21 September 2021

Everybody's Talking About Jamie Curve Review

 Fresh off the back of the movie release, which is available now on Amazon Prime, the touring production of Everybody's Talking About Jamie arrives at Curve and fills the theatre with uplifting warmth.

The musical which tells the story of Jamie New, inspired by the real life events of Jamie Campbell's life, and his ambition at 16 years of age to become a drag queen and to attend the end of school prom in a dress. 

Layton Williams as Jamie New. Photo by Matt Crockett

Layton Williams takes up the role of Jamie and he is outstanding. He has a real confidence and surety about his performance. He captures every beat of the character with great believability. You feel his pain, you feel his passion and you feel his joy. He is so fun to watch.

Amy Ellen Richardson will leave a lasting impression as her touching portrayal of Jamie's mum, Margaret New. With Jamie's Dad out of the picture she tries to protect Jamie by pretending he is still sending cards and gifts when in fact it all comes from her. This all comes to a head in act two and leads to a spellbinding 'He's My Boy' sung with such power and heart by Richardson. The relationship between Jamie and his mother is something I think everyone can echo in their own lives with their own mother.

Shobna Gulati plays Ray, a role she also plays in the movie adaptation, and she is a delight throughout. Her comic timing delights the audience into rapturous laughter. Who wouldn't want to have someone like Ray in their life? Much like you'd want a Ray in your life you'd also want a strong best friend and that's exactly what Jamie has in Sharan Phull's fantastic Pritti Pasha.

The full Jamie company. Photo by Matt Crockett

Shane Richie impresses as Hugo, better known as the drag queen Loco Chanelle, who becomes a mentor for Jamie in guiding him to make his dreams a reality. George Sampson also impresses as school bully Dean Paxton. The horrible thing about watching Sampson is you know how real this is and how much this behaviour really goes on.

With music by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRea there's plenty of memorable numbers that'll you have humming in your mind as you leave the theatre. The band under musical direction of Sam Coates are superb, creating the musical beat of show. There's brilliant design from Anna Fleischle who uses the space superbly and combines with Lucy Carter's clever lighting and Luke Halls' video design. There's some superb choreography from Kate Prince that the youthful ensemble pull off with real aplomb. 

With a running time of around 2 hours 45 minutes the production does feel a little lengthy but it never loses any of it's sparkle. This is a piece that will uplift everybody who sees it. This is an musical for a 2021 audience and everybody will leave talking about Jamie. A smash hit.

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ modern, fresh, uplifting, joyous theatre.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie runs at Curve until Saturday 25th September with limited tickets available from www.curveonline.co.uk. The tour then continues with dates booking until Spring 2022. Visit https://www.everybodystalkingaboutjamie.co.uk/ for tour dates and booking details.

The ensemble of Jamie. Photo by Matt Crockett

14 September 2021

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert - Curve Review

Throw yourself in for a performance of dazzling colour as Priscilla: Queen of the Desert rolls into Curve as part of the current UK tour.

The 80's inspired jukebox musical features some of the biggest disco hits, the opening beats of  'It's Raining Men' get the crowd going right from the beginning and that energy flows throughout the performance until a delightful finale at the curtain call. Under the musical direction of Richard Atkinson, the band create a thumping joyous noise.

The Priscilla company. Photo by Darren Bell.

Inspired by the cult 1994 movie of the same title, it follows 3 drag queens who unite for a performance in the Australian outback travelling all the way in a battered old bus they've christened Priscilla.

Along their journey, they face mechanical faults, homophobia and each other, but ultimately this is a show about family. The family the trio make together despite their flaws and the family Tick unites with. It's an uplifting piece about celebrating who you are.

The colour of the piece is brought to life by the sensational costumes by Charlie Cusick-Smith. They could easily topple over the top into being gaudy but it never feels that way. The costumes are bright, colourful and a delight to the senses. I'm less convinced by the set, the corrugated iron does look a little clunky at times but the bus itself is an ingenious design that allows for its separate parts to be connected that creates other parts of the scenery. 

