29 October 2021

The Magician's Elephant (Royal Shakespeare Company) Review

 "You look into its eyes and for a moment it feels real"

"Follow, follow, follow the elephant" the ensemble sing, and this new musical from The Royal Shakespeare Company delivers magic and intrigue that will delight the young and old as the theatre welcomes audiences back inside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for the first time since March 2020.

The Elephant (Puppeteers - Zoe Halliday, Wela Mbusi, and Suzanne Nixon) and Peter (Jack Wolfe). Photo by Manuel Harlan.

This musical adaptation by Nancy Harris and Marc Teitler from Kate DiCamillo's fantasy book is brilliantly stylised with superb design by Colin Richmond. Set in the fantasy town of Baltese, in the midst of a bleak post-war winter, it's a dark cleverly designed production and is beautiful to look at and is fabulously enhanced by Oliver Fenwick's lighting design.

The town is full of eccentric characters who are all going about their lives but the story centres on young Peter Duchene, an orphan who lost his Dad in the recent conflict and who is driven by his desire to find his long-lost sister. A visit to a mysterious fortune teller who tells Peter to "follow the elephant" as it will lead him to her sets of a chain of events.

The then arrival of an elephant conjured by accident by the Magician sets off a chain of events that helps Peter in his search for his missing sister but also lifts the entire town with its magical effect.

Jack Wolfe portrays Peter and he is outstanding. He captures the whole journey of the character with such skill, he is captivating. His voice soars with real beauty and control. It's a real star turn. 

Peter (Jack Wolfe). Photo by Manuel Harlan

The elephant gets much of the attention of the audience, especially the younger ones. The almost life-sized puppet designed by Tracy Waller and Mervyn Millar is stunning. You look into its eyes and for a moment it feels real. The team of puppeteers, Zoe Halliday, Wela Mbusi, and Suzanne Nixon characterise the movements expertly.

Lifting the gloom a little there are some fine comedic performances. Forbes Masson's Policeman who drinks liquor concealed in his truncheon and delights at every opportunity. Sam Harrison's dejected Count Quintet who is constantly belittled by his wife shines in the second act and gives an energetically flamboyant number "The Count Who Doesn't Count". 

Summer Strallen's Cruell DeVil-esque Countess Quintet feels a little underused as she craves to wrestle back the town's attention but in her villainous moments she's tremendously looming and her vocals are fantastic. Marc Antolin and Melissa James are really touching as Leo and Gloria Matienne. Antolin's lovely commanding presence in particular and voice are lovely to watch and hear. Amy Booth-Steel's narrator holds the action together with charm and she relishes the role, often connecting to the audience directly. 

Musically it lacks a little but there's just enough in the score to carry it through. Sarah Tipple's direction allows for the beauty of the story to shine, and Act Two is much stronger especially as it heads to the uplifting and moving conclusion. The 2 hours 40 minutes running time is slightly lengthy and did cause a few restless children around me but overall this production is good for the soul.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ a wonderfully styled and realised musical production.

The Magician's Elephant plays at The Royal Shakespeare Company with booking until January 1st, 2022. Tickets are available from https://www.rsc.org.uk/

Narrator. (Amy Booth-Steel). Photo by Manuel Harlan.

27 October 2021

Shrek The Musical - Northampton Musical Theatre Company Review.

"big bright beautiful and brilliant"

It's been 20 years (where has the time gone!) since the smash hit Dreamworks movie adaptation of William Steig's original story hit the big screens. In 2008 the movie was adapted into a stage musical that had successful runs on Broadway and in London. Now the Northampton Musical Theatre Company brings their own amateur production running at Royal and Derngate and serving up a warm dose of family fun this half term.

In this glorious production, the Northampton Musical Theatre Company has done a fantastic job of bringing out the joyous theatricality of the story with clever staging that allows for the performances to be at the forefront but also allows for some tremendous sets and costumes. The production has a large cast of over 40 all of whom look fantastic, particularly the fairy tale creatures.

Dan Hodson (Shrek), Luke White (Donkey), and Ashleigh Standage (Fiona).

