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 

27 March 2021

Jabala and the Jinn Review.

Belgrade Theatre Coventry, in association with AIK Productions and Turtle Key Arts, brings their latest show, Jabala and the Jinn, to the stage for a virtual audience.


Asif Khan's new play takes us to Bradford and the home of Jabala and her father. It's been a few months since Jabala's mother died and her dad is constantly battling to get her to school on time. One day Jabala hears a mysterious voice speaking to her in Arabic. Is it her mum or has she imagined it?


With the of a school friend Munir, who happens to be a Shakespeare enthusiast, Jabala summons a Jinn called Sarah using a chant and some garlic. This sparks a brilliant friendship between the three but is restricted by Sarah's limited time before she's summoned back. 


The friendships blossom until Jabala's mum's gold bracelet turns out to be missing. A little predictably it's Sarah that has taken the bracelet. This causes conflict between the characters and Sarah needs the bracelet and 6 other items to become human and the sadness that Jabala's father feels at the loss of his wife's bracelet. 


It's a well-written story by Khan, he has written 4 believable, interesting and likeable characters as well as an imaginative story. With a run time of an hour, the language and pace will keep children's attention as well as there being plenty for adults to enjoy. Schools should certainly be showing it to their pupils.


The artwork for Jabala and the Jinn. Illustration by Nadine Kaadan.



The 3 performers are brilliant. Natalie Davies is perfectly cast as Jabala, she plays her with great skill and aplomb - if you were a child you'd want to be Jabala's friend. Jay Varsani plays both the emotion of Jabala's father and the youthfulness of Shakespeare obsessed Munir really well. Safiyya Ingar brings boundless energy to Sarah (the Jinn). She's joyous to watch. Undoubtedly the play's best moments are the scenes that involve Sarah.


Rosamunde Hutt's direction is slick and works well for the camera. There's only one moment where Jabala speaks directly to the audience as she asks whether she should bring Sarah back after the fallout. There's clearly been great work on the physicality of the characters too, all of whom are really believable. Mila Sanders's simple but effective set design, Aideen Malone's lighting and James Hesford's soundtrack enhance the setting and visuals of the production.


I watched this production live-streamed on World Theatre Day 2021 and what a beautiful reminder of the power of live performance, even if it's watching from home. How great storytelling and engaging performances can breathe life into stories and tales and have audiences gripped. This production had me hooked from the get-go. I loved it.


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - a hugely likeable and engaging play that will delight both children and adults. A great family watch.


Jabala and the Jinn will be streamed from Belgrade Theatre's website from Wednesday 31st March until Saturday 24th April. Tickets can be purchased from https://www.belgrade.co.uk/events/jabala-and-the-jinn/ and allow a 24-hour viewing window. 

16 March 2021

Dream - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

The Royal Shakespeare Company is known for being an innovative company when it comes to technology, their 2016 production of The Tempest in collaboration with Intel and The Imaginarium Studios featured on stage motion capture, and now their latest offering is a live-streamed virtual production, Dream. 


Dream is a collaboration between The RSC, The Manchester International Festival, Marshmallow Laser Feast and The Philharmonia Orchestra. This feat of technology roots you as an audience member right into the hard of the forest and part of the world of Midsummer Nights Dream (although this is merely inspired by that world rather than being a straight adaptation). The story is told through Puck as she explores the forest, meeting sprites Moth, Peaseblossom, Cobweb and Mustardseed along the way. A storm then causes destruction, and it's up to us the glowworms to help Puck rebuild the forest. The plot pulls some of the imagery and poetry from Shakespeare. This allowed the designers to grow the virtual forest from the poetry within the play and that really comes across well.


Photo Stuart Martin (c) RSC.


The unique element of this production is that it is live. You'll have never seen anything quite like this. You're first greeted by EM Williams who plays Puck, they greet you in her motion capture costume and then they walk into space and then it begins. The virtual reality world is stunning. The forest literally comes to life before your eyes. It's a beautiful lush landscape. The world instantly felt calming and soothing.


The technology involved in Dream really raises the bar in terms of combining theatre and live performance with the latest technological advances. The sky is the limit to watch could be achieved. It's almost unfathomable to me that this online production has been created during a pandemic. I can't praise everyone involved enough for the work they've achieved here.


