28 June 2021

Justin Treadwell Interview - Anarchy Division

Anarchy Division is a brand new production company set up and run by theatre producer, editor and writer Justin Treadwell. Their current production of Stray Dogs is running at The Bread and Roses Theatre in London until June 30th 2021. I spoke to Justin all about the role of a producer and setting up a new production company.

Beyond The Curtain: Firstly for those who don't know, what does the role of a producer on a show entail?

Justin: The actual duties change a lot from show to show, depending on what’s required, what form I’m working in, who the audience are and so on – so it can be difficult to summarise! If I’m allowed to be a bit highbrow about it, I tend to see producing as a mix of two things – facilitation and translation.

Facilitation in the sense that it’s providing the conditions for artists to make and show work (finding spaces, recruiting collaborators, marketing), and translation in the sense of turning an artist’s idea into a grant pitch, or a press release, or an investment pitch.

Day-to-day, it depends on who I’m working with – I tend to develop different working methods with different collaborators based on where they might need support most. But I’ve still not really answered the question! So some of the most common specific duties would include: financial administration/budgeting, hiring spaces and equipment, planning marketing campaigns, writing up contracts and the like. It’s great fun if you like spreadsheets… 

BTC: How has it been setting up a company during this recent time with the pandemic?

Justin: Interesting, is probably the word! Of course plenty of people have spoken more eloquently than I can about the challenges that the industry has faced over the last year-and-however-much now, and it’s not necessarily the ideal environment for launching a new venture. And of course I’m privileged to have the kind of personal situation that allows me to keep working and keep building these things given everything that’s going on – plenty of people haven’t, of course.

One thing I will say, though, is that the introduction of digital working methods has opened up a few avenues for collaboration that I maybe hadn’t considered before – or more accurately, made me realise they’re a lot easier than I might otherwise have thought. For example, I’ve ended up working a lot more internationally than I had previously, with artists from the US, Lithuania, Romania and Denmark, among others. That’s been particularly interesting as well in the way that it reveals some of the assumptions UK theatre (and arts in general) make, some of the differences in working method and so on.

BTC: What are the aims for the company going forwards?

Justin: I’m planning to focus on being a production company first and foremost – not limited to a specific art form, but instead facilitating and enabling artists across whatever artform they’re working with! Obviously there’s a degree of specialisation just in terms of what I’m more familiar with (I started as a theatre artist, and that will remain the main focus), but over the pandemic I’ve had the chance to work on audio, film and even some visual art, and I’d like to keep that going!

In terms of the kind of art you can expect from Anarchy Division – I want to keep it diverse and fresh (again, focusing more on being a production company with a wide portfolio, rather than a specific artistic line).  But I am keeping a few guidelines in mind for the work I’m interested in, the main one of which I’d say is urgency; work that needs to be a part of the current artistic conversation, whether that’s for its stylistic innovation or accessibility or the messages it brings.

I’d also, however, like to have the company think just as radically offstage as it does onstage – just as much in terms of administration, working methods and so on. I think there’s a lot of concrete targets for reform across the arts that aren’t just about the stories we tell and who’s telling them, but things like – how can we make ticket prices more accessible, how can we increase the reach of our productions to areas that don’t often get to see them, how can we think about blurring borders between art forms and the like – it’s exciting stuff!

Anarchy Division Logo.

BTC: How does it feel to launch the company with this production of Stray Dogs?

Justin: It feels great! It’s the moment where I get to take this thing out of my head and actually make it real – and I’m doing it alongside an incredibly talented and skilled team, which is always a privilege. 

Everyone who’s worked on it has been brilliant, and it’s been great to have them. With this piece in particular, it exemplifies that feeling of urgency I talked about – at least, in my opinion! There are some practical considerations, of course; it’s a two-hander, one hour long, which allows us to give it the
proper focus and development needed working within a new company budget. But it’s also a piece I’ve been working on for a while and one I really strongly believe in – I wouldn’t want to launch with anything less.

BTC: How did you come about working on the production?