Tom Jackson Greaves exuberant choreography is performed with real skill by the company, the movement is fluid and fits into each style of the characters and setting on the stage - whether that be in the Outback drinking establishments in 'Thank God I'm A Country Boy' or to the more extravagant company numbers like 'Go West' which features some great flagography, the work by Tom is tremendous.

Miles Western (Bernadette), Edwin Ray (Mitzi) and Nick Hayes (Felicia). Photo by Darren Bell.

Edwin Ray is superb as Tick/Mitzi. He makes the character believable and with real heart, especially when the character is reunited with his son later on in the show. Edwin does a fantastic job as the one of the trio who holds everything together as the other two constantly bicker and bitch about each other. Nick Hayes has boundless energy and charm as Adam/Felicia. He is endlessly confident and fits the role tremendously, he sings up a storm too with a powerful vocal range that soars in 'Hot Stuff'.

The show hasn't been without backlash with the character of Bernadette being trans. Back in March, the show put out a casting call looking for trans actors and in the end, only one, Allie Daniels, has been cast in an ensemble role and to understudy the trans part in the show (see here for further reading). I have nothing against Miles Western who does do a fabulous job in characterising the role, he sings with real confidence and captures the slightly washed-up diva really well but it does feel a shame that a cis male is still playing the role.

Claudia Kariuki, Rosie Glossop and Aiesha Pease are outstanding as the Divas. Their soaring vocals fill the numbers with real power. Each has a fantastic stage presence, they sound and look amazing. Daniel Fletcher does a lovely job of fleshing out likeable mechanic Bob. Gracie Lai gives a memorable turn as Cynthia, her scene-stealing 'Pop Muzik' is hilarious. Kevin Yates stands out as Miss Understanding. They give a really funny opening section where they break the fourth wall. There's fantastic energy throughout the talented ensemble.

The show completely dazzles and is a real crowd-pleaser. The show is an explosion of glitter, rainbows and delivers the purest joy that you can only get from live performance. It is a perfect show for people to return to a theatre with. You will leave with a song in your heart and sequins in your soul. Delightful.

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - magnificent, celebratory, upbeat theatre. Grab a ticket and ticket and don't miss this bus ride!  

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert continues at Curve until Saturday 18th September, tickets are available from www.curveonline.co.uk. The Priscilla tour continues thereafter, visit https://priscillauktour.com/ for full tour dates.

The Priscilla cast. Photo by Darren Bell.

13 September 2021

Black History Month 2021 Leicester Programme Announced.

Serendipity are delighted to announce the programme for Black History Month 2021 here in Leicester. The multifaceted programme of exhibitions, discussions, films, workshops, and performances will run across venues in Leicester. 

This year coincides with a number of anniversaries for the African and African Caribbean Diaspora; 230 years since the start of the Haitian Revolution, 95 years since the first Negro History Week in the USA, and 50 years since the invention of the Blaxploitation genre.

Black History Month will launch on 1 October with the opening of a new exhibition AfroManifesto at The Chapel Gallery bringing together new commissions from artists participating in Serendipity’s Launchpad platform; Kat Anderson, Charlie Evaristo-Boyce, Isaac Ouro-Gnao, and Patricia Vester. Working across disciplines from film and photography to illustration, screen-printing, and collage, the artists explore themes from intergenerational trauma, environmental issues, heritage, presence, and identity.

Other featured exhibitions include Community Curators Exhibition: Black Lives Matter Too! at The Y, presented by Opal22. Leicester Museum and Art Gallery will be showcasing their new acquisitions created in response to the events of 2020. Opal22 and Leicester Museum and Art Gallery will be collaborating for a workshop Uncovering the Casta, reframing the narratives around Casta paintings the museum holds in their collections which have not been on public display since 1853.