The sets which have been provided by Scenic Projects Ltd create the right settings for each scene with slick transitions on the show's first night. Costumes by Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium in Sheffield are highly impressive.

It's on such a scale that at times you forget this isn't a professional production. I was wondering how an amateur production would approach Dragon but there's a huge puppet that sweeps in and is magnificent. It's controlled with skill by members of the company and voiced with powerhouse vocals by Lisa Simpson.

Another impressive element here is the orchestra under the conductorship of Graham Tear. The 15 musicians are of the highest quality and the sound they create in playing the original score by David Lindsay-Abaire and Janine Tesori is a delight for the ears.

Martyn Knight's slick direction and excellent choreography feature the right amount of pizazz that the company flourishes in performing - especially as Pied Piper's company of rats in the act two opening number 'Morning Person'.

'Morning Person'

Throughout the large company, there are numerous memorable performances but all in all, everyone appeared confident and assured on the opening performance. This is clearly a well-run company with a great spirit and they really delivered here.

Ama Scuotto thrives in every moment as Lord Farquaad, he's deliciously controlling with a gleeful smile on his face. He is in complete control even as he spends most of the show on his knees performing the role behind prop legs in yellow tights. Jay Upton shines during 'Freak Flag' as she superbly controls the Gingy puppet and sings with real power.

Luke White is strong as Shrek's faithful companion, Donkey. He has a good eye for delivering the humour which that has the audience laughing along. Ashleigh Standage's upbeat likeable Fiona matches perfectly with those around her and boasts a lovely voice.

The night belongs to Dan Hodson in the titular role of Shrek. Dan has had to step in at the last minute due to Ian Hammond-Stark, unfortunately, being struck down by COVID but is due to return on Wednesday. Dan is more than just a safe pair of green hands, he is outstanding. He commands the stage with ease and has an amazing voice that would be at home on the West End and beyond.

Sure if I was to be supercritical there are things I could pick out, like some sound issues but that feels unfair (especially on the first night). I left the theatre feeling uplifted and glad that I managed to spend an evening watching a cast of wonderful people giving it their all and having a fantastic time. When you see a cast having fun it instantly makes the experience more enjoyable. This production is bright beautiful and brilliant. Get down to theatre and support this great company, you shall not leave the swamp disappointed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ magnificent theatre delivered with passionate performances.

Shrek The Musical from the Northampton Musical Theatre Company plays at Royal and Derngate in Northampton until Saturday 30th October. Tickets are available from www.royalandderngate.co.uk

Ama Scuotto (Lord Farquaad) and Ashleigh Standage (Fiona)

19 October 2021

Chicago (Nottingham) Review

 "a sexy and delightful night"

The sweet sound of jazz fills Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall as the classic musical Chicago arrives at the venue for the week as part of its international tour.

The musical set in the roaring 1920s is based on the true life of Chicago Tribune junior reporter Maurine Watkins who was assigned to cover the trials of women who were accused of murder. Watkins herself turned her tales into a play which then in 1975 Kander and Ebb's musical adaptation hit the stage and has been delighting audiences since.

Djalenga Scott (centre) as Velma Kelly with the Chicago company. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

The piece centers around Roxie Hart, who we meet during the opening number as we witness the murder of her lover and is ultimately sent to Cook County Jail where she awaits trial. In jail, she hires the highly reputed defense lawyer, Billy Flynn, who for a large fee will do anything he can to get her released. In jail is another inmate, Velma Kelly, who loses place in the spotlight on the arrival of determined Roxie. 

The Kander and Ebb score is what continues to make this musical ever popular. Their seductive, sexy jazz-infused score is perfectly rooted in the time and feel of the 1920s prohibition America. Right from the woodwind opening this musical soars and is a delight to listen to as well as look at.

That beloved score is performed by a magnificent orchestra of 10 talented musicians, and what a joyful noise they create. They are sensational. The Entr'acte and Playout alone are worth the ticket fee! Under the musical direction of Andrew Hilton, I doubt you'll hear this show's score ever sound better. 

The other iconic thing that comes with Chicago is the choreography originally by the iconic Bob Fosse. The movement is slick and skillful and performed with real flair by a hugely talented ensemble. Gary Chryst has done an amazing job re-creating the original dance for this current production. The moves are recognisable and undoubtedly Fosse and are performed to perfection.