Justin: In a twist which is either ironic or a little embarrassing (or both,) I actually met Matt through rejecting another piece he’d written for a scratch night I was running! We got to talking and he pitched a few pieces, including a short version of Stray Dogs – it really caught my attention, and with me acting as a sort of editor/sounding board he developed it into a full piece. After various rounds of workshopping and dramaturgy we were originally planning to stage the production at the 2020 Brighton Fringe – of course that had to be cancelled, but the Warren Festival generously re-scheduled us to this year. I pulled together the final creative team, and the rest is history, really!

BTC: Why should audiences choose to come see this piece?

Justin: I mean, I produced it, so I’m probably biased, but because it’s really, really good! It’s got a great reception every time we presented it so far, and I certainly don’t plan for this to be the last you’ll see of the show – so definitely keep an eye out for it to return later down the line. But as a show – it’s a very well put together piece of theatre, with a timely, important message, featuring incredibly talented performers and great direction. All the good stuff!

I'd like to thank Justin for his time and his interesting insights. I wish him and Anarchy Division every success.

Stray Dogs runs at Bread and Roses Theatre until June 30th 2021 with remaining tickets available from https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/ 

To find out more about Anarchy Division visit https://anarchydivision.co.uk/ or to find out more about Justin you can follow him on Twitter.

24 June 2021

Henry VI RSC Open Rehearsal Room Project

The rehearsal room, a place only the actors and the creatives really see, but now the Royal Shakespeare Company have opened those doors to let the audience in virtually with a special open rehearsal room project where the company have worked through a unique production of Shakespeare's Henry VI Part One which was due to play in The Swan last year.

In the Ashcroft Room at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon the project has allowed audiences to see a window in to rehearsals like never before. Through each week day in June the company have gathered and worked through the play with three sessions streamed live online throughout the day. These sessions often led by the productions directors Owen Horsley and Greg Doran or other members of the creative team including the fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown or movement director Polly Bennett.

The company. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

The days began at 10am with a half hour warm up session in which audiences watching at home were encouraged to join in if they liked. These warm ups began in the first session with playing some introductory games and going on through the weeks to go through varied techniques including different breathing techniques or more physical activities. These often fun sessions showed the togetherness and kinship of a company of actors as they begin their day together. 

The next session, the lunchtime rehearsal, began at midday and covered the most detail about the building up towards the actual performance. These sessions offered the most insight in to process of a company building a play, from the opening rehearsal session being a run through of Acts 1 to 4 with the actors scripts in hand leading through to the final run through. These sessions varied from running through scenes and speeches to fight work, blocking scenes or the actors having discussions about the text. As a passionate theatre lover myself these insights that we never see normally were fascinating, to see the process the company goes through to build up the play piece by piece leading up to that opening performance, with work that often get's changed or developed as they further their work with the play. So interesting to watch.

The final of the 3 sessions, green room chats, wrapped up the day with open conversations about the day and how the creatives and the actors are feeling about the project and the process. This session also allowed for viewers to send in questions to be answered about the project. One of the more insightful sessions came on Monday 7th June when four of the actors opened up about the mental health of an actor and the challenges they go through especially after the challenge of being away from rehearsal room for so long and the challenge of the rehearsal room being open and filmed. 

Jamie Ballard as Talbot. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

The culmination of the project was the final live rehearsal run through of the play. This run through pretty much was the full staging of the play minus costumes and with minimal props. This tremendous performance showed off the work the company had built through and it was a thrilling production to watch. Whilst it was still only a final run through it felt as real as the full staged performance.

The company all delivered superb passionate performances with the titular role of King Henry VI played by Mark Quartley. Jamie Ballard delivered a tremendous reading of the text as Tablot. He is an outstanding actor to watch. Jamie Wilkes as Charles The Dauphin and Lily Nichol as Joan stood out with their commanding performances as the two leading French players in the action. Amanda Harris as delivers Shakespeare's text with such skill. The fight sequences were particularly impressive.

The production was enhanced by Paul Englishby's music, played by Nick Lee on guitars and Kevin Waterman on percussion, the beating drums and searing guitars added great texture to the war torn fractured world of the play. Movement director Polly Bennett has done a great job with staging in the space with social distancing still in place between the actors. The performance and the whole rehearsal project was well captured by the camera team under the direction of Rhodri Huw.