Music fans can look forward to seeing the Queen of lovers rock, Carroll Thompson, playing a unique set, up close and personal with her ensemble at 2Funky Music Café. This year she celebrates the fortieth-anniversary reissue of her seminal album Hopelessly in Love.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the Blaxploitation genre, Phoenix will be showing a ground-breaking film each Wednesday in October for Black History Month 2021. Featured films include Shaft (1971), Foxy Brown (1974), Cleopatra Jones (1973), and Blacula (1972). Influenced by the Black Power Movement, films of the Blaxploitation era were amongst the first where Black characters are centralised within narratives as heroes alongside memorable soundtracks set to funk and soul music. Their impact has endured and is deserving to be seen again on the big screen.

Image credit: Caroll Thompson

The legacy of Menelik Shabazz, who sadly passed earlier this year, is honoured through a special screening of Burning an Illusion (1981) followed by a conversation. As only the second British feature film made by a Black director in the UK, the film paved the way for nuanced representations of young Black womanhood.

Reckoning is a multimedia short film and performance piece created by choreographer and storyteller Akeim Toussaint Buck, filmmaker Ashley Karrell, animator Benedetta Fasson presented by Artreach at Curve, connecting Black History Month and Journeys Festival International. Curve will also be presenting a staged reading of Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal work A Raisin In the Sun followed by a discussion as part of Serendipity’s BlackChat series, sharing stories of Black lived experiences.

Exploring the vibrant heritage of Black arts in Leicester and hip-hop culture, from the 1980s onwards The LC Hip-Hop History Project will present a documentary screening at 2Funky Music Café. Mellow Baku, Michael Brome, Leonie Dubarry-Gurr, Luke Broughton, and Ana Paz gather for WORD! BHM special and there will be a Celebration of Black Female Voices recognising the poetic talent of Leicester. There are several comedy events including Black History Month Comedy Night and Panel Discussion led by Big Difference Company the COBO: Comedy Shutdown and SLIM: KING.

Kainé’s contribution to Black History Month 2021 includes the Yes, You Can Showcase including performances by young people attending the Young Creatives summer arts workshops and be the culmination of the Better Together project exploring experiences of migration from the Windrush generation to today. At the African Caribbean Centre Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE will be giving an inspirational talk to schoolchildren and the Leicester community on the positive impact of the Windrush generation alongside unveiling five interpretive panels documenting their legacy.

For those looking for further reading and learning, Serendipity will be publishing the second edition of BlackInk, a magazine for Black History Month and beyond packed with articles, reflections and interviews exploring topics from the history of Black British dance through to reflections of Black-led activism. There are opportunities to support Black visual artists with original prints on sale.

To find the full programme including timings, locations and ticket details of all the events please visit https://www.serendipity-uk.com/black-history-month-leicester/

CEO and Artistic Director of Serendipity, Pawlet Brookes, said:

“We are delighted that this October that we will be able to share space again with a number of in-person events across the city, alongside multifaceted content for those wanting to engage in what the month has to offer at home and online. Black History Month is a catalyst for work to take place year-round, amplifying voices from the African and African Caribbean Diaspora, recognising our history and heritage and celebrating high-quality artist-led work.”

Leicester City Mayor, Peter Soulsby, adds:

“Black History Month provides an opportunity for everyone to reflect, learn and celebrate what makes Leicester such a rich, diverse, and vibrant city. Events over the last two years have brought a sharp focus to how important Black History Month is to our communities, particularly as we all continue to root out inequality and to act against prejudice and discrimination in all forms.”

9 September 2021

Pretty Woman London Review

Based on the cult 1990 film of the same title, Pretty Woman The Musical has now landed at London's Savoy Theatre where it's delighting audiences.

The musical which briefly opened at the Piccadilly Theatre before the pandemic rightly deserves its transfer and long run in the West End.

The show is based on the film which in itself is based on the Roy Orbison song and tells a fairly simple tale of two humans who meet and connect and how their relationship changes both their circumstances and choices. 