The ensemble brings the production to life as design-wise it's very lacking in a set. At most there are chairs, the use of a couple ladders, or a glittery curtain other than this it's up to the cast to stage the scenes and it's something they do with a believability that roots you in each location. Ken Billington's lighting enhances the stage, effectively adding to the feel.

The show which does become a vehicle for star casting has a cast on paper with names that excite and they largely deliver. Faye Brookes (Roxie Hart) and Djalenga Scott (Velma Kelly) are outstanding. They bounce off each other in their fractured relationship which goes from resentment to eventually join forces for a cabaret act which ends the piece - 'Hot Honey Rag' is a real show-stopping number that the pair perform excellently. Both Brookes and Scott deliver alluring vocals as well as movement.

'We Both Reached For The Gun'. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

There are some top-notch supporting performances too. Darren Day (Billy Flynn) provides effortless vocals in delivering the two biggest numbers that the character gets in 'All I Care About' and 'Razzle Dazzle'. Day superly balances the character's drive (money) and getting his clients off when they face the judge. Divina De Campo (Mary Sunshine) delights with soaring soprano vocals, it's almost a cameo role and you leave wishing they had a bigger part. Joel Montague (Amos Hart) is tender and touching, a man who has been left behind and becomes invisible to those around him, none more so than his wife Roxie. Montague delivers 'Mister Cellophane' with real heart, it's a beautifully vulnerable moment.

Sinitta's Mama Morton just doesn't quite reach the heights of those around her and it feels a little underplayed. The big number, 'When You're Good To Mama, where she introduces herself feels very static. I'm so used to hearing the number belted out with real raw power here it's much softer and falls flat. A little tweak here or there could really bring out the character more but ultimately she becomes a bit invisible in the presence of the rest of the cast when she's supposed to be this strong Matron in the prison.

After all these years since its stage premiere, the musical continues to deliver a sexy, and delightful night. High-quality dance sequences and musical numbers are delivered by a spellbinding company and a phenomenal orchestra. It's more than 'A Little Bit of Good', it's first-class.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ a hot ticket.

Chicago The Musical continues at Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall until Saturday 23rd October. Tickets are available from https://trch.co.uk/. The production continues to tour thereafter with full tour information from https://chicagothemusical.com/international-tour/

Darren Day (Billy Flynn) and female members of the Chicago company. Photo by Tristam Kenton.

14 October 2021

Birdwatching Interview

"can we outrun a patriarchal society that routinely allows and caters for gendered violence and oppression?"

Anarchy Division bring their latest production Birdwatching to the stage. The production written by Miranda Barrett, her first one-act play, will run at The Space in East London later this month as part of The London Horror Festival.

The production will run from 22nd to 24th October at The Space with performances at 6.30pm and a matinee on 24th at 2pm. The evening performance on the 24th will be streamed live. You can book tickets from The Space's website https://space.org.uk/event/birdwatching/

The piece will star Alfie Noble (Harris), Karen Barredo (Amy), and Arno van Zelst (Pete). It is directed by Lydia Harper, the stage manager is Mia Raven, lighting is by Ella Fitt.

The poster for Birdwatching. Image by Katie Gabriel Allen

With the play in rehearsals, I spoke with producer and Anarchy Division founder Justin Treadwell and director Lydia Harper.

Beyond The Curtain: Can you please tell me about the piece and its origins and inspirations?

Justin Treadwell: The core of Birdwatching is that it’s a play about misogyny – the constant, sometimes slow, grinding hatred and the emotional reactions it provokes. Then this piece takes that and transports it on top of a psychological horror setup – where the fear becomes visceral dread, every perception is questioned, the supernatural threat ends up taking a backseat to the potential interpersonal threat, and so on. It’s a play that gives you physically and, again, viscerally the sense of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that – all done through the paradigm of horror.

BTC: What's it like bringing something like, something that is aimed at hitting a Horror nerve, this to the stage?

Lydia: It is very exciting – to make someone feel uncomfortable in a context where they are already suspending their disbelief is a huge challenge but an opportunity like no other!

