Friday, 22 September 2017

Review: 35mm - A Musical Exhibition, The Other Palace Studio

"Why must we justify? 
Let's defy their forms and fixtures..."

There's something about choosing a song cycle as your form that automatically feels like a declaration that the entertainment that lies ahead is going to be a mixed bag, some hits and the possibility of some misses in a willfully diverse collection, loosely connected by an overarching theme. And so it proves with Ryan Scott Oliver's 35mm: A Musical Exhibition, currently getting a short run in The Other Palace's studio space.

The hook here is that the 15 songs are each inspired by a photograph taken by Broadway photographer Matthew Murphy, allowing for the exploration of any (and all) aspect of human nature and the adoption of any musical style he wishes. An exponent of new musical theatre writing, Scott Oliver calls to mind something of the complexity of Michael John LaChiusa's compositions and equally brings the same kind of challenges. 

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

© Trevor Leighton
Given how she's doing such amazing work in Follies at the minute, it's kinda gobsmacking to discover that Janie Dee has not one but two cabaret shows lined up for the beginning of October. Returning to Live at Zédel, fans have the pick of Janie Dee at the BBC - album launch or Janie Dee - Off the Record... or you can do both on the same night for a couple of dates if you're that way inclined! I'm seriously tempted!


One of the highlights of Bat out of Hell was Sharon Sexton's pneumatic performance so I'm gutted that I can't make Sucked, which is trailed as a sitcom-style musical comedy and features Sexton with Riona O'Connor. Move quickly though, one of their two shows has already sold out.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Re-review: Follies, National Theatre


"Darling, shall we dance?"

Not too much more to say about Follies that I didn't cover last time, suffice to say it's just such a luxuriously fantastic show and I think I could watch it over and over! The head-dresses! Everything Janie Dee does! The orchestra! How no-one seems to be falling down that staircase! The staging! The shade of mint green in Loveland! The Staunton's icy bitterness in 'Losing My Mind'! The amount that Josephine Barstow has now made me cry, twice! The Quast! Just get booking now, while you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November

Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Review: Mouldy Grapes, White Bear

“I’ve been dipping my spoon in both the chocolate and the vanilla ice-cream”

The thing with open relationships is that everyone needs to be on the same page. The eccentric Roo has a fear of going outside as well as wearing trousers so the agreement has been made that his boyfriend Liam can sleep with other men. But when the person he brings home one particular night turns out to be a woman, the gobby Jess, that openness flicks over into much more complex terrain.

Such is the world of Mouldy Grapes, the assured debut production from new company Break The ‘Verse, a group of recent East 15 graduates. Directed by Dom Riley and written by Monty Jones and Ellie Sparrow and “enhanced through devising”, what surprises most about the play is the way in which it manages to combine its smart study of the fluidity of sexual identities with a classic comedy model, and pull both off successfully.

Review: The Test, White Bear

"How do you define consciousness?"

The
 world of artificial intelligence may feel like the realm of sci-fi but in reality is closer than we think, the next frontier in the progression of scientific knowledge. And Ian Dixon Potter's new play The Test shows the human race right at the point of breaching it, as ambitious scientist Dora and eager hacker Josh combine forces to harness the global computing power of the web in order to create 'Mother', the first truly conscious AI. What could possibly go wrong...?!

It is a formidable concept to explore in an hour of fringe theatre and to set up this world of advanced science and technology, Dixon Potter is caught between two stools, particularly in the opening scenes. Either characters rattle off complex ideas which threaten to fly over our heads, or they dumb down too much - the dictionary definition of the Turing Test is a case in point, or lines like 'I need you to hijack the internet' which recall nothing so much as this brilliant bit of comedy.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud

"The years roll by and nothing changes"

I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say 'well it isn't that good, see'. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.

Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman for a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five - here's my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


South London based site-specific theatre company Baseless Fabric are presenting David Mamet’s rarely performed short plays Reunion and Dark Pony in libraries across South London as part of National Libraries Week 2017. The plays are two of David Mamet’s earliest work, first produced in the US in 1976 and 1977 respectively and both feature David Schaal and Siu-see Hung in their casts.