The motion-capture work involved is of the highest quality. The movement felt smooth and easy to watch. It almost felt as if you were watching a ballet, especially with Puck's movements. The motion capture and virtual reality make it feel like you as an audience are right there in the forest, you become part of the world. The cast all give great performances in this virtual world creating the characters and that movement.


The soundscape further enhances the world, with birdsong, leaves fluttering and other sounds really drawing you into the experience. Music from the Philharmonia orchestra adds another layer to the world of Dream. The clever process used was described as "gesturement", which means that when one of the characters moves you'll hear music. This is generated live meaning that every show sounds slightly different.

 

Puck and the Fireflies in the virtual forest. Photo Paul Mumford (c) Dream, 2021/Marshmallow Laser Feast/Paul Mumford.

Dream comes with two viewing options, you can watch the performance for free or you can pay £10 and this allows you to interact with the performers. As part of the Audience Plus ticket, you're offered the choice to interact with the characters. You take the role of a glowworm and you help light the world so that Puck can find the way. The first bit of interactivity I wasn't sure if I was doing it right but by the second time, I'd worked it out and found it very easy to use. I can imagine children being particularly engaged with the interactivity, but even for me as a 29-year-old I was fascinated. 


Dream has already pulled in over 20000 people in it's first three performances including 25% of new bookers to the RSC. The online element allows for a global audience to watch the production. The design team have clearly put a lot of thought into making sure the piece is accessible for all, and it really is. It's really engaging including a post-show Q and A with the cast too, this allows you to learn more about the world you've just seen brought to life.


Dream blurs the virtual and the real world and allows for the imaginations of the audience to run wild and free. It's a unique, incredible and unforgettable experience. I urge you all to grab a ticket.


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


Dream continues until Saturday 20th March. With free tickets, if you just want to watch the performance or £10 Audience Plus tickets available allowing for interactivity. Visit http://dream.online/ to book or for more information.



Photo by Stuart Martin (c) RSC.

2 March 2021

Have You Heard Interview

Have you heard the story of Franceska Mann? Nora Productions' latest show brings to life the story of the Polish dancer who in 1943 shot two Nazi guards and sparked a riot. Her story has been passed from teller to teller, with her courage becoming a myth to inspire hope and vengeance in equal measure.


This new work in progress production is streaming virtually via Applecart Arts from Wednesday 3rd March to Friday 5th March. The piece is devised by a cast of seven multi-talented creatives and weaves together theatre, dance and music to bring the story to the stage.


Photo Petra Eujane Photography. Design by Steph Pyne Design

I had the chance to speak with director Eleanor Felton and performers Amber Wadey, Gaia Cicolani and Naomi Bowman about the production. 


We first discussed where the idea and inspiration for telling Franceska Mann's story came from. Director Eleanor said "I was doom-scrolling this summer and stumbled across a picture of her with a caption and spent the next three hours researching her, so it was clear that this was a story that I needed to tell. I love devising theatre, and as I slowly started to talk about the idea with potential collaborators, the idea started to take shape. Equally, some of the ideas about how to tell her story didn't come up until the last week of rehearsals, or even the last day! And I have new ideas now that we have recorded it, that I am waiting to try out when we develop the piece further."


Performer Amber added "Prior to Nora Productions'; Have You Heard, the only other known stage version of this story that we’re aware of is the ballet Momento, put on by The Jerusalem Ballet.  We wanted to give Franceska a voice because there are so many different accounts of her story - no two are the same in fact. We spent a long time researching and reading various articles and as an ensemble created our own version of this iconic moment in history. We hope to have honoured Franceska as well as the women who united with her on that day"


I asked about how the show was combining the different styles, theatre, dance and music. Amber explained "it was important for us as an ensemble to create a language which explored not just Franceska's story and emotions but her interactions with other people and characters too. By combining the various elements it allowed us to express the story in a new and unique way. Especially as Franceska was a ballerina herself and the myth of what happened that day at Auschwitz so clearly depicts her as a beautiful dancer, it was necessary to include it in our storytelling. Dance was Francesksa's power and we used that to our advantage for an impactful opening to the show. Music is also a key part of the performance because it's universal and has the ability to transport audiences back in time and allow them to be fully immersed in the world of that particular story.