Danny Mac and Aimie Atkinson. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

We meet down-on-her-luck Hollywood prostitute Vivian Ward who meets businessman Edward Lewis. After an initial evening together Edward hires Vivian for the week to attend several business functions, over the course of the week we see the relationship blossom and both change the course of each other's futures. 

Aimie Atkinson is stupendous as Vivian, she brilliantly captures the confidence of a girl who is just trying to make enough money to cover her rent but also gives her a real heart that makes you instantly warm to her. Atkinson radiates joy throughout her performance.

Atkinson is brilliantly coupled with an outstanding Danny Mac. He oozes charm and likeability and a delightful vocal tone. The chemistry between Mac and Atkinson is electric from the get-go and the payoff is a scene in act two that has the audience cheering and whistling as the pair embrace. 

Arguably the star of the show isn't either of the two leading performances but the performance of Bob Harms who plays a multitude of characters. In almost every scene Bob is a central character in a different guise. He manages to make each one individual with real skill. He nails the humour and never misses a beat throughout. It's a dazzling performance.

Rachael Wooding and Bob Harms. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Rachael Wooding also offers further outstanding support as Vivian's prostitute friend Kit De Luca. Neil McDermott well portrays Edward's fellow businessman Philip Stuckey, especially in the later scenes of the production.

Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell has created a really vibrant and uplifting production, I got the same feel as I got from watching another Mitchell helmed production which ran at The Savoy Theatre, Legally Blonde. It's bright and colourful with lighting designed by Kenneth Posner and Philip S Rosenberg. The set is lavish with scenic design by David Rockwell and beautiful costumes designed by Tom Rogers.  

Music and lyrics for the stage adaptation are provided by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance with musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Will Van Dyke. It's a toe-tapping score filled with great numbers, it ranges from slower ballads to full company dance numbers. The opening 'Welcome To Hollywood' sets the scene and that score doesn't disappoint throughout with my personal favourite numbers 'You and I' and 'Together Forever'. The Roy Orbison classic song is teased at the start of Act Two but does get a rendition with a singalong at the curtain call.

This is a show that clearly attracts fans of the movie but for people like me who hadn't seen the film, it delivers 2 hours of wonderful escapism with a simple love story between two fantastically fleshed out and likable characters with a cracking score. Grab a ticket and take a trip to Hollywood. It's a 'Long Way Home' as you'll consider returning as soon as you leave!

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐ an uplifting musical delight.

Pretty Woman continues at London's Savoy Theatre with booking currently until April 2022. Tickets from https://london.prettywomanthemusical.com/

Aimie Atkinson (centre) and the cast of Pretty Woman. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Review

Anthony Almeida helms a brand new revival of the Tennessee Williams classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Marking the first live play produced at Curve for 18 months. The production is a co-production between Curve, English Touring Theatre and the Everyman and Playhouse in Liverpool. 

This tense, cramped and confined production of a families fractured relationships whilst they deal with ill health, drink, lies and each others confessions. Director Almeida, winner of the 2019 Royal Theatrical Support Trust Sir Peter Hall Director Award, strips back the piece in an attempt to make the material fresh and speak to a modern audience. The scene is set from the get go with the 5 children walking on stage and let out the most ear piercing screams.

The cast of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo by Marc Brenner 

The piece is very wordy and the characters are hard to sympathise with but ultimately this window into this family is a fascinating examination of humanity and connection with those around you with each cast member delivering a terrific performance. Sometimes the language is lost either in the accents or the delivery but in the end none of it matters as an audience you feel very much like eve's droppers the whole time as you get a window in this family.

The play centres around Big Daddy and his family on his plantation where it's his 65th birthday and the family are planning a celebration. The main focus is Daddy's second son Brick, whose is lost in a battle to his liqueur, and his connection to Daddy which will affect who inherits the plantation and his connection to his wife Maggie. 