Both of the plays explore father and daughter relationships and the audience will be immersed in the worlds of these plays in the unique and atmospheric library environments during National Libraries Week 2017 to raise awareness of exciting events happening in local libraries and bring theatre to people in their local library space. Artistic Director Joanna Turner directs with Set & Costume Designer Bex Kemp, creating a site-responsive design in each library space.

Performance Locations:
Mon 9th Oct 7.30pm - Durning Library, SE11 4HF (nearest station: Kennington)
Tue 10th Oct 7.30pm - John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Wed 11th Oct 7.30pm - John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Thu 12th Oct 7.30pm - Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Fri 13th Oct 7.30pm - Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Sat 14th Oct 3pm - Earlsfield Library, SW18 3NY (nearest station: Earlsfield)
Sat 14th Oct 7.30pm - Battersea Library, SW11 1JB (nearest station: Clapham Junction)
Sun 15th Oct 6pm - Clapham Library, SW4 7DB (nearest station: Clapham Common)
Tickets: £9/£7



Testing my all-too-fragile resolve to protest the Hampstead's predilection for the XY, the cast has been announced for the world premiere of Nicholas Wright's adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Review: Footloose, Peacock

"Been working so hard
I'm punching my card
Two hours for what?"

Jeez Louise, it gives me no pleasure to report this production of Footloose is among the worst things I've seen this year. Jukebox musicals are fine in their place, movie adaptations likewise are ever increasingly the norm but they need love and inspiration to elevate them, rather than the workaday effort and dead-eyed calculation they get here.

Perhaps its the result of coming at the tail end of over a year's touring, perhaps it was a crowd not quite as enthused as the audience of a feel-good show need to be to give it that lift, perhaps it's just not very good. There's a real sense of mechanical action about the production, everything moves in the correct way but there's zero spontaneity here, little sense of the precious 'liveness' of great theatre.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Review: Deathtrap, Theatre Royal Brighton

"Always when moon is full, I am in top form"

The floorboards in Sidney Bruhl's isolated barn conversion may squeak underfoot, but there's nothing creaky about Adam Penford's smart revival of Ira Levin's 1978 play Deathtrap, first seen at Salisbury Playhouse last year and now touring the UK. A play full of twists and turns, with a play-within-in-a-play and added cinematic meta-commentary thrown in for good measure, this production proves there's still a place for classic crime thrillers in this post-Scandi-noir world.

Bruhl is a playwright struggling to accept that he is past his prime but when Clifford Anderson, a talented young playwright sends him one of only two copies of his brilliant new whodunnit, he spies an opportunity to ape the thrillers on which he built his now-flagging reputation and steal the newcomer's success for himself, despite his wife's reservations. But Anderson is as much a student of the genre as Bruhl and so the stage is set for, well, the unexpected.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Review:The State of Things, Brockley Jack

"If only I could start to realise I'm not the only one who feels like they've been left behind"

Austerity bites. And it seems like it often bites hardest on the arts, government thinking considering them a luxury rather than a necessity as libraries and those relying on arts funding have been finding out to their cost. And in Thomas Attwood and Elliot Clay's new musical The State of Things, it is a group of seven Sutton Coldfield teenagers, preparing for their music GCSE performance, who find that the A-Level music course onto which they all want to progress is being cut from the timetable in a cost-cutting measure.

Being teenagers means that they quickly get up in arms to protest the decision to their headteacher (known as Maggie - the school is an academy...) but being teenagers, they're also horny af and wrestling with the weight of the world on their shoulders, sometimes all at the same time. Thus the political mixes with the personal (affectingly so in the case of Hana, who faces huge responsibilities at home due to her mother's health issues), inconsequential daily drama with sincerely felt fear for the future.

Cast of Mike Bartlett's new TV show Press announced


An ensemble cast of some of Britain’s hottest talent will portray the determined and passionate characters behind the daily news at two fictional, competing newspapers in Mike Bartlett's (Doctor Foster, King Charles III) drama series, Press, on BBC One.