Director Eleanor added that it required "a lot of experimenting! Because Franceska Mann is a dancer, some of those elements were already in her story. The fun part was exploring where else they might fit, and how we could use them to support the story."


Photo by Petra Eujane Photography

We discussed how the story would resonate with audiences in 2021. Eleanor said "There is such a sense of rage and injustice in this story, and that is a sensation that is growing in society at the moment with women's rights, BLM, environmental protests, and countless social-justice issues. This story feels like the perfect echo of that emotion."


Amber explained how she felt it was empowering that a woman was standing up to men in power some nearly 80 years ago. "One thing that stood out to us about this story is that it's still being talked about nearly eighty years later! As a stimulus and starting point for a show, it couldn't have been more uplifting.  The empowerment of women during what must have been the most traumatic experience of their lives is unbelievable. On first reading an account about it, it felt like a fantasy or a dream.  A woman standing up against a man, more powerful than her in both stature and status - it cannot possibly be!? Oh yes, it can.  There is still a way to go in terms of us achieving equal rights as a society.  But this isn't just a tale about gender politics. It's a way to provoke audiences to think about how they can and should stand for what they believe in."


Performer Gaia added "This is a story about hope and finding strength and inspiration by coming together. A lot of the themes we explored are still very current. Also, it is important not to forget history, as well as the power that one single person can have through their actions and how this power can be spread far in space and time because their story is being told."


We then discussed how the COVID pandemic and the restrictions in place have affected the development of the piece. Eleanor described how residency with Applecart Arts has helped with their development. "We were so fortunate to be offered a residency from Applecart Arts, and I was able to work with some of the cast in the rehearsal room. We also had cast members who were unable to come into the space because of COVID, so our creative process was split between a physical and a virtual rehearsal room. It also means that some of our performance was recorded by the actors from their homes, while other parts were filmed in the theatre at Applecart Arts."

Natasha Wright's at home set up.

Amber explained "In an ideal situation all cast members would have been in the rehearsal space together.  I was surprised how easily and quickly we were able to establish a way of combining both working from home and being in the Applecart Arts studio.  We managed to initiate a very creative and supportive environment which gave us a lot of perspective on how the piece was developing.  It challenged us to think in different ways and has been one of the most interesting processes I have been involved in. We have had the opportunity to present the show across different mediums - audio, self-tapes and recorded sections in the studio. This is something we might not have otherwise thought about, and I think embracing that we are in the middle of a pandemic has made our work-in-progress showing even more exciting."

Gaia added "Most of the company worked mainly online, which has definitely shaped the way the process unfolded and therefore the way the work in progress is presented. It is impossible to know how differently the work would have developed in normal circumstances, but I do not think it would have been any better or worse. We focused on certain aspects of the production more than others, but the limitations pushed us to find creative solutions and I believe the R&D was extremely successful.

Naomi said "I actually got Covid just before we began devising but thankfully was able to join online and contribute from home, so I could recover and keep everyone else safe. I think this opens new possibilities for theatre-making.

Eleanor Felton's rehearsal photos.


My final question turned to the future of the production after this online streaming of the work in progress. Eleanor said "We will be looking to develop the piece towards a fully staged production this year. I am especially excited to bring the whole cast into the rehearsal room and be able to explore the show in a more physical and abstract way. We created mostly over Zoom, with a couple of actors in the room. It was incredible to see what we could achieve that way, and I cannot wait to bring this creative team into a room together to see where else we can go with it!"

Amber added "We hope to further develop the piece after it being received by its first audiences.  This may be editing what we already have or extending it.  The hope is also to bring the whole ensemble together to perform the piece, so this will involve a lot of adaptation in itself."

The work in progress production of Have You Heard is will be available to watch through Applecart Arts on Wednesday 3rd, Thursday 4th and Friday 5th March at 8pm (GMT). Tickets are £10 and the piece runs for 40 minutes. You can purchase tickets here. 


20 February 2021

The Secret Society of Leading Ladies Review

It's fast approaching a year since the first lockdown began in March 2020 and since that time there have been a plethora of brilliant online concerts but the Barn Theatre's latest offering brings something fresh and exciting, a concert where you get to choose the setlist.