The early scenes powerfully explore Brick and Maggie's failing relationship. The pair now sleeping in separate beds and have ultimately not been able to give Big Daddy the child he wants. Brick is so consumed by drink that Maggie is worried he is losing his chance to inherit the family wealth which could go to Brick's brother, Gooper. 

Oliver Johnstone (Brick). Photo by Marc Brenner.

Oliver Johnstone does a fantastic job with Brick. He's not a character you should probably sympathise with but ultimately there's something charming about Johnstone's performance. He superbly maintains the limpness of a man lost to his drink. Siena Kelly is seductive and likeable as an outsider who in on the inside as a relatively new member of the family. Those early scenes are a particularly uncomfortable as the pair row. 

The central relationship between Johnstone's Brick and Peter Forbes's commanding Big Daddy is gripping to watch. The pair struggle to maintain conversation as Brick accuses Daddy of never being able to say whatever he needs to. The second act felt much more precise with the actions moving with much speed as we learn further of Big Daddy's ill health diagnosis, which has been kept secret from him. 

The design by Rosanna Vize is striking. Throughout the use of the other characters being on stage sat on benches that surround 3 side of the stage is a clever choice that enhances the audience to feel like your part of the action as you listen in to the confessions that flow from each person. It feels like every word has someone else listening. The early use of a curtain distorting some of the scenes parallels the lostness of the relationships.

Ultimately this is a family so torn but in the end still connected. It'll make you question your connections with those around you. After the past 18 months where we've all been kept apart this play about connection is fascinating especially witnessing these well rounded characters and their relationships with each other.

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐ a captivating and intense character study.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof continues at Curve until Saturday 18th September. Tickets are available from https://www.curveonline.co.uk/. The production then tours to Liverpool Playhouse, Marlowe Theatre Canterbury, The New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, Theatr Clwyd and Mayflower Studios Southampton.

Peter Forbes (Big Daddy) and Oliver Johnstone (Brick). Photo by Marc Brenner

7 September 2021

Cinderella (Andrew Lloyd Webber) - Review

Disclaimer: Before I begin I just want to note that this post is my own individual thoughts. Like anything I fully recommend you go along and see the show yourself and make up your own mind. The most wonderful thing is we all like different things.

The brand and the much-delayed world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cinderella is finally open at London's Gillian Lynne Theatre after numerous delays caused by the pandemic. This new adaptation of the classic fairy tale features a book by Oscar winner (for Promising Young Woman) Emerald Fennell with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by David Zippel.

This adaptation roots the story in the fictional town of Belleville. The town is recently mourning the loss of The Queen's eldest son Prince Charming and is about to unveil a statue as the town prepares for judging for the most attractive town competition which it's won for the previous 49 years. The statue is unveiled to be found covered in spray paint done by the rebellious 'bad Cinderella' and with the town in danger of ruin The Queen decides that there needs to be a Royal wedding that'll save it from doom and the search begins for a bride for Prince Sebastian. Here begins the story which adds a bit of freshness to the much-told tale. 

The cast of Cinderella. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Does this version work? Ultimately for me, it's a no, although the cast is outstanding, the problems here come from the book. I think the biggest problem this production has is it doesn't really know who its target audience is. Largely I was surrounded by families with children under 10, but this show features some swearing and the occasional naughty reference. It's also a little dark in places. The Godmother so often the sparkling saviour prior to sending Cinderella off to the ball here is in the guise of a plastic surgeon and it's generally a bit of a strange sequence.

You lose the glamour of the transformation, it simply happens behind a curtain after a bizarre scene. The whole thing feels a bit unnerving as Cinderella wants to be completely transformed from her usual goth-like attire to a glittering ball gown. It feels very lacking in the magic that you'd expect from this moment - gone are the carriage and pumpkin. I felt the choice just didn't land, it's very gritty and I'm not sure how appealing that is to a younger audience. 