Charlotte Riley (King Charles III, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) will play the News Editor of fictional broadsheet, The Herald and Ben Chaplin (Apple Tree Yard, The Thin Red Line) will play the Editor of fictional tabloid newspaper, The Post, while Priyanga Burford (London Spy, King Charles III) will play The Herald’s Editor. Paapa Essiedu (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, RSC’s Hamlet) will play The Post’s newest reporter and Shane Zaza (Happy Valley, The Da Vinci Code) its News Editor; while Ellie Kendrick (Game Of Thrones, The Diary Of Anne Frank) will be a junior reporter; Al Weaver (Grantchester, The Hollow Crown) an investigative journalist and Brendan Cowell (Young Vic’s Yerma, Game Of Thrones) the Deputy Editor at The Herald.

They will be joined by David Suchet (Poirot) who will play the Chairman & CEO of Worldwide News, owner of The Post.

Nominations for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour and celebrate outstanding achievements in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have just announced the nominations for the 2017 awards, the results of which will be revealed at a ceremony on Sunday 15th October. 


How many of these did you see, and who do you think should win?

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Sir Peter Hall: 1930-2017 - a photo retrospective

In sad news, the death of Sir Peter Hall, one of the great names in British theatre, has been announced today. Sir Peter died on 11 September at University College Hospital, at the age of 86, surrounded by his family.

As the below statement from the National Theatre reminds us, his achievements were unparalleled, his devotion to the arts undoubtable. And in this selection of photos from some of his productions for the NT, his was a rare artistic vision indeed.

Peter Hall was an internationally celebrated stage director and theatre impresario, whose influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled. His extraordinary career spanned more than half a century: in his mid-20s he staged the English language premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In 1960, aged 29, Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company which he led until 1968. The RSC realised his pioneering vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both classic and modern texts with a clear house style in both Stratford and London.
Appointed Director of the National Theatre in 1973, Peter Hall was responsible for the move from the Old Vic to the purpose-built complex on the South Bank. He successfully established the company in its new home in spite of union unrest and widespread scepticism. After leaving the National Theatre in 1988, he formed the Peter Hall Company (1988 – 2011) and in 2003 became the founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston. Throughout his career, Sir Peter was a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.

Peter Hall’s prolific work as a theatre director included the world premieres of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965), No Man’s Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978), Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1979), John Barton’s nine-hour epic Tantalus (2000); and the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce (1977). Other landmark productions included Hamlet (1965, with David Warner), The Wars of the Roses (1963), The Oresteia (1981), Animal Farm (1984), Antony and Cleopatra (1987, with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins), The Merchant of Venice (1989, with Dustin Hoffman), As You Like It (2003, with his daughter Rebecca Hall) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010, with Judi Dench). Peter’s last production at the National Theatre was Twelfth Night in 2011.

Sir Peter was diagnosed with dementia in 2011. He is survived by his wife, Nicki, and children Christopher, Jennifer, Edward, Lucy, Rebecca and Emma and nine grandchildren. His former wives, Leslie Caron, Jacqueline Taylor and Maria Ewing also survive him.

Review: Doubt - a Parable, Southwark Playhouse

"What do you do when you’re not sure?"

John Patrick Shanley's play Doubt, a Parable comes lauded with garlands - Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Hollywood adaptation with none other than Meryl Streep - so it must be a modern classic right? But, written in 2004, with all of the hindsight of how cases of historical sexual abuse in the Catholic church have been (mis-)handled, I find its dramatic ambivalence hard to stomach.

Shanley sidestepped the issue by setting his play in 1964 where a scandal is brewing at the St Nicholas Church School in the Bronx. Or is it? Ferociously strict principal Sister Aloysius is convinced that there is inappropriateness occurring between parish priest Father Flynn and the school's first black pupil, but her views are coloured by her loathing of Flynn's modernising ways.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Review: Mrs Orwell, Southwark Playhouse

"So what you want, in a nutshell, George, is a mistress, housekeeper, nurse, literary executor and mother for Richard?"

Tony Cox's play Mrs Orwell did sufficiently good business in its run at the Old Red Lion last month that it has quickly transferred south of the river, to the Southwark Playhouse for an additional few weeks. Based on actual events but with a fair measure of artistic license thrown in, as with all the best stories, it sheds light on the final weeks of George Orwell's life, as tuberculosis ravaged his lungs.

Coming from near Wigan as I do, I had heard of Orwell long before I really knew who he was, as much for the pub named after him as his famous book. So Cox provides an interesting biographical slant on the writer, looking at him through the eyes of assistant magazine editor Sonia Brownell, who became a constant visitor to his University College hospital bed and eventually received the most platonic of proposals.