Amanda Harris (Centre) and Company. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

The whole project has been an interesting and engaging window into the world of building up a play from the early stage or rehearsals through to the final performance. Following along the process has been both education and really captivating. Whilst this production may never actually play on stage to an audience the passionate work by all involved delivered a high quality telling of the play, maybe the freedom of not having an opening night to aim towards has allowed extra creative freedom. This version of Henry VI Part One has been unique and I hope that it's a project that the RSC continue through the other parts of the Henry VI trilogy of plays.

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ a thrilling and insightful project opening the doors into rehearsals and the building blocks of a production.

The rehearsal room project is available on demand including the final run through until Friday 25th June 2021 with tickets available from www.rsc.org.uk

15 June 2021

Monday Night At The Apollo - 14th June - Review

Following a successful event last month Wild Mountain Productions return with their second Monday Night At The Apollo. 

The night is once again hosted by Greg Barnett, his likeable charm carries throughout the evening of conversation and song which plays to a socially distanced audience within the theatre and also streams online through the Thespie website. I watched through the stream.

The line up for this second evening featured some magnificent talent, Shan Ako, Arthur Darvill, Sophie Evans, Sandra Marvin and Jamie Muscato. All supported by a terrific 4 piece band under the musical direction of George Dyer.

Greg opened the evening with a storming version of Joe Bonamassa's 'I Got All You Need' before Sandra Marvin with such powerful vocals sung Duke Ellington's 'Hit Me A Hard Note (And Watch ME Bounce'. Shan Ako with guitar in hand performed Bob Marley and The Wailers's  'One Love/People Get Ready' which included a joyous bit of audience participation - how refreshing it was to hear an audience joining in even through their masks. Sophie Evans brought a country flair to the evening with the song 'I'm Yours' which appears on her 2019 album Icons. Arthur Darvill, at the piano, sung a gorgeous rendition of the Buddy Holly song 'True Love Ways'. Jamie Muscato powerful voice offered a fabulous rendition of the Elton John classic song 'Rocketman'

Shan performed 'Lean On' a lovely uplifting original song that she wrote during lockdown with her sister. Arthur performed a toe-tapping version 'Jealous Guy' originally written by John Lennon. Heading into the interval Sandra and Jamie duetted 'You're All I Need To Get By' made famous by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

Moving into the second half and opening with some theatrical numbers with Sophie revisiting her time as Glinda in Wicked with the number 'Popular', Jamie singing a magnificent version of 'Lifeboat' from Heathers - a number sung by Heather McNamara in the show. and Arthur and Shan beautifully duetting 'Lies' from the movie of Once written by Glen Hansard. Sandra's smooth and powerful vocals made for a sensational rendition of Whitney Houston's 'Saving All My Love For You'. 

Sophie Evans performed another song which can be heard on her album Icons, the Eva Cassidy classic 'Songbird'. Sophie's voice fits so perfectly to offer an unforgettable version of the song. Arthur, back at the piano, sang 'Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk' by Rufus Wainwright. Shan, who is currently playing Eponine in Les Mis: The Staged Concert, sung her outstanding version of 'On My Own' from the show. Arthur and Sophie duetted 'Suddenly Seymour' from Little Shop of Horrors.

Jamie, whom I had the pleasure of seeing play Tony in Curve's 5 star version of West Side Story, sung the number 'Maria' from the show. Sandra revisited her powerful turn as Motormouth Maybelle from Hairspray to bring arguably the best number of the night with her show stopping version of 'I Know Where I've Been'The final number came from the three ladies, Shan, Sandra and Sophie with the upbeat Whitney Houston song 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' leaving the audience on a high as the evening came to an end. 

Between each number Greg and the cast had some really insightful chats about their careers to date, their current or future projects. From the early moments in the careers, to being in shows with big loyal fan bases or to a chat about on stage injuries - these insightful conversations were really interesting to listen to. 

The night was a fabulous celebration of music and theatre. It's great to see and hear such a supremely talented set of singers and musicians dazzling an audience in the West End and virtually. We've all missed that live performance during the lockdowns and these Monday Night At The Apollo's offer a wholesome and uplifting evening at the theatre - even if that's from home.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - a fantastic host, a sensational line-up all making an evening of wonderful music and conversation.

You can stream both this episode and the earlier episode from 24th May 2021 through Thespie - tickets cost £17 which gives viewers access to watch until July 1st 2021. 