BTC: What do you want the audience to feel when they watch the production?

Lydia: I want the audience to question what it is that they are scared of and why. We are all afraid of a spooky forest and things that go bump in the night, but Birdwatching highlights the everyday dangers and threats that we face, and the real-life fears that are not considered ‘horror’. We have the opportunity to outrun a monster chasing us, but can we outrun a patriarchal society that routinely allows and caters for gendered violence and oppression? 

BTC: What's been the biggest challenge when it comes to staging this production?

Justin: There are a lot of interesting (but fun!) staging challenges – it’s a script that plays around with perception a lot, and we’ve had some really interesting discussions around what’s ‘real’, who hears what, who sees what and so on. Obviously, as a stage piece, we can’t rely on any post-processing, it has to happen right there, in front of you, every night – which is immensely powerful, but can throw up a few difficult questions!

The cast in rehearsals. Photo by Justin Treadwell.

BTC: Is the rehearsal process different for a horror production (ie more intense)?

Lydia: We have been very conscious of the intensity of working in this genre – lots of tea breaks and biscuits. 

Justin: As Lydia says – it can be quite draining to go to those extremes of emotion (and drop back out of them, too), so we’ve been careful to pace ourselves, be open with each other, and keep things safe.

BTC: The show is running as part of the London Horror Festival. What are your favourite horror films/stories?

Justin: I don’t particularly watch much horror, actually! I’m very easily scared… but it’s a really interesting genre to think about the craft of, and I’m hugely enjoying working on it. I think it’s the kind of thing where while I don’t necessarily like being on the audience side, but diving into how you make it, manage the tension, and so on is fascinating.

Lydia: I’m a big fan of the classic Frankenstein – thinking you know who the ‘monster’ is and seeing a villain as other without realising what is right in front of you…..!! And Midsommer – creating horror and fear in a light, bright and optimistic environment really makes me wonder what exactly it is that I am afraid of. 

The cast in rehearsals. Photo by Justin Treadwell.

BTC: The Space is quite an intimate venue does this allow for the audience to be more drawn into the psychological nature of the piece?

Lydia: There is definitely a feeling of isolation in Birdwatching and I think the venue is perfect for that. If the audience can feel that they are drawn into the intimacy of the trio then PERFECT! 

BTC: In 5 words why should somebody book a ticket to see the show (either in person or on the stream)?

Justin: Clever, insightful, impactful, and spooky!

Birdwatching runs at The Space in East London between the 22nd and 24th of October. Book your tickets from https://space.org.uk/event/birdwatching/

12 October 2021

Tell Me On A Sunday Review

"A fantastic couple of hours of theatre"

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black's one-woman song cycle is superbly revived with Jodie Prenger taking the role portrayed by numerous performers down the years.

Tell Me on a Sunday tells of English, Emma in New York, and the trials and tribulations of her love life. We get to a vision into Emma's multiple failed romances with different men. Her only real connection is with her mother whom she communicates through letters. 

Jodie Prenger in the 2016 production. Photo by Tristram Kenton

The hour-long performance requires a dynamic personality to convey a variety of emotions. Jodie Prenger is outstanding throughout. Returning to a role she played back in 2016 at The Watermill Theatre, she expertly portrays the correct emotion in every scene particularly in a moving rendition of the title number. She has a diva-like charm and a voice that is a delight to listen to. Right from the opening scene, she is captivating and hugely likable. It's a truly brilliant performance.

The music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black features some lovely tunes including 'Take That Look Off Your Face' and the titular 'Tell Me On A Sunday'. Black's lyrics make Emma's experiences land with the right feel and believability. Lloyd Webber's tunes combine with the lyrics to make a soundtrack that is rightly celebrated.

Though Prenger performers on her own she is joined by a 5 piece band under the musical direction of Francis Goodhand. They deliver that Lloyd Webber score with real pizzazz. 

Jodie Prenger in the 2016 production. Photo by Tristram Kenton 

With the show only running at an hour, which is why it has previously been combined as Song and Dance, there's an additional second half after an interval that sees Prenger host an intimate Q and A with questions being invited on signs with a number for audiences to text in. Prenger did take a tumble over part of the set as she entered - thankfully she appeared unharmed and laughed it off.