Review: Son of a Preacher Man, Churchill Bromley

"Saying so much more than
Just words could ever say"

No-one could accuse Craig Revel-Horwood of resting on his laurels. He's about to reprise his Miss Hannigan, stepping into Miranda Hart's sensible shoes, in the West End revival of Annie; the new series of Strictly Come Dancing is looming just around the corner; and inbetween all that, he's found the time to direct and choreograph a new Dusty Springfield jukebox musical that is scheduled to tour the country through to July 2018.

There's a slight sense though that he might have overstretched himself with Son of a Preacher Man as I found its opening engagement at the Churchill Bromley really rather underwhelming. From Warner Brown's insubstantial and weirdly paced book with its eye-openingly poor dialogue, to the incomprehensible decision to expose one of the weaker dancers front and centre at the very start, much of the decision-making feels questionable at best.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Review: Eyes Closed, Ears Covered, Bunker

"Don't you ever say you're a terrible son"

The latest copy of the Beano, an illicit jar of Marmite and a day trip to Brighton - the stuff of the best kind of childhood memories. So even though they're bunking off school, now-teenage best pals Seb and Aaron are onto something in trying to recreate the magic. But something's not quite right, something's not quite the same, and given that the play starts with Aaron being questioned by a police officer, something's most definitely up.

Alex Gwyther's Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is beautifully put together in the way that it reveals just what that is - exploring the intersection of past trauma on present behaviour, questioning the durability of the human spirit and the lengths it will go to try to survive. Tightly constructed by Gwyther and directed with real suspense by Derek Anderson, its a powerful addition to the programme at the Bunker Theatre as its first birthday fast approaches.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Review: Hairspray, Orchard Dartford

"You can try to stop my dancin' feet"

This mahoosive new tour of Hairspray started in the middle of last month and stretches right through to June 2018 and it certainly feels like it has the potential to be a great success. There are some cracking performances which really elevate Paul Kerryson's production of this most effective of shows (music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan) and choreography from hot-shot of the moment Drew McOnie.

And given how dance heavy Hairspray is, it is an astute move from Kerryson as McOnie's inventive use of movement establishes and reinforces so much of the febrile mood of simmering racial tension and potential societal change. In the hands of the likes of Layton Williams' Seaweed and an effervescent ensemble, it's hard to keep a smile from your face as the sheer toe-tapping enthusiasm of it all as fabulous group numbers shake and shimmy their way across the stage.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Review: Mamma Mia, Novello

"It's all very Greek"

18 years since it opened, Mamma Mia continues to tempt people to the island as it now ranks as the seventh-longest running show in the West End. It recently welcomed a new cast into the Novello and I got the opportunity to revisit this stalwart this week (only for the second time actually, here's my review from 2014). I'll post a link to my three star review once it gets published.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd March 2018, at the moment

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

The announcement of the new cast for Broadway's hugely lauded Hello, Dolly! has been a most strange affair - names trickling out one by one, rather than one big splash. However, it is Bernadette Peters (from 20th January) who has the unenviable task of following in Bette Midler's shoes and trying to maintain the hefty box office that she's managed to garner, and maintain. Victor Garber and our very own Charlie Stemp (making his Broadway debut) have also been revealed and doubtless by the time you read this, more will be have been announced too, one by one.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Review: Follies, National Theatre

"All things beautiful must die"

Well this is what we have a National Theatre for. For Vicki Mortimer's set design that both stretches towards the heights of the Olivier and lingers some 30 years back in the past; for the extraordinary detail and feathered delights of the costumes; for the lush sound of an orchestra of 21 under Nigel Lilley's musical direction; for a production that revels in the exuberance and experience of its cast of 37. And all for what? For a musical that, despite its iconic status in the theatre bubble, is more than likely to raise a 'huh?' from the general public (at least from the sampling in my office!).

Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman's (book) Follies is a show that has a long history of being tinkered with and more often than not, is as likely to be found in a concert presentation (as in its last London appearance at the Royal Albert Hall) as it is fully staged. Which only makes Dominic Cooke's production here all the more attractive, not just for aficionados but for the casual theatregoer too. Using the original book with just a smattering of small changes, this is musical theatre close to its most luxurious, and a bittersweetly life-affirming thrill to watch.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Review: 9 to 5, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

"I might just make it work"

As frothy as 9 to 5 the Musical may seem, it shouldn't be underestimated as a piece of theatre that puts three women front and centre in its narrative - it can feel like these sadly remain as few and far between in the 1980 of the original film as it does in the 2017 of the UK fringe premiere of its musical adaptation. And reflecting that, director Joseph Hodges and casting director Harry Blumenau have really done the business in selecting a terrific trio to lead their show.

Pippa Winslow's Violet leads from the front with a wonderfully wry wit and poised determination, Amanda Coutts' Judy blossoms in self-confidence throughout to nail her 11 o'clock number, and Louise Olley's Doralee is an utterly radiant stage presence, delivering the kind of direct eye contact that could leave a boy questioning his sexual preferences. And together, these three secretaries at Consolidated Industries tackle workplace misogyny in their own inimitable way.

Review: Talk Radio, Old Red Lion

"I want you to start telling the truth"

Does Katie Hopkins possess a single ounce of remorse? How does Ann Coulter really feel about the audiences she continually bates? Does Piers Morgan have any self-awareness? Eric Bogosian’s play Talk Radio may date from 1987 but in its dissection of shock jocks and their role in manipulating media and fomenting the rise of the kind of right-wing ideology that has taken hold either side of the Atlantic, it can't help but ring with resonance today.

The talking head of the day in Sean Turner's excellent production is the jaded Barry Champlain, a no-holds-barred late-night talk show host who is coming to both revel in the prejudiced depths that his callers sink to and be repulsed by them. An offer to syndicate his Cleveland-area show nationally sets off a long dark night of the soul, where not even the glass walls of his radio booth seem to offer the same sort of protection that they once did. 

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Not-a-re-review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

Hadn't planned to revisit Jesus Christ Superstar but stepped at the last minute for an ailing friend...
And whilst it remains impressive, it also remains elusive, caught between gig and theatre...

 Meaning there wasn't much to discover anew on second viewing (my review from last year).
Still worth a shot if you've not seen it though. All photos © Johan Persson

Friday, 1 September 2017

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


Drip by drip, the National is teasing us with the cast reveals for Network.

Latest to be announced is Douglas Henshall who is to play Max Schumacher in this world-premiere of Lee Hall’s new adaptation of the Oscar-winning film by Paddy Chayefsky.

Directed by Ivo van Hove, the cast also includes Tony award winner Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale, and Michelle Dockery as Diana Christenson.



War Horse puppeteers unveil The Hartlepool Monkey

The original puppeteers who helped bring War Horse to life, and went on to collaborate on Running Wild and The Lorax, are behind a new family-friendly play based on a 200-year-old legend.

New cast for The Ferryman announced


Producers Sonia Friedman Productions and Neal Street Productions have today announced new cast members for Jez Butterworth's hugely successful The Ferryman. (Take a look at my review from the Royal Court here).

Maureen Beattie, Charles Dale, Laurie Davidson , Sarah Greene (replacing Laura Donnelly), William Houston (replacing Paddy Considine), Ivan Kaye, Mark Lambert, Catherine McCormack, Fergal McElherron and Glenn Speers will join the company from October 9th 2017 and the show is currently booking to January 6th 2018.

The original company will give its final performance on October 7th 2017, following which the cast will be comprised of:

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Review: Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

"We have just elected our first African-American President
'Let's see what happens in the long run...'"

It is tempting to think that this revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell's 2009 play Apologia was mooted simply so that the above line could get the laughs it richly deserves for its prescience. As it is, Jamie Lloyd has fashioned it into the vehicle that has tempted Stockard Channing back into the West End for the first time in 25 years or so (although she did make it to the Almeida in for Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing). 

Perhaps the word should be refashioned, as the play has been subtly adapted to make its central character an American (I find myself entirely intrigued about the process of this happening - rewrites over accents) but what a character she is. Kristin Miller is celebrating both the publication of a memoir about her career as an eminent art historian and her birthday but gathering folk around the dinner table proves far from a game of happy families.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Review: Edward II, Tristan Bates

"Why would you love him who the world hates so? 
'Because he loves me more than all the world'"

Modernised, intensified, eroticised - this isn't Marlowe as you know him but you kinda get the feeling that Kit would have approved of Lazarus Theatre's re-imagining of Edward II. From the atmospheric parade of its opening to the desperate brutality with which it ends, Ricky Dukes' production immerses its audience in a world of toxic masculinity and political power-play that rings as true today as it surely ever did. 