9 June 2021

Stray Dogs Interview

Stray Dogs is the debut play of writer Matt Wixey. The play is a  sharp, unflinching look by an ex-officer at pack mentality, and what it means to step out of line. The play has been in development since 2019, and was  originally scheduled for May 2020, but now the show is finally debuting at Brighton Fringe 2021.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Matt and the play's director Erica Miller and the producer Justin Treadwell. The production marks a debut for Justin's new production company, Anarchy Division.

Beyond The Curtain: Stray Dogs is a new piece that's been in development since 2019, can you tell more about the piece?

Matt Wixey: Stray Dogs is a two-hander play about the institution of the police, and the pack mentality that often comes with being a member of a police service. On a narrative level it's about a police misconduct investigator interviewing a veteran officer about an incident, in which a suspect was seriously injured in the back of a police van - the investigator is trying to find out what happened, and the officer is trying to protect himself - but at a deeper thematic level it's an exploration of what it means to adhere to that pack mentality, and what it means to be a 'stray' in a culture which prioritises uniformity and obedience. It started as a ten-minute play for a scratch night, and was then developed and workshopped into a longer piece.

Justin Treadwell: It’s been a long process bringing the show to the stage – we were originally planning to debut the piece as a work-in-progress at Brighton Fringe 2020. That didn’t happen, of course! But we’ve been continuously evolving and developing since then, and I’m really proud of what we’ve made. A lot of brilliantly talented people have brought their ideas and work to the piece all the way through the process, and we’re very grateful to everyone who’s been involved!

BTC: After spending so long in the police force, how did you decide to transition that into a play?

MW: I thought a story about police culture could make a good play, and one which my experiences could give some authenticity to. Of course some elements of it are fictional; others are true, or have been exaggerated or changed. What I thought was interesting when I started writing it is that there were very few examples of plays or programmes which look at the police as an institution - there's The Wire, of course, but that was in the early 2000s and very US-specific. Most of the work out there tends to be much more procedural in nature, which has never really appealed to me. So I thought there could be an opportunity there to tell a different story.

BTC: Has the show been influenced in any way by any of the big TV cop dramas of recent years (The likes of Line of Duty, The Bodyguard etc)?

MW: To some extent, yes, but only in the sense of not wanting the play to be anything like those dramas! Line of Duty and Bodyguard are great shows, but they’re also pure fantasy and escapism, and are often inaccurate in terms of the attitudes, events, and procedures depicted. They put out very mainstream and overly sensationalised ideas of what policing is like. Don't get me wrong, escapism definitely has its place as entertainment, but I was really keen to explore a different side of the police based on an insider's perspective - how a uniform and a shared institutional culture affect individuals, and can lead to incidents like those depicted in the play.

As a result, Stray Dogs is very deliberately small-scale and low-key - it is purely about the interplay between two characters and the collision (and occasional affinity) of two very different perspectives. Not an explosion, plot twist, or huge underworld conspiracy to be found!

The artwork for Stray Dogs.

BTC: As mentioned this piece is about the police force and the coppers involved within it, do you think recent world events have had an impact on the piece?

MW: To some extent, yes - and almost certainly in terms of how the play will be perceived and experienced. I tried to not make the piece explicitly a reaction to, or commentary on, those events, because I'm not sure that's a story I'm qualified or able to tell, but inevitably some comparisons will be made, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Stray Dogs is best seen as a contribution to a debate, I think, and whilst it doesn't explicitly refer to the murder of George Floyd or other real-life instances of police violence, it does examine some of the roots of an institutional culture in which things like that could then happen.

JT: Of course, we’ve consulted with sensitivity readers and dramaturgs over the course of the development - because there are moments that touch on themes of police brutality, discrimination etc, and we wanted to make sure we were including those honestly and respectfully. Equally, as Matt says, the piece is an examination of the kind of environments that can create those mindsets, not individual incidents – it’s an exploration of where and why that sets in on an institutional scale.

BTC: The show runs at Brighton Fringe and in London at the Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham, can you tell the audiences why they should come and see it?

Erica Miller: We often see the police at distance from us or as headline, but we don’t get close up like this- in all their messy glory. This - and great acting of Catherine Adams and Richard De Lisle -  is why you should come see it. 