The Q and A allows for an insight into Prenger's take on the role and her career to date. It also allows for her infectious personality to shine out. She is hilarious and so at ease in front of an audience.

The second half featured some lovely performances with Francis Goodhand accompanying on the piano. It was wonderful to hear Jodie belt out 'Oom-Pah-Pah' from Oliver! and well as a fantastic duet between Jodie and her understudy Jodie Beth Meyer of the Lloyd Webber 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall'. Meyer also giving a great rendition of 'Whistle Down The Wind'.

A fantastic couple of hours of theatre in the safe hands of Prenger and company.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Jodie Prenger is on dazzling form in this charming well-rounded production.

Tell Me On A Sunday continues at Curve until Saturday 16th October with tickets available from curveonline.co.uk. The tour continues thereafter tickets available from https://tellmeontour.co.uk/

Jodie Prenger in the 2016 production. Photo by Tristram Kenton

The Midnight Bell Review

"a masterclass of storytelling through movement"

1930's Soho is the setting for the latest production by legendary choreographer Matthew Bourne and his New Adventures Company.

The scene is set before the auditoria lights dim as the staging brilliantly designed by Bourne's long-term collaborator Lez Brotherston. It's dark and gloomy and smoke fills the air. You are instantly taken to Soho and the places in the piece which are mostly established through minimal props and sublime lighting designed by Paule Constable. 

The company of The Midnight Bell. Photo by Johan Persson.

The piece has been inspired by the novels of Patrick Hamilton and brings 10 despondent and lonely characters who are connected through the drinking establishment, The Midnight Bell, they all inhabit. The tale of humans looking for connection after the real life situation we've all been through makes the piece land slightly differently than it could have without the COVID pandemic. 

The characters are expertly brought to life by the outstanding company of talented dancers. It's easy to distinguish who is who, although the programme notes certainly help. As you may expect, the movement is mesmerising. The world class dancers make every movement look fluid and effortless as they glide around the stage in a masterclass of storytelling through movement.

The relationships are superbly captured. Be that Michela Meazza's lonely spinster who couples with Glenn Graham's cad character who ends up stealing her money as they spend a night together in a sleazy hotel room or Bryony Harrison's barmaid and who reluctantly accepts an marriage proposal by a regular customer played by Reece Causton.

The most powerful relationship comes between Liam Mower's West End chorus boy and Andrew Monaghan's new customer. The developing homosexual relationship in a time when such a thing was a punishable crime is portrayed excellently by the pair particularly so in the second act.

Liam Mower and Andrew Monaghan. Photo by Johan Persson.

The soundtrack for the piece is provided by another long-term Bourne collaborator in Terry Davies and his soundscape fits the time perfectly and interspersed with songs from the period that are lip-synched by the performers (my Dad found it so convincing that at the interval he thought the characters were really singing). 

Personally for myself, this was my first experience of a Matthew Bourne production and the first half did feel a little clunky but the second act was tremendous as the characters felt more established and the story telling felt easier. The Midnight Bell provides 2 hours of the highest quality narratively driven dance, its melancholic window in these 10 characters lives and it's a most enjoyable watch.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Midnight Bell plays at Curve until Saturday 16th October with tickets available from www.curveonline.co.uk. The tour of the production continues until 27th November visit The New Adventures website for full tour dates

Paris Fitzpatrick and Bryony Wood. Photo by Johan Persson.

10 October 2021

Frozen London Review.

"a glorious spectacle that will spellbind all"

The mega-hit Disney movie Frozen has arrived on the West End stage and serves up the most incredible spectacle. 

In the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which has been beautifully restored, the theatre is abuzz long before the curtain rises. The audience of young and old creates a wonderful pre-show atmosphere and that carries throughout the performance. Theatre after all is a shared experience and you can't beat seeing what theatre does to youngsters and seeing them transfixed by a performance.