Edward II's first act upon becoming king - after donning a sharp gold suit and the most luxurious of fur-lined robes - is to reclaim his lover Gaveston from exile and install him in his court, against the express wishes of the vast majority of his court, not least Edward's queen Isabella. And so a battle royale begins, not just for the crown itself but for the right to live the life you choose, regardless of how society perceives it.

Round-up of August music reviews


Though I might not have been away for my usual month-long sojourn to France, I kept up with a glut of album reviews to cover the (relatively) quiet period for those of us who don't put themselves through Edinburgh ;-)


Recommended titles
Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs - Live at the Cafe Carlyle
Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)
Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)
Finding Neverland (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)
The Bridges of Madison County (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)
The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)
War Paint (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)


Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)

"Oh yes it's not that I want to stay. 
It's just that I don't want to go"

My heart jumped for joy when the Union Theatre announced their revival of Salad Days as the Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds classic is probably one of my favourite musicals (and following on from their production of The Hired Man too, another of my absolute faves). I loved being being able to revisit the evergreen perkiness of the show onstage and it also reminded me that I hadn't gotten round to listening to this cast recording in a while.

My love for Salad Days started upon seeing Tête à Tête’s production of the show at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 which was such a success (eventually) that it returned in subsequent years and it is from that 2012/3 reprise that this live recording was made (which sadly means no Sam Harrison or Rebecca Caine) but it does capture so very much of what worked so well in Bill Bankes-Jones' production and under Anthony Ingle's musical direction.

Album Review: The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)

"Hear our thrilling and willing awakening"

It is no secret that Howard Goodall's score for The Hired Man is one I consider to be one of the most beautiful in all of British musical theatre, and so any opportunity to see the show - from orchestral concerts to fringe productions - is one I'll gladly take. This cast recordings errs very much towards the latter, taken from New Perspective's chamber-musical interpretation which cast just eight people.

Richard Reeday's musical direction sees the orchestrations similarly refined down to piano, trumpet and violin and so it offers something of a rough-and-ready approach which has both merits and demerits. A limited ensemble means that the choral power of tracks like 'Song of the Hired Man' don't carry quite the heft that the vision of a community as one demands to meet the scope of Goodall's work.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Full cast of A Woman of No Importance announced

Despite having little interest in a season of Oscar Wilde plays, the predictably excellent cast for A Woman of No Importance means that my resistance will be utterly futile as the full cast joining the previously announced Eve Best from 6th October at the Vaudeville Theatre has now been announced.

Joining Best is Anne Reid, Eleanor Bron and William Gaunt, and now completing the cast is Emma Fielding, Dominic Rowan, Crystal Clarke, Harry Lister-Smith, Sam Cox, William Mannering, Paul Rider and Phoebe Fildes.

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the play is the first in his new company’s year-long season celebrating the work of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and it has also been announced that a series of talks will take place before certain performances of A Woman of No Importance. Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland will give the first pre-show talk on 14th October, offering an insight into Wilde’s life and work. On 19th October, Stephen Fry will reflect on his time plying Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film Wilde. On 11th November, Frank McGuinness will consider Wilde alongside Ibsen and Strindberg in ‘Wilde the European’, and on 7th December, Franny Moyle will explore “Wilde’s women.”


Full cast of the RSC's Imperium announced

The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced casting for the upcoming productions of Imperium parts one and two. Richard McCabe will take on the role of Cicero in Mike Poulton's adaptations of Robert Harris' novels alongside Siobhan Redmond as Terentia, Cicero's wife. Joseph Kloska will play Cicero's servant Tiro, who narrates their adventures.

The rest of the cast includes Nicholas Boulton, Guy Burgess, Daniel Burke, Jade Croot, Peter De Jersey, Joe Dixon, John Dougall, Michael Grady Hall, Oliver Johnstone, Paul Kemp, Patrick Knowles, Hywel Morgan, Lily Nichol, Piero Niel Mee, David Nicolle, Patrick Romer, Jay Saighal, Christopher Saul, Eloise Secker and Simon Thorp.