Conceived and directed by Ryan Carter this celebration of female musical theatre characters. It's really inventive and a fun way to watch a performance. There's a choice of over 150 combinations so you're compelled to watch it more than once to find out what other choices you could have made.

 

Kayleigh McKnight

The thing that works so well about this idea is how accessible and easy it is to use. You're simply offered 3 choices of character and song and you pick one, and you continue like this until an encore ('Big Finish' from Smash) that features all the performers. In between each number, there's a little bit of scripted interaction between the characters you've picked so far. 


The all-female line up features brilliant performers and performances. My own personal favourite performances being; Kayleigh McKnight's 'World Burn' from Mean Girls, Emma Kingston's 'Dying Aint So Bad' from Bonnie and Clyde, Natalie Kassanga's 'Out Here On My Own' from Fame, Kelly Sweeney's 'Morning Person' from Shrek The Musical, Jocasta Almgill's 'Everybody's Girl' from Steel Pier and Abbi Hodgson's 'Nothing Stops Another Day' from Ghost. There are some magnificent vocals and characterisations throughout all the performances. From Princesses, Divas, Witches and more, there's something for everyone.


Jocasta Almgill


On the production side, the numbers are well shot by videographer Jamie Scott-Smith and Leo Munby's musical work and Harry Smith's sound engineering mean the numbers sound great. Editor Ben Evans must have had a lot of work to do putting all these clips together and his hard work pays off.


I made sure I went through and watched it three times to make sure I'd seen all the performances. It's well worth making sure you purchase the 24-hour ticket option when you book so that you can check out all the performances. It's a nice bit of theatrical escapsim especially as you the viewer gets to choose the path. An inventive spin on the online streamed concert.


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐ a clever interactive concept offering a unique take on the virtual musical theatre concert


The Secret Society of Leading Ladies streams from The Barn Theatre from the 22nd February to 7th March with tickets available from the Barn website


Kelly Sweeney.

19 February 2021

The Theatre Channel Episode 5 Review

Adam Blanshay Productions and The Theatre Cafe return for the latest instalment of The Theatre Channel series. This newest episode theme being The Classics of Broadway.


With current restrictions in place in England, it means the episode does expand a little from The Theatre Cafe. With delayed shooting and extra social distancing protocols in place with the added challenge of director and choreographer Bill Deamer having to shield but none of those issues affect the episode, in fact, it's probably the series best one yet.


The episode is once again shot by brilliant videographer Ben Hewis. Even with those extra challenges, there's still some great use of the space inside the Theatre Cafe as well as the next-door Duke of Yorks Theatre and the outside space around The National Theatre. It's all beautifully captured by the camera. Producer Adam Blanshay described the series as a "love letter to London and the West End" and I can't agree more. Something this series does tremendously is it's more than just a concert of put together numbers, each number is narratively driven. Something that all the creative team do really well.


Marisha Wallace. Photo by Edward Johnson


The camera also picks up the great work design team staging each individual number. Jack Weir's superb lighting design and Gregor Donnelly's costume design really add a beautiful visual layer for the viewer. Further with Michael England's musical supervision and  Keegan Curran's sound design, it all comes together really excellently in terms of the creative team. Credit must go to Thom Southerland who co-directed the episode.


Performance-wise we're treated to some real gems in this episode. The creative team talked about how they don't want to just go for the obvious numbers and it feels more refreshing that they don't. 


Freddie Fox's two numbers 'Willkommen' and 'Money' from Cabaret are a great opener. Freddie superbly captured the glamour of Emcee especially when he's draped with money from above. He's a fine fit for the role. The use of the Duke of York's Theatre for 'Money' is superb with shots from the stage, the stalls, the circle and the boxes.


Cafe Four's (Alyn Hawke, Alex Woodward, Emily Langham and Sadie-Jean Shirley) 'Coffee Break' from How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is well-pitched being filmed inside the Cafe and switching them to baristas. The always classy showman Gary Wilmot follows giving a lovely performance of 'Luck Be A Lady' from Guys and Dolls.


Freddie Fox and Cafe Four. Photo by Edward Johnson.