MW: I wouldn't describe the play as an easy watch, but I hope that it raises some valid and important questions, and does so in an interesting way, from an insider's perspective.

Stray Dogs will open at the Brighton Fringe playing on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th June at 1.15pm at The Warren. Tickets at https://www.brightonfringe.org/whats-on/stray-dogs-147684/. The piece will also play at The Bread and Roses Theatre in London between 28th and 30th June. Tickets at https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/

I'd like to thank Justin, Matt and Erica for their time in discussing this play and I wish them all well for the run.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber Review

As soon as Curve's Chief Executive, Chris Stafford, welcomed audiences back to the stage with a lovely speech, it felt like slipping back into a comfort zone and ready for a show and what a show the team at Curve have delivered. 

Directed by the theatre's artistic director, Nikolai Foster, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber offers a musical delight with a celebration of the Lord's magnificent career to do date. Andrew, for those of who don't know (where have you been!) is one of the greatest composers of his or any generation, his long running musical theatre hits have played international and continue to wow audiences as much as they did when they first opened. His hits include Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Phantom of The Opera, Evita and many more.

The cast of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Set in Curve's truly incredible socially distanced in the round auditoria the show brings life and musical theatre back to the Leicester stage in such a delightful way. That in the round with the use of a revolve, donated to the theatre by Sir Cameron Mackintosh, works perfectly for this production. The use of a few props and lighting enhances what could just be a bare stage well.

The cast, Madalena Alberto, Jessica Daley, Tim Howar, Ria Jones, Karen Mavundukure, Shem Omari Jones and Tim Rogers are all superb. Each gets numerous moments to shine in varied roles. Much credit must go to Karen Mavundukure, she'd unfortunately injured herself in rehearsals but in the true spirit of the show must go on, she performed throughout in a wheelchair with assistant director Jennifer Lane Baker performing as an extra body on stage. The Curve Young Company joined for a couple of numbers and it's great to see these youngsters getting a moment on stage again.

A band under the musical direction of Matthew Spencer-Smith delivers a fantastic sound with Tom Marshall's sound design combining the voices and music well.

Jessica Daley. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Right from the opening medley sung by the cast in acapella it set the tone for a highly enjoyable night of music. It was great to have Andrew himself on pre-recorded videos offering insight in between each show or number allowing us the audience to delve deeper in to some of the songs or productions before hearing the numbers. It's great to see Andrew in the Curve and around Leicester on these videos. He clearly had a good time discussion all the hits and some of the misses.

The first half focused on Andrew's earlier years with songs beginning with Jesus Christ Superstar which included a beautiful rendition of 'I Don't Know How To Love Him' by Karen Mavundukure. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat allowed for the first appearance of the Curve Young Company as they joined in with 3 numbers from the show ('Joseph's Coat', 'Close Every Door' and 'Any Dream Will Do'). 5 numbers from Evita which allowed Madalena Alberto to step back in to the role which she played to critical acclaim at the Dominion Theatre. Variations allowed for cellist Natalie Hancock to have a glorious solo moment. 

There was then numbers from Song and Dance, Aspects of Love and Tell Me On Sunday. The title number from Love Never Dies allowed Jessica Daley to showcase her amazing soprano vocals. Before the finale of act one, a medley from my musical theatre nemesis, Cats, but with credit to the cast they did a good job with it including a strong rendition of 'Memory' by Ria Jones.

Cellist Natalie Hancock. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

The second act moved through further into Andrew's career beginning with a couple of upbeat numbers from Starlight Express including the toetapping 'Light At The End of the Tunnel'. The recent hit Sunset Boulevard in Concert which streamed was re-born with a few numbers from that show, Ria Jones is so perfectly cast in the role of Norma Desmond and her powerful vocals hitting home all the emotions with her versions of 'As If We Never Said Goodbye' and 'With One Look' - she doesn't just sing these numbers she acts every word with real skill. 

One of Andrew's non-musical theatre numbers, 'Amigos Para Siempre' which he co-wrote for the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 followed Sunset before Tim Rogers performed ''Til I Hear You Sing' from Love Never Dies. The stand out moment was delivered by youngster Alyshia Dhakk with a spellbinding rendition of 'Pie Jesu' from Requiem. It was already moving it was dedicated to all those who we'd sadly lost over the past 15 months but as soon as she begun I doubt there were many dry eyes within the theatre - one of those unforgettable moments, pure silence but for her vocals and the music.

