching live theatre (or this year streamed theatre). It gives me some purpose. Something to focus on. During this year I've been part of a little community of theatre fans from a WhatsApp group and I can't tell you how much that has helped me. We've done a lot of quizzes and bingos over Zoom and it's constantly a ray of sunshine during a period which has been difficult to navigate. It's been strange losing something I'm so used to in going to the theatre but through those streams and those conversations, the little magic light of theatre hasn't gone out.

Over the years I've battled with depression, feeling like I'm not worth anything like I'm a failure. Especially since I turned 29 in August I've more lately been thinking what is my worth? Do I offer anything? Will I ever be enough for someone? All those kind of darker thoughts which can make days difficult cause once a low mood hits it's like you've got a million bricks places on your mind and only one by one can you try to remove them but often they're just too heavy. Maybe you'll see my social media and think that I'm doing okay but sometimes you simply can't see the battles that are going on inside.

Thankfully as I write this I'm over 3 years since I last self-harmed (if you can please DON'T do it, it's really not worth it). The thought of I must physically punish myself can be so overwhelming and I felt so removed from myself the time I was there hacking away at my own skin. On my darkest day, I remember ripping a towel cause I was holding it so tightly, getting nail scissors and just slashing away at my skin. The one overriding memory of that was it was the night that Leicester City were at home to Liverpool that night. Instead of being at the match, I was at the walk-in centre seeing a GP, and it was the night Jamie Vardy scored one of his most famous goals. Every time I see that goal I feel a bit defeated and shame cause I should have been at the game and not at the doctors. 

I talked in the opening paragraph of the fear that stopped me from committing suicide, and again thankfully it's been a while since I had those thoughts. I'm grateful that the fear held my feet at the top of the stairs. I wasn't even sure if you could die from falling down the stairs, but I at least knew it would be very damaging to myself but I was ready to go. I've always had a fear of death (don't we all) and I think that held me down. Falling into the darkness. It's like in the movies when you see a villain pulling a character towards and the darkness but they resist. Something in my mind was screaming NOOOO. Life is worth living even if it doesn't feel like it sometimes.

I hope that if you're struggling that you feel you can reach out to someone. I'll ALWAYS be here for anyone who needs someone to talk too. Contact through my social media, DM me, email me, anything. Please don't be afraid to reach out to me on either my Beyond The Curtain page or my own personal social media channels. If we can all support each other without judgement the world would be a slightly better place.

I want to reach out and give you all a big hug and tell you that it's going to be okay. Keep fighting. Sometimes even if you take a few steps backwards that's more than okay. It's okay to not be okay.

Love to you all. 

8 October 2020

Simon Beck's The Courage of a Dreamer: 5th Anniversary Re-Release.

Simon Beck's wonderful debut album, The Courage of a Dreamer, is celebrating its 5th anniversary with a wonderful re-release on October 12th (available to purchase through Simon's website).

For those of you who aren't aware, Simon is a multi-talented gent who has worked in the West End and beyond. Strings to his bow include conducting, musical directing, singing, mentoring and being an all-round lovely man. He has worked on shows including the Miss Saigon, Sunset Boulevard, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Acorn Antiques, Rocky Horror Show, Sweet Charity and many more. 

Simon's album includes lesser-known tracks from the world of American theatre as well as the Oscar-winning title song from Beauty and the Beast and Dancing Through Life from the hit musical Wicked. It's a wonderful re-imagining of some tunes you'll know and some that you won't.

I was fortunate to speak to Simon about the album's release;

Q: With the album due for re-release why should people listen to it? 
A: As we’ve all been separated during Covid times this is an album all about connection. I call it my ‘meditation album’. It’s my personal celebration of musical theatre. Featuring my favourite theatre composers, Stephen Schwartz (The Prince of EgyptWickedGodspell), Stephen Flaherty (RagtimeAnastasiaSeussical), William Finn (FalsettosA New BrainElegies). As well as my most favourite cabaret composer, Amanda McBroom (Bette Midler’s The Rose). And in this current struggle to support artists in all genres, I am so proud that this album was made with a team of musicians and singers from the West End, produced by engineers at Angel Studios, artwork by graphic designers featuring images of my local nature spot, Draycote Water. Plus, it shares my story through life!  