Samantha Barks as Elsa. Photo Johan Perrson

For fans of the movie, the stage production keeps many of the key elements but in places, it is a little darker. For example, you lose the rock trolls and their cuteness for and gain the hidden folk where the ensemble looms in the background darkness with bright white eyes. I'm sure this could slightly unnerve the younger members of the audience. There is the occasional slightly adult reference too - watch out for the end of 'Hygge'!

The key to the musical's success is not only in its tremendous story and performances but its breathtaking staging. Christopher Oram's scenic and costume design are epic on a big scale, from the beautiful dresses for Anna and Elsa to the vast rooms of the Arendelle castle or Elsa's ice palace. There's a particularly clever bridge sequence that will leave you wondering just how big the wings are! Add in Finn Ross's video design that brings to life the powers of Elsa as ice fills the proscenium arch and it's a recipe for success.

The crowing glory of the design though comes from Neil Austin's lighting design. It's outstanding. It brings to life the power, the feel, the emotion of each scene and musical number. The sheer specatcle of the whole design is jaw dropping.

With music by Krisen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez you're in safe territory. All the songs from the movie remain in tact with added theatrical flair, there's also a raft of new songs too. Hans gets his own number 'Hans of The Southern Isles' and there's a couple of really lovely duets between the characters. Elsa's running theme of being a monster comes to the fore in 'Monster'. I loved the choatic joy of 'Hygge' sung by Oaken and company to open Act Two.

'Love Is An Open Door'. Steph McKeon and Oliver Ormson. Photo by Johan Perrson.

The story of two sisters and their journey requires two pieces of fantastic casting and here they have nailed it to perfection. Steph McKeon is transfixing as Anna. She captures her cartoonish energy delightfully and has a wholesome stage prescence. Samantha Barks gives a superstar turn as Elsa. She has poise, grace and power. Her vocals are phenominal. 'Let It Go' ends Act One and it's the a remarkable. The vocal power of Samantha with the stage effects and THAT dress reveal combines to make a showstopping moment. The sheer elation from the audience when the dress change happened was thrilling.  

Craig Gallivan delights as Olaf. The control of the puppet designed by Michael Curry really makes Olaf believable. It's wonderful to see him not just play it as an imitation of Josh Gad's vocal performance in the film but create his own hilarious version. Obioma Ugoala is charming as Kristoff. He brings real warmth to the character and is really likeable. There's further puppetry masterclass in Sven - Ashley Birchall and Mikayla Jade alternate the role due to the physical demands of the puppetry. 

Oliver Ormson does a fine job with Hans, making him believeably suave in the first act until the undercurrent of his real plans come out in the second half to which he is booed on by the audience. Jak Skelly relishes in the moment as Oaken delighting with the big number. Jacqui Sanchez and understudy Chris Fung capture the parent role's of Queen Iduna and King Agnarr well in the opening scenes. 

On the performance I attended I was fortunate enough to see Minaii.K as Young Elsa and Ellie Shenker as Young Anna. Both were great, Ellie in particular had great energy, wit and charm as she delivered the lines.

This is a story about love, not just romantic love but most imporatantly the love between two sisters. These sisters have transfixed audiences since the films original 2013 release. I can't express how special it felt to share the audiotoria with a some lovely friends of mine but to also be surrounded by children with their parents and families. Some donned out in the full costumes that the Anna and Elsa wear, others simply in a tiara or carrying a plush of their favourite character. This show will inspire the next generation of theatregoers. It's a glorious spectacle that will spellbind all. A must see.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ a spectacular smash hit.

Frozen runs at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane. To book tickets or discover more about the show visit https://frozenthemusical.co.uk/

Samantha Barks (Elsa) and Steph McKeon (Anna). Photo by Johan Persson.

8 October 2021

"well try living your own life instead of the lives of others"

Ever been to see a show you enjoyed more than once? More than 5 times? More than 10? What does that number matter. To a person that is comfort. Yet recently online I've seen people who have been getting messages calling them out for returning to see a show multiple times. If anything it's coming from a position of jealousy from the troll messaging in the first place but I wanted to share my own thoughts on this and the joy theatre can bring. 