Album Review: Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)

"What's a few more minutes to wait...a little longer"

Confession time - I've had this album for an unforgivably long time, mainly because I managed to forget about it, despite the fact I was meant to be reviewing it. D'oh, and sorry Mr G. And more fool me, because Before After is just lovely, a tragic but hopeful love story, an unconventional timeline and swooning piano and strings orchestrations throughout, it might as well have been tailor-made for me!

Written by Stuart Matthew Price and Timothy Knapman, Before After follows the love story between Ami and Ben through all its trials, as the meet-cute we're presented with at the top of Act 1 is actually at the mid-point of their story. She recognises him as the love of her life; he hasn't a clue who she is due to a car accident that wiped his memory; and though she keeps schtum, she asks him out for a drink to see what might happen.

Album Review: Comrade Rockstar (2017 Studio Cast Recording)

"Just call me the Soviet cowboy"

Try as I might, the words 'rock musical' can't help but give me a little shiver of discontent, such is my preference for piano and strings over an electric guitar. But I do try and test my preconceptions (Lizzie probably being the last time I proved myself wrong!) and so I sat down to listen to recent SimG release - Comrade Rockstar, a new musical with book & lyrics by Julian Woolford and music by Richard John.

It's based on the properly fascinating tale of Dean Reed, an American singer known as the Soviet Elvis after he defected to the other side of the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War. And sure enough, it is much more musically varied than the moniker 'rock musical' might suggest, stretching its wings far past any connotations of solely Elvis-lite content too, to create a gently beguiling musical that you can certainly visualise on a stage somewhere near you soon.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Album Review: The Bridges of Madison County (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

"I can't tell you I know what the future will be.
Who knows anything?"

Though often cited as one of the titans of new musical theatre writing, I think it is fair to say that Jason Robert Brown has never managed to nail a proper commercial hit on Broadway. Despite the critical acclaim and cult status that has built up around shows like Parade and The Last Five Years, the Great White Way has resisted his charms and in 2014, it was the turn of his musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County to last barely even 4 months the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

And as is so often the case, it is hard to tell why, just from listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording. Based on the Robert James Waller novel, further popularised by an Academy Award-nominated film adaptation, it is a sweepingly romantic story and it is given the sweepingly romantic treatment here by JRB. And with a cast led by Kelli O'Hara (possibly too young for the middle-aged disillusionment meant to characterise the tale) and Steven Pasquale, it sounds just gorgeous.

Album Review: The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

"For what are we men without a ship to complete?"


The logic of theatre being what it is, an original musical by Sting about the decline of the shipbuilding industry in the north-east of England opened on Broadway in 2014 and has still yet to be seen here in the UK. I saw it at the Neil Simon Theatre and whilst The Last Ship didn't have the strongest book, I did think the brooding melancholy of the folk-inflected score would carry it further than the four months it managed.

Its primary delight is Rachel Tucker's Meg, a dynamic vocal presence who can't help but stand out in everything she sings, whether the delicacy of 'August Winds', the tearjerking 'It's Not The Same Moon', or the bawdy fun of 'If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor'. Along with the excellent Michael Esper (now familiar to us in the UK thanks to Lazarus and The Glass Menagerie), she makes a real highlight out of 'When We Dance' (a re-purposed track from Sting's back catalogue).

Cast of The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording) continued

Cast of The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording) continued

Friday, 25 August 2017

Review: The Host, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Yard Theatre

"She's white, like us"

Rounding off the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain's inspired residency at the Yard (read my review of last week's Blue Stockings here) is a new play from Nessah Muthy called The Host. Picking at the scab of the Brexit vote and the ongoing refugee crisis, Muthy reveals the kind of festering wound that is shocking to see, even as it has infected so many levels of our society and so much of our contemporary discourse.

Yasmin is the most responsible of four half-sisters who are grieving the loss of their mother and the relative security she provided for them on their Croydon council estate. For times of austerity are biting hard and Yasmin finds herself supplementing her job as a cleaner by acting as debt collector for a local loan shark. But it is only when she takes in Syrian refugee Rabea and offers him her couch that objections are raised.