Q: How do you reflect on the album after 5 years? 
A: I am so proud of this album! It’s interesting how critical one can be at the time of recording, but with the passage of time one can listen anew with a fresh perspective. I knew absolutely nothing about producing a record. I learned how to contract the musicians thanks to the Musicians Union. The recording studio, Angel Studios in Islington (sadly no more,) was incredibly supportive of me being a ‘young’, up and coming artist. We came in to record immediately after Shirley Bassey and her team, how intimidating! But the Angels treated us exactly the same. They were special. I even had a film crew document the recording process. (The videos are on my YouTube channel!) To play the piano and sing with these musicians, who are also my friends, was such an experience! The song choices remain as important to me now as they did back then.

Q: Was an album always something you dreamed of doing?
A: Not at all. I always sang and performed as a child growing up. I studied acting and singing through my early-mid twenties, but it was always clear that I would work predominantly as an instrumentalist. It was Dr Paul Whittaker OBE (founder of the charity Music and the Deaf) who gave me my solo cabaret debut in 2000. I was working in the pit of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Dominion) at that time, so I was very lucky to have three of their rhythm section in MY band! They also feature on the album. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to record a new orchestration by Neil Rutherford of that Oscar-winning song, Beauty and the Beast with those original musicians!
The songs on this album were first performed in a live show in 2005 at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London. Audiences were asking for my CD, so it became clear I ought to have one! 

Q: How did the album originally come about? 
A: Following such kind compliments from the live audiences, I felt it was time to explore making a record. I was also leading some big musical productions in the West End and on tours (Rocky Horror & Spamalot) and felt I would be heading a cast album before too long, but I didn’t want to be in the studio not knowing the first thing about the process. I started Courage as a learning project for myself really, but because of my fantastic team I was so happy with the results that I decided to release it.

Q: What’s your favourite track?
A: The Human Heart (Once On This Island) is probably my favourite as it was the inspiration for the whole album. The idea that we really are all connected, “Part of the Human Heart”. It’s so important, especially right now! And I must mention Just A Boy because it was written especially for me as a tribute to the wonder that is Dr Paul Whittaker OBE. I am so proud to call him a friend. He has done so much for the deaf community to enable them to share in the joys of music in all forms. He was the first deaf student to study music at Oxford!

Q: Will we get a follow-up album? 
A: I certainly hope so! Probably something lively and upbeat! ‘Courage' is the meditation album, full of life lessons and spiritual helpers.

The album which has had fantastic reviews including theatre director Ken Alexander who said - "I’d encourage anyone with an interest in musical theatre to buy this album. Simon is a wonderful musician. I loved his vocal and instrumental arrangements as well as the thoughtful and insightful interpretation of a terrific songlist" and Cello Diva, Sally Maer - “Beautiful, heartfelt singing of fabulous musical theatre songs” and has been played on Sunday Showtunes, Crush of the Week on Mark Petty's Midday Mixtape and on The Curtain Up Show.

Featured singers on the album include Justine Balmer (ClassicFM featured soprano), Claire Parrish (Miss Saigon, Mary Poppins), George Tebbutt (Les Miserables, The Barricade Boys) and Samuel Morgan-Grahame (Amélie)

The Courage of a Dreamer is available to order now through Simon's website (click here). I highly recommend you purchase, you'll not regret it.

If you want to catch Simon in person he is next singing and playing the piano with Sophie-Louise Dann (Made in Dagenham, The Girls, Lend Me A Tenor and Bend it Like Beckham) in her new concert May I Have A Moment? at the EM Forster Theatre in Tonbridge on October 24th 2020 and at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham on November 7th 2020. 