To people on the outside sure seeing the same show 20 times can be baffling but to anyone who loves theatre you will probably understand why. Theatre is live entertainment and that means escapism. No matter what your problems are on the outside world for a couple of hours in a theatre you can get lost in a story and it's characters and that can give off so many good feelings - often myself days after I've seen something I've enjoyed I've still felt that boost.

Naturally anyone who has seen a show multiple times will probably have faced the age old "but surely it's the same show every time?" question. It's never the same show. Sure the script and the music may be the same but it's LIVE. No two shows are ever the same. Go see a matinee and an evening performance of the same show, I guarantee it'll be slightly different. 

Personally my most seen show is Rocky Horror, I've seen that around 65 times over the years. Every time felt special, every time felt different, every time felt fresh and alive. Why wouldn't I want to return back to something that made me feel so much happiness and freedom from my own thoughts? 
I get a bit of anxiety myself about returning to shows and the thoughts that front of house must judging me like "oh he's back" or whatever - when I know they're not. I also get the whole the cast must think I'm mad or roll their eyes when they see me out there again -  again I bet they're not. I've spoken to performers in the past who have joked "you're keeping us in a job".

Me after my final visit to Half A Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre.

On my personal account I've shared all about my own mental health battles over the years and the one thing that has gotten me through is theatre. In the last 5 years two productions literally kept me alive because I could go and be able to be lost and having that boost that I mentioned enabled me to kick myself in to a routine of recovery. Those shows were Half A Sixpence at The Noel Coward Theatre and Amelie which toured and had London runs at The Other Palace and recently at The Criterion Theatre. I know it's overdramatic to say without these shows I don't know where I'd be but truly I know I'm a much stronger person for the joy and reality kick I got from seeing these shows.

You truly can't beat the joyous shared experience in the theatre. Just yesterday I took myself for a return visit to see Hairspray at Curve. It was the signed performance so that is already a wonderful thing to see access patrons enjoying themselves watching a performance. I was also sat a couple of seats away from a gentleman called Alex who had the time of his life watching the show, he was super friendly and chatted to those around him explaining it was his favourite show. He knew the songs word for word and danced his afternoon away. It was great to re-visit the show and enjoy it but seeing that much joy in someone is SO much more memorable.

Tomorrow (as I write this) I'm off to see Frozen with a couple of pals and I already know how wonderful it's going to be seeing kids dressed up in their full Elsa or Anna outfits in what could be their first major West End musical. That first time for me was life changing and led me to this point now where I run my own blog exclusively about theatre. Those kids are the next generation of theatre goers. Would you tell them not to go back to see a show?

There's a line in Amelie delivered by Dufayel where he says "well try living your own life instead of the lives of others" and that feels exactly hitting the nail on the head. If somebody wants to spend their money (and as long as they're financially secure) on something that gives them happiness, joy, comfort or whatever feeling then that's wonderful and should be celebrated not dragged down. 

After everything theatre's nationwide have been through in the past 20 months or so should we really be dragging people down for helping the arts? For helping their own wellbeing? For making themselves happy? No we should NEVER be doing that.

If you've seen a show 20 times and want to go again GO! Don't let anyone tell you how to live your life. It's too short so enjoy yourself. Remember to be kind to each other.

5 October 2021

Hairspray - Curve (UK Tour) Review

The smash-hit musical Hairspray has burst to life at Curve as part of its latest UK and Ireland tour. 

The musical set in 1962 delivers a punchy piece about race and equality that feels more relevant than ever as we follow Tracy Turnblad and her wish for getting her favourite TV show fully integrated. 

The company of Hairspray. Photo by Mark Senior.

Quite literally 'The New Girl In Town' in her professional debut, Katie Brace offers a fabulous take on Tracy, she's energetic, charming, feisty, and has a big voice that hits all the right notes. She is the heartbeat of the production and is a joy to watch. There's great chemistry with Ross Clifton's Link Larkin, who battles for his own career as he looks for his big break.

Rebecca Thornhill is effective as the villain of the piece Velma Von Tussle, the producer of The Corny Collins Show who wants to keep everything as white as it currently is. She is matched by a brilliant Jessica Croll as her daughter Amber. Both effectively nail the feel of the characters.