My favourite number of the episode comes from Alyn Hawke and Emily Langham as they perform 'Put On A Happy Face' from Bye Bye Birdie. It's a delightful duet with magnificent choreography by Bill Deamer. Bill explains in the post-credit behind-the-scenes featurette that because he's been shielding at home so was unable to be there for the shoot that all the choreography work was done over Zoom, none of this though affects the quality of the work. The skill and class of Alyn and Emily's movement had me beaming with theatrical joy.


The ever divine Bonnie Langford performs 'I Get A Kick Out Of You' from Anything Goes. There are some really clever nods to some of Bonnie's previous roles and use of the artwork and posters on display within The Theatre Cafe. 


Mazz Murray brings her Mama Rose from Gypsy with a performance of 'Everything's Coming Up Roses'. Mazz excellently characterises the role so well, so much so that I had to stop and Google and check if she'd played the role yet, she's not but someone surely needs to get her that part!

Mazz Murray. Photo by Edward Johnson.


The final number sees Marisha Wallace perform 'Somewhere' from West Side Story. It's a really moving performance, shot outside The National Theatre. Marisha sings with such heart and soul that those Sondheim lyrics really land. It's a symbolic number too, "there's a place for us" and "someday there'll be a time for us" hit differently as we're nearly a year since the first lockdown began and theatre's remain closed. It reminds us that our time will come. The curtain will rise again. Marisha talks in the post-credits with so much inspiration and it's clear that inspiration comes out in her performance. 


All in all, this is another outstanding episode in this series. The whole creative team clearly love making them, it came across in a Zoom Q and A just how much they all love to be able to flex those creative muscles and that really comes across in the episodes. Even with the extra challenges in place the team manage to create 25 minutes of pure West End and Broadway magic. It makes me want to hop on a train to the West End and just be back in The Theatre Cafe and one of the amazing theatres, soon I hope.


Bonnie Langford. Photo by Edward Johnson

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - the best yet in this brilliant musical theatre series


Episode 5 of The Theatre Channel is available now from https://www.thetheatrecafe.co.uk/channel/. The first four episodes remain available to purchase with all 5 episodes available for £50

17 February 2021

The Color Purple At Home Review.

Following the hugely successful Sunset Boulevard in Concert, that ran over the Christmas period, Curve and The Birmingham Hippodrome bring audiences The Color Purple At Home. This latest offering of online streams whilst theatres are unable to open is right up there with the very best that theatre can offer. 


Tinuke Craig's award-winning production is brought back to life following its 2019 run with such skill in adapting to the social distancing guidelines. The use of the revolve that Curve had donated to them by Sir Cameron Mackintosh is tremendous. It creates a circular stage which allows the camera to get right up close to the action and capture every emotion on the actor's faces. The use of the revolve allows the actors who aren’t in the current scene to sit around the circle and in turn become an audience. 


The cast of The Color Purple at Home. Photo by Pamela Raith


Marsha Norman's adaptation, based on the original novel by Alice Walker, tells the quite brutal story of Celie in 1920s America and the struggles she must overcome. Along the way, she faces racism, incest, domestic abuse, poverty and sexism. Whilst this might sound like a tough watch, and at times it is, it's also a beautiful story of a woman finding her self worth. That message of hope and resilience is ever more so relevant as we continue in the fight against the pandemic. 


Right from the opening number, the joyously gospel 'Mysterious Ways', I was hooked. There are not many shows that sound this good, you will not find a better company of voices. The music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray mixed gospel, soul and musical theatre. Martin Higgins brilliant orchestrations and the 7 piece band under the musical direction of Alex Parker create a beautiful sound. Sound designer Tom Marshall keeps the production rooted in its American roots with a lovely undercutting soundscape.


Crosscut Media's cinematography is really top drawer. At times the characters break the fourth wall and address the camera directly, at other times the camera becomes one of the characters. That feeling when a character is looking directly into the camera delivering a line or performing a number really feels like they’re talking just to you.


The whole creative team have done a sterling job. Visually in terms of design, there are minimal props, so it turns to the Alex Lowde's costumes and Ben Cracknell's majestic lighting to bring the world of the show to life and it's gorgeous to look at. Mark Smith's choreography packs a real punch. I don't think this production could have been staged or captured in a better way in these difficult circumstances.


