26 April 2021

Cells Review

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

3 April 2021

Astrom Club Interview

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

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

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

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

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

Where did the inspiration for the musical come from?

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

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

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

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

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

What musical styles can we expect from the show?

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

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

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

What are the future plans for the show?

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

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

1 April 2021

Now or Never Review

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

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

Matthew Harvey in Now or Never. Photo by Jenya Steanson

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

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

Irvine Iqbal in Now or Never. Photo by Jenya Steanson

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

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

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Eloise Davies and Courtney Stapleton. Photo by Jenya Steanson

An Elephant In the Garden Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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