2 October 2020

The Theatre Channel Episode One Review

Adam Blanshay Productions and The Theatre Cafe have teamed up for an exciting new series of streamed concerts filmed in and around The Theatre Cafe in the heart of London's West End. Each concert consists of a line up of West End stars performing well-known musical theatre classics. I was fortunate enough to be able to review the first episode which launches today and is available to watch from https://www.thetheatrecafe.co.uk/channel/

Cafe Four. Photo by Edward Johnson.

The episode opens with the title credits featuring Cafe Four, this assembled group will support the performances and consists of Alyn Hawke, Emily Langham, Sadie-Jean Shirley and Alex Woodward. The titles lead in the opening number 'Coffee In A Cardboard Cup' from And The World Goes 'Round by Kander and Ebb. This brilliantly appropriate number couldn't be more appropriate for the setting inside the Cafe. It's an upbeat peppy opening performed with great enthusiasm by these wonderful performers.

Tarinn Callender (Come From Away, Hamilton) brings 'On Broadway' from Smokey Joe's Cafe. This number suits Tarinn's silky smooth vocals. Close your eyes and he sounds like a younger Gregory Porter. 

Tarinn Callender. Photo by Edward Johnson

Following Tarinn is Lucie Jones who sings 'Maybe This Time' from Cabaret. She stands as the Theatre is all packed up for the night staring and hoping it will be her time. She acts and sings the number with tremendous skill. 

With the cafe seemingly transformed into a florists, real life couple of Carrie Hope Fletcher and Oliver Ormson sing up a storm together with their rendition of 'Suddenly Seymour' from Little Shop of Horrors. Ormson's geekish looks and Hope Fletcher's powerful vocals combine well together. Next time the show is revived (hopefully soon!) they'd make great casting in these roles.

Oliver Ormson and Carrie Hope Fletcher. Photo by Edward Johnson

We head to the building's roof for Jodie Steele's leather-clad rendition of 'Heaven on Their Minds' from Jesus Christ Superstar. Her rock vocals suit this number well and she gives it all her gusto, although I found the music did overpower her a couple of times during the number.  

Back inside we go with Matt Henry's rendition of 'Let It Sing' from Violet. Matt is a fabulous performer, as anyone who has seen in him in Kinky Boots will know. He skillfully moved around the place and his voice is a joy to listen too. 'You've Got The Let It Sing' Matt sings with magnificent talent. This was probably my favourite of all the numbers in this episode.

Matt Henry. Photo by Edward Johnson

The finale is given to the always classy Jenna Russell sings 'The Ladies Who Lunch' from Company. Her class and quality shine out. She doesn't just sing a number she feels it, she acts it, she embodies the characters she plays. You can put your feet up and just soak up her talent and enjoy as she wraps up this promising first episode.

The production values are a joy. With Bill Deamer's superb direction and choreography, the whole production has been gorgeously shot by Ben Hewis. The videography captures the space and the mood of the numbers brilliantly. Jack Weir's atmospheric lighting and Gregor Donnelly's set and costume design turn the cafe into a great performance space. Michael England's music supervision allows the number to sound as fresh as ever.

Jenna Russell. Photo by Edward Johnson

It's a hugely delightful 30 minutes of theatre joy. The kind of joy that we've all missed during this year. Incredible talented indivudals all coming together to combine to make something that is every theatre fans dream. Joyous, settle down with cake and a hot brew for 30 minutes of high quality musical theatre enjoyment.

The Theatre Channel's first episode is avalable to purchase and download now from https://www.thetheatrecafe.co.uk/channel/. The second episode will launch on 30th October and is Halloween Themed and will star Linzi Hateley, Sophie Isaacs, Bradley Jaden, Josh Piterman and Aimie Atkinson. 

Lucie Jones. Photo by Edward Johnson.

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