T'Shan Williams (Celie), Ako Mitchell (Mister) and Danielle Fiamanya (Nettie). Photo by Pamela Raith

T'Shan Williams is the linchpin of the production as Celie and what a star she is. Vocally she's outstanding, boy she can belt out when it's required but it's also her fragile moments that are just as stunning. Her characterisation is tremendous, you feel every word. I watched on in stunned silence as she sang 'I'm Here'. There's another star turn in Danielle Fiamanya's portrayal of Celie's sister Nettie. She is fantastic to watch. Together T'Shan's and Danielle's voices and harmonies blend together perfectly. 


Carly Mercedes Dyer is in her best form as Shug Avery, a club singer and love interest for Celie. Her arrival around 45 minutes into the first act really adds a lovely new dynamic. Carly has such a rare skill of capturing a character so well. There are strong performances throughout the company but  Ako Mitchell as Mister, Karen Mavundukure as Sofia and Simon-Anthony Rhoden as Harpo all stand out. A special mention should go to Anelisa Lamola for her astonishing vocals. 


T'Shan Williams (Celie) and Carly Mercedes Dyer (Shug Avery). Photo by Pamela Raith

The only thing missing from this production is the audience. That pin drop silence at the end of some of the musical numbers is deafening. A reminder that we're not able to the thing we love. I, unfortunately, didn't get to see the production live so I can only imagine how much the audience must have roared with appreciation. I always find seeing empty theatre's moving but something about this piece, especially the final sequence as you can see and feel the raw emotion of the actors and seeing the Curve's spaces captured so well deeply moved me.


Sometimes theatre stirs the right emotions inside you and this production of The Color Purple reminded me of everything I love about theatre. Powerful storytelling, delightful soul-filling music and a top-notch cast. I was taking notes for this review as I watched and I got to the end and simply wrote WOW in capital letters. I'm certainly going to book to watch it again before the run ends. 


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - a powerful and perfect production for these current times. Unmissable.


The Color Purple at Home streams from Curve online until Sunday 7th March. Tickets can be purchased from www.curveonline.co.uk


The cast of The Color Purple at Home. Photo by Pamela Raith


4 January 2021

The Gift That Keeps Giving - Episode One Review.

British sitcoms have for years been beloved and adored, from Dads Army, Only Fools and Horses to Gavin and Stacey, Britain has created many TV classics down the years. With the Arts still facing uncertainty during the pandemic, the work continues to be virtual. Here Pink Pig Productions launch their first episode of The Gift that Keeps Giving series.

The episode centres around a couple of friends Karis and Ellie, who have arranged a chat on the online video service Mooz to watch the film The Gift that Keeps Giving together. The films begin but instantly they pause to discussing dating. The discussions lead to other girlfriends arriving on the call to discuss their recent dates - all of which turn out to be with the same guy. 

It's a really fun concept and it's brilliantly written by Reece Kerridge and Jenna Boyd. In an episode that's just under 15 minutes, you get to know these quirky likeable characters really well. You get a real sense of the bond these friends have and the banter they share. So good is the script that you almost forget that you're not spying in on a real video call yourself.



The assembled cast is strong and all have a warm on-screen presence. Tori Hargreaves (Ellie), Molly McGuire (Becky) and Chloe Gentles (Lucy-Mae) all bring a touch of class and quality to their characters. Jen Caldwell particularly stands out as Karis, she's somewhere in between Alice Tinker from The Vicar of Dibley and Stacey in Gavin and Stacey and is a delight to watch as she eats everything in sight. Claire Learie only joins about halfway but instantly her wide-eyed long rambles as Sophie are superb. Jed Berry fantastically arrives for the final scene as Tom, who drops in his own revelation too.

This is a hugely promising first episode from Reece and Jenna and everyone at Pink Pig Productions. Sitcoms can either fly or flop and this one hits the heights from the get-go. Wonderful humour, likeable characters and a great concept - what's not to like. Start 2021 with a bit of fun. Here's to more episodes.

You can stream episode one of The Gift that Keep Giving on Pink Pig Productions YouTube page

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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