Alex Bourne does a decent job with Edna but is overshadowed by a delightful comic performance by Norman Pace as husband Wilbur. Their duet 'You're Timeless To Me' brings the house down with laughter - although as someone who has seen Hairspray a few times previously I'd like to have seen some new jokes inserted here.

Katie Brace as Tracy Turnblad. Photo by Mark Senior.

Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle offers the big voice you expect as well as fantastic passion and drive as she supports Tracy's cause. 'I Know Where I've Been' is a real showstopping moment that Edwards delivers in a spectacular way. Richard Meek dazzles as Corny Collins, superbly holding his show together as he stands his ground against Velma.

The real star turn of the production comes from the energetic Rebecca Jayne-Davies as Penny Pingleton. In every scene, she brings an excellent voice and impressive comedic timing. It's hard to not keep an eye on her performance throughout. 

Whilst the talent in the cast and the energy levels are high, especially as they deliver Drew McOnie's striking choreography, there is just something lacking about this latest production helmed by the old Curve artistic director Paul Kerryson. Visually it looks a bit tacky in places and that pulls away from the spectacle. Visible stagehands holding pieces of set and bare stages make the whole thing feel a bit makeshift. Where some of the sets lack the production is fantastically lit designed by Philip Gladwell that enhances the feel especially in the larger ensemble numbers.

Ultimately though, whatever the show lacks is forgotten as the show ends with a riotous reception with the number 'You Can't Stop The Beat' whilst this isn't the perfect production it offers more than enough spectacle that will leave your heart full as you leave the theatre.

Rating: ⭐⭐ uplifting timely musical with some fantastic performances.

Hairspray continues at Curve until Saturday 9th October 2021 with tickets available from www.curveonline.co.uk. The tour then continues visiting various venues up and down the UK and Ireland - visit https://www.hairsprayuktour.com/ for full tour schedule and booking.

The cast of Hairspray. Photo by Mark Senior.

4 October 2021

Going The Distance Review

After the difficult last 20 months or so that theatres up and down the country have and continue to face, Going The Distance, is a touching celebration of theatre itself as it mirrors the plight venues up and down the country have and continue to face.

The digital piece written by Henry Filloux-Bennett and Yasmeen Khan tells of the fictional Matchborough Theatre community who in lockdown are facing the real prospect of closure. A Zoom meeting, featuring all the usual technical mishaps, between chairman Frank, treasurer Maggie, and marketing, communications, digital, and social media coordinator Rae sets the ball in motion as Maggie suggests staging a production with local artists where all profits would go back into the venue.

Emma McDonald as Gail.

The piece explores the rollercoaster all involved go through to get the piece from page to stage leading to some great comical moments as these wonderfully fleshed-out characters are brought to life. From the fractured relationship between ex-husband and wife director and writer to a Diva who threatens to make the whole thing fall in on itself. It moves throughout all the processes including auditions and technical rehearsals and the occasional emergency meeting.

There are fantastic performances by all involved but there's a standout turn from Sarah Hadland as Rae, Hadland captures the snobbish nature of the role, looking down on everything with real comedic skill. The most touching of the performances comes from Penny Ryder as Maggie, she captures the role so perfectly, she is believable and relatable and her moving monologue about what the theatre means to her and her previous roles will have you grabbing for a tissue. Matthew Kelly as chairman and director Frank shines in every moment, especially in moments of frustration.

Penny Ryder as Maggie.

Director Felicity Montagu allows for the performers to beautifully capture the relationships between each other. The relationship between Gail (Emma McDonald) and Kem (Merch Husey) is the heart of the piece and rounds up with a lovely rendition of 'Over The Rainbow'. Kem, a local shopkeeper, encourages Gail to take the opportunity to audition and take her chance to get out of the shop.

All in all, this is a wholesome watch. It captures the emotion that you know has been felt in theatres up and down the country, the uncertainty places have faced where some places have and won't be able to re-open. A lovely watch.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ a delightful comic love letter to theatre.

Going The Distance is streaming online until Saturday 17th October and supports venues up and down the country. Visit https://goingthedistanceplay.com/ to book.

Sarah Hadland (Rae) and Shobna Gulati (Vic) 

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