We slip further away from a younger audience in a sequence with the 'hunks'. It feels like you've suddenly stumbled into Magic Mike. You can't say this even added to the story. It makes Prince Sebastian, the Queen's youngest son, look shy and a bit weak but plot-wise I'm not sure it's adds anything. It certainly detracts a bit from the whole feminist feel of the story.

The script itself doesn't feel particularly strong either. Some scenes could be tightened up or cut completely in. Some of the jokes you see coming a mile off and then just don't land. As mentioned there is the occasional swear word too which feels a little unnecessary. Though lines like "shut up you knob" did make me chuckle but mostly cause it's so out of the blue. Me and my lovely friend Sarah who I attended with often looked at each other with puzzlement and bemusement as to some of the lines or choices made.

The Ball. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's score has some really great moments. Songs like 'Only You, Lonely You' and 'I Know I Have A Heart' stand out as the best numbers from the show. 'Bad Cinderella' is an earworm that annoyingly has not left my head since the show. For me though there are certain songs that feel too long and laboured too which could easily be tightened down.

Some songs seem to be completely irrelevant. The number 'I Know You' sung by The Stepmother and The Queen where they sing about how they seem to know each other from their past. It wasn't clear by the end of the number or the end of the show where they actually knew each other from or even the relevance if they did know each other what did that matter. 

The ending feels rushed too (spoiler alert for those who might not have guessed that Cinderella gets her prince). The relationship pay off between Cinderella and Prince Sebastian just seems sudden and okay they're together here's the happy ending and that's it. I guess we all know it's coming but that moment feels very rushed.

The biggest jarring moment in the story for me is the act two return of Prince Charming. He quite literally appears out of the blue to return and "save Prince Sebastian from a loveless marriage". Charming's return means the wedding is cancelled or is it? Charming then proceeds to introduce us to his boyfriend. The part of the story really does feel like they were just ticking boxes when writing the show. Adding a gay storyline is a brilliant celebratory thing but it does feel a bit tokenistic in the way they've done it here. They could have tied it in better rather than playing it off as a small moment.

Visually the production is superb, although I'm not sure Belleville screams the most attractive town. The lighting by Bruno Poet is striking and visually aids the vibe of the scenes. The costumes by Gabriela Tylesova are stunning - they're lavish and match the right feel that they're going for. 

I was lucky to be sat in the rows that mean 'you're moved in more ways than one'. This is a really fascinating and quite a special thing! For about 20 minutes towards the start of act two, you get an experience that is quite unlike anything you'll experience in any other theatre. Is this just a gimmick? Well, it might be but it does create a great moment and a memorable experience.

Georgina Onuorah and Ivano Turco. Photo by me.

The strength of the show is the outstanding cast, none of which I could fault. On the performance, I attended I had the great pleasure of seeing Georgina Onuorah make her Cinderella debut as Carrie Hope Fletcher was indisposed by illness. Onuorah was a triumph, she was so self-assured, confident and believable in the role. Her vocals are a treat. It was a thrill to make her shine.

Onuorah is matched by another superb young star in Ivano Turco's Prince Sebastian. He too fits the role perfectly and his voice soars and is a real treat to listen to. The pair of them will hopefully continue to shine for many years in the future, they certainly possess the talent for it.

There are some fabulous supporting performances too. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt has a blast as The Stepmother, how she manages to maintain the husky voice she's given the character is brilliant. Laura Baldwin and Georgina Castle are great fun as the stepsisters, they relish their moments and it's nice to see these two roles done slightly differently especially Castle's Marie. Rebecca Trehearn always delivers and she's gloriously over the top as The Queen. Gloria Onitiri has such a powerful voice and adds real mystery to the Godmother.

For me, were I rating the show I'd probably give it 2/3 stars. The cast deserves SO much credit for their fantastic performances, especially Onuorah and Turco but they're let down by a weak script. I applaud the effort to add something new to the Cinderella canon of adaptations. It's probably not the worst Cinderella adaptation ever but there's certainly enough 'bad Cinderella' here.

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