The last show that had just opened before the pandemic on the Curve stage was the new touring production of Andrew's The Phantom Of The Opera, sadly lockdowns and the closure of the theatres ended that run so it was fantastic to hear the stirring music of Phantom filling the theatre again. Jessica Daley again stepping into the shoes of Christine Daae and offering once again gorgeous vocals she was well aided by Tim Howar's commanding Phantom.

The finale focused on Andrew's two latest works. First his forthcoming production of Cinderella which is due to open for previews at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London in a few weeks time (easing of restrictions permitting). The number 'Bad Cinderella' sounded better live and sung by all four of the ladies - Madelena, Ria, Jessica and Karen. The night ended rocking out to 'Stick It To The Man' from School of Rock, this got the entire company, including the CYC, and led to a joyous romp of a final number.

As brilliant as the cast and musicians were possibly the star of the production belongs to the phenomenal lighting designed by Ben Cracknell. The use of the 6 legged 'spider' rig and lighting all around the auditoria is dazzling. Each number was painted like a canvas with lights, each number complimented by a style. I can't think of many shows that I've seen so well lit.

This production is a timely reminder of the joy that musical theatre and live music can bring. Andrew's classic hits are celebrated in a way befitting in his long and successful career.  It was great to "feel the magic in the making" and to see Curve full again, it's been a long 15 months but now theatre is alive and the "light at the end of the tunnel" is a little clearer. Let's hope it's "as if we never said goodbye" again. 

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ a wonderful celebration of the Lord's great career bringing musical theatre back to Curve with an outstanding cast and lighting design.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber continues at Curve until Saturday 19th June 2021. For tickets or more information visit curveonline.co.uk

The Company and Curve Young Company. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

6 June 2021

The Show Must Go On Live - Review

The Theatre Support Fund + has been one of the leading theatrical good causes during this last year raising money for 3 important charities, Acting For Others, Fleabag Support Fund and NHS COVID-19 Urgent Appeal. The fund has raised now raised over 1 million pounds through varied merchandise including t-shirts, notebooks, posters and more or showcasing classic shows online through YouTube and a week long run of The Show Must Go On Live concerts at the Palace Theatre.

The live concerts ran at the Palace Theatre which ran between 2nd - 6th June 2021 in person to a socially distance audience. The concerts featuring stars of shows which are currently playing or awaiting re-opening in the West End supported by a choir of graduates who were unable to celebrate their graduations as well as a brilliant orchestra under the musical direction of Stuart Morley. The final concert was live also lived streamed internationally on YouTube and that's how I watched it.

The opening number. Photo by Johan Persson

The show opened with 'The Show Must Go On' specially written by Stiles and Drewe and performed by the shows hosts Bonnie Langford and Trevor Dion Nicholas and what a joyous number, perfectly capturing the feeling and the emotion of the last year as the curtain rises again with witty lyrics you'd expect from top level writing duo. It set the tone for a marvellous celebration of theatre and the talent that often takes to its stages. 

The first two numbers celebrated two of the newer hits in the West End, Jordan Luke Gage superbly performed the Bon Jovi song 'It's My Life' which forms part of & Juliet and then Collette Guitart perfomed the powerful ballad 'Heart of Stone' from Six. There was a Disney celebration that followed with Kayi Ushe and Janique Charles performing 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight' from The Lion King and Zizi Strallen, Ellie Jones and Fred Wilcox performing 'Practically Perfect' from Mary Poppins.

There was a celebration of Broadway imports with Trevor Dion Nicholas swapping his usual Hamilton role of George Washington to sing King George III's big number 'You'll Be Back'. One of the nights highlights was a really moving performance of 'For Forever' by Marcus Harman from Dear Evan Hansen. I had the pleasure to see Marcus in this role and he was truly outstanding. Aimie Atkinson followed with 'I Can't Go Back' from Pretty Woman.

Marcus Harman. Photo by Johan Persson.

Closing the first act were two numbers from Jukebox musical. 'We Don't Need Another Hero' performed by Aisha Jawando from Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and 'The Winner Takes It All' performed by Mazz Murray. A wonderful way to round up the first act with two powerhouse vocal performances.

Into Act Two and an upbeat start with Olly Dobson performing 'The Power Of Love' from the forthcoming West End transfer of Back To The Future The Musical. This was followed by two more shows that transferred from across the Atlantic. Dom Simpson and Tom Xander with 'You and Me (But Mostly Me)' from The Book of Mormon and Alice Fearn with the beautiful 'Me and The Sky' from Come From Away which she sung with such moving skill and vocals.

The next two songs together were from two home grown musicals that are being made into movie musicals. Tilly-Raye Bayer, Imogen Cole, Alyssa D'Souza and Alex Munden, who all share the role the title role of Matilda and Carly Thoms performing 'When I Grow Up' from Matilda. The excellent Sharan Phull performed a beautiful medley from Everybody's Talking About Jamie.

Sharan Phull. Photo by Johan Persson.

It moved on to the two longest running West End musicals, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. Legend of both shows, John Owen Jones showed why he's been long associated with Les Mis with his vocally perfect 'Bring Him Home', deeply moving and powerful you could see how much it meant to John to be back in front of an audience. Rhys Whitfield and Lucy St Louis followed with 'All I Ask Of You' from The Phantom of the Opera - a gorgeous duet.

Laura Pick followed with a great rendition of 'The Wizard and I' from Wicked before another moving number by Alexia Khadime and Christine Allado performing the soaring duet 'When You Believe' from The Prince of Egypt. After speeches by London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Theatre Support Fund + founders Chris Marcus and Damien Stanton and a celebration of the fund reaching one million pounds in donations we headed towards the nights finale a performance the night's and the funds anthem 'The Show Must Go On' sung by the entire company. A stirring and magical way to round up the night.

Alexia Khadime and Christine Allado. Photo by Johan Persson.

The important take away was the support and the charity fund that the night was in aid of. You can donate to the fund from their website https://theatresupportfund.co.uk/collections/donate or if you're in the UK you can donate by text b texting THEARE10 to 70460 to donate £10, THEATRE20 to 70460 to donate £20 or THEATRE30 to 70460 to donate £30.

A wholesome and superb celebration of the West End relighting the Palace Theatre stage with theatrical joy and reminding us all that through it all the show really must go on.

You can catch the live stream available for 7 days until Sunday 13th June - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_3FoYTqVL8

3 June 2021

Returning to London and Amélie.

It'd been 15 months since late February 2020 and my last trip to London, that then was to see a recording of the BBC panel show Q.I. It was on February 1st that I last saw theatre in London and that was the closing night of Amelie at The Other Palace, so for my first trip back to London after so long it was nice to come full circle and see a matinee of Amélie in it's new home at the Criterion Theatre now that the production has transferred into the West End.

For me going back on to public transport after all this time felt like something quite a big thing and my anxieties about it all were sky high in the days leading up to it but once I arrived at Leicester station for the journey down and met my pal Emmie (Carpe Diem Emmie) I felt okay. The train down itself wasn't too busy, there seemed be lots of space on the train and it felt really clean which was very re-assuring. 

Arriving at London St Pancras we met another up with another of our friends, Sarah. Sarah is part of a wonderful WhatsApp group that's been going on with fellow theatre bloggers and fans, we've done countless Zooms and it was lovely to finally meet in person. The three of us decided to walk to the West End rather than taking the tube - I think we all felt a bit too anxious about that just yet. I couldn't have wished for better company though on this trip.

The walk was really nice, especially with the glorious weather we had on the day, it opens you eyes to bits of London you don't always see if you hop straight on a tube. It only felt busy once we got to Tottenham Court Road and into Soho, it was busy pavements but it was manageable the whole time. It certainly wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. We wandered through and took a few photos of theatres before grabbing some lunch from B Bagel on the corner of Old Compton Street (delicious food by the way) and finding a spot to eat in Leicester Square. 

Me, Emmie and Sarah outside the Criterion Theatre.

After all this it was time to head to the Criterion Theatre for the matinee. Earlier in the day I received a text where you receive a link to fill out the Track and Trace information and once you've done that the tickets come through. Also on that text was the information for pre-ordering pre-show drinks or interval drinks as well as merch for the show which was all delivered to your seat after your arrival - something that worked so well. 

On arrival to the theatre, arriving at our allocated time, it was show your tickets by the door then have your wrist scanned for your temperature before scanning the tickets and in you go. The theatre itself was one I'd not previously been to and it was a beautiful building, the perfect size for the show and the social distancing measures in place were magnificent. They've taken rows out so you get extra leg room too which is always a bonus. Seats were blocked off between each party too so you had distance from each other. Mask wearing too, of course, although the ladies next to us weren't great at that. Much credit to the front of house team who were so welcoming and helpful throughout the building. Theatre is back and it feels so safe.

It was great to see lovely humans in Sophie and Amy at the theatre too, I spent that final night at The Other Palace with these two,  I'm sure we'd have been there all night if hadn't got kicked out by staff at around midnight! Sophie is such a diamond and I'm so proud of the personal victories she made yesterday. 

Onto the show itself, it was my 11th time seeing Amélie after seeing it in various touring locations during it's nationwide 2019 tour and then also at The Other Palace in London. It's as wonderous as ever. It's a charming, delightful, whimsical and heart-warming escape from reality (something we could all do with). The whole production is magically crafted from it's brilliant design and staging to the astonishing cast of actor-musicians. 

The set of Amélie.

Audrey Brisson encapsulated the title role with such skill. This shy Parisian who does small acts of kindness for others before opening her own heart after a chance meeting with a stranger, Nino. Her gorgeous vocals soar throughout. Audrey is so perfectly cast in the role. Chris Jared brings rugged charm and divine vocals to Nino. The chemistry between the two is palpable as the relationship builds. Their own real life relationship is masked on stage and it creates such a spark between the two. 

Throughout the company there is outstanding moments and performances, it does seem unfair to single out individuals when this show is very much an all together ensemble piece, each member of the company is as important as each other but I must mention a couple. Jez Unwin brings so much heart and soul to Amélie's father, Raphael, as he becomes a bit of a recluse after the death of his wife. He duals that emotion brilliantly into the touching role of Bretodeau, the number 'How To Tell Time' never fails to make me tear up. Rachel Dawson brilliantly plays Amélie's mother Amandine with fraught emotion of not having a son as well as Philomene an air hostess. She has such a lovely vocal tone, which hits home the most during 'Halfway' in act two.  Kate Robson-Stuart is constantly watchable with her boundless energy as café owner Suzanne. She is a remarkable talent. 

Nuwan Hugh Perera did a fabulous job understudying for Lucien/Mysterious Man and Gnome on the matinee performance - not only is he a great performer but his gorgeous rehearsal photos are a delight to peruse in the programme. It was nice to see a few new faces in the company too, many of the cast have returned from the previous runs but not all. As I say I though I could easily go through each individual performance because they are all integral and are all outstanding.

One of the shows strongest assets is the music by Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen that was re-orchestra for the actor-musician UK run by Barnaby Race. It's brings the real flavour of Paris to life and creates such a lovely world to get lost in to. Right from the opening bars of the show it's transporting and a delight for the ears. I confess to many a tear during the performance, especially during my own personal favourite number 'When The Booth Goes Bright'. The swell of the whole of a whole company of talented people all playing together hits home most during 'Times Are Hard For Dreamers' in Act Two and it's a moment of pure elation.

You can probably tell by now that I'm quite in love with this show, if I were to give it a full review it'd be a massive 5 stars. For me it's the best show I have ever seen. It's helped me a lot personally during the last couple of years with own troubles, it's given me a world of great characters and stunning music to get lost in and find hope and happiness - especially during the pandemic. Seeing the show open again in the West End is joyous to me. This show and the entire company and crew deserve all the plaudits.

Post-show and full of all the emotions we headed off to Spaghetti House for a bite to eat before heading back home to Leicester - with another good journey on the train which again felt super clean and plenty of space. 

Days like yesterday have been very rare in the last 15 months and it was truly the perfect day. Magnificent company and an amazing piece of theatre. All the anxiety I felt was quashed and I enjoyed myself greatly. I've currently got 4 more trips to Amelie during the run (with the potential to fit more in!) and I urge you all to book a ticket and enjoy this Parisian paradise.

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